Recap of the First Half of the Winter Meetings

Ladies and gentlemen, we have made it to the pinnacle of the offseason, as front office members, athletes, and agents have all congregated in Las Vegas for the week. This period of time is typically the most active time of the offseason, and we have not been disappointed, as four major league signings, two trades and a lot of minor moves went down in the first three days.

Movement continued throughout the National League East, as the Phillies signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen for $50 million over three years with a fourth year option worth $15 million with a $3 million buyout. Our own Jason Kelly wrote an excellent piece on the move which can be viewed here. Personally, I am a big fan of this signing for the Phillies, as it fills a few legitimate needs for the Phillies: a veteran leader and a source of walks to replace Carlos Santana, and an outfielder to allow Rhys Hoskins to move back to first base. While the Phillies probably won’t be getting the same McCutchen who won the 2013 Most Valuable Player Award, or who played in five consecutive All-Star games, they will receive an above average regular who has slashed .263/.356/.446 over the past three seasons (2,007 plate appearances) with 72 home runs (26 per 162 games) and 31 stolen bases (11 per 162 games). In that same period, McCutchen has walked 11.8 percent of the time with a rather modest 20.1 percent strikeout rate, which is a great sign in terms of potential longevity. My projections have McCutchen slashing .260/.355/.447 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 153 games.

As of right now, the Phillies outfield projection consists of McCutchen in right, Odubel Herrera in center and one of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and Dylan Cozens in left field. It should be noted, however, that the Phillies are said to still be in on Bryce Harper. I could see this leading up to a trade of a young outfielder for the purpose of acquiring rotation help. The Phillies were in on Patrick Corbin before he signed with the Nationals and have shown interest in many of the top chips on the market including free agent J.A. Happ and trade candidate Madison Bumgarner.

McCutchen’s former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, has also been rather active this week, as they traded starting pitcher Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox for $500k in International Bonus Space and 19-year-old right-handed pitcher Yordi Rosario. The nearly 32-year-old righty Ivan Nova posted a 4.19 ERA over 161 innings pitched last season, but while he continued limiting walks at a nearly elite rate (1.96 BB/9), his FIP was a much less promising 4.57, which is based on a tendency to allow a rather significant number of home runs. Nova seems likely to serve as a veteran depth piece for the White Sox, who are right on the verge of competition. If the White Sox struggle out of the gate in 2019, Nova could serve as a legitimate deadline piece, as he’s only under contact through 2019.

The Pirates return may have seemed rather modest, but Rosario is a very underrated prospect who could have a legitimate impact for the Pirates come 2021. The righty starter spent 2018 between the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona League, posting a 2.57 ERA over 56 innings pitched. In that span, he struck 70 guys out while walking just 12. It’s always tricky to try to project a rookie league player, especially pitchers, but while he’s a lottery ticket, the ceiling is very high here.

Also joining the White Sox organization is infielder Ryan Goins. The 31-year-old infielder will compete for a bench role in spring training and can earn $975,000 in the major leagues. While Goins has always been known to have an excellent glove in the middle infield, his bat has been rather ineffective throughout his career. I expect Goins to serve as the primary shortstop at Triple-A to begin the year, and earn a call-up upon injury. The White Sox don’t have a ton of middle infield depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues, with Mitch Roman and Danny Mendick looking like the only other guys who could conceivably challenge him for a call-up when one is needed.

Replacing Nova on the Pirates pitching staff is righty Jordan Lyles, who signed for the 2019 season on the same day as the aforementioned trade. The 28-year-old spent the 2018 season between the Padres and the Brewers, posting a solid 4.11 ERA over 87.2 innings pitched, mainly as a long reliever. He posted strong walk (2.87 BB/9) and strikeout (8.62 K/9) numbers while maintaining an average fastball velocity of 94.6. Lyle seems likely to serve in a swing man capacity, while offering some rotation security, as he started eight games in 2018. Lyles will earn $2.05 million in 2019.

The Royals brought in another non-tender, as Billy Hamilton will head to Kansas City for the 2019 season, as Robbie Stratakos writes here. Hamilton will earn $4.25 million in 2019 and has a $7.5 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout. He can also earn up to $1 million in incentives, based upon plate appearances. Hamilton makes sense for the Royals, who are still in the early stages of a rebuild. The 28-year-old can hold the fort down until the Royals’ collection of outfield prospects, including Michael Gigliotti and Khalil Lee, are ready. Hamilton could also serve as a trade chip, as the extra season of inexpensive control has significant value. This is an excellent landing spot for the center fielder, as his skillset would have probably limited him to a utility outfielder on a more competitive team. My projections have him slashing just .236/.292/.322 while swiping 50 bags and playing defense 6.94 percent above average in center field over 133 games. He joins an outfield mix that also includes Brian Goodwin, Alex Gordon, Rosell Herrera, and the recently signed Chris Owings, and should see regular playing time.

Another AL Central team brought in a buy-low guy, as the Tigers signed righty Tyson Ross to a one year contract worth $5.75 million. The deal includes roster bonuses that would bring the deal up to $6 million. Ross figures to slot toward the bottom of a Tigers rotation that also includes Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, and recent signee Matt Moore. Ross had himself a very nice rebound campaign in 2018, spent with the Padres and the Cardinals, as he pitched 149.2 innings of 4.15 ERA ball with a supporting 4.39 FIP. While his velocity never returned to the mid-90’s, his average fastball velocity remains around 92, he increased usage of his slider by around 7.0 percent from 2017 to 2018. With any success, Ross figures to be seen as a trade candidate through the 2019 season, as the Tigers remain in a rebuild.

The Rangers and Cardinals linked up for a trade on Tuesday, as Patrick Wisdom was sent to Texas in exchange for utility player Drew Robinson. Despite the fact that he has all three minor league options remaining, the rebuilding Rangers seem likely to use the 27-year-old Wisdom in a rotation, of sorts, between first base and the designated hitter slot. Wisdom will serve as the right-handed counterpart for the pair of young, left-handed hitters in Ronald Guzman and Willie Calhoun. Meanwhile, the more versatile left-handed hitter, Robinson, seems likely to serve as depth for the Cardinals out of the gate. The Cardinals have a surplus of very nice options to serve in reserve roles for the 2019 season. While it’s currently expected that the bench will consist of Jose Martinez, Yairo Munoz, Jedd Gyorko, and catcher Andrew Knizner, infielders Ramon Urias and Edmundo Sosa and outfielders Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, Adolis Garcia, and Justin Williams will compete with Robinson this spring to impress the Cardinals brass.

If I had to choose between them, I would prefer Robinson, as I consider him to be a more well-rounded player who offers defensive versatility while bringing plate discipline with the potential to hit 20 home runs and steal ten bases in a season. That being said, I like the Rangers end of the deal more, as I don’t believe Robinson will get the opportunity to play much in St. Louis. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson booted from the Cardinals 40-man roster before spring training even begins. The Rangers are in a position to give Wisdom more plate appearances than he would have received in St. Louis. The power is very real, and while I have some questions about his contact ability, his walk rate is above average.

The A’s agreed to terms with catcher Chris Herrmann on a $1 million contract for the 2019 season. Herrmann will now join his third AL-West team of the offseason, after having gone from Seattle to Houston via waiver claim before eventually being non-tendered by the Astros. My projections for Herrmann have him slashing .241/.331/.404, while walking about 11 percent of the time. Herrmann isn’t a bad option, but for an Athletics team coming off of a season in which they won 97 games and still landed second in their division, I don’t know if it’s enough. Catcher has been the A’s weakest position for a while, and they currently stand to run out a platoon of Josh Phegley and Herrmann with Sean Murphy and Beau Taylor returning as Triple-A insurance.

The Reds claimed left-handed pitcher Robby Scott off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox. While the 29-year-old lefty struggled in the brief time he spent with the Red Sox in 2018 (8.10 ERA, 9.16 FIP over 6.2 innings pitched), he fared very well in Triple-A Pawtucket. Over 48.1 innings pitched, he posted a sterling 1.86 ERA with a 2.42 FIP, striking out 11.73 batters per nine innings compared to 3.91 walks. Scott looks to me like a LOOGY with the potential to be a mainstay middle reliever, or even a setup man if given the opportunity, but I don’t expect him to stick on the Reds 40-man roster. The Cincinnati Reds are among the most active players in the waiver game, as they routinely try to slip guys off the 40-man roster to serve as depth.

It was also announced that the Reds have re-signed catcher Juan Graterol, outfielder Aristides Aquino, and first baseman/outfielder Jordan Patterson. Graterol and Patterson were acquired by the Reds as waiver claims over the past two months, while Aquino has long been among the Reds’ top prospects. All three were released on the November 30 non-tender deadline and re-signed with Cincinnati. While none of these signings came as a surprise, Patterson is a name to know. I fully expect the 27-year-old outfielder/first baseman to see significant time coming off the bench for the Reds, and could even carve himself out a starting role. My projections, which take into account his lack of major league experience, have him slashing .231/.302/.463 with 16 home runs and seven stolen bases over 93 games. The Reds also signed former top prospect and World Series hero Christian Colon to a minor league contract. Colon is a rather standard glove-first utility option, but he could stand a reasonably strong chance to break camp with the Reds based on his defensive versatility and major league experience.

While the Red Sox may have lost Scott, they brought in veteran outfielder Gorkys Hernandez on a minor league deal that would pay him $1 million in the major leagues. Looking at the Red Sox roster right now, there doesn’t seem to be much room for the veteran outfielder. That being said, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s name has come up in trade rumors over the past week. If the Sox decide to trade Bradley, Hernandez will have a legitimate shot to see some major league time with the defending champions. While he has been an above average glove in both center and left, he has never been a major offensive producer. My projections have him slashing .243/.301/.365 in 2019.

The Giants may have already found Hernandez’s replacement, as they claimed outfielder Mike Gerber off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers in Farhan Zaidi’s first 40-man roster acquisition as the new President of Baseball Operations in San Francisco. The fact that Gerber became available was somewhat surprising to me, as he had performed excellently in every season prior to 2018. The 26-year-old outfielder slashed just .213/.277/.411 in the minor leagues last season, but he continued to show promise in terms of power, speed, and defense. What will determine Gerber’s future is how he handles his inflated strikeout rate (32.6 percent in Triple-A, 44.7 percent in the major leagues). I would consider Gerber’s floor to be a toolsy fourth outfielder, but I wouldn’t close the door on him becoming an above average regular. I would expect the left-handed hitting center fielder to begin the 2019 season at Triple-A, seeing as how he has two minor league options remaining, but I would be surprised if we don’t see him in the majors by mid-season.

A pair of 27-year-old outfielders joined the Giants on minor league deals: Henry Ramos and Anthony Garcia. While they’re both further down on the depth chart, there are some reasons to be intrigued. Garcia was among the Cardinals’ top prospects for a number of years, but he stalled out in the upper levels of the minor leagues. He had been between Double-A and Triple-A from 2015 through 2017 and joined the Athletics organization last season, spending 2018 in Triple-A. While it should be remembered that he did so in the Pacific Coast League, he slashed a rather impressive .254/.357/.479 with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs, all while boasting a rather low .274 BABIP.

As for Ramos, he has spent the past two seasons performing very well for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City. Ramos slashed .297/.352/.465 over 393 plate appearances last season, hitting ten home runs and stealing eight bases. While I would expect some regression, as he carried a rather high .344 BABIP, Ramos has shown a tendency to ride with high BABIPs throughout his career. I have a lot of faith in his contact ability, and while the tools may not match Garcia’s, I would say his overall polish, namely in his contact ability, gives him a higher floor. Once given the opportunity, I could see Ramos sticking in the major leagues as a very nice fourth outfielder.

In other news, Mike Elias made his first 40-man roster acquisition for the Baltimore Orioles, as he claimed third baseman Rio Ruiz off of waivers from the Atlanta Braves on Monday. My projections have Ruiz playing above average third base while slashing a solid, albeit unspectacular, .248/.342/.385. While Ruiz doesn’t have prototypical corner infielder power, he has a very nice arm and a nice overall hit tool. He walks a lot while limiting strikeouts and has shown the ability to hit around .260-.270. While I would expect the 24-year-old to begin the season in Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles are obviously in the early stages of a rebuild. As it stands, Renato Nunez is slated to begin the season as the starting third baseman with Breyvic Valera serving as a super-utility option. Ruiz is the only other infielder on the 40-man roster and has a very realistic chance to see a lot of plate appearances in Baltimore. Camden Yards will be a nice venue for Ruiz. While his power would probably generate about 10-15 home runs per year in a normal ballpark, the hitter friendly AL-East could potentially bring that number up to 20.

To make room for him on the roster, the Orioles lost righty reliever Ryan Meisinger on waivers to the Cardinals. The 25-year-old seems likely to serve on the taxi-squad for the Cardinals through the 2018 season. My projections have him posting a 4.24 ERA over 33.1 innings pitched with a 1.37 HR/9, a 3.49 BB/9 and a 10.53 K/9. He typically sits in the mid-90’s with his fastball but has always been inconsistent in terms of his control. He will probably be between the majors and Triple-A a lot in 2019, assuming he remains with the Cardinals.

The Rangers brought in some infield depth in Carlos Asuaje and Danny Santana. Asuaje was designated for assignment by the Padres after the Garrett Richards signing. The Rangers claimed him off waivers, and I would expect him to serve as Triple-A depth out of the gate. I have the 27-year-old slashing .248/.326/.359 over 285 plate appearances, and while he lacks much in terms of offensive tools, his defense at second has always been well above average. I could see him outperforming his batting average projection, and hitting around .260-.270, which would make him an excellent defensive bench option, or even second division starter.

Santana is a prime example of a very toolsy player who lacks discipline. He has the tools to become a guy who can hit 15 home runs and steal 20 bases in a year, but he has always struggled with his contact ability and has never walked much. My projections have him slashing .233/.278/.374 over 226 plate appearances while playing above average defense at second and below average defense in the outfield. I would expect the 28-year-old to spend the first part of the season in Triple-A, and then receive a call-up after the Rangers have made some trades.

Finally, the always active Jerry Dipoto made a few moves this week, headlined by the acquisition of third baseman Kaleb Cowart from the Los Angeles Angels. What’s intriguing about this move is that the Mariners intend to use Cowart as a two-way-player. While he has never pitched professionally, he was excellent on the mound as an amateur, so it makes sense to give it a shot. Cowart has always been a nice defensive player, but his bat never panned out. My projections have him slashing .235/.302/.367 over 163 plate appearances. There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense that the Mariners would try him as a reliever. Trades have left the Mariners with something of a skeleton crew in the bullpen, and the fact that Cowart is out of options makes it difficult to retain him based on his poor bat. The more versatile he can be, the better his chances of remaining on the Mariners roster.

The Mariners also signed another pair of veterans in lefty Tommy Milone and catcher Jose Lobaton.

Now almost 32 years old, Milone has been a valuable major-league innings-eater since his debut in 2011. While his career 4.42 ERA, 4.52 FIP combo aren’t exactly jaw dropping numbers, he has been able to limit damage with great control from the left side. He will have a very realistic chance at breaking camp with the Mariners

The 34-year-old Lobaton received a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training and can earn $1 million with the major league team. He will compete with David Freitas to back-up Omar Narvaez at catcher, and while I would probably give Freitas the initial edge, seeing as how he’s on the 40-man roster, Lobaton is a realistic candidate to be the primary back-up.

As a bonus, here are some more minor moves!

  • The Chunuchi Dragons signed former major league outfielder Dayan Viciedo to a contract that is expected to pay him $10 million over three years. The nearly 30-year-old has found legitimate success in the NPB, slashing .298/.371/.505 over 1,420 plate appearances since 2016.
  • The Cleveland Indians signed Anthony Gose to a minor league contract that didn’t include an invitation to spring training. He will continue to try out pitching.
  • The Hanshin Tigers signed former Giants righty Pierce Johnson. The terms of the deal are unknown.
  • The Mariners announced that they signed outfielder Tito Polo and righty Robin Leyer to minor league contracts. If I’m being honest, the only reason Polo didn’t rank among my top minor league free agents is because I overlooked the fact that he was eligible for minor league free agency. He has shown decent plate discipline with an excellent glove and plus speed. He looks like a fourth outfielder to me, and a good one at that.
  • The Angels announced a slew of minor league signings: outfielders Jarrett Parker and Cesar Puello, righties Matt Ramsey and Forrest Snow, and infielder Wilfredo Tovar. All of them have been invited to spring training. While I don’t expect any of them to break camp with the Angels, I would consider Parker and Puello likely to see some major league action.
  • The Brewers announced the signings of catcher Tuffy Gosewisch and righty Deolis Guerra. While I would expect Gosewisch to serve as the emergency catcher, Guerra is a very nice pick-up for the Brewers who could pay dividends in either the bullpen or the rotation.

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