Round-Up: The Aftermath of the Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings have come and gone, but left behind a myriad of free agent signings and a few big trades. Let’s get started!

The biggest piece of news was an absolutely massive three-team trade that had a lot of moving parts.  The simplest way to break this move down:

  • Seattle acquired first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and a Competitive Balance draft pick (from Cleveland) and $5 million (from Tampa).
  • Cleveland acquired first baseman Carlos Santana and $6 million (from Seattle) and prospect Jake Bauers (from Tampa)
  • Tampa acquired third baseman Yandy Diaz and right-handed pitcher Cole Sulser (from Cleveland).

Before we break this down by team, want to call attention to the money changing hands. At the end of the day, I don’t get why Tampa didn’t just pay $5 million to the Indians while the Mariners paid $1 million. I feel as though they probably should have cut out the middleman there.

Starting off with Seattle, the always active Mariners turned the recently acquired Carlos Santana and $1 million into another flip candidate in Encarnacion and a competitive balance selection.  I love this move for Seattle. Seeing as how General Manager Jerry Dipoto was able to successfully move an equally as expensive power bat so quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Encarnacion shipped out over the next two to three weeks. It has even been reported that the Rays have shown some level of interest in acquiring the power hitter. The interesting thing about the Mariners side of the deal is that we can’t directly judge it yet. While most deals you can tell which way it leans, the narratives of this trade and the original Santana deal, in Seattle are dependent on who they select with the pick and what they get for Encarnacion.

Cleveland acquired Jake Bauers, Carlos Santana, and $6 million in exchange for Yandy Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Cole Sulser, and a draft pick.

Personally, I don’t love this move for the Indians. Breaking it down further, they acquired Santana and $6 million for Encarnacion and then acquired Jake Bauers for Yandy Diaz, Cole Sulser, and the draft pick. Looking at the first part of the deal, it’s a clear loss. Encarnacion is still owed at least $26.6 million over the next two seasons and Santana is owed $41.6 million over the next three years. Even taking the extra money sent to Cleveland in the swap, the Indians come out still having added $9 million to their payroll. Furthermore, Encarnacion was actually better than Santana last season, by a rather wide margin. The difference in OPS was a whopping 44 points (.810 to .766)!

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The second half of the deal is actually worse than the first is. While Yandy Diaz was essentially blocked in Cleveland, I probably wouldn’t have even traded him straight up for Bauers. While many analysts are very high on the top-100 prospect, I don’t see it. First of all, he’s defensively limited and around average to slightly above average defensively at those few positions that he can play, namely the corner outfield spots and first. Unfortunately, his bat doesn’t necessarily amaze me either. While he has shown the ability to steal upwards of 20 bases in a season, his power is lacking a bit for his positions. While he does a nice job managing the strike zone, I would consider his ceiling to be .250/.350/.415 guy with about 10-15 homers in the long run. While a .765 OPS isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t pretty when you’re looking at a guy who lacks defensive value, and is probably only good enough to hit seventh in the line-up of a contender like the Indians. The fact that they also gave up their competitive balance pick makes this a very poor deal for Cleveland.

As of right now, Tampa is a clear winner, in my opinion. I have loved what the Rays have done this offseason thus far, with the sole exception of dumping C.J. Cron for nothing. Diaz is a favorite of mine, and has been for a few years. While Diaz has never shown much in terms of speed or power, he’s the type of guy who is a good bet to hit about .280 with a .390 on base percentage. Furthermore, he brings legitimate flexibility as he has played first, second, third and the corner outfield spots. He seems likely to enter the season as the Rays starting third baseman and could be a breakout candidate for 2019.

Sulser isn’t anything particularly special, but the 28-year-old reliever has very good stuff and could turn out to be a nice set-up type. He is able to rack up high strikeout rates with low walk rates, but is something of a fly ball pitcher, which could hurt him in the American League East. I would consider him to be a taxi guy with the ceiling of a mainstay or set-up.

The Rays made another excellent move during the second half of the winter meetings, as they signed right-hander Charlie Morton to a two-year deal worth $30 million. Morton will earn $15 million per season for 2019 and 2020 and will have a vesting option for 2021. This option is a bit complicated, as its amount floats in relation to how much time he spends on the disabled list. If he is able to stay healthy through 2020, the option will vest at $15 million, but with extended time, he will make just $1 million. There is also a roster bonus that will pay him $1 million if he’s traded in 2019 or $500k if traded in 2020.

Morton has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the past two seasons, which is the result of an increase in velocity. While he had sat in the low to mid 90 mph-range early in his career, he started averaging over 95 during the 2016 season. Based on all of his peripherals, he seems likely to be able to continue to produce at a high level, and my projections have him posting a 3.69 ERA for the 2019 season.

Another major free agent pitcher joined the AL East, as the Yankees brought back left-hander J.A. Happ for two more years. The contract calls for him to earn $34 million through its life. Happ’s emergence as a high-quality starting pitching option has been exceptionally fascinating. From Happ’s debut with the Phillies in 2007 until the mid-season trade that landed him in Pittsburgh, the veteran started had accumulated 7.1 bWAR. That number has since jumped to 21.1 through the 2018 season. All of his peripherals have suggested that his level of success is sustainable, as his 3.44 ERA since 2016 is backed up by a 3.91 fielding independent pitching, a 1.197 WHIP, an 8.7 to 2.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and sustained velocity improvements. While he typically sat in the high 80s early in his career, he has been averaging between 92 and 94 since his emergence. In his return to the Yanks, Happ seems likely to serve as the teams fourth starter behind Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka.

While I would have taken the Morton deal over this one, it’s a rather solid deal for a pitcher who has been a dependable workhorse and can help this young Yankees team continue to develop. While it may sound like a lot, Happ’s average annual salary on the deal is $17 million, which in comparison to other starters of his quality, is next to nothing. As a reference, Ian Kennedy will make just $1 million less than Happ through the 2020 season. While Happ’s age brings some level of concern, the fact that it’s only a two-year deal makes this particular deal a near lock to avoid becoming a crippling albatross. While I would imagine that Happ’s performance falls off a tad as he ages, I think the likelihood of Happ declining slightly becoming a 3.80-4.00 ERA pitcher in 2019 and a 4.15-4.30 ERA pitcher in 2020 is more likely than a complete fall from grace, assuming there are no injury problems.

While the Yankees were able to retain one of their starters who they acquired during the 2018 season, another went south. Lance Lynn signed a pretty shocking three-year deal worth a whopping $30 million with the Texas Rangers. While my projections were bullish on Lynn, not in my wildest dreams could I have seen this contract coming.

I actually don’t like it for either side. First of all, the Rangers are rebuilding. While I will acknowledge that you need to make veteran acquisitions to field a roster and flip them for prospects in this situation, the fact that the Rangers gave Lynn a three-year contract didn’t make a ton of sense. If it pans out, the Rangers will look like geniuses, but I can’t honestly believe that there was another team willing to offer anything even remotely close to that offer.

That being said, I think Lynn shot himself in the foot here a bit as well. Lynn is not a bad pitcher by any stretch of the word. He was actually rather solid in 2018, based on his peripherals, and one thing that people tend to ignore is the fact that he didn’t even have a spring training going into 2018. With all of this in mind, why would Lynn lock himself into a three-year deal at a relatively affordable rate with a losing team.

With all of his strong peripherals, I believe it would have been prudent of him to take a one year deal, allow the luck to neutralize the numbers, which would open up a whole new level of money for him. Lynn is still 31-years-old which essentially means that he can certainly deal with another pillow deal to set him up for a more lucrative multi-year deal. Instead, he’s going to be on a rebuilding team’s roster for the next three years until he’s 34-years-old. The fact that he would have been ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, his market would already have more life than it did last offseason. Furthermore, in this market, competing with guys like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, and Charlie Morton would push Lynn about two tiers lower than he would have been considered in any other free agent class.

The Rangers made another move, as they sent lefty reliever Alex Claudio to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for their competitive balance draft pick, which will fall around pick #40. While he can’t genuinely determine who “wins” this deal until we see how Texas spends the pick, I like the Brewers’ side initially. The Rangers sold much lower on Claudio than they had to. While his ERA was a lackluster 4.48, his FIP was much stronger at 3.42. The Brewers were able to capitalize on a team selling low to acquire a guy who could challenge for saves early on for the defending National League Central champs.

While the Rangers received an intriguing return, I can’t help but believe that they would have been able to get more for him had they waited until the trade deadline or next winter. The Brewers, who are in win-now mode, did a nice job picking up a guy who could make them look like geniuses. Claudio doesn’t qualify for free agency until after the 2021 season, meaning the Rangers had all of that time to find a better deal. I believe that it was an impulsive sale by Texas.

The Detroit Tigers replaced Jose Iglesias with Jordy Mercer on a one year deal worth $5.25 million with $250k in incentives. This is essentially a standard stopgap signing by a rebuilding team. While the Tigers have Willi Castro and Dawel Lugo waiting in the wings, none of them are quite ready to make it to the major leagues, therefore Mercer will be keeping their seats warm. While he’s probably going to start almost every day, my projections aren’t too keen on his bat, as it had him slashing .260/.324/.338. He’s not very good defensively either, as his range factor per nine innings came in at -1.79% compared to average. I would imagine you will hear his name in the rumors as the season goes on.

Meanwhile, James McCann is on his way out of Detroit after signing a one year deal worth $2.5 million with the division rival Chicago White Sox. McCann will be replacing Omar Narvaez, who was recently traded to the Mariners for Alex Colome. One common response that I saw following the announcement of the signing was that many were upset as they considered Narvaez to be better than McCann. While that may be true, statistically, I would much rather have McCann and Colome than Narvaez any day of the week. The White Sox can control McCann for the next two seasons through arbitration.  I have McCann hitting .243/.291/.367 with defense  behind the plate 9.81% below average.

The second, and more notable, transaction was Chicago’s acquisition of first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Triple-A outfielder Alex Call. This deal made headlines, as Alonso is the brother-in-law of premier free agent Manny Machado. While I can’t speak on the actual intentions of the White Sox, I think it’s a stretch to believe that Machado will decide to sign with the White Sox because they acquired his brother-in-law, who will probably depart via free agency following the 2019 season. Going under the assumption that Machado will be under contract for around ten years, it essentially means that Alonso will play with Machado for 10% of his stay in Chicago.

I think the move was done to allow Jose Abreu to slide over to the designated hitter role. While Abreu isn’t a bad defensive first baseman by any means, he saw a stark decline in his bat in 2018. Moving him to the designated hitter position allows him to focus more on his offensive game than his defensive game. If the White Sox are going to trade any of their veterans, I would bet on Yolmer Sanchez. If for some reason, the brother-in-law narrative is true, then I believe the White Sox just wasted $9 million that could have been put towards Machado.

As for the Indians I have mixed reactions to the deal. On one hand, they did a nice job dumping $9 million in salary commitments, but on the other hand, after the three team trade, they only have Santana and Bauers as 1B/DH types. I, personally, don’t think it’s a great idea to give Bauers a starting job right out of the gate, especially for a team with intentions of competing for the World Series. Their acquisition, Alex Call, is a 24-year-old outfielder who seems likely to begin the season at Double-A Akron. He’s pretty underwhelming across the board, as he has a career minor league batting line of .256/.347/.400 and average to slightly below average defense at all three outfield spots, based on range factor. I would imagine he could be a fourth outfielder, but realistically, I see him as more of an emergency call-up journeyman type who sees about 30 plate appearances a year with different organizations.

The Washington Nationals traded starter Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for fireballing reliever Tanner Rainey in a straight up swap. This move, as a whole, is pretty straightforward, but creates the implication that the Nationals could go ahead and add another major starting pitcher. The Reds will acquire one season of the 32-year-old, who will be paid via arbitration for the 2019 season. It is widely expected that he receives around $10 million, give or take a million. While Roark has been a very solid starter in the past, he struggled a bit last season, and I question whether he will be able to pitch in the hitters’ haven that is Great American Ball Park. That being said, the price to acquire him wasn’t exceptionally high, and he will at least be a source of innings for a team that isn’t necessarily there quite yet. Dick Williams, the president of baseball operations in Cincinnati, proclaimed that there was still more to come, so it will be interesting to see how he continues to build the roster after the acquisition of Roark.

As for Rainey, we’re looking at a flamethrower who can top triple-digits, while mixing in a nice curve, but has absolutely no control, and isn’t very effective in terms of ground ball generation. There’s definitely a very high ceiling for the nearly 26-year-old reliever, but I would consider him to be a lottery ticket for the Nationals. My expectation is for him to serve in a taxi-squad capacity over the next year or so, and then go on to become something of a journeyman. While you can’t teach a triple digit fastball, it’s not going to be effective when that same pitcher is walking about six guys per nine innings.

The Nationals also brought back first baseman Matt Adams on a one-year deal that will guarantee him $4 million. He will earn $3 million in 2019 with a $1 million buyout on his option for the 2020 season. Adams is a strict platoon player, as he can’t hit left-handed pitching to save his life, but he brings with him very intriguing power at a very affordable rate. There’s not much risk associated with this deal, but it will help the Nationals fill their bench and increase depth.

Another first baseman, Justin Bour, signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with the Los Angeles Angels. At this point, it looks as though Bour will be the Angels’ starting first baseman for the 2019 season and possibly through 2020, as he can be controlled through arbitration. I like the signing for the Angels, as my projections have Bour slashing .264/.352/.472 with 20 home runs over 117 games (equating to 28 per 162). Bour also brings with him solid plate discipline and should once again thrive offensively, as he will be given consistent playing time.

A former Angel, Ian Kinsler, will head back to California for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, as he inked a two-year contract with the Padres. I like Kinsler going into the 2019 season, as his bat seems likely to rebound to some extent based on BABIP, and his glove and base running haven’t really missed a beat, but I don’t know how I feel about the fact that it’s a two-year contract. My guess is that the Padres will use Kinsler on an everyday basis to start things off, and will gradually move him to a bench role as their prospects such as Luis Urias, Esteban Quiroz, Javy Guerra, Fernando Tatis and Owen Miller start coming up. I can certainly see Kinsler filling the same role that the Los Angeles Dodgers used Chase Utley for, as a player-coach type.

Speaking of the Dodgers, Joe Kelly will join the Dodger bullpen on a three-year deal worth $25 million. First of all, I, personally don’t believe in paying a ton for relievers other than, perhaps a closer, based on the history of it. While there are truly exceptions to this rule, what many people forget is that relievers are actually just pitchers who weren’t successful as starters, thus the volatility. Joe Kelly was excellent for the Red Sox in the playoffs, but I think this is an overpay, as Kelly has been among the more volatile established arms in the league over the past few seasons.

I like Kelly as a middle reliever who can induce a ton of ground balls and limit damage to an extent, but I would have difficulty trusting him to serve as my primary set-up option, which the paycheck suggests. The 30-year-old is coming off of a 4.39 ERA season in which he walked 4.39 batters per nine innings. While his FIP was more promising, at 3.57, I’d hope for a bit more for $25 million. While I will never totally question Los Angeles GM Andrew Friedman, I don’t love this deal before seeing what he can do.

Finally, sticking in the high-leverage relief market, the Mets brought back longtime closer Jeurys Familia on a three-year deal worth $30 million. While I wouldn’t consider Familia to be among the clear-cut exceptions to the rule, I have enough faith in his rebound 2018 to stand behind this deal, especially considering the fact that Familia had pitched in the Mets’ organization until a mid-season trade that shipped him to Oakland. The deal isn’t a slam dunk guarantee for the Mets, but the 2017 season seems like more of a blip on the radar than a sign of things to come based on the 29-year-old’s history.

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