Recap of First Wave of Free Agent Signings

While the first few weeks of the offseason were rather slow, this Hot Stove didn’t wait until February to heat up, as we saw a considerable number of major moves.

The Braves made headlines on Monday afternoon, bringing in Josh Donaldson on a one-year contract worth $23 million and Brian McCann on a one-year contract worth $2 million, as profiled by fellow Baseball Essential correspondent Jason Kelly.

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has acquired Donaldson before, as he traded Kendall GravemanSean NolinBrett Lawrie, and Franklin Barreto from Toronto to the A’s in November of 2014 to acquire Donaldson, who won the MVP award while leading the 2015 Blue Jays to a division title. While many have been skeptical of his potential return to form after an injury-riddled age-32 season, he looked revitalized after returning following a trade to Cleveland, slashing .280/.400/.520 with three home runs and a 10:10 walk to strikeout ratio over 60 plate appearances. He will serve as the Braves’ everyday option at third in 2019 and could earn them some draft compensation in the 2020 draft.

The connection between McCann and Atlanta goes without saying, as he spent nine seasons slashing .277/.350/.473 with 176 home runs. In that time, he was voted to six All-Star games and won five Silver Slugger awards. Now entering age 35 season, he’s coming off of an injury-shortened season in which he slashed .212/.301/.339 over 216 plate appearances. He will platoon with the right-handed catcher Tyler Flowers. I would imagine the majority of McCann’s plate appearances would come against righties. The Braves made the right move here. First of all, the prospect of acquiring a lefty counterpart to Flowers was attractive, no doubt, but bringing in a veteran hometown kid who spent the majority of his career with the Braves is a great clubhouse and fan morale booster.

To accommodate the moves, the Braves designated a pair of lefties for assignment in Ricardo Sanchez and Adam McCreery.

McCreery was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations. While he lacks control, he has a plus slider and an above-average fastball to support a second-to-none ability to induce ground balls. Despite a lack of prospect hype, McCreery looks like a very strong candidate to see innings as he’s one of a few lefty relievers who will compete with Scott Alexander for the final spot in the Dodgers bullpen. Other candidates include Julio Urias and Caleb FergusonPat Venditte has been designated for assignment to accommodate the move.

As for Sanchez, the Braves sent him to the Seattle Marines for cash. Sanchez spent the majority of the 2018 season in Double-A, posting a 4.06 ERA over 57.2 innings. This is a very nice gamble for a team in the process of rebuilding their farm system, as Sanchez will turn 22 years old in April and should begin the season back in Double-A with the potential to see a major-league call-up in late 2019. I see him as a back-of-the-rotation ceiling and a high-octane LOOGY floor, and assuming the Mariners develop him efficiently without rushing him, he should be ready to go early in the 2020 season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million with $3 million in incentives. While Chisenhall is an obvious injury risk, he has a decent hit tool and decent power when healthy. My projections have him slashing .260/.317/.425 with eight homers over 91 games, which would equate to 15 over a 162-game sample size. I would imagine Chisenhall will be the primary starter while the Pirates await the return of Gregory Polanco, who is currently doubtful for Opening Day due to labrum surgery. Upon Polanco’s return, the Pirates seem likely to either use Chisenhall as a fourth outfielder type, assuming they’re in the hunt, or could try to flip him for a lottery ticket. Righty Alex McRae was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The 25-year-old reliever doesn’t have a ton of major league experience, as he has thrown 6.1 innings with a 5.68 ERA, but he has thrown 626 innings of 4.47 ERA ball in the minor leagues, including 117 innings with a 4.77 ERA last year. Based on the fact that he’s a starter with minor league options, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him claimed, but he looks like the type of guy who will serve as a swing man, as his stuff isn’t anything special. I would place his ceiling as a back-of-the-rotation starter if his low-to-mid 90’s fastball can start to rack up a few more strikeouts and he retains his control.

In a pair of incomplete but announced transactions, the Texas Rangers announced a two-year deal with righty Jesse Chavez worth $8 million, and the Detroit Tigers will sign righty Matt Moore to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with an additional million in potential incentives.

Chavez spent half of the 2018 season with the Rangers after inking a one-year deal worth $1 million. Over 56.1 innings in Texas, he posted a 3.51 ERA before being traded to the Cubs for lefty Tyler Thomas, a seventh-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2017. Over 124.1 career minor league innings, he has posted a solid 2.90 ERA, reaching High-A, where he should return to begin the 2019 season. For further reading on Thomas, here is my profile on him from the aforementioned trade. Chavez seems likely to serve as a setup man who could go a few innings at a time. His control looked excellent last season, and while I wouldn’t be shocked if it regressed a bit, it’s a rather low-risk signing for a rebuilding team looking for innings eaters and possible trade chips. That existing familiarity probably factored into the decision for Chavez, as well as the fact that the contract was for two years, locking him up through his age-36 season.

As for Moore, he will depart the Rangers following a season to forget, as he posted a 6.79 ERA and a 5.25 FIP over 102 innings pitched. While he seems likely to serve in a starting capacity for the rebuilding Tigers, it wouldn’t be very surprising to see him tested in relief, seeing as how he’s an inexpensive lefty. My expectations are modest, but the risk is minimal. It’s a nice landing spot for Moore, as he will pitch in a less competitive division as a lefty with some level of versatility.

Over the past few days, the remainder of the November 20 roster casualties were resolved, as right-handed pitcher Derian Gonzalez (St. Louis Cardinals), infielder Allen Cordoba (San Diego Padres), and lefty Hoby Milner (Tampa Bay Rays) all cleared waivers, while four guys drew claims.

The Rays lost Oliver Drake to the division rival Blue Jays, who had been one of the five teams Drake spent the 2018 season with. Drake’s time in Toronto wasn’t long, as he allowed three earned runs over 1.2 innings pitched. Nevertheless, the Jays obviously liked what they saw enough to bring him back. While it’s no guarantee that he sticks around in Toronto, his peripherals have always suggested that he is much better than his bottom line numbers show. While he’s nearly 32, it’s merely a matter of time until we see the righty function as a regular middle reliever, as opposed to a hot potato. Mark Leiter was designated for assignment to accommodate the move. The 27-year-old righty is a swing man who has seen 114 innings in the major leagues over the past two seasons. He has a minor league option remaining, and therefore can be used as a reserve starter/swing in Triple-A if claimed. He has decent enough control but has always been vulnerable to the home run ball and has never been able to rack up quite as many strikeouts as you would like to see.

The Royals took a shot on former Cardinals prospect Conner Greene. While Greene had pitched as a starter for the majority of his time in the minor leagues, he seems likely to be moved to a full-time relief role, as his 98-mph fastball and plus slider combo could play up in the pen. Based on errant control, I would peg him as a high-octane reliever right out of the gate, but seeing as how the Royals are in full-rebuild mode, he could be given consistent opportunities even if he struggles. If he can improve his control a bit, we could be looking at a setup guy. Burch Smith was designated for assignment to accommodate the move. The 28-year-old struggled mightily after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft last winter. Over 38 games, he posted a 6.92 ERA with similarly awful peripheral statistics. I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked to see him claimed based on the ability to go multiple innings, but I wouldn’t expect him to have a huge role.

The Yankees purchased Parker Bridwell from the Angels after he was designated for assignment to accommodate Dillon Peters, acquired from the Marlins. Bridwell, who is out of minor league options, could have a very hard time making the Yankees out of camp, as they possess one of the deepest pitching staffs in the league. While he was rather solid for the Angels in 2017, his peripherals suggested a lot of it had to do with luck. I would expect him to hit the wire again, as the Yanks could simply be trying to use him as insurance in Triple-A. To accommodate the move, the Yankees traded Ronald Torreyes to the Chicago Cubs for future considerations. While Torreyes was one of many players who was hurt by the depth of the Yankees in 2018, he had served as a primary utility option through the 2016 and 2017 seasons after being acquired from the Dodgers. The 5’6″ utility guy doesn’t walk a lot, nor does he strike out, but he has always been good with making contact. The Cubs aren’t a great landing spot for him, as they are equally deep, but he still has a minor league option remaining. He seems likely to serve as injury insurance in the minors and could play a more prominent role if Addison Russell is non-tendered.

Additionally, the Cubs re-signed lefty Kyle Ryan to a one-year major-league contract. The 27-year-old posted a 2.86 ERA over 66 innings pitched, but it should be noted that his BABIP was very low (.235) while his FIP sat at 4.62. Furthermore, while he induced grounders at a 61% rate, he allowed 1.23 HR/9 with a HR/FB ratio similar to his average over the past few seasons. On the bright side, however, his velocity has sat around 92-93 over the past two seasons compared to the 89-90 that it was in the past. I would imagine that he serves as a lefty taxi option who could serve as a swing option down the line.

The Minnesota Twins made a relatively significant move bringing in first baseman C.J. Cron off of waivers from the Rays. Despite a very solid 2018 season, Cron was designated for assignment at the November 20 protection deadline, in a move that was probably financially motivated. Seeing as how the Twins claimed him, they will have to pay him through the arbitration process, which seems likely to pay him around $5 million for the 2019 season. With this in mind, it seems as though they consider Cron the replacement for the retired Joe Mauer. While it’s certainly not a bad move, as my projections have Cron hitting .261/.317/.471 (.788 OPS) with 21 homers over 117 games, I believe they may have overpaid. In this market, first basemen can be acquired for almost nothing. I believe they could have found a more financially efficient option such as Brad Miller or Mark Reynolds. That being said, Cron should at least be able to efficiently plug the hole at first for the time being. He can be retained via arbitration through 2020.

The New York Mets acquired first baseman Jordan Patterson off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies. Patterson has spent the last two seasons in Triple-A for the Rockies, exhibiting power and an excellent eye at the plate. One thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that he has spent his entire career in the Rockies organization. The Mets could represent a very nice landing spot for the outfielder, as there have been a lot of conversations of trades involving Juan Lagares, Jay Bruce, and Yoenis Cespedes, which could open up a rather significant amount of playing time. While I don’t see the average numbers translating, the walk rate is decent and the power is undeniable. He looks like the type of guy who the Mets could use as a placeholder while awaiting a long-term solution.

The Chicago White Sox re-acquired Ian Clarkin from the Cubs after the Cubs tried slipping him through waivers. At this point, I would assume the White Sox will try to slip him through waivers again later in the offseason. While I would normally expect there to be a lot more interest, as Clarkin has legitimate talent and could become an outstanding lefty starter, the fact that he made it all the way down to the Cubs in the waiver order leads me to believe that he could very well clear the next time the White Sox try to slip him through. Nevertheless, even if he does wind up clearing, I would still anticipate seeing him in the majors at some point in late 2019.

The Orioles brought in former A’s and Cardinals reliever Josh Lucas on a minor-league deal with a spring training invitation on Wednesday. I would imagine Lucas spends the majority of the season in Triple-A Norfolk and could very well see a call-up with results like he posted in 2018. Over 38.2 innings, he posted a 2.56 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. The O’s represent a nice landing spot, as doors could open up for him with trades of existing Orioles relievers.

Finally, another one of my top-25 guys landed with the Miami Marlins, as Harold Ramirez inked a minors deal. While Ramirez doesn’t walk a ton, nor does he have much in terms of power, he’s fresh off of a season in which he won the Eastern League’s batting title for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I would expect him to begin the season in Triple-A New Orleans playing in the outfield alongside fellow top-25 outfielder Gabriel Guerrero, as well as Magneuris Sierra and Braxton Lee. My projections have him slashing .228/.275/.343 over a 93-game sample size, stealing ten bases and hitting five homers, but I don’t expect him to spend much time in the majors, as he’s never even played at Triple-A. Once he gets his feet wet there, the 24-year-old could become a candidate to carve out a long-term role, whether it be as a starter or even a strong fourth outfielder. One area in which he needs to improve, however, is plate discipline. He needs to get his projected walk rate above 6 percent.

With this signing, eight of my top 25 have come off the board, leaving 17 guys.  Of the remaining free agents, the highest ranking player is the right-handed pitcher Tony Zych.

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