Just because the 2013 Winter Meetings have come to a close doesn’t mean the pervasive updates and rumors will screech to a halt. Numerous pitchers and position players are still on the market.
Before we delve into the latest off the hot stove, let’s pay homage to the reporters who valiantly kept us up to date with the goings on in Orlando and throughout the last several weeks:
YOU CRAZY FOR THIS ONE KEN! Shout out to insider Ken Rosenthal for very nearly igniting the propane tanks that fuel the hot stove. With rumors buzzing that then free agent second baseman Robinson Cano was en route to Seattle with a massive offer on the negotiating table, Rosenthal mysteriously tweeted that the Mariners had agreed to terms with Rafael Furcal and that he would play second base. Moments later the original tweet was amended to read that Furcal had in fact signed with the Marlins. Rosenthal apologized for the error, and allowed a momentary glance for the rest of the world into the crystal ball craziness of MLB free agency. The seriousness of the Cano rumors came to fruition the next day when the world learned that he had in fact accepted a colossal 10-year, $240 million contract offer from Seattle. Ken, we’ll let this one slide, but maybe don’t be so quick on the trigger next time.
SOURCES: The Winter Meetings are a buzz kill. When all rumors and speculation have been reported and there’s nothing going on, we get lunch updates. Which as far as we know could also be speculation.
No games have been played since the Red Sox hoisted the World Series trophy and Mike Napoli drunkenly stumbled around Boston chugging Fireball whiskey, but that doesn’t mean the landscape of the league hasn’t changed. While many teams have stood pat till this point, several GMs have been major players in the market and left the stove at a light sizzle heading into the New Year. Which could only mean it is time to dish out props where they are due with the 2014 Early Offseason Awards.
Red Sox resign Napoli for two years and $32 million
Let’s start with Boston, who kicked off a fairly quiet offseason by bringing back Napoli. Keeping with their policy of making short-term commitments, the champs made a wise choice in retaining their beard-tugging slugger who set career highs in RBI and walks last season. They also brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal and added reliever Edward Mujica for two. Pierzynski’s reputation precedes him, and his fellow major leaguers make him out to be the major-league reincarnate of ‘Ham’ Porter. That being said, besides Jack Parkman, most big league teams would prefer to have the league’s most detested pariah in their dugout. Mujica was fabulous last season for the Cardinals, making his first career all-star appearance and showing renewed life with a devastating splitter. He’ll pitch meaningful innings for the Sox next season.
Boston has built up a solid amount of depth across the board in their rotation, bullpen and lineup. Whether the saga of Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka ends with him on a big league club in 2014 remains to be seen, but it sure seems like whenever he hits the market, this guy is going to get paid in full. It’ll definitely be a raise from the $4 million per year he was making in Japan, especially if the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and more deep-pocketed teams agree to offer up the $20 million posting fee.
NOW THEY MEAN BUSINESS AWARD
Yankees sign all the players.
The Yankees have completely reinvigorated their lineup this offseason, splurging on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Brendan Ryan. If the early winter spending spree was any indication, the Yankees are likely not done yet, especially with rotation spots and bullpen roles to fill. Fortunately for Yankees’ fans, the team is demonstrating plenty of determination to reemerge as a contender at any price, not just the right one.
It’s true they overpaid for Ellsbury, but the bottom line is they got their guy, the one premier, dynamic outfielder available this offseason. Save for an injury-shortened 2010 season, he’s done nothing but rake at the plate since entering the league. Any questions about his durability or heart can be silenced when you take into account that he played most of last September and October with a bad wrist and a bum ankle. The Yankees will see a solid return from their substantial investment soon enough.
What’s next for the Bronx Bombers? They need another starting pitcher to bolster their rotational depth, and you can tell they’re being careful not to sign another A.J. Burnett. They also need to upgrade their bullpen after losing Mariano Rivera to retirement and Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan to free agent deals. The top free agent closing options are off the board, suggesting that the team is ready to move forward with David Robertson as their closer. If the Yanks did want to bring in another arm with some successful closing experience, Fernando Rodney is still available. For now they should set their sights on veteran middle reliever/set up options to fill out a bullpen that is thin on quality arms.
GET ‘ER DONE AWARD
Tigers get Ian Kinsler, sign Joe Nathan, clear space to sign Max Scherzer
The American League team with arguably the most success this offseason has been the Detroit Tigers, who despite trading some of their key players and letting Jhonny Peralta walk, managed to fill all of their glaring needs while shedding some salary. With the money saved by moving Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, they locked up one of the game’s top closers in Nathan for $20 million over two years. After years of disappointing postseason showings by their previous closer options, Nathan will solidify the ninth inning as he has for nearly a decade, logging six all-star appearances and consistently finishing among the league leaders in games finished. Detroit’s addition of Kinsler in the Prince Fielder trade will bolster their infield defense and allow Miguel Cabrera to move to first base to hopefully keep him healthy for the duration of the season. With Cabrera’s shift to first, the third base job could be top prospect Nick Castellanos’ to lose. The Tigers also added Rajai Davis, who will serve as the right-hand option in a platoon with Andy Dirks.
Oh, and the Tigers signed Joba, I guess because mop-up duty relief pitcher was a major need for them this winter.
RUN TRAIN ON THE STARTING PITCHING MARKET AWARD
Twins sign Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey
The most mystifying team this offseason has been the Minnesota Twins, who made it a priority to stockpile middling starting pitching at unreasonable prices by signing Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey to multi-year deals. It makes sense for the Twins to target veteran pitchers after they finished last in the American League in strikeouts and next to last in ERA. Though other than Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, they have a severe shortage of proven position players. Very likely the Twins are figuring that by committing salary to multiple starters, they maintain the flexibility to have rotational depth if the team is a contender further down the road, or trade their assets to contenders in need of an upgrade. With expectations high for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, Minnesota has to be anticipating a future where Mauer and their top prospects anchor the lineup.
BIGGEST SPLASH AWARD
Mariners sign Cano
Out west, the Seattle Mariners jackknifed into the free agency pool by committing to a 10-year, $240 million pact with Robinson Cano. The deal caught everyone by surprise; even when reports emerged that Cano was meeting with the Mariners, the perception was never that they were real contenders. With an offer on the table that blew all others out of the water, Cano took the huge payday and never looked back.
And can you blame him? No, of course not. As far as we know, Seattle offered Cano tens of millions more in guaranteed salary. That salary is also not subject to taxation, since Washington state has no personal income tax. Accusing Cano of being greedy for taking the deal is foolish. He’s a veteran who is entitled to a reward for his work, which includes performing at a remarkably consistent level in the majors over several seasons. Baseball salaries are extremely inflated and if players make it to free agency they have essentially earned the right to be overpaid. That’s just how it works. Fans can boo-hoo and overreact all they want, it’s just the reality of the business. Cano may have sacrificed his potential plaque in Monument Park, but the Yankees wisely opted not to commit to Cano well into his forties, and instead invest their bottomless pockets elsewhere.
The Mariners also added Corey Hart through free agency and Logan Morrison via trade with the Marlins. Both players have dealt with knee issues in recent years, but if healthy can provide a fair amount of protection for a lineup that will certainly revolve around Cano’s bat. One thing is for sure: Robinson Cano isn’t going to turn Seattle’s fortunes around by himself with this lineup. I’m not sure any single player in the majors could make Seattle’s lineup look good, but Cano appears up to the task.
YOOOUUUUU, YOU GOT WHAT I NEEEEEED AWARD
Angels get Santiago and Skaggs in three-team deal.
Lastly, the LA Angels managed a very successful offseason, confronting their dire need for pitching reinforcement head on. They brilliantly swung a three-team deal at the winter meetings that sent slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona and returned to them prized pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs from the D-Backs and Hector Santiago from the White Sox. The deal greatly improves a rotation that struggled to find depth behind Jered Weaver and dandruff shampoo enthusiast C.J. Wilson. The Angels also added reliever Joe Smith, who projects as their set up man for closer Ernesto Frieri and 80-year-old Raul Ibañez, who slugged 29 home runs last year and will likely play DH in a rejuvenated Angels’ lineup.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION AWARD
D-Backs trade Heath Bell to Tampa Bay.
Over in the National League, the Diamondbacks took the biggest step forward by acquiring Mark Trumbo, who will likely play left field and forms a powerful tandem with NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt. They also made the best addition by subtraction this offseason by ridding themselves of Heath Bell in a three-way trade with Tampa Bay. I’m sure Bell will end up as the latest Rays reclamation project, but he just hasn’t been the same pitcher since leaving San Diego where he saved 42+ games in three straight seasons. The reigning NL West champion Dodgers stayed pat by resigning Brian Wilson, Juan Uribe and bringing in veteran righty Dan Haren on a one-year deal. They may still be in the market for a second baseman, but are still among the early NL pennant favorites with the Cardinals and Nationals. The Cardinals were able to get Mark Ellis to abandon the Dodgers for a one-year deal. He pairs up pretty nicely with Peralta as a middle infield tandem with a strong track record of offensive consistency.
I’m anxious to see how the Cardinals lineup functions without Beltran. The talent is still very much prevalent, but it could prove difficult for them to replicate his production without a switch hitter in the middle of the order. Beltran was also remarkably proficient at hitting with runners in scoring position. With an abundance of young arms behind Adam Wainwright, St. Louis could have the best rotation in baseball next season.
RETURN TO RELEVANCE AWARD
Mets sign Granderson, Young and Colon.
It’s hard to fathom, but the Mets may have very well had the most successful offseason of any NL East team. The signing of Curtis Granderson gives them a left-handed power bat that aims to provide much-needed lineup protection to David Wright, something Ike Davis and Lucas Duda have been unable to do despite a wealth of opportunities. Granderson suffered through multiple freak injuries last season and is starting to show signs of aging, but his ability to hit for power has not waned. His numbers could take a hit at Citi Field, but if the Mets coaches are savvy enough, they will mold his game to fit the park’s unique dimensions. The Bartolo Colon signing left many Mets’ fans scratching their heads, but I think it’s a good fit. Colon had a sensational year in 2013, finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young voting and posting his lowest WHIP since 2005. He’s forty years old, but still managed to make 30 starts last season. His purpose is obvious for the Mets: He’s their stopgap for this season with Matt Harvey out. In 2015, the team can trade him and his then-expiring contract if they deem that they have enough starters, or they can keep him and maintain their rotational depth. With other free agent starters vying for longer deals, Colon was likely New York’s safest option.
Most importantly for Mets fans, the team brought in guys that filled their laundry list of needs. They are still seeking an upgrade at shortstop and some bullpen arms. Regardless, it’s clear that the fans yearn for a hungry team with a chance to play meaningful games later in the season. That’s all any team could ask for, we’ll see if they get it.