Winners (Haren) and losers (Hamilton) from Winter Meetings
With no blockbuster trades or nine-figure free agent signings, the Winter Meetings in Nashville were more notable for what didn’t get done than what did. Justin Upton is still a Diamondback, James Shield a Ray and Wil Myers a Royal, while Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton remain unsigned. With more than two months until pitchers and catchers begin reporting, the winter’s work is hardly done, and teams have plenty of time to step to the plate to collect that big hit, so to speak.
Still, it’s tough to resist sorting through what just happened this week to identify winners and losers. With the caveat that most teams still merit incomplete grades, here’s an admittedly subjective take on what we’ve taken home from Music City.
Washington Nationals and Dan Haren
The Denard Span trade — a solid near-term win that helped the Nationals avoid a pricey free agent entanglement — happened prior to the meetings, so that doesn’t count here. No, the Nationals’ position among the winners owes to the signing of Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal. The 32-year-old righty battled back woes during a 2012 season in which he put up a 4.33 ERA while yielding a career-worst 1.4 homers per nine and failed to reach the 200-inning plateau for the first time since 2004, but even so, he’s been one of the game’s top pitchers over the past eight seasons.
During that span, his 28.8 WAR (Baseball-Reference.com version) ranks 10th, while his 1,875 innings are second only to CC Sabathia and his 118 ERA+ is tied for 17th among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings. With Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez ahead of him, Haren doesn’t need to be the ace of Washington’s rotation, he simply needs to fill the slot vacated by Edwin Jackson, who delivered a 4.03 ERA in 189 2/3 innings. On the principle that there are no bad one-year deals, Haren is an acceptable risk, and given that he gets to join a contender while earning a salary that’s slightly above his 2012 one ($12.75 million), he’s a winner here too.
San Francisco Giants
Given the context of B.J. Upton’s five-year, $75.25 million deal with the Braves and Shane Victorino’s three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox, the Giants’ four-year, $40 million deal with Angel Pagan is a significant bargain, one that looks even better with sunk cost Aaron Rowand coming off of San Francisco’s books. Pagan’s 13.9 WAR nearly doubles that of Upton (7.2) over the past four seasons and is tied with Victorino for fifth among centerfielders during that span. Pagan is also eight months younger than the Flyin’ Hawaiian, with a more encouraging recent trajectory and a smaller platoon split.
The re-signing of Marco Scutaro to a three-year, $20 million deal is riskier given his age (37 on October 30), but it’s hardly the golden parachute that Aubrey Huff received from the Giants (two years, $22 million) and Juan Uribe got from the Dodgers (three years, $21 million) after they helped San Francisco to the title in 2010. So long as Scutaro can continue to be a two-win player — he’s averaged 2.3 WAR over the past three years — the Giants will come out ahead, and they can shunt him into a utility role by the end of the deal if need be.
For Victorino to wind up making $13 million a year coming off full-season lows in all three slash categories (.255/.321/.383) split between the Phillies and Dodgers is a huge win for him. While the 32-year-old switch-hitter’s overall three-year trend doesn’t look too bad — 10.8 WAR from 2007-2009, 10.4 from 2010-2012 — his massive platoon split is cause for concern. During the latter stretch, he has hit just .244/.311/.387 in 1,366 plate appearances against righties, compared to .317/.392/.551 in 512 PA against lefties. He’s a platoon player in the guise of a regular, so the danger is that he’s going to be overpaid from his services.
Whether he accepts the Yankees’ reported one-year, $12 million offer or a two-year, $18 million deal from the Indians, Youkilis is going to come out ahead. The 33-year-old is coming off a down year in which he hit just .235/.336 /.409 split between the Red Sox and White Sox, and he’s become increasingly brittle, averaging just 120 games a year over the past four seasons while visiting the disabled list each season. New York’s offer barely constitutes a pay cut from his $12.25 million salary in 2012, that for a player who likely wouldn’t be a full-timer once Alex Rodriguez returns from injury after recovering from hip surgery.
New York Yankees
General manager Brian Cashman spent the first leg of the offseason retaining Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera via one-year contracts, but while he was doing so, he lost Russell Martin to the Pirates via a very reasonable two-year deal. That doesn’t count against him here. What does is the fallout from the news that Rodriguez could be out until June after undergoing left hip surgery. Even if one grants Cashman a pass for his confusing explanation regarding the timeline of the injury during the postseason, the Yankees’ failure to retain Eric Chavez (one year, $3 million to the Diamondbacks) or land Jeff Keppinger (three years, $12 million to the White Sox) looks ridiculous in light of their offer to Youkilis.
Worse, the Wall Street Journal‘s Dan Barbarisi reported that Cashman “came to the winter meetings in Nashville with his hands so fully tied that he lacked the authority to make offers to free agents,” which makes it sound as though those above him — managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and club president Randy Levine — are significantly cutting into his authority. The team’s frantic attempt to get its 2014 payroll under the $189 million threshold, thereby not only resetting their marginal luxury tax rate but also gaining a substantial rebate with regards to revenue sharing, is what’s driving this newfound caution. Still, if the Yankees go into the 2013 season with a cobbled-together platoon solution in rightfield to replace Nick Swisher, a similarly half-baked solution at catcher to replace Martin and an overpay when it comes to Youkilis, they’ll certainly be the worse for it, at least with regards to the near term.
Rafael Soriano opted out of the $14 million he would have received from the Yankees via his three-year deal, but even coming off a 42-save season in place of the injured Mariano Rivera, he’ll be hard pressed to match that or anything approaching the average annual value of his now-shredded three-year, $35 million deal. The contracts Brandon League (three years, $22.5 million plus a vesting option from the Dodgers) and Jonathan Broxton (three years, $21 million from the Reds) landed may seem exorbitant given their recent track records, but the bubble has burst when it comes to eight-figure salaries for closers.
Consider Ryan Madson, who was thought to have a four-year, $44 million deal with the Phillies last winter, one that vanished when the team decided to go with Jonathan Papelbon at four years and $50 million. Madson settled for a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Reds, then wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery in April before he could even pitch an inning for Cincinnati. He recently signed a $3.5 million deal with the Angels that’s laden with incentives topping out at an overall $7 million take if he finishes at least 50 games and avoids the DL for an arm injury. Meanwhile, Brian Wilson was nontendered by the Giants coming off a year in which he made $8.5 million while undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Rivera took a sizable pay cut from $15 million a year to $10 million coming off ACL surgery and his 43rd birthday. While one can attribute all of those dealings to injuries, the ostensibly healthy Jose Valverde was let go by the Tigers following a two-year, $14 million deal and hasn’t found work either.
With the Twins’ trade of Ben Revere to the Phillies, Bourn may have lost his best chance to outdo Upton’s deal with the Braves, because the Phillies, Nationals and Giants have already take care of their centerfield needs as well. Bourn could still wind up as a fallback solution for either the Mariners or the Rangers depending upon which of the two teams doesn’t sign Hamilton, but the former isn’t exactly close to contender status, and the latter still has Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin as options in the middle pasture. In addition, Texas will presumably win out for the services of Greinke in the event it loses Hamilton, so the likelihood that it would pony up as the Braves ddi for Upton seems slim at best.
Forget about that seven-year, $175 million deal the 31-year-old slugger was said to be seeking; it’s simply not happening, at least on this planet. The Rangers appear to be willing to go to four years after saying otherwise earlier this offseason, and while the Mariners appear to be the most interested alternative suitor thus far, rumor has it the parameters of their discussions are for three years in the $20-25 million a year range. The Yankees may be sniffing around, but as noted above, they’re apparently financially hamstrung, and the Red Sox sound as though their interest is for a short-term deal at best. Nobody should weep for Hamilton, who will be paid handsomely no matter which uniform he winds up in, but he’s not going to reap the windfall he and his agent envisioned.