Posted December 12, 2013

Winners and losers from the winter meetings

Winter Meetings
Tyler Skaggs, Angels

The Angels will try to fix the problems that have prevented Tyler Skaggs from living up to his potential so far. (Matt York/AP)

The winter meetings in Orlando ended on Thursday after a relatively light amount of player movement. On the heels of a particularly wild week that saw nearly half a billion dollars committed to free agents and a total of 35 transactions in a five-day span, just four trades were made involving players who saw major league action in 2013, and only two free agents from among Ben Reiter’s top 50 agreed to terms.

Given that, one can draw only a handful of preliminary conclusions regarding what went down in Florida, more of which pertains to who gained ground than who lost it. After all, it’s harsh to judge teams on failing to make moves during a short, arbitrary window two months before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. What follows is my scorecard for this narrow timeframe, as opposed to the full Winter Report Cards series, which will run in early 2014.

Winners

Left-handed pitchers changing scenery
The two most notable trades of the winter meetings involved southpaws who are generally moving to better environments for pitchers. In the three-team Mark Trumbo deal, the Angels obtained lefties Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks and Hector Santiago from the White Sox, respectively, thus transferring them from hitters’ havens to a far more forgiving ballpark. Skaggs, whom the Halos drafted in 2009 and then traded away in the Dan Haren deal the following summer, is a former supplemental first-round pick who projected as a number two starter going into last year but has seen his stock slip since, in part because Arizona encouraged him to alter his delivery for the worse. Wrote ESPN’s Keith Law, “The Diamondbacks shortened his stride, resulting in a higher release point that cost him several miles per hour on his fastball and depth on his breaking ball.”

In the A’s-Rockies deal, the big winner is Drew Pomeranz, a former overall number five pick who moves from the high-altitude hell of Coors Field to the decrepit but spacious Oakland Coliseum. Brett Anderson is going the other direction, but his heavily groundball-oriented approach should help him survive while pitching in Colorado, and he’ll at least get to face pitchers instead of designated hitters.

New York Mets and Bartolo Colon
As I noted on Wednesday night, Colon’s two-year $20 million deal carries some risk due to the 40-year-old righty’s age and injury history, but it looks good in light of this winter’s contracts to Ricky Nolasco (four years, $47 million), Scott Feldman (three years, $30 million), Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million) and Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million). Colon has a much stronger resume than any of them, even limiting his performance to the past two or three seasons and considering his 50-game suspension in 2012 and ’13. What’s more, his arrival bolsters a relatively inexperienced rotation that will be without Matt Harvey in 2014 due to Tommy John surgery and buys a bit of credibility with a downtrodden fan base that’s all too used to the Mets not spending money on free agents.

Catchers
As SI’s Tom Verducci reported, the Rules Committee has begun drafting a proposal to ban home plate collisions en route to a rule that should be in place in time for next season. The plate will thus be treated as the three other bases are, with fielders not allowed to block the base without the ball, and runners not allowed to run over fielders.

While baserunners and catchers have been lauded for their toughness when it comes to contact plays at the plate, the increasing awareness of the long-term toll of concussions makes protecting the health of players a higher priority than tradition. It should also minimize injuries such as Buster Posey’s broken leg, which cost him most of the 2011 season. Catchers-turned-managers Mike Matheny and Bruce Bochy are among the key proponents of the change, with the former giving an impassioned presentation to the committee based upon his own experience with concussions, which ended his playing career. The specific language of the rule will still need to be drafted and sent to the players association for approval, likely in January.

Shin-Soo Choo
Choo, the top free agent remaining on Reiter’s list, has yet to sign, but MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported on Wednesday that the Rangers have a seven-year offer on the table. According to that report, the offer is for less than the $153 million that the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury but still “possibly around $130 million.” Whether or not another team comes along to top that — and it’s believed the Diamondbacks, Tigers and Mariners, the three teams previously connected to Choo, won’t — he’s going to wind up with one of the top 30 or so contracts in history.

Logan Morrison
Though it certainly creates a crowd at the left end of the defensive spectrum, I’m more sanguine about the Mariners’ moves to sign both Morrison and Corey Hart than colleague Cliff Corcoran, simply because they’re such buy-low propositions. Morrison, who only cost Seattle control-challenged righty reliever Carter Capps, is a 26-year-old former top-20 prospect who, when healthy, has good plate discipline and decent power and is moving to a park that’s more favorable for lefties than Marlins Park.  He has lost much of the last two years to knee problems, and he is now free of an organization that he battled to the point of filing a grievance over being demoted in 2011 due to disciplinary reasons. Then again, as this tweet from Thursday suggests, he’s not entirely past his maturity issues.

The incentive-based Hart deal isn’t a bad one, but he’s 31, coming off a year lost to a knee injury and headed from a park that rewards righthanded power to one that punishes it; per the 2014 Bill James Handbook, Miller Park’s three-year park home run factor for righties is 134, while the one-year factor for Safeco Field — all of the data we have since they moved the fences in — is 88. What’s more, Hart is likely to wind up stuck in the outfield, which suits neither his knees nor his limited defensive skills.

Legendary managers still among the living
On Monday, the Expansion Era committee announced that it had unanimously elected Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre to the Hall of Fame, a fitting reward for three skippers who rank among the top five in all-time managerial wins and have the most since World War II. That unanimity cost the other candidates on the ballot, more on which below.

Losers

Arizona Diamondbacks
So far, it’s been tough to find anyone who likes the Diamondbacks’ end of the three-way trade with the White Sox and Angels. While Trumbo has massive power that could play up with the move (Angel Stadium’s three-year righty park factor for homers is 83, while that of Chase Field is 111), he’s got a career .299 on-base percentage and considerable holes in his swing. He’s also headed to leftfield, where he’s far shakier defensively.

Furthermore, in trading both Skaggs and centerfielder Adam Eaton — two former top-100 prospects coming off rough seasons, the latter’s due to injury — general manager Kevin Towers once again sold way too low, an all-too-recurring theme during his regime when one considers the trades of Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy. The players to be named later that Arizona is rumored to be receiving (A.J. Schugel and Brandon Jacobs) won’t move the needle, either. Frankly, I liked Towers’ earlier work as Padres GM far more.

Cincinnati Reds
They didn’t make a move at the meetings, but their reported proposal of a swap with the Yankees involving Brandon Phillips and Brett Gardner was rejected by New York. The 32-year old Phillips is an above-average defender at a position where the Yankees need an upgrade, but his offense has declined from a 118 OPS+ in 2011 to 99 in 2012 to 92 in 2013; despite playing half his games in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, he batted just .261/.310/.396 this past season. What’s more, Phillips is not only due $50 million over the next four seasons, he’s complained publicly about his contract, angering Reds officials, and he even asked the team to reopen his deal. Now Cincinnati has an increasingly expensive and disgruntled player in decline on its hands, which is never a fun situation.

Justin Smoak
With the Morrison and Hart signings, it’s difficult to see any future in Seattle for Smoak. The switch-hitting 27-year-old first baseman may be coming off his best season (.238/.334/.412 with 20 homers for a 113 OPS+), but he now has a body of work totaling nearly 2,000 plate appearances that suggest he’ll never fulfill the promise of a former overall number 11 pick. Maybe he’ll do better in a more functional organization and/or a more favorable hitting environment than Safeco Field, but it’s hard to see a non-basement-dwelling team carving out a full-time role for him.

Nippon Professional Baseball and the Rakuten Eagles
Though it has yet to be ratified by either league, MLB and NPB have reportedly reached an agreement on changes to the posting rules for non-free agent players from the Japanese league. The new rules limit the maximum posting fee to $20 million, a major blow to the Eagles, who had expected to reap a windfall in excess of $50 million for posting ace Masahiro Tanaka, and who now may not post him at all. Most of that extra cash the NPB teams won’t get will instead go to the players who go through the process, and who will be able to negotiate with any team that matches the highest bid.

Deceased Hall of Fame candidates
While the aforementioned managers were deserving of election, the omission of the late MLBPA chief Marvin Miller is an ongoing travesty that diminishes the institution and the voting bodies that keep bypassing him, regardless of his late-life wish to be excluded from consideration. Additionally, one can make strong cases for longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and former manager Billy Martin as well, warts and all. Both now-deceased candidates spent decades as key movers and shakers, and both deserve enshrinement even if they’re not around to enjoy its benefits.

This article has been updated to note the 2013 change to Safeco Field’s dimensions

29 comments
metalhead65
metalhead65

the reds are not losers because they did not get rid of their all star second baseman. his offense has declined because he keeps getting moved in the order. going from second in the order to cleanup means he can't be to selective at the plate and I know for some reason in the metric era rbi's are not supposed to mean anything  but he drove in over a 100 of them last season. in addition he won't admit it but he was not the same after getting hit on purpose by the pirates in June. he was batting .300 at the time. the reds are winners for not making a trade just to make one, with baker gone hopefully they have a manager who will not sit the hot hitter or leave the pitcher in to long as was the case with baker. they are winners because they did not give up any of their top young talent and should be contenders for years because of it. they are losers however for signing another cardinal cast off and once again over paying for being a bench player. their bench needed a upgrade but another past his prime ex cardinal? will somebody tell jocketty he does not wok for them anymore and the guys he signs are not the players they were 10 years ago or they would not be ex-cardinals.

Steve F
Steve F

Miller's contributions to the players is beyond enormous but certainly not a positive contribution to baseball per se.  Did he make baseball better? Don't think so.

DavidA.Burns
DavidA.Burns

It's an absolute travesty that Tony LaRussa was unanimously elected to the hall.  Yes, he is a great manager, but he managed two of the biggest PED users in baseball.  Obviously, it was the players that were using, but there is culpability here on the part of LaRussa.  What did he know and when did he know it?  I find it hard to believe that a manager such as LaRussa would not know what was happening in the clubhouse.  If he didn't know anything that it was willful ignorance.  I have no problem with Cox and Torre, but let LaRussa be selected when Canseco and McGwire are elected.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

Why are you writers so in love with Marvin Miller?  They bow down before him as though he were a divine being.


Free agency would have come sooner or later.  Miller gets the credit, but a whole lot of people like Curt Flood were a part of the process.


Under Miller we had two decades of constant labor-management strife.  Miller seemed to hate making deals that were good for everyone; it wasn't enough to win a negotiation, he had to burn down the owners.  When he left, things got a whole lot better.

Miller was a trouble-stirrer and deserves to be reviled, not enshrined.

PaulGriggs
PaulGriggs

Marvin Miller was a travesty and helped ruin the game for those who should matter the most--the kids and viewers who now have to be wealthy to go see a game.  Miller's actions had a great deal to do with egotistical one dimensional but talented athletes being paid millions of dollars--much more than they are worth.  He does not warrant consideration in the Hall of Fame.

sportsGuy12
sportsGuy12

if the Mets signing Colon was the winner, it must have been a terribly slow winter meeting

PM63
PM63

I'm generally not a fan of owners being in the Hall, but I'd especially like to hear the "strong case" for George Steinbrenner's candidacy, because I've never heard one that came close to convincing me -- even setting aside for a moment that he was "permanently banned" from club management (well, "permanently" or "for three years," as it turned out). I don't support Billy Martin, either, but at least I get the case for him.


But ALL of that makes more sense to me than Colon for $20 million. Wow.

utoo
utoo

I don't see Colon repeating last yrs numbers. He is almost guaranteed to be injured. He doesn't get you 200 innings. overweight and signed until he is 42? how is that a winner.

inthepresent
inthepresent

1. colon is also as old as methuselah. 

2. marvin miller's not going to the HOF is a matter of opinion. clearly, the ones who voted don't think it's quite the travesty you do.

jonnymo
jonnymo

Eh.  Not sure how not making a deal, especially when SI reported that the Yankees actually initiated the contact, makes the Reds losers at the Winter Meetings... other than in failing to spin the coverage.  Phillips is still a Gold Glove, 100 RBI 2B who is a fan favorite (even if the owner now hates him).

kj4027
kj4027

Wait... did you just say that signing Colon will help to quiet the Mets fan base? Are you kidding me? I am sure the majority of the Mets fan base is wondering what the eff the team is doing signing an overweight 40 year old to a 2/20 contract.

beast2243
beast2243

@metalhead65 He's not happy with his contract pubicly feuding with upper management, if he had a regular 9-5 job he'd be terminated.

macgyv13
macgyv13

@DavidA.BurnsWhy single out LaRussa in this case?  If you think the Braves under Cox and the Yankees under Torre were squeaky clean, then I've got a bridge to sell you.  Among the former Braves linked to the Mitchell Report:  David Justice, Denny Neagle, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton, Paul Byrd and John Rocker.  There's also plenty of whispers surrounding Andruw Jones.  And as for the Yankees, well, there's Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens and A-Roid just to name a few.


It's rather myopic to target LaRussa only on this issue.


MatthewEugeneHaag
MatthewEugeneHaag

@DavidA.Burns Then by that logic NO ONE from that era should ever even THINK about the HOF.  The league had no PED testing at the time and no plans to do so.  The Players union resisted it for a long time and the owners saw no need to press the issue.  Its almost like the league tacitly aproved of it as long as you did it out of sight.  Kinda like a lot of things.  Don't get caught.

max1
max1

@MidwestGolfFanI know, things went so smoothly in 1994 when he was long retired :/  Miller worked hard to level the field for the players that had long been tipped too far in the owners direction.  The owners are the ones who stirred trouble, not Miller.

GregAtkin
GregAtkin

It was the owners found guilty of collusion in the late '80s, not the union. 

The owners colluded to deprive fans of the best possible product .

PAZSKY
PAZSKY

@PM63 Steinbrenner stood behind his teams and actually cared about the fans having a winner on the field. 7 World Series championships under his ownership as well. Like it or not, George's way are what many clubs go by today. Hands down, he should have already been inducted.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@utoo   Because he's STILL an improvement for the Mets!  


Geez it must suck being a Mets fan!

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@jonnymo  Cubs fan here.  Phillips is good, but he is overrated.  His on base percentage is below league average.  


And he thinks he's even better than he is and he's not afraid to say it.

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

@kj4027 if the Mets get anything out of Colon, it's a win. these 2 years at $10m/year have a good shot at being half as valuable as the last two years of Cano, Hamilton, Werth, or Pujols' contracts.

EasyGoer
EasyGoer

@kj4027 While I agree with you in principle, what you may need to be asking yourself is if you prefer they had NOT signed him. The fans were up in arms asking the GM to do something. He does something and many are wondering why. We'll see what Colon brings to the table (pun intended) in about 5 months.

Callaway
Callaway

@macgyv13@DavidA.Burns 

I'm a diehard, lifelong Braves fan and I couldn't agree more.  You can't single out one manager. All three managers were worthy of induction and will go in together which makes it even cooler. 

BuzzFrankacott
BuzzFrankacott

@MatthewEugeneHaag @DavidA.Burns So it's okay for managers who got their wins on the back of juiced players to get in the HOF but the hypocrisy in that none of the writers will vote for players who juiced is okay?

oasis1994
oasis1994

@MatthewEugeneHaag @DavidA.Burns 

That is terrible logic.


I use to be on board with the PED users; now I don't care.

Since baseball was created players have cheated. I've changed my mind on this topic after much debate and thinking about it.


Players used spit balls, scuffed baseballs, used foreign substances, etc. 

If you got away with it, then what the heck, do it.


I am the same way with home plate collisions. I thought it was stupid to take that away till I had a great discussion about it. I think it is the right move for a single reason other than the money invested; you cannot take out anyone else at any other base. It only makes sense to be consistent at every base. 


The real winners are the teams that traded and did not sign anyone to a massive contract that will come back to bite them.


I say any team that does not sign Choo is a winner. When did an average player become a 100 million dollar player? Have hitters become so bad that we pay this much money for someone that does not strike out?




robert.bruce.parsons
robert.bruce.parsons

@GregAtkin It's all semantics, and it was then.  If the owners stood firm, it was "collusion."  If the players stood firm, it was "solidarity."  Neither side thought of the fans, who of course, are the source of the big money that both sides want above all else.

StevenTanner
StevenTanner

@PAZSKY @PM63 Um, no. Steinbrenner's way is the old way, which is why the Yankees haven't had postseason success in a while.  The new way is to draft intelligently and develop your own core players. Teams that spend a little less, but smarter and with younger cost-controlled players, are the ones that are finding success these days.