Winners and losers from the winter meetings
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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