Posted February 10, 2014

Final NL Winter Report Card grades: Cardinals and Pirates at opposite ends; Brewers move up

National League, Winter report cards
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

Bringing back Francisco Rodriguez bolsters the Brewers’ bullpen. (Morry Gash/AP)

Several prominent free-agents — including starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew — remain unsigned, but with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training this week, the Hot Stove season is at its end. That means it’s time for us to review our winter report cards — the first of which was written a month ago — and adjust teams’ preliminary grades to account for subsequent moves and second thoughts about our initial reactions.

Unlike last year, when Jay Jaffe wrote up all 30 teams, this time both Cliff Corcoran and Joe Lemire pitched in significantly. While admittedly subjective, those grades — issued independently — were based upon each writer’s judgement as to whether the team in question improved for 2014 and in the long run, measured against a sliding scale to account for where a team’s priorities should be heaviest (are they rebuilding, or in win-now mode?). To wrap things up, we’ve adjusted those grades slightly, but if you’re scoring at home, it’s worth noting that using the traditional grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, with plusses adding a third and minuses subtracting a third), the AL centers at 2.64 (basically, a B-), while the NL is at 2.36 (a C+).

Note that teams are presented below in order of their final grades; the original report cards for each team are linked with the date of its publication.

St. Louis Cardinals

Preliminary grade (Feb. 6): A+
Final grade: A+
Key moves since preliminary grade: None

Thanks to their strong farm system, the Cardinals were able to have a practically perfect offseason. Most notably, they fixed holes on the left side of their infield by signing free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta and trading third baseman David Freese to the Angels, allowing Matt Carpenter to move to the hot corner. St. Louis also added a solid backup for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong in free agent Mark Ellis, and a potential platoon partner for centerfielder Jon Jay in righty Peter Bourjos (acquired in the Freese trade). The reigning NL champs did let free agent Carlos Beltran walk, but that allows more playing time for Matt Adams after his strong rookie season, and it cleared payroll for Peralta and Ellis. — Cliff Corcoran

San Francisco Giants

Preliminary grade (Jan. 20): A-
Final grade: A-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Traded for LHP David Huff

The Giants re-signed Hunter Pence in September to a five-year, $90 million contract that now looks like a team-friendly deal given the way the market for outfielders exploded this offseason, and added free agents Mike Morse for leftfield and Tim Hudson to their rotation. They also brought back lefty specialist Javier Lopez and starters Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, effectively targeting their needs while only appearing to overspend on Lincecum, to whom they gave a two-year, $35 million contract. — Cliff Corcoran

Atlanta Braves

Preliminary grade (Feb. 5): B+
Final grade: B+
Key moves since preliminary grade: None

A long-term extension for first baseman Freddie Freeman highlighted the Braves’ offseason, and a subsequent New York Post report suggested that he may not be alone, with righthanded starter Julio Teheran and shortstop Andrelton Simmons as other likely candidates for long-term deals. Thus are the spoils that come with the promised riches from a proposed new ballpark, which likely will help with the franchise’s long-term financial health. — Joe Lemire

Los Angeles Dodgers

Preliminary grade (Jan. 29): B
Final grade: B+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed LHP Paul Maholm to a major league contract and IF Justin Turner to a minor league contract

After making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the deep-pocketed Dodgers continued to spend big. Beyond the record-setting seven-year, $215 million extension to lock up ace Clayton Kershaw, they paid handsomely for talent from outside the organization as well, giving Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero a four-year, $28 million deal to be their second baseman, though it remains to be seen whether or not he’s up to the task.

Despite those high-dollar figures, general manager Ned Colletti has come up with some bargains too. He brought back Juan Uribe (two years, $15 million) and Brian Wilson (one year, $10 million) and acquired veteran starters Dan Haren (also 1/$10M) and Paul Maholm (one year, $1.5 million plus a potential $5 million in incentives) as well as relievers Jamey Wright and Chris Perez to shore up potential weak spots. — Jay Jaffe

Washington Nationals

Preliminary grade (Jan. 24): B+
Final grade: B+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Luis Ayala, RHP Clay Hensley and C Koyie Hill to minor league contracts

While they haven’t made as big a splash as last winter — when they received the only A in this series, but nonetheless failed to match their stellar 2012 showing of 98 wins — the Nationals have made a pair of significant upgrades, replacing Haren with Doug Fister and Steve Lombardozzi with Nate McLouth. For the moment at least, Danny Espinosa will take on Lombardozzi’s utility role after an injury-wracked season, but if he proves healthy this spring, he could become a significant trade chip.

Among the late additions, former Expo and original National Luis Ayala is a potentially significant one. Since returning from shoulder woes that kept him out of the majors in 2010, he has delivered a 2.58 ERA and a slew of groundballs in 164 innings for the playoff-bound Yankees, Orioles and Braves over the past three seasons, though an anxiety disorder limited him to just 33 innings in 2013. — Jay Jaffe

New York Mets

Preliminary grade (Jan. 16): B
Final grade: B
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, LHP John Lannan, SS Omar Quintanilla (minor league contracts)

The Mets’ unfinished business as of mid-January was to improve at shortstop and the bullpen, as well as deciding what to do with Ike Davis. Omar Quintanilla and Kyle Farnsworth, respectively, provide some depth but no solution to the former two needs, and Davis remains a Met, so it seems he’ll be reporting to Port St. Lucie next week as the team’s projected first baseman. Given that signing shortstop Stephen Drew would only cost the team a third-round pick — New York’s first-round choice is protected, and it has already given its second rounder to the Yankees for signing Curtis Granderson — it’s surprising the club hasn’t shown more interest in making a substantial upgrade there. — Joe Lemire

Milwaukee Brewers

Preliminary grade (Jan. 17): C-
Final grade: B-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHPs Matt Garza and Francisco Rodriguez, 1B Lyle Overbay (mL contract)

When we first graded the Brewers, their only significant move this offseason had been trading Norichika Aoki for lefty reliever Will Smith. Despite a significant need, they hadn’t added a single player with major league experience at first base, even as a non-roster invitee. Just as we went to publish their report card, however, they signed Mark Reynolds to a minor league contract. Soon after, they signed Lyle Overbay, also to a minor league deal, and, more significantly, landed Matt Garza on a team-friendly contract and restored Francisco Rodriguez to their bullpen.

Reynolds and Overbay remain an underwhelming solution for first base (and an ill-fitting platoon as the righty, Reynolds, doesn’t have much of a platoon split, and the team already has lefty-swinging Juan Francisco at the position). Garza, however, is a major addition to the rotation, and getting Rodriguez was a much-needed move for the bullpen, which will also benefit from rotation overflow in the wake of the Garza signing. — Cliff Corcoran

Miami Marlins

Preliminary grade (Jan. 10): C+
Final grade: C+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed UT Jeff Baker

Baker is a perfect platoon partner for free agent addition Garret Jones at first base, taking care of one of the Marlins’ bits of unfinished business, but he’s not quite enough to get them into the B’s. Miami made a massive upgrade at catcher by signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia (massive more because of the size of the hole Saltalamacchia is filling than because of how well he’ll fill it), but it remains to be seen if bringing Casey McGehee back from Japan to play third base and signing a 36-year-old Rafael Furcal to play out of position at second base coming off Tommy John surgery qualify as solutions. Meanwhile, the team failed to acknowledge that shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria isn’t a viable major leaguer. — Cliff Corcoran

San Diego Padres

Preliminary grade (Jan. 20): C+
Final grade: C+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Traded IF Logan Forsythe, RHP Brad Boxberger and three minor leaguers to Tampa Bay for LHP Alex Torres and minor league RHP Jesse Hahn

In signing free agents Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit, the Padres spent more money on free agents than any recent year in memory, though that’s not saying much. It’s unclear how their outfield logjam will shake out with the addition of platoon-ready Seth Smith, though they did clear up some uncertainty in the infield via a seven-player deal with the Rays that brought back Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. The 26-year-old Torres had a strong rookie season in the Rays’ bullpen, pitching to a 1.71 ERA in 58 innings while manhandling both righties (.149/.246/.223 in 138 PA) and lefties (.175/.241/.225 in 88 PA) with equal brutality. Down the road, the Padres may return him to the rotation; either that or the development of the 23-year-old Hahn (whom Baseball Prospectus ranked sixth among the Rays’ top prospects, foreseeing a future as a third or fourth starter) could turn the deal into a steal, but for the moment it’s just a nice little move. — Jay Jaffe

Chicago Cubs

Preliminary grade (Jan. 14): C
Final grade: C
Key moves since preliminary grade: None

Having failed to land Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, the Cubs had a quiet offseason but made some small moves around the edges that could yield some short-term rewards. They also hired highly-respected Padres coach Rick Renteria to be their new manager, a move they hope will prove to be their most significant of this offseason. — Cliff Corcoran

Colorado Rockies

Preliminary grade (Jan. 16 ): C+
Final grade: C
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Manny Corpas, IF Paul Janish, RHP Nick Masset and C Michael McKenry to minor league contracts

From here it looks like they got the short end of the Dexter Fowler-for-Jordan Lyles trade with Houston, and while the addition of free agent Justin Morneau offers an upgrade on the retired Todd Helton in terms of the two players’ recent work, it’s still not much to crow about. The challenge trade of Brett Anderson for Drew Pomeranz won’t amount to much if either lefty continues to be dogged by health woes, though it could pay off if Anderson can remain upright enough to generate his usual plethora of groundballs. The remade bullpen will feature familiar faces (possible closer Hawkins and Morales) as well as new ones (Boone Logan, the team’s biggest winter expenditure at three years and $16.5 million). — Jay Jaffe

Philadelphia Phillies

Preliminary grade (Jan. 21): D+
Final grade: D+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed OF Bobby Abreu and RHP Chad Gaudin to minor league contracts

Ruben Amaro Jr. is apparently planning to be the last person on earth to concede that the Phillies need a full-scale rebuilding effort, a point he underscored by signing Abreu, who turns 40 in March. The former Phillie (1998-mid-2006) — who spent his first season being backed up by his current general manager — hit .242/.350/.342 in bench duty for the Dodgers and Angels in 2012, but mounted a winter league comeback after sitting out all of last year. Gaudin, who put up a 3.06 ERA with 8.2 strikeouts per nine in 97 innings covering 12 starts and 18 relief appearances for the Giants, should be more helpful. — Jay Jaffe

Arizona Diamondbacks

Preliminary grade (Jan. 21): D+
Final grade: D
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Bronson Arroyo to a major league contract and OF-1B Shelley Duncan to a minor league contract

General manager Kevin Towers continues to sell low on young players, with the trade of Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for Mark Trumbo continuing last year’s theme. It’s fair to assume that 24-year-old righty Randall Delgado — acquired in the Justin Upton blockbuster with Atlanta last offseason — could be the next to go after the signing of Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $23.5 million deal. It’s not that Arroyo, a soon-to-be 37-year-old righty, doesn’t have his uses, but with top prospect Archie Bradley on the way, finding league-average inning-munchers to fill out the rotation is something that the team had the means to do in-house from among Delgado, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley. Instead Arizona added Arroyo and increased payroll to $104.7 million and counting, more than $18 million above last year and almost $30 million above 2012. — Jay Jaffe

Cincinnati Reds

Preliminary grade (Jan. 24): D-
Final grade: D-
Key moves since preliminary grade: None

The Reds’ quiet offseason has left the task of replacing outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo to rookies Billy Hamilton and Skip Schumaker for the former and ace Johnny Cueto and second-year lefty Tony Cingrani for the latter. Hamilton’s speed is phenomenal but he has only 22 plate appearances at the major league level and Schumaker isn’t nearly the offensive threat Choo was. As for the pitchers, Cueto’s right shoulder hasn’t been healthy since late 2012 and the 23-year-old Cingrani hasn’t yet pitched a full season in the majors.

On top of that, Cincinnati sold low on underrated catcher Ryan Hanigan coming off a hard-luck season. That’s left the team with former prospect Devin Mesoraco (a career .225/.282/.359 hitter) as its starter behind the plate and Brayan Peña (who joins Schumaker as the club’s only two major league free agent signings this winter) as its backup catcher. — Cliff Corcoran

Pittsburgh Pirates

Preliminary grade (Feb. 3): F
Final grade: F
Key moves since preliminary grade: None

Coming off their first winning season in 20 years, the Pirates have shown a surprising lack of urgency. With needs for upgrades or replacements at first base, rightfield and the rotation, Pittsburgh has added only reclamation project Edinson Volquez (71 ERA+ last three years) and backup catcher Chris Stewart. The team’s top prospects, outfielder Gregory Polanco and righthanded starter Jameson Taillon, have combined to play just eight games above Double A and can’t be counted on to fill those holes just yet. — Cliff Corcoran

2 comments
M56
M56

Small market Brewers' activity looks a whole lot better than that of Mets and Nationals- and Brews crew will likely finish higher than both as well... 

Cubano
Cubano

@M56 Hahhahaha Brew Crew finishing higher than Nationals?? Oh you meant the Double AA Potomac Nationals...probably right. Other than that scenario, you had one too many Milwakee's Best...