MLB Offseason Hotstove Update
The hotstove is red hot as we enter the second month of free agency. With the Winter Meetings behind us (to be covered separately), there has been plenty of action that has changed the landscape of the 30 major league teams. Some have been more aggressive than others, with those that struggled to find success in 2011 most active in retooling their lineups. Through trades and signings we’re seeing the 2012 season take shape.
When it comes to trades, general managers want things to be pretty even for both teams. So when a single player is traded for another single player, you can be guaranteed that they have pretty much the same skill level, or it’s a trade for pieces that both teams need. Which is why the few player swaps we’ve seen in the last month are nothing to write home about just yet.
Ty Wigginton was traded from the Rockies to the Phillies for cash and a player to be named later. This has always stuck out to me as the worst trade for a player, mentally. Essentially, your team doesn’t want you anymore, and wants another team to pay to take you off their hands. Kind of a slap in the face, but Wigginton’s numbers have been steadily declining over the last few years, so maybe it was the right trade to make. Seattle and Tampa also made a swap, sending John Jaso from the Rays to the Mariners for Josh Lueke. This is that kind of pitcher/catcher swap that suggests both teams needed the services of the other, not that the two are equal in terms of value. Jaso didn’t have a great year in 2011, but he’s always seemed to hold significant value for the Rays. Lueke was okay in relief for the Mariners, but his ERA was a bit higher than one would like to see. Of course, if there’s one thing we in Detroit have learned about pitchers who are terrible in Seattle it’s that they’re usually not too bad, and just want to get out of there as fast as they can. The same holds true for the Tyler Chatwood/Chris Iannetta trade between the Angels and Rockies. Chatwood is a starting pitcher who wasn’t spectacular in his rookie season, but the Rockies must see some potential. Likewise, Iannetta doesn’t put up great numbers, but he’s likely to make an adequate back-up catcher in L.A.
The idea of trading one player for another of pretty much the same value (in the case of most MLB players, next to nothing) has never been as apparent as with the trade of Ryan Perry from the Detroit Tigers for Collin Balester of the Washington Nationals. While in Detroit, Ryan Perry showed signs of being worthwhile, especially during his rookie year (already three seasons ago). He was touted as a future setup man, and with enough seasoning, a closer that could fill the role with the best of them. Unfortunately, those aspirations were sidelined a little bit. Granted, he’s only been a major league player for three years. But he hasn’t really gotten over the hump yet, at least not to the point where he is the kind of setup man or closer that teams can count on. Right now, he’s still a situational righty, and now we in Michigan will never know if he has what it takes.
On the other side was Collin Balester. I’ve never had the pleasure of watching him pitch (yet), but from what I’ve heard, he’s pretty much been the exact same kind of pitcher as Perry—a situational guy who shows flashes once in a while. The only reason for making this trade seems to be for the sake of the players involved. Neither club is getting any value that it didn’t already have. Both are simply hoping that the change of scenery gives their new acquisitions the confidence necessary to make it over the hump. Will it work for either player? Only time will tell.
I’ll leave out the big free agent signings thus far, because those deals were really made during the Winter Meetings (even if they weren’t inked until afterward), and will be discussed in detail in a separate post. As for the rest of the league, though, let’s start with a club that has been fairly busy in an attempt to get back to the top of their division: The Minnesota Twins. The Twins this offseason have already made a handful of minor league signings, but have also now brought in Ryan Doumit to catch (either with, or behind Joe Mauer), Jamey Carroll to play second base, and resigned reliever Matt Capps. It’s pretty obvious that the Twins are looking to rebuild a little bit around Mauer and Morneau. The most surprising thing thus far is that they haven’t resigned Michael Cuddeyer. Next to the M&M boys, Cuddeyer is the most feared Twin in the lineup. Of course, they’re probably still licking their wounds from the Mauer deal a couple years back that kept Mauer under contract for eight years, after which he immediately decided to spend a lot of time injured and decided to start sucking at hitting a baseball. Perhaps just as surprising is the fact that the Twins were willing to trade away Kevin Slowey, a pitcher who has spent time both as a starter and a reliever. Slowey wasn’t spectacular, but he was certainly as dangerous as anyone in the Twins’ rotation. Add to that the fact that he was traded for a player to be named, and you have to wonder who he pissed off.
There have been a lot of minor league signings by teams in the national league, especially Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. It doesn’t seem like the best idea to have all the minor league players in baseball in the organizations of two clubs so close to the ocean. After all, if this global warming ever kicks into overdrive and melts the ice caps, the entire sport will rest on the hands of whoever survives, with no way to restock any of the teams.
Among some of the bigger free agent signings (but not the biggest) are Nick Punto’s deal with the Red Sox, David DeJesus signing with the Chicago Cubs, Joe Nathan’s deal with the Rangers, and Rafael Furcal resigning with the Cardinals. It makes me sad that the Tigers didn’t go after Nathan, if for no other reason than to stick it to the Twins. Punto was always a good, solid bat, so he should be a nice addition to the Boston bench. I’m glad to see DeJesus leave the American League, since he was the one guy on the Kansas City roster (when he was there) that always put a wrench into whatever good day a Tigers pitcher was having. Verlander could have been throwing seven no-hit innings, and somehow it would be DeJesus that would ruin it all.
What kind of signings have the Tigers made in the last month? First, there was the addition of back up catcher Gerald Laird. I let out a loud groan when I saw this. Laird was the starting catcher in Detroit during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He was great on defense in 2009, okay splitting time with Avila in 2010, but was just an atrocious hitter in both seasons. I know that catchers are given a little slack with their offensive numbers, because their primary duty is to call the game for the pitching staff. And it’ll be good to have a catcher rejoining the organization who has already caught 3/5 of the starting rotation (and can thus be slotted in to the starting lineup on any given day and handle the job). But we know that it’s possible for catchers to hit the ball and be great at their jobs. And that doesn’t seem to be such a rarity. The ALCS in 2011 saw Avila and Napoli, two catchers who are great on both sides of the plate. I know Laird is a back up, and I know that he’s only here for a year (and was cheap). But I wish the team had waited to see where Victor Martinez was at come spring training time. I’d rather have Victor as the back up catcher than Laird any day.
The Tigers also resigned Ramon Santiago for two years as the utility infielder. What his role in 2012 will be is still TBD, because Detroit is still exploring an upgrade at either second of third. He’ll no doubt back up Jhonny Peralta, but whether or not he’ll be back in that platoon system at second base with Ryan Raburn is a mystery.
MLB Hotstove – Final Thoughts
The offseason really picked up in the last month. Along with all the signings and minor trades that took place, there were also signings for four of the top five free agents. There has been a lot of activity which is likely to cool off during the holidays. But after that, there’s only two months until Spring Training begins. Teams will be looking to see what holes they still need to fill, who is available, and just how desperate everyone is to get what they want. What will we see in next month? Only time will tell.