Grading Every Relevant MLB Offseason Move: Part 1

The period between November and New Year’s always brings cheer, presents, and a bevy of transactions and signings that warm the hearts of baseball-starved fans. With the winter meetings concluded, now is a good time to look back and analyze what just happened. Finals have just ended, so I’ve decided that I’m going to grade every major offseason move that has been made since Wade Davis closed out the Mets in November. There will be free-agent signings in part two, but I only got through the non-free agency trades in part one. I know “major” is a nebulous term, but I basically analyzed every transaction that involved a player that could have some fantasy baseball relevance in my 15-team roto league next year. My cutoff line was Jeremy Hellickson going to the Phillies. If a player involved was better than Jeremy Hellickson, I wrote about him.

Mariners sent Danny Farquhar (RP), Brad Miller (SS) and Logan Morrison (DH/OF)

Tampa Bay Rays sent Boog Powell (minors, OF), Nate Karns (SP) and C.J. Riefenhauser (RP)

This trade was heavy on syllables but light on elite talent. The best player in the trade is Karns, who was about league-average as a starter last season. Karns had a 3.67 ERA but he only threw 147 innings as the Rays tried to limit his workload. Karns is 28 and was not a highly-rated prospect, but he has the ability to be a league-average starter at a very reasonable price for the next few years. His stuff should play up at Safeco, and he will be in the back end of the Mariners rotation that lost Hisashi Iwakuma to the Dodgers.

Brad Miller was a highly touted prospect in the Mariners system, but his extremely disappointing bat (99 career wRC+) has left him as expendable for the Mariners. Miller will compete for a job on the Rays against former teammate Nick Franklin, another Mariners shortstop prospect who has not panned out. Miller could still be a decent player on a major league team, and he could pull a Brandon Crawford and become a starting shortstop despite poor offensive numbers to start his career. Miller will likely be the starter next year. It’s a smart buy-low for the pitching-heavy Rays. Logan Morrison is another interesting addition, but he’s a platoon bat against lefties with bad defense. The Rays will put him in at DH but he’ll spend a good deal of time on the bench. They also got Danny Farquhar, who was a very good reliever in 2014, but has been below-average reliever for the rest of his career.

Boog Powell was a fringe prospect for the Rays with one elite skill: getting on base. Powell posted walk rates above 10 percent at every level of the minors. Riefenhauser gives Seattle some back-end bullpen depth.

Grades:
Seattle: B-
Tampa: B+

Yankees sent John Ryan Murphy (C)

Twins sent Aaron Hicks (OF)

John Ryan Murphy was the Yankees’ backup catcher for two seasons, and he performed admirably well in limited playing time. For a catcher, he wasn’t that bad offensively, and he has shown a pretty solid walk rate for most of his career. Considering the Twins’ starter, Kurt Suzuki, put up -0.1 fWAR last season, Murphy could be the everyday catcher for the Twins.

In return, the Yankees got Aaron Hicks, a young outfielder with good power upside and good on-base skills. Hicks is a switch-hitter, but he is far better as a righty than lefty. Hicks also picked up 13 steals in limited action last season, so his power/speed combo could be dangerous with much better park factors in Yankee Stadium. While Hicks will start the year as a fourth outfielder, the chances of the Yankees outfield staying healthy for the whole season are pretty slim (by the way, the Yanks are paying $15 million for Carlos Beltran…I’m so sorry). Hicks could play his way into a starting role and has enough upside to stick. All for the price of a backup catcher that the Yankees can easily replace.

Grades:
Yankees: A-
Twins: B-

Padres sent Joaquin Benoit (RP)

Mariners sent Enyel de los Santos (minors, P) and Nelson Ward (minors, MI)

Unsurprisingly, Padres GM A.J. Preller realized that he needed more minor league depth after his crazy trading spree in April. As a result, the Padres traded Joaquin Benoit and his one remaining year under contract to Seattle for some minor league depth. Benoit somehow posted a 2.34 ERA and a 8.68 K/9 at age 38, which speaks to how consistently good Benoit has been throughout his career. Benoit was clearly helped by Petco (3.69 xFIP), but that shouldn’t be much of a problem considering he’s going to the AL version of Petco. Benoit has also been good for a long time, which bodes well for Seattle.

Here, I would usually make a point about his unsustainable 85.9% strand rate, but Benoit has averaged a 85% strand rate for the last three seasons, which means that it may just be a repeatable trait for the veteran reliever. His strikeout potential hasn’t gone away yet, but older relievers can fall apart quickly (see Rodney, Fernando). However, for the price of two single-A unknowns, the trade is great for a Seattle bullpen that struggled last season. For the Padres, trading away relievers is a familiar occurrence (Huston Street, Heath Bell, etc.), but they got very little in this deal. Why not wait until June or July when the market demand increases exponentially as teams search for bullpen help? If Benoit is still performing well, he could certainly garner a better haul than two no-name minor leaguers.

Grades:
Padres: D 
Mariners: B+

Braves sent Andrelton Simmons (SS) and Jose Briceno (minors, C)

Angels sent Erick Aybar (SS), Chris Ellis (minors, P), and Sean Newcomb (minors, P)

In hindsight, this was the beginning of an epic Braves fire sale.

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This trade boils down to how much you value Andrelton Simmons’ defense. Simmons is an unparalleled defender at shortstop. He also has a cheap contract at $58 million over seven years. Offensively, Simmons is not great, but he’s passable. Ironically, the player who helps pitchers’ BABIPs more than any other has a disappointing .268 career BABIP for a weak groundball hitter. Simmons should be due for a regression, but maybe opposing defenders are trying to take revenge on the best infield defender in the league by robbing Simmons. Simmons will slot in at shortstop for the Angels.

Erick Aybar will be a one-year player for a terrible Braves squad, but he was one year removed from a 4 win season and he is still better than most MLB shortstops offensively. Defensively, Aybar is a fine defender, and he still has decent speed as well. However, the Braves will be focused on the two pitching prospects they received in return for Simmons. Newcomb is the 19th-ranked prospect on MLB.com and he has great upside. He is striking out batters at a nasty clip in the minors thus far, but he also has a career K/BB of 1.63. Newcomb could become great with better command, and the tanking Braves are willing to take that chance. Ellis is also a good prospect, and he could be a useful pitcher as well. The Braves are not expecting to be competitive until the more expensive years of Simmons’ contract, and this move is understandable under the circumstances. The Angels get a better and younger shortstop in exchange for unproven minor league pitching. I think both sides are happy with this right now.

Grades:
Braves: B+
Angels: A-

Mariners sent James Jones (OF), Tom Wilhelmsen (RP), and Patrick Kivlehan (minors, 3B)

Texas Rangers sent Anthony Bass (RP) and Leonys Martin (OF)

Leonys Martin just wanted to get the heck out of Texas after he got demoted. The Mariners shifted bullpen pieces once again to get him. Martin will be a spare outfielder for the Mariners. Martin is the most important player in the trade. He posted a 3.5 win season in 2014, which defies belief after seeing his horrendous .219/.264/.313 numbers from 2015 and a brief demotion to the minors. Martin will turn 28 next year, and he still has enough potential to be a useful outfielder. His defense is still elite, and if he can be an average hitter, he could still be a Juan Lagares-esque defense-first outfielder with two more years of team control. However, the Rangers’ relationship with Martin had collapsed and they are probably happy with the return, even if that return would have been disappointing at the end of 2014.

Grades:
Mariners: B
Rangers: C+

Brewers sent Francisco Rodriguez (P)

Detroit sent Javier Betancourt (minors, 2B)

K-Rod should have been traded at the deadline this past season, but better late than never, I suppose. Rodriguez was amazing last season for the Brewers with a 2.63 xFIP and 38 saves along with a 9.79 K/9. Rodriguez is still a fantastic reliever on an reasonable salary, and the Tigers desperately needed to upgrade their bullpen. The Brewers are not expecting to compete in a loaded NL Central next year, and getting something back for K-Rod was an absolute necessity. Javier Betancourt was the Tigers’ 13th-best prospect according to Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel. For one season of an older closer, Betancourt is a fair price.

Grades:
Brewers: B+
Tigers: A

Braves sent Cameron Maybin (OF) to Detroit

Detroit sent Gabe Speier (minors, P) and Ian Krol (RP)

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The Braves fire sale continued when they traded Cameron Maybin to Detroit for two young pitchers. This trade all depends on whether Cameron Maybin can ever live up to his prospect hype from long ago. It’s amazing to consider that Maybin was the prized prospect in the Miguel Cabrera to Detroit trade, and now he’s coming back to the team that drafted him. However, Cameron Maybin was a disaster in San Diego, and one 1.0 WAR season with Atlanta clearly does not mean he will be productive for Detroit next season.

Theoretically, Maybin should be in the prime of his career at age 29 next season. He has good speed, playable power, and has the ability to be a great defender in center field. He is also very cheap. The problem is that the Tigers already have a cheap, defense-first center fielder in Anthony Gose, and I really don’t think Maybin is a significant upgrade. However, the Tigers gave up very little to get Maybin (the Braves flipped Speier in the Shelby Miller deal later) and if Maybin becomes a 3-win player next year, the trade will be worth it. I just think that’s really unlikely. The Braves sold high on an outfield flier, and the return was about what you’d expect.

Grades:
Tigers: B+
Braves: B+

Oakland sent Jesse Chavez (SP) to Toronto

Toronto sent Liam Hendriks (RP) to Oakland

Jesse Chavez is still underrated. He continues to put up good strikeout numbers, has slightly cut down the walks, and had a 3.89 xFIP last season. Last year, his xFIP was better than Shelby Miller. While I’m not arguing that Chavez is better than Miller, he has had long stretches of above-average pitching over the last two seasons. He had a 3.40 ERA in the first half of 2015, which is useful for almost any starting rotation. Chavez’s second half of 2015 (5.59 ERA, 4.82 FIP) was awful, but pitchers go through rough patches and Chavez may have been tired from his first full season as a starter.

However, Chavez is already 32, and his disastrous second-half may be a sign that he’s losing effectiveness. Moving out of Oakland’s spacious ballpark could also be detrimental to his performance. Toronto needs rotation depth to support its offense though, and Chavez is an acceptable piece. That being said, the Blue Jays gave up an excellent reliever under team control for four years for just one year of Chavez. Hendriks accumulated 1.5fWAR as a reliever last season, and his 2.92 ERA, 2.14 FIP, and 9.88 K/9 were critical for Toronto’s success last season. Hendriks is another starter-turned-reliever, and like many pitchers, his stuff looks much better in relief. Oakland had enough rotation pieces to part with Chavez, and they bolstered their bullpen for several years to come with Hendriks.

Grades:
Blue Jays: B
Athletics: A

 

 

 

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