When Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames to secure the Dodgers’ their first World Series championship, the baseball world was able to take a collective sigh of relief; they had managed to complete a 60-game season through the midst of a pandemic.
However, this was only the beginning of a much different time in baseball, and I’m not simply referring to Justin Turner being pulled from the game due to a positive COVID-19 test, only to come back onto the field after the game, and some of their other chaos that occurred after.
No, I would be referring to something that I am sure every MLB fan would prefer not to focus on: ownership’s willing to spend. In fact, several teams immediately announced that due to a major loss in revenue caused by a shortened season and there being no fans, their payrolls would subsequently decrease. All of a sudden, the baseball world had no idea what to make of the offseason; what would contracts look like? Would middle-tier players continue to get set aside? Would players like JT Realmuto, George Springer, and Trevor Bauer receive the massive contracts they were likely going to demand? Even more interestingly, how much would teams weigh production over the 2020 season?
As expected, a lot of the activity this offseason was concentrated with the organizations that were willing to spend, though it is worth noting that the contracts given out were much closer to what a “standard offseason” would look like rather than the cut off that many, including myself, were expecting. Furthermore, between Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado, Springer, Bauer, Blake Snell, and Yu Darvish, there were plenty of star players who were acquired by a new organization this offseason; the amount of movement there was both surprising and somewhat unprecedented.
With Jake Odorizzi signing with the Houston Astros, I am pleased to declare that all of the major free agents are now off the market. Between players like Rick Porcello and Yasiel Puig, there are still a few free agents that could receive major-league deals, but the bulk of the activity has been concluded.
When recapping the offseason, many like to focus on “winners” and losers”, and analyze how much value each team added in the offseason. However, what if we looked at how spent the most efficient? This is obviously the goal of every free-agent contract, and by doing this, we can see which teams used the open market to gain an edge over their peers.
What is the cost of a free agent? Some have a set standard on the dollar amount in linear format, which others say the relationship is exponential. Really, the answer is somewhat in the middle.
For those unfamiliar with an “if and” equation, the equation is a conditional linear form that essentially stats that if a condition is such, then a specific equation should be used. This is quite applicable when analyzing free-agent contracts.
Rather than Wins Above Replacement, I prefer to evaluate players through the lens of Value Over Average (VOA), a fine-tuned version of WAR that, in my opinion, better weights offense and defense while being in a much more simpler form to understand.
This offseason, the average player (0 VOA) was valued at about $7.09 million. From there, each extra win above average was valued at about $6.05 million. However, once a player got to about 2 VOA, each extra win was then valued closer to $7.26 million. This backs up the notion that incremental wins from a star player are valued more than players deemed more replaceable; star talent gets paid at a different rate middle-tier talent. For starting pitchers, an “if and” equation also had the strongest relationship, with teams paying $4 million per win for pitchers below a 2 WAR, $5 million per win for pitchers above a 4 WAR, and, in the past, it has been $6 million per win for pitchers above a 6 WAR, though the instances a pitcher of that caliber hits the market is rare. Lastly, relievers aren’t valued any more for being a star player compared to a middle-tier pitcher, which makes sense given their overall volatility. A 0-win reliever earns about $590K on the open market, and each win from there is valued at about $7.08 million.
Using this terminology, as well as a player’s projected VOA, I was able to estimate the expected worth of each free agent, and compared it to the contract they received. With an overall correlation coefficient of .928, the relationship each was quite strong, though, as we’ll get to, some teams definitely deviated more from the mean than others.
To start, let us take a look at the teams who gained the most surplus value:
Note that negative numbers are preferred. The Giants’ current front office, led by Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris, has generated a lot of praise recently, and this would back up said praise. Only one of their signings (Aaron Sanchez) was deemed an overpay, and even then, they’re a team in transition that is banking on Sanchez’s recent velocity spike- there is a great chance he overachieves expectations.
As we’ll get to, the Mariners had the #1 “steal” of the offseason, while teams like the Twins and Rays continued to spend effectively. In fact, Tampa Bay managed to the receive the slightest amount of surplus value on each small signing they made, and if that doesn’t represent their strategy as an organization, I don’t know what does!
On the other side of the spectrum, all of those teams are hampered with one signing that may have been more of a stretch than anticipated. The White Sox, with their two major signings, didn’t receive much value at all, which is why they rank so low despite not being very active in terms of quantity on the free-agent market.
For comparative purposes, here is how each teams ranks in terms of average surplus value per signing:
Cleveland was pretty inactive during the offseason, which explains why they don’t rank as high in terms of overall surplus value. Additionally, on the other side of the spectrum, the Mets made a lot of moves that weren’t great value, but since a lot of their depth signings weren’t much of an overpay, their average surplus value is closer to optimal. In general, the more bad moves you make the worse, and the more good moves you make better. Thus, I think looking at the total surplus value gives us a better idea of which teams spent the most efficiently, though this gives us another perspective.
The Giants, Mariners, and Twins stood out in a positive sense in terms of efficient spending, while the White Sox, Mets, and Brewers don’t rate out as well. Thus, it isn’t a surprise that a lot of their acquisitions make out the best/worst value signings of the offseason.
- SP James Paxton To Mariners ($6 Million Surplus Value)
- OF Joc Pederson To Cubs ($5.74 Million Surplus Value)
- DH Nelson Cruz To Twins ($4.67 Million Surplus Value)
- 2B Cesar Hernandez To Indians ($3.35 Million Surplus Value)
- RP Matt Wisler To Giants ($3.34 Million Surplus Value)
- CF Jackie Bradley Jr. To Brewers (Negative $5.94 Million Surplus Value)
- RP Trevor Rosenthal To A’s (Negative $5.452 Million Surplus Value)
- C James McCann To Mets (Negative $5.07 Million Surplus Value)
- RP Pedro Baez To Astros (Negative $4.64 Million Surplus Value)
- OF Adam Eaton To White Sox (Negative $3.63 Million Surplus Value)
I’m very surprised that James Paxton only received an $8 million contract. For context, that is the same amount as JA Happ and Robbie Ray, despite the fact he is projected to be worth about 1-1.5 win better than those other two. I’m guessing he took less money to return to a familiar situation and re-establish his value, while opportunity also probably played a role for Joc Pederson; the Cubs apparently gave him the chance to be an everyday player. Furthermore, the marketplace for Nelson Cruz was hurt by there not being a universal DH, though the Twins weren’t flawless; given his projected value, Matt Wisler was probably a poor non-tender choice.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Brewers are clearly higher on Jackie Bradley Jr. than the projections, and they’re attacking the middle of the free agent market when others are shying away from that area. Meanwhile, Trevor Rosenthal’s $11 million contract has a very unique structure that includes little upfront money, which makes it less player friendly.
When it comes to analyzing 2020, James McCann is a player that it is tough toe evaluate. He drastically improved his defense and has made offensive improvements, but his peripheral numbers haven’t improved much, and the projections don’t necessarily agree with the contract he got. As for Pedro Baez, his $7 million average salary definitely was a surprise, while the consensus would agree that the White Sox would be in a much better place with Joc Pederson than Adam Eaton, who will make $1 million more than Pederson this season.
However, there is more to the offseason than just efficient spending. Every team has their objectives, and the goal of the offseason is to complete as much of them as possible. With that in mind, using the previous analysis on efficient spending, here are my thoughts on each team’s activity this offseason. We will go in order from most-efficient spenders to least efficient.
San Francisco Giants
- Best Value: RP Matt Wisler (1/$1.5M)
- Worst Value: SP Aaron Sanchez (1/$4M)
- Grade: B+
The Giants did a very nice job adding depth to their roster while maintaining financial flexibility for next offseason. Between Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Sanchez, they added three strong bounce back candidates, while Wisler and Jake McGee also improve their overall pitching staff. Meanwhile, the one multi-year contract they handed out, Tommy La Stella for three years and $19 million, is projected to net them surplus value and his offensive breakout is backed up by a tremendous performance in very stable metrics (plate discipline). They have the chance to be a sleeping giant very soon, and my only complaint is that they didn’t get more creative adding young talent, whether it was buying a prospect or signing Korean shortstop Hae-Song Kim.
- Best Value: SP James Paxton
- Worst Value: SP Kendall Graveman? (Net Zero Value)
- Grade: B
The Mariners weren’t very active this offseason, though Paxton obviously was the top contract in terms of surplus value gained. Furthermore, Ken Giles is worth about $5-$6 million based on his projected outcome for 2022, and given they aren’t contending, they can afford to pay him $1-$2M while he recovers from injury this season, which his $7 million total contract amount would indicate they are doing. He should help them as they’re more competitive in 2022, though I don’t think receiver Rafael Montero, who they sent multiple prospects for, will move it as much as you’d hope.
- Best Value: DH Nelson Cruz
- Worst Value: SP JA Happ
- Grade: B+
They were able to take advantage of Cruz’s limited market, while shortstop Andrelton Simmons is a very intriguing fit, particularly since his potential offensive shortcomings are less of an issue with a lineup where he is probably their worst hitter. I would have liked to see them strived a little higher on their targets to improve their starting pitching, but Happ does give them stability, while Matt Shoemaker (1/$2M) was a very intriguing low-risk signing with legitimate pay-off potential.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Best Value: SP Rich Hill and SP Michael Wacha
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: A
The Rays had an unpopular offseason, but assuming they traded Blake Snell to maximize his value, which their strong return indicates; Luis Patino is an elite young pitching prospect, pitcher Cole Wilcox was a legitimate first-round prospect in the 2020 draft, catcher Blake Hunt is projected as a potential everyday player, and Francisco Mejia is a nice bounce-back candidate. From there, they replenished their pitching staff by going for quantity, which makes particular sense that pitchers may struggle in terms of longevity following a shortened season. With an improved pitch usage (throwing his changeup more), Michael Wacha should be successful in a four-to-five-inning role, and the same can be said about Rich Hill and Colin McHugh. Then, there’s Chris Archer, whose struggles in Pittsburgh are tied greatly to him pitching lower in the zone, and by getting back to what he does best, he could thrive in Tampa Bay.
To top it off, the Rays turned first baseman Nate Lowe, a player with strong minor-league production but one that didn’t fit their timeline, into Heriberto Hernandez, one of the more exciting young offensive producers in the minors- my prospect model is a major fan of him. That is quite the productive offseason, even if they aren’t exactly winning popularity points.
- Best Value: OF Joc Pederson
- Worst Value: SP Jake Arrieta
- Grade: B-
Given that their window to compete is closing, moving Yu Darvish at his highest value, given that he’s also 34-years-old, makes sense. Many will complain that they didn’t land one “elite prospect” for him, but their return includes a lot of intriguing high-variance young prospects, and going for depth makes sense given the state of their farm system. In terms of spending, Joc Pederson was a very strong signing, though that was about it; they constructed their rotation with a lot of uninspiring options, including Jake Arrieta for $6 million.
Really, my main complain with the Cubs is that they are still caught in the middle. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo are all free agents at the end of the year, while catcher Wilson Contreras is currently in arbitration. By projecting as an 80-win team, they’re essentially in the purgatory, and it doesn’t coincide well with the Darvish trade; making “middle” moves is generally not optimal.
- Best Value: 2B Jonathan Schoop
- Worst Value: SP Jose Urena
- Grade: B
The Tigers had a very quiet offseason, outside of retaining Jonathan Schoop and bringing in the likes of Robbie Grossman, Wilson Ramos, and Nomar Mazara.
Obviously, the main move Detroit made was hiring AJ Hinch as their manager. He certainly is a polarizing hire given the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, but that’s up to them to complete background work, and he’s certainly someone very qualified when it comes to player development. Considering Detroit has a trio of young starting pitchers (Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning) who will all pitch in the big leagues this year, that is quite important.
Kansas City Royals
- Best Value: 1B Carlos Santana
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: C+
There is zero consequence to signing Santana and starting pitcher Mike Minor to multi-year contracts. Both make them more competitive, are projected to be worth their contract, and aren’t blocking young players; Minor’s ability to pitch innings actually opens up them to not be so demanding with their ascending pitchers.
However, there are consequences to acquiring Andrew Benintendi. The former Red Sox fan favorite projects as a league-average outfielder and is in his arbitration phase, which is fine for a team that is contending. The Royals don’t qualify as such, and, honestly, Franchy Cordero is a better bet for them in the outfield given his high range of outcomes. Regardless of how you feel about the Cordero-Benintendi dynamic, shipping outfield prospect Khalil Lee was questionable; striving to win 75 games is generally not an optimal way to build when it comes at the expense of young talent.
Cleveland Baseball Team
- Best Value: 2B Cesar Hernandez
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: B-
The Indians made two signings this offseason: Hernandez and outfielder Eddie Rosario. Hernandez is a weird fit given their middle-infield situation, but he should provide surplus value given he’s making just $5 million, and Rosario upgrades a very thin outfield.
The main elephant in the room, however, is the trade of franchise superstar Francisco Lindor, who will now be a New York Met for a return of: middle infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, pitching prospect Josh Wolf, and outfield prospect Isaiah Greene. With Gimenez being the headliner and a controllable productive infielder, this is a somewhat deep prospect package and worth about what they gave up- one year of Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. However, with pitching in high demand and Lindor’s pedigree, is getting net value enough? The opportunity to have a player of Lindor’s caliber doesn’t come around often, and I wonder if they failed to maximize on his value by getting surplus value.
New York Yankees
- Best Value: SP Corey Kluber
- Worst Value: RP Justin Wilson
- Grade: A-
Some are questioning the Yankees’ strategy this offseason, but I thought it was quite strong. Corey Kluber and Jameson Tailon bolster their rotation tremendously, and between Luis Severino’s eventual return and their glut of young pitchers, they can handle their injury worries when the overall payoff could be enormous. Then, you add them lowering DJ LeMahieu’s average annual value by extending the years of the deal, as well as adding bullpen depth, and they definitely accomplished their main objectives. They’ll go into next season as the top projected team in the American League and a deep farm system, which is precisely what every team is looking for.
Los Angeles Angels
- Best Value: C Kurt Suzuki
- Worst Value: SP Jose Quintana?
- Grade: C+
Another offseason, another year where I’m wondering if the Angels will capitalize on having Mike Trout. They will have much more flexibility next offseason with Albert Pujols’ contract coming off the books, but does Jose Quintana, Dexter Fowler, Alex Cobb, Alex Claudio, and Kurt Suzuki equate to a productive offseason? Not, in my opinion, when the amount of pitching and catching depth was so strong in free agency.
- Best Value: OF Kyle Schwarber
- Worst Value: RP Brad Hand
- Grade: B-
What do the Nationals want to be? With Max Scherzer in the last year of his contract, Trea Turner and Juan Soto as cost-controlled as they are going to be, and their other starting pitchers (Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin) aging, their proverbial window would appear to be coming to a close, making in important for them to look towards future flexibility and building an organizational pipeline of young talent. Signing all of their free-agent additions to a one-year deals helps with the flexibility aspect, even if I rather they used the $10 million spent on Brad Hand for rotation depth or more offense. The main puzzler for me, though, was acquiring Josh Bell, especially at a time when his prototype (slugging first baseman only without elite offense) isn’t coveted. Maybe young pitching prospect Eddy Yean doesn’t pan out, but when you’re a team with very little prospect capital, holding onto high-variance prospects like this is something they should be focused on.
- Best Value: INF Asdrubal Cabrera
- Worst Value: RP Tyler Clippard?
- Grade: C+
Unless Cabrera, Clippard, and reliever Joakim Soria qualify as major additions, the Diamondbacks standing pat this offseason. I generally am not a fan of that approach, but considering they don’t have a lot of coveted assets, weren’t one player away from making the playoffs, and having a burgeoning glut of young prospects on the horizon, it actually makes sense. The 2021 season will be a great time for them to evaluate the state of their organization moving forward.
San Diego Padres
- Best Value: INF Hae-Song Kim
- Worst Value: UTIL Jurickson Profar
- Grade: A-
Then, there are the Padres. I’m not a fan of going all-in, but San Diego did so in a way that didn’t cripple their future, as the depth of their system is still mostly intact and their presence in the international market will allow them to replenish the high-variance youth that they shipped. As I touched on with the Rays’ blurb, the package to acquire Snell was extensive, and they may ultimately regretting it. However, using the spending power to acquire Darvish, and then adding on Joe Musgrove gives them a substantial collection of talented starting pitchers; they still have other young pitchers in the pipeline waiting to debut.
When you’re trying to win, having contingencies in place is important. Having so much pitching depth helps with that, as does having Hae-Song Kim and Jurickson Profar as utility players; Kim’s age (25) also gives them another piece to build around.
How could I forget about the Fernando Tatis Jr. extension? Any 14-year contract for a player who hasn’t played a full season is risky, but based on the breakdown of the deal, this should net in overall plus value for San Diego, and that isn’t even factoring in the rarity than a small-market franchise is able to build around a player like him. Not only was this a flashy offseason for the Padres, but it was also quite logical, for the most part, and there is a lot to be optimistic about moving forward.
- Best Value: RP Sean Doolittle
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: D
Right now, the Reds would go into next season with one of these players as their shortstop: Kyle Farmer, Kyle Holder, Jose Garcia, Dee Strange-Gordon.
At that point, why not entertain trading starting pitchers Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo, as well as third baseman Eugenio Suarez? Not having a direction is worrisome.
- Best Value: RP Anthony Bass
- Worst Value: OF Adam Duvall
- Grade: C+
I am actually happy the Marlins, led by Kim Ng, didn’t buy into them making the postseason last year despite a very poor run differential, as they will be able to use this season to evaluate their young players. Maybe they could’ve strived higher than the likes of Bass and Duvall, yet I don’t have any grievances with Ng’s first offseason.
- Best Value: SP Tyler Anderson
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: B+
The Pirates aren’t exactly making moves to compete next season, though they, similar to teams like the Giants and Orioles, are using their rebuilding status as an opportunity for former premier prospects to revitalize their careers. Plus, Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell netted them strong returns, in my opinion, even if I was underwhelmed for the most part by what multiple years of Joe Musgrove brought back. With the way their farm system is trending, particularly with the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, their rebuilding efforts are going quite well.
- Best Value: None
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: F
I’m not sure any team has ever had as uninspiring of an offseason as the Rockies.
First off, they don’t sign one player to a major-league deal, and even their minor-league deals don’t generate buzz. Then, they trade Nolan Arenado for ….. what exactly? The prospect return isn’t generating much excitement, and it’s not as though they are shedding his contract.
At this point, why not trade Trevor Story and/or German Marquez? This is a team that clearly needs to tear it down, but really, above all else, they need accountability. That isn’t happening right now, and that is what is most problematic.
- Best Value: None
- Worst Value: None
- Grade: C-
The Orioles are very similar to the Pirates, except without the assets to trade away. At some point, though, you have to add a bit more excitement to the roster, right? A middle-infield duo of Freddy Galvis and Yolmer Sanchez is suboptimal when you could’ve searched for assets who potentially could be flipped, generated some excitement, or bounce-back candidates. However, it appears that payroll may have prevented that from happening.
Boston Red Sox
- Best Value: OF Hunter Renfroe
- Worst Value: SP Garrett Richards
- Grade: B
Similar to the Tigers and AJ Hinch, I’ll reserve judgement on manager Alex Cora’s role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. As far as on-field productiveness, he is a strong fit, and the feedback from the players publicly has been very positive.
In terms of their player transactions, the Red Sox were quite active. Renfore, utility players Kike Hernandez and Martin Gonzalez, as well as the pitching depth they accumulated, helped deepen a roster that still is very front loaded. The variance with Renfore, Richards, as well as Franchy Cordero, is what they should’ve been searching for as they look to get over the hump and maintain future flexibility.
Speaking of Cordero, landing him, along with four other prospects, for Benintendi in his arbitration years, is a.pretty strong return. This offseason was’t exactly exciting, but, like a few other big-market teams, the Red Sox definitely look like an organization primed to be a sleeping giant soon, and it all starts with their front office. It’s very easy to see why the Rays were so public in their disappointment when Boston poached Chaim Bloom from them to be their Chief Baseball Officer.
- Best Value: SPs Mike Foltynewicz and Kohei Arihara
- Worst Value: OF David Dahl
- Grade: C+
There is a lot of positives from the Rangers’ transactions this offseason. Netting controllable young pitcher Dane Dunning for one year of Lance Lynn is a strong return, as was their side of the Elvis Andrus-Khris Davis trade, which netted them future financial flexibility and multiple prospects. Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz and Kohei Arihara are very intriguing rotation additions with noticeable payoff but without much risk.
Then, there is the Nate Lowe-Heriberto Hernandez trade. Lowe projects as a productive first baseman, but given how the industry values (or doesn’t) non-elite offensive producers who are first baseman only, is a good fit for an organization that is projected to finish as one of the worst five teams in baseball? Hernandez’s range of outcomes are much higher and his youth works much better with their timeline of contention, which makes trading him puzzling. That nerfs how I view their overall offseason, though I still am a fan of their future given how deep their minor-league pipeline is and the financial flexibility they should have in the foreseeable future.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Best Value: OF George Springer
- Worst Value: SS Marcus Semien
- Grade: B-
I was worried that the Blue Jays were going to go “too crazy” this offseason, as rumors would indicate that they were hunting for superstars. However, they were able to sign Springer on a pretty reasonable contract, and they didn’t make any trades that cost them young talent.
However, if they are looking to solidify themselves as a playoff team, the rest of their moves are somewhat odd. Outside of Hyun-Jin Ryu, their rotation consists of: Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, Nate Pearson, Steven Matz, and Ross Stripling. That isn’t exactly the makeup of a pitching staff for a playoff team, and I certainly wonder if the $18 million spent on Marcus Semien to play second base could’ve been spent on multiple players, particularly on the pitching side. Looking back on it, it’s certainly a shame that they couldn’t come out on top in the Hae-Song Kim sweepstakes, though, even then, this wasn’t a weak free-agent class for middle infielders and pitching depth.
Why not give Michael Brantley the qualifying offer if you were going to sign him a two-year deal at the same average salary? Is Pedro Baez worth $7 million per year? I do like signing catcher Jason Castro (2/$7M) to serve in a catcher timeshare and the Jake Odorrizi contract appears to be structured creatively, but Houston’s overall offseason was a bit puzzling. With some of their core players coming to the end of their contracts and their farm system lacking depth, this feels like a “coming to the end” period for them, yet they also have a relatively young pitching staff. Overall, they’re just such a difficult team to get a grasp of.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Best Value: 3B Justin Turner
- Worst Value: RP Blake Treinen
- Grade: A-
The Dodgers may have not gotten surplus value overall this offseason, but I actually am a major fan of their offseason.
This is a team that could’ve stood pat after winning the World Series last year, yet they did the impossible: they managed to actually find an upgrade to the roster. It’s so difficult to improve when you’re projected to win nearly 100 games, but Trevor Bauer does that in their rotation, and the Dodgers have constantly been opportunistic when it comes to finding those rare incremental upgrades. Even better, his contract as structured, a two-year deal, keeps their financial flexibility open for when their core players (Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler) are free agents, and given the Padres’ additions this offseason, those extra 1-2 wins are much more valuable this season.
Speaking of two-year deals, that’s exactly what Los Angeles gave out to Justin Turner ($32M) and Blake Treinen ($17M). Turner is 36-years-old, yet remains a high-level offensive producer and looks likely to fight off the conventional aging curve; losing him would have been a major blow given the fact that they weren’t any other third baseman available and the team didn’t have great option. Treinen, on the other hand, was signed for more than expected, but he’s also an overall tough projection; there is a realistic range of outcomes where he is worth $8.5 million per year. Heck, they even added on Tommy Kahnle, how will miss this season but will play a key role for their bullpen next season, on a creative and cheap two-year contract as well.
The biggest market inefficiency in baseball right now may be willingness to spend. The ramifications for the Dodgers going over the luxury tax aren’t strong, and it’s great to see a team willing to do not set an artificial salary cap- will the luxury tax even be in place after the next CBA negotiations? They managed to get better, which is not an easy task, and did so without hurting their ability to continue to win sustainably whatsoever. That is incredibly impressive.
- Best Value: UTIL Brad Miller
- Worst Value: SS Didi Gregorious, C JT Realmuto, SP Chase Anderson
- Grade: C-
Heading into the offseason, I advocated that the Phillies needed to take a look in the mirror and find a way to shake up their team. They were heavily built on a few players, and given their lack of depth, weren’t ready to be a World Series contender, and that’s with the worst farm system, according to many prospect sources.
So, naturally, Philadelphia “brought the band back together”, once again looking to push their chips into the table- the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as general manager reflects that. With JT Realmuto signed to a $23 million per year deal, they now have three players (Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler) making over $23 million, while their payroll is right up against the luxury tax, which they likely don’t want to go over. Yet, they project, even after upgrading their bullpen and also retaining Didi Gregorious, to finish 4th in the NL East, based on many projections.
I do like that they attacked the bullpen with depth, rather than signing one big-name option. However, it’s hard to see them adding more onto their future payroll and seeing it paying off, particularly when they don’t have much in the way of cost-controlled players. What happens as Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, and other players become more expensive? The current state of the pitching staff and overall roster depth doesn’t equate to a team that can have so much committed to winning right now. I’m not advocating for not trying, obviously, but I am advocating for a proper allocation of resources, which the Phillies haven’t done.
- Best Value: 3B Jake Lamb
- Worst Value: SP Drew Smyly
- Grade: B+
In hindsight, paying Drew Smyly $11 million given how the pitching market played out wasn’t the best move, but one that still makes sense. It’s a one-year deal, and Smyly’s velocity spike and overall improvement now healthy and accumulated after his long layoff due to injury gives him a very enticing high range of outcomes; he and Charlie Morton help solidify a very strong rotation. Meanwhile, they paid about market value to retain Marcell Ozuna, given his projected offensive production, which would be difficult to replace.
Atlanta’s offense could use improvements, as although the signing of Jake Lamb has potential surplus value, the duo of him and Austin Riley at third base is a gaping hole. However, they also were an unfortunate position given the lack of quality talent at the position available, so it’s hard to criticize them too much, even if they could have creatively attacked the deep group of middle infield and corner outfield talent available. They’re a difficult team to get a read on given their recent success and state of the roster, compared to where most public projection shave them at, but they had another pretty productive offseason.
- Best Value: None
- Worst Value: C Yadier Molina
- Grade: B
Obviously, acquiring a player like Nolan Arenado for very little in terms of player return, while also only paying him about $24-$26 million per year on his new contract, is a gift; they’re not even paying him this season!
However, the idea the Cardinals were one player away from solving all of their issues is likely foolish. This is still a very thin team when it comes to offense, particularly in their outfield. A player like Joc Pederson would have helped them greatly, as could have even someone along the lines of Jonathan Schoop or Cesar Hernandez. Meanwhile, their rotation is also in need of improvements, particularly in terms of missing bats, yet in a deep pitching free-agent class, did not add one new pitcher. Even a reliever would have helped them.
They’re fan favorites, but $15.5 million for Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina (particularly Molina at $9M) is not a proper allocation of resources. The fact that you can acquire Arenado and still not separate in the weakest division in baseball is telling, and I believe St.Louis’s top-heavy state of their roster will become a glaring problem as the season persists.
- Best Value: 1B Mitch Moreland and RP Yusmeiro Petit
- Worst Value: RP Trevor Rosenthal
- Grade: C-
I don’t really understand the A’s offseason, to be frank.
Oakland’s pitching staff is strong and they still have some star talent, but they still went into the offseason needed to improve their roster, particularly in the middle infield. So, their solution was …. Elvis Andrus, while trading multiple prospects to do so? Khris Davis wasn’t living up to his new contract, but he projected to offer some offensive value and was on an expiring deal, and the amount of shortstop options that qualified as more appealing than Andrus was substantial. Given Hae-Song Kim’s desire to play on the West Coast, was $7 million per year too much? Why wasn’t there more consideration given to Jonathan Schoop ($4 million) and Cesar Hernandez ($5 million) at second base? Joc Pederson in the outfield at $7 million?
Instead, Oakland spent their resources on bullpen talent, and the main reason Rosenthal is with them is because he was willing to take a heavily deferred contract. For the most part, I am confident about their ability to limit runs, yet I remain concerned about their offense, and their issues in the middle infield are quite apparent- they’re a great candidate to get the least amount of production there of any team this season. I really hope that they can get the stadium situation solved, as, unfortunately, that appears to be the only hope towards a less-strict payroll that the front office has to follow.
- Best Value: 2B Kolten Wong
- Worst Value: CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Grade: C
The Brewers are zigging when everyone else is zagging: attacking the middle tier of the free agency market and paying a premium for defensive talent. While I appreciate the creativeness, I cannot get on board with their overall strategy.
Right now, Milwaukee’s offense doesn’t project well. Between a left side of the infield of Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias, their catching situation, and a not powerful outfield, scoring runs will likely continue to be a problem. Thus, while a great defensive player, Jackie Bradley Jr., who likely will play right field for them, is a very odd fit, and the amount of other options that would appear to be better fits (Joc Pederson, Kyle Schwarber, even Eddie Rosario) is endless. Furthermore, Kolten Wong provides surplus value, but even then, it isn’t a great fit given their offensive situation.
The Brewers were never going to struggle to prevent runs, particularly since their pitching staff is loaded with pitchers who miss bats. Thus, shouldn’t defense theoretically be less of a priority? I’d also like to see them trade Josh Hader at some point, though I’m guessing other teams aren’t budging, and that’s a separate issue in it of itself. The fact of the matter is that Milwaukee had a chance to flex their pitching muscles and upgrade their offense to gain an edge in a very weak division. As things currently stand, I cannot say they accomplished that.
Chicago White Sox
- Best Value: SP Carlos Rodon?
- Worst Value: OF Adam Eaton and RP Liam Hendriks
- Grade: D-
To be up front, I have not been a fan of the White Sox front office’s overall direction and strategy for a while, and this offseason reaffirmed my concerns.
This is a team that needs as much controllable young pitching as it gets, particularly as their payroll begins to steepen. Thus, trading Dane Dunning for one year of Lance Lynn is likely suboptimal. Still in need of rotation depth, they decided to spend a massive amount ($54 million) on reliever Liam Hendricks, even as we continue to see high-level reliever contracts not pan out; investing so much in a volatile area of play is generally a poor way of roster construction.
I could get into paying Adam Eaton more than what Joc Pederson got because he was willing to sign earlier, hiring 76-year-old Tony LaRussa to be the manager of one of the most young and progressive rosters in baseball, or entrusting Andrew Vaughn as the designated hitter when he has just 200 professional plate appearances. That would involve me beating a beaten drum, however. The organization’s pipeline of young talent is dwindling quickly, as is their financial flexibility, and it’s mostly based on resources being allocated poorly. There is a great scenario that this could all “blow up” in a few years, which is something that ought to scare every White Sox fan.
New York Mets
- Best Value: Depth Signings?
- Worst Value: C James McCann
- Grade: C
The Mets are going to be a good team next season (hopefully?) and the change in ownership to Steve Cohen is quite promising. In terms of the moves, they actually made this offseason, however, there was a lot to be desired.
To be fair, the package they gave up to acquire both Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco wasn’t as much as many would have thought, particularly since Amed Rosario’s state with the roster wasn’t great.
From there, though, they gave up a legitimate young catching prospect in Endy Rodriguez for swingman Joey Luchessi, paid $40 million for James McCann (projected for 1-1.5 WAR), and paid a premium for veteran depth. I’m all for depth, but perhaps they could have targeted players with more excitement than Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Villar, Albert Almora Jr., and Jose Martinez when they are costing a combined $10 million? They are more efficient ways to add depth, and even the money ($7.67M AAV) spent on Taijuan Walker is questionable given the extensive amount of other appealing pitching options out there.
The Mets have a lot of pitching depth and an offense projected to do damage. However, what about extensions for Lindor or outfielder Michael Conforto? Could they have added more intriguing depth at a lower price, or diversified it to better attack the pitching staff? They don’t have any holes (catcher ironically remains their weakest spot), but when that’s the case, what’s the harm of using some of the remaining funds to either a) add a better starting pitcher than Walker/Luchessi or b) solidify less-key spots, such as bullpen depth? I think they’ll end up winning the NL East, but if I’m evaluating team based on how they allocated their resources, I don’t they did so efficiently.
The offseason isn’t all about spending efficiently. It’s easy to be efficient when you refuse the spend, after all. However, looking at surplus value does give you a good idea on how front offices are allocating their resources. In the case of the Mets, White Sox, Brewers, and Cardinals, for instance, they got better, but there were also a lot of other scenarios where their rate of improvement could have been higher. On the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Giants, Twins, and Rays attacked free agency in the proper areas (undervalued assets), and, thus, are more likely to be pleased with their investments. This was a very interesting offseason, which leads right into what will be an unprecedented season coming off of last year. Will we look back at some of the inefficient spending teams and wonder what if they had used their resources better? Will the Twins and Rays be able to look back at playoff teams knowing that they did everything in the power to get there? Or will the production of the players those teams signed line up moreso with the contracts they received as opposed to the projections? We will just have to wait and see, and that’s the beauty of baseball!