There were plenty of interesting transactions over the last few months, many of which have changed the way we look at teams. Take the Padres, who have undergone a transformation thanks to GM A.J. Preller. With a handful of impact trades and a few free agent signings, the Padres are now the Dodgers’ most fearsome foe in the NL West. Others, like the Phillies, continue to sell off their veteran core in hopes of a better tomorrow.
Enough generalities, let’s go over the top 25 transactions of the offseason.
1. The Marlins sign outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to a record 13-year, $325 million contract. (November 18, 2014)
For as much news as the Padres made over the winter, there was still no way they were unseating the Marlins in the #1 spot here. Stanton’s $325 million surpassed the previous record total owned by Miguel Cabrera, who inked a 10-year, $292 million deal with the Tigers in March last year. The Marlins are certainly no stranger to a big deal – they traded Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio in one trade with the Blue Jays following the 2012 season – but they have a reputation for being cheap and committing to fire sales.
It’s hard to argue Stanton isn’t worth the money. He’s only recently turned 25 years old, already has 154 home runs to his name, and has a career .903 OPS. By any legitimate measure, he has been one of the 10 best hitters in baseball since the start of the 2011 season and fewer are in the same conversation when it comes to hitting for power. Of course, there’s risk – to which the division rival Phillies can attest with Ryan Howard – as Stanton has only taken 505 or more plate appearances in a season twice in his five-year career. The alternative for the Marlins was to take Stanton through his arbitration-eligible years and then trade him or let him walk into free agency. As Stanton’s deal allows him to opt out after the 2020 season, the Marlins will have him for at least six more years and they can certainly build a championship contender within that span of time.
2. The Nationals sign starter Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract. (January 19, 2015)
As the calendar turned to 2015, many began to think Scherzer would never get the $200-plus million deal he sought. But in a lesson we seem to learn every offseason, clients of Scott Boras almost always get what they want. The Nationals grabbed headlines when it was announced they signed the fireballing right-hander, bolstering an already scary starting rotation that is arguably the best in the league despite lacking Clayton Kershaw.
Following years of inconsistency, Scherzer at 30 years old appears to be in his prime, having led the American League in wins in each of the past two seasons with an aggregate 3.02 ERA and a 492/119 K/BB ratio in 434 2/3 innings. No one has struck out more batters in that span of time. Scherzer will be joined in the Nats’ rotation by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. Good luck, rest of the National League.
3. The Padres acquire outfielder Justin Upton and minor league pitcher Aaron Northcraft from the Braves in exchange for infielder Jace Peterson, minor league pitcher Max Fried, minor league third baseman Dustin Peterson and minor league outfielder Mallex Smith. (December 19, 2014)
A.J. Preller rounded out his brand new outfield in acquiring Upton from the Braves, having acquired Matt Kemp from the Dodgers on December 11 and Wil Myers from the Rays on the 17th. Upton swatted 27 and 29 home runs in his two seasons in Atlanta’s pitcher-friendly Turner Field, so the switch to San Diego’s even more pitcher-friendly Petco Park shouldn’t deflate his numbers by much at all. Among outfielders who have taken at least 1,500 plate appearances since the start of the 2011 season, only nine posted a better OPS than Upton’s .835. The Padres scored the fewest runs in baseball last season at 535, so Upton will be a big part of an expected offensive resurgence.
4. The Cubs sign starter Jon Lester to a six year, $155 million contract. (December 10, 2014)
With the youth movement ready to begin, the addition of Lester to the top of the rotation serves as the Cubs’ comeback party in the NL Central. It’s been five extremely tough years in the NL Central – their 75-87 finish in 2010 was their best finish in that span of time – but now the Cardinals and Pirates have to pay attention to the blue and white sneaking up in their rear-view mirrors. Lester is coming off of the best season of his career, finishing with a combined 2.46 ERA and a 220/48 K/BB ratio in 219 2/3 innings split between the Red Sox and Athletics. He’s 31 years old now, but certainly has at least a few more elite seasons remaining in that left arm of his.
5. The Athletics acquire second baseman Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Rays in exchange for catcher John Jaso, minor league outfielder Boog Powell and minor league shortstop Daniel Robertson. (January 10, 2015)
The A’s had an odd off-season, appearing equally willing to pawn off productive players as to acquire them. In this instance, GM Billy Beane used his savvy to grab a player who has accrued the fifth-most WAR (per FanGraphs) since the start of the 2011 season. He’d later flip Escobar for reliever Tyler Clippard, who will serve as the team’s closer until Sean Doolittle is healthy.
Heyward has a reputation as having not lived up to his hype as a prospect, but the 25-year-old has already accrued 24.5 WAR (per Baseball Reference) over his five-year career. Last season, he finished with a .735 OPS along with 11 home runs and 20 stolen bases. It was a power move by the Cardinals, who were in the very unfortunate circumstance of having to replace Oscar Taveras in right field. One imagines parting with Miller was tough, but the Cardinals’ organization has been among the best at developing pitchers.
2015 may be the last season in Toronto for GM Alex Anthopoulos, so it was no surprise to see him make a splash. With Donaldson in tow, the Jays’ 1-5 spots in the lineup are arguably as potent as any in baseball, putting Jose Reyes at the top followed by Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson.
8. The Padres sign starter James Shields to a four-year, $75 million contract. (February 9, 2015)
A.J. Preller capped off the busiest off-season in franchise history by adding the last remaining top-tier starter. The combination of Shields and Andrew Cashner is a potent duo which should prove formidable for their competition in the NL West.
9. The White Sox sign outfielder Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42 million contract. (December 16, 2014)
The White Sox were surprisingly active during the off-season, adding DH Adam LaRoche, relievers Zach Duke and David Robertson, starter Jeff Samardzija, as well as Cabrera. Cabrera rebounded from a tough 2013 in which a benign tumor on his spine affected his ability to play. His adjusted OPS over the last four seasons, excluding 2013: 121, 157, 126. He’s reliable for close to a .300 average if not higher and the move to a more hitter-friendly park should help his extra-base hit totals as well.
10. The White Sox acquire starter Jeff Samardzija and minor league pitcher Michael Ynoa from the Athletics in exchange for shortstop Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley, starter Chris Bassitt and minor league first baseman Rangel Ravelo. (December 9, 2014)
Few 1-2 punches in baseball are as potent as the White Sox’ new combo of Chris Sale and Samardzija. “Shark”, as he’s known, is coming off of his best season as a starter, finishing with a combined 2.99 ERA and a 202/43 K/BB ratio in 219 2/3 innings between the Cubs and Athletics. He significantly reduced his walk rate from around eight percent to five percent. That should prove important in his new home ballpark.
11. The Yankees acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade also involving the Tigers. The Yankees sent starter Shane Greene to the Tigers and the Tigers sent reliever Robbie Ray and minor league infielder Domingo Leyba to the Diamondbacks. (December 5, 2014)
Everyone was wondering who the Yankees would get to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop. Jimmy Rollins was a potential option if he was willing to waive his 10-and-5 rights. Perhaps they would get J.J. Hardy if the Orioles let him get to free agency (they didn’t). Gregorius was a bit of a surprise alternative. The Yankees are buying heavily into the 25-year-old’s potential as he hasn’t done much over the last two seasons in Arizona, owning a combined .682 OPS.
If it seems like Porcello has been around for a while, it’s because he has – six seasons, to be exact. And yet he’s only 26 years old. The Red Sox were able to grab Porcello for his final season before free agency and bolster a rotation badly in need of dependability. Cespedes may seem like a high price to pay, but they had a glut of outfielders, especially after signing Hanley Ramirez to man left field.
13. The Mariners sign DH Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $58 million contract. (December 1, 2014)
The Mariners were better than many of us thought they would be in 2014, finishing 87-75, just out of contention for the second AL Wild Card. With just a little tinkering, the Mariners could be a force in the American League. GM Jack Zduriencik chose to make an impact signing, however, to upgrade the offense which scored the fourth-fewest runs in the American League last year. Cruz led baseball with 40 home runs. With continued good health and PED abstinence, he should be good for another 30-35 in his move to a more spacious ballpark.
The Dodgers addressed their middle infield in two fell swoops, making separate trades on the same day (though the Rollins trade took a while to become official). Heaney had been acquired from the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade and Eflin had been acquired in the Yasmani Grandal trade with the Padres, so the Dodgers really didn’t have to dig into their own minor league depth to make upgrades.
16. The Mariners sign Kyle Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension. (November 24, 2014)
Seager has gotten progressively better each season, finally breaking out in 2014 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI. He was one of only three first basemen to hit at least 25 round-trippers last year. The Mariners are banking on the 27-year-old becoming a fixture in the middle of their lineup for years to come.
The Cubs needed a legitimate center fielder and paid relatively little to find one. Straily, a swingman, was coming off of a terrible season and Valbuena’s departure opens up third base for uber prospect Kris Bryant, so it effectively killed two birds with one stone. Not a bad move by GM Jed Hoyer.
18. The Twins sign pitcher Phil Hughes to a three-year, $42 million contract extension. (December 22, 2014)
Hughes was the butt of many jokes for failing to live up to the hype as part of the Yankees’ system. He turned things around in Minnesota, setting a record in averaging 11.63 strikeouts for every one walk. That exceeded Bret Saberhagen’s 11.00 in 1994 and Cliff Lee’s 10.28 in 2010. Indeed, Hughes has become a maven of control without losing any of his bat-missing capabilities.
19. The Orioles sign shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million contract extension. (December 9, 2014)
The Orioles were in a bit of a pickle, facing the prospect of losing Hardy to free agency in what appeared to be a seller’s market, as the Dodgers and Yankees were among teams searching for upgrades. If the Orioles hadn’t been able to keep Hardy in tow – the leading home-run hitter among shortstops over the last three seasons – then they may have had to jump into the Jimmy Rollins bidding or settle for a low-tier solution.
Saunders suffered two injuries during the season, interrupting what appeared to be a breakout campaign in which he finished with a .791 OPS. He was criticized via the media by GM Jack Zduriencik, which seemed to punch his ticket out of Seattle. If he can stay healthy, Saunders may show the Mariners what they missed out on now that he’s in Canada.
The Cubs are officially contenders for the first time in several years, but they only got there after very seriously addressing deficits at several positions. Catcher was one of them. Though Montero is now 31 and has put up subpar numbers over the last two seasons, he’s still among the more offensively-potent backstops out there.
22. The Cardinals sign starter Lance Lynn to a three-year, $22 million contract extension. (January 15, 2015)
Lynn was heading into his first of three years of arbitration eligibility, so the Cardinals effectively bought them all out, and they likely saved money in doing so. Lynn, who will be heading into his age-30 season after his contract ends, finished the 2014 season with an impressive 2.74 ERA and a 181/72 K/BB ratio in 203 2/3 innings.
23. The Los Angeles Dodgers sign starter Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract. (December 16, 2014)
2014 was a tale of two seasons for McCarthy. He had poor results over 18 starts for the Diamondbacks before heading to the Yankees in a trade. The Yankees had him significantly increase the use of his cut fastball, something the Diamondbacks insisted he use less. The Yankees’ approach worked wonders, as McCarthy posted a 2.89 ERA with an 82/13 K/BB ratio over 90 1/3 innings over 14 starts in the Bronx. The right-hander, though, has always had injury problems so the Dodgers are banking on both his improved repertoire being the key to his success and his staying healthy. The Dodgers’ rotation is strong, but also fragile.
Latos had one more season left until he was eligible for free agency, so the Reds opted to trade him while they could. The right-hander dealt with elbow and knee problems during the 2014 season, limiting him to 16 starts. However, he was effective in those 16 starts, finishing with a 3.25 ERA and a 74/26 K/BB ratio in 102 1/3 innings. The 27-year-old has finished with a 3.50 ERA or lower in five consecutive seasons since getting everyday work, and his numbers should only improve in a new spacious home ballpark.
The A’s had acquired Escobar from the Rays in the Ben Zobrist trade, but there was some consternation about Escobar’s desire to play in Oakland. Swapping him for Clippard solved both that problem and the bullpen problem as they didn’t have an ideal back of the bullpen behind closer Sean Doolittle. As it turned out, Doolittle will miss a short period at the start of the season, so Clippard will serve as the closer in the interim.