Now that pitchers and catchers have reported and all of the big players on the free agent market are signed, with exception to Kyle Lohse of course, it’s time to take a look at which teams invested their money the most wisely. I’m not looking at players who signed minor league contracts, were extended before they actually hit free agency, or were traded for though – I’m only looking at guys who were signed as true major league free agents and the teams that signed them (even if some players did end up re-signing with the same team).
Believe it or not all 30 teams did manage to sign at least one free agent this winter, even though for fans of some teams it may not seem that way. The team that came away as being the most active in free agency was the Boston Red Sox with 10 free agents signed, although one of those players was their very own David Ortiz who did officially hit free agency but really wasn’t going anywhere. The Chicago Cubs were the second busiest in free agency with nine signings, then the New York Yankees with seven, and the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays round out our top five with six signings apiece.
There were 10 other teams that made either four or five signings and then the remaining half of the league made three or less. Obviously there’s always the argument that it’s quality and not quantity but in baseball an argument can also be made for strength in numbers. Of the five most active teams at signing major league free agents this winter who actually comes out on top?
Let’s go ahead and review.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox made it a point to trade any player on their roster making a good chunk of change and was over the age of 30 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for James Loney, who has since moved on to the division rival Rays, and some prospects. This winter the Red Sox decided to try a different strategy; instead of signing players that were about to be out of their prime to long-term contracts worth boat loads of cash they instead opted to sign players who were already out of their primes for boat loads of cash but fewer years.
So the nearly $261 million dollars in future guaranteed contracts they saved themselves from by making that trade with the Dodgers – a little more than half of that went up in smoke. They’ve spent approximately $133.95 million on 10 players where their average age combined is 33.6 years old. Half of those players are actually 35 years of age or older and just one of them is currently under the age of 30, even though he’ll turn 30 before the regular season begins.
While it’s easy to say that the Red Sox did really well for themselves this winter by bringing in high character guys for the clubhouse that also have some talent, they also brought in a very veteran heavy group and the only good thing is that the longest commitment they made was for three years to Shane Victorino. Then again though, they really only had one direction to go after the calamity that was the 2012 season and that direction is up.
The interesting thing, and probably most impressive thing – in my mind at least, about the Chicago Cubs off-season is that they lost 100 or more games for the first time in 46 years and everyone was expecting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to offer whatever it would take to sign Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, AND Josh Hamilton. They are the Cubs after all and they have a history of trying to spend their way out of a bad overall system.
Not this winter though as they were able to avoid making that mistake without having a more solid foundation in place and instead chose to pick up some complimentary pieces. The biggest signing for them was starting pitcher Edwin Jackson who they signed to a four year, $52 million dollar deal and it’s not as bad of a deal as some have made it out to be.
Jackson isn’t an ace by any means but he’s a guy who will benefit from staying in the National League and at worst he’ll be a league average starter who can eat up between 180 and 200 innings a year and at his best he’ll turn in a stretch of some pretty dominating performances. They could’ve spent that $52 million in far worse places than Jackson so I can’t fault them for that. They also took a flyer on guys like Scott Feldman and Scott Baker with one year deals; two pitchers who many probably wouldn’t be all that surprised if they each turned in decent to solid seasons, especially Baker if he’s healthy.
Signing Scott Hairston to a two-year deal was a pretty shrewd move by Hoyer and one that I think could turn out pretty well for them. Hairston is a gritty player that plays hard and has a history for being one of those lead by example types. He may not dazzle you with a superb batting average or anything but he’s decent in that department and has some good pop in his bat. Then the other pieces the Cubs signed are truly complimentary guys for the bench or the bullpen but useful nonetheless.
Man, I can’t believe how much more strongly I feel about the Cubs off-season as I’m writing this. Before I was just kind of “oh, yeah they did alright” and now that I’m looking at it all over again I’m starting to think “oh wow, they did alright”.
New York Yankees
I’ve already written about how I believe the New York Yankees time is up this year and their downfall is imminent. Granted, many writers every off-season talk about the supposed collapse of the Yankee Dynasty and it’s been going strong for 10 years now; it never seems to end. I’m standing by my argument that the Yankees are a team on their way out, at least for 2013 and possibly 2014, and there’s no point in rehashing all of that here. If you want to read my reasoning why then the link is there for the clicking.
The Yankees signed nine players, although four of those players were on the team in 2012. But they decided to take the strategy of counting on veterans to the max, as they usually seem to do, and I just don’t know how much Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki, Travis Hafner, and Mariano Rivera have left in them. Hiroki Kuroda I’m on the fence about because I think he could prove to still be pretty reliable.
To their credit though, I do believe they’ll end up looking awfully smart for signing relief pitcher David Herndon and I also don’t think that Kevin Youkilis won’t be as horrible as many feel he will – hell, he could very well save the Yankees season with his glove at each corner infield spot.
Thankfully this isn’t a piece about the trades that took place this off-season because then it would be all about Kevin Towers’ mishandling of the Justin Upton situation and also giving away pitching prospect Trevor Bauer for pennies on the dollar. Instead, this will only partially be about the one move that still doesn’t make any sense and a few others that aren’t so bad.
Everyone was left scratching their head when Towers signed outfielder Cody Ross to that three year, $26 million dollar contract just before Christmas. You were reading stories and tweets that went something like “oh my gosh, they have 79 outfielders!” or “but what about Upton, he’s still there!” and so on and so forth. It was a near certainty that Towers was going to find someone to give him something in exchange for Upton that he liked, even after having the giant overpay from the Seattle Mariners taken off the table after Upton exercised his no-trade power.
What makes the Ross signing so unusual is that it feels more like a statement signing than anything else. A statement to who you wonder – maybe to Upton, maybe to the media, maybe to Towers himself – who knows. But the fact of the matter is that the Diamondbacks had plenty of outfielders that are major league ready before signing Ross and would have still had plenty of outfield options after trading Upton and not signing Ross.
Other than the Ross signing the other free agents that the team picked up were actually pretty good moves. Getting Brandon McCarthy on a two-year contract worth just under $16 million per year is genius because he could finally string together a 30 start season and be a dominant force in your rotation. Signing Cliff Pennington for two years and $5 million total was another smart move because Pennington, while not a star by any means, is more than worth the contract he got and will be very useful as a starter or coming off the bench. I even like the team signing third baseman Eric Chavez to a one-year deal because he’s someone that can still provide some pop off the bench and has a great glove at the hot corner.
Tampa Bay Rays
Every winter it seems that the Rays make these mediocre signings and everyone laughs at them, or at least used to until they realized that this organization is full of evil geniuses, because how could they possibly win games with guys like Luke Scott, Fernando Rodney, and Carlos Pena – right?
Well, they’re at it again and even though I know there’s a method to their madness I’m still wondering exactly how they’re going to win more games than last year with guys like Luke Scott and Roberto Hernandez (the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona). With Scott likely at designated hitter and Hernandez, possibly, in the rotation (at some point) I do feel as if the Rays are losing their touch. But then you look at signings like Kelly Johnson, who could free Ben Zobrist up a little in the field, and James Loney who has a pretty solid glove at first base and you start to see that the Rays are doing their own thing again and it could very well work.
Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta are probably the two most important signings they made as it will further solidify their bullpen and allow them to play to their strengths once more – pitching and defense. They barely spent $18 million dollars this winter and all but one of those contracts come off the books at the end of the season, talk about spending wisely and having those same resources available to do it all over again the following winter.
Of the five teams on this list I have to say that I believe the least in the moves the Yankees and Red Sox made. That’s not to say that either will finish with a worse record than any other team on this list but I don’t think the Yankees will continue to be able to squeeze what’s left out of these aging veterans for another year and I don’t believe that simply overhauling your clubhouse with high character guys will make up for the fact that you still signed a bunch of past your prime veterans in Boston.
The Cubs have probably done the most to help themselves this season with their free agent pickups, although I don’t believe it’ll be enough to stave off a last place finish in the NL Central now that the Houston Astros have moved on to the American League. With that said though, they are a team that has a solid foundation in place and with an uptick in production and growth from some of their younger players already on the big league club and those in the high-minors I could see them being a borderline playoff contender in 2014.
As far as the Diamondbacks and Rays are concerned – the Diamondbacks were a .500 team last season with a great deal of expectations they simply didn’t live up to. They’ll likely compete for a wild-card spot this season, even without Upton, but the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are likely too much for them at the moment so the wild-card is their only hope. Then again, how much hope do they really have when there’s likely just one wild-card spot up for grabs and they seem to be the weakest of the teams most likely to fight for it?
The Rays are the Rays and you can never count them out. We can make fun of some of the moves that they make each winter but we almost always end up looking silly as they coast to a 90+ win season. There will be plenty of competition for their division and a wild-card spot but they are a resilient team with one of the most forward thinking managers in all of baseball. Until they prove otherwise, I’m applauding any and all moves they make whether they make sense to me or not.