Roy Oswalt exlcuded, the off-season is basically over at this point. Sure, we might see a minor trade or two before spring training starts up, but teams have generally crossed most of the items off their winter shopping list, and today’s rosters will look pretty similar to the ones that most teams report to spring training with. So, now, it’s time to look back and evaluate the best and worst moves of the winter. We’ll start with the 10 best moves and tackle the worst tomorrow.
Transactions were judged on several criteria: Expected on-field performance, cost to acquire the player, and how important the transaction is in terms of affecting the team’s ability to contend either now or in the future. There were some good cheap contracts signed this winter that won’t really move the needle much for their teams, so even if they provide a better $/WAR return, they’re not viewed to be as important of a move as bringing in a good player who could really make a difference. On the other hand, teams who are rebuilding also made some good moves, so acquisitions that provide significant future value without tanking a team’s ability to compete in 2012 were also viewed in a positive light.
Overall, here are the 10 moves that I feel helped the organization improve their overall talent levels and put them in a better position to win either now or in the future.
Honorable Mentions: Angels Sign C.J. Wilson, A’s Acquire Seth Smith, Red Sox Acquire Andrew Bailey, Astros Acquire Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland, Cubs Acquire Anthony Rizzo, Rockies Acquire Marco Scutaro
#10 – Phillies Sign Jimmy Rollins for 3/$39M
The Phillies patience paid off, as they dared Rollins to hit the market as a 33-year-old whose value is primarily tied to his glove. Ruben Amaro correctly guessed that other GMs wouldn’t open their pocketbooks for that kind of player, and was able to talk Rollins off of his original five year demand when he realized how the market valued his skills. Even in his mid-30s, Rollins still has more than enough value to justify the $13 million per year price tag – especially for a team in full on win-now mode – and the three year length keeps the risk to a minimum.
#9 – Reds Sign Ryan Madson for 1/$8.5M
Likewise, the Reds patience also paid off, as they sat out the run on closers and let Madson fall in their laps. By being the only team left with a ninth inning role to offer him, the Reds were able to get an elite reliever on a one year deal, which is exactly the kind of contract you want to sign bullpen guys to. Along with their other acquisitions, Madson makes the Reds contenders in the NL Central, and they didn’t have to give up any talent or future payroll flexibility in order to get a shutdown closer.
I’m going to have to disagree with my colleague Marc Hulet on this one, as I think the A’s did pretty well in trading away a good-but-not-great Super-Two starter for a package of prospects that should be able to help make the A’s better in the near future. Peacock and Milone could be members of the A’s rotation in 2012, and Norris isn’t far off from being able to step in at catcher, where his power and patience combo could make him the new Chris Iannetta. Cole is further away from the big leagues but also has the most upside, and getting four guys with potential big league futures in return for a starter with serious command problems who was no longer cheap was a nice move for the A’s.
While giving up Montero and Noesi represents a real cost to the franchise, the Yankees acquired the best young starter to change teams this winter, and they did it without putting a serious dent in their farm system. Getting five years of team control over Pineda gave them the flexibility to spend money upgrading other parts of their roster, and since Montero was likely to be a DH in New York, the downgrade from losing him to picking up a veteran to platoon with Andruw Jones isn’t all that significant. The Yankees got a lot better in a hurry, and while it cost them their best trade chip in the process, they made out better than other teams who had to pay higher prices to upgrade their rotations this winter.
#6 -Yankees Sign Hiroki Kuroda for 1/$10M
Remember how acquiring Pineda left the Yankees room to upgrade elsewhere? Meet elsewhere. Kuroda isn’t a spring chicken anymore, but his combination of strikes and ground balls have made him one of the game’s better starting pitchers since arriving in the U.S. With the rotation depth that they have, they don’t need to get 35 starts from Kuorda, so they can afford to deal with some nagging injuries or missed starts from time to time. Having another quality starter who can pound the zone and get hitters out from both sides of the plate will greatly increase their odds of going deep in the playoffs, and on a one year commitment, it’s hard to go wrong with a pitcher of this quality.
#5 – Nationals Sign Edwin Jackson for 1/$11M
Another beneficiary of being patient, the Nationals took advantage of the soft market for Jackson’s services and landed a +3 to +4 win pitcher for a fraction of what he should have cost. This deal would rate higher on a strict $/WAR scale, but given that the Nationals are probably still the fourth best team in the NL East and that it’s just a one year deal, this move might not end up actually changing the Nationals fortunes all that much. It’s definitely a deal worth doing, especially if Jackson learns to love the D.C. area and gives the team a discount to stick around for what looks like a pretty bright future.
#4 – Someone Signs Roy Oswalt For Something
Okay, so he hasn’t signed yet, but we have a pretty good idea of what he’s going to get when he eventually does decide where he wants to pitch – one year for somewhere between $6 and $10 million. His pickiness in geography has excluded a bunch of teams from being able to bring him aboard, but whichever team finally does figure out how to make him fit onto into their budget is going to be quite happy that they did. His velocity and performance at the end the season were vintage Oswalt, and while the back problems could return, the discount he’s taking this winter far outstretches the risks associated with bringing him on board. It’s still a little bit mind boggling that a guy who has been this good for this long is still a free agent a week before spring training begins. Someone is going to get a massive bargain, and be really happy they figured out how to squeeze him onto their roster.
The Reds needed to make a deal like this, but I love this trade for the Padres. Alonso might not have star potential, but as a left-handed hitter with opposite field power, he should be able to hit well enough in Petco to be a useful piece, and there’s value in having six years of a cost controlled Wally Joyner hanging around. Grandal is the real key to this deal, though, as a switch-hitting catcher with power and patience who could easily be more valuable than Latos over the next six years by himself. Toss in a terrific buy-low arm in Edinson Volquez, who is a perfect fit for Petco, and a good young bullpen arm in Boxberger, and the Padres restocked their talent base in a hurry without drastically making their team worse for 2012. In fact, if Alonso and Volquez perform as expected, the team could actually be better than they would have been with Latos and some random first baseman. Toss in the long term value, and this deal was just a huge win for San Diego.
#2 – Marlins Sign Jose Reyes for 6/$106M
I know that a lot of people have reservations about Reyes’ health, and I’m on a bit of an island in loving this deal for the Marlins, but I don’t think that our ability to predict future health is anywhere near good enough to make a player of Reyes’ talents take this kind of discount. Reyes is a better player than Prince Fielder and signed for half of the total guaranteed money. Yes he’s had leg problems, but at this price, Reyes could miss a significant chunk of each season and still be worth the money. The guy is a legitimate +5 win player in the prime of his career, and he signed for just slightly more than the Carlos Lee price tag. The Marlins got a lot better this winter, and they did it primarily by bringing in one of the best shortstops in baseball at a price that makes sense for the organization.
#1 – Cardinals Sign Carlos Beltran for 2/$26M
Losing Albert Pujols hurts, but adding Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman back to first base will cushion the blow and help keep the Cardinals right in the thick of things in the NL Central. The combination of Beltran’s offense and the upgrade on defense by getting Berkman out of the outfield will allow the team to replace most of what Pujols gave them on the field last year, and the fact that it only required a two year deal to land a premium hitter to replace Pujols keeps the team in position to stay competitive for the long term as well. Like with Reyes and Oswalt, there are durability concerns, but the price tag is so low that Beltran could spend weeks on the DL and still easily earn his salary. The Cardinals could have had a disastrous off-season, but they smartly targeted Beltran after Pujols left for Los Angeles, and with the moves they made, the defending champs may even have a better team next year than they did in 2011.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.