The first few days of the MLB offseason saw massive moves and gargantuan contracts, and with marquee players still available on the market, even more can change. Let’s get started giving out our mid-offseason MLB awards:
Biggest Trade: Chicago White Sox receive 2B/3B Yoan Moncada, SP Michael Kopech, RP Victor Diaz, and OF Luis Alexander Basabe; Boston Red Sox receive SP Chris Sale
With Sale mired on a cellar-dwelling team and having a club-friendly contract, the 27-year old pitcher was the crown jewel of the offseason. A five-time All-Star, Sale is one of the most consistently dominant hurlers in the game, and had offers on the table from the Astros, Braves, and Nationals. The Red Sox now have a loaded rotation consisting of Sale, 2016 AL Cy Young Winner Rick Porcello, 2012 AL Cy Young Winner David Price, and 2016 All-Stars Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright to complement their league-best offense. After winning the division last year, Boston is poised to challenge for a World Series title.
Acquiring Sale did come at a heavy cost for Boston, however. The White Sox came into the offseason looking to start fresh after an early summer collapse, and achieved just that. Moncada is the top-rated prospect in all of baseball, and has drawn comparisons to Mariners star Robinson Cano. The switch-hitting Cuban struggled when he was briefly called-up last season, but his ceiling is enormous. Kopech was also a coup for the South Siders, though the #30 overall prospect’s 105 mph fastball may not be enough for him to overcome some mechanics and personal issues to make an immediate big-league impact. Basabe has a nice combination of power and speed that could enable him to carve out an everyday role in center, while Diaz’s triple digits fastball gives him promise as a reliever.
Most Interesting Trade: Chicago White Sox receive SP Lucas Giolito, SP Reynaldo Lopez, and RP Dane Dunning; Washington Nationals receive OF Adam Eaton
This was a shocker. In the days leading up to the trade, all people could talk about was the Nationals aggressive pursuit of Sale. However, a major roadblock in the deal was the Nats refusal to part with both Giolito and Lopez, the #1 and #8 best prospects at their position, respectively. This opened the door for Boston to sweep in, and Washington’s last-ditch efforts to nab Sale were moot. The Nationals then turned their attention to Pirates outfielder and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who becomes a free agent after 2017. That deal also didn’t work out, with the Nationals refusing to give up either one of their promising outfielders; spark plug leadoff hitter Trea Turner and #10 overall prospect Victor Robles. General manager Mike Rizzo, seemingly hard-pressed to make a move, dealt the team’s top pitching prospects for Adam Eaton, a solid player but not one of the caliber of Sale or McCutchen.
The 28 year old outfielder has never been selected to an All Star team, but advanced metrics paint a prettier picture. Eaton actually had a higher WAR (wins above replacement) than everyone on the Nationals last season, placing 15th in the league despite only batting .284 with 14 homers. One of the better fielders in the MLB, Eaton’s addition will allow Turner to move to shortstop and SS Danny Espinosa to a utility role (as well as the trade block). Additionally, bringing in Eaton, who’s signed through 2019, gives the Nationals insurance should they lose their marquee player, Bryce Harper, to free agency in 2017. If Eaton brings a Daniel Murphy-esque effect to Washington, it could put the Nationals over the top.
On the negative side, the move could seriously endanger a team that didn’t count pitching depth as its biggest strength to begin with. When healthy, the duo of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg is the best 1-2 punch in the league. But Strasburg has never been the picture of health and Scherzer is 32 years old. Following the All-Stars is a group of solid but unexceptional starters, with only fifth starter Joe Ross on the upswing. The bullpen is also shaky, especially after the departure of stud closer Mark Melancon. Giolito and Lopez, while they were inconsistent during their call-ups, would have been major contributors in the near future. The White Sox have absolutely loaded their farm system this offseason, and should be in title contention within five years.
Under the Radar Trade: Chicago Cubs receive RP Wade Davis; Kansas City Royals receive OF Jorge Soler
Losing RP Aroldis Chapman presented a big blow to the Cubs, but bringing Davis in should ease the pain. The former starter was one of the better relievers in baseball last season, posting a 1.87 ERA in his second straight All-Star season. Having a strong closer was key to the Cubs taking home the title last year, and Joe Maddon hopes adding Davis will keep his club at the top. The price of Davis was young OF Jorge Soler, who was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball but struggled to carve out an everyday role in the Cubs outfield. Even with the loss of centerfielder Dexter Fowler in free agency, the return of Kyle Schwarber and the progression of #23 overall prospect Eloy Jimenez will help make up for the departure of Soler.
The Royals on the other hand, desperately needed another outfielder in order to contend for the playoffs. Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando played well last year, but neither presented a long term solution. Especially with the possibility of dealing away centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, the Royals needed to upgrade their depth. Additionally, while Davis was one of the best players on the team, the Royals had expendable bullpen arms. Kelvin Herrera had established himself as capable of taking over the role of full-time closer, and despite regression from his All-Star days, Joakim Soria is still a competent set-up man.
Biggest Free Agent Signing: New York Yankees Sign RP Aroldis Chapman to 5 year, $86 million contract
In a move that can either be considered brilliant or simply a reminder of how much money the Yankees have, the Bombers essentially loaned out the Cuban superstar closer to the Cubs in a midseason trade that would deliver them prized shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres. After Chapman was critical in bringing a World Series title to Wrigleyville, he’s returning to the Bronx. The man with the fastest pitch in MLB history posted a 1.01 ERA in Chicago over the second half of the regular season, and his postseason play demonstrated his value as a shutdown closer. The Yanks play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, but their recent moves along with likely regression from the Blue Jays and Orioles could lead to October baseball for New York sooner rather than later.
Most Interesting Free Agent Signing: St. Louis Cardinals Sign OF Dexter Fowler to 5 year, $82.5 million contract
The 30 year old veteran won his first World Series title in 2016 as one of the team leaders of a youthful Cubs team. Even though he was only signed to a one year contract, his teammates expected Fowler to pick up the option clause and remain with the team in 2017. In a decision that shocked even his clubhouse mates, Fowler declined the option and became an unrestricted free agent. Despite receiving a qualifying offer from the Cubs, the speedy center fielder signed a monster deal with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Center field has been a weak spot for the Cards, and adding Fowler allows them to shift Randal Grichuk to right. Fowler also gives St. Louis a consistent leadoff bat with above average on-base ability.
Under the Radar Free Agent Signing: Rockies sign SS/OF Ian Desmond to 5 year, $70 million dollar contract
As if signing a 2-time All Star could be considered “under the radar”, this deal could pay off in a big way for Colorado. While the Ballpark in Arlington is hitter-friendly, the thin air in Coors Field is on another level. Desmond has been a consistent 20-homer player, though the upgrade in home field could spell him cracking 30 dingers for the first time in his career. Additionally, Desmond will be batting behind on-base monsters in 2B DJ LeMahieu and 3B Nolan Arenado, making the 100-RBI barrier well within his reach. The Rockies, while their pitching staff is not one to phone home about, have put together a lineup that can mash with the best in baseball.
Biggest Free Agent(s) Still Available: Toronto Blue Jays’ DH Edwin Encarnacion and OF Jose Bautista
Both middle of the order mashers for Toronto are still on the open market, enticing teams that are looking for a power hitter to sign to a short term deal. Encarnacion is younger than Bautista, but he is still 33, so a contract of more than four years would come as a surprise. A 3-time All-Star and the reigning RBI champion, Encarnacion’s value is also hindered by his limited ability to play the field. The AL West-winning Texas Rangers, who Encarnacion eliminated from the playoffs with a three-run blast last season, have emerged as the frontrunners for the Dominican export’s services. The 36 year-old Bautista is more likely to resign with the Blue Jays than Encarnacion, but it remains to be seen where the man who unleashed the bat flip heard ‘round the world will end up. A 6-time All-Star and 2-time home run leader, Bautista missed significant time due to injury last year, causing him to record his lowest home run total since 2009. He presents more of a risk than Encarnacion, but if he returns to his 2014 form, Joey Bats could be a valuable addition.
Most Interesting Free Agent Still Available: Cleveland Indians’ 1B/DH Mike Napoli
At 35 years old, Napoli shouldn’t garner a long-term deal. However, the veteran brings a critical locker room presence, and was one of the leaders of an Indians’ team that was an at-bat away from winning the World Series. Despite only batting .239 last year, Napoli swatted 34 home runs and drove in 101 runs as the primary power source for the Tribe. The significant drop in his numbers over the final month of the season and the playoffs is disconcerting (.179 batting average and one home run in the postseason), but the power is still there. Napoli would be a perfect addition for a young team looking to get over the top, such as the Red Sox or even his current team. However, teams may wait until Encarnacion is signed to have a price benchmark to sign Napoli.
Under the Radar Free Agent Still Available: Milwaukee Brewers’ 1B Chris Carter
The reigning NL home run leader, Carter is still available with little fanfare surrounding him. Carter has averaged just over 29 homers a season over the last few years, making him one of the biggest long-ball threats in the MLB. However, teams aren’t as interested when you lead the league in strikeouts as well. Carter even dipped beneath the fabled Mendoza line in 2015, when he batted .199. Even with his struggles making contact, it would be surprising if a team, especially one that plays in a short-fenced ballpark, didn’t make a move for the 30 year old. The Baltimore Orioles and their obsession for home runs are unsurprisingly tied to Carter in rumors swirling around the baseball world.