Winter meetings roundup: Tigers get Cespedes, Marlins snag Latos
The winter meetings can sometimes be a bit of a dud, but that was far from the case this year. The annual gathering of team and player representatives came to a frenetic close this year, with a flurry of moves starting Wednesday afternoon that made our heads (and Twitter feeds) spin. It will take a while to digest everything that went down in the last 24 hours or so, and we've already tried to tackle the big moves by the Dodgers and Red Sox. But as everyone leaves San Diego, here's a look at what some other teams were up to on a crazy day of offseason action.
Acquired OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Alex Wilson and RHP Gabe Speier from Boston Red Sox for RHP Rick Porcello; Acquired RHP Alfredo Simon from Cincinnati Reds for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathon Crawford
Cespedes, who is entering his walk year, is set replace Torii Hunter in rightfield. That's an upgrade defensively, where Hunter had fallen off significantly, but it could prove to be more of a lateral move offensively. Cespedes has tremendous power but hit just .260/.301/.450 (110 OPS+) for the A's and Red Sox last season. By comparison, Hunter hit .286/.319/.446 (111 OPS+) last year. Still, Cespedes is just 29 and should benefit from playing in Comerica Park, which plays more neutral these days and is significantly more friendly to righthanded power than O.co Coliseum in Oakland, where Cespedes played for his first two and a half seasons before being traded to the Red Sox in July.
Combine the friendlier park with a potential walk-year spike, and the Tigers could get a big year from Cespedes, though they might have little to show for it when it's over. Cespedes cannot be extended a qualifying offer per his contract, which means that Detroit will not receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere for 2016.
Cespedes, who will make $10.5 million in the coming season, could also prove to be less expensive than Porcello, who made $8.5 million in 2014 and is headed to arbitration for the final time coming off a career year in which he went 15-13 with a 3.42 ERA. Still, Detroit will miss Porcello, who likely would have benefited from the return of slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias, assuming Iglesias recovers fully after missing all of 2014 with stress fractures in both shins.
Simon, who turns 34 in May and is also entering his walk year, is a poor attempt to paper over Porcello's spot on the staff. Simon had made all of 19 major league starts before being forced into full-time duty in the Reds' rotation this past season. Largely due to good luck on balls in play, he had a strong first half, going 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA (and .234 BABIP) through 18 starts and making his first All-Star team. Alas, his BABIP corrected to .313 over his final 14 starts, and he went 3-7 with a 4.52 ERA the rest of the way. The latter is what the Tigers can expect, at best, in the coming season.
For that, Detroit gave up a 23-year-old shortstop in Suarez and their top 2013 draft pick in Crawford. The former has hit .278/.362/.415 in the minors and held his own across 85 major league games at the age of 22. The latter, a hard-throwing 23-year-old University of Florida product, went 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA in A ball in his first full professional season, albeit with poor peripherals and some BABIP luck of his own (.260). Crawford may be a reliever in the long run, but Simon may prove to be one in the short run.
Speaking of relievers, Alex Wilson is a 28-year-old righty who put up nice numbers in a small, 18-game sample this past season but profiles as more of a middle reliever. Gabe Speier was a 19th-round pick in 2013 who won't turn 20 until April and hasn't pitched above rookie ball. What he'll be, if anything, is anyone's guess right now.
Kansas City Royals
Signed DH Kendrys Morales to two-year, $17 million contract
Morales was simply awful this past season. With his market ruined by the draft pick compensation attached to his free agency price, he didn't sign until after the amateur draft in June. Given what was really an extra three months off and the lack of a proper spring training, he never got his bat started, hitting a dismal .218/.274/.338 in 401 plate appearances on the season. Yet, even with that dreadful 2014 performance, check out how he compares over the past two seasons to the man he's replacing as the Royals' designated hitter, Billy Butler, who signed a three-year, $30 million deal with Oakland last month.
Quibble if you want about the correction OPS+ makes (Morales did spend those two seasons in pitcher-friendly Safeco Park and Target Field, though Kauffman Stadium was no hitter's paradise for Butler). The gap between the two, even with Morales' lost season included, is not large. Now take their combined 2012 and '13 seasons, the former of which was a career year for Butler:
Butler leads again, but not by as much as you might have expected. Given that his trends are all heading in the wrong direction (power down, walks down, strikeouts up) and that the Athletics gave him one year and $13 million more than Kansas City gave Morales, this looks like a good swap for the Royals, who can reasonably expect their new DH to return to his 2012-13 form in his age-32 season.
In trading two-fifths of their starting rotation in a matter of hours, the Reds may look like they're giving up on 2015, but there's reason to like both of their swaps. Per the above, they cashed in a career-year from Simon for two compelling young players. In the Latos trade, they flipped yet another pitcher entering his walk year, in this case one coming off an injury-shortened season who saw a sharp drop in his strikeout rate.
DeSclafani may be familiar to some as one of the players the Marlins acquired from the Blue Jays in their blockbuster trade two years ago. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has progressed nicely since then, and while he may not be much more than a back-end starter or reliever, he has major league experience at both and some potential in the latter role. Wallach, meanwhile, is a 23-year-old catcher who hit .321/.430/.476 in the Sally League last year with 60 unintentional walks against just 46 strikeouts over 408 plate appearances. He didn't crack Baseball Prospectus' list of the Marlins' top prospects last month (DeSclafani ranked sixth), but that performance certainly was eye-catching.
Miami is hoping Latos can bounce back from a year in which he missed most of the first half following knee surgery, saw his strikeout rate tumble to 6.5 per nine innings, then finished the year on the shelf with inflammation in his pitching elbow. If so, the team will look to him to lead its rotation until Jose Fernandez's expected return at midseason from Tommy John surgery. In fact, an effective Latos could allow the Marlins to ease Fernandez back into action more slowly, which could ultimately prove as valuable as his actual performance on the mound. Of course, an effective Latos is no guarantee.
As for Cincinnati's rotation, if Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani come to camp healthy, it's still well-stocked with those two plus Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias is, for now, slotted behind an assortment of fifth-starter candidates including DeSclafani, Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino and David Holmberg. The big question now is if the Reds can extend Cueto, their ace who is also due to become a free agent after the coming season.
Signed RHP Ervin Santana to four-year, $55 million contract
That amount is $3 million more than the Cubs gave Edwin Jackson two years ago, $5 million more than the Orioles gave Ubaldo Jimenez last offseason and $6 million more than the Twins, suddenly big-spenders when it comes to their rotation, gave to Ricky Nolasco, also last winter. All of those four-year contracts look like disasters now. Jackson has gone 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA in his first two years in Chicago and likely won't start for the Cubs in 2015. Jimenez has similarly been squeezed out of the Orioles' rotation after going 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in just 125 1/3 innings this past season. And Nolasco went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA in just 159 innings in the first year of his contract.
There's not much reason to be more optimistic about Santana's next four years than we were about Jackson, Nolasco or Jimenez when they signed their deals. Here's a snapshot of those four pitchers, with their baseball age in the first season of their four-year contracts and their performance in the three seasons prior to signing that deal:
Santana, who is exactly one day older than Noalsco, is the oldest of the bunch in Year One of his contract and had the worst fielding independent pitching mark of the group in the three years prior. He seems no more likely to be a bust than the other three did, but given that trio's combined performance under their current deals -- 26-54 with a 5.37 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in four seasons while averaging just 150 innings pitched per year -- it's difficult to be optimistic about a similar deal for a pitcher of similar accomplishments.