Final NL Winter Report Card grades: Rebuilt Cubs ace off-season
With spring training now starting, the Hot Stove season is at its end. That means it's time for us to review our winter report cards and adjust the preliminary grades to account for subsequent moves and second thoughts about our initial reactions.
Those grades were based upon each writer's judgment as to whether the team in question improved for 2014 and in the long run, measured against a sliding scale to account for where a team's priorities should be heaviest (are they rebuilding, or in win-now mode). To wrap things up, we've adjusted those grades slightly, but if you're scoring at home, it's worth noting that using the traditional grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, with plusses adding a third and minuses subtracting a third), the NL centers at 2.46 (basically, a C+).
Teams are presented below in order of their final grades; the original report cards for each team are linked with the date of its publication.
An excellent winter highlighted by the signing of Jon Lester got even better with the trade of Straily and Valbuena for Fowler. While the 29-year-old's defense in centerfield (-20 DRS or -22 UZR in 2014) suppresses his value considerably, he's an on-base machine (.366 OBP career, .375 in '14) who's in his final year before free agency, so he could either serve as a midsummer flip to a contender or a means of netting a draft pick when he departs for a multiyear deal. What's more, the dealing of Valbuena signals that über-prospect Kris Bryant is on the way, even if that means May instead of Opening Day.
The pickup of Britton, a control-challenged lefty reliever mostly remembered for earning a DUI while driving 111 mph back in March 2013, is notable for re-uniting the ex-Red Sock with the braintrust that drafted him. —Jay Jaffe
The Suzuki deal was surprising only in that it was for one year (at $2 million plus incentives) instead of the rumored two, which would have likely given the 41-year-old–10-time–All-Star enough time to compile the 156 hits he needs to reach 3,000 stateside. Taking flyers on the 38-year-old Johnson, who struggled (.235/.266/.348 in 201 PA) with them last year, as well as 28-year-old–ex-Yankees infielder Adams, is what minor league deals are for. Most surprising is that another month has passed without the Marlins having squandered the goodwill they've built up via Giancarlo Stanton's massive extension and their latest acquisition spree. —Jay Jaffe
San Diego Padres
Having already pulled off an impressive flurry of moves in his first winter as general manager, A.J. Preller capped his winter by signing Shields to a four-year deal worth $75 million, a significant savings given that he was rumored to be headed past the $100 million mark earlier this offseason. The glut of pricey holdover outfielders (Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable), the lack of a true centerfielder among the star-powered newcomers and the relative weakness of the infield are still issues that Preller will have to sort out, keeping me from awarding the full A. —Jay Jaffe
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 11): A-
Final Grade: A-
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
Having added Max Scherzer to a rotation that already included Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals only had to avoid getting worse anywhere to get an A. Generally speaking, they did that, upgrading second base with the addition of Yunel Escobar, stealing some prospects by inserting themselves in the Wil Myers trade, and resisting the temptation to trade star players entering their walk years (other than heavily-worked setup man Tyler Clippard, who netted Escobar).
Still, their bullpen will miss Clippard and Rafael Soriano (the latter of whom is still available), and while Clippard was the only impending free agent they traded, they didn't sign any of the others to extensions in the pursuit of cost certainty, thus the minus. —Cliff Corcoran
Bolstering the pitching depth is never a bad thing, and while the 28-year-old Caminero has yet to click at the major league level, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage—the miracle worker who turned the careers of Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez around—might be the guy to unlock the potential of a 6'4" behemoth throwing upward of 96 mph. Alas, no miracle worker on the hitting side can make Lombardozzi (.266/.297/.341 in 829 career PA) more than organizational fodder. —Jay Jaffe
Los Angeles Dodgers
Beachy, coming off his second Tommy John surgery, and McGowan, who posted a 5.02 fielding independent pitching mark last year, aren't enough to move the needle here, but both signings add options for the soft underside of the Dodgers' rotation, populated by the injury-prone Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy. That's the primary area of weakness on a Dodgers team which otherwise did well this offseason. Los Angeles solidified the middle infield with the additions of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, reduced the outfield glut by flipping Matt Kemp and the bulk of his contract to the Padres, upgraded at catcher with Yasmani Grandal and added bullpen depth in Joel Peralta and Chris Hatcher. That depth has already been pressed into service with the news of Kenley Jansen's foot surgery. —Cliff Corcoran
St. Louis Cardinals
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 9): B
Final Grade: B
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
Briceno is a 22-year-old Venezuelan catcher who hit .283/.336/.476 in the Sally League last year and threw out 44 percent of attempting basestealers, yet another solid addition for the Braves in their attempt at a rapid rebuild aimed at the opening of their new ballpark in 2017. In that context, the Braves score a C+.
Of the three big hitters Atlanta traded this offseason as part of that rebuild, two (Justin Upton and Jason Heyward) were entering walk years and the last (Evan Gattis) was a free-swinging late bloomer blocking a top prospect (Christian Bethancourt). Those three netted prospect-heavy packages comprised of young players with most (or all) of their team-controlled years remaining. That good work was undermined, however, by the head-scratching signing of Nick Markakis (four years, $44 million) and the odd decision to dump righty reliever Anthony Varvaro. —Cliff Corcoran
The Reds' direction is no more clear than when we checked in a month ago, but regardless of whether or not they're contending, Badenhop was one of the best buys on the free-agent market; he signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal that pays him $1 million plus incentives this year, with a $4 million mutual option and $1.5 million buyout for 2016. The 32-year-old righty may not replicate his career-best 2.29 ERA from '14, but he's an extreme groundball machine who can help the Reds while serving as a midsummer trade option if they fall out of the race. —Jay Jaffe
By acquiring first baseman Adam Lind for righty reliever Marco Estrada and shortstop Luis Sardinas in a three-player package for disappointing righty Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers did well to trade from perceived strength and target weaknesses in their lineup. They pretty much stopped there, however. Cotts at $3 million for one year looks great compared to the three years and $15 million the White Sox gave the man he's replacing, fellow lefty Zach Duke. But the inevitable reunion with Francisco Rodriguez has yet to happen, leaving the bullpen understaffed, and Lind still needs a platoon partner at first base (or, at best, rookie Jason Rogers needs competition for the role). —Cliff Corcoran
They haven't traded Cole Hamels despite recently receiving offers from four teams, including the Padres and Red Sox, not to mention the ace lefty vocalizing the reality of the team's current situation ("I just want to win… and I know it's not going to happen here"). As if Hamels' point needed underscoring, Cliff Lee took a novel approach to seconding that notion by deploying a Magic 8 Ball to answer questions from reporters as to whether he'll stay in Philly this season.
Lee will have to demonstrate his health this spring if the Phillies are to move him, but there should be no hold-up in sending away Jonathan Papelbon, who drew interest from the Blue Jays and Brewers earlier this month. The addition of Billingsley, limited to two big league appearances over the last two seasons by Tommy John and flexor tendon surgeries, is a good low-end gamble to fill a rotation spot, but Ruben Amaro Jr. still has bigger fish to fry. —Jay Jaffe
"The minus is for the lack of a replacement for [catcher Miguel] Montero, a situation I fully expect to be resolved by the time we do our final grades in mid-February." That's what I wrote on Jan. 8. Laird, in camp as a non-roster player, is the only catcher the Diamondbacks have acquired since then, and he could emerge as the starter behind the plate given the Diamondbacks' failure to replace Montero after dumping his contract on the Cubs.
Rookie GM Dave Stewart did well to alleviate his shortstop glut this winter by flipping Didi Gregorius in a three-way trade that netted infield prospect Domingo Leyba and live lefthanded arm Robbie Ray, but I'm less sanguine about the trades that resulted in fallen former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson replacing stalwart Wade Miley in the rotation. I'm not sold on Yasmany Tomas as a third baseman, either, but landing the sought-after Cuban slugger did manage to keep Arizona from getting a D. —Cliff Corcoran
New York Mets
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 27): D
Final Grade: D
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee are both still on the roster, Wilmer Flores is still the starting shortstop, and Sandy Alderson is still talking about 90 wins. The odds on the last may be better than they were a year ago now that Matt Harvey is back and potentially available for over 200 innings, but it's not going to happen without using their surplus of pitching—prospects as well as veterans—to fill other needs. —Jay Jaffe
San Francisco Giants
Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse are gone, Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki are here, and Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo were retained. The Giants avoid the minus here because Morse didn't fit on an NL team with a good first baseman, and Sandoval is likely to prove a poor investment. San Francisco did technically replace both, and coming off the team's third championship in five years, there's only so much criticism that will stick to this organization. —Cliff Corcoran
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 9): D
Final Grade: D-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Kyle Kendrick; traded RHP Chris Martin to Yankees; acquired RHPs David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Braves; signed RHP John Axford to a minor league deal
To put the above moves in context, the Rockies' key arrivals as of Jan. 9 were catcher Nick Hundley, infielder Daniel Descalso and righty reliever Jairo Diaz. Kendrick and Hale did address the team's need for rotation depth, and the team did magically create a draft pick from nothing with a seemingly ill-conceived qualifying offer for Michael Cuddyer (who declined and signed with the Mets). The primary impact of those moves, however, was to keep them from being marked absent altogether. —Cliff Corcoran