Winter Report Cards: Final grades for National League teams
With players reporting to spring training this week, the hot stove season is officially at its end, even if there are a few notable free agents who have yet to find new teams, such as shortstop Ian Desmond and centerfielder Dexter Fowler. That means it's time for Cliff Corcoran and me to review our Winter Report Cards and adjust (if needed) the grades to account for any subsequent moves or second thoughts about our initial reactions.
Our preliminary grades were based upon each writer's judgment as to whether the team in question improved for 2016 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 are they in win-now mode). To wrap things up, Cliff and I have adjusted those grades slightly based on each team's moves (or lack thereof).
Yesterday, we took a look at the American League; today, we'll re-examine the National League teams. 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 originally centered at 2.93 (almost a B); we've adjusted it down to 2.76 in our final roundup. Some of that is attributable to unfinished business, and some is simply due to having a second set of eyes critiquing the moves.
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.
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 10): A
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed LHP C.J. Riefenhauser
With the additions of outfielder Jason Heyward, starter John Lackey and second baseman Ben Zobrist, the Cubs made some high-impact additions to a young and exciting core. Riefenhauser, who was claimed off waivers from the Orioles, isn't on that scale; he's a lefty specialist with just 20 big-league innings under his belt and will compete with Rex Brothers and Zack Rosscup for a possible job as the bullpen's second southpaw.
Final Grade: A
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 8): A
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed OF David Lough; traded LHP Jesse Biddle to the Pirates for RHP Yoervis Medina; claimed LHP Bobby LaFromboise off waivers from the Angels; acquired IF Taylor Featherston from the Angels
The centerpiece of the Phillies' off-season was the mid-December trade of closer Ken Giles to the Astros, and while it won't make Philadelphia any more watchable in 2016, it did add considerable talent to the team's system. Of the Phillies' moves over the past six weeks, the one that raises eyebrows is the punting of Biddle, particularly given that the contention-minded Pirates somehow have time for him but the rebuilding Phils don't. The 2010 first-round pick was a staple of prospect lists from '12 to '14 but has fallen off since due to a variety of injuries, including a hailstorm-related concussion (!) that the team mishandled and elbow problems that resulted in Tommy John surgery in October. Biddle wasn't going to help Philadelphia in 2016, but it's not as though Medina—a control-challenged 27-year-old who was limited to 17 appearances last year for the Mariners and Cubs after making 129 appearances for Seattle in '13 and '14 combined—is a lock to do so. With that in mind, it probably made more sense to see Biddle's rehab through.
Lough and Featherston are roster fillers. The former is a 30-year-old career .255/.295/.377 hitter in the majors, and the latter is a 26-year-old former Rule 5 pick who hit a wretched .162/.212/.247 in 169 plate appearances for the Halos. LaFramboise is a 29-year-old lefty with 22 1/3 big-league innings under his belt; he could battle for a spot on the 25-man roster.
Final Grade: A-
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 12): A
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
The Braves haven't done anything of note since we last reported on them, but while they don't figure to contend in 2016, the trades of shortstop Andrelton Simmons (to the Angels) and starter Shelby Miller (to the Diamondbacks) have helped them continue to stockpile young talent for the future.
Final Grade: A
San Francisco Giants
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 28): A-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed 3B Conor Gillaspie
The additions of starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and centerfielder Denard Span addressed the Giants' glaring needs in fine fashion. The signing of Gillaspie to a minor-league deal brings back the team's 2008 supplemental first-round pick, one who played just 29 games for San Francisco between '08 and '12 before being dealt to the White Sox. Though his 2015 production (.228/.269/.359 in 253 plate appearances for a 75 OPS+ split between the White Sox and Angels) was abysmal, Gillaspie is a suitable bench bat given his career line of .255/.309/.390 (95 OPS+). It's his glove (-13 Defensive Runs Saved per 1,200 innings) that makes him a longshot to stick, though weak-hitting Ehire Adrianza (.211/.290/.294 career) is hardly an insurmountable obstacle for the second backup infielder role alongside Kelby Tomlinson.
Final Grade: A-
St. Louis Cardinals
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 12): A
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
The Cardinals haven't had time to do anything since this grade rolled out last week, and while I largely agree with Cliff Corcoran's thesis that the organization's depth allowed it to fill most of its needs from within (along with some lower-cost upgrades around the margins), the straight A seemed a tad generous. It's a minor quibble, but from here, the uncertainty about first base—where Matt Adams is coming back from a major quad injury, with Brandon Moss the primary lefty alternative in the mix—is enough to bump them down a fraction of a grade.
Final Grade: A-
New York Mets
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 4): B+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed OF Roger Bernadina; lost RHP Jenrry Mejia to a permanent suspension
Fresh off their first Word Series appearance in 15 years, the Mets scored an unexpected coup by re-signing leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes and finding short-term upgrades for their middle infield in second baseman Neil Walker and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. The recent addition of the 31-year-old Bernadina, a career .236/.307/.354 hitter in 1,480 plate appearances, is merely an organizational depth move.
Far more noteworthy is the shocking loss of the 26-year-old Mejia to his third performance-enhancing drug suspension inside of a year, making him the first player to trigger the automatic lifetime ban under the Joint Drug Agreement. Under his previous 162-game suspension, Mejia wasn't going to return until late July anyway, so at most, this means one less option to bolster the bullpen following the trade deadline.
Final Grade: B+
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 13): B-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Traded SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner to Diamondbacks for RHP Chase Anderson, 3B Aaron Hill, SS Isan Diaz and cash; traded OF Khris Davis to Athletics for RHP Bubba Derby and C Jacob Nottingham; traded LHP Trevor Seidenberger to Padres for LF Rymer Liriano; signed LHP Chris Capuano
With Orlando Arcia—who ranked among the top dozen prospects on the recent lists of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN recently—quite possibly in Milwaukee by midseason, it was a good time for the rebuilding Brewers to move Segura, whose career has fallen far since he was an All-Star in mid-2013. Hill, who has hit for just a 78 OPS+ over the past two seasons, is nothing more than a placeholder himself, but Diaz is a decent prospect, and Anderson is a solid back-end starter. His 95 ERA+ for the Diamondbacks is still higher than all but two of the Brewers' holdover starters, namely Jimmy Nelson (96) and Taylor Jungmann (105).
Meanwhile, new general manager David Stearns snagged Liriano for almost nothing. He'll get a look as an option to replace the power-hitting Davis (.247/.323/.505 with 27 homers), who was dealt to Oakland for a pair of prospects who finished last year in Class A: Bubba Derby, an undersized righty starter who was Oakland's sixth-round pick out of San Diego State last June, and Jacob Nottingham, a sixth-round 2013 pick whom the A's acquired from the Astros in the Scott Kazmir deal. Though powerful and strong-armed, Nottingham is a ways off from replacing Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate for Milwaukee, but that's the idea in the grand scheme.
Meanwhile, the other addition of note is that of Capuano, who spent 2004 to '10 in the organization. He was tarred and feathered for a 7.97 ERA in 40 2/3 innings with the Yankees last year, so this may well be nothing more than a courtesy move for a 37-year-old southpaw bound for oblivion—albeit one who may not be down to his ninth life just yet.
Final Grade: B
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 25): A-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Bronson Arroyo; signed IF Brendan Ryan
Via trades and free agency, the Nationals shed significant talent this winter, and I'm less convinced than Cliff that their smaller moves did enough to offset that. What's more, the picture of the organization that has emerged since losing out on Cespedes—that of a team letting its court battle with the Orioles over local television rights fees limit the size and structure of its free-agent offers—isn't at all flattering. It upholds the notion of organizational dysfunction even after the managerial change aimed at addressing problems with the clubhouse culture—a clubhouse that, by the way, still includes closer Jonathan Papelbon, who managed to find ways to make himself less popular than Congress upon arriving last July.
In any event, the Nats have made a couple of low-cost moves in recent weeks, signing going-on-39-year-old Arroyo—who missed half of 2014 and all of last season due to Tommy John surgery—and going-on-34-year-old utility man Ryan to minor-league deals. Before his injury, Arroyo had been a dictionary-caliber example of the League Average Innings Muncher (LAIM) as a hurler who averaged 211 innings per year with a 104 ERA+, but given his age and return from surgery, his stamina is no longer guaranteed. He does, however, provide solid rotation insurance in case of an injury or if Joe Ross or Tanner Roark can't withstand a full season among the starting five. Ryan, who hit just .229/.275/.333 in 103 plate appearances for the Yankees last year, has battled back injuries over the past two seasons and needs a break (or a strain, or a sprain) to move high enough on the depth chart for a spot on the roster.
Final Grade: B
Los Angeles Dodgers
Preliminary Grade (Feb. 5): B-
Key moves since preliminary grade: None
The Dodgers didn't make the big, splashy moves that some expected this winter, but they've added or retained considerable depth in the rotation, infield and outfield. Their pitching depth took a minor hit with last Friday's news that fire-balling prospect Frankie Montas, whom they obtained from the White Sox in the three-way Todd Frazier deal, will be out for two to four months after having his right first rib surgically removed. The surgeon who performed the procedure, Dr. Greg Pearl, also removed a rib to alleviate former Dodger Josh Beckett's thoracic outlet syndrome, but for Montas, the surgery was done to combat a stress reaction rather than TOS. With top prospects Julio Urias and Jose De Leon among the team's starters at Triple A Oklahoma City, this shouldn't have a significant impact on the team's season.
Final Grade: B-
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 21): B-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Traded RHP Chase Anderson, 3B Aaron Hill, SS Isan Diaz and cash to Brewers for SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner; signed RHP Tyler Clippard.
Arizona shifted into win-now mode this winter by signing ace starter Zack Greinke and by getting Miller from the Braves. The future cost to the organization was substantial, however, particularly with the Miller deal, which saw No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson, who cracked the top 20 on the prospect lists of both Baseball America and ESPN this off-season, dealt to Atlanta. The trade for Segura, which added yet another light-hitting middle infielder to a mix that already includes Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings, appears more motivated toward defraying the salary of Hill, who was owed $12 million for this year. The net savings of around $3 million resulting from the difference between the salaries of Hill and Segura and the money sent to Milwaukee resulted in the loss of another well-regarded middle infield prospect in Diaz, whom BA ranked ninth in Arizona's system back in November.
The Diamondbacks used the cash savings to sign the 31-year-old Clippard, who saved 19 games and pitched to a 2.92 ERA (albeit with a 4.27 FIP) in 71 innings for the Athletics and Mets last year but struggled down the stretch. That should help the 2016 squad, but the pattern in shedding young talent is unmistakably unsettling.
Final Grade: C+
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 15): B-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed IF Don Kelly
The Marlins are in buildup rather than teardown mode. They added starter Wei-Yin Chen and manager Don Mattingly, locked up second baseman Dee Gordon with a five-year, $50 million extension, and resisted the temptation to trade young ace Jose Fernandez. With no move toward a fire sale in the last month—with this organization, it's a matter of when, not if—the most noteworthy move is the re-signing of Kelly to a minor league deal. The 36-year-old ex-Tiger, a career .232/.296/.335 hitter, played just two games last season and suffered both a broken finger and a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery in July.
For a team that some might consider a sleeper pick given the current mess that is the NL East, the real issue for Miami is that it didn't further address the back of its rotation. Beyond Fernandez, Chen and Tom Koehler, there's an uninspiring group that includes Jarred Cosart, David Phelps, Edwin Jackson, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Brad Hand and Jose Urena. Of that motley crew, only Phelps made more than 15 big-league starts last year, and only Conley was better than league average, albeit in just 11 starts and four relief appearances totaling 67 innings.
Final Grade: C+
Preliminary Grade: (Feb. 11): C-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed LHP Cory Luebke and LHP Eric O'Flaherty; traded RHP Yoervis Medina for LHP Jesse Biddle
Even with their knack for doing less with more, particularly on the pitching side, the Pirates' failure to keep pace with the Cardinals' and Cubs' winters stands out. The additions of Luebke and O'Flaherty, both of whom signed minor-league deals with invitations to spring training, are interesting but hardly enough to move the needle. The 30-year-old Luebke, a former first-round pick with a 3.25 career ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine, hasn't pitched in the majors since early 2012 and has since undergone two Tommy John surgeries, the second of which came in February 2014. Anything the Bucs get out of him will be a bonus.
The 31-year-old O'Flaherty is well acquainted with the procedure, too, having undergone elbow surgery in May 2013; he's struggled to recapture his form since. The lefty specialist has totaled just 68 major league innings with a 4.90 ERA over the past three seasons, including an 8.10 mark in 30 innings with the A's and Mets in 2015. During that span, he's held lefties to a .244/.316/.285 line in 137 plate appearances; it's the righties (.291/.365/.503 in 172 PA) who have been the problem. He'll compete with Kyle Lobstein for the job of the bullpen's second lefty behind Tony Watson, but he's hardly the second coming of the departed Antonio Bastardo.
Final Grade: C-
San Diego Padres
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 15): C
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Fernando Rodney; traded OF Rymer Liriano to Brewers for LHP Trevor Seidenberger; traded RHP Odrisamer Despaigne to Orioles for RHP Jean Cosme.
While the Padres appear to have solved their shortstop and centerfield issues, the signing of Alexei Ramirez led to the designation for assignment and subsequent trade of Liriano, a 24-year-old prospect—twice ranked among the Baseball America Top 100, albeit back in 2012 and '13—who hit .292/.383/.460 at Triple A El Paso last year. He merited a shot at the leftfield job while Jon Jay and Melvin Upton Jr. platoon in center. Seidenberger is a 23-year-old lefty reliever who split last year between high A ball and Double A, so at best, he's unlikely to help the big club this year.
There's less to lament with the loss of Despaigne, who didn't figure to start the year in the rotation. Even in the favorable environment of Petco Park, his 4.74 ERA (75 ERA+) with just 5.4 strikeouts per nine over two seasons is subpar. His trade brought back 19-year-old Puerto Rican righty Jean Cosme, who's at least a live arm for the stockpile. As for Rodney, whose signing was close enough to completion that I mentioned him in the initial report card: He's guaranteed only $2 million, with a $2 million option for 2017, both of which can be increased via incentives. That sounds about right for an erratic reliever coming off a combined 4.74 ERA and 4.94 FIP in 62 2/3 innings last year.
Final Grade: C-
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 14): C-
Key moves since preliminary grade: Lost RHP Christian Friedrich to Angels via waivers; traded OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo to Rays for LHP Jake McGee and RHP German Marquez
The Rockies' free-agent moves—signing outfielder Gerardo Parra to a three-year deal and relievers Chad Qualls and Jason Motte to two-year deals—didn't make a ton of sense in the first place, and their most recent trade does nothing to clear that up. Rather than alleviate the resulting outfield logjam by dealing Carlos Gonzalez on the heels of a career year, Colorado turned around and traded Dickerson (.304/.333/.536, 118 OPS+ last year) and 19-year-old prospect Padlo to the Rays for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez, the latter a 20-year-old prospect. The 29-year-old McGee gives the Rockies a better option at closer than they had before, but why does a rebuilding team need such a player—one with two years of club control remaining, as opposed to Dickerson's four—in the first place? Marquez, who spent last year in high A ball, has three usable pitches, giving him a back-end profile as a starter; that doesn't exactly move the needle with regard to the deal’s motivation. Flipping McGee in midseason or next winter isn't going to bring back more in trade than two years of a healthy Gonzalez would have.
Beyond that, there's the departure of Friedrich, Colorado's 2008 first-round pick and the owner of a 5.81 ERA at the big-league level. It's yet another reminder that this team rarely deviates from "back to square one" when it comes to figuring out how to assemble a pitching staff that can survive in Coors Field.
Final Grade: C-
Preliminary Grade (Jan. 12): D+
Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed C/IF Jordan Pacheco
In addition to light trade returns on All-Stars Todd Frazier, a third baseman who landed with the White Sox after a three-team deal that also included the Dodgers, and closer Aroldis Chapman, who was shipped to the Yankees for an underwhelming package of prospects, the Reds failed to find takers this winter for both outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Brandon Phillips. That said, Bruce is now coming off two down seasons in a row, and the team's return in a deal might conceivably be better if he gets hot early. Phillips, meanwhile, has yet to be introduced to the trade-you-or-don't-play-you choice, which is Cincinnati's only remaining leverage given the 34-year-old second sacker's unwillingness to waive his no-trade rights for possible deals to the Nationals and Diamondbacks, and the arrival of infield prospect Jose Peraza in the Frazier trade.
The lone move of note over the past month is the addition of Pacheco, a versatile bench piece who has spent the past season-plus with the Diamondbacks after 3 1/2 years in Colorado. A career .278/.317/.372 hitter, he can catch and spot at both infield corners, though the results often aren't pretty.
Final Grade: D