Winners (Braves, Cubs) and losers (Dodgers, Reds) from winter meetings
Another winter meetings has come and gone. This one yielded 10 trades and a variety of free agent signings, led by Ben Zobrist signing with the Cubs on Tuesday and the majority of the top free agent relievers coming off the market throughout the week. So who were the winners and losers in Nashville? Here’s a quick look.
1. Atlanta Braves
No team did better over the last three days than the Braves, who landed a jaw-dropping haul from the Diamondbacks for arbitration-eligible righthanded starter Shelby Miller. For surrendering three years of team control over Miller, Atlanta acquired five years of Ender Inciarte, who will start in centerfield, near-ready mid-rotation prospect Aaron Blair and, almost unbelievably, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, shortstop Dansby Swanson, a Georgia native who could be the face of the franchise in the next decade.
On top of that, the Braves also signed non-tendered catcher Tyler Flowers to a two-year, $5.3 million deal. Flowers was among the best pitch-framers in baseball in 2015 and a league-average hitter at his position over the last two, making him more valuable than his 82 OPS+ would suggest.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs won what was rumored to be some fierce bidding over Zobrist, landing him for $56 million over four years, a reasonable price given his value. They then swiftly traded incumbent second baseman Starlin Castro to the Yankees for underrated righthander Adam Warren and good-field/no-hit infielder Brendan Ryan, erasing slightly less than $36 million in commitments from their books.
It’s not often you praise a team for getting nine years older at a position, but with Javier Baez waiting in the wings, Zobrist’s positional flexibility and the fact that the Yankees took all of Castro’s contract (four guaranteed seasons for $37 million remaining), this was a nice sequence for Chicago.
3. Boston Red Sox
Carson Smith appeared ready to become one of the games’ elite closers in 2016, but instead he’ll be setting one up. The Red Sox snagged Smith and his five remaining team-controlled years from the Mariners in a deal that sent lefty innings eater Wade Miley and throw-in reliever Jonathan Aro to Seattle and also brought back lefty starter Roenis Elias from the Mariners. With Boston's already-crowded rotation that is now fronted by David Price, and its desire to further establish prospects Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens in the starting five, that trade stands as a coup for the Red Sox, who now boast Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Smith at the back of their bullpen.
4. Houston Astros
Though it hasn't been finalized yet, the reported trade that would send closer Ken Giles from Philadelphia to Houston for four prospects, including pitcher Vince Velasquez and outfielder Derek Fisher, is a good one for the Astros. They are arguably giving up more than the Red Sox did for Smith, but in return Houston will get five team-controlled years of a 25-year-old pitcher with a bright future. Giles will close for the Astros and he’ll be joined at the back of their bullpen by Tony Sipp, the top free agent lefty reliever, who is returning to Houston on a three-year, $18 million deal.
5. New York Mets
He may be a one-year rental, but second baseman Neil Walker is a nifty solution to the Mets' need at second base, which was created by Daniel Murphy’s impending departure via free agency and remained after their inability to sign Zobrist. It's particularly savvy given that prospect Dilson Herrera is expected to be the long-term solution at the position starting as early as 2017. By trading displaced starter Jonathon Niese for Walker, New York dealt from a surplus to acquire a cost-effective solution for second base rather than make a big financial commitment to a player in his 30s like Howie Kendrick.
There's less reason for optimism about the two-year, $18.5 million deal the Mets gave Asdrubal Cabrera to play shortstop. It's not clear the 30-year-old, two-time All-Star is an upgrade on pre-arbitration incumbent Wilmer Flores.
6. New York Yankees
Castro may be an enigma, but he has several positive attributes: He won’t be 26 until March, he is under contract for four more years with average annual salary of less than $10 million and a $16 million club option for 2020, and he hit .353/.374/.594 in 140 plate appearances after switching to second base in mid-August. The Yankees also picked up a pair of high-minors pitching prospects from the Tigers—among them Luis Cessa, one of the prospects the Mets had sent to Detroit to get Yoenis Cespedes in July—for lefty reliever Justin Wilson’s three arbitration years.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers appeared to make a big splash Monday morning, reportedly trading two prospects to Cincinnati for closer Aroldis Chapman’s walk year and signing free agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma. By mid-day, the domestic violence allegations against Chapman had gone public and the trade, which the Reds claim was never completed, was put on hold and the Dodgers remained dormant for the remainder of the meetings. They haven’t even officially announced the three-year, $45 million contract they gave to Iwakuma, who is an underwhelming solution to the loss of Zack Greinke.
2. Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati similarly failed to make a move after the Chapman allegations came to light. Thus, the Reds not only failed to further their rebuilding effort during a week in which every team was available to them for discussion, but one of their top trade chips may now be too toxic to move because of Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into Chapman’s conduct.
3. Teams that didn't get relief help
During the winter meetings alone, Giles, Smith and Wilson were traded, Chapman was cast into limbo, and free agents Sipp (Astros), John Axford (A’s), Trevor Cahill (Cubs), David Hernandez (Phillies), Mark Lowe (Tigers), Ryan Madson (A's), Jason Motte (Rockies), Darren O’Day (Orioles), Chad Qualls (Rockies) and Joakim Soria (Royals) signed. Add in Kimbrel, who was traded to Boston last month, and the top of the relief market is effectively gone. Andew Miller's name had been floated in rumors, but the Yankees are less likely to trade their star closer now that they've traded Justin Wilson to Detroit. That leaves Tyler Clippard as by far the best free agent reliever remaining on the market, but one whose continued free agency speaks to concerns about his heavy workloads over the last six years.
4. Johnny Cueto
With Jordan Zimmermann signing early and Price and Greinke both landing contracts in excess of $200 million before the meetings, Cueto appeared to be next in line for a big payday. Instead, the teams who lost out on those three moved on to John Lackey (Cubs), Jeff Samardzija (Giants) and Iwakuma (Dodgers), and the Mariners and Diamondbacks filled other rotation holes by trading for Miley and Miller, respectively.
Meanwhile, Cueto, who reportedly rejected a $120 million offer from Arizona, generated almost no rumors during the meetings. Given the above moves it's not hard to wonder if Cueto will regret turning down the D-backs' offer.