The biggest event of the baseball offseason has come to a close. The baseball Winter Meetings can make or break a team’s season. For this piece, I will go into the winners and losers of the 2016 Winter Meetings. I will not penalize a team for lack of activity during the meetings as it is fairly early in the offseason.
Chicago White Sox
I can’t remember the last time a team completely overhauled their farm system so quickly. The South Side has acquired the top pitching and hitting prospect in two separate deals. The first deal they announced was sending ace starting pitcher Chris Sale to Boston. In return, they received Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and two lower level prospects. Moncada has an extremely high ceiling having star potential. Kopech has been compared to Noah Syndergaard who has hit 105 MPH on the radar gun. There is some risk with both prospects (which I will get into later) but they have All-Star ceilings.
While the first deal with pretty fair for both teams. Chicago absolutely struck gold in their second trade. The White Sox sent Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. Giolito is the number one pitching prospect in baseball who could become a future ace. Lopez is considered a top 20 prospect in baseball and has electric stuff. These two players simply aren’t just prospects having both experienced big league service time. Lopez was even on the Nats playoff roster. Dunning is a heck of a throw in for this trade as he was Washington’s first-round pick this year. They got all of these premium young players while trading just two players. With Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and others on the trade block you can only wonder how bright the White Sox future is if all of these prospects pan out. The Chicago rebuild is far from over.
2. Boston Red Sox
In my opinion, the Red Sox have positioned themselves as World Series favorites. On paper, only the Cubs roster can compare to Boston’s. During the meetings Boston made a splash picking up Chris Sale from the White Sox. No starting pitcher has had a lower ERA over the past 5 years than Sale (3.03 ERA). He also comes with 3 more years of control at a very low cost for an ace starter (3 years, 39.5 million total). Does anyone in the American have a better rotation than Boston with Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and former winner David Price also at the top end? This also gives Boston flexibility to trade one of the backend starters such as Clay Buchholtz or Drew Pomeranz to recoup some prospects. To get Sale Boston gave up a lot but it came from areas of strength. Moncada is the best prospect in baseball but he is expendable as odd as that is to say. Pablo Sandoval has a mega contract at third and has to play. He’s also not playing over Xander Bogaerts or Dustin Pedroia in the infield. Could Moncada get shifted to the outfield? Yes, but he’s not playing over the killer B’s (Benintendi, Bradley, Betts). Many people don’t know this but the Red Sox also have a very good third base prospect in Rafael Devers who could end up being better than Moncada. Losing Kopech is tough too but he is far from a sure thing having been busted for steroids and having off the field incidents such as punching a teammate and breaking his pitching hand. Sometimes you have to go for the championship and Boston did that in what seems like the perfect deal. The prospects they gave up simply wouldn’t have affected their big league club in 2017 regardless.
The Red Sox weren’t done adding players. The Red Sox also traded for reliever Tyler Thornburg. All he did last season was pitch to a sensationally 2.15 ERA in 2016. Given the prices other relievers have been going for the Sox basically stole him. They gave up Travis Shaw and two lower prospects in return. One of those guys in a utility guy who has no room on the big league club and a low rated reliever. Shaw is a big leaguer but has serious flaws batting .171 vs. lefties and isn’t particularly great defensive third baseman. Finally, the Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland for 1 year and $5.5 million. Losing Shaw for Moreland is probably a wash but he is probably a better fit. The move allows Moreland to be the everyday first baseman moving Hanley Ramirez to the primary DH. Moreland won the gold glove at first this past year and led first baseman with 7 defensive runs saved. On top of a great offseason, Boston received some even better news. It may be a long shot but David Ortiz has thought about returning. Has the terrific offseason changed his mind about retirement? Regardless the Red Sox have empirically placed themselves as favorites to win the 2017 World Series.
3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs made one move during the meetings but it mattered. The trade of Jorge Soler for Wade Davis will turn into an absolute bargain. Davis over the past 3 years has had an ERA of 1.10. That’s an elite closer. Losing Soler is an easy asset to give up. He simply didn’t have a spot on the roster. Frankly, they probably sold high on him as well. The move also allowed the Cubs to not have to spend an absurd amount of money for a closer. They showed they still are the team to beat heading into 2017.
No one had a worse offseason than the Nationals. The Nationals control Bryce Harper for two more seasons before he likely leaves for the Yankees. The time to win is now. First, they lost their closer Mark Melancon when they lost out in the bidding war to the Giants. I understand not wanted to pay $62 million for a closer but they didn’t replace him either in what is a flawed bullpen otherwise. Then they made the horrible trade with the White Sox for Adam Eaton. I already discussed the deal from the White Sox side. I just don’t understand what they were thinking. If you’re going to part with those kinds of prospects go big game hunting. Don’t settle for Adam Eaton! Those kinds of prospects should have been able to land Chris Sale. Eaton will be the new center fielder where defensively graded out as one of the worst in 2015. His value in 2016 came as a right fielder. Trea Turner moves to shortstop putting Danny Espinosa on the bench. This move was rather gratuitous and didn’t improve the club. More importantly, they lost all of their starting pitching depth in case of another Stephen Strasburg injury.
2. Colorado Rockies
The biggest head scratcher on the free agent market came with the signing of Ian Desmond. In order to sign Desmond, they had to forfeit the 11th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. That’s the highest pick a team can lose for signing a free agent and normally winds up being a premium MLB player that high in the draft. They gave Desmond 5 years for $70 million. During the 2nd half of the season, he hit just .238 which falls in line with his career average. Desmond will also be asked to play first base, a position he has never played before. No one knows what the Rockies will do next.
3. New York Yankees
I don’t understand what the Yankees are doing. It seems to me that they are caught in the middle of rebuilding and contending at the same time. That’s the worst place to be in sports from a team building perspective. The Yankees only made one move and that was to give closer Aroldis Chapman 5 years and $86 million (they also signed Matt Holiday 1 year, $13 million before the meetings). That’s the highest paid contract for a reliever in baseball history. Chapman is known for one thing; his fastball. Over the course of 5 years, that velocity is going to dip which potentially could create an ugly contract in the future. The history of giving closers big money has proven not to work (Just ask Phillies fans how Jonathan Papelbon turned out). Not only did they hand out a huge contract but they gave it to a guy with serious off the field issues. Personally, I’m not signing a player to contract with domestic violence history but that’s just me, I have morals. The Yankees apparently don’t care about that.