Last Updated: 2018-01-24
Spring Training starts in less than a month. The regular season starts in just over two months. And tons of free agents remain unsigned. There are a lot of players with varying levels of upside wondering where they will play for the 2018 season and beyond. The 2017-18 Hot Stove has been quite chilly, much like the winter as a whole.
There have been more than a few interesting deals, however, that could have some potential betting impact. I’ll be taking a very detailed, in-depth look at every team next month with my annual MLB Season Win Totals Series, but it’s never a bad idea to get a head start on the big transactions and the ones that may have flown under the radar.
We’ll start by going all the way back to the beginning of the season and then roll through in chronological order with the transactions that I believe are worth keeping in mind as you prepare for the 2018 MLB season:
Ryon Healy Acquired by Seattle
I’m largely including this one because it was the first notable move we saw that wasn’t a team picking up a player’s option or making 40-man roster decisions. That being said, the Mariners, who have experienced enormous roster turnover since Jerry DiPoto took over as the General Manager, ranked 29th in wOBA at the first base position. Only the Angels were worse. Healy had spurts last season and wound up with a .271/.302/.451 slash line and 25 HR across 605 PA.
It was a little bit of a disappointing campaign for Healy, who slashed .305/.337/.524 in a sample size of 283 PA in 2016. In 307.1 innings at first base, he graded as average defensively. Unfortunately, his .717 OPS against right-handed pitching means that Healy may be more of a platoon player forced into an everyday role.
While it isn’t chronological, it’s best to just group teams. The Mariners acquired Dee Gordon on December 7 to be the table-setter and give this team a speed element that has been lacking. The pitching staff has a ton of question marks, but the offense could be kind of fun with Gordon, Robbie Cano, a likely bounce back season from Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz. The signing of Juan Nicasio also added some bullpen depth with elite reliever Edwin Diaz and some good options in Nick Vincent and David Phelps.
With Houston and a much improved Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim likely atop the division, the Mariners, while interesting, probably won’t be a big factor in terms of the currently-posted futures, but you won’t want to sleep on this team.
Diamondbacks Add Brad Boxberger
Injuries have limited Brad Boxberger to 53.2 innings at the MLB level over the last two seasons, but the Diamondbacks need every ounce of improvement possible to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division crown and hold off the Colorado Rockies. Boxberger was a great low-risk gamble for the Diamondbacks. Overall, Boxberger owns a 3.19 ERA with a 3.91 FIP and a 3.58 xFIP in 231 career MLB innings. He’s a high-strikeout pitcher with a 30.7 percent K% and a high-walk pitcher with an 11.7 percent BB%. The Diamondbacks don’t seem too worried about guys like that, as they’ve molded Archie Bradley and Robbie Ray into very useful MLB pitchers.
With the growing importance of relievers, this is a move that didn’t get a lot of attention, but it can be a big help to Arizona in late-game situations and for the season if he manages to stay healthy. He was a low-cost replacement for Fernando Rodney and should slot nicely into the D-Backs pen. Arizona also gambled on Yoshihisa Hirano, thought to be one of the better Asian players on the market this offseason. He may be a big piece in that pen.
You’ll see this theme throughout my preseason handiwork, but starting pitchers have less importance than ever before. Last year, starters threw 26,787.1 innings. Relievers threw 16,469.2. That was the highest output ever for relievers and the lowest output for starters with the current makeup of the league in that there are 30 teams. Bullpen depth is essential. I’m a fan of this Arizona team, much like I was last year when they were one of my better win total suggestions.
Blue Jays Being Active
Toronto has been all over the offseason. It started on December 1 with the acquisition of Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals. After what appeared to be a breakout rookie year in 2016, Diaz fell off the face of the earth in 2017. Injuries played a big role and it felt like a lost year for his development. St. Louis opted to go in a different direction and the Blue Jays scooped up Diaz as Troy Tulowitzki insurance and now have a couple of versatile players in him and Yangervis Solarte, whom they acquired in January.
Since then, Toronto has signed Curtis Granderson to a bargain bin $5M deal with incentives and also acquired all-or-nothing hacker Randal Grichuk. Grichuk had 22 HR last season, but also had a .285 OBP with a low average and a terrible 5.9 percent BB%. Two deals with the Cardinals. This offseason is for the birds.
Toronto is a sneaky team in a crowded AL East dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. They’re a team I’ve got my eye on for season win totals, but placing any futures bets takes a bigger set than I’ve got.
STOVE GETTIN’ HOT
The Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton on December 9. The next day, the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani. We’ll get back to Ohtani in a second, but this Stanton deal certainly sent shockwaves through baseball. It was clear from the December 7 Dee Gordon deal that the fire sale was on in Miami and the Yankees benefitted by being willing to swallow such a large percentage of the money still due to Stanton.
The Stanton impact is pretty obvious. Most shops have the Yankees as the favorite or the second favorite to win it all. It makes sense, since they have probably the best bullpen ever constructed as a result of last year’s trades to acquire David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. So long as Stanton and the relievers stay healthy, the Yankees are the rightful favorites to win it all.
The week that the Stanton deal went down, we saw the Tigers sign Mike Fiers, the Cubs sign Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Drew Smyly, and Brandon Morrow, the Cardinals sign Luke Gregerson, the Phillies sign Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, the Rockies sign Bryan Shaw, the Twins sign Michael Pineda and Fernando Rodney, the Astros sign Joe Smith and Hector Rondon, the Rockies sign Jake McGee, the Mets sign Anthony Swarzak, the Mariners sign Juan Nicasio, and the Nationals sign Brandon Kintzler.
That has really been the only flurry of bullpen signings. We’ve seen a few modest deals and some minor league commitments, but a lot of free agent RPs are still on the market. Among that group, I really like the signings for the Cubs, if Brandon Morrow’s arm is still attached from his World Series workload. I also like the Bryan Shaw signing for Colorado, though it will be interesting to see how he fares in the altitude.
Once again, the Astros made two extremely savvy moves grabbing sidearmer Joe Smith and reclamation project Hector Rondon. The Cubs and Astros are really just trying to plug in accoutrements for their postseason runs, since both are division favorites. Get as many arms as possible and see who pans out. I like the Michael Pineda move a lot for Minnesota, but he will miss most of, if not all, of the 2018 season in his return from Tommy John for the second time.
Hell in a Marcell
Marcell Ozuna was the next player plucked from the Marlins and it was the St. Louis Cardinals that did it. Ozuna is a fantastic addition for this team and their offense looks pretty entertaining. Tommy Pham’s breakout second half and Ozuna’s top-20 season across the board for an OF means that the Cardinals are set up nicely if they get a Matt Carpenter bounce back and a little bit more from guys like Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez.
I really don’t think the Cardinals are that close of a contender to the Cubs right now, but we’ll see how things play out. Luke Weaver had a brilliant second half. Michael Wacha is still a bit of a wild card and Adam Wainwright probably has very little left in the tank. If Carlos Martinez and Weaver can carry the rotation, the bullpen is fairly interesting with free agent signing Luke Gregerson plus Dominic Leone, who was an underrated arm acquired in the Grichuk deal with Toronto.
I like the Cardinals to contend for the Wild Card, but they’re still behind the Cubs for me.
Angels in the Infield
The Angels are trying to run down the Astros. I saved Shohei Ohtani for this point, because I’m not totally sure what his 2018 impact will be. He opened up a busy winter for the Angels. Ohtani is slotted in as a pitcher right now and will probably be used as a pinch hitter from time to time. Projection systems are somewhere around three wins above replacement player with a 3.49 ERA and a 3.56 FIP. It will be very interesting to see how his stuff plays against MLB hitters. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.
The Angels filled a hole at second base with Ian Kinsler and also picked up Zack Cozart to play third base, which will be interesting. Cozart has logged 6,207.2 innings at shortstop in his MLB career and zero innings at third base. You aren’t going to unseat possibly the best defensive shortstop ever in Andrelton Simmons, so Cozart has to learn the hot corner.
Cozart wasn’t really part of MLB’s fly ball revolution last year, but posted career highs in wRC+, wOBA, OBP, SLG, OPS, BB%, HR, R, and easily fWAR with a five-win season. I’m not sure what to do with that info. The power production did spike in 2016 when he hit 16 dingers in 508 PA to set a new career high, but I don’t know the sustainability of this spike for a guy whose contact quality was below average for the first six seasons of his career.
Kinsler is on the wrong side of the aging curve for me and he’s at a position that tends to age as bad as any in the sport. He was a below average hitter last season and goes from a park that isn’t a whole lot better than Comerica. He’s still getting it done defensively, but he’ll turn 36 in June. This is a one-year rental for the Angels, so maybe they can milk his last good season. It doesn’t move the needle a ton for me, even though the LA Mike Trouts are set up a lot better than last year.
Phillies Phind Phirst Base Upgrade
Carlos Santana had a phenomenal season defensively and will forever hold a soft spot in this author’s heart. I tried to prepare myself mentally for the day when he would leave the Indians. It was tough, but he got $20M per from Philadelphia and the Indians weren’t going to do that, so it was fine.
I’m concerned that some value might be lost on the Phillies from a season win total standpoint. Some higher-profile moves like Santana and Neshek, plus last year’s light tower power showing from Rhys Hoskins won’t have the Phillies as under the radar as I would have hoped. Santana slots into the middle of the order and will make this lineup a little longer with a decent top of the lineup in Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera. Nick Williams had a nice second half and Maikel Franco is only 25 and still has upside. Youngsters JP Crawford and Jorge Alfaro have upside as well. Depth is the biggest problem with this team, but they are certainly intriguing and should be better offensively.
The Red Sox reunited with Mitch Moreland, almost out of necessity. Eric Hosmer remains unsigned due to unrealistic demands from his representation. Carlos Santana signed for $20M per. Apparently Yonder Alonso wasn’t a good enough fit or had a deal in place with Cleveland, so Boston opted for Moreland. Moreland is a marginal hitter and a solid defender, so he isn’t going to actively hurt them, but for an offense that was pretty bad last season, an upgrade would have helped. If JD Martinez signs with Boston, as he probably will, this signing loses some of its disappointment.
Boston futures don’t have a ton of value right now and their bullpen is behind all of the other AL contenders by a decent margin, so trying to outslug teams might be the best hope.
The Indians signed Yonder Alonso on what was a busy December 20. There were a few notable moves that day, but the Indians plugging a hole at first base with Alonso was pretty significant. Alonso’s a flawed player with a breakout first half in 2017 and not much else to show for his offensive profile. Alonso has always exhibited good plate discipline, but last year was the first in which he showed some really good contact quality.
For now, we’ll wait-and-see, but the Indians got a good deal on him and that is always their goal. As the Central Division champion, barring a complete disaster, the Indians don’t hold a ton of futures value.
Longo & Cutch
It sounds like a soon-to-be-canceled FOX series, but Longo & Cutch are now San Francisco Giants. The Giants added Evan Longoria on December 20 to fill a third base hole that has been there since Pablo Sandoval signed that enormous deal with Boston. The Andrew McCutchen acquisition came after the New Year and gave the Giants an upgrade in the outfield. They also added Austin Jackson to the mix.
The Giants are still behind the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies for me right now. I like Madison Bumgarner with a chip on his shoulder, but Johnny Cueto was not great last season and Jeff Samardzija’s 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere. The bullpen is okay, but nothing overly special and Mark Melancon wasn’t healthy last season. I don’t see a ton of upside to this team, in all honesty, and Longo and Cutch are offensive additions in a hard ballpark for hitting. Cutch is used to it with PNC Park. Tropicana wasn’t great for Longoria, but still. Be careful to not overvalue these upgrades. The Giants are better than they were after Game 162 of the 2017 season, but these additions are maybe worth 4-5 wins and this is a team that lost 98 games as injuries mounted and other things popped up. I’ll look for a number that allows me to play the under.
I love this winter for the Minnesota Twins. They’ve made some smart personnel decisions on the field and off of it, adding analytics wiz Josh Kalk to the front office. On January 13, they took advantage of the slow market and got a good deal on Addison Reed. The Twins have a pretty interesting lineup with Miguel Sano, an improving Byron Buxton, and Brian Dozier. The rotation isn’t great, but Kyle Gibson had a terrific second half and Jose Berrios showed a ton of promise. If the Twins can get Yu Darvish, they’ll be a very interesting team in a weak division.
The Reed signing means that the Twins now have three good righties in Rodney, Reed, and Trevor Hildenberger. They have a very good lefty in Taylor Rogers. They’re not quite there to challenge the Indians, but this was a Wild Card team from last year and a similar ceiling is present this year.
Gerrit Goes to Houston
The Pirates moved Gerrit Cole on January 13 and that is basically the last huge move we’ve had. The McCutchen deal came two days later, but we already hit that one. The Pirates got Colin Moran and Joe Musgrove in the deal and a couple of additional pieces. The move is two-fold for Houston, as the Astros are now even better for 2018 in their quest to repeat and Cole gives them a safety net if (when) they are unable to re-sign Dallas Keuchel.
It warms my heart to see a team keep pushing forward after a deep playoff run. Too many teams sit on their hands and hope for things to remain status quo. Not the Astros. They’ve kept pushing. They’ve bolstered the bullpen and have now added Cole, who could benefit a lot from having a locker next to Justin Verlander.
There isn’t any futures value on Houston, but this is an absolutely loaded team that should be right there again.
I’ll be moving forward with my MLB Season Win Totals Series soon and will touch on all of these transactions again, but it was a good time to update the moves we’ve seen so far and you can bet that we’ll see a lot more before teams report to Spring Training.
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