Baseball does not usually get much credit for moving very quickly. However this winter has been the equivalent of a Rickey Henderson wind sprint, as the movements around the game have come quick, early and often out of nowhere.
Last week provided a flurry of action on the 2014 season that saw the landscape of both leagues, but most intensely the American half, change tremendously. The New York Yankees both provided (and were victims of) major additions and loss, in making Jacoby Ellsbury the third highest paid outfielder ever, but also watching the Seattle Mariners go to a place they would not for their incumbent top star, Robinson Cano. What the impact is on the field in Seattle is yet to be seen, as is how much more New York is willing to do in order to reassure the potency of their team, but either way it goes, no less than everything changed in regards to the way the baseball winter was expected to play in just under 72 hours….and a week early.
Instead of being the base of operations for change, this week’s MLB Winter Meetings will see the finishing touches be put the majority of the major additions for the winter. Will the pitching scene finally start to clear up? And what will be the continued domino effects of the Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran deals? Whatever it is, the baseball windmill has began spinning, and isn’t showing signs of slowing up soon.
But as for what has been established thus far, here is the most recent effects and aftershocks of the newest deals handed out for these now former free agents. (All rankings are their original ranks on the full Top 75 Free Agent rankings)
1. Robinson Cano-Second Baseman-30 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees
Signed: Seattle Mariners—10 years, $240 million
The Mariners made the splash of the offseason so far over the course of 24 hours, by luring Cano away from the spotlight of New York and into their now full-on rebuilding spree. The deal makes him the third-highest paid player paid player in baseball, and also instantly makes him the axis of a Mariner team that was not too long ago an afterthought on the competition scene.
For the Mariners, it was an opportunistic signing that provides a major starting point towards a push towards the postseason, however one man cannot change the entire course of a franchise, and it is still unlikely that they are in a position to overcome the Oakland and Texas teams that are far more complete staffs. It is an all-in deal, that looks good in the moment, but will be a failure of mass proportions if they cannot add more around him, due to his price tag. In New York, despite their rampant additions to their team, they will feel the loss of their best overall player, and most potent run producer. Yet, they still most likely make out better without another albatross of a contract to work around in years to come.
6. Carlos Beltran-Right Fielder-37 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Signed: New York Yankees—3 years, $45 million
He’s become baseball’s equivalent of the ace bandage; after joining the Cardinals to be a replacement impact bat in the middle of the Cardinal lineup two years ago, he will go on to do the same thing for the post-Cano Yankees now. Due to the evolving St. Louis lineup, there was no more room for Beltran, and he will now play an important role as part-time outfielder/designated hitter in the Yankees’ quest to retake the AL East. Beltran was the most courted part of the free agent market, and now the Red Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Royals, among others, all either will or have looked in different directions.
9. Mike Napoli-First Baseman-32 years old-2013 Team: Boston Red Sox
Resigned: Red Sox—2 years, $32 million
The complex year of Mike Napoli finally comes to an end where he wanted it to all along. After seeing the extra years on his original contract voided shortly after he signed it due to a hip injury, Napoli gets them back and at a larger sum to stay where he wanted. The Red Sox return the top power hitting infielder available to their mix for the next two years and return an invaluable part of their everyday balance.
14. Curtis Granderson-Left Fielder-33 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees
Signed: New York Mets—4 years, $60 million
The Yankees addition of Jacoby Ellsbury and pursuit of Carlos Beltran made Granderson the odd man out, and the crosstown Mets pounced on the opportunity. They made a slightly out of character commitment to acquire the outfielder, due to their rebuilding financial situation, however the purpose and value are clear. Granderson provides an impact support bat behind David Wright and makes their competitive push over the next two years in a better place.
16. Hiroki Kuroda-Starting Pitcher-39 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees
Resigned: Yankees—1 year, $16 million
Kuroda was either coming back to the Yankees or going all the way back to Japan for the next season. His decision to stay in the Bronx allows the Yankees most consistent pitcher over the past two years to remain at the heart of a rotation that is desperately in need of an upgrade. Keeping his consistency (a 3.31 ERA over 65 starts in two years) is essential to having the flexibility to add either a top notch free agent arm, or a lower cost/high value pair of contributors underneath him and CC Sabathia.
30. Brian Wilson-Relief Pitcher-32 years old-2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Resigned: Dodgers—1 year, $10 million
He went to the open market to find a job as a closer again, but instead took a high dollar deal to return to LA as a setup man. This gives him a chance to show his stuff to teams that could have had interest in him this season, but needed to see more than the 19.2 innings he pitched in 2013, albeit at a high level (0.42 ERA, 21 strikeouts to 4 walks).
31. Edward Mujica-Relief Pitcher-30 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Signed: Boston Red Sox—2 years, $9.5 million
Mujica had an up and down year in 2013. After making the All-Star team after taking over the closer role in St. Louis, he lost his touch down the stretch and was relegated to extra part during their October run. He’ll switch World Series dugouts to return to his more familiar late inning role as a bridge/set up man to Koji Uehara, and is a very good value pickup for the Red Legs.
35. Nate McLouth-Outfielder-32 years old-2013 Team: Baltimore Orioles
Signed: Washington Nationals—2 years, $10.75 million
The Nationals offseason plan seems to be to add depth and round out a roster that was high on talent, but low on substance a year ago. McLouth is the perfect addition for that effort; a multi-tooled outfielder that can run, play every outfield position and provide an instant injury replacement if injury woes revisit the DC frontline outfield again.
54. Scott Feldman-Starting Pitcher-31 years old-2013 Teams: Chicago Cubs/Baltimore Orioles
Signed: Houston Astros—3 years, $30 million
This is probably the clearest case of an overpay to just get something, anything, of experienced substance into the Houston rotation. Feldman is a solid pitcher, but more along the lines of a bottom half of the rotation fourth-fifth starter. Instead, he’ll get a deal that rivals that of Dan Haren and Kyle Lohse to lead the Astros starters, despite only having two seasons in his career where he has topped 10 victories.
61. Rafael Furcal-Shortstop-36 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Signed: Miami Marlins—1 year, $3 million
Furcal missed the end of 2012 and all of 2013 due to an elbow injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery. However, after showing in late season workouts he would likely be capable of returning to the field, the Marlins picked him up to be a much needed veteran presence. He is slated to play second base, which is a much easier and less varied throw for his maligned elbow.
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