First Moves of the Winter Meetings
First off, there is the Miller signing — 4 years, $36M. Yowza. That’s the most ever handed to a non-closing reliever on the free-agent market. Then again, Miller profiles as a potential closer; he could be the next B.J. Ryan (for better and/or worse). Considering that Miller was fairly terrible prior to becoming a reliever, there’s some risk involved, but if there’s a team that can afford to take on risk and spend dollars, it’s that “other” team in New York City. I don’t believe the Mets were ever in play for Miller, and after considering that the Mets once gave Frank Francisco a two-year, $12M deal, I wonder why there wasn’t at least some buzz about Miller from Flushing. If you’re willing to give that much to a 32-year-old reliever who was never very good, why not at least open dialogue on someone like Miller, who was dominant for two years and still under 30? I know the Mets never would’ve done 4/$36M, but we didn’t even hear about a fair three-year offer. But, then again, Craig Breslow — he of the 5.96 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, and 34 years of age — is also a free-agent, will cost much less, and has excellent stats in the 54 appearances he’s made as a National Leaguer.
The Oakland Athletics continued their tear-down, trading Brandon Moss to the Cleveland Indians for minor-league second baseman Joe Wendle. Color me confused on this one. I get that Billy Beane is looking to trade every player he has that he believes is trending downward. However, did he really get fair value in return for Moss? A 24-year-old second baseman who is still in AA, and missed most of last year with a broken hamate bone? I know Moss’ stats have been going down three years in a row, but he still hit 25 HR last year — something that only 15 other players managed to accomplish in the Adulterated League. It seems the A’s received about the same or less as what the Mets were given in return for Ike Davis, who was two years removed from a 32-HR season. This deal looks to me like Beane trying too hard to be smart. Wendle had a .372 OBP and .885 OPS in high-A ball in 2013, but he was also 23 years old — not exactly young for the league. Beane, I imagine, is adding up Wendle’s big ’13 numbers with the fact that most players return to form about a year and a half after hamate breaks, and figures Wendle will be a late-blooming, productive MLBer by 2016/17. OK, great, but shouldn’t Beane have received a bit more from Cleveland? At the least, a low-A pitching prospect throw-in to the deal? Maybe Wendle will become the next Scott Hatteberg or, ironically, Brandon Moss. Or, maybe he’ll be the next Jeremy Brown. Then again, maybe Steve Lombardozzi (who was just removed from Baltimore’s 40-man roster) is a better comp; Lombardozzi also put up high OBP and OPS numbers as a minor leaguer, but has yet to be considered anything more than a utlityman in the bigs. I feel like more could have been obtained in return for an accomplished power bat like Moss, but what do I know?
Additionally, rumor has it that Beane is swapping Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, though nothing is official as of this writing. AND, the White Sox also seem to have reached an agreement with former Yankee David Robertson on a four-year, $40M contract. Seems fairly affordable for one of the better late-inning relievers in baseball.
The Cubs have re-signed Jason Hammel to a two-year, $20M deal. Hammel struggled with Oakland in the first half of the season, but did well after moving to Chicago.
A few other transactions occurred prior to the official start of the winter meetings, but since our last update, so we’ll go over them now.
Nick Markakis signed a 4-year, $44M deal with the Atlanta Braves. Well, I guess that means the Bravos are retooling, rather than rebuilding. Looks to me like a good move by the Braves, as they replace the outstanding-in-the-field Jason Heyward with a very good defender in Markakis. Further, Markakis grew up in the Atlanta area (though he was born in Glen Cove, NY), so that has to help put fannies in the seats. It’s a risk in that Markakis is 31, changing leagues for the first time, and in decline, but he’s been about as productive as Heyward over the past few years, with a much lower strikeout rate. One of Atlanta’s goals going forward is to make more contact, and the replacement of Heyward with Markakis fits that plan.
In a quieter signing, the Braves inked reliever Jim Johnson. If you remember, Johnson was a closer for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013, saving 101 games in those two seasons, then shat the bed in 2014 — first for the Athletics, who released him, and then stunk as a Tiger. Atlanta gave Johnson a one-year, $1.6M deal that includes another $900K in incentives. The sinkerballer’s woes were due to control problems, but he maintained his velocity, which makes me wonder if he had unreported forearm and elbow issues. If it wasn’t a physical ailment, this could turn out to be a brilliant under-the-radar move for Braves, as he could enjoy a bounce-back year as a setup man or 7th-inning guy — especially considering that he’ll be new to the NL.
The Blue Jays traded starter J.A. Happ to the Mariners for outfielder Michael Saunders. Interesting deal, as it creates a hole in the Seattle outfield but fills a gap in their rotation. Why does that matter? Perhaps because now the Mariners won’t be interested in Jonathon Niese, if they ever were. I imagine the Mets may have, or would have, offered Niese in a deal to bring back one of Seattle’s shortstops (Brad Miller or Chris Taylor). Then again, I’m not sure the M’s are looking to deal either youngster; I get the feeling they’re not sure which is going to pan out, and are willing to see them fight it out — possibly moving one to another position if they both impress.
The Jays also re-signed first baseman Justin Smoak, a player they previously non-tendered.