First Moves of the Winter Meetings

Other than the Mets not trading for Didi Gregorius and not signing Andrew Miller, there were a few moves happening in the first day of MLB’s annual winter meetings. Let’s do a quick run-through.

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.

The Royals re-signed reliever Luke Hochevar, who missed all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery in March. The 31-year-old gets two years, $10M.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. meticated December 9, 2014 at 11:17 am
    Is Beane dismantling the team to force the hand of MLB to facilitate a move to San Jose?…being that he makes the point of non-sustainability of the A’s in the Oakland market…does Gee wind up in the Lone Star state?…or perhaps LA…my gut says we’ve shot our load with Cuddyer and we sign a cut out bin lefty reliever and maybe a righty outfielder on the cheap, but why with DenDekker and Kurt with potential to break out?…I am still with Flores at shortstop, just defensive shift to compensate for lack of range!
  2. Joe Janish December 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm
    Meticated, my knowledge of advanced statistics is not very good, but from little I understand about sabermetrics and Billy Beane, my best guess is that Beane is making deals as a result of stat-crunching projections (that include salary considerations and value) for the next 5 years. I don’t think he’s dismantling the team to prove point or force a move, but rather, maximizing value for the long-term, operating under the assumption that his payroll will remain minuscule. Many of his deals may not look like they make sense, but he’s managing risk based primarily on stats vs. value over a specific time period (I think). That said, when he makes a mistake, he usually wants it to cost less — i.e., if he sends away a big contract and the return player(s) don’t pan out, at least he shed payroll, whereas other teams may spend on a player that doesn’t pan out. I could be completely off, but this is my not-so-educated, dime-store analysis.

    Will Gee wind up in Texas? There’s a good chance he’s already there, since he was born in Texas and may live there — at the very least, maybe he’ll be there for the holidays.

    I agree that Cuddyer may well be the “big move” of the offseason. Though, I wonder how the season-ticket sales are doing; low numbers could result in another big splash.

    Also agree that a new LOOGY will be hocked this winter.

    Kurt and den Dekker are redundant. Both are somewhere between Jeremy Reed and Ryan Church.

    Just about everyone in MLB employs defensive shifts, and the Mets do it heavily with Daniel Murphy. I’m not convinced it has helped Murphy’s range, and not convinced it can make enough of a difference to turn Flores into an adequate solution at shortstop. I’m also not convinced Flores will hit enough to make up for the defensive limitations and lack of speed on the bases. But, that’s only my opinion, and many others disagree. We’ll see.

  3. meticated December 9, 2014 at 11:19 pm
    I just looked on MLB trade rumours regarding Gee to Rangers…did not realize he is a native Texan…good for him…let him be comfortable and relaxed…deserves a break…Beane is a gambler with good intelligence, agreed. He is a step ahead of most GM’s in anticipating the future….its like he’s got a mystic book that fell to earth