Best Moves of the MLB Offseason

There are probably places on the Internet where one can freely complain about the Cubs without pushback; Obstructed View is not one of them. Being an astute bunch, any mindless grumbling here is likely to be met with some pointed questions:

Do you really want an aging corner-outfielder like Shin-Soo Choo on the roster for the next seven years, especially with where the team is right now? Is a player who relies on his legs as much as Jacoby Ellsbury a good bet at $153 million? $175 million for a pitcher who has yet to throw in the Majors in Masahiro Tanaka

What exactly is it that you want the Cubs to do?

It’s a fair question, and deserves an answer. While I didn’t have any particular beef with the acquisitions of Justin Ruggiano, Jose Veras, Wesley Wright, George Kottaras, or Jason Hammel, they are, as a group, ah… uninspiring. I was unequivocally underwhelmed by the 2013-2014 offseason. So what were the alternatives?

In that spirit, here’s a list of moves I liked this offseason. In general, the acquiring teams made solid additions at reasonable prices. Note that I’m not saying that the Cubs should have made these moves, at least not in every case. Trades are subject to a receiving team’s preferences and specific questions of fit. In some cases, it may even be hard to see how the Cubs could have managed it.  No, this list is more about the type of moves that were made. Moves that would have made me say: yeah, there’s some upside there. The Cubs still suck, but the front office is clearly on top of it.

I did omit a few transactions that seemed implausible from the Cubs’ perspective. Obviously, there’s no equivalent of a Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler trade that could possibly happen involving the Cubs. And while I liked the Jose Abreu signing, it’s hard to see how the Cubs would have managed it. Call this the “best moves off the offseason that were within the realm of possibility for the Cubs.”

These are in no particular order, since our slideshow plugin seems to be down.

Cardinals acquire Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk for David Freese and Fernando Salas.

My inclination is that the Angels would have turned down Luis Valbuena plus something, but they probably shouldn’t have. Despite being a World Series hero, Freese is older and not as good defensively. Bourjos is a wizard in center, and a great "get" for the Cardinals. A similar trade involved the A’s acquiring defensive whiz Craig Gentry, but they were forced to give up an OK prospect in Michael Choice.

Padres sign Josh Johnson for 1 year/ $8 million.

For much of his career, Josh Johnson has been one of the better pitchers in baseball. He was dealing with bone spurs last year and got hammered, so the Padres were able to sign him cheaply. Even in 2013, though, he managed to put up decent peripherals. He’s unquestionably a better value than Jason Hammel. This deal also comes with an inexpensive option year for the Padres if Johnson completes less than seven starts. That’s a trick the Cubs need to steal.

Nationals acquire Doug Fister for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and and Steve Lombardozzi.

A heist for the Nats.

Astros acquire Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes.

I realize that improving the Major League roster is somewhat of an anathema for the Cubs right now, but Fowler is a solid outfielder in his prime, and his price tag wasn’t very high.

White Sox acquire Adam Eaton for Hector Santiago.

White Sox acquire Matt Davidson for Addison Reed.

I’ve mentioned these two before:

(The Sox) acquired Adam Eaton, a young center fielder with good speed and on-base skills to go along with some pop for a back-end of the rotation type in Hector Santiago. They turned Proven Closer Addison Reed into major league-ready third base prospect Matt Davidson.

Any one of the above moves would have been my favorite of the offseason by default. A few more:

Dodgers sign Alexander Guerrero for 4 years/ $28 million.

Yes, I realize that there are questions about his defense. And I know that the Cubs have real infield talent close to arrival from the minor leagues.  Still, I would have loved to see the team acquire another second base option to try out in 2014 instead of just relying on Darwin Barney again. (In fact, let’s get a time machine and try someone else out for 2013, as well). Part of the reason for this is just my general skittishness about prospects. I’m not confident that handing the job to Arismendy Alcantara next year is the way to go, and I’d prefer that Javier Baez stay on the left side of the infield for the time being. See if he can stick at shortstop with an eye on how Starlin Castro bounces back. Then stick him at third when Mike Olt busts*. As an alternative to Guerrero, Nick Franklin is the definition of expendable now that the Mariners have signed Robinson Cano. Even Aledmis Diaz might be worth a look.

A’s acquire Jim Johnson for Jemile Weeks and David Freitas.

I’m not Jim Johnson’s biggest fan by any stretch, but he’s pretty good, and, more importantly, seems like a decent bet to turn down a qualifying offer next year. Weeks is basically a failed prospect at this point; the O’s were just shedding salary. Oh well, I guess a mid-market team like the Cubs can’t afford to take on salary the way that Oakland can.

A’s acquire Billy Burns for Jerry Blevins.

Burns is not quite Billy Hamilton, but he’s very fast and has legitimate plate discipline. Jerry Blevins is the man who once brought you Jason Kendall

It’s a little curious the Cubs didn’t make an effort to improve their depth at the minor league level this offseason, which seems to be the main criticism of the system right now. Very strong at the top, but not all that deep. One would think that role players like James Russell and Darwin Barney might be useful in that regard, the way that Blevins was for the A’s here. 

Rays acquire Matt Andriese, Matt Lollis, and Maxx Tissenbaum for Jesse Hahn.

OK, I’m not being completely on the level here. The main pieces in this trade were actually Alex Torres and Logan Forsythe (meh). Baseball America really liked this move from the Rays’ perspective, but I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Padres’ system. I needed a “minor leaguers for other minor leaguers” trade to expand on my previous point, and this was the closest thing to it that I could remember off the top of my head. Onwards.

When Theo and Jed took over, I expected a lot of turnover in the minor leagues; trades of old-regime farmhands for different ones- players who were more in line with the organization’s new philosophy. You know, old GM is in love with his “guys,” new GM sees things with objective eyes and cutting-edge analytics, and cleans house… that sort of thing.  That hasn’t happened.

Take a look at this list. That’s John Sickels writing less than three months after Theo took over. It was the deepest of the reputable prospect lists I found, so I’m using it here. Context: There are 24 ranked prospects and 20 “others” listed by Sickels. Anthony Rizzo (#2), Zach Cates (#16), Dave Sappelt (#18), Ronald Torreyes (#19), Lendy Castillo (other), and Jeff Bianchi (other) were Thoyer acquisitions. So only 38 of the 44 were Hendry “guys.” And since then, Thoyer has completely cleaned house by trading away… 2 of the 38. Chris Carpenter and Aaron Kurcz were traded to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein. 

Safe to assume that DJ LeMahieu would have been on that list as well, so that’s three trades. And partial “house-cleaning” credit is assigned for not protecting Rule V draftees Ryan Flaherty and Marwin Gonzalez, who probably would have made the list. They fit the theme in that their Rule V selection means that Thoyer thought less of them than the rest of the league. So we’ll say that of the 41 Hendry guys on my hypothetical “Hendry Prospect List” (38 + DJ, Flaherty, and Marwin), three were traded and two were lost to Rule V. Only one was traded for another player. I find that remarkable.

Well, you might say, those types of trades are rare, and a lot of those guys were just let go when they turned out not to be prospects at all. I would agree that many of them are strictly org depth, but part of my expectation here was that the depth would be partially replaced by other depth. Players more in line with the “Cubs Way” attitude. And by my count, only 5* of the remaining “Hendry Prospects” have since left the organization. Jeff Beliveau and Robert Whitenack were DFA'ed and picked up by other teams. Rafael Dolis was signed by the Giants as a minor league free agent. Hayden Simpson and Jay Jackson were released. 

*I might be wrong about a few of them, depending on who actually shows up in 2014. It’s tough for me to tell with minor league free agency and the like. The number is 4 if we go by players who played out 2013 in the org.  

So… 31 of the 41 “Hendry Prospects” are still around. Obviously I haven’t done this for any other team, but that seems like no more than average turnover. What’s the lesson here? I have no idea. I just found it interesting.  

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