Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Hot Stove Roundup: Position Players

Davis struck the richest deal for a position player last month (Baltimore Sun)
After being mostly neglected during the first half of the offseason, position players dominated Hot Stove headlines in January. Here are my thoughts on some of last month's biggest (and not so big) signings.

Like everyone else, I did not expect Cespedes to re-up with the Mets, who seemed unlikely to fork over the nine-figure contract that Cespedes seemed assured of. It's still unlikely Cespedes will be a Met beyond next year--his deal includes an opt-out after 2016--especially if his numbers are anything close to last year's. So if we treat this contract as a one-year deal that will pay Cespedes $27.5 million next year, he only needs to be worth between three and four wins in his age-30 season to earn his hefty salary. Given that he's exceeded 3.5 wins (per B-R) in all but one season so far, that's not asking a whole lot.

As predicted, San Diego's infield was a disaster last year. The shortstop situation was especially ugly, with Padres combining to bat a paltry .228/.279/.365 at the position. It's almost impossible to be any worse, but then Mr. Ramirez may not be significantly better. The 34 year-old hit .249/.285/.357 last year, and it's hard to imagine his numbers improving much after switching from one of the best hitter's parks in baseball (U.S. Cellular Field, where he hit 60 percent of his homers and his OPS was nearly 60 points higher than it was everywhere else) to the worst.

After boldly rejecting Baltimore's original seven-year, $154 million offer, Davis ended up signing with the Orioles after all--for seven years and $161 million. Good thing he waited a month to squeeze that extra $1 million per season out of the O's...

Rockies sign Gerardo Parra: 3 yrs/$27.5 M

It will be interesting to see how Coors Field affects Parra's numbers. I can't imagine they'll improve by leaps and bounds, given that he's spent his whole career in hitter's parks and is coming off a career-year, but he should be a threat to bat .300 for the first time. Of course, that might be a mostly-empty .300 since he hardly walks and has league average power at best. If I were the Rockies, I'd be more concerned about how he's going to handle Colorado's spacious outfield, since Parra's posted subpar defensive metrics in each of the past two seasons. Since this  acquisition was the impetus for Colorado's instantly regrettable Corey Dickerson trade, I give this move a big thumbs-down.

Tiger sign Justin Upton: 6 yrs/$132.75 M

Like many recent deals, this one includes an opt-out, allowing Upton to hit the market again after his age-29 season. But while Upton may only be a Tiger for two years, those are the years you want to have a ballplayer. Plus, Detroit's championship window is rapidly closing, and it's very likely that they'll need to blow their team up by the time Upton is a free agent again. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will be 35. Ian Kinsler will be 36. Anibal Sanchez will be 34, Jordan Zimmermann 32, and Victor Martinez almost 40. The Tigers have all their important players signed through the next two years, so it's now or never.

Giants sign Denard Span: 3 yrs/$31 M
The Giants got a great deal on Span, signing him at a reduced rate after he missed much of last year with injuries. Just how much of a steal is he? Consider that, over the past four years and at the same ages, Span's been as valuable as Jacoby Ellsbury, who's making twice as much on an annual basis:

Ellsbury 2012-2015: 468 G  .276/.331/.396 (101 OPS+)  11.9 bWAR
Span 2012-2015: 498 G  .290/.344/.402 (105 OPS+)  11.8 bWAR

Well played, Brian Sabean.

The Brewers needed a first baseman after trading Adam Lind in December; enter Mr. Carter. While Lind is older and more injury-prone, he's also a much better hitter. Carter is more of a Carlos Pena/Mark Reynolds type, with huge power numbers offset by equally high strikeout rates and terrible batting averages. Before cratering to .199/.307/.420 last year, though, Carter compiled an OPS just shy of .800 from 2012-2014. Since he just turned 29 and is one of the few players capable of popping 30 homers, he should be a good bet to give Milwaukee a cheap offensive boost.

The Royals aren't known for making big splashes during free agency, but they made an exception here for the face of their franchise. While Gordon may not be the best player on the Royals anymore (that would be Lorenzo Cain), he's still incredibly valuable and one of their most important assets. And though he's going to be 32 in a week, Gordon has the kind of all-around skill set that typically ages well, meaning he shouldn't be a burden to Kansas City's payroll.

Washington has desperately needed an upgrade at second base for some time now, as Danny Espinosa just wasn't cutting it. Well, the Nats got one in Murphy, a solidly above average hitter who can run a little and may only now be tapping into his power potential. It's a well-known fact that second basemen don't age well, but this contract should work out for Washington since it doesn't extend into Murphy's mid-30s.

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