In order to manage risk we must first understand risk. How do you spot risk? How do you avoid risk and what makes it so risky? To understand risk, we must first define risk.
Everything in baseball is supposed to be a balance of risk vs. reward. The reward for the Red Sox if they put David Ortiz at shortstop would be that they would suddenly have one of the best hitters at the position in baseball. The risk is that I would forget to DVR the games in which he played shortstop, which means I'd miss everything. The risk/reward balance is the unspoken reason for every in-game decision and every offseason move.
Here are the teams in each division who took the biggest risk of the offseason, and the reason why they took that risk.
The Reds have Joey Votto in place, but they also had Yonder Alonso, who clearly needed to be dealt after an unsuccessful trial in the outfield. They also had two of the top-ten catching prospects in baseball, which gave them another outstanding trade chip. With Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, they had two pieces that could act as the centerpiece of separate deals. Instead, they went in the same deal for one player. Cashing in both chips at once was a huge a risk.
But the trade brought in Mat Latos, who is cost-controllable for the next four years. If there were ever a type of player on whom to take a risk, that's the one. The potential reward is that they'll have a front-of-the-rotation starter at below-market prices for the next four years, and he should contribute to the win-now strategy of the team.
New York Yankees
The Yankees didn't have just a single chip, but they had an easily recognizable trade prospect that 29 other teams wanted. Jesus Montero was in every Yankees trade rumor from the past two years. He'll probably still be in every Yankees trade rumor, even if only because it comforts us. But the Yankees were loathe to trade him because if the Yankees are sincere about their efforts to get below the salary cap, Montero was going to be a low-cost catcher or DH for them for years.
But even though the Yankees have Dellin Betances and Manny Bañuelos in the minors, the Yankees traded their low-cost hitter for a low-cost pitcher. In a vacuum, the deal had a nice balance of short-term and long-term benefits for both sides. Considering the strength of the Yankees' farm, though, the Michael Pineda acquisition was improbably more of a short-term move. The potential reward is that the Yankees have a chance to end their championship drought.
No pressure, Michael. Just get that fastball going whenever you get the chance.
Atlanta Braves/San Francisco Giants
Both of these teams took the risk of inactivity. Though the Giants didn't sit completely still, acquiring Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan for their outfield, they didn't make any sort of substantial improvement to an offense that ranked 32nd in runs scored, behind the Cleveland Spiders and the Worcester Ruby Legs.
The Braves most certainly did sit completely still, acquiring just Jack Wilson. Who is now hurt. The inactivity was a stubborn (but completely understandable) result of the belief that the team was just fine last year, dang it, and that the historic collapse -- which was, at the time, one of the most stunning baseball collapses in at least several minutes -- was just a spot of misfortune that wasn't likely to be repeated.
The potential reward for the Giants is that they have a better chance to keep Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, who I'm sure will give them cushy hometown discounts after the Giants' ownership and front office spent the offseason walking around wearing sandwich boards that read "WE CAN'T SPEND ANY MONEY RIGHT NOW BECAUSE WE HAVE TO GIVE IT ALL TO OUR PITCHERS. REPEAT: WE ARE PLANNING TO GIVE ALL THESE UNTOLD MILLIONS TO MATT CAIN AND TIM LINCECUM."
The potential reward for the Braves is that they'll save some money that can go towards offensive help when their rotation is filled with four or five of their 4,396 pitching prospects, while still contending in the near future.
Los Angeles Angels/Detroit Tigers
There's a chance that Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols will collide in a play at first base, injuring them both. That would mean that their respective clubs would file insurance claims on the contracts at the same time. Payments of that magnitude would likely cause the firms to collapse, creating a domino effect that would send the stock market into a panic. The death spiral would be unlike anything the world has ever seen, and the global markets will be engulfed in flames. The next thing you'd know, you'd be eating cat food with your hands and digging your gold fillings out with a knife, hoping to use them in a last-ditch effort to buy antibiotics. Those efforts would fail, and the infection would look worse with each passing hour.
That's the risk.
Oh, there's also the risk of them not playing well in the future despite commanding a healthy chunk of the payroll. But you knew that. The reward is that the two players will help their teams win a World Series or three by hitting copious amounts of dingers. But you knew that too.
Everything in baseball is risk vs. reward. Every team manages the balance differently, but the odds are good that the team hoisting the trophy at the end of the year will be a team that took a few risks.