What Was The Best Move Of The Offseason?

Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris hits a single against the Minnesota Twins at O.co Coliseum. Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

What trade or free-agent signing was the best of the offseason?

That headline falls somewhere between honest inquiry and obvious trolling. There's no way to judge this sort of thing before the end of the season. The best move of the 2010/2011 offseason, for example, was the Cardinals signing Lance Berkman to play the outfield, even though there was a decent chance he was going to have the range of Adam Dunn wearing high heels. Everything worked out juuuust fine.

Another example of how it's a little too early: Last week, this column wouldn't have existed because the obvious answer would have been the Giants trading Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera. Even after the performance-enhancing-drug bust, this still might be in consideration. If the Giants stuck with Sanchez in the rotation and didn't have four months of Melky hitting like an All-Star, that might have been a six- or seven-win swing.

It was the obvious answer last week, though. And that's why it's a little silly to ask this question in August. But we can at least make an educated guess.

The first note is that most of the big free-agent signings don't merit serious discussion. Albert Pujols wasn't the box of arsenic that he appeared to be for the first two months of the season, but he wasn't a magic ticket to the playoffs, either. Jose Reyes has been more like the player he was from 2006 through 2010, but the Marlins paid for the 2011 version.

Of the big-ticket items, only Prince Fielder merits serious discussion. He's been fabulous, hitting in the middle of the order for a Tigers team that wasn't expecting to be seriously challenged. But the length of the contract is haunting, even if he's been nothing but healthy and productive so far. The Fielder deal might be the best short-term move of the off-season, but not the best move.

The best free-agent signings can probably be whittled down to two: Carlos Beltrán and Yoenis Cespedes. Beltrán allowed the Cardinals to contend in 2012 without getting stuck in the Pujols quicksand, so he might be the most important free agent of 2020, too, in a way. But Cespedes was an $80 million talent marked down because of uncertainty. As soon as he proved he could hit major-league pitching -- .303/.364/.514 as of Tuesday -- he became the steal of the off-season. He didn't make the FanGraphs list of the top 50 trade assets, but he could be right in the middle of that list next year.

That leaves the trades. Melky for Sanchez is still open, but the testosterone bust probably eliminates it, if only from a purely aesthetic standpoint. It just looks bad in a "best transaction" post. The A's added a desperately needed power bat with Josh Reddick in the Andrew Bailey trade, and they got a pair of younger prospects of note, too. The A's off-season makes a "Which team had the best winter?" article pointless.

There's something about a win-win deal, though, that adds some bonus points to a transaction. Take the Reds' trade for Mat Latos, for example. The Reds have the second-best record in baseball, and now they have one of the hottest pitchers in the game. They'll also have him for the next three years. The Padres, meanwhile, picked up their catcher and first baseman of the future, as well as some short-term rotation help. Everyone loves the win-win deal.

Which makes the answer obvious: the Gio Gonzalez trade, which looks like one of the better win-win deals of the last few years.

The Nationals got a premier starting pitcher, whom they immediately locked up for below-market salaries. This is especially important because the team was counting on Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg for the 2012 season, but they didn't want to overextend the two young pitchers. They needed high-quality innings right away, and it couldn't have worked out much better.

The A's got A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock. Cole is having an outstanding season in the Midwest League after struggling in High-A, and Peacock is struggling, albeit with a good measure of potential. If that were the deal for Gonzalez, it still might have been a good haul in the long term. But the A's also picked up their now-starting catcher in Derek Norris and a league-average pitcher in Tommy Milone, who are helping the team immediately.

Both teams are contending. The Nationals are threatening to run away from the NL East. The A's are within a game of the Wild Card lead. The only caveat I'd have about picking the Gonzalez trade is the A's might be a couple games up in that Wild Card race if they still had him.

But both teams should be thrilled with the deal in both the short and long term. The A's aren't trying to beat some sort of a closing window, so they'll take the 2012 tradeoff for the cost-controlled players. The Nationals are answering 14 percent fewer stupid questions about Strasburg because Gonzalez is around.

The A's had the best off-season locked up even before they got into the playoff race. The Nationals have the best record in baseball, so they must have done something right. There it is: the best deal of the offseason. If only all deals could be so fair. Wait, actually, that would be really boring. But every once in a while, it's nice to see.

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