The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and everyone can agree that they were a little dull. Look at what the Winter Meetings used to be, a maelstrom of transactions, each one nuttier than the last. Also, if you click that link, you are legally prohibited from roasting me for giving the Reds a B- for trading Alfredo Simon for Eugenio Suarez. But the point is that the Winter Meetings used to mean something, man. They used to mean something!
There were still moves, of course, and we need to evaluate them. This year I’m going to try something different, though, staying away from grades or winners/losers. This is because that’s the kind of format that makes me look like an idiot when I do something like give the Reds a B- for trading Alfredo Simon for Eugenio Suarez. Instead we’re going to go with some simple yearbook superlatives, starting with the most obvious ...
Most Likely to Succeed
Rays — Signed Charlie Morton
The Rays were a surprisingly relevant team last year, and considering how many teams are likely to follow their lead and use openers next year, they might be Baseball’s 2018 Team of the Year. Trendsetting and penny-pinching: the future of baseball!
Except here they are, spending. Before the Morton deal, the second-highest-paid player on the roster was going to be Mike Zunino, who is projected to make $4.2 million in arbitration, and there was a non-zero chance that the entire 25-man roster was going to make less than Bryce Harper in 2019.
Again, it feels wrong to pat a team on the head for trying, but this is still a lot of money for the Rays, and Morton fits their needs perfectly. It’s hard to consider him an innings-eater with his persistent nicks and dings, but that’s not a problem for the Rays, who would want him to get through the order just two times, mostly. He’s an excellent pitcher when he’s on the mound, and while that’s the rub, there’s no pretending that the Rays didn’t just improve by a bunch. They have the reigning Cy Young winner, and now they have one of the better pitchers of the offseason. Their offseason has been impressive so far.
Of all the teams to be aggressive this winter, the Reds are surprising me the most. They traded for Tanner Roark — a solid, sensible move for a team that has desperately needed more starting pitching for years now — but they’re also seemingly in on every rumor. J.T. Realmuto? Corey Kluber? Bless their hearts, they’re having a really fun rumor season.
Will it work? Dunno. Is it wise? They were 67-95 last year, and they’re playing in a division with three contenders and one semi-contender, so it’s not like they’re in the AL Central. They aren’t a Roark-Realmuto-Kluber troika away from contending. I’m not sure just what would turn them into a contender, really. But I’m all for them not being completely awful.
More teams should avoid being completely awful. I can’t believe I have to type that out.
Best Person To Be Stranded With on a Desert Island
Royals — Signed Billy Hamilton
In this metaphor, the Royals are the desert island. Also, the waters around it are brown and smelly, so you can’t even enjoy the view. Now they have Billy Hamilton. He’s not getting them off that island. Might even make the water smell worse. But he’s entertaining as hell. That counts for something.
I’m a huge fan of awful teams throwing crap to the wall to see what sticks. I know it’s hard to parse sarcasm on the ol’ internet, so let me confirm that I am absolutely serious. Crap-to-the-wall is a viable, admirable strategy for teams threatening 100 losses. The Royals now have Billy Hamilton, who can’t hit. But, hot damn, what if he could?
But what if he could? Eh, eh, eh? Nudge nudge. His defense and speed would make him a top-50 player. The Royals were going to have a miserable outfield next year anyway. They are still going to have a miserable outfield, but at least one of the positions will be filled by a player who does two things really, really, really well. Hamilton makes the Royals far more watchable, even if he hits tends to hit poorly by Royals standards.
I still think that a postseason-bound team last year should have traded for Hamilton to be a secret October weapon. Dodgers would have won if they had a super pinch-runner to deploy, for example. You can’t disprove me. You’ll see when Hamilton leads his post-deadline team to a World Series next year. You’ll all see.
This is canon now.
Life of the party
It’s always the Mariners. Even when Jerry Dipoto is in the hospital, he’s the life of the party. There weren’t a lot of huge trades, but there was at least one, and the Mariners were in the middle of it.
Now, I’m mostly impressed with the Rays on this deal, as I’m a huge Yandy Diaz fan, and they also came away with a reliever who strikes out about 28 batters per nine innings, but the Mariners swooping in and calmly exchanging Carlos Santana for Edwin Encarnacion is what the Winter Meetings used to be about, man. So bless the Mariners for giving us something to talk about again.
I have no idea what they’ll actually do with a very, very expensive Edwin Encarnacion, but that’s not the point. They’re always dancing on the table with a lampshade on their head, and I appreciate that.
White Sox — Traded for Ivan Nova
The downside of a solid, inoffensive innings-eater is that he might hose the draft position of a bad team. And when a team is as bad as the White Sox project to be, it could be the difference between the first-overall pick and the fourth-overall pick, which might mean the difference between Bryce Harper and Christian Colon.
At the same time, tanking for baseball draft picks is incredibly dopey, as it means putting together a straight up Major League roster that alienates the fans and keeps them away. Innings-eaters are a great way to be a team that’s simply bad instead of a historically wretched mess that makes people question why they even like the sport. I’m all for ‘em, as long as the cost isn’t prohibitive.
I still have fond memories of Mark Leiter on the 1995 Giants, dammit.
Phillies — Signed Andrew McCutchen
For the first time in his career, Andrew McCutchen played in a hitter’s park. In those 25 games, he hit .253/.421/.471 and walked as much as he struck out. Citizens Bank Park isn’t a launching bad, but it does tend to help right-handed hitters, and this will be the first time McCutchen has played a full season in a ballpark like that.
Which is all to say that his career line of .287/.378/.481 might just be a starting point. It’s been nine seasons since McCutchen didn’t hit 20 home runs or more, which is mighty impressively considering where he’s played. Philadelphia seems like a perfect fit.
As for the Phillies’ overcrowded outfield, it shouldn’t be a concern. They’ll keep one or two guys for depth, and they’ll probably trade for another. Last year’s outfield glut belonged to the Brewers, and they worked it out just fine. They were a game away from the World Series because they didn’t think, “Gee, Christian Yelich is good, but we already have outfielders!”
The Phillies could have stayed pat with their outfield, and no one would have grumbled too much, as long as other movies were being made. Instead, they went out and spent money on a player who has never had a below-average adjusted OPS in his 10-year career. His bat might have slowed to the point where he’ll never threaten .300 again, but it’s always nice to sign a player who comes with little risk and a lot of potential award.
Now go get Bryce Harper, dummies.