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Grading the trades and free agent signings from the 2015 Winter Meetings

There are big names still on the board, but here's how to feel about all of the trades and free agent signings that did happen.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, the folly of grading transactions months before baseball even starts. It's so, so dumb and predictable. All of these predictions are guaranteed to be wrong. Reminder: Edinson Volquez, Game 1 starter for the team that won the World Series. If you're looking for a recap of dumb predictions, David Schoenfeld has you covered, including especially dense ones from some doof at SB Nation last year.

Don't make predictions about offseason transactions.

And yet, like a moth who knows that's not really a small sun it's flying around, I'm drawn into my own bright, unforgiving demise. These will look bad. These are absolutely necessary. Here are some grades for the transactions made at the Winter Meetings, with the exception of deals you can't possibly care about. Looking at you, Craig Gentry.

(It was kind of a boring Winter Meetings, y'all.)

Braves trade Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier to Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, Dansby Swanson, 59,000,000 acres of land, residual earnings from The Force Awakens, and six piggyback rides from Dave Stewart

It was kind of a boring Winter Meetings ... EXCEPT FOR THIS TRADE. Mercy, what a fascinating deal. The Braves didn't have to trade Miller, and they wielded that leverage like a comic book weapon. The Diamondbacks didn't want to get caught without a complement to Zack Greinke, so they put their prospects and young players in the pneumatic tube.

Again, the main return for Miguel Cabrera -- who was 25 and already the best hitter in baseball -- was a top pitching prospect and a defense-minded center field prospect who projected to be something like a five-win player. The Braves got a top pitching prospect, a defensive-minded center fielder who was already a five-win player in his first full season, and the first-overall pick in baseball just a few months ago. Miller is a good, young pitcher, but he's not the Miguel Cabrera of pitching.

The only reason the Diamondbacks don't get an F is because I appreciate the derring-do, and that revamped rotation really is promising. They're doing their best not to waste Paul Goldschmidt's inexpensive years, and I can dig that. Three years of Shelby Miller is kind of a big deal.

Braves grade: A+
Diamondbacks grade: C

Cubs sign Ben Zobrist for four years, $56 million

Earlier in the day, there was a rumor floating around that there was a four year, $80 million deal on the table for Zobrist. It seemed bananas, but I figured it was legit, considering that every single team had some sort of reason to want Zobrist. He took less money from the Cubs than the Nationals and Giants offered him, though, and he'll make a scary lineup even scarier.

We'll be less chipper about this deal in 2017 or 2018, but for next season the Cubs are much improved. That's all they should care about, especially considering they don't have a lot of long-term commitments that should bother them when Zobrist's body pooters out.

Grade: A

Royals sign Joakim Soria for three years, $25 million

OK, OK, OK, we get it Royals. You made it to the World Series by crushing hopes and dreams after the seventh inning. You won the World Series by coming back the next year and crushing hopes and dreams after the sixth inning. Your plan is to come back with a team that can crush your hopes and dreams after the sixth inning.

That's the thing about the Royals, man. You have to run out on the field during the National Anthem and get a couple hits off the starting pitcher, or else you're done for.

But I'll wait until I see the gap between what they offer Alex Gordon (or Yoenis Cespedes, or Justin Upton, or Dexter Fowler, or ...) and whom they actually sign. I'll bet that an extra $25 million would make a difference to Gordon before he decides to sign with someone else.

If the Royals get, I don't know, Howie Kendrick, Gordon, and Soria, this is an A. Sure, load the bullpen up, it's obviously an idea with some merit. In a league with 300 different arms with 95+ in them, it's worth hoarding four or five of the best. But if this is the offseason for them, I'm not wild about it.

Grade: INC

Mariners trade Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to Red Sox for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro

Elias and Miley have been equally as effective over the last two seasons. Elias's ERA+ is 93; Miley's is 91. Elias has struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings; Miley has struck out 7.5. The differences between the two are a) innings pitched, with Miley holding a huge advantage, and b) salary and team control, with Elias holding a huge advantage. As such, a straight-up, one-for-one swap would have made sense.

The Mariners, though, also gave up a dominant power reliever in an era where dominant power relievers are treated like they're the secret of baseball. Aro might make up the difference one day, but Smith was the kind of arm that teams desperately covet right now, and he was cashed in for Roenis Elias, Now With More Innings. Strange.

Red Sox grade: A
Mariners grade: C-

Orioles re-sign Darren O'Day for four years, $31 million

Is the rush to lock up elite relievers something based in hard science, or is it the sign of a copycat league? Dunno, but if you're going to spend nearly $8 million a season on a reliever, you might as well get a dominant one. The closest the Orioles got to the World Series over the last couple decades is when they had Andrew Miller and O'Day, and every game felt like a seven-inning contest. Might as well try to recreate that experience somehow. They just need to find their replacement for Miller.

Not to be morbid, but O'Day will forever remind me of the 2011 Rangers, who suffered one of the most gruesome last-second collapses in postseason history. They had O'Day and Koji Uehara that season, but quirks of timing and effectiveness kept them off the postseason roster. Since then, the two pitchers have combined for 478 innings with a 1.88 ERA and five strikeouts for every walk. Yet the exact month the Rangers needed them to be the pitchers they could be, they weren't.

Sorry. It's just what I think about, stop throwing things at me, hey, that one was heavy, stop.

Grade: B

Rockies sign Jason Motte for two years, $10 million and Chad Qualls for two years, $6 million
A's sign John Axford for two years $10 million and Ryan Madson for three years, $22 million
Phillies sign David Hernandez for one year, $3.9 million

Lumped together as one because there's no quicker way for a bad team to steal prospects at the deadline than by trading their effective middle relievers. They make the team more effective and less frustrating in the interim, they help speed up the rebuilding process, and if the team starts to contend ahead of schedule (think 2015 Astros), it's sure nice to have them around. One of them will give the team solid innings for four months and garner a prospect at the deadline. All of these get a B for that reason, even if I'm not optimistic about any of the specific pitchers.

Well, they all get a B except for that Madson one because it reaaally makes me nervous. That gets an emoji of an elephant wearing a dress shirt and tugging at the collar. It's a lot of money for a guy who was out of baseball recently.

Also, the Motte deal allows me to rehash this prediction I made in 2011:


And here's what he eventually looked like:


I will always love him for that.

Grades (all but Madson): B

Nationals sign Shawn Kelley for three years, $15 million
Astros re-signed Tony Sipp for three years, $18 million
Cardinals re-signed Jonathan Broxton for two years, $7.5 million

Lumped together because teams that expect to win have to pay a we-didn't-develop-or-find-random-relievers-in-time tax if they want to fill out a bullpen. It's expected, and the Nationals and Astros did what they needed to do.

Broxton is fine at that as long as there are three or four better arms in front of him. If injuries or ineffectiveness push him into an eighth-inning role or worse, the Cubs and Pirates will benefit greatly.

Grades (all): B

A's trade Brett Lawrie to White Sox for Zack Erwin, Jeffrey Wendelken

We're year four into the Brett Lawrie Experience, and he's sure looking more and more like Pedro Feliz with less power. He's a solid player, good glove and interesting skills. And he's young, too, not that much older than the typical prospect. If Mike Moustakas got until he was 26 to prove himself, the least we could do is give the same leash to Lawrie.

That written, boy, are we all pulling for Franklin Barreto to turn into an All-Star. The year will be 2020, the A's will be in the ALCS after Barreto's MVP season, and Billy Beane will get to flip his cape and shriek, "Magic!" to a delighted crowd. Because if that doesn't happen, the A's traded the 2015 MVP for a year of .299 OBP and a couple of interesting-ish minor league arms.

The White Sox are wise to add whatever pieces they can to support their distinguished rotation. No, Lawrie might not get better, but he was certainly better than the in-house alternatives, with more potential to boot.

A's grade: C-
White Sox grade: B+

Mets sign Asdrubal Cabrera for two years, $18.5 million

A perfectly cromulent deal, even though it's not the bolt of lightning the Mets still need. Cabrera is a below-average hitter and fielder at short, but if there's one team he could improve, it was the Mets. That's not supposed to be snark, just honesty.

Poor Wilmer Flores gets a raw deal again, but he'll still get some at-bats, considering Cabrera should be rested often.

Grade: B-

Nationals trade Yunel Escobar to Angels for Trevor Gott, Michael Brady

Gott has more strikeout potential than he showed last year, and Brady is as statistically intriguing as 29-year-old relief prospects can get, but this trade seems absolutely bizarre to me. It's the deal the Nationals were going to make if they nabbed Ben Zobrist, except ... there's no Zobrist. Escobar isn't much of a defender, but he can play three infield positions and had a .375 OBP and a 113 OPS+ last year. Not to mention he has a reasonable team option for next year if he does it again.

Is it a vote of confidence in Danny Espinosa? Is Escobar that much of a clubhouse irritation? Is there another move coming that will make this move much more understandable? We'll see, but for now, it's a trade that makes a lot more sense for the Angels.

Angels grade: A
Nationals grade: D+

Yankees trade Adam Warren, Brendan Ryan to Cubs for Starlin Castro

It sure is a fascinating upside play for the Yankees. Castro doesn't turn 26 until next year, and he already has four different seasons with an adjusted OPS better than the league average. That's four different seasons with two wins or better, playing up the middle. He's just relatively expensive and kind of out there.


Good job, effort. But I could absolutely see him hitting 30 homers in Yankee Stadium for the next five years. It seems like a very Yankees solution.

As for the Cubs' end, they get depth in the bullpen and a glass-case starter, plus they exchange Castro's salary for Ben Zobrist's. What a delightful sleight-of-hand.

Yankees grade: B
Cubs grade: A

Pirates trade Neil Walker to Mets for Jon Niese
Cardinals trade Jon Jay to Padres for Jedd Gyorko

I'm going to lump these two together because we're all doing the same thing with them.

Ha ha, the Pirates are going to turn Jon Niese into a 3.00 ERA pitcher.

Ha ha, the Cardinals are going to turn Jedd Gyorko into a .300/.375/.450 hitter.

And then the ha has stop, and we kind of look around, confused, wondering if we really think it's funny, or if we've revealed a terrifying layer of uncomfortably predictable baseball we were unwilling to confront.

Walker makes sense for the Mets. Jay makes sense for the Padres, and so does ditching most of Gyorko's contract. Still, it's hard to judge those returns when we know that the players they gave up will somehow morph into something completely different by absorbing the powers of the NL Central's yellow sun.

Mets grade: B
Padres grade: B+
Pirates grade: Ray Searage
Cardinals grade: Devil magic