By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer
Highlights from baseball’s annual Winter Meetings:
1) Big Free Agent signings. It is clear that MLB is flush with revenue. Teams have the money to spend, and they are exercising capitalism to its fullest. Witness some of the big signings in the days leading up to, and following, the annual Winter Meetings:
• SP Zack Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 6 years for $206 million; Average Annual Value (AAV): $34.3M
• SP David Price to the Boston Red Sox, 7 years for $217 million; AAV: $31M
• OF Jason Heyward to the Chicago Cubs, 8 years for $184 million; AAV: $23M
• SP Jordan Zimmerman to the Detroit Tigers, 5 years for $110 million; AAV: $22M
• SP Jeff Samardzija to the San Francisco Giants, 5 years for $90 million; AAV: $16M
• …well knowns still on the market: SP Johnny Cueto, OF Yoenis Cespedes, 1B Chris Davis, LF Alex Gordon, SS Ian Desmond, SP Mike Leake
2) New York Mets.
• The Mets traded P Jonathan Niese to Pittsburgh in exchange for 2B/IF Neil Walker. This was one of the best baseball trades of the Winter Meetings. The Mets were in the market for a 2B to replace free agent Daniel Murphy, and they filled that need with the switch-hitting Walker. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, was looking to bolster its rotation after the retirement of P A.J. Burnett and loss of free agent SP J.A. Happ (Blue Jays). Niese should fare well under the tutelage of Pirate pitching coach – and former Met – Ray Searage. Walker is a true professional, and will fit well with the Mets, both on-and-off the field; he is a free agent after the ’16 season.
• The Mets signed free agent SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Rays) to a 2-year, $17M deal. The switch-hitting Cabrera, a former All-Star with Cleveland, will get the opportunity to start at SS, likely relegating SS/2B Wilmer Flores to a backup role, and enabling more time for 2B Dilson Herrera (Mets/AAA Las Vegas) and SS Gavin Cecchini (AA Binghamton) to develop.
3) New York Yankees.
• The Yankees dealt SP/RP Adam Warren and SS/IF Brendan Ryan to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for 2B Starlin Castro. The Yankees obtained the 3-time All Star Castro, continuing their efforts to get younger and more athletic. Castro played extremely well after moving from SS to 2B in late August; he will not turn 26 until March ’16. In Warren, the Yankees traded a pitcher they drafted and developed, creatively using their own assets to acquire younger players, and not spending on free agents…a trend that has now held for the last two off seasons. Warren will improve the Cubs major league pitching talent and depth.
• The Yankees traded LHP Justin Wilson to the Detroit Tigers for two minor league pitchers, RHP Chad Green (AA) and RHP Luis Cessa (AA). This move appears to help address Detroit’s need for power bullpen arms, while continuing to rebuild the Yankees’ organizational pitching depth between the major and the Class A level. Both Green and Cessna could be assets that GM Brian Cashman leverages for a larger target – most likely a young, #1 or #2-type starting pitcher. LHPs Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos will get long looks from the Yankees in Spring Training, with the opportunity to serve as the second-lefty out of the bullpen, joining Chasen Shreve. RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Nick Rumbelow, and RHP Branden Pinder will also have opportunities to seize a bullpen job, in the wake of Wilson’s departure.
4) Around the MLB
• The Cubs also signed SP John Lackey (Cardinals) to a 2-year deal, and IF/OF Ben Zobrist (Royals) to a 4-year, $56M deal. The Cubs have been assertive in addressing their needs….2B Zobrist, CF Heyward, SP Lackey, SP/RP Warren…and have weakened the Cardinals in the process.
• The Diamondbacks acquired RHSP Shelby Miller and RHP Gabe Speier from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for OF Ender Inciarte, minor league RHP Aaron Blair, and 2015 #1 overall pick, SS Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt). The Diamondbacks have been hyper-aggressive with their moves for Greinke and Miller, but may have completely over-valued Miller, who I view as a middle-of-the rotation starter. In return, the Braves helped position themselves for a return to contention in the coming years – aligned with the timing of their move to a new stadium in Cobb County, GA (2017). Inciarte could be moved again this winter for more help, but if he stays he is a young, athletic OF who can hit for average and plays a tremendous LF. Blair, who reached AAA in ’15, was ranked as Arizona’s #3 prospect by most scouting services. And, Swanson, the #1 pick in last June’s first-year player draft, projects as a solid, strong-hitting major league SS.
• Minnesota Twins sign 1B/DH Byung Ho Park (South Korea) to a 4-year deal. Park hit 53 home runs in the KBO League (South Korean Professional Baseball League) with the Nexen Heroes in ’14. Park will likely DH, while power-hitting INF/OF Miguel Sano will move to RF. This will keep 3B Trevor Plouffe in place, building a projected Twin outfield of Eddie Rosario (LF) – Byron Buxton (CF) – Miguel Sano (RF). CF/SS Danny Santana is in reserve, and provides depth and flexibility.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at SpadoraOnSports.com.