NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — It’s probably unfair to determine winners and losers from a four-day December stay in a convention hotel by the shore of the Potomac River. Talk about your small sample sizes.
But we’re still more than two months from the start of spring training, and there’s really nothing else to keep score of, so anything and everything that went down last week at baseball’s winter meetings is fair game. Consider this your wrap-up show, just in case you stepped away from MLB Network’s unblinking coverage for a few minutes to maybe eat or use the bathroom.
One disclaimer. There’s plenty more time left in this offseason, so just because the Mets weren’t able to trade an outfielder during the winter meetings, or the Yankees couldn’t secure a starting pitcher, that doesn’t mean this stuff is over. Not by a long shot.
Anyway, here’s our list of the winners and losers, not in any particular order.
Aroldis Chapman getting $86 million over five years from the Yankees (with an opt out after three) and the Giants signing Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62-million deal (with a two-year opt out) is beneficial to more than just closers, although Kenley Jansen should capitalize huge on the Chapman deal. Those mega-contracts will have a trickle-down effect for the entire relief pool, especially for those who profile as future closers or capable fill-ins. We witnessed the value of bullpens skyrocket during October, and last week we found out how high that could get.
They got Chris Sale. What more needs to be said, right? General manager Dave Dombrowski sacrificed two high-grade prospects in the four-player package, including the top-ranked Yoan Moncada. But not only is Sale one of the best pitchers in the game, he’s under team control for three more years, for just $38 million. Ridiculous. And Boston added two more helpful players in first baseman Mitch Moreland and reliever Tyler Thornburg. Seems that first-round sweep to Terry Francona stung a little.
Only a month removed from the hysteria of their first World Series win since 1908, the Cubs were sober enough to pry reliever extraordinaire Wade Davis from the Royals for Jorge Soler, a talented young outfielder but a piece they really don’t need for this title defense. Davis, with a 1.18 ERA over the the past three seasons, was needed to take over for Chapman, and the Cubs only have to pay him $10 million to do it this year before he becomes a free agent.
The haul for Chris Sale was great, and restocking with Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech — a Noah Syndergaard comp — was an excellent start to the rebuilding process they kicked off at the winter meetings. But following that with the Adam Eaton deal is what made their week really impressive. For Eaton, a solid top of the order threat and good defensive outfielder, the White Sox got the Nats’ top two pitchingprospects in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. With the steep price for pitching these days, the Sox did very well.
BASEBALL WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
Sorry to toot our own horns here, but for a media organization that tends to get ripped far more than praised, my colleagues got a few big things right last week. First off, the esteemed Claire Smith, a longtime pillar of baseball writing, was voted as the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award, the first woman to earn that recognition in its 54-year history. She will be honored during next July’s Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown. Additionally, the BBWAA also voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public next year, seven days after the Class of 2018 is announced. The measure passed, 80-9. Until now, it had been voluntary.
Speaking of Cooperstown, Selig also got in last week, thanks to the 16-member Today’s Game Era Committee, a group made up of Hall of Famers, baseball executives and reporters. There was little doubt the former commissioner would make the cut, despite a controversial resume smudged by collusion and his permissive stance, initially, during the explosion of steroids in the sport. Bottom line, baseball grew exponentially during his 24-year reign, and Selig remains incredibly popular among just about everyone in the game.
Huh? This might be a bit confusing, but we’re just using A-Rod as an example of the steroid-tainted players who now stand to benefit by Selig being voted into Cooperstown. Given the “character” clause included in the Hall of Fame criteria, there was immediate backlash after the Selig news, with many feeling that he shouldn’t be allowed in (collusion, PEDs) if others like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are penalized for their own bad behavior. A growing number of HOF voters already have said they will flip their PED stance and vote for suspected (or confirmed) users because the special committee was lenient with Selig. By the time A-Rod is eligible in five years, he could be joining Bonds and Clemens in the Hall, if this movement grows considerably.
Brian Cashman couldn’t say it enough last week about how much he loves Betances. And before agreeing to that $86-million deal with Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees GM also repeatedly mentioned that he would be totally comfortable using Betances as closer if the Yankees weren’t able to sign one of the Big Three available. Well, they did, and that means Betances — already one of the game’s most dominant relievers — is stuck in a setup role for at least the next three years, and possibly five if Chapman chooses not to opt out. At age 28, that’s tough to swallow.
This designation comes with an asterisk because Sandy Alderson already had signed Yoenis Cespedes, the team’s No. 1 target, in the week leading up to the winter meetings. But for all the conversations with other clubs, the Mets still left Maryland with Jay Bruce on their roster and a hole in the bullpen that will need to be filled somehow — especially at the start of the season, when Jeurys Familia is likely to be suspended.
With the free-agent dominoes starting to fall, Encarnacion figured to be well-positioned to get some kind of deal done at the winter meetings, especially coming off the Cespedes signing a fews days earlier. But his market shrunk in a hurry when the Yankees signed Matt Holliday, the Red Sox traded for Mitch Moreland and the Astros picked up Carlos Beltran. Even his former team, the Blue Jays, acquired both Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce to help replace him.
Let’s face it. The Boss may never get into the Hall of Fame, because of his suspension and unseemly behavior, but he deserves more support than he got in failing for the third time at last week’s vote by the Today’s Game Era committee. Steinbrenner was among the group that received less than five votes from the 16-member group, another disappointing bid by a baseball titan who — like him or not — should probably be in Cooperstown.
There’s two ways to look at the fact that the former MVP — for now — is staying put despite the Pirates floating him in trade discussions during the winter meetings. One, McCutchen is happy in Pittsburgh and was relieved that he is still a Pirate. That’s good. Or two, McCutchen now knows that he was on the block, and is going to be suspicious of the Pirates, feeling that his days are numbered on the only team he’s ever played for. That’s bad. Regardless of GM Neal Huntington restating his commitment to McCutchen, he’ll probably find a taker at some point.