Off-Season Grades on Four Teams

With it being the weekend of pitchers and catchers reporting, it means a couple things to me. One being that my boy Punxsutawney Phil wiggled (was viciously grabbed) his way out of his cage/hole to show the world how beautiful he is last week. Secondly, it means baseball is that much closer to opening day. With Football out of the picture now, besides the XFL of course, and with Basketball being irrelevant it gives us baseball fans something to get going about.

Anyways, I do not want to have a full blown conversation about this off-season as a whole because it would have to be a deep dive of sorts to put each topic under the microscope and dissect it inside and out. I will eventually get to it but for now, I would like to discuss some key off-season trades and signings for some teams and declare them with my ultimate reasoning powers winners or losers of the off-season so far.

Braves

Key Off-Season Additions– Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Travis D’Arnuad, Will Smith, Felix Hernandez, Adeny Hechavarria

Key Off-Season Loses Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Matt Joyce, Brian McCann, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins, Julio Teheran

Where else would I start? Maybe the Rays but this works just fine. After losing the bidding war for former MVP Josh Donaldson, who did revive his career after putting up a .259/.379/.521 slash line with 37 home runs, 94 RBI’s, 96 runs, and exactly 100 walks, the Braves had to go out and fill the void at the clean up spot and I think they did just that. Former Cardinals left fielder, Marcell Ozuna, was signed to a one year contract worth $18 million to play left field and most likely bat fourth with Braves manager, Brian Snitker, coming out and announcing that the great Ronald Acuna will be holding down the leadoff spot. Ozuna is coming off a season that started off rather slow and although his contact and average wasn’t there the power sure was as he slugged 29 home runs, 89 RBI’s, had a slugging % of .472 and an even .800 OPS. Ozuna has never really been a base stealer in his career but at the ripe age of 28 Ozuna showed the wheels off a little last year by stealing a career a career high 12 bases and almost doubling his career total all in one year. He did show a negative dWAR (defensive WAR) for the third time in his career at -.4 and also showed a below average range factor at 1.50 as the league average sat at 2.04 but Ozuna is not getting paid to play great defense. The Braves also signed former Ray great Travis D’Arnaud to start at catcher with Tyler Flowers as the backup. D’Arnaud really took advantage of the magic that happens in Tampa Bay to all new players that come onboard and spun it into a two-year $8 million contract. Not bad for  guy who many counted as a failure to a degree after coming to the Mets as a top catching prospect.

The Braves also upgraded a bullpen that finished 21st out of 30 teams in terms of WAR which came in at 1.1 according to Fangraphs but finished 11th in the league in terms of ERA with a 4.21 mark. Not terrible, but not great. To try and help that, the Braves traded late last season for former Rangers reliever Chris Martin who pitched really well for the Rangers before the trade holding a 3.08 ERA. When joining the Braves, Martin ended up with a 4.08 in 20 games while pitching 17.2 innings but striking out 22 in the process showing he’s got swing and miss stuff. Martin was then re-signed to a two-year deal this off-season along with another great reliever who should also add some fire power toward the end of the year, former San Francisco Giants lefty, Will Smith. Upon the signing of Smith, reports from The Athletics Dave O’ Brien said, even with the large signing, three years $39 million, Mark Melancon would still operate as the closer to begin the season. With that news, not smart as it is, it should mean Will Smith should be used in a Andrew Miller like role which is more situational and whatever the opportunity presents at that moment.

And for the rotation, the Braves have signed veteran Cole Hamels who seems to be bouncing around the league to try and find himself another World Series before it’s too late and he might have found himself one. It was just announced on the 12th of February by Braves Insider David O’ Brien that Hamels will not be ready for opening day as of now so hopefully this shoulder issue does not linger.

Grade: A-

No idea what scale I’m going off of here but I imagine, just like anything, it is tough to be perfect but the Braves came pretty damn close this off-season. With the replacement of Josh Donaldson in Marcell Ozuna, who is no Josh Donny, and the additions to the bullpen as well as D’Arnaud at catcher, the Braves seemed to check all– if not most– of all the boxes needing to be filled coming into the season.

Phillies

Key Off-Season Additions– Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler, Josh Harrison, Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker

Key Off-Season Loses- Maikel Franco, Ceaser Hernandez, Odulbel Herrera, Pat Neshek, Jason Vargas

Sticking to the NL East, the Phillies, just like last season, made some noise this off-season.

Mostly sticking to the big names in the free agent market, the Phillies capitalized on improving it’s rotation as well as improving their infield in the process.

We will start with the signing of former Met – Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was long rumored to be traded before the trade deadline last year before the Mets went on a little but too late run last season but ultimately ended up exchanging his former blue uniform for red. Wheeler signed a five year deal for $118 million and will most likely slide into the number two spot into the rotation behind former LSU star, Aaron Nola. Thus giving the Phillies a solid top three in the rotation with Jake Arrieta in the three slot. The Phillies bullpen is still lacking a tad as Hector Neris seems to be starting the season as closer until Seranthony Dominguez takes over eventually. Speaking of the bullpen, the Phillies did add a lefty with a name you might recognize– Francisco Liriano. Before Liriano, the Phillies lefties were/are Adam Morgan- 3.94 ERA through 40 appearances with 29 strikeouts and 10 walks in 29.2 innings– and Jose Alvarez. With the addition of Liriano, the Phillies should be doing just fine in the bullpen in terms of lefties this year barring any injury.

As for the offensive side this year, the Phillies added a bundle of names that seasoned baseball fans should recognize. I will start with the man who will most likely make the most impact this year in the NL and that man is Sir Didi Gregorius. The Phillies were blessed with a man that could already handle shortstop plus some, Jean Segura, who I might add is an exceptional hitter– and what did they do? They went bold and added Didi Gregorius, one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball sliding Segura over to second base. Can’t call them greedy when capitalizing on an opportunity. With Didi in the lineup, he should slide in front of or in between Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins creating more opportunities for either man. With Hoskins leading the National League in walks last year with a whooping 116, maybe those walks will translate into more RBI’s given where each man is placed in the lineup.

Along with Didi, the Phillies also added veteran utility infielders Josh Harrison– who finished 2018-2019 with 133 games played, and a slash line of .229/.272/.335–  Neil Walker who finished 2019 with a slash line of .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs, 38 RBI’s, and 37 runs. The last veteran the Phillies added was another former Ray Great, Logan Forsythe. Forsythe hasn’t been very productive since his years with the great Tampa Bay Rays but was given an opportunity last year in Texas to which he slashed .227/.325/.353 with seven home runs, 39 RBI’s, and 17 doubles through 101 games. All these veterans should rotate throughout the year depending on matchups after the loses of long time Phillies Maikel Franco and Ceaser Hernandez were not retained this off-season.

Grade: B

After the Phillies big off-season last year, it seemed to be more of the same as they signed the third most expensive pitcher this off-season and the top shortstop on the market. The Phillies could have maybe went out and got another late inning arm to help Hector Neris and Seranthony Dominguez but for now they seem to be comfortable entering the 2020 season with those two in the 8-9 inning slots. Possibly Jose Alvarez could be in the mix depending on the matchups presented later in the game. The Phillies did nothing to hurt themselves this off-season and should once again be battling the Braves for the NL East title. Sorry Mets. 🙂

Rays

Key Off-Season Additions– Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Jose Martinez, Manuel Margot, Randy Arozarena

Key Off-Season Loses– Eric Sogard, Travis D’ Arnaud, Avisail Garcia, Matt Duffy, Jesus Aguilar, Tommy Pham

The Rays are always one of the teams during the off-season that when they make moves to any degree it usually ends in a cocked-head look like a dog trying to figure out a noise. This off-season was no different.

The Rays team always ends up being solid. No matter what moves they make, good or bad, it usually always ends up in some type of magic coming out of Tampa Bay. After finishing 96-66 and finishing 2nd in the AL East, the Rays went on to beat the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card round and then go on to lose 3-2 in a series against the *cheating* Astros in a hard fought series. So far this off-season has been another eventful one for Rays fans.

The Rays made almost no improvements upon a rotation is deep with talent and depth as well as not making too much noise in the bullpen either. What the Rays DID do was sign a Japanese stud who just four years ago hit 44 home runs for his native lands team and last year slashed .272/.388/.511 with 24 home runs, 79 RBI’s, 24 doubles and 88 walks through 131 games. Tsutsugo’s stats have declined in the last four years but has displayed great on base ability and has the ability to play the corner outfield spots as well as the corner infield spots and should be a very valuable player in the Rays system.

With the loss of Tommy Pham, it will eventually hurt as Pham was a huge part of the Rays success but with the additions of power threats, Hunter Renfore and Jose Martinez, hopefully it will balance itself out. Martinez seems to be without a position as he is a very weak outfielder and not the greatest first baseman, but with the move to the American League Martinez should take full advantage of the DH. Renfroe has played his whole career in one of baseballs most pitcher friendly parks and still managed to hit 33 home runs. However, as the power is great, his slash line of .216/.289/.489 leaves a lot to be desired. As we all know, or should know, when players come to Tampa Bay magic happens. Even though Disney is in Orlando about an hour and half from Tampa Bay magic seems more prevalent in Tampa Bay in the great Tropicana Field. Shout out the Trop.

Grade: C+

It was a pretty solid and usually quiet off-season for the Rays but the Rays really should have re-signed D’Arnaud or at least went out and tried to find a better option behind the plate rather than let Mike Zunino hit around the Mendoza line and play decent defense. No disrespect to Zunino as he seems like a great guy but a tandem catching situation would treat the Rays well. The addition of power bats and great overall hitters should also do well for the Rays but they have lost a bit of speed. Hopefully Austin Meadows can display his skill in back to back years and Tyler Glasnow can stay healthy for a whole season to show what he can do with a full season. Wish the Rays would have went out and grabbed another bullpen arm or two but the Rays always seem to figure it out.

Twins

Key Off-Season Additions– Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Tyler Clippard, Joey Krehbiel, Rich Hill, Alex Avila, Sergio Romo

Key Off-Season Subtractions– Jason Castro, Sam Dyson, Jonathan Schoop, Kyle Gibson, C.J. Cron, Brusdar Graterol

The Twins had a great 2019 season and look forward to building upon their success that saw them take the AL Central title and then immediately get swept by the New York Yankees.

With the breakout season from Max Kepler- .252/.336/.519 36 home runs, 90 RBI’s 98 runs– Jorge Polanco with an All-Star campaign under his belt, Eddie Rosario building off an already great 2018 with an even BETTER 2019 and Miguel Sano starting off 2020 healthy the offense is set to make opposing pitchers a very unhappy bunch starting off the 2020 season. Did I forget someone? Oh yeah, the addition of former MVP Josh Donaldson who signed a four year $92 million contract this off-season. This offense looks potent from the outside and should do a lot of damage this upcoming season and should be exciting to watch.

With the loss of starter Kyle Gibson, the Twins needed at least one starter to fill the void. Instead of stopping at the addition of Homer Bailey and Rich Hill, the Twins got bold as hell and decided it wasn’t enough and signed former Dodger, Kenta Maeda. With the addition of Maeda, who went 10-8 through 26 starts with a 4.04 ERA, 1.074 WHIP and 169 strikeouts through 153.2 inning, that solidifies an already strong rotation to an even stronger rotation and with the flexibility of Maeda to pitch in relief as well, it gives the Twins options. The bullpen also was a strong point in 2019 and only got stronger with the additions of Tyler Clippard and star-to-be Joey Krehbiel.

Grade: B

The Twins  are looking as strong as they did in 2019 after leading baseball in home runs hit with 307 and now with an even stronger rotation the Twins should be a scary team to play against. With the addition of Josh Donaldson as well as starters Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Homer Bailey the Twins seem deeper than last year which could maybe put them over the top during the 2020 playoffs. Only time will tell.

SIGNATURE JD

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