It is fair to say that this off season has been less eventful than previous ones. That does not mean that there have not been impact moves made by teams. Some of these moves have been made by powerhouses making themselves even more dangerous, while others have been made by middling teams trying to put themselves over the top. In this post, I will be evaluating the notable moves made by each team in the National League Central over the past few months.
St. Louis Cardinals
Traded SS Aledmys Diaz (.582 REV) to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for minor league OF J.B. Woodman (.385 Potential REV).
Signed free agent RHP Miles Mikolas (.669 REV) to a two year, $15.5 million deal.
Traded OF Magneuris Sierra (.419 REV, .470 Potential REV), RHP Sandy Alcantara (.556 REV, .639 Potential REV), minor league LHP Daniel Castano (.568 Potential REV), and minor league RHP Zac Gallen (.682 Potential REV) to the Miami Marlins in exchange for OF Marcell Ozuna (.677 REV).
Signed free agent RHP Luke Gregerson (.544 REV) to a two year, $11 million deal.
Traded OF Stephen Piscotty (.600 REV) to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league 2B Max Schrock (.452 Potential REV) and SS Yairo Munoz (.456 REV, .469 Potential REV).
Traded OF Randal Grichuk (.636 REV) to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Dominic Leone (.395 REV) and RHP Conner Greene (.426 REV, .474 Potential REV).
The Cardinals have traded from major league depth to acquire more minor league depth, in addition to making one of the biggest impact moves of the winter.
The first of these trades came when the Cardinals sent 2017 disappointment, Aledmys Diaz to the Blue Jays for 2016 second round pick, J.B. Woodman. REV expects Diaz to return to his 2016 and minor league form, while it expects Woodman, who has not done too much in the lower minors, to not make it in the majors. It seems like the Cardinals may regret this one, but Diaz will probably get more of an opportunity in Toronto than he would in the near future with the Cardinals.
Miles Mikolas is one of the more interesting signings of the off season so far. After not having much success in the majors, Mikolas went to Japan and excelled for three seasons. As I have said before, projecting numbers from overseas to the major league level is difficult and not too reliable, but REV thinks his stats show that he will be a productive major league pitcher for the Cardinals in 2018. He does not get too many strikeouts, but he has elite strike throwing ability (83rd percentile Walk rating) and his average home run rate should be improved in a good ballpark to pitch in. Another thing going Mikolas’ way in the REV model is his 6.86 weighted innings per game, which puts him in the 97th percentile. He will round out what looks like a very strong Cardinals rotation.
The Cardinals made a power move, acquiring one of the best hitting outfielders from 2017 in Marcell Ozuna. Not fitting in the Marlins’ future plans because of salary commitments, the Cardinals were able to get two years of the power hitting left fielder for some good looking minor league talent. They were able to do this by trading three pitchers and an outfielder without depleting their organization too much, as they have seven starting pitchers ready to impact the major league team this year. Ozuna excels at the plate, with Contact and Power ratings over the 80th percentile. The biggest improvement to Ozuna’s game in 2017 was his approach. His walk rate increased from just 6.1% in 2015 to 9.4% in 2017. He has done a great job staying on the field, with 94th percentile Durability. This looks like it will be a good trade for both sides, and it will help the Cardinals compete in the National League for the next couple years.
After electing to allow former closers, Seung Hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal to become free agents, the Cardinals signed former Houston Astros closer, Luke Gregerson. With 93rd percentile Strikeout rating and 89th percentile Walk rating, expect Gregerson to bring his long time major league production to the team that drafted him in 2006.
The next two trades involve the Cardinals trading very talented outfielders because of the surplus of major league talent that they have at the position. The trade of Stephen Piscotty goes way beyond baseball operations, though. The Cardinals made a classy move by trading the 27 year old to the A’s to get him closer to home, where his mother is battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). From a baseball operations standpoint, the Cardinals were not likely to use Piscotty very much because the outfield spots will be filled by Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna, and Dexter Fowler, so he was expendable. The two middle infield prospects they got back look like they could be future major league bench pieces, with Yairo Munoz possibly getting a chance this season.
The Randal Grichuk trade has me shaking my head a little. Grichuk has not shown a very good approach or bat to ball skills, with Contact and Plate Discipline ratings in the 17th and 36th percentiles respectively, but he is a very toolsy outfielder. When he is able to make contact, he has 97th percentile power, in addition to him being a very good runner and fielder. Those tools would make him a very nice fourth outfielder, but the Cardinals decided to part ways with him to get some pitching depth. Dominic Leone has shown slightly above average strikeout stuff, but he does not throw enough strikes and he gives up too many long balls. Conner Greene has been a top 100 Baseball America prospect because of his stuff, but REV does not project him to strike very many guys out and he also walks too many hitters. I think his ceiling is as an average to below average major league relief pitcher. This seems like another trade that the Blue Jays may have won over the Cardinals.
Despite a couple questionable trades, I think the Cardinals have gotten better this off season and have positioned themselves back in the NL Central race.
Traded RHP Gerrit Cole (.846 REV) to the Houston Astros in exchange for RHP Michael Feliz (.420 REV, .435 Potential REV), 3B Colin Moran (.354 REV, .491 Potential REV), RHP Joe Musgrove (.630 REV), and minor league OF Jason Martin (.441 Potential REV).
Traded OF Andrew McCutchen (.704 REV) to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for RHP Kyle Crick (.355 REV, .403 Potential REV) and minor league OF Bryan Reynolds (.397 Potential REV).
The Pirates have had a relatively quiet off season in terms of quantity of notable transactions, but the moves they have made have been loud in terms of organizational impact. As a life long Pirates fan, I have seen a lot of negative comments about these two trades and the organization in general, so I am going to try to frame these trades in a more positive light, while remaining objective.
With just two years of control left, the Pirates felt that this off season was the best time to part ways with their former first overall pick, Gerrit Cole. I would say the majority of fans and the national baseball media would say that the return was very underwhelming for the Pirates’ ace. I will take a look at the two players most likely to make a significant impact on the team for the next few years.
Joe Musgrove is the best player the Pirates got in this deal and the one with the most major league playing time. If you take a look at how he compares to Gerrit Cole (see below), the pitcher he is replacing, you can see that despite the REV discrepancy, he is actually somewhat similar. The Pirates should expect the same kind of strikeout and walk output that Cole gave them, which are both over the 70th percentile. For the most part, the REV discrepancy comes from Home Run rating and the difference in weighted innings per game. I weigh innings more heavily toward this past season, so Musgrove takes a bit of a hit there because he pitched out of the Astros’ bullpen for the most part last year. However, in 16 starts between AAA and MLB last year, Musgrove averaged 5.3 innings per start and 5.56 innings per start over the past three years. Both of these are above the average innings per game (5.16) of starting pitchers. There is no reason to think that Musgrove is incapable of being a starting pitcher in the major leagues, but even as a one inning relief pitcher, he would be well average. The concerning part about Musgrove is his 12th percentile Home Run rating. While Minute Maid Park has consistently been one of the better pitcher ballparks according to park factor, the rate of home runs at the stadium has ranked in the top half in two out of the last three years. In the past two seasons, PNC Park has ranked in the bottom third, making it a very pitcher friendly park when it comes to home runs. This could mean that Musgrove will outplay his poor Home Run rating. REV thinks that Gerrit Cole will be a top ten pitcher in baseball this year, but while REV does not like Joe Musgrove nearly as much as Gerrit Cole, he has some pretty striking similarities that could lead to similar success.
The next most interesting piece the Pirates got in this trade is Colin Moran. When the Marlins selected Moran with the sixth pick of the 2013 draft, I remember there being a debate among scouts about who was the best bat in the draft, Moran or Kris Bryant. It’s pretty safe to say that Kris Bryant was, but Moran still has the potential to be a productive hitter at the major league level. At the moment, REV does not rate Moran very favorably, but he does have the potential to get a high rating in the future. If you filter similar numbers to Moran’s potential Contact, Power, Plate Discipline, and Base Running ratings in the REV spreadsheet, the outputted players are Stephen Piscotty, Yonder Alonso, and Stephen Vogt (see below). Alonso and Vogt are probably more applicable players because they are left handed and they hit better against right handed pitching. This is probably a better indication of what type of offensive player Moran will be than his raw Potential REV. When Carlos Correa got injured for an extended period of time last year, the Astros planned on giving the bulk of the playing time to Colin Moran, who was hitting .308/.373/.573 at AAA Fresno. All he did with that playing time was go three for six with a home run and a triple, until he fouled a ball off his face, broke a bone in his face, and suffered a concussion. If Moran had not suffered a freak injury, and continued playing well in the majors, this trade would be viewed a whole lot differently. I would expect his performance to reflect the REV of his similar players more than his own.
With just one year left on his contract, the Pirates decided to get some future value for their long time face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen. Sadly, the return does not look too great. Kyle Crick has a chance to provide some impact out of the bullpen, with an average Strikeout rating and elite Home Run rating in the Potential REV spreadsheet. His biggest problem that will likely hold him back is his walk rate. If he wants to be a successful big league relief pitcher, he needs to stop walking 15% of the batters he faces. He showed that he has some upside in his 30 games out of the Giants’ pen last year, so maybe he will continue that. Bryan Reynolds is an interesting piece. He was a second round pick in 2016 and has hit pretty well in his career in the lower minors. Despite that, he projects as an average hitter with below average power and on base skills. I see him as a bench player at the best.
The Pirates traded away their two best players, who did not have very much control, for some interesting, potential impact players. Joe Musgrove and Colin Moran look like solid starters at their positions, while Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick have a chance to be average contributors out of the bullpen.
Signed free agent RHP Jhoulys Chacin (.640 REV) to a two year, $15.5 million deal.
Signed free agent RHP Yovani Gallardo (.465 REV) to a one year, $2 million deal.
Signed free agent LHP Boone Logan (.404 REV) to a one year, $2.5 million deal.
Traded OF Lewis Brinson (.522 REV, .686 Potential REV), minor league 2B Isan Diaz, minor league OF Monte Harrison, and minor league RHP Jordan Yamamoto to the Miami Marlins in exchange for OF Chritsian Yelich (.810 REV).
Signed free agent OF Lorenzo Cain (.709 REV) to a five year, $80 million deal.
Signed free agent RHP Matt Albers (.312 REV) to a two year, $5 million deal.
The Brewers have been one of the most active teams on the free agent market in this relatively slow year, in addition to making one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the off season.
Since the Brewers have made a splash on the relief pitcher market, I will attack all three in one paragraph. Based on his REV, Yovani Gallardo looks like a well below average starting pitcher, but an above average relief pitcher. However, if you dig deeper, you will notice that his weighted innings per game make up a whopping 37% of his REV. This is because 78 of his 84 games over the past three seasons have been starts. Whether the Brewers use him as a starter or a reliever, his below average rate stats make him a below average option. Despite Boone Logan’s 86th percentile Strikeout rating and 69th percentile Home Run rating, his frequent role as a left handed specialist brings his REV down. He should get the job done in left on left situations, as he has in the past, but there is not a ton of value in those kind of relief pitchers. Matt Albers had the best season of his career in 2017, but REV expects his home run rate to elevate in the hitter friendly Miller Park, and his strikeout rate to decrease. He is likely a well below average relief pitcher in terms of value.
Jhoulys Chacin is an interesting, relatively low risk signing for a Brewers team that needs some consistent starting pitching. His peripherals rate above average across the board, but I would expect his Home Run rating to get worse in Miller Park this year. He should give the Brewers a solid 170 innings and five innings just about every time out.
In perhaps the biggest blockbuster of the off season, the Brewers acquired four years of one of the best players in baseball, Christian Yelich. I like this trade a lot for both sides, but I am going to focus on Yelich in this piece, and focus on the prospects in my analysis of the Marlins in my next post. The Brewers will likely get the best years of an already top 15 player according to REV. He is a terrific offensive player, with Contact, Power, Plate Discipline, Speed, and Base Running ratings all ranking above the 65th percentile. There is still room for his power to grow, moving from the spacious Marlins Park to the launching pad that is Miller Park. It is scary to think about how good Yelich will be if he starts hitting more home runs, in addition to his other elite offensive tools. His 31st percentile Fielding rating fits much better in left field, where the Brewers will likely play him. This was a great acquisition for a Brewers team trying to get over the hump and win the NL Central.
The same night that the Brewers announced the Yelich trade, they also reportedly signed the player who REV thought was the best position player on the free agent market, Lorenzo Cain. Like Yelich, Cain rates above average in every offensive category, with his 95th percentile Contact and Speed ratings being his best tools. The signing of Cain is what allows the Brewers to move Yelich to left field because Cain rates as one of the best defenders in baseball, as he ranks in the 98th percentile in Fielding rating. His age puts him in the 9th percentile, which could mean he is due for some regression over the course of his five year deal, but his tools should be able to provide enough value to make this deal worthwhile.
While REV does not think the Brewers’ relief pitcher signings will pan out, they added plenty of value this off season with two of the splashiest moves. The signing of Cain and the trade for Yelich put the Brewers in a competition with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Angels for the best outfield in baseball. The may need to acquire another front line starting pitcher to pass the Chicago Cubs in the Central, but they have certainly improved their team this off season.
Signed free agent RHP Jared Hughes (.420 REV) to a two year, $4.5 million deal.
Signed free agent RHP David Hernandez (.478 REV) to a two year, $5 million deal.
Still rebuilding, the Reds did not make very many impactful moves, other than letting the likes of Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, and Drew Storen become free agents.
In Jared Hughes, the Reds are getting a solid ground ball pitcher (97th percentile Home Run rating), who can perform well in high leverage situations (94th percentile Clutch rating). He rates as slightly below average, but he should stick around for the entire season and be effective.
David Hernandez is a little bit different. Unlike Hughes, Hernandez has the ability to get a high rate of strikeouts (86th percentile Strikeout rating). His 79th percentile Walk rating indicates that he will not allow too many runners to reach base via the base on balls, but he gives up a few too many home runs (42nd percentile Home Run rating), which is not a good sign in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark. Hernandez will also provide a good amount of value out of the pen for the Reds.
I do not really fault the Reds for their lack of moves because they are sticking to their rebuilding plans. The signings of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez just fill in a couple spots in the bullpen for the next two years, while the Reds try to build their team back to relevancy.
Signed free agent RHP Tyler Chatwood (.550 REV) to a three year, $38 million deal.
Signed free agent RHP Brandon Morrow (.443 REV) to a two year, $21 million deal.
Signed free agent LHP Drew Smyly (.611 REV) to a two year, $10 million deal.
Signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek (.537 REV) to a two year, $13 million deal.
Re-signed free agent LHP Brian Duensing (.487 REV) to a two year, $7 million deal.
When the free agent signing period began, the Cubs knew that they had to replace starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, closer Wade Davis, relief pitcher Brian Duensing, outfielder Jon Jay, starting pitcher John Lackey, and relief pitcher Koji Uehara. They added to this list when they non-tendered relief pitcher Hector Rondon. They have made quite a few signings. Let’s see if they have done enough to replace a good portion of the players that won them their second consecutive division title.
I am not sure if I would call spending over $12 million for three years of a guy coming off a poor season a “buy low.” Nonetheless, that is probably how the Cubs view Tyler Chatwood. After missing all of 2015, he has not topped the 160 innings plateau in either of the past two seasons. In addition to this, he has well below average Strikeout and Walk ratings. Being low in both of those categories is never a good sign for pitchers. That indicates that he does not throw enough strikes, but when he does, they get put in play. Starting pitchers have to have a pretty high REV of .590 to be considered average starters on a 40 man roster. Chatwood falls a ways below that. Maybe the Cubs’ staff sees something they can work on with him, but I do not see him being a viable replacement for either Jake Arrieta or John Lackey.
While the Cubs bought low on Tyler Chatwood, they definitely bought high on Brandon Morrow. Morrow is coming off an excellent season in which he struck out over 29% of the batters he faced and gave up zero home runs. Before giving him a high rating, REV would like to see him do it again for a full season. In the two seasons prior to 2017, Morrow pitched just 49 major league innings in which he struck out just 5.7 hitters per nine innings. This is the main reason why he sits in the 38th percentile in Strikeout rating. His elite Walk rating and his above average Home Run rating make him an above average relief pitcher, but I am not sure if he is the relief ace that the Cubs want him to be. He does rank in the 98th percentile in Clutch, so maybe he can be.
REV believes the Cubs’ best free agent signing so far this off season is Drew Smyly. Unfortunately, he is not likely to pitch much, if at all, this season. He had Tommy John Surgery in June of 2017, so he will be out until at least June of this year. Hopefully he is able to come back at some point this season because he has elite Strikeout and Walk ratings.
With elite Strikeout and Home Run ratings, Steve Cishek looks like a great signing for the Cubs and a possible option for the closer role. Cishek appears to be one of the better options in a decent Cubs bullpen.
The Cubs made a wise move to bring back the left handed Brian Duensing, who did a nice job out of the pen last year. While he usually does not strike out too many guys, Duensing limits his walks and rarely allows a home run (88th percentile Home Run rating). His 94th percentile Clutch score indicates that he is a good option in high leverage situations where you might need a ground ball.
The Cubs have focused on pitching on the free agent market so far. However, they do not appear to have replaced the two starting pitchers whom they lost to free agency, unless they believe in a combination of Alec Mills, Tyler Chatwood, and Jen Ho Tseng. They could probably use a replacement for Jon Jay, who produced in a bench outfielder role last year, but their team still looks just about as good as anybody in the National League.
The National League Central has had its share of impact moves so far this off season. The winner of the off season so far is a battle between the Cardinals and Brewers. While the Brewers have made two of the biggest moves of the off season, the Cardinals sold from positions of depth and addressed needs in the rotation and the back end of the bullpen, as well as gaining depth in their minor league system. While I do not agree with the decision to trade Randal Grichuk, they did not feel like he was a starting caliber outfielder, so they made a big move to acquire Marcell Ozuna, while retaining Jose Martinez, who is a .600 player with room to grow. While the Reds have not done much so far, they know where they stand and are sticking to their plan. This is a reason why I consider the Pirates’ as the worst off season so far. They traded their best position player and pitcher, but still sit in no man’s land. My early projections agree with Fangraphs in believing that the Pirates will win around 79 games. This means they should either try to sign a few players that will bring them closer to Wild Card contention, or commit to a full rebuild and trade assets like Josh Harrison, Ivan Nova, Francisco Cervelli, and Jordy Mercer for more interesting pieces that could help in the near future. There is not much time before Spring Training begins, but there is still a plentiful amount of free agents available.
Next up is the National League East!
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