Hello and welcome to the 144th Annual Least Productive Offseason Awards, or, as it's called in the trades, LEAPROS. It's always an honor and privilege to give out these awards and this year we have a number of nominees, each more deserving than the last. Come on, give these teams a big round of applause.
Because in an offseason featuring a constant, whirling, terrifying flurry of activity, what with the Yankees grabbing up every free agent under the sun, Alex Rodriguez lawsuits, Clayton Kershaw's record breaking contract, and even Ty Wigginton returning on a minor league invite to the Marlins, it's been a hell of a time.
But some teams preferred to put the off back in offseason, choosing instead to be humble, letting the other teams fill the newspaper column space and get the limelight.
So, like Thoreau in Walden, or your grandfather when his cable modem died in 2008, what teams did the best at unplugging from the modern world and quietly taking in the offseason?
What is [not] going on in Baltimore?
An offseason of inaction is approaching the point of no return. Will Bridget Fonda make it through what is to come in one piece?
The Orioles' offseason hasn't actually been as quiet as some other teams on the list, but their signings are less about a splash than they are treading water, Dan Duquette rapidly pumping his arms and with reckless abandon but getting nowhere.
Already this year, there have been two deals, one with Grant Balfour and another with Tyler Colvin, that went sour after the medical records were reviewed. Considering that these are normally a formality, and that Grant Balfour went on to sign another deal, these have been looked at as a sign of Peter Angelos' constant meddling, like how Scooby-Doo was always getting in the way of those villains. The effect has already been seen with rumors that Bronson Arroyo's signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks could be because he didn't want to risk something showing up in his medicals, watching his other major league offers dry up along the way.
Beyond these deals, Dan Duquette, perhaps hamstrung by Angelos' mood swings, has been handing out minor league deals like they were FroYo coupons, signing any player with at least the hope of something left.
A sampling of these players:
Cord Phelps (A real name, I assure you)
I could go on, but even on the internet, there's a word limit.
This all fits with Duquette's MO of constantly churning through minor league players in hopes of finding the right piece. As noted by Ben Lindbergh in the this year's Baseball Prospectus Annual, Dan Duquette has lead the league in "contracts selected," or the calling up of minor league players not on the 40 man roster, over the last two years with 39, a sign usually associated with a losing team.
While that method has worked for the hitters, the Orioles starting staff is still weak, filled with middle-to-back of the rotation options like Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yen Chen, and Bud Norris. They'll look to Chris Tillman, coming off his first 200 inning season to lead the team and hope that Kevin Gausman's 5.66 ERA in 47.2 innings last season was just a rookie's first struggles against big league hitters.
There's rumor that the Orioles are in on Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, and the signing of one of them would strike them from this list, but even then it may not be enough in a difficult AL East. Sadly, the Orioles, fielding their best teams since the mid-90s, may end up wasting all their talent on a series of 80-something win seasons.
Key Subtractions: J.P. Arencibia, Josh Johnson
Last year, Alex Anthopoulos was the cool guy in high school whose parents were gone for the weekend. He opened the door, sunglasses on, hawaiian shirt open to the navel, with a case of beer under his arm, yelling, "Come on in! Everyone's welcome! Let's get wild!"
This year, Alex Anthopoulos is the cool guy in high school after his parents have come home early and he's now grounded, forced to clean out the pool's filter filled with hair extensions and puke.
After bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, the Kraken, a guy with a really cool bar that he built in his basement, and Melky Cabrera, the Blue Jays stumbled to a 74-88 record, good for last place in the AL East.
So this offseason, rather than to continue to consume, Anthopoulos brought in...Dioner Navarro. And that's about it. While Navarro is coming off of his best season (.300/.365/.492) with his most plate appearances (266) since 2010, there's no guarantee that he's going to be much of an upgrade over J.P. Arencibia. Just compare the two, Arencibia's disastrous 2013 compared to Navarro's numbers before 2013. They're frighteningly similar.
Arencibia, 2013: .194/.227/.365, 21 HR in 497 PA
Navarro, 2009-2012: .215/.270/.323, 16 HR in 827 PA
After the Yankees spent $345 million, the Red Sox fresh from a World Series victory, and the Rays once againloaded with cost-controlled talent, it will take a lot for the Blue Jays to be contend this year. With most of their minor league talent in the low minors, the Blue Jays are hoping for bounce back and healthy campaigns from their acquisitions last year, a strong return from Brandon Morrow, and that #2 prospect Marcus Stroman can reach the team and contribute.
While it's commendable that Anthopoulos, perhaps in his last season as the general manager, hasn't made any last gasp moves to save his job, it may not help him when his year-end evaluation is due. But seriously, killer party, brah.
Key Subtractions: Shin Soo-Choo, Bronson Arroyo, Ryan Hanigan
I suppose we could sit here all day and debate if those "key additions" are actually key additions, but if I didn't list those players, I wouldn't have anything to list at all. Don't get me wrong, Skip Schumaker and Bryan Pena are solid bench players, and if we are to believe every ballplayer in the history of the sport, these types of players make a larger difference than what shows up in WAR, but still, you don't punch a ticket to the World Series on the backs of your bench.
It doesn't help that last season, despite winning 92 games and losing in the coin flip that is the Wild Card game to the Pirates, that the Reds had only three regulars with an OPS+ over 100. That would be Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and the now gone, Shin-Soo Choo.
Votto is a Canadian baseball god with plate discipline so fine he can see the baseball's molecular structure, so he can be expected to replicate that performance for another year. Jay Bruce has been remarkably consistent over the last three years, hitting between 30 and 34 home runs with an OPS ranging from .807 to .841, so you can count on him again. Finding a replacement for Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 OBP will be more difficult, though.
While the team hopes for a comeback from Brandon Phillips, he will be a 33-year-old with poor plate discipline playing a difficult defensive position, often finding himself in harm's way. Young players can usually get away with that, while older players tend to find themselves wracking up strikeouts and stints on the disabled list.
Todd Frazier can be expected to provide some power, but it's important to remember that despite only two full seasons under his belt, he'll be 28 years old next year, a year older than Jay Bruce.
Fortunately for the Reds, their rotation looks to be strong with (hopefully) full seasons from Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani joining Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, and Mike Leake. While that's a strong front five, the loss of Bronson Arroyo, despite all of the home runs the woogly-legged pitcher surrenders, will be a big one, the 200 innings he provided every year having plenty of value, especially as rotations rarely make it through a full year without needing reinforcements.
If they do need one, the Reds will look to top prospect Robert Stephenson, hoping that he'll join Jose Fernandez, another high school pitcher selected in the 2011 draft, as a future staff ace. But it's important to note that Stephenson, after moving through three levels last year, has only pitched 16.2 innings in AA and could need more seasoning.
There is one more move the Reds could consider: trade Homer Bailey and begin rebuilding, or hope that they have enough pieces left over from a team that has won 90+ games in three of the last four seasons for the first time since the Big Red Machine, to make another run for it. Perhaps helping the Reds stand pat and push for a title is their NL Central partner and final team on our list:
Key Subtractions: AJ Burnett?, Garrett Jones, Mike McKenry
Last year, the Pirates ended their streak of futility, riding an MVP season from Andrew McCutchen and a comeback season from Francisco Liriano to a 94 win season and a playoff berth, uniting the town and giving baseball fan's all over a feel good story. efore the offseason is even over, all that goodwill has been used up as the Pirates have done little to address their issues in the rotation or at first base.
After striking gold with Francisco Liriano last year, watching him go 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and picking up his second comeback player of the year award (They should really have retitled it the Comeback Comeback Player of the Year), Huntington, in a fit of hubris, went and signed Edinson Volquez, hoping that pitching guru Jim Benedict could once again work his magic. Of course, Volquez hasn't had a season with a league average ERA since 2008, so perhaps he's too far gone for a resurrection.
But the real news has been the handling of AJ Burnett. At the end of the year, it seemed that AJ Burnett was going to choose either the Pirates or retirement, Neal Huntington not offering a qualifying offer of $14.1 million to Burnett, either out of respect for his retirement decision or because the Pirates couldn't afford Burnett's services.
But with the Pirates unwilling to pay market price, AJ Burnett has been testing the market, with a number of teams like the Orioles, Phillies, Rays, and others sniffing around the player whose 107 ERA+ over the last two years could make him the best free agent pitcher left on the market.
Perhaps the Pirates don't feel they need a pitcher of Burnett's caliber, content with the in-house options and the hope that Jameson Taillon will be ready by midseason, but with the money from the league wide TV deal, a sold out stadium, and years of low payrolls with the promise that the money would be there when the Pirates were ready to spend, it seems a little disingenuous.
Add in the current first base situation, with lefty-mashing Gaby Sanchez being joined by either Andrew Lambo (33 home runs between AA, AAA, and the majors last year, albeit with a 30% K rate) or Chris McGuiness, a 26-year-old with a .423 SLG in AAA last year, and there are issues that will need to be addressed this spring.
For a team that struggled scoring runs last year, scoring the 20th least in the majors and the fewest among any postseason club, that's a tough pill to swallow and a lot of weight being rested on Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and the two-headed monster of Liriano and Gerrit Cole at the front of the rotation.
So who's it going to be? Who will take home the heralded LEAPRO award? While each nominee has made a strong case, you'll need to tune in on March 31st, Opening Day, for your answer.
- Michael Brantley extension: Securing established adequacy
- How would you fix the MLB draft?
- What is [not] going on in Baltimore?
- Indians sign Michael Brantley to 4-year, $25 million extension
- Royals request unconditional release waivers on Emilio Bonifacio
- Rangers sign Tommy Hanson to 1-year, $2 million deal
- Who will be the best value signing of the offseason?
- Johan Santana making progress in rehab
- Fixing the MLB Amateur Draft
- Dodgers get great value in Maholm