This past winter saw droves of MLB players test their value on the open market, and while the previous offseason saw players get frozen out of what they should have been paid, this winter saw players be able to finally recoup some of that lost value from last offseason.
According to Spotrac, over $3 billion has been spent across the entire league of baseball on free agents this winter alone, covering players that were resigned or extended, external free agents joining a new team, or players that did not have to go to arbitration and agreed upon a contract for the 2020 season. An outrageous number spearheaded by Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg all signed contracts valued at $200+ million apiece, the MLB looks to be handling its so-called ‘revenue’ problem in a very interesting way.
Big-name players besides Cole, Rendon, and Strasburg did make transitions onto new teams and even new leagues, as Adam Jones made the transition from suiting up for the Arizona Diamondbacks to going overseas and becoming a member of the Orix Buffaloes in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization in Japan. While none of the five players on this list represent MLB transplants overseas, there is a foreign twist to the article of import talent joining the MLB.
Catcher, Chicago White Sox
Previous Team – Milwaukee Brewers
In a move that can only be seen as a huge loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, catcher Yasmani Grandal jumped ship into the American League and signed on for four years with the Chicago White Sox. As a member of their expensive roster overhaul this offseason, Grandal now will be given a chance to help rectify and revive a team that has been struggling to find itself as it prepares to make the climb back into the postseason.
Along with Grandal, starter Dallas Keuchel was also brought in, and while Keuchel pieced together a solid 2019 season that saw him sign with the Atlanta Braves not until June, Grandal’s addition to this team should be a much more important addition.
In his one-year stay in Milwaukee, Grandal put together one of his best seasons across the board, both offensively and defensively. Tasked with helping 2018 NL Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich bring this team back to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the switch-hitting backstop was able to flush away all of the demons that plagued him in his final season as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With Miller Park being known as a hitter-friendly place to play, Grandal took full advantage of that, putting up career highs in practically every single focal offensive category. 28 home runs, 77 RBIs, 109 free passes, 153 games played, and 141 starts were just among a few of the chart-topping stats that Grandal produced at the plate.
Defensively, he was able to keep the passed balls and mental errors to a minimum, and he helped manage a pitching staff that was known for relying on its bullpen and only letting its starters go for four-five innings, regardless of how well they were pitching. For Grandal, improvements in this areas of his game may have been the biggest factor in how much he earned this offseason, pricing himself out of the budget that the Brewers were willing to give him.
For the White Sox, their climb up the standings in the AL Central division has been a tough one so far, but with their offseason additions and a changing of the guard at the top of the standings, anything is possible. The Cleveland Indians are trying to regain their footing at the top of the division, and the Minnesota Twins are looking to use their offseason additions to repeat as champs, opening the door for the White Sox to enter as Player 3.
Grandal looks to be in the right situation to succeed in 2020, and while his offensive numbers may take a slight dip due to potentially receiving less playing time than last year (Brian McCann is the team’s backup, which is one of the league’s better second-stringers), but his efficiency should increase, ultimately helping this team regain its step to try and make the postseason this October.
Shortstop, Philadelphia Phillies
2019 team – New York Yankees
Doing the complete opposite of what Grandal did, shortstop Didi Gregorius made the switch from the AL to the NL, joining the expensive but struggling Philadelphia Phillies on a one-year, $14 million deal this winter. After having only played in 82 games last year in the Bronx, Gregorious is hoping that new scenery can help him regain his health and his production.
As a member of the Yankees, Gregorius played five seasons as the heir apparent to Derek Jeter, which is an insurmountable obstacle to have to handle. Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team team back in 2014, Gregorius’ stint in the Bronx was overall pretty successful.
He suited up in at least 134 games in four of the five years, hit 20 or more long balls in three seasons, produced a .265+ average in four seasons, and averaged out to a 2.79 WAR across his five-year Yankees career. All good numbers and whatnot, but Gregorius should benefit more from being out of the spotlight of New York.
The Phillies are a very expensive team that is devoid of excuses after missing the postseason last year. With the Braves, Washington Nationals, and New York Mets all producing above-average franchises at the same time, it makes it tough for all teams that should make the playoffs to actually be able to accomplish that feat.
Gregorius’ role with this team should be very similar to the one that he has filled during his entire career – one that focuses on his offensive skill set while letting him grown on the defensive side of the game. With Gregorius about to enter the wrong side of 30, defensive lapses and deficiencies have to be expected, so his offense will need to cover those gaps.
Philly is able to shuffle their infield around or even trade a guy or two, as Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are looking to be fighting for playing time at second and third base for 2020, which is not favorable for either of them. But for Gregorius, his 2020 MLB season has the makings of one that could set multiple career-highs on the offensive side of the ball.
Outfielder, Atlanta Braves
2019 team – St. Louis Cardinals
Riding the wave and hoping to capitalize on the fire sale that the Miami Marlins were having, the St. Louis Cardinals were quick to snatch up outfielder Marcell Ozuna, which actually happened around a month prior to when Yelich was traded to the Brewers. Looking back at it, it is quite obvious that the Cardinals went for the wrong guy, but Ozuna is better off having been able to get away from the dumpster fire that is the Marlins.
Moving forward from when he was acquired, Ozuna never really seemed to fully reach the goals of the franchise when they had acquired them, and his defensive lapses proved to be costly in certain situations. Having moved on to a different NL pennant competitor in the Braves, Ozuna’s role on this team in a one-year deal looks to mirror that of Josh Donaldson’s last year.
2017 still stands as Ozuna’s career year, which makes sense as to why the Marlins struck while the iron was still hot in pushing him out on the trade market. Having received a decent but not franchise-altering return of players, the Marlins and Cardinals can somewhat wash their hands of this deal and move on.
Ozuna’s role in Atlanta will be as an offensive supporter that can help take the load off of the shoulders of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, and others while maintaining a decent-enough defensive showing to not hurt the team. While yes, Ozuna did win a Gold Glove award in 2017 (the same year he was an All-Star for the Marlins), those defensive skills have seemingly disappeared over time, potentially never to be seen again.
Regardless, Ozuna will be a catalyst on this Braves’ team in 2020 as they look to get over their NL Divisional Series woes and actually advance farther into the MLB playoffs in what looks to be an even tougher NL field this year. Ozuna’s role in their climb to the top of the league will be very important, and it will help justify if the team should bring him back for another season.
Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds
2019 team – Seibu Lions (Japanese Pacific League)
The lone team that had never had a player on their roster that was born in Japan was the Cincinnati Reds… until they signed Shogo Akiyama for three years and $21 million this winter.
The 31-year-old outfielder, who played for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese Pacific League last year, has made the transition to the MLB and hopes to become a staple in this league for many years to come. On this Reds squad that looks to be very similar to the White Sox in how their offseason went, Akiyama has a great chance at making a name for himself, and soon.
Looking to compete in the NL Central division, the Reds must climb from fourth place and overtake the Chicago Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals, all of whom had varying levels of success last year and capitalized on that this offseason. While an uphill battle, Akiyama looks to be a superb hitter that can hopefully add to this offensive overhaul that this team underwent this offseason.
Sliding into one of the three outfield spots as a starter, Akiyama projects to be a high-average batter that should be slotted somewhere near the top of the batting order, helping jumpstart innings for the Reds. While he may be a bit of an unknown in the MLB, the Reds did their scouting homework, and his impact on this team starting this year should be a very big one.
Starting Pitcher (LHP), Milwaukee Brewers
2019 team – Oakland Athletics
The final MLB player on this list comes with some injury history baggage, which can slam the brakes on any sort of a solid year. But for Brett Anderson, his 2019 season with the Oakland Athletics was, in some ways, the best season of his career.
Recording only his third season with double-digit wins (13) and 30+ starts (31), Anderson took on the role of the workhorse for the A’s last season before hitting free agency, helping jumpstart his case on the open market. The southpaw has dealt with his fair share of injuries that may have turned some teams off to adding him, but the Brewers and President of Baseball Operations David Stearns saw an opportunity to add an innings-filler for the back-half of their rotation and jumped at a low-risk move.
Anderson’s role for manager Craig Counsell could be exactly what he needs to extend his career by a few years – hyper management of pitch counts and innings, combined with fine-tuned training sessions and workload management. Getting as much as they possibly can out of Anderson in 2020 may be key to this team getting back to the playoffs again, which would show why Counsell and Stearns are one of the better combos MLB.
Anderson is by no means a sexy signing, but one that can help plug a hole if he stays healthy. For Milwaukee, they live on one-year prove-it deals, and Anderson does not stray away from that outlook.