Movers & Shakers: MLB Winter Meetings (Hot Stove League, Yankees, Cubs, Braves, Diamondbacks)

 

With the season having just reached its dramatic conclusion, the Kansas City Royals crowned its champion, baseball looks toward a new year, with lofty expectations and renewed optimism.

Winter is usually a bit of a dead period for America’s Pastime, General Managers, owners and executives descended upon Nashville, Tennessee looking to make a splash. Usually a place for the usual suspects to fortify their team, this year has been full of surprises as the siren call of Playoff Baseball has urged teams to move forward and strengthen their roster.

New York Yankees :

The team that initially redefined the purpose of these meetings, the Yankees were active, sending Brendan Ryan and Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Starlin Castro. Castro is 25, remarkably immature and tends to go into lulls during the season where he just phones it in. He’s also owed $38 million over the remaining part of his contract.

The other thing Castro happens to be, however, is a three-time All-Star with good range and a good amount of power for a Middle Infielder. Since moving to second base with the Cubs, Castro settled down, was more effective defensively, and better at the plate. All of which are music to Yankee fans ears as he will be tabbed to start Opening Day at Second Base for the Bronx Bombers.

Losing Warren is a hell of a blow to the Yankees bullpen, removing one of the key cogs of that late-inning trio. They’re going to need a replacement and they’re going to need one fast, which makes it apparent that Brian Cashman probably isn’t done just quite yet.

Chicago Cubs :

Well then. The aforementioned Castro-for-Warren trade notwithstanding, Theo Epstein has been remarkably busy rebuilding this Cubs franchise in his image. Castro was the last remaining visage; besides Javier Baez whose still considered a Minor-League prospect, of Jim Hendry’s tenure in Wrigleyville. This is now truly Epstein’s team, for better or worse.

Castro has been reported to be a bit of a diva, and he didn’t ever gel with Joe Maddon. Thus, the movement of Castro was destined to happen. What makes that move not quite as much of a loss was the signing of 34-year old, do-everything veteran, Ben Zobrist.

The movement of Starlin Castro would have never happened without the commitment of Ben Zobrist and the Cubs knew that, moving quietly to steal Zobrist out from under the eyes of the New York Mets who were most actively pursuing the former Royal. Now, the Cubs have essentially traded Starlin Castro for Adam Warren and Ben Zobrist. You have to make that move every time.

In Adam Warren, Chicago is getting either a third starter or an end-of-the-bullpen arm. Added to Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester? You’re suddenly a lot more potent than you were before. Warren was never going to be a top-three guy on a great rotation, but on a good staff he’s either a third starter whose throwing 93 MPH or an elite “back-end of the bullpen” arm that throws 95. Either way, that’s an addition to your pitching corps that you didn’t have before. You’re strengthening your arms no matter where he gets slotted.

With Zobrist, you have a guy who can slot in anywhere around the field and who can hit the ball anywhere on the field for contact. He’s your lead-off hitter and more importantly, he’s the ultimate gel guy, the veteran that you sign when your team is close and you want to win now. He has playoff experience, has the ring, and know what it will take to win again. For a team on the cusp, that is infinitely important. His value is tied more to what he brings to the clubhouse than to what he brings on the field, even if what he brings on the field is above -average.

Arizona Diamondbacks :

This is what happens when a small-market club gets in bed with a regional network for the next 20 years to the tune of $1.5 billion. They entered into “Win Now” mode a lot sooner than anybody probably thought they would. Before the meetings even started, they signed Zach Greinke to a 6-year, $206 million dollar deal. It was a declaration of intent for a team that has to justify the TV deal and show their fans that now that they have the money, they’re ready to contend. It’s also a statement to those same fans that they aren’t going to waste the Paul Goldschmidt era.

The problem comes when that intent turns to desperation. Itching to add to their massive splash in Free Agency, the DBacks traded for mercurial young phenom Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves. Miller looked outstanding in the first half, but without run support, he struggled in the second half of the season. The talent is unquestioned, but desperation lead to the Diamondbacks giving up heralded pitching prospect Aaron Blair, talented young outfielder Ender Inciarte and first overall pick Dansby Swanson.

When it comes down it, the DBacks mortgaged the future. They traded the top overall pick and future face of the franchise, for god sakes. Will it work out? It’s impossible to say. It is however, a tremendous gamble. You’re putting all your chips on the table and telling the world you’re all in. There’s no backup plan. There’s no Plan B. With a roster that boasts Patrick Corbin, AJ Pollock, Goldschmidt, and Greinke? That might be enough. Don’t take it to the bank though.

Atlanta Braves :

On the other side of that deal, Atlanta made off with a King’s Ransom of prospects in exchange for a very good pitcher; one who should be an Ace, but has not put it all together yet. They’ve put together one of the better farm systems in baseball and they’ve done it while committing wholeheartedly to a rebuild.

You have to applaud them for that, too. They’re fully committed to this rebuild and realize completely that there is no honor or reward for winning 75 games. That’s not what the fanbase wants to hear, but it’s practical and pragmatic. Atlanta is stockpiling great young players and building a team that is going to make noise two or three years from now. They’re bringing them up slowly, and letting the kids mature before throwing them into the deep end. It’s smart, however you want to slice it.

Ender Inciarte hit .303 last year in 132 games, stole 21 bases and had a higher WAR than Shelby Miller himself, different positions notwithstanding. Inciarte and Miller are the only ones with MLB experience in this trade and Inciarte is worth more wins, inarguably. More importantly, Atlanta got a hard-throwing right hander who went 13-5 in AAA and showed the makeup and collection of stuff to be successful. Crazier still, Dansby Swanson is closer to Kyle Seager, Buster Posey or Dustin Pedroia than he will be to a Matt Bush or some other Draft Day bust.

Swanson is a solid middle infielder, equally adept at playing second or shortstop. He has plus power, hits for contact and is marketable. It’ll take time, but Swanson, who is a Georgia native, could be the face of the Braves by 2019. He could easily end up being a perennial All-Star.

Atlanta was going to suck this year regardless of who was on the team. They were going to be terrible WITH Shelby Miller. Being able to turn Miller into three young players under the age of 25 that you can add to a growing core of skilled youth? It’s smart business any time. Blair could get you 12-14 wins a year sometime soon. Swanson could end up being Daniel Murphy/Neil Walker on the low-end and that’s perfectly acceptable. Inciarte is going to be a future Gold Glove candidate and give a batting average of somewhere around .280 year-in and year-out. How could you turn that down?

New York Mets :

This one is weird, because had they failed on Zobrist, not gotten Daniel Murphy and walked away from the Winter Meetings without doing anything? They would have killed any goodwill they had from the fans after making the World Series.

That said? Trading Jonathan Niese for Neil Walker is a big move. With Murphy trying to test his worth on the open market, they were going to need to grab someone to play second. Grabbing Walker from Pittsburgh gives the Mets an affordable option at second who is going to get on base, hit for a high average, play well defensively and be able to transition around the infield when someone goes down with an injury.

This becomes incredibly relevant when you realize that David Wright is coming off the wrong side of a spinal injury that caused him to miss the majority of the season. Add in injuries to Lucas Duda, you suddenly have insurance where you didn’t before. Giving up Niese, who truly no longer had a spot in the Mets rotation for that security is a slam dunk. It’s what they needed to do.

 

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