No doubt that 2017 was the Dodgers’ year, the same way 2016 was the Cubs’ year. Both were the best teams in baseball, yet one team didn’t win it all. What makes the difference? In 2016 Theo Epstein & GM Jed Hoyer got the relief ace they needed in Aroldis Chapman, from the Yankees for top prospect SS Gleyber Torres. Recall, the Cubs couldn’t have beaten Cleveland in 7 games without Chapman. It was the same way for Cleveland, in obtaining lefty relief ace Andrew Miller. Both teams couldn’t have gotten as far as they did, without those bullpen stoppers.
This year when it was time to get what you REALLY needed for the post-season (7/31 deadline), the best team (Dodgers) balked at the asking price for the most valuable post-season commodity, a lefty relief ace still under arbitration control– which is really nice in February, and invaluable in October. Much of the resistance from teams-in-need was because it was Padres GM AJ Preller selling. So, why didn’t any team make him a serious offer for Brad Hand at the deadline?
Yes, there is the trend towards organizations hanging onto their prospects, but also I suspect an element of collusion (which I can’t prove), in retaliation for what AJP did in 2016. He simply got the best of too many teams & their GM’s last year, which I’ve discussed extensively here & elsewhere. But that’s still no excuse if you are serious about winning.
Instead, the team-to-beat spent about half of what they needed to get Brad Hand, in order to acquire something they didn’t need– in Hu Darvish. By late July, the Dodgers had already won their division, and had plenty of capable post-season starters. What they desperately needed was a guy who was good enough to get outs in the 7th & 8th innings in October. It’s foolish to waste money on what you don’t need, just because it’s more affordable than what you actually need. This is what Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman did & didn’t do in 2017. This was probably the best team the Dodgers will have in this competitive window, and they blew it. Games 2 & 5 of the World Series were both there for LA to win, but manager Dave Roberts couldn’t find a guy in his bullpen to get the outs he needed, because that guy wasn’t there.
American League line-ups are qualitatively tougher than the National League, so whether it was the Astros or Yankees, Dave Roberts needed another reliable bullpen option to close those World Series games out. Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman knew this in July, when he said they were looking to acquire a “wipe-out lefty reliever.” By that he meant (of course), Brad Hand. There was no one else close to his value that was available, and yet no team would make AJ Preller a substantial offer. In other words, no team was willing to pay the price to win in October. Tell me what a GM’s job is again?
The media chimed in, “Hand’s value will never be greater… if the Padres are smart they’ll sell now…” AJ Preller said, “No!” to all that nonsense (again); and now the Gnats, Yankees and Dodgers REALLY regret not acquiring Brad Hand. He could have helped all of those teams get the outs they so desperately needed (when it counted most), instead of coming up short. This is not to say the Astros didn’t have trouble getting the tough outs too, they were just a little better balanced overall. You need luck too, but really it’s money & brains that wins. Astros were a little better at that game, and that was the difference in the fall classic.
These are the most-mentioned MLB free agents this winter, with my brief comments:
Yu Darvish: This RHP in his prime was a great #2 starter, but never quite an ace. He’s now a #3 starter on a championship team.
J.D. Martinez: The corner OF to get, as he supplies OBP & SLG. He’s likely looking for his payday (longterm 6-8 yrs), which will be too long for most.
Eric Hosmer: He’s 28 and this is his payday– represented by Scott Boras. Look for ~8 years $200M. He’s very good, but not worth that kind of investment.
Lorenzo Cain: Age-31 speedy CF, will need to move to a corner in a year or two– never a good longterm sign. It will be interesting where he lands, and for how much & long.
Wade Davis: The FA closer this winter. That’s big $$.
Mike Moustakas: 3B career: .251/.305/.425. Had one great season in 2015, when they won it, otherwise he’s overrated.
Jay Bruce: OF/DH career (mostly in a bandbox): .249/.319/.472, which means he’s now useless. Cheap bench depth only, otherwise he’s an overpay. I’m sure someone will…
Todd Frazier: 3B career: .245/.321/.459. A little better than his former teammate Jay Bruce, but not much.
Carlos Santana: 1B/DH/C career: .249/.365/.445. Good OBP, but limited SLG, as well as catching anymore. If he stays healthy, he can be an bargain somewhere, probably AL.
Jake Arrieta: This age-31 RHP has a lot of mileage on his arm. Health & medical evaluation is critical here. If Arrieta is healthy, he can be a strong #2 starter over the course of his contract, which is extremely valuable. If his arm falls off, then some team has a huge sunk cost. This will be the highest-risk FA deal this winter.
Alex Cobb: This age 30 RHP is underrated because the Rays always have pitching. In 2017: 179.1 IP, 3.66 ERA. Yankees are interested for sure, and you know what that means.
Zack Cozart: Career SS: .254/.305/.411. He’s age-32, and 2017 was a career year. The Reds have stunk for a long time, because they invested so heavily in many of the free agents on this list. All are losing players, with inflated power stats, due to extreme ballpark effect. All are average-to-poor defenders. Teams have wised-up somewhat, but I still expect Cosart to get a richer deal than his actual worth, as there still are overspenders aplenty.
CC Sabathia: This age-37 LHP still has some gas in the tank, 2017 with NYY: 148.2 IP, 3.69 ERA. His usage needs to be limited, but those are still mostly quality innings from a 3/4 AL starter.
Ichiro Suzuki: RF 2017 with Miami: .255/.318/.332, probably should retire. Career in MLB: .312/.355/.403, 3080 hits. Best defensive RF ever? Ichiro or Clemente. First-ballot HoFer.
The top off-season trade chips for Padres GM AJ Preller are closer Brad Hand & 3B Yangervis Solarte. Hand will likely be dealt, as teams & their fans saw the value of a shut-down reliever in October. The teams that came up short especially saw this, and should be more in the mood to offer what Brad Hand is actually worth this time around. His value is similar to what closer Craig Kimbrel was worth when he was dealt to the Red Sox in the winter of 2015. Wade Davis is the only free-agent closer available this winter, so options are limited in this premium market.
Yangervis Solarte has a lot of value. He’s an everyday 3B, with legitimate utility value, and a switch-hitter. That wins games when used properly, as Padres manager Andy Green has. From a business standpoint in terms of prospects, AJ Preller won’t get the value he’s seeking, as Solarte is generally underrated which cuts his market value. His contract is team favorable, and that leads to the reasons Solarte signed it. His wife had just passed away from cancer, and he appreciated the organizational & fan support. He stated he wanted to finish his career with the Padres. That’s a loyal soldier (but only in SD), and a valuable asset. I don’t think Padres GM AJ Preller trades that away, because most of Solarte’s value is in San Diego, which means you can’t get a fair return. You know what I mean?
AJ Preller has a logjam of young infield talent, but not a MLB SS. Whatever AJP deals, he’ll look to add depth (top prospect or MLB ready) to that position & corner OF. The Padres desperately need a mashing LF. And pitching. Most Padres fans are optimistic about Carlos Asuaje at 2B, but nothing is certain. Luis Urias is a hit-first 2B prospect, with little power. You need to see Manny Margot-type improvement from Urias, before getting too excited there. 2B/3B Cory Spangenberg, CF Travis Jankowski, and even some other relievers (if there’s interest) are the guys AJ Preller will try to deal this winter.
Preller is now running into roster crunch issues, which will only become more acute for the Padres. That alone is a sign of organizational improvement, as their fans have never seen this! AJP will now have to lean more towards protecting his prospects from the Rule 5 draft, instead of making 3 or 4 picks. Since he’s proven he can evaluate the best Rule 5 talent (5 out of 7 selections have stuck), he’ll likely be the best GM at protecting his elite young talent from hungry predators.
This organization has improved, and the bar has been raised, so these are the roster moves the Padres have been making for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft & beyond. This is how the Astros built what just came to fruition. AJP actually has the Padres on a faster curve. Note, not even one 100-loss season at the depths of their rebuilding, which was 2016-17. Padres fans thank Andy Green & Brad Hand for that. Now it’s player development and managing the 40-man roster, with the goal of building a championship team. In the meantime, more low-level FA pitchers & positional fill-ins this winter, with the possibility of a blockbuster deal or two– as it’s AJ Preller. That’s a management plan a fan can see, and go with. It’s what I expect AJP will do.