Best and Worst of the Offseason Acquisitions Thus Far

As we hurtle toward the season’s midpoint, it may be worth pausing to assess how some of last winter’s player moves have turned out. Herewith, the five best and five worst players to date (by fWAR) who changed uniforms during the off season.

Top 5

Josh Donaldson (4.4)

When asked last October whether the A’s would trade Josh Donaldson, an unnamed A’s official said “That would be stupid!” (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). But then suddenly it wasn’t. Maybe Billy Boy really did trade Donaldson in a fit of pique, or maybe the trade was yet another example of the man’s Machiavellian genius. Either way, there’s no getting around the fact that Donaldson is tied for 4th in WAR in the charted universe as of this writing. Donaldson is a key contributor to an MLB-leading offense that has scored 70 more runs than its nearest competitor. Toronto’s mighty +94 run differential bestes even that of the mighty St. Louis “Marked” Cards (+91), and the Blue Jays’ Wins per FBI Interview stands at infinity, blowing away the Cardinals’ ratio. It’s possible that Beane doesn’t regret the Donaldson move; it’s certain that Alex Anthopolous doesn’t.

Max Scherzer (4.2)

Max Scherzer has 130 Ks this season, which would place him 71st on the all time Expos/Nats single season list. And the season, as discerning readers will have already realized, in only half over. The same readers will have divined that Scherzer is on a pace for 260 Ks, which would put him second on the all time list behind Pedro Martinez, who racked up 305 in 1997. Scherzer is absolutely blowing away every one of his career rate stats this season. Can he keep the regression demons at bay until he gets a World Series ring? The Nationals certainly hope so, as do these guys. More evidence for the theory that playing at the top of the free agent market can be costly, yet cost-effective.

Dee Gordon (3.0)

Dee Gordon’s OPS is 60 points above his career average. Dee Gordon’s BABIP is 70 points above his career average. Dee Gordon’s closest comp through age 26, according to Baseball Reference, is Chippy McGarr. So no, it isn’t going to last, but it’s been a fun ride. One can only wish that Gordon’s magical half-season had been in the service of a better cause than this one. To be fair, a variety of defensive metrics are in agreement that Gordon has become an asset at second, and of course he’s got those wheels, so he’ll still have value even when his Inner McGarr ultimately gets the better of him.

Russell Martin (2.9)

The second Blue Jay on this list – yes, this might finally be Anthopolous’ year. Martin’s contract will rapidly move from buzz to hangover, but right now the party is still hot. Only Buster Posey is putting up better numbers behind the plate, and unlike Martin, he’s not behind the plate all the time, instead getting a fair number of starts at first. Like the others mentioned above, Martin is having something of a career year, but his numbers this year aren’t wildly above his career stats (.363 wOBA this year vs. .336 for his career). His BABIP this year (.298) is just a little higher than his career mark (.289). So there’s reason to believe his success will continue as long as he avoids injury. And he’s Canadian.

A.J. Burnett (2.7)

Don’t tell him it’s a young man’s game. Burnett, at age 38, is the 4th oldest starter in the majors, behind Bartolo Colon (42), R.A. Dickey (40), and Tim Hudson (39). He has the highest K/9 among this group (7.7), and by far the lowest FIP (2.97). Burnett’s fastball velo is sitting at 91.1, off of his career mark of 93.5, but it’s not a yawning gap. Burnett is kind of the anti-Scherzer, a bargain free agent that Neal Huntington was able to sign for a 1-year, $8.5m deal. Like Dan Duquette, Huntington has done a good job shoring up his roster with effective store brands such as Jung-ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli, and Burnett. The Pirates have stars too, more than next year’s Orioles will, but they do a better a job than most in making sure that no roster slot gets left behind.

Bottom 5

Matt Kemp (-1.0)

Kemp is putting up the worst triple slash (.244/.279/.365) and ISO (.122) numbers of his career. His defense remains R-rated. The Dodgers are paying Kemp $32 million to play for division rival San Diego. So far, it’s been a stellar investment.

Melky Cabrera (-1.0)

Not all dumpsters have stuff worth diving for. Skim Melk has returned to his bad old (pre-PED?) powerless ways. His ISO is a microscopic .067, lowest of his career and 8th lowest in the Show. Most of the other 7 guys are middle infielders. Rick Hahn has made a valiant effort to paper over the White Sox’ roster holes with veterans until he can rebuild a desolate farm system, but with mixed results. Adam LaRoche and Geovany Soto have been pretty effective, but Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio have generated outs at the same rate the Dan Ryan generates traffic jams.

Kyle Kendrick (-0.9)

Ok, raise your hand if you think putting a fly-ball, high-contact pitcher in Coors is a good idea.

Pablo Sandoval (-0.6)

In 2011 Panda put up a .315/.357/.552 line. In 2012 he lost 100 points of slugging. In 2013 he lost 30 more. In 2014 he lost 20 points of OBP.  This year, he’s lost 10 more, along with another 15 missing SLG. His UZR/150 is at -26.2, which approximates the performance of an actual panda. This long steady performance collapse looks like something that happens to players in their early to mid-30s, but Sandoval is only 28. As Dayn Perry has noted, “Sandoval’s relationship with basic conditioning is complicated,” and it’s not clear that a manager on the bubble like John Farrell will be able to convince Sandoval to put his shoulder to the workout wheel (uh … the UZR/150 of that metaphor is probably -26.2). Sandoval has through 2019 to find a Red Sox treadmill routine that works for him. Which I’m sure makes Sawx fans ecstatic.

Billy Butler (-0.4)

In 2014 Butler put up a wRC+ of 97, craptastic for a player who has no non-hitting skills of note. This year, his wRC has surged to … 97.  The good news is that he’s held his ground despite playing half his games in the Mausoleum. The bad news is that the ground he’s holding isn’t worth much. At 3 years/$30m, Butler’s contract is reasonable by today’s standards. But it appears that the other Billy may have made a basic roster management error here by signing a middling free agent for middling money. Until the Oakland A’s become the San Jose PayPals, this is the kind of mistake the franchise can ill afford.

I'm a recovering lawyer and unrecovered Cubs fan who writes about baseball from time to time.

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8 years ago

someone a lot smarter than me identified a change in Martin
he is doing much more with 2 strikes and that seems to account for the last 2 years

8 years ago

I’m not sure what this article told me about major league baseball, but I did get to see a picture of a baby panda.

AJ a
8 years ago

What about Michael Saunders as one of the worst? It’s hard to produce even negative WAR if you don’t play

8 years ago

Really well written, quite amusing, and an informative guide to select dumpster fires.

8 years ago

I still love to watch Panda hit, he is sure the anti- text book, dvd hitting tips, cookie cutter type that pervades todays game. Results! We don’t need any stinking results!