Slapping a grade on an offseason move in early May is sort of like reviewing a movie after the opening credits. So many plot twists can arise and turn a feel-good story into something a whole lot grimmer, very quickly.
Case in point: The Adam Eaton trade acquisition looked like an inspired move by Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo — until Eaton tore his left ACL and had to be carried off the field Friday against the New York Mets. Now Eaton is expected to miss the 2017 season and the Nats are scrambling to figure out a plan in center field.
That said, we graded these moves over the winter after they were consummated, and the one-month mark seems like a fitting time to recalibrate. The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals christened the season on April 2. How do some of MLB’s prominent hot stove signings and trades look on May 2?
Grading the big trades
True to form, Boston GM David Dombrowski didn’t hesitate to dip into the farm system to add an ace to the rotation. Through five starts, Sale has looked every bit the No. 1 guy: He has 52 strikeouts to just six walks, he has allowed a .433 OPS against and he owns a 0.77 WHIP. It’s not his fault the Red Sox have scored a total of 10 runs in those five appearances.
Moncada has an OPS of .885 in his first 21 starts with Triple-A Charlotte, so he’ll be up with the big club soon enough. And Kopech (28 strikeouts in 18 innings with Double-A Birmingham) has done nothing to dispel the notion that he’s a budding front-of-the-rotation guy. This is one of those classic star-for-prospects, contender-to-rebuilder trades that could work out just as hoped for both clubs.
Mike Rizzo invited some second-guessing by trading away three promising arms for Eaton, a player with a reputation as more of a complementary piece than a star. But Eaton made Washington’s GM look awfully smart in his first three weeks as a National. He combined with Trea Turner to give the Nats a dynamic 1-2 combination at the top of the order, and Washington’s offense looked formidable in the early going.
Eaton’s torn ACL was a terrible setback. Still, it’s hard to penalize the Nats for an unfortunate turn that was beyond their control. And it’s not as if Eaton is a short-term addition: He’s 28 years old with a club-friendly deal that could keep him under team control through 2021, so he and Turner will be around to torment opponents in the 1-2 spots for a while.
It’s going to take time for the White Sox to assess their haul. Dunning is dominating the competition in the South Atlantic League, with a 33-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings. Lopez needs to tighten up his command at Triple-A Charlotte, and Giolito is off to a poor start with the Knights. He’s going to need time to fix his mechanics and rebuild his confidence, and he has former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty in Charlotte to help him in that pursuit. The White Sox are in a position where they can afford to be patient with everyone’s development.
White Sox: B-
Divergent circumstances brought Kansas City and Chicago together at the winter meetings in December. The Cubs needed a closer to replace Aroldis Chapman, and the Royals were looking to offload some of their pending free agents for longer-term commitments. Davis and Jarrod Dyson left K.C. in trades, Danny Duffy signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension in January and Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain stuck around to take a final fling at a postseason berth.
From the Cubs’ end, what’s not to like? Davis is 6-for-6 in save opportunities with a 0.58 WHIP, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have assembled some nice pieces in front of him. The quintet of Davis, Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, Mike Montgomery and 40-year-old Koji Uehara has a combined 1.34 ERA in 53⅔ innings. Barring an injury or a desire for more depth, Chicago’s front office won’t have to spend much time looking to fortify the pen in July.
K.C. assistant general manager and Latin America scouting guru Rene Francisco is a big fan of Soler, and the Royals think he’s capable of having a big impact over 600 at-bats. But Soler began the season on the disabled list with an oblique injury, and he’s currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha. In his absence, Paulo Orlando and the rest of Kansas City’s right-field contingent have logged a .472 OPS — second-worst in the majors.
Royals: Incomplete for Soler. F for their current right fielders.
File this one under “good old-fashioned baseball trade.”
The Mariners are happy with their end. Segura gives them a nice offensive upgrade at short, and GM Jerry Dipoto pulled off a coup with the addition of Haniger, a former first-round pick who was buried in the Arizona farm system. Haniger got off to a torrid start and was making those early A.J. Pollock comparisons look prescient when he suffered an oblique injury last week.
The only downside for the Mariners is watching Walker progress and imagining how good he would look beside James Paxton in the Seattle rotation. Walker has 33 strikeouts in 29⅔ innings and is finding the transition to the NL West to his liking.
Marte is off to a hot start with Triple-A Reno and making an early push for a call-up. Arizona shortstop Chris Owings can hit but already has six errors. And Nick Ahmed, a defensive whiz, has a career .595 OPS. Depending on who’s starting at the position on a given day, the D-backs are sacrificing something in one category.
After spending most of the winter in search of a second baseman, the Dodgers finally punted on their Brian Dozier pursuit and picked up Forsythe in exchange for their No. 2 pitching prospect. Forsythe hit .295 in 14 games before suffering a broken toe. But that still puts him ahead of De Leon, who has yet to pitch this season because of a forearm injury.
Julio Urias was ahead of De Leon on the next-man-up chart, and Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood have pitched well enough in support of Clayton Kershaw to help the Dodgers hang around .500 in the NL West. Forsythe is expected to return from the DL soon. If he can play a solid defensive second base and help the Dodgers improve upon their .221 team batting average against lefties, no one in L.A. will spend the summer lamenting the loss of De Leon.
Big free-agent deals
Aroldis Chapman agrees to a five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Yankees
It seemed like an extravagance to spend this kind of money for a closer on a team that’s in a youth movement. But a month into the season, the Yankees are 15-9 and second in the AL East lead, and the Chapman-led bullpen is a big reason why. If Gary Sanchez comes back strong, Aaron Judge is for real and the starting pitching holds up, Chapman has a chance to pitch in the playoffs a lot sooner than even he might have anticipated.
One-month grade: A
Yoenis Cespedes returns to Mets on a four-year, $110 million deal
The Mets saw the best of Cespedes with his early home run tear, and the side that made some teams wary of signing him to a long-term deal when he went down with a hamstring injury last week. He’s a terror when he’s in the lineup, but is he going to be able to avoid those slugger muscle injuries?
Along with the Cespedes signing, the Mets made what looks like a prudent move when they exercised Jay Bruce‘s $13 million option. Let’s put it this way: Cespedes and Bruce are hardly GM Sandy Alderson’s biggest problem at the moment.
One-month grade: B-
Dexter Fowler agrees to a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Cardinals
Everyone raves about Fowler’s positive influence in the clubhouse, but it has been a mixed bag on the field. Fowler leads the Cardinals with 22 hits, 17 runs and four homers. But that .305 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot falls short, and Fowler’s arrival hasn’t had the desired impact on St. Louis’ overall outfield defense. The triumvirate of Fowler, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty has a composite Defensive Runs Saved of minus-10 through April.
Encarnacion is traditionally a slow starter. His .759 career OPS in April makes it easily his worst month, and some scouts expected him to struggle early when he left the climate-controlled comfort of Toronto’s Rogers Centre for the Lake Erie chill at Progressive Field.
Weather aside, Encarnacion’s biggest issue thus far has been contact — or lack thereof. He has struck out 37 times in 110 plate appearances even though he’s offering at fewer pitches outside the strike zone than a year ago. On a positive note, Encarnacion has drawn enough walks to post a .349 on-base percentage. Opposing pitchers know they have to be careful with him. And for all his issues, he’s still off to a better start than his old Blue Jays teammate, Jose Bautista.
One-month grade: C-
Dodgers sign Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract
It was a heartwarming sight when Hill welled up with emotion at the MLB winter meetings after agreeing to a three-year, $48 million contract at age 36. But April was about as exasperating as it gets. Hill contributed a total of two starts and eight innings thanks to the persistent blister issues that dogged him last season. He’s currently rehabbing and is close to giving it another shot.
At best, this looks like an issue the Dodgers will have to monitor closely for the foreseeable future. At worst, it becomes an ongoing saga that severely limits Hill’s workload. Hill has surpassed 110 innings only once in his career, and he was iffy to give the Dodgers 25 to 30 starts even without this blister problem.
One-month grade: D
Moderately priced contracts
In November, I surveyed 38 front-office people and scouts on a range of topics. One of the questions was: Which free agent will fetch a contract so out of whack with his value that his team would merit the “What were they thinking?” award? Nova led the way with eight votes — two more than Rich Hill and Jeremy Hellickson.
One month doesn’t validate an investment, but Nova is pitching like a guy with an All-Star appearance on his agenda. At the heart of his success? Incredible command. Since joining the Pirates in August of last season, Nova has made 16 starts. He has five complete games and four walks in that span. According to John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information, he has faced 396 batters since joining the Pirates. Nova hasn’t gone to a 3-0 count on any of them.
Eric Thames (three years and $16 million with the Milwaukee Brewers)
Everybody wondered how Thames’ cartoon numbers in Korea would translate to the majors, where the parks are bigger and the fastballs faster. In the Cactus League, one scout following Thames observed that he appears to have a “slider speed bat.”
Then the regular season got underway, and Thames posted a slash line of .455/.600/1.091 against fastballs in his first month. When a guy’s biggest issue is fending off whispers that he must be using PEDs to be producing at this level, it’s a sign that he’s drastically exceeding expectations.
Greg Holland (one-year, guaranteed $7 million deal with the Colorado Rockies)
Eighteen months after Tommy John surgery, Holland is showing the same unflappability that helped him make two All-Star teams in Kansas City. His fastball is registering 94 mph, and he has thrived while throwing his slider a whopping 56 percent of the time.
The Rockies are asking a lot if they expect Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and their young rotation to hold up for six months. But Holland has stabilized the back end of the pen, and the Colorado lineup is deep and talented enough to build lots of early leads for him to protect.
Three that earn D or F grades through the first month
Jose Bautista (one-year, $18.5 million deal with the Blue Jays)
The Blue Jays were hoping to collect a draft pick had Bautista signed elsewhere during the offseason. When that scenario failed to transpire, they took the plunge and bet that he would have a bounce-back year at age 36.
Not so far. Toronto is off to a 9-17 start, and Joey Bats has five extra-base hits in his first 94 at-bats. Maybe the Jays can trade him at the deadline, but they’ll have to pick up a large percentage of that contract if they want to make it happen.
Mike Napoli (one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Texas Rangers)
When Napoli faded down the stretch and hit .167 in the postseason with Cleveland, it was attributed to fatigue after a long season with a heavy workload. But the problems have persisted into 2017. In his first 24 games with the Rangers, Napoli has a slash line of .161/.235/.323.
Daniel Hudson (two-year, $11 million deal with the Pirates)
Hudson was a hot name on the trade grapevine last summer until his season began to unravel in June. He rebounded in September to set the stage for a nice deal with Pittsburgh, but those 18 hits allowed in 10⅔ innings are a sign that he and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage have plenty of work to do.
Three that merit early A grades
Atlanta GM John Coppolella swung a deal for Phillips after Sean Rodriguez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a car crash. Phillips, 35, has an .844 OPS through 22 games, and he could be an appealing trade target for a contending team looking for a middle infield bat at the deadline. In the meantime, the Braves are on the hook for only $1 million of the $14 million on his contract this season. It has been a win-win for Atlanta.
Drew Storen (one-year, $3 million deal with Reds)
Storen lost his bearings in Toronto and Seattle after losing the closer’s job to Jonathan Papelbon in Washington, but he appears to have found his comfort zone in Cincinnati. His 90.6 mph velocity is the lowest of his career, but he has thrived by throwing his slider and evolving changeup more than 60 percent of the time. He has a 1.38 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings as a Red.
Mark Reynolds (one-year minor league deal with Rockies)
Reynolds was a $1.5 million godsend for the Rockies when Ian Desmond suffered a broken hand in spring training. He’s sporting a .298/.362/.602 slash line in 26 games, and he has logged an .897 OPS on the road. Reynolds has been so good, in fact, that Colorado manager Bud Black kept him at first base and played Desmond in left field when Desmond came off the disabled list Sunday against Arizona. Combine the Reynolds signing with Colorado’s bullpen remake and it was one productive offseason for general manager Jeff Bridich.
One low-priced mega-disaster of an F
Fernando Rodney (one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Diamondbacks)
Rodney has 267 career saves and has gotten by for a long time with his top-step-of-the-dugout routine. But now he’s 40 years old and doing a number on Arizona’s aspirations with his late-game adventures (1-2 with a 12.60 ERA and 2.30 WHIP). First-year manager Torey Lovullo is trying to exercise patience, but the Diamondbacks have a chance to take a significant step forward this season and can’t afford to let a chaotic closer situation stand in the way.