A Hot Stove Can Burn You
Well, isn’t all that special?
The winter meetings provided a host of answers to a grand series of questions–some of which we never even bothered to ask. As previously mentioned, this space was right about Mark Melancon joining the Giants–but quite wrong about Aroldis Chapman staying with the Cubs. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.) And Chris Sale’s hard left turn from being on the way to Washington to now joining the Red Sox was quite unexpected. And I never even considered Dexter Fowler joining the Cardinals. Lots of stuff, in both the general sense and in the sense of what a pitcher throws out there on a given trip to the mound.
Which brings us to the ultimate (at least for now) question: what does all this movement amount to? What’s it all mean?It’s hard to answer that question in any meaningful way until Kenley Jansen makes a decision about his future. (It’s impossible, actually, but it’s winter and we’re playing the speculation game, so let’s just move forward.) Again, as noted before, the deciding factor in next season’s results will likely be determined by the final results of the closer-go-round shuffle, and only two thirds of that play has been performed.
We noted that the Giants improved quite a bit by getting Melancon, with a multiplier for their relatively anemic offense coming from just clearing out the stink of their bullpen. They get an up arrow.
The Cubs were and remain in the catbird seat, regardless of losing Chapman, particularly as they immediately acquired Wade Davis from the Royals to fill the hole. They may have even improved that situation, since Chapman’s crazy velocity just screams arm trouble waiting to happen, despite a history of being healthy. Then again, Davis could get hurt too–pitchers, you know–so all that’s a crap shoot. Either way, Chicago is likely to get at least equal value in Davis for Jorge Soler, who may have potential but remains as of now a part-time player. Besides, the Cubs are loaded with lineup and fielding talent; they could have let Soler go for nothing and been OK anyway.
Can you say the same about Fowler? I’m guessing the answer is “Yes”–mainly because it makes no sense that Jason Heyward is that bad. A bounce-back season from him (maybe moving over to center), plus more outfield starts for Matt Szczur and Kyle Schwarber make up for whatever Fowler had to offer.
All that seems to say that the question marks all traveled south to Missouri. Is Fowler going to elevate the St. Louis lineup, or was he the elevatee hitting in Chicago’s leadoff spot? Probably more the latter than the former. It looks from here like the Cardinals are still more of the same: good team, maybe a playoff team, but serious contender (most likely as not from a wild card spot)? I don’t think so.
You could probably say the same about the Royals. Getting Soler is hardly an earthshaking move; as mentioned above, he was part-time with the Cubs and not all that promising in the starts he got last year. With Davis gone, KC’s bullpen–the beating heart of their championship team–is now starting to look pretty ordinary. Who knows; the Royals built a lot of their recent success through the farm system, and maybe they have the talent in the minors to replenish in a hurry, but it seems like a lot of what they were the last few years is fading away.
Replenishing through the minors is not known to happen much in Boston or New York, and that explains why the Red Sox and Yankees are the two splashy teams coming out of the meetings.
The Yankees are probably pretty proud of themselves for bringing Chapman back, but…that only helps if they have a lead late in the game. They started last season with a formidable bullpen (Betances, Miller, Chapman), but it didn’t help when the team’s hitting weaknesses were exposed early on. Are the late season call-ups who got everyone excited last year–Gary Sanchez most prominently–going to be difference-makers when they’re in the lineup from opening day onward? Dunno. It’s possible, but young players tend to have a lot of ups and downs; counting on those kids for upward mobility may not work out for the Yanks.
Hence, that’s why the Red Sox–the Yankees’ AL East mirror twins–went with experience in acquiring Sale. There’s lots of hyperventilating going on over that acquisition–you can figure the usual suspects–and it’s definitely a good deal, at first glance, but I’d advise proceeding with caution. Sale will almost certainly live up to his end of the bargain, but Porcello is a question mark. Yes, he just won the Cy Young Award, but his performance last year was a pretty significant spike upward from his career numbers. One can easily see him dipping back down again, perhaps substantially. And David Price is good, sure, but teams have failed with him at the top of the rotation before. Plus, how good will the Red Sox lineup be without David Ortiz in it? Probably OK, not awesome. And is that good enough in a division that still includes solid teams in Toronto and Baltimore, as well as the Yankees? Maybe, but I don’t see any runaway teams in the AL East next year.
Oh, yeah, and by the way: all those teams still have to deal with the defending AL champs in the Cleveland Indians, a team that still looks to be on the rise.
Whew! That’s a lot to chew on, without even seeing much activity from the relatively somnambulant West divisions. Now if someone would just make a deal with Jansen, we could really get a notion about what next year is going to look like.