With nearly all the big name free agent position players off the board, the rest of the hot stove buzz looks like it will revolve around Masahiro Tanaka and the rest of the free agent pitching market. Plenty of high-profile moves have been made so far. Some look better than others.
Brian McCann looks like a great fit with the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers might regret the Shin-Soo Choo signing pretty soon, and given the rest of their offseason, it’s unclear as to what the thought process behind the Seattle Mariners acquisition of Robinson Cano is.
However, there have also been some excellent low-profile moves. Often these types of moves can be very significant even if there might not be a ton of money behind them. The Boston Red Sox didn’t blow anybody away with their offseason last year, but the signings of Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino played a major role in turning a 69-93 team into a World Series champion. That being said, here’s a look at the best low-profile moves this offseason.
1. The Los Angeles Dodgers sign Dan Haren. He’s had a bit of a home run problem the past two years, which has led to a 4.50 ERA and 4.17 FIP. In addition, his fastball has lost a bit since his prime years from 2007-11 when he was one of the best pitchers in the majors, averaging over 5 fWAR per year.
Still, Haren has strikeout and walk rates of 20.0 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, which is almost on par with his strikeout and walk rates in his prime years. A move to the spacious Dodger Stadium should help bring his HR/FB ratio dow. In a rotation that is already one of the NL’s best with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu, Haren adds even more depth. At one year and $10 million, it looks like the Dodgers made a very good bet.
2. The Oakland Athletics trade Michael Choice for Craig Gentry. Playing in a part-time role for the Rangers, Gentry has been excellent. Despite receiving only 556 plate appearances the past two seasons, the speedy centerfielder has amassed 6.2 fWAR.
He grades out as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and he’s not a zero with the bat either, as he owns a career .355 on-base percentage.
For his career, he owns a 111 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. With their emphasis on platooning, and their flyball staff, Gentry is an excellent fit in the roomy outfield of the Oakland Coliseum. Choice is a solid prospect for the Rangers, though he likely won’t start the season with the big league club.
3. The Yankees sign Hiroki Kuroda. This move appeared to fly under the radar perhaps because everyone assumed Kuroda would re-sign. It’s not often that you can call $16 million for a 38 year-old pitcher a bargain, but the phrase fits in this case.
Kuroda has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game over the last five seasons, with an ERA at least seven percent better than the league average in each season. Despite his age, his fastball still runs up in the low 90’s, and he has an excellent track record of durability.
4. The Cleveland Indians sign David Murphy. The 32 year-old outfielder had his worst season in 2013, hitting just .220/.282/.374. However, the Indians took advantage of the opportunity to buy low on Murphy, signing him to a two-year deal worth $12 million with a club option for 2016.
Murphy is just one year removed from the best season of his career, where he hit .304/.380/.479 and accumulated 3.9 fWAR. If his in-play batting average bounces back from the .227 mark he suffered in 2013, he should have a solid year at the plate. Also, the Indians have the option of plato0ning Murphy, who has a career 113 wRC+ against right-handed pitching compared to a 71 wRC+ against lefties.
5. The Toronto Blue Jays sign Dioner Navarro. After a season where J.P. Arencibia posted a .227 on-base percentage, the Jays were looking for a little more offense from the catcher position. Enter Navarro, who produced a .300/.365/.492 line, albeit in just 266 plate appearances.
While he’s a little below-average as a defender, Navarro should hit well, even if he regresses from his 2013 production. Both the Steamer and Oliver projection systems as providing over 2 fWAR based on a full season of playing time. For a two-year deal worth $8 million that’s a nice bargain.
These weren’t the only good moves made this offseason. The Athletics signing Scott Kazmir for two years and $22 million makes a lot of sense, as did the Washington Nationals picking up Nate McLouth on a deal that looks very similar to Murphy’s. Even after his excellent 2013 season, the Dodgers were able to bring back Juan Uribe at a very reasonable price.
The St. Louis Cardinals trade for Peter Bourjos bolsters their defense greatly, and Bourjos has been very good when healthy. Dexter Fowler is a solid-average player with some upside left and the Houston Astros didn’t give up much to get him. Ryan Hanigan is an excellent defensive catcher with a career .359 on-base percentage, who will fit in nicely with the Tampa Bay Rays. Flipping Hector Santiago for Adam Eaton, is a big plus for the Chicago White Sox in their rebuilding project under General Manager Rick Hahn.
Big moves make headlines, but they don’t often provide great value. These less splashy moves might not have the same effect, but improving a team while maintaining payroll flexibility is the Holy Grail for teams that don’t have the budgets of the Dodgers or Yankees.