The wait is over, and baseball is back. The meaningless, and seemingly endless, parade of spring training games has at last given way to honest-to-goodness Major League Baseball. Opening Day(s) was everything we could have hoped for, featuring two home runs and a perfect game bid from Madison Bumgarner, several walk-offs, and round-trippers from the game’s premier hitters, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending the next few weeks in a state of relief, elation, and confusion. Confusion, because of that sensation that occurs at the start of every season, the one that involves staring at the television and asking “Wait, when did this guy get on this team?”.
I know that I spend the start of every baseball season flipping through games and, despite my religious following of the hot stove season, being flummoxed as I am reminded of multiple player moves that slipped my mind. This happened almost immediately this year when digging into the first matchup, Rays versus Yankees. The game served as a welcome reminder that former Braves farmhand Mallex Smith was manning left field for Tampa Bay, and that former Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson was now the Rays DH.
So, with the season officially underway, I’m here to try and help remind you of the significant but under-the-radar moves that occurred this past winter. Here are the most important offseason transactions that you just may have forgetton:
The Mariners and Diamondbacks swap potential
One of the offseason’s earliest trades involved talented young players changing hands. Way back in November, before Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto had turned over half the Mariners roster, Seattle sent right-hander Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the desert in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger.
This trade could certainly lead to plenty of confusion among fans who missed it, as it essentially involved all major league players. Walker will now take the ball every fifth day in a solid Arizona rotation, Segura and Haniger might play every day for Seattle, and Marte should get run in the bigs due to his ability to play good defense up the middle.
Many observers felt Arizona’s new-look front office got the better end of this deal due to Walker’s upside and the inconsistent track record of Segura, but the trade was consummated so long ago I’d nearly forgotten it. But the players exchanged are all interesting, as Walker could help a resurgent Arizona rotation, while Seattle’s playoff push could really use another big year from Segura, and quality outfield defense from Haniger.
The Braves load up on veterans
There have been a number of high-profile rebuilds in recent years, the Braves’ teardown among them. The Braves now have some of the most impressive young talent in the league and appear on the precipice of something special.
Still, the Braves aren’t yet contenders, which is why it might be a little jarring to see so many veteran starters in their rotation. Atlanta’s starting staff was a mess last year, as also-rans like Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, and Jhoulys Chacin accounted for dozens of starts. GM John Coppollela responded by adding the ripe-old arms of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey on one-year free agent deals, while also dealing for Jaime Garcia, a lefty starter with just one year of team control remaining.
Despite Atlanta’s pitching troubles last year, it was odd to see a rebuilding team so aggressively upgrade its rotation with veteran starters. Even so, the Braves have no long-term money committed to these starters, and if any of them perform, they will surely be used as trade bait if/when the Braves are out of contention around the trade deadline. The addition of so many veteran starters did appear curious, but the moves will probably work out fine in the end for Atlanta.
Rockies sign Greg Holland and Ian Desmond
Holland has already gotten into two games and recorded his first saves as a Rockie. After so many years as an underrated and dominant relief option in Kansas City, it was a little strange to see Holland closing out a game in Rockies purple.
Holland was one of a few mid-to-low profile free agent signings the Rockies undertook as they tried to fashion themselves as playoff sleepers. They also signed Ian Desmond, who is currently out with a hand injury, so it will be a couple weeks before Desmond can befuddle fans who missed his five year, $70 million deal with Colorado.
Both the Holland and Desmond signings were a bit curious, one from the team perspective, and one from the player perspective. Holland took just one year and $7 million guaranteed on a pillow contract designed to rebuild his value, but the hitter-haven of Coors Field seems like the last place a pitcher would want to rebuild value. Desmond has built his value on being a decent hitter that can play up-the-middle positions, value which would seemingly be squandered if the Rockies followed through with their plan to have Desmond play first base.
Perhaps both these deals will work out fine for all parties involved, but color me skeptical. It’s hard to imagine Holland getting a long-term deal at this stage of his career, and Desmond, who profiles as a league-average hitter, is a poor fit for first base. Keep an eye on how these situations play out over the course of the year.
The Angels paper over the weaknesses around Mike Trout
The Angels have the greatest head start in baseball. If they could just surround Mike Trout with mediocre players, they might win 90 games. Instead, the team has been littered with flaws as it has missed the playoffs each of the past two years, in spite of historic production from their center fielder.
Instead of making big splashes to put talent around Trout (such splashes for players like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton likely have left LA reticent to break the bank again), the Angels opted for several small moves to try to cover their biggest weaknesses. They traded for Cameron Maybin, coming off a solid 2-win season in Detroit, signed Luis Valbuena, who has a 110 OPS+ since 2013, and traded for Danny Espinosa in an effort to form the AL’s best defensive SS/2B combo along with Andrelton Simmons.
None of these players are great, rather, they all profile as something around average, and you’d be forgiven for not even realizing they were on the Angels now. However, after receiving near-replacement level play from left field and second base last season, the Angels would gladly settle for average production from their additions. Only time will tell if that will be enough to get Trout his first playoff victory with the Angels.