Putting the Hot Stove into Perspective
For baseball junkies, baseball’s offseason is just as compelling as the actual games. Major League Baseball’s “Hot Stove” provides teams with a chance to sign and trade for players with the goal of providing one crucial emotion for their fanbases: hope.
The offseason is a time to improve. It’s important, however, to consider just how much an active offseason can actually help a team. Do big spenders ever actually succeed on the field? Let’s consider some of last winter’s major free agent signings.
Outfielder Jason Heyward was signed to an 8 year, $184 million contract last offseason. Heyward, coming off a solid campaign for the Cardinals, is now inked through his age 34 season. In 2016, Heyward had the worst year of his professional career, batting just .230 with 7 home runs in 142 games. Heyward was benched in the postseason.
The Arizona Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke to a 6 year, $206.5 million deal coming of a stellar season in which he recorded a 1.66 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Greinke was supposed to be the missing piece to an Arizona team that already had an impressive collection of offensive players. Instead, he floundered. Greinke posted a 4.37 ERA, his worst in ten years.
The Boston Red saw David Price as the final piece of a championship team. As such, they signed the southpaw to a 7 year, $217 million contract. But Price struggled in his first year with the Red Sox, recording a 3.99 ERA while failing to pronounce himself as Boston’s ace. Price also struggled in the postseason, giving up 5 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings pitched.
Justin Upton was an exciting addition for the Detroit Tigers, a team already loaded with right handed hitting talent. In 2016, Upton was disappointing. He had his lowest batting average since his age 19 season in 2007. Though Upton had success hitting 31 home runs, he had a career high 179 strikeouts and failed to achieve any semblance of consistency throughout the season.
Needless to say, the MLB’s Hot Stove is not a way to guarantee success in the regular season. Signing one, or even multiple impact free agents pales in comparison to a well-developed core built from within. The offseason must be approached for what it truly is- an opportunity to add complementary pieces to a team that is ready to contend, or a chance to sign a big name and sell merchandise. Still, almost every offseason, at least one team attempts to overreach their bounds and try to go from mediocre to elite in one winter. This strategy almost never works out.
In 2012, the Miami Marlins attempted to enter their new stadium in style. They signed Jose Reyes to a 6 year, $106 million deal, Mark Buehrle to a 4 year, $58 million contract, and acquired Heath Bell at 3 years, $27 million. Analysts predicted the Marlins to compete for the National League East crown. But the Marlins won just 69 games and finished dead last in the division.
Entering the 2015 season, the Chicago White Sox acquired Jeff Samardzjia, Melky Cabrera, Adam Laroche, David Robertson, and Zach Duke. Yet the White Sox went a measly 76-86 and came in fourth place. In the same offseason, the San Diego Padres acquired a litany of talented position players, including Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Derek Norris. The Padres were picked as an instant contender thanks to their busy offseason. But the Padres won only 74 games, missed the offseason, and have already moved on from Upton and Kemp.
And last offseason, the Diamondbacks outbid the Dodgers for Greinke and made an incomprehensible trade moving the number one overall pick in the draft, shortstop Dansby Swanson, for Shelby Miller, a slightly above average starting pitcher. The Diamondbacks thought this would put them in position to win immediately. But their star A.J. Pollock suffered an injury before the season began and the Diamondbacks were never able to catch their stride. Arizona finished 69-93, fourth in the National League West.
Swanson’s new club, the Atlanta Braves, seemed poised to become the champions of this year’s offseason. The Braves have already acquired pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, both big-time names who appear to be well out of their prime. Additionally, the Braves have reportedly inquired about trading for star pitchers Chris Sale and Sonny Gray. The Braves won only 68 games in 2016, but will open up 2017 in a brand new stadium. Will they make the same mistake as the 2012 Marlins?
The problem the Braves and other would-be spenders will face this offseason is a clear lack of talent amongst this year’s free agent class. Rich Hill appears to be the top starting pitcher in this year’s Hot Stove and there are not many quality position players beyond outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. If teams are smart, they will not overspend in an attempt to compete immediately. Unfortunately, recent trends suggest somebody will make this fatal mistake.