It’s been a cold and quiet winter in MLB.
That’s nothing new, of course. The days of frantic and active Winter Meetings are becoming a thing of the past. Teams have become more accustomed to promoting young, inexpensive talent and seem less willing to dish out long-term contracts to past-their-prime free agents.
But there is still value out there. Take the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers: President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman signed pitchers Blake Treinen and Alex Wood to one-year deals last winter, and both were key contributors in the postseason.
And as the calendar turned over this offseason, teams have become more active in the free-agent and trade markets. Here are five recent acquisitions, and how they could impact their teams in 2021.
179 – whiff+
Liam Hendriks, our top-rated reliever on the market, signed a three-year, $54 million contract with the Chicago White Sox on Jan. 15, adding an accomplished arm to a bullpen that finished 11th in raw value- (RV-) and ninth in whiff+ in 2020.
In the shortened season, Hendriks emerged as one of the game’s most dominant relievers, compiling an astounding 45 RV- and ranking 10th in the majors with a 179 whiff+. Over the past two seasons with the Oakland A’s, the Aussie right-hander tallied a 1.79 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, and he struck out 38% of batters faced while walking just 5.7%.
Hendriks relies heavily on his four-seam fastball – a rate that has consistently risen over the past three seasons – while adding a biting slider and curveball to offset the velocity and movement of his fastball.
Hendriks joins Evan Marshall (36 RV- in 2020), Aaron Bummer (31 RV-) and hard-throwing rookie southpaw Garrett Crochet in a bullpen that could be one of the best in baseball as the South Siders look to claim their first division title since 2008.
114 – contact+
Six years and $90 million for a guy who can play all over the infield, recorded an impressive 136 RV+ and ranked third in the majors in contact+ (114) in 2020 feels like a steal for the New York Yankees.
DJ LeMahieu is known to be one of the best contact hitters in baseball, slashing .364/.421/.590 in 2020 with a K% in the 100th percentile in 2020. LeMahieu finished third in AL MVP voting and provided infield versatility for a Yankees roster that battled injuries throughout the year.
LeMahieu returns to New York’s loaded lineup, which includes Giancarlo Stanton (167 RV+ in 2020), Luke Voit (158 RV+) and Aaron Judge (144 RV+). The best lineup in the American League last year keeps all of its key pieces.
36.2 – Innings pitched 2019-20
Yankees GM Brian Cashman wasn’t finished after adding LeMahieu. Corey Kluber, who has suffered a fractured right arm and a torn teres major muscle over the past two seasons, has reportedly signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Bronx Bombers.
Kluber has pitched just 36.2 innings over the past two seasons, but will likely be relied upon to eat a lot more innings in 2021 as the Yankees attempt to replace the production of Masahiro Tanaka (92 RV- in 2020), James Paxton (93 RV-) and J.A. Happ (94 RV-). New York’s rotation finished third in baseball in RV-, a mark that could prove tough to match if the team isn’t able to replace those open spots.
Behind ace Gerrit Cole (62 RV-), Kluber joins a relatively unproven rotation, as potential starters Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German and Deivi Garcia combine for just 5.220 years of MLB service. With Luis Severino coming off Tommy John surgery in February 2020, Kluber will be thrust into a prominent role immediately.
141 – RV+
One of the marquee free agents of the 2020-21 class is heading north of the border… eventually. With the pandemic still impacting the U.S., it’s unknown when the Toronto Blue Jays will be able to return to the Rogers Centre.
Regardless, George Springer (141 RV+ in 2020), who reportedly signed a six-year, $150 million contract, brings a powerful, experienced bat to a young but talented Toronto lineup that features some of the game’s rising stars in Bo Bichette (122 RV+), Vlad Guerrero Jr. (102 RV+) and breakout outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (146 RV+).
Springer’s production in 2020 dropped comparatively to 2019, as he recorded a slash line of just .265/.359/.540. But he can still provide a reliable, veteran bat at the top of the order – along with one of the smoothest right-handed swings in baseball. Springer likely fills in as Toronto’s everyday center fielder, but he has experience playing right field as well.
3 – straight years at .300
Michael Brantley nearly joined his former teammate in Toronto – in fact, multiple outlets reported it as such. But instead, Brantley will return to the Houston Astros, reportedly signing a two-year, $32 million deal.
Brantley has been one of baseball’s most consistent hitters when he’s healthy. He put together one of his best years in the shortened 2020 season, slashing .300/.364/.476 and recording an RV+ of 121 and a contact+ of 107. He also hit .309 in 2018 and .311 in 2019. Last year, his K% and Whiff% ranked in the 88th and 93rd percentiles, respectively, a clear indication of his ability to put the ball in play.
The 33-year-old Brantley rejoins a lineup that took a step back in 2020, but still finished in the top half of MLB and performed well in the postseason. The Astros will have to find a replacement for Springer’s production, as well as that of right fielder Josh Reddick.
But Houston still has two of baseball’s best hitters – third baseman Alex Bregman (116 RV+ in 2020) and shortstop Carlos Correa (105 RV+) – to hold down the fort.
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