This week at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron—one of my favorite writers—unveiled his list of the 10 best free agent signings and trades of the offseason. I might quibble with a few placements, but overall it’s a solid list.
There’s one thing about these rankings that I was disappointed by, though. Including the honorable mentions, Cameron praised 16 deals as among the best of the winter—and none of them were moves the Cleveland Indians had made.
I’ll concede that the Indians haven’t made any earth-shattering moves this winter, and both of the biggest deals they’ve made were all the way back before Thanksgiving. But Cameron’s list wasn’t about the highest-profile trades and signings, it was an attempt to recognize the best ones. And a number of moves Cleveland’s made this winter deserve to at least be in the running.
Right off the bat, Cleveland kicked off the offseason by acquiring Derek Lowe and $10 million from the Atlanta Braves. The Indians got a durable innings-eater who will almost certainly throw 200 innings of roughly average run prevention for $5 million and a missable prospect (Chris Jones). In a market in which marginal wins cost about $5 million, the Tribe paid less than half price for Lowe. I’d say that makes this look like one of the best trades GM Chris Antonetti has ever made.
Compare the Lowe deal to, say, the Phillies signing 33-year-old Jimmy Rollins for $39 million or the Reds inking closer Ryan Madson for $8.5 million—both of which made Cameron’s list. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t purport to know exactly how each of these deals will end up working out, but I have a hard time imaging Philadelphia and Cincinnati getting more surplus value out of Rollins and Madson than the Indians will from Lowe. Certainly not in proportion to how much the teams are spending.
What about the Russ Canzler trade? Cleveland got a 25-year-old player who’s had two consecutive seasons with OPSes in the .930’s in the high minors and is under team control for six more years. And all it cost them was a few bucks. If Canzler becomes even a serviceable first baseman—definitely not out of the realm of possibility for someone with his minor-league resume—he’ll give the Indians a much better return on their investment than Rollins or Madson will give their employers.
Was the Athletics’ acquisition of Seth Smith, which Cameron listed as an honorable mention, really that much better than the Tribe’s trade for Kevin Slowey? It certainly wasn’t far and away superior to the deal that brought Aaron Cunningham to Cleveland. And really: would you rather have Casey Kotchman for $3 million or C.J. Wilson for $77.5 million (another honorable mention deal)?
And if we’re talking in terms of how players were paid in relation to their peers instead of their productions—in which case the Rollins and Madson deals do look much better—how about Grady Sizemore? Yes, he’s an injury risk and his plate discipline is in the tubes. But the $5 million contract he signed in November was way below what he could’ve gotten from another team.
I’d have expected the Indians to be snubbed by a more mainstream media outlet, in which such a list might have been more about big names on the move than cost-effective signings. But Cameron is one of the best baseball analysts in the blogosphere, and it’s clear that he really did put a lot of thought into this list. I’m just not sure why he didn’t deem any of the deals the Indians made as more worthy than signing Rollins and Madson.