In the span of just 24 hours, from 9 o’clock Monday to 9 o’clock Tuesday, the Hot Stove went from lukewarm to blistering hot. In total, 24 players changed teams through trades and free agency. The day saw the movement of young and old, of catchers and pitchers alike, and everyone in between. Below is a non-comprehensive list of what we learned, and what we have yet to find out after this brief but exhilarating ride along the Hot Stove.
The Yankees Have Money to Spend
In other years, this would not be a shocking statement, merely a factual one. But coming into this offseason, it seemed the Yankees had restrictions on their largesse. Owner Hal Steinbrenner had stated on numerous occasions his intent to bring the team below baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold, which, given the Yankees pre-existing financial obligations, would hamper their ability to spend on big-ticket free agents. When the Yankees went out and signed Brian McCann to a 5 year, $85 million contract, it came as no surprise — they are the Yankees, after. But tonight, when they signed former Red Sox’ outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to an astonishing 7 year, $153 million contract, the 3rd-largest for an outfielder in MLB history, many assumed that the Yankees were done for the offseason. That they had signed Ellsbury as a contingency plan for the loss of Robinson Cano. That they had deemed Cano too expensive — too expensive for the Yankees. According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, those people were wrong.
Granted, the Ellsbury contract will likely affect the Cano negotiations. For one thing, there’s this:
But the moral of tonight is this; next time the Yankees claim poverty, don’t believe them.
The A’s Are Going Reverse Moneyball
One of the key precepts of Moneyball (the baseball philosophy, not the film) was that bullpens are replaceable. As other teams paid good money for a Proven Closer(TM), Beane and the Athletics would trade away their bullpen for a high return, assemble a new bullpen off the scrap heap, and then sell that bullpen for a high return — the circle of life for a low-payroll team. But today, the A’s did something shocking. In 2013, with Billy Beane as their manager, the Oakland Athletics traded for a Proven Closer(TM). They took Jim Johnson, and his $10 million contract, off the Orioles’ hands. And not only that; they traded Seth Smith, the kind of platoon outfielder that Beane normally stockpiles, to the Padres in exchange for another bullpen arm in Luke Gregerson. Why did they do this? As SBNation’s Rob Neyer points out, they had money to spend, and very few places to spend it. Next year’s roster was pretty much set; the only area that needed improvement was the bullpen. So, with few other holes, the A’s did what they had never done before — they spent lavishly (for them, at least) on a bullpen.
The Tigers Don’t Have Infinite Cash
Over the past two years, the Tigers have spent as wildly as any team in baseball. They extended Justin Verlander for $180 million. They signed Anibal Sanchez for $88 million. And perhaps most egregiously, they gave Prince Fielder $214 million. But this year, they have spent a good deal of effort performing what one might call a “market correction.” They, as you may have heard, unloaded Prince Fielder on the Rangers, getting back Ian Kinsler in what was widely heralded as an intelligent move. Then, in the deal that started the current frenzy, they gave up the criminally underrated Doug Fister and got only an intriguing pitching prospect and two spare parts in return. The Tigers were willing to trade a starter due to the presence of Drew Smyly, who will finally have the opportunity to get regular starts. But the move to deal Fister was motivated primarily by financial concerns. Dombrowski himself stated firmly that the team has no intentions of lowering payroll. But he also said this about the Fister deal:
And he wasn’t lying — today, the Tigers signed veteran closer Joe Nathan to a 2 year, $20 million deal, and are said to be pursuing Shin Soo Choo. So it isn’t that the Tigers are cutting payroll. It is that they no longer have the ability to add payroll, so in order to add, they have to subtract.
The Astros are Up to Something
I haven’t the faintest idea to what. But today, the Astros traded young starter Jordan Lyles, along with Brandon Barnes, to the Rockies in exchange for Dexter Fowler, a player in his prime with a proven track record of success. This is the exact opposite of the trades that teams normally make while in rebuilding mode, as well as the opposite of the trades Jeff Lunhow and Co. have been making for the last three years. But that’s the thing; over the last three years, the Astros have bottomed out, losing over 100 games each year, including 111 last year. Maybe Lunhow considers now the time to give his plan some form. So, again, I don’t have any idea what the Astros are up to right now. But don’t be surprised if they make a major move sometime in the near future.
There’s a whole lot more that we didn’t cover in this wrap-up. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is now a Miami Marlin, proving that with enough money, Jeffrey Loria can still convince free agents to bring their talents to South Beach. A.J. Pierzynski is coming to Boston, as if three world championships in 10 years wasn’t reason enough to root against the Red Sox. It’s been a crazy night for baseball. But there are still so many pieces who have yet to fall into place. Robinson Cano could conceivably be a Mariner, and Carlos Beltran might just get to come back to Kansas City. So go to bed, get a good night’s sleep, and get ready for tomorrow. With the Winter Meetings on the way, there is still intrigue to be had in the Hot Stove League.