A lot of discussion in the postseason surrounds narratives that developed over the course of the season. Frequently, one of the primary story lines or discussions that occurs is the moves that did or did not work out. Transactions are constantly changing the highly dynamic MLB landscape, and it is important to keep updates on how those changes are happening. Without further ado, here are some of the biggest moves that shaped the road to the postseason, so the Indians and Reds will be included in this post.
James Shields and friend for Wil Myers and friends
In what was likely the most talked-about deal of the entire off season, the Royals decided to go for it all now instead of holding on to their young talent. While the move makes much more sense long-term for the Rays, the 2013 results of the move may come as a surprise. James Shields pitched effectively for the Royals, but he was far from a front line starter. While his low-3's ERA is nice, he saw a big drop in his strikeout rate and a big jump in his walk rate. His fWAR and FIP both look strong, but his xFIP suggests he was aided by a bit of luck and he put up a LOB% of almost 80%--something he has only done one other time in his career.
Meanwhile, Myers broke out and is likely the favorite for the AL's Rookie of the Year award. In just 88 games, Myers totaled 2.4 fWAR--good for a pro-rated 4.42 fWAR. While he played only half a season, his rate numbers were better than Shields'--even though Shields is aided by a FIP number that has not been adjusted for environment. However, this is not where Myers' impact stops. His presence in right field solidified another position in Joe Maddon's lineups and allowed him to utilize players like Ben Zobrist at more important positions such as second base. With a big upgrade offensively at second, the overall production of the Rays' offense increased as a a result of Myers' constant presence in the lineup.
The Shin-Soo Choo carousel
The 2012 Reds got a .254 OBP out of their lead off spot. Meanwhile, the 2013 Reds got a .415 OBP out of their lead off spot. Yes, the addition of Shin-Soo Choo addressed one of the Reds' biggest needs--someone to get on in front of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and company. While Didi Gregorius may develop into a very solid shortstop, Zack Cozart managed to repeat his 2012 season and performed as a league-average shortstop, negating the need to keep Gregorius in the system.
However, this deal may be just as big for what it didn't produce. Trevor Bauer didn't do anything for Cleveland this year--and his future as a player is in jeopardy--and the D-Backs didn't get any serious levels of production out of anyone in the deal--despite moving one of their top prospects. At the same time, Dusty Baker's questionable game management--such as having Brandon Phillips' .404 slugging percentage handicap the fourth spot in the order throughout a large chunk of the season--really hurt the Reds' offense and limited a team that could have been among the game's elite.
Swisher and Bourn think Cleveland rocks
Plot twist: this part is actually about how these two didn't define Cleveland's success. Between the two of them--at a cost of $18 million--they produced 4.4 wins in 275 games. While the efficiency rating here is good, the use of two roster spots for a combined 4.4 wins is not. In fact, it's closer to average than it should be. In fact, the Indians' three best moves will surprise most individuals: signing Ryan Raburn, signing Scott Kazmir, and trading for Yan Gomes.
The aforementioned trio came at a base cost of less than $2 million plus Esmil Rogers--who was near replacement level with Toronto this season. The reward was 8.7 fWAR in 29 starts--for Kazmir--and 174 games played between Gomes and Raburn. That is a ridiculous return on investment, mainly because the player value per roster spot--before adjusting for games played--is higher than that of Swisher/Bourn and the cost was a fraction of the total for the two big free agents.
The Pirates and their diamonds from the rough
Most of this can be found here, but it's worth mentioning again. All due respect to the other executives in MLB, but this year was--and will continue to be--Neil Huntington's season. He nailed the Liriano and Martin signings, the Hanrahan trade, and the decision to go with Grilli as the closer. While there may be a spritz of luck involved--as there is for every team in the league--it is undeniable that Huntington has had a fantastic year and the Pirates are where they are largely because of the efforts of that front office.
The Super Upton Bros join forces
At the end of April, it looked like trading for Justin was the move of the off season and signing B.J. was the monumental disaster of the off season. By the end of the season, trading for Justin just looks good and signing B.J. still looks like a monumental disaster--especially considering what Bourn signed for with Cleveland and what he produced with them in limited playing time. Much like with the Swisher and Bourn signings with Cleveland, the Braves' off season really seems to be defined by what their biggest moves failed to accomplish.
Meanwhile, the development of young talent--a true calling card for the Braves--such as Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, and Mike Minor was the foundation of their 2013 success. In fact, the Braves got just 2.7 fWAR out of the $22+ million they spent on the Upton brothers and only 1.85 fWAR per roster spot, which is simply poor.
Cherington and the beards
While the former Red Sox front office cannot be entirely blamed for the mess that was created in 2012, it's pretty straightforward that Ben Cherington and his staff were faced with cleaning up a huge mess. It is rare that a team hits on most of its free agent contracts, and it's even more rare that a team does so while combining a good dollar/WAR ratio with a high number of wins per roster spot.
This past off season, the Red Sox brought on Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, Craig Breslow, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, and David Ross. All that bunch did was combine for more than 20 wins in value for just over $60 million. While that $60 million in 2013 commitments is a ton of money--and admittedly not something every team can do--getting a return of 20 fWAR on those dollars is impressive. It's one thing to throw $60 million at a wall and hope it sticks. It's another to turn it into solid gold and build a team that seals the best record in baseball.
Hamilton gains a halo
One of the biggest moves of this past off season was Josh Hamilton joining Albert Pujols in an attempt to build a super team in Orange County. It can also be argued that his presence in Los Angeles helped the Rangers to be in position to force a game 163 this year--and at the same time, help the A's win the division. By spending 17 million in 2013 salary--yeah, that's how back loaded Hamilton's contract is--on a 1.9 fWAR player to take up one of 25 roster spots, the Angels didn't gain what they should have out of an expected deal--something closer to a 3.5 fWAR player. While that doesn't make much of a difference for the Angels, it actually meant the world to Texas.
Hamilton's absence meant more games for Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry--both of whom had big seasons. Both players are good defenders, and both excel as base runners. In fact, the duo combined for 6.1 fWAR in 253 games as they split time in center field. What Hamilton's absence meant was more time for Gentry in left--where he played in 34 games and started 20--and regular starting time for Martin in center field rather than simply being part of a platoon. Since both players have yet to reach arbitration, this also meant incredible roster efficiency from both players for the Rangers, which helped free up room for extra moves.
Mr. Haren goes to Washington
This was the move that was supposed to put the Nationals over the top. Coming off of 98 wins with a healthy Strasburg, an emerging Harper, and a strong roster, the Nats were supposed to be pushed over the top by adding Dan Haren to the back of their rotation. At the end of the season, Haren produced just 1.5 fWAR at a cost of $13 million. Once again, this move tells a story of how dollars that were spent ineffectively hurt a team's chances.
While there were no other pitchers who would have been as effective for the money Haren was paid on the free agent market, free agency is also not the only way the Nationals could have addressed their need in the rotation. For example, Ervin Santana was acquired by the Royals for a minimal return and produced 3.0 fWAR in value--and his ERA and xFIP were both better than his FIP this season. While the Haren move didn't define the Nationals this season, it stands out as their biggest mistake and was big in hurting their playoff chances--especially as the team that came into the season as a favorite for advancing deep into October.
Dodgers buy an ace/go international
It's easy to say, "anyone can get a star for $25 million per season." However, I'm sure the Angels, Giants, Mets, Cubs, and other clubs would like to remind people that those types of deals often bust--and sometimes they do so in the first year of their existence. The Dodgers managed to avoid that mistake with Zack Greinke, and he served as one of the big reasons they ran away with the National League West.
However, this wasn't the biggest story for the Dodgers this year, as their ability to find gems on the undervalued international market shined through as their crowning achievement. Both Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu are signed to cheap deals that have produced high dollar/WAR values along with high returns on WAR per each roster spot.
Anibal spurns the Cubs
Once upon a time this off season, Anibal Sanchez signed with the Chicago Cubs. Just a short time later, he officially inked a contract with the Detroit Tigers, and it's quite possible that that decision granted the Tigers their spot as division champion over the Cleveland Indians. At 29 years old, Sanchez enjoyed a breakout campaign--even though his season was interrupted by injury issues, and he was limited to just 182 innings.
By back loading the contract, the Tigers got this performance at the cost of $8.8 million. This allowed their roster to better absorb inefficiencies such as Prince Fielder's contract. However, the contract efficiency isn't what was most important with Anibal Sanchez--even though it was fantastic. The biggest part of Sanchez was his incredible 6.2 fWAR--or better yet, his 2.92 xFIP over 29 starts. Sanchez was near the top of the league with 9.99 K/9 and allowed a career-low 0.45 HR/9.
If Anibal Sanchez doesn't sign with the Tigers, they are likely not a playoff team.
BONUS: Giancarlo Stanton doesn't get traded
Sometimes the biggest thing that impacts a season is a move that doesn't happen. This year, it is certainly possible that Giancarlo Stanton staying put in Miami was that very non-move. Before the season and during the season, several teams were linked to Stanton--the Rangers, Red Sox, and Pirates among them. While acquiring the young and powerful Stanton would have been great for any team--as it adds benefits for 2013 and beyond-- all three of the mentioned teams were in the thick of the playoff chase with effective right fielders that weren't Giancarlo Stanton.
The Red Sox signed Shane Victorino in the off season and the Pirates and Rangers traded for Marlon Byrd and Alex Rios respectively at the deadline. In fact, Stanton ended up with 2.3 fWAR in 116 games, which would not have been much of an addition to a playoff contender given the cost. While it isn't fair to only limit this analysis to 2013, it is worth being noted that Alex Rios, Shane Victorino, and Marlon Byrd were all worth more this season than Stanton was. For the Rangers specifically, the absence of Stanton allowed Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin more playing time--as was mentioned above in the discussion of Josh Hamilton.
While Stanton would have been acquired as much for the future as for 2013, his presence in Miami didn't just impact the 2013 playoff chase. In fact, the Marlins' new front office is reportedly committed to building the franchise around Stanton--as they have been known to do in the past after roster blow ups.
These are just a few of the moves that impacted the playoff chase. In fact, every move ultimately impacts how every season plays out--simply because the presence of a player on one team impacts how much he plays against, helps, or doesn't face a team. However, these moves had direct a direct impact on the teams involved. It's simple to say that the off season impacts the post season, but hopefully this helps paint a better picture of how everything works together.
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Ken Woolums is the Transactions Editor at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Wooly9109