Breakups are hard. Harder still is running into your ex several months after your amicable dissolution and discovering that they are doing better than they ever were with you. They’ve got a new partner, their spin rate is up, they’re picking up MVP votes. They are thriving.
Below is the one that got away for every American League team. The player that was with them at the end of last season but was kicked to the curb. At the very least, there wasn’t a strong effort to keep things going.
The A’s inspired this piece with their decision not to extend Marcus Semien a qualifying offer. They also declined to extend Liam Hendriks a qualifying offer, but not making an effort to retain Semien looks even worse by comparison. The A’s bullpen has suffered in Hendriks’s absence, but Oakland’s season is in jeopardy because they haven’t gotten anything from their shortstops.
Oakland shortstops are the fifth-least productive in the majors with a combined 0.1 fWAR. Elvis Andrus, who has made 130 starts at shortstop, is slashing .231/.278/.309 for a 65 wRC+. Meanwhile, Semien will finish top-five in MVP voting with 6.2 fWAR, and he’s on pace for a 40-homer season. Semien signed with the Blue Jays for one year, $18 million, which is comparable to the $18.9 million qualifying offer.
The Mariners are defying the odds and photobombing the playoff picture. As of Tuesday morning, they were two games behind the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race. Seattle’s bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, keeping the close games within striking distance for their extremely clutch offense. Seattle could breathe a little easier if they still had Néstor Cortes in the ‘pen.
Cortes was dreadful in his brief time with the Mariners, allowing 13 runs in 7 2⁄3 innings before he landed on the 60-day IL. With the Yankees this year, he’s been stellar. Cortes owns a 2.70 ERA in 73 1⁄3 innings, and he could have been the third head of a bullpen hydra with Drew Steckenrider and Paul Sewald. Instead, the Mariners outrighted him to the minors, and Cortes elected free agency.
The Astros are doing just fine. They’re on track to reach the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, and the 2020 team is mostly intact. There was one notable departure last season, but it was a doozy. George Springer left for Toronto, and though injuries have torn into his production, he’s been the same player he always was in Houston. Myles Straw has performed admirably in his absence before he was traded to Cleveland, and Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers have done well, too. Regardless, having George Springer is clearly better than not having George Springer.
It was perhaps unrealistic for the Astros to retain Springer as he might have been eager to distance himself from the organization after the sign-stealing scandal. In the Astros’ ideal world, he would have stuck around.
The Rangers needed to do more than retain one player, but it’s undeniable they would have been better off with Lance Lynn. Lynn is pitching to a career-best ERA of 2.50 with the White Sox, and he’s been about as good as he was in 2019. The only difference is the workload (140 2⁄3 innings compared to 208 1/3).
For what it’s worth, the Rangers did fine in the Lance Lynn trade. Dane Dunning is a downgrade, but he fits with the Rangers’ window better. He’s also pitched better than his 4.27 ERA would indicate.
This may come as a shock, but the team that hasn’t been able to win with Mike Trout doesn’t have a lot of other good players, so when they lose someone in free agency, it’s not a major loss. Tommy La Stella and Brian Goodwin were both traded last year and don’t qualify for this exercise. The many bullpen arms haven’t found new life in their new homes. Andrelton Simmons has a 57 wRC+ and is an anti-vax dipshit.
That leaves us with Noé Ramirez who the Angels traded to the Reds for Raisel Iglesias and then reacquired when the Reds released him. He threw 3 1⁄3 lackluster innings for Los Angeles before he was designated for assignment in May. Since then, Ramirez has been with the Diamondbacks and he’s been... fine? The 21.2 percent strikeout rate isn’t good even if it’s his best since 2019, but he’s only given up 11 runs in 27 innings. That’s better than a lot of current Angels relievers could say.
The Twins saw a lot of production exit the organization this winter. On the pitching side, Rich Hill went to the Rays, Trevor May went to the Mets, Jake Odorizzi went to the Astros, and Zack Littell went to the Giants. The offense remained mostly intact, but one departure hurt more than any other though the Twins could be forgiven for not realizing it at the time.
On February 4, the Twins traded LaMonte Wade Jr. to the Giants for right-handed pitcher Shaun Anderson. In San Francisco, Wade has slashed .261/.338/.518 for a 129 wRC+. That wouldn’t be enough to correct the Twins’ disastrous season—the offense isn’t the reason why the Twins are in last place in MLB’s worst division—but it has to sting knowing they traded that away for a pitcher they waived in June.
Honorable mention: Losing Akil Baddoo to the Tigers in the Rule 5 Draft.
Chicago White Sox
This very easily could have been Carlos Rodón as the White Sox nontendered him after last season, but they wisely resigned him. Recognizable losses like Jarrod Dyson, Alex Colomé, and James McCann have all been around replacement level. Edwin Encarnación never caught on with a new team after his option was declined.
Honestly, the White Sox’ offseason looks great even after under unfair retroactive scrutiny. Good job, White Sox. No notes.
Like the White Sox, the Tigers aren’t really missing anyone from their 2020 squad, but Anthony Castro has put up intriguing numbers with the Blue Jays since the Tigers lost him on waivers. Castro has 29 strikeouts in 21 1⁄3 innings against 7 walks. He’s given up 14 runs in that time, but he looks to have gotten a little unlucky. His slider is an excellent swing-and-miss pitch, and he throws it about half the time. His fastball has been hit hard, but he throws it in the mid-90s and it boasts 92nd percentile spin. I’d rather have a pitcher like that in my organization than not.
Sentimentally, the Royals are missing Alex Gordon who retired after 14 seasons in Kansas City. Production-wise, Kansas City is probably wishing they could have had Ian Kennedy back even if just meant they could trade him for a couple prospects. Kennedy has been worse than his ERA suggests as he’s been bitten by the longball. Regardless, his 4.80 FIP is still better than Greg Hollands’ or Wade Davis’s.
This one is pretty obviously Francisco Lindor. Cleveland traded away the face of the franchise to watch him sign a 10-year extension. After a slow start in Queens, Lindor is back to mashing. In the second half, Lindor has a .243/.329/.554 slash line which puts his .883 OPS right around his career average.
New York Yankees
There was probably no way to keep Masahiro Tanaka stateside for a variety of reasons, so we’ll look elsewhere. The Yankees shipped Adam Ottavino out to Boson, and he owns a better FIP than he did in 2019 when he posted a 1.90 ERA in pinstripes. The Yankees have underperformed on all sides of the ball, and they’ve especially had trouble filling out the back of the bullpen. Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Lucas Luetge have all been excellent, but Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman have stumbled. Instead of Ottavino, the Yankees are putting their hopes on Wandy Peralta.
Boston Red Sox
Collin McHugh never threw a pitch for the Red Sox and signed with the Rays for $1.8 million over the offseason. He’s been excellent in 57 2⁄3 innings, maintaining an ERA of 1.40 and a FIP of 2.14. Boston’s bullpen ranks sixth in baseball in fWAR, but it also trails the Yankees and Rays. The Red Sox were one behind the Yankees in the loss column as of Tuesday morning, so they can use every win they can get.
Annoyingly, the Rays haven’t suffered for trading away Blake Snell. Their former ace has been a smidge below average, and the Rays have been one of the three best teams in majors all season. They’re running away with an otherwise competitive division, but it’s hard to argue that they wouldn’t be better if they still had Charlie Morton.
The Rays declined Morton’s $15 million club option for 2021, and Morton, of course, signed with Atlanta. In 2021, Morton has pitched to a 3.30 FIP in 29 starts and 165 innings. The Rays’ innings leader is Ryan Yarbrough, who has a 4.43 FIP in 138 1⁄3 innings. The Rays have four pitchers with 100 or more innings, and only Shane McClanahan has a FIP below 4.00.
The Blue Jays had an excellent offseason, acquiring Semien and Springer while extending Robbie Ray. There aren’t many players who left the organization that Toronto would like to have back, but in retrospect, Taijuan Walker would have been nice to keep around. The Jays acquired Walker in a trade with the Mariners last season, and he had a 1.37 ERA in 26 1⁄3 innings.
Walker has fallen off after making the All-Star team, and Toronto has gotten comparable production from Steven Matz and Alek Manoah in addition to trading for José Berríos. Still, in a race as tight as the AL East, every win is crucial and Walker would have made the Blue Jays ever so slightly better.
I thought the Orioles were going to be hard because José Iglesias has been bad (-23 DRS!) and what other good players did they have last year, but I forgot about the other piece of the Iglesias trade: Alex Cobb. While he’s been healthy, Cobb has pitched as well as he ever has. In 15 starts, he owns a 3.82 ERA and a 2.62 FIP. Jahmai Jones, whom the Orioles received in exchange for Iglesias and Cobb, has a 16 wRC+ in 58 plate appearances and ranks 18th in the Orioles system per MLB Pipeline.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.