MLB Winter Meetings: Five main takeaways from Day 2 in Nashville

By Michael Dixon

Another day is done at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, and this one was action packed.

Who went where? Who may go somewhere? How are the pennant races impacted? Let’s dive in to the five most important things that happened at Day 2 of the MLB Winter Meetings.

Big Happenings in Chicago

My, my, my, how things can change in 24 hours. Just yesterday, it seemed as though Ben Zobrist was choosing between the Mets and Nationals, with the Giants having an outside chance. By Tuesday afternoon, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Zobrist was headed to the Cubs to be reunited with old Tampa manager, Joe Maddon.

Not long after that, we learned from a series of reports from Buster Olney (ESPN) Joel Sherman (New York Post), Jack Curry (YES Network), and Jon Heyman CBS Sports that the Yankees and Cubs had agreed to a trade, with the Yankees landing Starlin Castro and the Cubs getting Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan in return.

Courtesy of USA Today Images

The Castro trade was predictable, since Jon Morosi from Fox Sports had previously tweeted that Zobrist wanted to play second base.

Takeaway: While the Cubs’ top three of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Lohn Lackey is more than formidable, they can still use some help in the starting rotation. Fortunately, they’ve managed to make their team better without losing Javier Baez. Maybe he can be used as a super-utility man like Zobrist has been, maybe he can be traded for pitching help. It’s a good problem for the Cubs to have.

As far as the Yankees go, the 2015 numbers of Castro and New York’s primary second baseman — Stephen Drew — tell a good portion of the story.

Castro vs. Drew

Castro is far from a perfect hitter, but it’s an upgrade. Most important, the Yankees get a little younger. When was the last time that happened?

Who wins and loses the trade remains to be seen but for now, it’s a good move for both sides.

Diamondbacks are all in

Nobody will ever look at the off-season the Arizona Diamondbacks have had and say that they were afraid to make moves.

Rosenthal started the action reporting that Arizona had brought yet another All-Star pitcher to the desert.

Okay, that makes sense. Even with the signing of Zack Greinke, the Diamondbacks were probably in need of a good No. 2 starter if they were really going to contend. Miller is only 25, is under control for three more years, and has a career 3.22 ERA, so he certainly seems like a solid target for a team looking to upgrade their pitching.

But before getting too excited, who did they get? Sherman shed some light on that for us.

Wow. Inciarte has shown flashes, but his career numbers indicate don’t really indicate that he’s worthy of an All-Star like Shelby Miller. But what about that plus?

Nick Piecoro of AZ Central Sports filled that last little tidbit in.

Holy cow!

Aaron Blair, who will be 24 in May, has never pitched in the Majors. In 363 Minor League innings, Blair has a 3.22 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, and 332 strikeouts. He was drafted No. 36 overall in 2013 with a competitive balance pick, which is a first round pick.

Swanson has only 22 professional games to his credit, playing them with the Low-A Hollboro Hops of the Northwest League. The shortstop hit one home run with a .289/.394/.482 slash line. He was a first round pick in June’s draft, taken first overall. Yes, first overall.

Takeaway: It doesn’t stop there for the Diamondbacks. Remember, by signing Zack Greinke, the Diamondbacks forfeited their first round pick for the 2016 MLB Draft, which would have been 13th overall. If you’re scoring at home, they’ve now lost three out of four first round draft picks for Greinke and Miller.

Courtesy of USA Today Images

As is the case with any trade, time will tell the full story of this one. But remember, the San Diego Padres were the active last off-season, and got a 74-88 record with a fourth place finish for their troubles. The Marlins were the active team heading into the 2012 season, and finished 69-93, good enough for dead last in the National League East.

Big activity does not necessarily translate to a great season.

Now, if Swanson and Blair don’t pan out, the price doesn’t look so steep. But what the Diamondbacks really need to do is get a few playoff appearances from this new group and probably a World Series win. If Greinke and Miller help deliver that, it’s all good in the desert. If not, this is a bad trade, especially if any of the players they lost out on work out in their new homes.

I know all of the expressions. Faint heart never won fair lady. Fortune favors the bold. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Those are all fine, and I’m following a tour of toiling in mediocrity after winning the NL West in 2011, plenty of Diamondbacks fans are happy to see them surround Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock with top pitching talent. But if they don’t become consistent contenders, this is a colossal blunder.

Kenta Maeda posted

Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that the newest Japanese import might be heading to Major League Baseball.

Getting posted doesn’t necessarily mean signing with anyone, but it’s the all important first step. Now, what can be expected of Maeda once he comes to the United States. 

Well, take a look at how he compares to two recent Japanese pitchers coming to the Majors, Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish, keeping in mind that both Tanaka and Darvish made their Major League debuts at 25, while Maeda will be 28 in 2016.

Maeda vs. Tanaka vs. Darvish

Darvish was more of a phenom than either Maeda or Tanaka, but as you can see, Maeda and Tanaka had comparable careers in Japan.

Takeaway: The numbers have taken a slight hit, but both Tanaka and Darvish are certainly successful Major League Baseball pitchers and are easily good enough to be a top two pitcher on a World Series contender.

The Giants pitching remains thin behind Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, who they’re hoping bounces back from a dismal 2015, so they certainly make sense.

Also, if Maeda gets his wish and plays on the West Coast, he’ll end up in Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Anaheim, or San Diego, which are all pitcher’s parks. Both Darvish (Texas) and Tanaka (New York) ended up in hitter’s parks.

Maeda will be expensive, as he’ll require both a posting fee and a contract, which won’t be cheap. But when you look at his numbers in Japan, the successes Darvish and Tanaka have had, along with other Japanese pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda, he’s a pretty safe bet. Whether they play on the west coast, east coast, or anywhere in between, any team looking for starting pitching help should be trying to land him.

Hunt for outfielders

Jon Morosi gave an idea of where the priorities lie for the San Francisco Giants.

Mike DiGiovanna from the Los Angeles times reported similar interests for the Angels.

Brittany Ghiroli from mlb.com didn’t give specifics, but said that the Orioles are also in the hunt for an outfielder.

Takeaway: Certainly no big surprises here but when the first of these signings happen, it will be a big deal.

Given their ages, Heyward (26) and Upton (28) are the outfielders that teams should be most willing to give a long term deal to. Going beyond four years Gordon (32 in February), Cespedes (30), and Fowler (30 in March), is a gamble.

Upton and the Giants are a good match. San Francisco needs a left fielder and while Buster Posey, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy certainly give the Giants and their fans hope for the future, they could stand to get younger, especially in the outfield.

Another 25-plus home run threat to go with Posey and Hunter Pence would also make sense. While a left-handed bat would seem to line up better, AT&T Park is far better for right-handed power hitters than their left-handed counterparts.

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Cespedes and the Angels line up well. While they do have Albert Pujols in the lineup, they have young talent in Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, Kaleb Cowart, etc, so adding a 30-year-old wouldn’t hurt them.

As far as the Orioles go, there are no specific targets mentioned, but lefties Heyward and Gordon, as well as switch hitter Dexter Fowler make a lot of sense for them.

Prediction: The Mets will land They will land Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, or Alex Gordon.

They may be laying low right now, but they just came off of a World Series appearance. At the moment, two of the biggest offensive contributors of that NL Pennant winner — Cespedes and Daniel Murphy — are gone. Adding a big bat makes sense. If they don’t add a bat, they’re risking wasting at least a year of the game’s best pitching staff.

Jose Fernandez asking price

Yesterday, we learned that Jose Fernandez was a hot commodity, which isn’t a huge surprise. But what exactly are the Marlins looking for? Thanks to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald and Joe Frisaro of mlb.com, we have an answer.

Takeaway: If you take one thing away from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, let it be this. The Miami Marlins can not trade Jose Fernandez for prospects, even great ones.

If Miami is interested in building a good fan base, they have to keep players like Fernandez. Really, this one goes beyond baseball and whether or not a trade makes sense, on paper. The would-be Marlins from Arizona and Los Angeles are all highly touted prospects. If this was a normal bad team unloading one of its best players, it wouldn’t be such a problem. But the Marlins are not a normal bad team.

Miami has been known to unload talent, as they had a huge fire sale right after winning a World Series in 1997. We’d be here all day if we went over all of the losses they suffered after 1997’s championship.

In 2003, they won another and spread the sale out a little more. As a matter of fact, we just passed the anniversary of one of those trades.

That’s a lot of pictures. What exactly happened there? Thanks to Tanner Bell of Smart Fantasy Baseball, we have a pretty succinct version.

They also traded 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in a package to the Red Sox after the 2005 season. Granted, the Marlins did get Hanley Ramirez in return but from the time Ramirez made his debut for the Marlins in 2006 until he was traded in 2012, the Fish never made the playoffs, never won more than 87 games, and had only two winning seasons.

Meanwhile, Beckett and Lowell won another World Series for the Red Sox in 2007, winning the ALCS and World Series MVP’s, respectively.

Prospects, even great ones, promise you nothing.

Joc Pederson has a full MLB season to his credit, while Corey Seager came up at the end of 2015 and started in the playoffs for the Dodgers. They’re good players, but nowhere near as proven as Fernandez. None of the others have found their way to the majors yet.

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Put yourself into the shoes of a Miami Marlins fan. Your team has a history of unloading good talent. When that follows a World Series win, it’s not such a problem, but this team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2003. While Fernandez is young and has missed some time do to injury, he’s proven to be a Major League Baseball star, something that none of the prospects can say yet.

If I’m a fan and the Marlins trade Fernandez, I’m thinking one of four things.

  1. They’re trading for a core group of talent that will be this team’s cornerstone for the next decade. Possible, sure, but given the team’s history, you’ve got to be incredibly optimistic to believe that.
  2. They’re yet again trading away good players for a haul of unproven talent. It might be a highly-touted haul, but it’s largely unproven.
  3. Even if all of these guys become stars, how do I know we’re not going be right back here in a few years when that happens? Fernandez is only 23, so it’s not exactly like his prime is winding down.
  4. Some combination of two and three.

If this team trades every good player (excluding Giancarlo Stanton), they become the Oakland A’s, but with a few exceptions.

  1. The A’s haven’t won a World Series since 1989, but are generally competitive. They have four playoff appearances (2006, 2012, 2013, 2014) since the Marlins last World Series win and playoff appearance. The 2003 season also marked the fourth consecutive playoff appearance for Oakland.
  2. The A’s are the No. 2 MLB team in their own market. The Marlins are not.
  3. The A’s play in one of the worst stadiums in baseball. The Marlins play in a park opened in 2012. Back in 2013, Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald estimated that by the time all debts are paid, Marlins Park will cost Miami-Dade County $1.2 billion. That is not a typo. The Marlins had better put a competitive team on the field for the people of South Florida, or at least give it a fantastic effort.

On Monday, Spencer bluntly quoted President of Baseball Operations, Mike Hill saying that Fernandez is  “not available.” That has to be true, but the fact that we have specific offers on the table makes me skeptical.

Again, this goes beyond baseball. The Marlins just can’t trade Jose Fernandez for prospects and tell their fans that they’re trying to win.