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Close Call’s 2013 offseason winners

This offseason has been as busy as any, with clear cut winners and losers among both players and teams. Close Call has identified 2 teams and 5 players each as winners and losers. This is the first of two posts, containing the winners.

Winners

8. Ryan Dempster: Signed 2-year, $26.5 million deal with Boston on December 19

As a secondary Cubs fan due to my North Side-based lineage, I’ve always been a fan of Ryan Dempster’s. After 6 relatively mediocre years to start his career in Florida and Cincinnati, Dempster put together 9 great years in the top half of Chicago’s starting rotation, amassing 67 wins in almost 1,200 innings of 3.74 ERA and 1.318 WHIP ball. He seemed to really hit his stride at Wrigley when the Cubs witched him from a closer back to a starter in ‘08, his lone All-Star selection as a Cub in a year he finished 6th in the Cy Young voting. Last year, amid  his torrid start to the season in which he was shutting down batters left and right en route to career bests in almost every relevant statistical category, the irrelevant Cubs traded him to the perennially contending Rangers for prospects. He saw a significant dip in his numbers upon his arrival to Texas, and at 35, is no spring chicken. Despite his age and a mere 12 AL starts in 15 years, he signed the lucrative deal with the Red Sox, who are looking to rebuild.

7. Rafael Soriano: Signed a 2-year, $14 million deal with Washington on January 17

No man in baseball, past, present, or future, would EVER want to have to replace the great Mariano Rivera, and an equal number of people could actually accomplish that, in the eyes of Yankee fans.  In New York’s first season without Mo since before Monica Lewinsky was a household name, however, Soriano did a more than adequate job. Following a 45 save, 1.73 ERA, 0.802 WHIP season in Tampa Bay, he was brought on by the Bronx Bombers to be the eighth inning setup man for Rivera, and he was just OK (412 ERA, 39.1 IP, 1.167 WHIP in 42 appearances). However, when Mo went down with an RGIII tear ACL tear in April of this past year, Rafael stepped in and saved 42 games, while putting up a 2.26 ERA and allowing just a 1.167 WHIP. As impressive as those numbers are, Soriano was just given another big dollar deal with another reigning division champion, which already has not one, but two experienced closers on staff (Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard—whio the Nats originally acquired in a trade with the Yankees—combined for 79 saves in the past two years). Soriano turned 33 in December. 

6. Edwin Jackson: Signed a 4-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs on January 2

E-Jax, a member of the 2012 Division Champion Nationals, has bounced around a LOT in his 10 MLB seasons. He’s been on 6 different teams since ‘08, and 7 teams since his debut in ‘03. Despite his desire to sign a multi-year deal similar to this one last season, he agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with the Nats last February, and at least maintained, if not increased, his stock as a free agent—despite some struggles in September and October. He’ll join a rebuilding Cubs team with a lot of young pitchers that will need mentoring, including former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija

5. Washington Nationals

Ok, so I’m a little biased here. But, as I’ve mentioned twice already, this team won the NL East in 2012, and this offseason they did nothing but add. Their only two notable losses are Jackson, who they replaced with Dan Haren, who is arguably an upgrade, and Michael Morse, who they traded away becasue, due to a full outfield and first base, would not have received any kind of significant playing time. They re-signed Adam LaRoche, who had team-high numbers of home runs (33), RBI (100), and walks (67), and was top three on the team in batting average (.271), OBP (.343), hits (155), and doubles (25). They added a third proven closer to their superior bullpen in Soriano, and finally acquired a true center fielder/leadoff man in Denard Span, who is under team control through 2015 on a relatively modest deal. Those additions, combined with several strategic minor league and bench additions, should put the Nats on the fast track to repeat as baseball’s best regular season team. 

4. Zack GreinkeSigned a six-year, $159 million deal with the Dodgers on December 10

Anyone who signs a deal for that kind of money should be considered a winner in all aspects of life. Combine that with early career worries about Greinke’s mental stamina, and he’s golden. Greinke burst onto the MLB’s collective radar in 2009, when he started the season with 29.2 consecutive scoreless innings, and went on to win the Cy Young award. He joins a high-expectations Dodgers team with a mammoth payroll and a ton of star power.

3. Josh Hamilton: Signed a 5-year, $133 million deal with the Angels on December 15

Hamilton’s contract was a year and $26 million less than Greinke’s. So why is he higher on the list? Several reasons: 1. He’s making $100k more per year than Greinke (which may seem like pocket change compared to the size of these deals, but hey, I’d love to even be making just that $100k this year). 2. As much uncertainty as surrounded Greinke early in his career, Hamilton had even more—and more recently. He was on the restricted list from ‘03 to ‘05 due to drug and alcohol problems, and was on 3 different teams before he played a game in the big leagues. He overcame those obstacles, however, and went on to crush 142 homers in Texas over the next 5 years, making the all star team each time, and winning the 2010 MVP award (a year in which he hit .359). Despite his heroics, however, Rangers fans were happy to see him go, as his .227 career postseason batting average in 3 years earned him cascading boos in his final game as a Ranger (in the 1-game playoff against the Orioles this year in which he went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts). Hamilton will also have plenty of lineup support, as he’ll join Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, both of whom hit 30 home runs last year (a career low for Pujols, who is sure to “bounce back” this season). Between those 3 guys, they have 13 top-5 MVP finishes, and 4 MVPs.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

Speaking of star-studded teams, these guys take the cake. Here’s what they’ve done significantly this offseason (so far): Signed outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 2-year deal. Acquired R.A. Dickey from the Mets. And oh yeah, acquired Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyesand Emilio Bonifacio (and John Buck, who they traded away in the Dickey deal) from Miami. 3 of those guys are former faces of franchises, and for good reason. Buerhle, Dickey, and Johnson, when healthy, are all ace-caliber pitchers, and Jose Reyes is a fantastic shortstop with MVP potential each year. Combine those with several other good acquisitions and signings (including inking former Nat and clubhouse favorite Mark DeRosa to a minor league deal), and that makes Toronto a force to be reckoned with in the coming year

1. Melky Cabrera: Signed a 2-year, $16 million deal with Toronto on November 19

Melky has had a very up-and-down career. Early on, the outfielder was touted as a future star with the Yankees, playing well in limited time in his first couple of seasons wearing pinstripes. However, his numbers fell in the next two years, and after a season with the Braves, he started hitting well again with the cellar-dwelling Royals in ‘11, batting .305 with 18 homers. Then, KC traded him to San Francisco last offseason, and he emerged early in 2012 as an MVP favorite, tearing it up with a .346 average and a .906 OPS in 113 games. However, in mid-August, Cabrera was found guilty of PED use for the first time, and had to incur the mandatory 50-game suspension (his last game before the suspension kicked in was, coincidentally, August 14 against the Nationals). Many were speculating whether Cabrera would receive interest from any team at all following the suspension, and if he did, how likely he would be to get a big league deal—let alone with a contender. The Jays, however, believed in him enough to sign him very shortly after the World Series ended, to an 8-figure deal.

Check back soon for Close Call’s offseason losers.

~Close Call~