Each offseason – whether it’s the Orioles’ or Major League Baseball’s – is different. There are trends that seem to be fairly unique to each winter. With this one technically coming to a close as pitchers and catchers report to spring training today in Sarasota, Fla., here are five things that surprised me about the way baseball’s winter took shape.
1. Power isn’t king
Do chicks dig multiple-inning relievers and pitch-framing catchers these days? Apparently, because they don’t appear to dig the longball sluggers anymore. Or at least general managers don’t.
The big money this offseason was primarily doled out to late-inning relievers such as Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen and not for big power guys such as Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter. Even Edwin Encarnacion failed to get top dollar, settling for a three-year, $60 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. Why?
Well, there seemed to be a glut of power hitters on the free-agent market this year. And with a surge in homers in 2016, power may not be as rare of a commodity as we thought it was a few years ago. If you can hit homers and play the field, the money is still there. But one-dimensional sluggers – Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard, for instance – are still shopping for jobs.
2. Matt Wieters remains unemployed
I wrote more about this over the weekend, but the bottom line is the market seemingly collapsed on Wieters, who is still one of the better all-around catchers in the game. Maybe his asking price initially was too high. Or maybe his poor catch-framing metrics hurt him.
But it is mind-boggling to me that Wieters is still on the open market and Jason Castro, who has good pitch-framing numbers but isn’t the overall player Wieters is, landed with the Minnesota Twins for three-years and $24.5 million.
3. The QO killed value even more this year
We all knew the qualifying offer attachment for free agents would be a detriment. We didn’t know it would be an interminable prison sentence. Ten players received qualifying offers this offseason, meaning those 10 could accept or reject a one-year, $17.2 million deal from their respective teams.
Only two – Jeremy Hellickson of the Philadelphia Phillies and Neil Walker of the New York Mets – accepted the offers. The other eight became free agents eligible to sign with anyone. However, any team signing one of those QO free agents would have to give up a first-round pick.
The system changes next year – the pick surrendered in 2018 and beyond will be, for most teams, their third-highest – so this is the last time a team would lose a top pick. And teams took that change very seriously.
Only three of the remaining eight QO players switched teams; the other five found their markets limited enough that they returned to their 2016 clubs. That’s pretty astounding considering the quality of those players compared to the rest of the market.
4. Rich get richer, poor ignore
There always seems to be a mediocre club that loses its mind and spends huge money in the offseason to try and become competitive. That didn’t happen this year.
The biggest free-agent salaries were basically doled out by clubs that were already perceived as contenders. Teams like the Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants bought high-dollar guys. The Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, for example, didn’t try to jump from pretender to contender as they have in the recent past.
5. Prospects are the real kings
Baseball has always had also-rans trading off established players for prospects. But it’s almost an epidemic now. The Chicago Cubs’ quick ascent into competitiveness based on stockpiling prospects through drafts and trades further re-established this phenomenon last year and the big money New York Yankees showed anyone could do it in July.
And now it almost seems like teams would rather have young, cheap prospects than established stars. The Chicago White Sox drilled that point home this winter when they dealt away two excellent players with reasonable contracts in Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a bevy of unproven players. Those deals still make me wonder what the Orioles could have gotten for Zach Britton this offseason. But enough about that, did I mention pitchers and catchers report Monday?