We all love talking about the big deals that take place during the offseason. In fact, I'd argue that Hot Stove Season is much more fulfilling for fans of certain (read: bad) teams than the actual season itself, sometimes. Nevertheless, there are always a few transactions that are less important than others, or that fall through the cracks of analysis.
Today, I'd like to distract myself from all the Hall of Fame talk by focusing on the good: specifically three under-the-radar transactions from this offseason that I consider "fun" for completely subjective reasons.
#3 — The Cleveland Indians trade Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes
I'm less interested in whom the Indians received than who they gave up: promising reliever Esmil Rogers. Rogers, who was sold* from Colorado to Cleveland mid-season. Rogers had an okay season by the ERA standard, posting a 4.69 ERA in 78 and 2/3 innings.
[ * Note: Sold? What is this, 1915?]
But the right-hander also struck out 23.9% of batters faced during that period, while posting a higher innings total than many relievers. Rogers was often used in stints over a full inning, certainly a relic of the years he spent as a starting pitcher. In fact, in the two seasons Esmil has spent primarily as a reliever (2010 and 2012), he's posted nearly identical FIPs of 3.44 and 3.48, respectively. Those aren't half bad!
The Blue Jays are looking to contend in a competitive AL East this year. The acqusitions of R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera … they're all probably more important in the grand scheme of things. But a decent bullpen might help the team close out games, or find success in the playoffs. If Rogers can continue to strike out batters at a nice rate, he could be a solid part of that 'pen.
(Plus he'll be playing in a stadium with his same name, and you'd think that might create a mild confidence boost, am I right?)
#2 — The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Eric Chavez to a 1-year, $3 million contract
You probably noticed this, because it was the Yankees and because Alex Rodriguez fell apart, but Eric Chavez was really impressive in 113 games during the 2012 season. Granted, the playoffs were a bit of a disaster, but the veteran 3B picked up the power in his first season with 300+ plate appearances since 2007. 16 homers and a .496 slugging percentage? I think everyone was pretty surprised and impressed by that.
EC had a reputation as a defensive whiz earlier in his career (you know, back when he was hitting with that kind of power with regularity), but these days he doesn't look to be the plus-plus defender he used to be. Still, he can handle the position, so long as his body can handle the rigors of it. But that's always the issue with Chavez: will he be able to stay healthy. Over the last six years, the answer has been "not really." So it's not like there's a lot of precendent. But 2012 showed a glimmer of hope, and hope is, if nothing else, fun.
The Diamondbacks look to put Chavez in a good position to succeed, as part of a good lineup in a hitter-friendly park. Chase Field may not be the homer-happy park for left-handers that Yankee Stadium was, but it's not exactly a nightmare for hitters either. He'll get every chance to succeed, and maybe capture some of the glory that his injuries robbed from him during the prime of his career.
#1 — The Tampa Bay Rays sign James Loney to a 1-year, $2 million contract
This one is particularly fun for me, namely because I think it's a bad move. James Loney is a player with a career .329 wOBA, and his best offensive season came all the way back in 2007. His 2012, split between the Dodgers and Red Sox, was not good. In fact, it was terrible, and he was about 30% worse with the bat than the average major-league hitter. Not the average major-league first baseman, the average major-league hitter. It was a bad scene.
Nevertheless, the Rays inked Loney to a one-year deal for very little money — albeit a guaranteed deal. Not only that, but he looks to be the Opening Day first baseman on a team with hopes to contend for the AL East title. Yet he's shown that his ceiling — not even his average performance, but his best-case scenario — is probably something like a two-win player.
But … it's the Rays. This is the same team that brought in all-field, no-hit Casey Kotchman and coaxed nearly three wins out of him in 2011. This is the same team that brought in Fernando Rodney before 2012, and somehow saw him bloom from a just-above-replacement reliever to the best high-leverage guy in the AL.
So, for me, the question here is "how will James Loney provide monster value for the Rays?" My best guess is that he'll hit 25 homers and play all-world defense at first, ending up being worth 3-4 wins. I mean, the Rays have made unlikely moves like this work before, right?
All stats from FanGraphs.