Braves, Rays and Dodgers just a few to earn A's this winter
By Jim Duquette
Of the many deals this offseason, some appear to be shrewder than others. With roughly two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, let's take a look at five moves that I believe stand above the rest.
1. Braves acquire SS Dansby Swanson, RHP Aaron Blair and OF Ender Inciarte from D-backs for RHP Shelby Miller
In dealing Miller to the D-backs, the retooling Braves managed to acquire some major building blocks. Swanson, the first overall pick of the 2015 Draft and the No. 8 prospect in MLB, could be a batting-average and on-base-percentage machine, with solid pop from the shortstop position, perhaps sooner rather than later given his advanced skill set.
Blair, baseball's 56th-best overall prospect per MLBPipeline.com, should help Atlanta's rotation in the next year or two. According to many talent evaluators, his ceiling is that of a No. 3 big league starter.
A package of Swanson and Blair would have been a solid haul for Miller, as talented as he may be. But the Braves also managed to grab the big league-tested Inciarte in the deal. A quality top-of-the-lineup bat with plus defensive skills, Inciarte has less than two years of Major League service time and could be part of Atlanta's outfield picture for quite a while -- or a valuable trade chip.
2. Rays acquire OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo from the Rockies for LHP Jake McGee and RHP German Marquez
The Rays' offense has struggled to score runs -- particularly against right-handed pitching -- across the past two seasons, but Tampa Bay's president of baseball operations, Matt Silverman, has done diligent work to reverse that trend.
This offseason, Silverman has added the likes of Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and, of course, Dickerson, three left-handed bats that fare best versus righty opponents. For his part, Dickerson has posted a .970 OPS against righties since the outset of 2014, this despite battling plantar fasciitis last year.
To get the talented Dickerson, the Rays parted with a powerful back-of-the-bullpen arm and his remaining two years of team control, but the return -- four years of a middle-of-the-order option -- was too good to deny. (And for those worried about the "Coors Field effect" being a problem for Dickerson, relax. Research shows that good hitters are fine when they leave Colorado.)
On a larger scale, Tampa Bay has designed an offense that will rely heavily on righty-lefty platoons, a system of taking two or more players and limiting their usage to scenarios in which they are best suited to succeed. Platoon usage does come at a cost -- it is preferable when one player can thrive every day, as that frees an "extra" roster spot -- but wise mixing and matching can often yield All-Star-level results at a fraction of the cost.
3. Dodgers sign 2B Howie Kendrick to a two-year, $20 million contract
As talented as he may be, Kendrick was not helped this offseason by the association with a qualifying offer, which, had he signed with any team other than the Dodgers, would have cost his new employer a first-round Draft pick. Capitalizing on the value opportunity, Los Angeles brought back the steady veteran to help stabilize a lineup with multiple uncertainties.
Among baseball's lowest-scoring teams after last year's All-Star break -- a span in which Kendrick missed more than a month to injury -- the Dodgers will enter the upcoming campaign with a wide range of possible outcomes when it comes to their offense. Young outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson could both be All-Stars or play their way out of everyday at-bats. Meanwhile, veterans Carl Crawford and Chase Utley are in their mid- and late-30s, respectively, and come with a great deal of injury risk.
With a .295/.340/.414 slash line since the outset of 2013, the 32-year-old Kendrick should represent a consistent lineup cog over which rookie manager Dave Roberts will rarely have to worry.
4. Mets acquire 2B Neil Walker from the Pirates for LHP Jon Niese
With a talented and overcrowded rotation, the Mets dealt from surplus to fill the second-base void left by the departure of Daniel Murphy. In Walker, the Mets found a respectable option for the keystone and deepened their infield depth, pushing Wilmer Flores into a role that will have him filling in at all four infield spots.
Although bench enhancements rarely draw headlines, depth is key -- especially in the National League. And by trading for Walker as opposed to signing someone such as Kendrick -- tied to that qualifying offer and all -- the club will keep its first-round Draft pick for 2016.
If Walker has a strong season, the Mets can give him a qualifying offer and reap a Draft pick if he signs elsewhere. If he accepts, they have him on a one-year deal. If he leaves, they have a few internal solutions to fill the void, such as Flores, Dilson Herrera and prospect Gavin Cecchini.
5. Pirates acquire LHP Jon Niese from the Mets for 2B Neil Walker
Don't be surprised that the flipside of the aforementioned trade also made this list, as the deal makes just as much sense for the Pirates. Pittsburgh had extra depth in the infield, and it should be fine with Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Jung Ho Kang -- upon his return to health -- at second, shortstop and third, respectively.
What the Pirates really needed this offseason was another solid rotation arm, and they got that in Niese -- who has notched a solid 3.65 ERA and averaged 28 starts per season since the beginning of 2012. He's also a ground-ball pitcher who should thrive pitching in front of Pittsburgh's strategic shifts, and the fact that the Bucs can keep Niese for up to two more seasons by exercising a pair of club options totaling $19 million adds additional value for them.
Jim Duquette is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.