NEW YORK — The big free-agent freeze-out may not have sat well with major-league players, but so far the signees are not doing much to prove that teams were wrong for exercising caution during the offseason.
Of the top free agents, many of whom didn’t sign until February and even March, only a few are making a splash — J.D. Martinez with the Red Sox, Wade Davis with the Rockies, Jake Arrieta with the Phillies.
Meanwhile, many teams might be starting to regret talking themselves into spending — even those that thought they were smart in waiting out the market for what seemed to be bargains.
Arrieta aside, the starting pitchers have been a disaster, from Yu Darvish to Jason Vargas to Alex Cobb to Lance Lynn.
On the other hand, thanks in part to the Marlins’ fire sale, trades have produced better results so far for some teams, though the best deal of all was the Astros’ steal of Gerrit Cole from the Pirates.
Of course, there does appear to be one bargain for the ages. Shohei Ohtani was limited to signing for only what teams had available in their international-free agent pool money, and so for a $2.3 million bonus from the Angels, Ohtani is living up to the hype as the Babe Ruth of Japan.
The irony is that, in the slowest-moving free-agent market ever, every team in baseball would have spent big on the 23-year old Ohtani. Except the rules didn’t allow it.
And with that, here are the 10 best and worst offseason moves.
1. Gerrit Cole: Is it the pine tar increasing the spin rate on Cole’s fastball, as Trevor Bauer alleges, or better usage of his off-speed pitches, as scouts say? Either way Cole, who is pitching to a 1.43 ERA with a league-leading 86 strikeouts in 562/3 innings, has been quite the steal for the Astros, who didn’t have to give up their best prospects to get him. And how much will the Yankees regret not making a deal to get him?
2. Shohei Ohtani: Scouts questioned his ability to hit high-velocity fastballs, but since ditching his leg kick for a toe tap after a poor spring training, Ohtani has made it look easy, hitting some monster home runs. The right-hander has shown he can dominate as a pitcher as well.
3. J.D. Martinez: Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski’s patience did pay off here, as he waited out Scott Boras and got the top slugger on the market at his price — five years, $110 million with opt-outs. Martinez has had a huge impact as clean-up hitter for the Sox, hitting .348 with nine HRs and a 1.018 OPS.
4. Matt Kemp: Here’s the biggest surprise so far. The Dodgers brought their one-time MVP candidate back from the Braves in a complicated deal that allowed them to dump even bigger contracts and get under the luxury-tax threshold. And Kemp has been the Dodgers’ best hitter.
5. Wade Davis: The Rockies moved quickly to get the ultra-reliable closer for the same deal Greg Holland reportedly turned down — three years, $52 million. As of Friday Davis was leading the league with 14 saves, against one blown save.
6. Dee Gordon: The Mariners got the second baseman fairly cheap in a trade from the Marlins and gambled by putting him in center field. Scouts say Gordon is improving after some rough games in his new position, while he has helped fuel the Mariners’ strong start offensively (.340, 15 stolen bases) as their leadoff man.
7. Giancarlo Stanton: He hasn’t gotten on a home run streak yet, which is surely coming, but Stanton has already won three games by himself with multi-home run games, and he adds to the intimidation factor of the Yankee lineup.
8. Brandon Morrow: The Cubs struck quickly to sign Morrow, who was so important in the Dodgers’ bullpen last season. For two years and $21 million he replaced Davis as their closer and hasn’t disappointed, pitching to a 1.38 ERA with eight saves. A move the Mets should have made.
9. Jake Arrieta: The Phillies waited him out, got him late for three years, $75 million, and he’s pitched to a 2.59 ERA over seven starts. His presence as a No. 1 starter seems to have helped this young team exceed expectations so far.
10. Christian Yelich: Still another Marlins’ tradee on this list, Yelich has put up good numbers, pairing with free-agent signee Lorenzo Cain to boost the Brewers’ offense.
1. Yu Darvish: Not exactly what the Cubs were expecting for $126 million, Darvish is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA, and worse, dealing with questions about his mental toughness, after his own catcher suggested he was too relaxed. Going on the DL last week didn’t help his image in Chicago either.
2. Jason Vargas: The Mets thought they were getting a relative bargain, signing Vargas for two years, $16 million. There were doubts because of his poor second half for the Royals, at age 35, but nobody could have imagined a 13.86 ERA after three starts. The Mets are skipping him a turn now, while hoping he simply needed more time on the mound rehabbing from the broken bone in his non-pitching hand.
3. Alex Cobb: With Cobb still unsigned in March, the Orioles jumped in late for four years, $57 million, thinking they signed a No. 2 starter. Now Cobb has a 7.16 ERA on a last-place team that needs to be blown up.
4. Lance Lynn: At least the Twins didn’t go a long-term deal, like the Orioles with Cobb, but signing Lynn late has proven equally disastrous, as evidenced by his 7.28 ERA. So much for my repeated calls for the Mets to sign him rather than Vargas.
5. Marcell Ozuna: The one ex-Marlin acquired in a trade last winter who hasn’t delivered for his new team, Ozuna, as of Friday had only two home runs, after hitting 37 last season, and a .616 OPS.
6. Ian Kinsler: Most everybody had Kinsler pegged for a bounce-back after a down season in 2017, but maybe he’s in serious decline at age 35. The Mets might have caught a break here since the second baseman vetoed a potential trade via his no-trade clause, preferring to go to the Angles. So far he’s hitting .214 with a .591 OPS.
7. Jay Bruce: The Mets thought they got a bargain when they brought Bruce back, after trading him to the Indians last August, for three years, $39 million. But so far the notoriously streaky hitter has yet to get hot, with three home runs and a .697 OPS.
8. Lewis Brinson: Thought to be the best prospect the Marlins received in any of the trades they made, as part of the package for Yelich, Brinson has looked overmatched as a 24-year old rookie center fielder, hitting .172 with a .229 on-base percentage and a .540 OPS.
9. Anthony Swarzak/Bryan Shaw: What’s worse, pitching to a 5.71 ERA as a late-inning reliever, in the case of Shaw with the Rockies, or missing more than a month now with an oblique injury, as Swarzak has with the Mets? Both were in the early flurry of bullpen signings, with Shaw getting one of the biggest deals for set-up men, at three years, $27 million, and neither has helped their team.
10. Carlos Santana: The Phillies moved quickly and looked smart to sign Santana to a relatively short-term deal — three years, $60 million — compared to the eight-year deal Eric Hosmer received from the Padres. And Santana has had some key hits, producing 26 RBIs, but he’s hitting only .186.