PHOENIX – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – You have to wonder? Does Dave Dombrowski take a vow to outdo himself every winter?
Dombrowski has made some of the boldest moves in recent offseasons during his time in Detroit and Boston, and nothing changed this time around.
The man who acquired Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer and Yoenis Cespedes for the Tigers and David Price and Craig Kimbrel in his first season with Boston in 2015 juiced up the Red Sox’s pitching staff by adding another ace, Chris Sale, the most sought-after trade chip in the winter market.
To a rotation that includes Cy Young (2016 winner Rick Porcello and Cy Old (Price, 2012), add Cy-to-be. Sale finished in the top five of the AL Cy Young race in each of the last four seasons with the Chicago White Sox while averaging 13 victories, 30 starts, 206 innings and 235 strikeouts.
And the AL East sighs.
Dombrowski, the president of baseball operations in Boston, spent prospects to make the deal, just as he did to land Kimbrel from San Diego before the start of the 2016 season, taking advantage of Boston’s solid drafting and international scouting.
The minors are there to support the major league team, and if that means swapping potential for proven performance, Dombrowski is all in.
The Red Sox will miss the retired David Ortiz, but Sale’s addition should soften the blow for a team that won 93 games but fell in the first round of the playoffs to Cleveland a year ago.
Other teams are hoping their new additions will help them just as much.
Wondering how Encarnacion’s power will play away from the Rogers Centre? Don’t. Cleveland’s Progressive Field rated as a better hitters’ park than the Rogers Centre in both 2015 and 2016, so there is no reason Encarnacion’s averages the last four years — 39 homers, 110 RBIs — should not continue. He was the most productive free agent bat on the market and was said to have preferred staying in Toronto, but when the relationship broke down early in the signing period. Cleveland swooped in.
The Giants, who made a play for Melancon at the 2016 trade deadline, finally got their man this winter. Melancon was not the sexiest closer on the market that included Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, but his resume is just a strong — 33, 51 and 47 saves with a 1.93 ERA the last three seasons. Melancon’s ground ball ratio is well above major league average, and he and is consistent. He has failed on 10 save chances the last three years. Santiago Casilla blew nine last year.
There was a not a better fit in free agency than Fowler and St. Louis. The Cardinals needed exactly what Fowler brings, a quality center fielder and a leadoff man. Fowler ranks in top five in the majors in on-base percentage among leadoff hitters since his first full season in Colorado in 2009. Fowler’s defense took a major step forward last year when he played a little deeper in center last season. He was credited with 16 runs “saved” over the average center fielder.
Desmond may have been the most creative sign of the offseason, in as much as Colorado plans to play him at first base, a spot he has never played. But if you can play shortstop and center field, your athleticism qualifies for any spot. Desmond’s bat will thicken what looks like a killer offense. He has averaged 22 homers, 78 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases over the last five years, the first four as Washington’s shortstop and the last as Texas’ center fielder.
Houston dipped into its history to add a veteran bat by signing Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal. Beltran helped push Houston into the playoffs in his three months there in 2004, and he was the star of the postseason with eight homers and 14 RBIs in 12 games, a springboard to a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets. Beltran will turn 40 in April, but he seems ageless after a 29-homer season with the Yankees and Texas a year ago.
How do you replace Chapman? You could do it with a guy who has even better numbers. New closer Davis was nothing short of superb as a setup man-turned-closer in Kansas City the last three seasons. Davis was 19-4 with 47 saves and a 1.18 ERA in 185 relief appearances since 2014. He averaged 11.4 strikeouts while giving up 5.1 hits per nine innings in that run, which also includes an 0.84 postseason ERA. The ninth inning remains in good hands.
It took the Dodgers all of the offseason, but they finally landed their second base upgrade, acquiring Forsythe in a deal with Tampa Bay that cost front-line pitching prospect Jose De Leon, who averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his four minor league seasons. Forsythe leads with his bat and will add pop to an offense that was squarely in the middle-of-the-pack a year ago. He has 37 homers since become a regular in 2015 but is considered a below-average second baseman.
Throw out the 2014 season, when Morales’ numbers suffered because a contract holdout that caused him to miss much of spring training. Morales resurrected his career with 52 homers and 199 RBIs in the last two seasons in Kansas City, and the Blue Jays have found an acceptable alternative to departed Encarnacion for about half the price, three years and $33 million. Morales has regained the form he showed before a devastating knee injury in 2010, and will he slot right into the cleanup spot.
Another ideal free agent fit, although it took the sides awhile to get there. Napoli set career highs with 34 homers, 101 RBIs and 645 plate appearances with Cleveland last season, his age-34 season, an indication he is as “hitterish” as ever. His previous highest homer years came in his only two previous seasons in Texas, when he had 30 and 24 in 2011 and 2012. More of a platoon player then, Napoli will be an everyday guy at first and DH this time.