Signed C-R Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract. [12/14]
Over the past few years the Orioles have let the market develop and waited to make their important free agent signings. In 2014, they signed Nelson Cruz at the end of February. In 2016, they signed Pedro Alvarez in March. This year, they crossed off the task atop their winter shopping list before Christmas.
Twiddling their thumbs until the day top prospect Chance Sisco is ready to set up behind the dish at Camden Yards, Baltimore needed a stopgap catcher who could preferably hit. Enter the 29-year-old journeyman Castillo, who became one of the best-hitting catchers on the market when he was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks.
"Beef" hit .264/.322/.423 with 14 homers in 457 plate appearances last season, compared to the Orioles' longtime starter, Matt Wieters, hitting .243/.302/.409 with 17 homers in 464 plate appearances. Castillo hasn't always hit for average, but has supplied power for the Cubs, Mariners, and Diamondbacks over his seven-year career.
Baltimore, a team driven by offense, is looking to at least maintain last year's level of production at each position and Castillo does that at a low cost (especially relative to Wieters). Castillo will get $6 million next season and the contract includes a $7 million player option for 2018, guaranteeing him at least a $13 million payday and giving him a chance to cash in bigger next winter if things go well.
This has the potential to be a great value, and even if Sisco is ready to come up this season Castillo can still be of value at designated hitter or helping the youngster ease into regular action. It's not easy to find offensive-minded catchers these days, yet Baltimore just did at half the cost of the names you'd normally associate with mashing backstops. —Kenny Ducey
Signed LHP Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million contract. [12/15]
You go onto the internet to read up on the latest baseball news. You learn that the Rockies have signed Mike Dunn to a multi-year deal. As you type “who is Mike Dunn?” into Google, you happen to look down at your hands, and at your watch. You could use a new watch, you think.
Not that there’s anything wrong with your old watch, of course. I mean, it works fine. The glass is pretty scratched up from that one time you tripped over your own luggage in the airport stairwell, but it still works. It doesn’t do anything special, doesn’t flash Facebook notifications or shoot a miniature grappling hook or anything. But it tells time, which is all you can really ask.
"Am I supposed to know who that guy is?" you wonder, still distracted by the dull chrome on your wrist. He’s entering his age-32 season, so it’s kind of his fault if you don’t. His strikeout rate took a step back, because of the loss of a tick off the fastball and a big jump in contact rate. His career lefty/righty splits are noticeable but not crippling. He missed two months with a forearm strain, was rusty when he got back, and wore out in September. Probably better than he pitched in 2016, but probably not great. Just an average, forgettable bullpen arm.
In that sense lefty relievers are watches, you realize as you run through the rest of Dunn’s stats. You don’t really need one; I mean, you have a cell phone in your pocket that has a clock on it, after all. And you have plenty of other things to spend money on, let alone paying off your credit cards. But they’re convenient to have when you need to tell time a lot. And you do, you think. You’re an important businessman. You make sales. You have to be places on time.
Besides, there’s something about a watch. It’s something to be seen, a sign that you can afford a watch even though you have a phone in your pocket. It shows people that you care about how you look. That you can spend money, just like those people you’re selling yachts to, even though you’ll never really afford a yacht yourself. Besides, you really just love a nice watch. You type “amazon.com” into the address bar. —Patrick Dubuque
Signed LHP Tommy Milone to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. [12/14]
Tommy Milone has worse raw stuff than an average Triple-A starter and also has a 4.14 ERA in 688 innings as a major leaguer, which is a helluva feat. He's been a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for six seasons and three different teams, all while topping out at 88 miles per hour and lacking pinpoint control. He's exactly the type of soft-tossing, junk-slinging pitcher most people think of when they hear the concept of a replacement-level player, but he's been better than that with 6.6 career WARP.
However, at age 30 and after a mostly rough two-and-a-half-season stint in Minnesota the already thin line Milone must walk to remain effective against big-league hitters has shrunk even further. Moving back to the National League for the first time since his 2011 debut should help and the price is certainly right for the rebuilding Brewers, but the odds of Milone sticking in the rotation all season are slim. Perhaps the truest way to judge this signing is by when the Brewers inevitably grow tired of watching him start every fifth day and whether they move Milone to the bullpen, trade him, or release him once that happens. —Aaron Gleeman
Signed IF-S Andres Blanco to a one-year, $3 million contract. [12/14]
Perhaps, like the left-handed specialist in the bullpen--or a nice watch--if you can cast yourself as a “utlility man” you can hang around on 40-man rosters well into your 30s. Blanco’s deal to return to the Phillies for another season is a testament to the value of bringing a bag of different gloves to the ballpark every day and being able to produce comfortably above replacement level. While playing every spot in the infield as well as a stint in left field, Blanco logged 209 plate appearances for Philadelphia last season. This will be his fourth year in the organization, and his 10th in the majors.
For the 2017 Phillies, Blanco provides continuity for a team in the throes of rebuilding and without a winning season since 2011. He spent the bulk of his time on defense at second and third base, but with the continued emergence of Maikel Franco there’s less of a need for him to see as much action at the hot corner. This is good news defensively, because his -2.9 FRAA last season was largely due to shoddy work at third. He’s better suited for the middle infield anyway, where he’s a quality backup to Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. —Jared Wyllys