Lynn and Moustakas found new homes this week
While the Cleveland Indians are far and away the favorites to win the AL Central for a third straight season this year, the gap in the race for second place has widened this offseason, with the Minnesota Twins going all-in on their 2017 Wild Card appearance. At the same time, the Kansas City Royals have lost two of their franchise cornerstones in Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer and were only able to bring back Mike Moustakas after he remained unsigned into the second week of March.
The latest move in what has been a brilliant offseason for Twins General Manager Thad Levine was bringing in starting pitcher Lance Lynn on a one-year, $12 million contract. With Ervin Santana unlikely to join the Twins rotation until late April or early May, it isn’t crazy to think that Lynn could immediately slot in as the Twins new ace. After rejecting a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals, Lynn’s market, along with Jake Arrieta’s and Alex Cobb’s, never quite developed this offseason. The contract makes a ton of sense for both sides, as a year after going 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and 2.8 WAR in 186.1 innings pitched, Lynn gives the Twins an innings eating, front of the rotation starter, as he has averaged 188.6 innings pitched in his five full seasons in the MLB. From Lynn’s perspective, he has found himself on a legitimate postseason contender, and can now hit the free agent market again a year from now with no draft pick compensation attached to his name. For his career, Lynn has a 3.38 ERA and appears fully recovered from the Tommy John Surgery that cost him all of the 2016 season.
Lynn’s signing is another stellar move for the Twins, who have also added Logan Morrison, Zach Duke, Michael Pineda, Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Jake Odorizzi for a total of $57.95 million. In Morrison, the Twins stole a 3.6 WAR player for the middle of their lineup whose market never developed despite numbers last season that included 38 HR, 85 RBI, a .868 OPS, and a 135 OPS+. In the bullpen, Duke had a 1.036 WHIP and .197 BAA a year ago, while Rodney is coming off of a 39 save season in Arizona and brings the closer’s experience that comes with having over 300 career saves. Between Duke, Rodney, and Reed, the hard-throwing righty who has a 2.40 ERA, 0.996 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, and a 5.96 K:BB ratio over the past two seasons, the Twins have added three reliable arms to a bullpen that ranked 22nd in the MLB with a 4.40 ERA a year ago. While Odorizzi is not the front a true front of the rotation arm, he provides the Twins with another solid starter behind Lynn, Santana, and Jose Berrios, having gone 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA and 1.242 WHIP in 143.1 innings last season. Once fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery of his own, Pineda could add another electric dimension to the Twins rotation, as despite his career 4.05 ERA, he has struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings with a 4.38 K:BB ratio in five seasons, and should only benefit from calling Target Field his new home, and moving away from Yankee Stadium. All told, the Twins have added 10.2 WAR from a season ago, which at the current theoretical value of $11 million/WAR, represents a huge bargain for the team.
Down in Kansas City, the Royals offseason has been a mixed bag of results. Gone are Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, the team’s two most valuable players, AL wins leader Jason Vargas, and team’s most valuable relief pitcher, Mike Minor. Additionally, the Royals will be without their projected starting center fielder Jorge Bonifacio, who was suspended for 80 games due to a failed PED test. At first base, Lucas Duda was signed to replace Hosmer; while Duda does have some power, with 30 HR and a .496 SLG a year ago, he has struck out over 135 times in three of the past four seasons, and carries with him a career .242 AVG. With Bonifacio and Cain out of the picture, Alex Gordon will shift over to center field for the first time, a position that he has played a total of 15 times in his 1421 games in the MLB. Not only is Gordon playing out of position, but the Royals will miss having him in left field, where he has 110 career Defensive Runs Saved, including 15 a year ago. With Vargas gone, the #4 and #5 spots in the Royals rotation belong to Jakob Junis and Trevor Oaks, who have a total of 20 big league appearances between them. While Jon Jay should help in right field as a career .288/.355/.383 hitter with 4 Defensive Runs Saved at the position, he is more of a role player, and not someone you’d expect to have anywhere near the production of Cain or Hosmer.
Which brings us back to Moustakas, who has been the saving grace of an otherwise tough offseason for Royals fans. A year after hitting a team-record 38 home runs with a .835 OPS, Moustakas rejected the Royals qualifying offer expecting to field multi-year contract offers in the $80-100 million range. Instead, he watched as the Angels signed Zack Cozart, the Yankees acquired Brandon Drury, and the Mets signed Todd Frazier, drying up the third base market significantly. Moustakas did hit free agency coming off of a career year, but it is likely that his market dried up due to the fact that even in a career year, he only produced 1.8 WAR thanks to his .314 OBP, and -8 Defensive Runs Saved. Additionally, with Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Nolan Arenado all hitting free agency within the next two years, it didn’t make sense for teams to break the bank on Moustakas, a good, but not great player. Add in a career line of .251/.305/.425 and a career high of 43 walks in a season, and you’re left with a talented, but flawed player. As a result, Moustakas ended up right back where he started, agreeing to a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Royals with up to $2.2 million in incentives based on plate appearances. Amazingly, Moustakas was left to take a $2.2 million pay cut just to remain in Kansas City and is the strongest cautionary tale of a free agent market that has been amongst the slowest in baseball history.