How 10 big offseason acquisitions are faring

September 3rd, 2020

Of all the things in this world that feel like they happened decades ago but actually went down just a few months ago -- and there are a lot of things like that -- Major League Baseball’s 2019 Hot Stove is very much one of them. Remember how fevered the rush was when all those big contracts started going down? The Yankees’ big starting pitching push, the Angels’ desperation to find a running mate for Mike Trout, the Nats’ decisions on which members of the band they wanted to keep together. It was a heady time that seemed to change the entire baseball landscape. It also now seems so long ago.

But it wasn’t! So now that this year’s MLB season is somehow more than half over (and also in the home stretch), it seemed like a good time to look back at some of those high-profile offseason deals (10, to be exact) and see how they are working out. All of these deals were for at least four years. So how’s the first one going so far? Let’s take a look.

Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Nine years, $324 million
2020 numbers: 4-2, 3.91 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

How’s it look so far? The Yankees aren’t in first place like they planned to be, but it’s tough to blame Cole for so much of the rest of the team getting hurt. It is worth nothing that Cole, while certainly a positive for the Yankees so far, has hardly been dominant. He has been bitten by the home run ball, giving up 12, which is the most in Major League Baseball up to this point. His strikeout rate is down from the last couple of years, and his hit rate is up slightly, too. The Yankees signed up him to be a Cy Young Award winner, and he wouldn’t be in the top 20 of Cy Young voting right now. But what the Yankees really signed him for was to be dominant in a playoff series. That is a bar he will absolutely have the opportunity to clear in a few weeks.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Seven years, $245 million
2020 numbers: 0-1, 10.80 ERA, two starts, out for rest of the season

How’s it look so far? Strasburg was such a postseason hero for the Nationals, and such a stalwart for so many years, that it was difficult to imagine them not re-signing him this offseason, despite his many suitors. But he had nerve issues that postponed the start of his season, and carpal tunnel syndrome ended up leading to season-ending surgery. So that’s not a great start! That said, this is already starting to feel like a bit of a lost season for the Nationals, and if there were a season for Strasburg to miss, it might be this one. That assumes, of course, that he’s ready to go for the start of 2021. If he is, he can start making good on year two of that seven-year deal, a year in which he will turn 33 in late July.

Anthony Rendon, Angels
Seven years, $245 million
2020 numbers: 6 HR, 19 RBIs, .292/.433/.496

How’s it look so far? When the Angels stunned baseball by signing the best hitter on the market to play alongside Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, the general consensus was, “Great player, but can he pitch?” That conventional wisdom has not been proven wrong in 2020. Rendon has indeed been terrific -- he’s leading the AL in on-base percentage -- and while maybe you’d want a bit more power, the Angels certainly can’t complain about him. Unfortunately, the pitching has cratered the way many worried it would, and the Angels have the worst record in the American League. The Angels have six more years of trying to get Trout and Rendon some pitching for support.

Zack Wheeler, Phillies
Five years, $118 million
2020 numbers: 4-0, 2.20 ERA, 1.067 WHIP

How’s it look so far? Wheeler came on strong last year to establish himself as the top of the next tier of starting pitchers … but he actually looks like the best of them right now. He and Aaron Nola are a formidable 1-2 atop the rotation for a Phillies team that looks like it’s going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Wheeler’s strikeout rate is a little lower than you might like, but right now, he’s the No. 2 starter for a team that hasn’t given up trying to win its division and is about to end a nearly decade-long drought. Wheeler has helped make that happen, and that’s all the Phillies can ask.

Josh Donaldson, Twins
Four years, $92 million
2020 numbers: 1 HR, 4 RBIs, .222/.313/.370 in just eight games

How’s it look so far? Donaldson wisely bet on himself with a one-year deal with Atlanta, having a fantastic season that he parlayed into a big long-term deal with a team that already was hitting a ton of homers without him. But the injury problems that have followed Donaldson around throughout his career crept back up early, and he missed more than a month with a calf injury. He returned Wednesday night, though, and looked very much like the old Donaldson, going 2-for-5 in a win for a team that is suddenly in a crowded AL Central race. The Twins look like they’re making the playoffs no matter what, so Donaldson will have plenty of opportunities to help get them what fans most desperately want: At last, a postseason series victory.

Yasmani Grandal, White Sox
Four years, $73 million
2020 numbers: 4 HR, 14 RBIs, .224/.345/.388

How’s it look so far? Grandal was an aggressive move for a young White Sox team, not so much for the contract itself but more for what it said to the rest of the league: The White Sox are ready to contend now, right now. He has had a few back problems that have cost him some games, and his numbers are below his career averages, but the White Sox are a clear playoff team and one that will benefit from having Grandal around come October. And he just had a walk-off homer this week. The White Sox announced they were contenders by signing Grandal, and they were right.

Madison Bumgarner, D-backs
Five years, $85 million
2020 numbers: 0-3, 9.35 ERA

How’s it look so far? Almost nothing the D-backs did this offseason -- all meant to add to a team that was a surprise contender in 2019- -- has worked out, and their other offseason addition, Starling Marte, has already been traded … to the Marlins, of all teams. Bumgarner, though, was the highest-profile add, a Giants legend who was supposed to put the D-backs over the top. His first four starts for Arizona were mostly dreadful, and then he went on the IL with back issues. He is scheduled to return this Sunday to pitch against the Giants, of all teams, and he comes back to a team that is already thinking about 2021. Hopefully that year will go better for both Bumgarner and his new team.

Hyun Jin Ryu, Blue Jays
Four years, $80 million
2020 numbers: 3-1, 2.72 ERA

How’s it look so far? The worry with giving Ryu, a pitcher who is terrific when healthy but not always healthy, was that the Jays need pitching but mostly needed innings, and Ryu, as good as he was, cannot always be counted on for those. But then this shortened season happened, and it turns out to be ideally suited for Ryu and a team that suddenly needs a lot fewer innings. The result? Ryu has been excellent. He is striking batters out at the highest rate of his career and has made every single one of his starts, leading the Majors with eight. And the Blue Jays are in playoff position. We’ll see how the next three years ago, but already, Year One has been a smashing success.

Mike Moustakas, Reds
Four years, $64 million
2020 numbers: 2 HR, 10 RBIs, .214/.333/.314

How’s it look so far? The Reds, looking to boost their offense to support a solid starting rotation (the opposite of what usually happens in Cincinnati), felt comfortable enough with Moustakas’ work at second base in Milwaukee to sign him to a big deal. Then they found there would be a DH, giving them an extra spot in the lineup. But Moustakas has been a serious bummer, with his power -- his signature attribute -- inexplicably vanishing. He has not hit a homer since Aug. 1 and only has one extra base hit in that time. He has also missed a bit of time with a quad bruise. The Reds will hope the power returns in time for them to make a run in the NL Central this year, the year they had been planning on breaking through.

Nick Castellanos, Reds
Four years, $64 million
2020 numbers: 10 HR, 24 RBIs, .246/.340/.554

How’s it look so far? The other player the Reds signed to a four-year, $64 million deal did remember to bring his power with him. Castellanos apparently just loves hitting in the NL Central, carrying over his 2019 Cubs success to ‘20. His defense hasn’t been as terrible as many feared it would be, either. The Reds haven’t had the success they had hoped for, but they’re still in the chase in the NL Central, and in the NL Wild Card race. Castellanos has helped keep their heads above water.

So all told: A couple of starting pitcher wipeouts, a couple disappointing sluggers hindered by injuries, but … could be worse! Rendon is still a star, Ryu and Wheeler are aces and Cole still mostly looks like Cole. We’ll see how the postseason goes down, but so far: Not a lot of this is money poorly spent