See these coming? 9 impactful offseason adds

May 12th, 2019

Some variation of this is said so often that it hardly needs to be said, but … I’ll say it anyway: Sometimes the best offseason pickups are the ones that don’t get much attention.

This past winter was the winter of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (and it eventually became the spring of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). Six weeks into the season, however, there are other guys whose arrivals to new clubs didn’t get nearly as much attention but whose impacts have been larger.

Let’s take stock of nine winter acquisitions who have made a bigger impact than anticipated in the early going:

Martin Perez, LHP, Twins
Acquired: Free-agent deal with one-year, $4 million guarantee

You don’t get a surprising surge the likes of what the Twins are enjoying at the top of the American League Central right now without some pleasant surprises within your roster. Perez certainly qualifies. When he arrived in Minnesota, the low strikeout and high walk rates that had become his career norm in Texas weren’t anything to get excited about.

But the adoption of a cutter has changed Perez’s profile so far. He’s striking out batters at a better rate than ever (22.8 percent) and he has a 5-0 record and 2.83 ERA through eight outings (five starts).

Derek Dietrich, UTL, Reds
Acquired: Minor League deal with $2 million base in the big leagues

There wasn’t much buzz when the Reds acquired future amateur beekeeper Dietrich shortly after spring camp opened. But he and fellow non-roster invitee Jose Iglesias (who for the record is just as deserving of mention on this list for his defensive impact) have added a lot of value to this club.

In addition to his ability to move around the infield and outfield, Dietrich has already reached a double-digit home run total with a .999 OPS.

Hunter Pence, OF, Rangers
Acquired: Minor League deal with $2 million base in the big leagues

Texas probably doesn’t have the pitching to contend this year, but the offense has been ample. Through Saturday, the Rangers have the highest runs-per-game average in baseball (5.62). That’s partly due to four offseason additions – Pence, Asdrubal Cabrera, Logan Forsythe and Danny Santana. Three of those guys (Pence, Forsythe and Santana) signed Minor League deals.

Pence gets top billing here because, as of this writing, he actually has a higher OPS (1.1014) and OPS+ (181) than the central figure of the Texas lineup, Joey Gallo, albeit in about half as many plate appearances. At a point when his career looked to be potentially over, Pence played winter ball in the Dominican to reinvent his swing, and so far he’s had a lot of success with it.

Luke Weaver, RHP, D-backs
Acquired: Along with Carson Kelly and Andy Young in trade sending Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis

Understandably, the focus of the trade made between the Cardinals and D-backs was on what St. Louis received. Weaver, though, is a huge reason why Arizona has been able to put together a strong start sans its former franchise face.

Weaver had some opportunities in the Cardinals’ rotation the last few years but was never able to truly seize a regular role. But with the D-backs, in part because of better location and use of his changeup, he’s done a much better job of putting hitters away, improving his strikeout rate from 19.9 percent to 27.2 percent. He has a 2.98 ERA through eight starts.

James McCann, C, White Sox
Acquired: Free-agent contract for one year, $2.5 million

McCann’s plate production took such a turn for the worse in 2018 (.220/.267/.314) that the Tigers non-tendered him over the winter. The White Sox scooped him up on a low-cost deal, largely on the might of his ability to control the opponents’ running game.

But McCann himself has been on the basepaths a bunch in the early going, with a .418 OBP and .612 SLG. Sox manager Rick Renteria has recently been slotting him into the cleanup and No. 5 spots of the batting order.

DJ LeMahieu, UTL, Yankees
Acquired: Free-agent contract for two years, $24 million

Were this a list of biggest in-season pickups, then Gio Urshela shoots right to the top. But LeMahieu has also helped the Yankees endure a bizarre spate of injuries in the first couple months. Because LeMahieu is a former batting champ, two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, it’s not as if we didn’t know he could make a positive contribution to this club. That contribution, however, has been much more pronounced than advertised or expected.

LeMahieu was signed at a moment when all (or most of) the world was expecting the Yanks to get Machado. But with a .328 average, .831 OPS and 122 OPS+, he’s outperformed Machado so far, and his 0.987 OPS with runners in scoring position has been a real difference-maker.

Jordan Lyles, RHP, Pirates
Acquired: Free-agent deal for one year, $2.05 million

Acquired purely as a depth move, with no guarantee of a rotation role, Lyles has been the best starter on the Buccos and one of the best in the league. He has a 2.09 ERA after beating the Cardinals on Saturday.

Lyles is a former first-round Draft pick (No. 38 overall, 2008) who never properly panned out. He came to Pittsburgh with a career ERA of 5.28. But he’s adjusted his pitch mix, relying more frequently on his fastball and curveball, and the results have been there in the Burgh.

Yandy Diaz, 3B/1B, Rays
Acquired: As part of three-team trade sending Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle and Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers to Cleveland

The hard-hit percentages pointed to a potential breakout. But just because the Statcast numbers suggest something might happen doesn’t mean it will. Diaz had to do his part, and, in improving his extra-base-hit percentage from 5.7 in 2017-18 to 13.7 this year, he has.

It will be a long time before we can properly evaluate the complicated three-team deal between the Rays, Mariners and Indians that brought Diaz to Tampa Bay, and the Mariners (with Encarancion) and Indians (with Santana) have gotten some good production from it. But because he’s 27 and under control through 2024, Diaz has so far been the centerpiece of that swap for the first-place Rays.

Robinson Chirinos, C, Astros
Acquired: Free-agent deal for one year, $5.75 million

The Astros were one of several teams that made a legitimate pursuit of J.T. Realmuto over the winter. They settled instead on a one-year pact with the veteran Chirinos.

While manager AJ Hinch is careful not to overextend the 34-year-old catcher (he’s yet to start more than three games in a row at any point), Chirinos’ .400 OBP and 13 extra-base hits have lengthened this deep lineup all the more.