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3 best, 3 worst moves of the offseason so far

MLB Free Agency is an opportunity for teams to scour the market and pursue necessary upgrades for their teams. Free agency gives teams a chance to look at those upgrades without giving up coveted potential capital. All it costs is money or, in rare cases, a draft pick.

While teams don’t risk prospect capital to sign players, they do risk a lot of money. Owners only have a certain amount of money they’re willing to spend, so fans better hope their favorite team’s moves pay off. There aren’t many things worse than a bad contract that ultimately becomes impossible to move.

We’re approaching two months into the 2024 season. It’s still too early to say which teams will make the postseason, but it’s also not too early to dive into what happened in free agency and the three best and worst free agency moves from the offseason so far.

The Seattle Mariners had one of, if not the best rotations in baseball last season, but their offense wasn’t nearly as good as that of their pitching staff. That’s why they narrowly missed out on a postseason berth.

In an effort to strengthen their offense, Seattle revamped things a bit and one of the players they signed was Mitch Garver, who signed a two-year contract worth $24 million. While that didn’t break the bank by any means, he is one of the five highest-paid players according to Spotrac. It’s safe to say he didn’t play like that.

Garver is slashing .169/.276/.331 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 39 games. Health has always been his biggest issue, but he has played in 39 of Seattle’s 47 games, all at DH. The fact that he has stayed healthy and not done what Seattle told him to do is concerning.

There are other reasons why the team is 26th in runs scored, but Garver is a key hitter in the lineup for the Mariners. This is a player who had an .870 OPS last season with the Texas Rangers and had an .825 OPS in his seven-year career entering this season. His OPS this season is more than 200 points below both figures. If the Mariners want to reach their full potential, they’ll have to get him going.

Seth Lugo gambled on himself last season and signed a deal with the San Diego Padres to start games for them. It came true. He proved he could be a starting pitcher at the MLB level, eventually signing a three-year, $45 million contract with the Kansas City Royals. The Royals expected Lugo to give them valuable innings, but they couldn’t have expected this. He has taken another step forward.

Simply put, the right-hander was one of the best pitchers in the American League. He leads the AL in ERA (1.79), starts (10), innings pitched (65.1) and ERA+ (227). He has 58 strikeouts, compared to just 13 walks. It’s hard to say if he would outlast Detroit Tigers great Tarik Skubal for the Cy Young Award if the season ended today, but he would certainly be in the conversation. He’s been so good.

Lugo pitching like the ace he was is an incredible development for a Royals team that is currently ten games above .500. The fact that he only makes $15 million annually makes this contract an absolute steal for the Royals.

The Baltimore Orioles had a gaping hole to replace in their bullpen, while Felix Bautista would miss the entire 2024 campaign as he recovered from Tommy John Surgery. While signing a reliever was a move that Baltimore had to make, signing Craig Kimbrel, especially no matter how many times they did it, was not a move they had to make.

Kimbrel is one of the great closers in MLB history, but is far from his best in 2024. He has a 3.63 ERA in 20 appearances and has converted nine saves in 12 attempts. Although he just converted a save in Sunday’s win against the Mariners, that was his first save in 16 days. He is far from the established closer at this point, which was not the case when the season started.

The Orioles gave Kimbrel $13 million. Yes, it’s only a one-year deal, but $13 million isn’t cheap. They will have to find closure at the trade deadline because of their offseason mistake.

You knew he would be here. Shota Imanaga signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. He was viewed by most as nothing more than a mid-rotation starter, but has exceeded everyone’s expectations early in his Cubs career.

Imanaga leads the NL with an ERA of 0.84 and a FIP of 2.22 in his nine starts and 53.2 innings of work. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in all nine of his starts and has not allowed a single earned run in six of nine starts. The Cubs have gone 8-1 when he has taken the ball, and 18-21 the rest of the time. Without him they would be lost.

If Imanaga Yoshinobu Yamamoto made any money, he would still be on a list like this. I mean, his ERA is less than 1.00! The fact that he earns $13.25 annually, a lower AAV than Jameson Taillon by almost $5 million, makes it an even bigger win.

When the Houston Astros signed Josh Hader this offseason, they were seen by many as clear favorites to win the AL Pennant. Not only did they have an elite rotation and a loaded lineup, but they also had the best late-game trio in the match with Hader, Ryan Pressly, and Bryan Abreu. At least that was the case on paper.

Houston enters Monday’s game five games under .500 for a variety of reasons, but one big one is their bullpen. The Astros bullpen was far from great, and Hader was right in the middle of it.

The southpaw was arguably the best reliever in all of baseball last season and was paid similarly this offseason, but has just a 4.50 ERA in his 19 appearances and 20 innings of work. He’s been pitching better lately after a brutal April, but he has just six saves to his name this season and has already suffered three losses. Record doesn’t mean much to a pitcher, but getting closer with three losses in mid-May isn’t doing the job.

Hader still has a lot of time to justify his record-breaking contract, but so far he hasn’t come close to doing so.

I understand. The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Shohei Ohtani a ten-year contract worth $700 million, which meant Ohtani had to play at an extremely high level to justify that, but did anyone expect this right away?

Ohtani has a Triple Crown watch and is hitting .353/.433/.658 with 13 home runs and 33 RBI. He leads the NL in at-bats and home runs while ranking in the top five in RBI. He is tied for the MLB lead in fWAR despite only serving as a DH.

I get it, he doesn’t throw, but while he’s been an elite hitter in the past, he hasn’t hit like that before. He was an instrumental piece behind Mookie Betts and ahead of Freddie Freeman, and things will only look better when he takes the mound in the future.

Ohtani winning the MVP award without pitching wasn’t in the cards, but he’s on track to do that now for a Dodgers team that has really taken off. He deserves all the praise he gets, and then some.