5 Under the Radar Moves from the MLB Offseason

Not every MLB transaction makes headlines. Which ones are underrated?

As the MLB season approaches (less than 3 months to go!), it is always fairly easy to become swept up in the flurry of signings, trades, and speculation that runs rampant between the last out of the World Series and the first pitch of Opening Day. In usual hot stove fashion, we’ve already had a number of high-profile moves, like Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto combining for over a billion dollars to sign with the Dodgers, or Juan Soto now donning the pinstripes, as the Yankees try to break their long title drought. Even the signings of the likes of hurlers Aaron Nola, Josh Hader, and Shota Imanaga created enough buzz and anticipation, as they appear to be safe bets to produce.

Today, we shift away from these ubiquitous transactions to focus on five underrated moves that could provide tons of value and make a difference for their teams. These players may not move the needle in terms of marketing and headlines, but they have the potential to make their front offices look pretty smart when it’s all said and done.


November 5 – Tigers trade for Mark Canha


Since a 4-year span between 2011 and 2014 in which the Tigers won the Central every time, the franchise has not been able to replicate that level of success. Instead, they have become an afterthought in a division full of them, alternating promising seasons with full-blown debacles, hitting on a few development gems while signing more than a few suspect free agents (only four years and $98 million left for Javy Báez!). The 2023 season may have been the turning point for a front office desperate to bring back relevancy to Detroit, as the team won 78 games mostly on the strength of its pitching staff. At the same time, the Tigers scored third-fewest runs in the league. It is safe to say that even an average offense could have produced a contender for the division, as the Central always seems to be there for the taking.

Under this premise, adding a player like Mark Canha makes perfect sense. Even as he may not be the most exciting player, and about to turn 35, he is the kind of veteran, reliable bat that adds stability to a young offense. His .355 OBP would have ranked first for the Tigers offense in 2023, as Canha is mostly known as an on-base machine with occasional power. Even as he had a poor start to the season with the Mets, he regained steam after being traded to the Brewers and has posted a combined 120 OPS+ during the last five seasons. Expected to be the oldest position player on the team with Miguel Cabrera gone, Canha should also serve as a veteran leader for a roster trying to make the leap toward contention.


December 5 – White Sox sign Erick Fedde


Speaking of bad teams in the AL Central, the White Sox are probably a couple of steps behind the Tigers and Co., following a truly dreadful season. It is hard to believe, but a very similar foundation won 93 games in 2021, only to literally post the worst season in 90 years for the franchise. Losing 101 games may have only been the tip of the iceberg, as Chicago has apparently shifted to rebuild mode with the firing of their GM and executive vice president. Former player Chris Getz is now in charge of this effort, and he may be ahead of the curve considering that a rebuild in the Central may not be as tough as it appears.

In this tenor, signing the unheralded Erick Fedde may become a masterstroke at best or a cheap signing at worst. With a two-year, $15 million contract to play in the South Side, Fedde’s career numbers in MLB are truly abysmal. He owns a 5.41 ERA over 88 starts and 14 relief appearances and was ultimately non-tendered by the Nationals after the 2022 season. However, Fedde had a shocking turnaround in 2023, signing with South Korea’s NC Dinos, where he somehow went 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, becoming league MVP in the process. He will now try to emulate the likes of Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom, who came back stateside following success in the KBO. Your mileage may vary when it comes to playing in weaker leagues, but many scouts believe that Fedde’s transformation may be for real, as he is yet another example of a pitcher heading to the lab and refining his arsenal. With a sweeper and a splitter that were not part of his game during his first MLB stint, Fedde could become an intriguing arm for the White Sox, as they try to climb out of the cellar.


December 28 – Mariners sign Mitch Garver


As it tends to happen, the reigning World Series champion has a number of key elements that reach free agency or become expensive in arbitration, leading to significant changes in their title defense. The Texas Rangers are bound to keep most of its core together, as their roster still has many stars on long-term deals and pre-arbitration youngsters. However, they did lose one of their most underrated performers, as Mitch Garver signed with the division-rival Mariners just before the new year.

The pros for Garver are easy to see, as he has mastered the art of crushing baseballs like few can. The hybrid catcher/DH owns a career .825 OPS and won a Silver Slugger in 2019. He is coming off a season in which he posted a .270/.370/.500 slash line, and then had a few clutch hits in Texas’s title run. At the same time, his career high for games played is 102, and he has averaged around 75 during the past four full seasons. His constant IL stints were enough for the Rangers to gradually move him away from catching, as he only took 230 innings behind the dish in 2023. With the Mariners having at least a couple of serviceable backstops, Garver will likely serve as the full-time DH, where he is more likely to stay healthy. If he can stay around his career numbers, the two-year, $24 million deal may become a steal for Seattle, a team that desperately needs offense.


January 5 – Rays trade for José Caballero


Around the baseball industry, there is almost a running joke about conducting business with the Tampa Bay Rays. In essence, it seems that they seem to win every trade, either by shipping up players before they decline or by uncovering hidden gems from other organizations. Of course, it doesn’t always work out this way (I don’t see the Brewers regretting the Christian Adames trade, for example), but it seems odd just how the Rays can continue to churn and recycle players on the cheap while competing year in and year out in the tough AL East. The latest iteration of inspired trades in Tampa is the acquisition of the little-heralded José Caballero, acquired via trade from the Mariners.

With the Rays facing a tough outlook at the shortstop position, following the injury to Taylor Walls and Wander Franco’s possible banishment, it was clear that reinforcements were needed. This is where Caballero fits, even as he played mostly second base in his rookie season for Seattle. While his bat was nothing spectacular (90 OPS+), he still got on base at a high clip and stole 26 bags, while his solid defense helped him to a 2.4-WAR campaign in only 104 games. Now with Tampa’s player development machinery behind him, it will be interesting to see if Caballero can reach a new level in his age-27 season. And, of course, he will be doing it with a league-minimum salary.


January 8 – Mets sign Sean Manaea


In terms of expectations vs. reality, the 2023 Mets season may be the toughest in recent memory. Despite trying to build a super team through the power of money, the team was never in true contention for a playoff spot, let alone the division. Pitching was at the center of the team’s issues, as nobody outside of Kodai Senga was able to step up as a true ace who could lead the staff. With Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer departing mid-season, the team relied on middling pitchers to round out the rotation, and those questions carried over to an offseason in which the Mets have not signed any high-profile free agents.

The early-January acquisition of Sean Manaea (two years, $28 million with an opt-out), will not make many New York Post headlines, but could still signal a true value proposition for the franchise. Not so long ago, Manaea was seen as a high-volume starter who could provide quality innings, even if he never quite reached ace status. After a rough stint with the Padres, he was able to recoup some of his luster in 2023 with the Giants, adding a sweeper and a couple of extra ticks to his fastball. However, this came mostly out of the bullpen, as San Francisco used him in a hybrid role that yielded only 10 starts. Manaea was open about his frustration with this arrangement, leading him to opt out of year two of his deal and seek a full-time starter opportunity, which is what New York can provide. His in-season splits (5.49 first-half ERA vs 3.43 ERA in the second) suggest that he may be on the upswing, while many advanced stats back up his gains. If the lefty can give the Mets 30 starts with a solid ERA, this move could prove major for a team that needs to at least fight for a wild card spot.

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

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