Sometimes lost in that frenzy or the excitement of our favorite teams making a big move is a player that flies under the radar. By the time spring training rolls around, we all have that moment of “He’s on what team?!”
Here are five offseason moves you may have forgotten about and why these players have the potential to impact their new teams.
After winning the American League Rookie of the Year in 2020, Kyle Lewis had a rough two years plagued by injuries. His season was cut short in 2021, having played just 36 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The following season wasn’t any better. Lewis didn’t return from the meniscus tear until the end of May. In his fourth game back, he was hit in the head by a pitch, suffered a concussion, and missed nearly two months. He struggled when he returned, going 4-for-41 in 14 games before being demoted to Triple-A for the remainder of the season.
This offseason, the Mariners traded Lewis to the Diamondbacks for Cooper Hummel. In Arizona, he’ll get a fresh start in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark. During his breakout rookie season, Lewis displayed above-average barrel (11.7%) and walk (14.0%) rates. Inconsistent contact and a high strikeout rate (29.3%) were Lewis’ drawbacks.
The Diamondbacks are banking on a clean slate serving Lewis well. They hope to see him healthy and looking like the first-round prospect he once was. In the outfield, he’ll join Corbin Carroll, Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect and newly acquired Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
I’m not sure a player signing the biggest free agent contract in franchise history can be considered under the radar, but we are talking about the Tampa Bay Rays. Zach Eflin and the Rays agreed rather quickly this offseason to a three-year, $40 million deal.
The right-handed pitcher spent parts of seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, pitching almost exclusively as a starter. About mid-way through this past season, Eflin began dealing with some knee pain which caused him to miss time. When he returned, the Phillies began using him in a relief role down the stretch and in the postseason in 2022.
In 2022, he pitched to a tune of a 4.04 ERA with a 20.8% strikeout rate and a 4.8% walk rate. Eflin did a fantastic job limiting hard contact, especially on his curveball — 6.5% HC%, league average 24.2%.
On a recent episode of In The Deep, Jordan and Shwebsi talked about a bunch of late-round starting pitchers to keep in mind for the upcoming fantasy season. I was tossing around the idea to include Eflin in this under-the-radar article when listening to the episode and they started talking about Eflin. They put into words exactly what I was thinking…
Shwebsi: “I think I’ve just been conditioned to trust the Rays. … Going from the Philadelphia coaching staff to the Tampa Bay coaching staff is like the coaching equivalent of upgrading from Spirit Airlines to Air Force One.”
Jordan: “You phrase it like you learn to trust the Rays, but for me it’s more of I‘ve learned to not bet against the Rays. … They’re very savvy in acquiring certain players from other teams that seem like spare parts and turn them into great players. … They just do such a good job getting every single bit of juice they can out of every single one of those juicy, juicy Florida oranges that are their players.”
Similarly, the Guardians are another team that seems to have a knack for developing pitchers. In a recent article on MLB.com, MLB executives were polled on the best farm systems in baseball. A few different questions were asked, including which team is the best at developing pitchers—46% of respondents said the Guardians. Jonathan Mayo noted in the article that eight of the 12 pitchers on the team’s 2022 Wild Card roster were players they drafted, many in the later rounds.
So when I saw that Cleveland had signed Touki Toussaint to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, it seemed like a match I couldn’t bet against. Toussaint was a first-round draft pick in 2014 but never put it all together. Pat Ellington Jr. wrote about the righthanded pitcher when he was with Atlanta, saying he “yo-yo’d between starting and in the bullpen during his time in the major leagues” because of command issues.
At 26 years old, Toussaint leaves behind a career 5.34 ERA across five seasons with Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels. He’ll get a fresh start with Cleveland, a team that has been said to make “incredible hay plucking pitchers off the scrap heap and turning them into, perhaps not gold, but at least some good hearty iron or tin that helps build the greater structure of the team and season.”
Rangers Rebuild Rotation with Pitchers Not Named Jacob deGrom
When you sign the best pitcher in baseball, any other moves are bound to be under the radar by default. The Texas Rangers remade their entire rotation, going from the first four names on the table to four new options on the bottom for 2023.
When healthy, Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. He’ll slide right into Texas’ ace role, with Martín Pérez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney settling in comfortably behind him. Pérez and Heaney are coming off the best seasons of their careers. Eovaldi has battled his fair share of injuries and inconsistencies, but is an impact arm when he’s right and certainly is an upgrade from Texas’ 2022 back-end starters.
Los Angeles Angels Make Slow and Steady Upgrades
The Angels find themselves in a predicament that is totally self-induced. They have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, two of the best baseball players on the planet. Trout is already a first-ballot Hall of Famer and every time he laces up his spikes Ohtani is doing things the game has never seen before.
Still, they’ve found ways to waste the talent other teams could only dream of having. Trout has played in only three total playoff games over his 12-year career, and the team has gone 328-380 during Ohtani’s tenure with the Angels.
Ohtani has voiced his displeasure with the way the Angels have played, telling Japanese media that he had a “rather negative impression of [the] season.”
The Angels have one last chance to turn things around, as the two-way star is set to become a free agent after the 2023 season. The team hasn’t made any earth-shattering moves this offseason, but they’ve quietly made several that have improved the team.
- Signed SP Tyler Anderson to a three-year, $39 million contract
- Signed UTIL Brandon Drury to a two-year, $17 million contract
- Signed RP Carlos Estévez to a two-year, $13.5 million contract
- Signed OF Brett Phillips to a one-year, $1.2 million contract
- Traded for 3B Gio Urshela
- Traded for OF Hunter Renfroe
- Signed OF Jake Lamb to a minor league contract
The starting rotation has been a struggle for the Angels in recent seasons, so the addition of Anderson is the most important move. The other players they signed or traded for are fine. Drury had a career year in 2022, Urshela has shown flashes of promise with the Yankees and Twins, and Renfroe will be a solid addition in the outfield.
The team will be better than last year, but I’m not sure that the culmination of these moves is enough to compete in the American League. If the Angels don’t come out of the gates strong, I’m worried that Angels fans will see Ohtani traded by mid-season. Here’s to hoping that isn’t the case because everything falls into place and the Angels make a serious push in 2023.