The 2015 Major League Baseball offseason has been anything but quiet. In fact, this offseason may have been the busiest so far this century. Players such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Matt Kemp, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Upton, Will Myers, and Nelson Cruz have all found new teams this Winter. And while it is these players that get all the headlines, it is sometimes the low-profile deals that make the biggest impact on the baseball season. With that said, here are five of the most underrated moves so far this offseason.
1. Giants Sign Nori Aoki to A One Year Deal
After losing key bats like Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval, it was clear that the Giants were going to have to make a move to improve their offense. Many assumed the Giants would bring in a power bat to fill this hole. Instead, the Giants opted for Aoki, who focuses on putting the ball in play. A career .287 hitter with a .353 OBP, Aoki would have been a good fit for almost any team. Which is why it is so surprising that the Giants were able to sign him to a one year deal worth just under $5 million, with a $5.5 million option for 2016. The Giants could use Aoki in a number of ways. They could hit him at the top of the order along with Angel Pagan and/or Joe Panik, or move him down towards the bottom of the order where he would help flip the lineup over. Either way, his presence in the lineup will have a big impact as the Giants compete in the NL West.
2. The A’s Acquire Tyler Clippard from the Nationals.
Billy Beane has been questioned rather frequently this offseason after trading away Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, and Brandon Moss. However, one move that has been overlooked is the addition of reliever Tyler Clippard. The A’s have a very deep pitching staff, and the addition of one of the best relievers in the game just adds to that. In the past two seasons, Clippard has thrown over 140 innings to a 2.30 ERA. The A’s are likely going to be better than expected this season, and Clippard can help hold down the back end of the A’s bullpen. If the team struggles, then he could also be used as a trade piece at the deadline to bring in another young player or two. Either way, the addition is well worth it considering all they had to give up was Yunel Escobar.
3. Giants Acquire Casey McGehee
Since his debut in 2008, Pablo Sandoval has consistently been one of the best offensive third basemen in the league. However, it was clear that the Giants were not interested in spending the near $100 million over five years that Sandoval was requesting. Instead of adding more power to the lineup, Brian Sabean decided to take a more contact oriented approach, bringing in Nori Aoki and Casey McGehee. After spending a year in Japan, McGehee spent the 2014 season in Miami and proved that he could still perform. He is a contact oriented hitter who focuses on putting together good at bats, which will fit right into the Giants lineup in 2015. San Francisco gave up relatively little for a player who could easily hit around .280 and help the Giants defend their title.
4. Miami Marlins Sign Ichiro Suzuki.
Since joining the Seattle Mariners in 2001, Ichiro has been one of the most productive outfielders in the game. While he may not be the exact same player he was in his prime, Ichiro can still be a very valuable player if used in the right way. The Marlins are heading into the 2015 season with a very talented, young outfield. Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton will get the majority of the playing time, which allows Ichiro to be the fourth outfielder on the roster. He can handle all three outfield spots, which will allow the starters to take some much needed days off during the grueling 162 game season. Because he is now moving to the National League, Ichiro will also be able to enter the game as a pinch hitter. That said, it is reasonable to think that Ichiro could get an at-bat in almost every game this year. Ichiro has a knack for putting the ball in play and getting on base, making him a great fit for this role. Using Ichiro off the bench will keep him away from the wear and tear of being an everyday player, while still giving him the opportunity to help the team win every day.
5. Padres Acquire Will Middlebrooks
After a breakout rookie performance in which he hit .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs, Will Middlebrooks has failed to live up to expectations in Boston. The Padres decided to take a chance on Middlebrooks, hoping that a change of scenery might help him perform to the best of his ability. It appeared that his swing got a little long and loopy while playing in Fenway park. Moving to the more spacious Petco Park, Middlebrooks will have to shorten his swing and focus on hitting gap to gap. If he does so, he will be able to find plenty of playing time at both corner infield spots. Once considered a top prospect for the Red Sox, Middlebrooks only cost the Padres Ryan Hanigan, whom they acquired from the Rays in the Wil Myers deal. If Middlebrooks settles down and refines his approach in San Diego, he could be the biggest steal of the offseason. If not, then it will simply be a low risk trade that did not pan out.