The dirty truth about this offseason business we get so wrapped up in is that a lot of it (way too much of it for executives and owners to feel comfortable) doesn't work out as well as expected. That was certainly the case when you look back at the 2015-16 offseason, which, like the season itself, had a pretty substantial rate of swings and misses.
Here's a quick look at 10 of last year's big-ticket additions that didn't pan out as well as planned and their outlooks for 2017.
Jason Heyward, Cubs
Signed for eight years, $184 million
"He impacts the game in a lot of obvious ways but in a lot of subtle ways as well," Theo Epstein said when the Cubs gave Heyward this gargantuan deal. In Game 7 at Progressive Field during the World Series, Heyward gave the rain-delay speech that supposedly ignited the Cubs going into the 10th inning.* Unfortunately, the more tangible contributions didn't show up, and Heyward finished with the fourth-worst wRC+ (72) of any qualified player in 2016. Even his defensive WAR -- his chief selling point -- diminished a bit, from 2.0 to 1.3.
*The Cubs had already scored six runs that evening and had the middle of the order due up against a gassed Bryan Shaw, but I'm sure the speech was fantastic.
Heyward is said to be giving himself his own pump-up speech now, going through what Jed Hoyer has called "critical changes." He's always had complicated swing mechanics that make in-season adjustments all the more difficult, so it's about getting muscle memory working in his favor.
Wei Yin Chen, Marlins
Signed for five years, $80 million
If you expected a quality season from Chen after his move from the AL East to the NL East (and the spacious environs of Marlins Park), you were "Wei" off. He went from underrated (123 ERA+ in 2015) to overpaid (79) in a hurry. His home run rate actually went up, which isn't good, and, with diminished fastball velocity and slider depth, he had all the tell-tale signs of an injury issue. Sure enough, he missed two months with an elbow strain.
It could be as simple as an offseason of rest getting Chen back on track, but sometimes a minor elbow issue one year is a precursor to a bigger problem the next.
Mike Leake, Cardinals
Signed for five years, $80 million
The Cardinals got a lot of praise for landing a solid, 28-year-old starting arm at what rated as a reasonable price, but Mike (uh oh) sprung (no, no, please don't do it), a (I'm begging you) Leake (ughhhh) in 2016. His ERA was a career-high 4.69, his ERA+ a career-low 87, and he gave up north of 10 hits per nine innings.
OK, but how much of this was Leake's fault, really? His Fielding Independent Pitching mark (3.83) was actually better than his career norm, and his walk and strikeout rates were improvements on 2015. The big issue here was the Cardinals' infield defense. Hard to know if this is really going to improve in '17, as shortstop Aledmys Diaz has range issues and Kolten Wong, a solid defender, has to hit enough to stay in the lineup. Basically, I'd be more concerned about the defense than Leake.
Alex Gordon, Royals
Signed for four years, $72 million
The Royals handed out not one but two contracts worth $70 million or more last January, and you could have won a lot of money (though probably not $70 million) betting that the one given to Ian Kennedy would look better a year later. Gordon had a .220/.312/.380 slash and, for the second straight year, missed significant time with injury (broken wrist).
On an encouraging note, Gordon did contribute a more-respectable .254/.330/.467 slash with nine homers from Aug. 10 through the end of the season, and he got an alarming strikeout rate under control. Statcast™ tells us his average exit velocity rose from 87 mph before the DL stint to 88.9 afterward. That's still not great, but it's at least an indication that Gordon was in a better place physically for the home stretch and perhaps that bodes well for the new season.
Ken Giles, Astros
Acquired with Jonathan Arauz from the Phillies for Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Mark Appel, Harold Arauz and Thomas Eshelman
This risky swap's not looking so great for the Astros right now, and it'll look worse if Velasquez sticks as a quality starter. Giles' ERA ballooned from 1.80 to 4.11, and he lost the closer's job for a time and had a 5.06 ERA in 21 appearances after regaining the role late in the year.
But look, the dude still throws gas (he averaged 97.2 mph on his fastball), his slider had one of the best swinging strike and ground-ball rates in the game and his strikeout rate actually improved, from 11.2 K's per nine in '15 to an even 14 in '16. So all is not lost here.
Shelby Miller, D-backs
Acquired with Gabe Speier from the Braves for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair
This trade will never be remotely defensible, unless Swanson gets abducted by aliens (but even then, Inciarte is a good enough defender to stop the invasion). I don't even want to write Miller's 2016 numbers here, because there might be children reading this.
The only thing you can hope here is that a relationship with a new catcher (possibly Jeff Mathis, though the D-backs could still potentially sign Matt Wieters) leads to better sequencing. There was not a major change in the overall quality of Miller's raw stuff.
Zack Greinke, D-backs
Signed for six years, $206.5 million
Unlike Miller, it was surprising how bad this one looked. Not that you expected Greinke, especially given the change in home parks, to repeat his historic 2015 with the Dodgers (1.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 222 ERA+), but his changeup had become good enough to allay some of the concerns associated with such a large commitment to a starting arm. What we didn't know was just how bad Greinke's homer rate would spike (from 0.6 per nine in '15 to 1.3). A midseason oblique injury pretty much killed any hope of Greinke clawing all the way back from a terrible start.
Here, the Mathis acquisition likely really matters, because he's simply a superior pitch-framer to Wellington Castillo, and Greinke -- likely in an effort to combat both Father Time and his environs -- had an increased propensity for pitching just below the strike zone in '16.
David Price and Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox
Price signed for seven years, $217 million; Kimbrel acquired from Padres for Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, Javier Guerra and Logan Allen
We'll pair them, because compared to the others on this list, Price and Kimbrel were All-Stars. Kimbrel actually literally was an All-Star. But relative to the acquisition cost and hype, their seasons were so-so, at best.
Price delivered a Major League-high 230 innings and 35 starts, and there is inherent value in that durability, but he had his worst adjusted ERA+ (114) since his rookie year, his velocity dropped a tick and he did nothing to change the narrative about his inability to pitch in the postseason.
That said, Price had a 3.33 ERA from July 5 through the end of the regular season, and perhaps, having survived his first season in the Boston media meat-grinder, he'll be in a better mental position to perform. He's certainly got plenty of help in that Red Sox rotation.
Kimbrel struck out 14.1 batters per nine and saved 31 games, but he had a knee injury that required in-season surgery and he posted a terrible walk rate (5.1 per nine). He was at his worst in the home stretch, and, though it didn't affect the AL East outcome, it did affect the Red Sox's October seeding. Relievers tend to have short shelf lives. There was only one Mariano Rivera. Kimbrel is going to have to make some serious command strides if he's going to get back to the elite level we knew and loved.
Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers
Signed for five years, $110 million
Just for the record, eight of the 10 guys on this list are pitchers, which leads me to the following conclusion: Never, ever, under any circumstances, acquire a pitcher.
For one month, the Tigers' acquisition of Zimmermann looked awesome. He went 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA. Of course, April was the same month that had us singing Mat Latos' praises. So, you know, not the best month to draw conclusions. From that point on, Zimmermann had a 6.84 ERA, .917 OPS and made just 13 starts because of a myriad of injuries, including a groin strain, neck strain and tight lat muscle.
Zimmermann is reportedly throwing pain-free at the moment. Just put him on the long list of guys the Tigers, with an aging and expensive roster short on depth, have to keep healthy if they have any shot at catching the Indians in the AL Central. April can obviously be an aberration, but it gave a window into what Zimmermann can look like when he's at his healthy, groundball-inducing best.