By Cliff Corcoran
Giancarlo Stanton, who is reportedly being traded to the Yankees, and Shohei Ohtani, who chose the Angels, continue to dominate the conversation around the Hot Stove, but those two aren't the only game in town. Much of the action so far has come in the past week, as the pitching market has started to move, while Thursday night brought a pair of teams taking on new, $38-million commitments.
Here's a quick rundown of the biggest non-Ohtani and non-Stanton Hot Stove moves made so far.
Cardinals sign RHP Miles Mikolas for $15.5M/2yrs
This 29-year-old Florida native returns to the Majors after spending three years in the rotation of Japan's Yomiuri Giants, during which he posted a 2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 5.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 62 starts. He won't match those numbers in the St. Louis rotation, but this contract should guarantee him a spot, and his chances of being at least a solid contributor are good. Mikolas' career path is not without precedent. A decade ago, Colby Lewis, another pitcher who struggled in his early MLB opportunities, spent two dominant years with the Hiroshima Carp, returned to the Majors at the age of 30 and established himself as a rotation stalwart for consecutive pennant winners.
Mariners acquire 1B Ryon Healy from A's for RHP Emilio Pagan and SS Alexander Campos
The intended Danny Valencia/Dan Vogelbach platoon didn't work out this year, so the Mariners' general manager, Jerry Dipoto, wasted no time in replacing it with Healy, acquired from Oakland on Nov.15. A former third baseman, Healy has real power and an ability to hit for respectable averages (.293 over four Minor League seasons, .282 so far in the Majors), but won't take a walk, undermining his otherwise strong batting lines. The end result is roughly league-average production at first base, but that's something the Mariners haven't had since 2009.
Righty reliever Emilio Pagan had a strong rookie season in 2017. Teenage shortstop Alexander Campos is a Venezuelan lottery ticket who was born in February 2000. Both are solid adds for the perpetually rebuilding A's, but neither was too much to give up for five team-controlled years of a player who could solidify a long-unstable position in Seattle.
Cubs sign RHP Tyler Chatwood for $38M/3yrs
In two seasons since returning from his July 2014 Tommy John surgery, Chatwood has posted a 115 ERA+ despite walking 4.3 per nine innings with a mere 1.61 K/BB ratio and a whopping 1.41 WHIP. The secret to that modest success has been Chatwood's mid-90s sinker and the Rockies' excellent infield defense. The Cubs are hoping for a similar recipe for success minus the negative effects of Denver's thin air by putting Chatwood in front of their vaunted infielders. It might work, but in addition to Chatwood's lousy peripherals, he'll enter next season as a 28-year-old who has never made more than 27 starts in a season and never thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. This signing will look a lot better if Chicago adds an arm to the front of its rotation, as well, pushing Chatwood into the fifth spot.
White Sox sign C Welington Castillo for $15M/2yrs plus $8M club option
The South Side was a surprising landing spot for one of the top three catchers on this year's free-agent market, particularly given the number of teams closer to contention who are in need of catching help. Maybe Castillo was particularly fond of Chicago from his time with the Cubs (which could explain the quick move to sign). More likely, the White Sox either think their rebuild will coalesce faster than most observers expect, or plan to prey on those contenders who need catchers at an upcoming Trade Deadline. Castillo, who will be 31 in April, is coming off a career year on both sides of the ball, having hit .282/.323/.490 with 20 home runs in 365 plate appearances for the Orioles last year, while posting above-average framing numbers for the first time in his career. It remains to be seen if the framing was a fluke, but I believe in the bat.
Rangers sign LHP Mike Minor for $28M/3yrs plus partial-no-trade clause
A torn labrum in his pitching shoulder derailed Minor's career as a starter with the Braves after the 2014 season. After surgery, he missed all of 2015 and half of 2016. A move to the bullpen in 2017 rejuvenated his career. He posted a 2.55 ERA (176 ERA+) with 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings and a 4.00 K/BB ratio for the Royals, then declined his $10 million mutual option in the hope of a bigger payday. His new deal with the Rangers doesn't reach eight digits in any single season, but it averages over $9 million per season and comes with a 10-team no-trade clause and the promise of a chance to start again. There's undeniably risk in trying to stretch Minor back out for his age-30 season, given his injury history and the fact that he hasn't shouldered a starter's workload since 2014. However, he added velocity throughout the 2017 season, kept his walks and homers under control, pitched to a 2.86 DRA and didn't allow a run in his four innings of work in Arlington, so there's considerable upside, as well. Letting C.J. Wilson return to starting worked out pretty well for the Rangers at the beginning of the decade. Minor could be as good or better if his arm holds up.
Mariners acquire 2B Dee Gordon and $1M in international spending capacity from Marlins for RHP Nick Neidert, SS Christopher Torres and RHP Robert Dugger
Dipoto is at it again, this time facilitating the start of the Marlins' tear-down by taking on all of the $38 million remaining on Gordon's contract (plus a potential $13 million more via a vesting option for 2021). The plan is to make the lightning-quick Gordon the new Mariners center fielder. I say plan, because the sum total of Gordon's professional experience in center consists of nine games in the Dominican Winter League four years ago. There is no doubt that Gordon has the speed and athleticism to make the switch, but the fly-tracking is an open question, and, per a passive-aggressive press release put out by his agent, Gordon wasn't informed of the position switch until after the trade was final.
Still, there may be a method to Dipoto's madness. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz is 37 and entering his walk year. Incumbent second baseman Robinson Cano is 35. If Gordon doesn't work out in center, don't be surprised to see him at second base in 2019 with Cano and Healy splitting time at first and DH. As for center field in that scenario, Dipoto may be hoping he can use Ohtani there part-time. The Mariners are another of the finalists for Ohtani's services, and the $1 million in spending capacity added here pushes Seattle ahead of the Rangers for the largest potential bonus of the seven teams still vying to land Ohtani (who, it should be noted, is nearly as fast as Gordon).
Given that the Mariners took on all of Gordon's salary, the Marlins must have really leveraged that spending capacity, because they got a solid prospect package here. Dugger, an 18th-round Draft pick out of Texas Tech in 2016, is nothing special, but Neidert, a second-round pick out of a Georgia high school in 2015, was excellent in High-A this past season and has mid-rotation potential. Torres is more of a lottery ticket, an athletic Dominican shortstop who won't turn 20 until February and has the glove and the speed you might expect but needs to prove himself at the plate. None of those three is a blue-chipper, but in the barren Marlins' farm system, Neidert and Torres are both now among the organization's top 11 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.