Ranking the worst off-seasons so far

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Following up the ranking of the five best off-seasons thus far, let’s take a look at the five worst.

26. Minnesota Twins — The Twins won 66 games in 2013 but help is on the horizon. They have one of the best Minor League systems around and it’s only a matter of time before the Twins are fielding a lineup with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. But this off-season, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey to multi-year deals totaling $84 million. Years ago, the trio might have been deemed underrated, but each has been in the league long enough to establish a track record, and each has failed to live up to expectations. The Twins are essentially gambling $84 million for them to, at once, realize their potential. The Twins could have instead used this money to try to get Masahiro Tanaka and more cheaply gamble on players like Josh Johnson (now with the Padres).

27. Philadelphia Phillies — The Phillies have been trying to unload their albatross contracts — Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard — but have only been the subject of derision. They also added Marlon Byrd on a questionable two-year deal and re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a questionable three-year deal. They are not expected to compete for much in 2014, so it doesn’t make any sense for them to sign free agents closer to 40 years old than 30 years old to multi-year deals.

28. Cincinnati Reds — The Reds won 90 games in 2013 and were a legitimate contender for the NL Wild Card. This off-season, they lost one of their best hitters in Shin-Soo Choo and haven’t done much else. With the defending NL champion Cardinals and the surprising Pirates, the NL Central is the toughest in baseball at the moment. Their options are dwindling and they seem resigned to having a quiet off-season.

29. Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently when they reneged on a two-year, $15 million deal with free agent reliever Grant Balfour. They said that his shoulder problems concerned them even though Balfour has been healthy for six years and got the thumbs-up from two different doctors. This was after a questionable trade in which they sent closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics for the light-hitting Jemile Weeks. While the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all made strides during the off-season, the Orioles have had perhaps the most embarrassing off-season in recent memory and haven’t done much in the way of improving the team, either.

30. Seattle Mariners — The ten-year, $240 million deal given to second baseman Robinson Cano isn’t by itself a bad move, but the Mariners needed to do a lot more. They were 71-91 in 2013. Even if you give Cano a lot more credit than WAR does, the Mariners haven’t done enough to be considered a .500 team. There is still time, of course, as Nelson Cruz is still available and the Mariners could get involved in the Masahiro Tanaka bidding. But right now, they’re a fringe .500 team that tied itself up with a gargantuan contract.

Mariners agree to a six-year contract with prospect Evan White

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This is a rare one: the Mariners have signed first base prospect Evan White — a player who has yet to play a game above Double-A — to a six-year, $24 million contract. The deal has three club options as well that, if exercised, could make it max out at $55.5 million over nine years.

White was the M’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, going 17th overall out of the University of Kentucky. In 2019 he played at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, hitting .293/.350/.488 with 18 home runs, striking out 92 times and walking 29 times in 92 games. It’s a good line in a league that is pretty pitcher-friendly. Stuart also reportedly plays excellent defense at first base.

Clearly the Mariners consider White a part of their future, but unless White flames out early in his career, he’s leaving a lot of potential money on the table.

White turns 24 early next season, which means that, even if he begins the 2020 season in the majors, starting his major league service time clock on Opening Day, he wouldn’t reach free agency until he’s poised to begin his age-33 season, assuming the Mariners exercise those options. If the Mariners place him in Triple A for anything beyond a couple of weeks to start next season, that changes to his age-34 season. A full year of Triple-A action and even some modest service time manipulation by the M’s in 2021 would put it off even longer.

At the same time, a team is unlikely to want to pay a guy millions to toil in the minors — and the M’s are guaranteeing themselves as many as nine years of White’s services — so the threat of service time manipulation is greatly reduced. Which means that, if he hits, he plays. Of course, if he hits well and continues to do so, the Mariners will have a considerable bargain on their hands, with a potential franchise cornerstone locked up at an average of $6 million and change a year for nearly a decade.

As we’ve noted so often when discussing extensions with young players, that’s the tradeoff. After today, White could hit like Mario Mendoza, field like Dick Stuart and be drummed out of baseball before he’s 30 and, assuming he’s even moderately sensible, still have enough money to set himself up for life. If he turns into a real star he’ll make less than half of what he’s worth in his career. His alternative: wait at least four years and maybe five to reach arbitration and three more after that until he can be a free agent. Assuming arbitration and free agency exist after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2021.

So, let’s check back in a few years before passing ultimate judgment.