Since the 2016 Major League Baseball season ended with the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year title drought, there has been an avalanche of trades, signings and waiver pickups.
Every team not named the Chicago Cubs made moves to jockey for better positioning in 2016, no one excepted.
Where most teams will find gold, whether it’s a whole bar or a tiny nugget, are the trades for and contracts tendered to baseball veterans who, with a change of venue, might return to former glory.
Some will have to scuffle through spring training on minor league deals in hopes of making the opening day roster, or toil at AAA with an eye to a call-up. Others jobs with their new clubs are reasonably assured, based on health and performance.
We have scoured the transactions and came up with 25 older dogs (some teams have multiple reclamation projects) who might still have a new trick or two.
15. Atlanta Braves – 2B Brandon Phillips, C Kurt Suzuki, SP Jaime Garcia, SP R.A. Dickey
After a third straight season of missing the playoffs and being dead last in the NL East, the Braves have re-tooled, opening the vault for a slew of veterans and trading for 2B Brandon Phillips. And we aren’t even including Bartolo Colon. Phillips, who at 35 has not slowed down appreciably, gets a new lease on life in Atlanta after 11 seasons, three all-star nods and four gold gloves in Cincinnati. Acquired in a trade on Sunday, he will be an upgrade on incumbent Jace Peterson. R.A. Dickey, 42, returns as a free agent to the NL East after a 10-15 season in Toronto. He failed to reach 200 innings pitched for the first time in six seasons, but should get the chance to do it again, most likely as the number three starter. Jaime Garcia, 30, will get a chance to redeem himself in Georgia after going through a mediocre season in St. Louis. He as 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA a year after going 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA. Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, 33, signed a one-year deal to back-up Tyler Flowers. Suzuki was good with Minnesota in 2016, hitting .258 with eight homer and 49 RBI.
14. Houston Astros – OF Nori Aoki
Even though he’s 35, outfielder Nori Aoki has just five years of big league service under his belt. He’s played with Milwaukee, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle and has a lifetime batting average of .286 and an OPS of .738. The former Yakult Swallows (Japanese League) all-star hit .283 in 118 games for the Mariners in 2016, along with 24 doubles, four triples, four homers, 28 RBI, seven stolen bases and a .349 OBP. He started 88 games in left field and 14 in center and made just one error, with five assists, on 194 chances. With Colby Rasmus gone, Aoki will likely be a fourth option (or platoon material) in the outfield with Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick and George Springer. He was a waiver claim off the Mariners’ roster on Nov. 3, 2016.
13. Arizona Diamondbacks – INF Daniel Descalso, OF Gregor Blanco
The Diamondbacks traded former all-star second baseman Jean Segura to Seattle, opening up the second base position to competition in 2017. Enter utility infielder Daniel Descalso, who signed a one-year deal with the club a week ago. The 30-year-old played 99 games with Colorado in 2016, and started at six different positions (seven if you include DH) including shortstop (31 games), first base (11 games), second (11 games), left field (seven games), right field (seven games) and third (two games). A career .242 hitter, Descalso posted a .264 average in 2016, along with 12 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 38 RBI, three stolen bases, a .424 slugging percentage and .773 OPS. Outfielder Gregor Blanco signed a minor league contract and isn’t on the 40-man roster. However, only Yasmany Tomas returns as an incumbent. Blanco, who played all three outfield positions in San Francisco last year, is a career .258 hitter with some wheels (33 triples in 902 games) and 101 stolen bases.
12. Colorado Rockies – RP Greg Holland
If his surgically repaired right arm holds up, Greg Holland could be quite a pick-up for the Colorado Rockies, who had no true closer in 2016. Holland, who had late-season Tommy John surgery while his Kansas City Royals went all the way in 2015, sat out the entire 2016 season on the disabled list. He was the Royals full-time closer from 2013 to 2015, earning 125 saves and striking out 242 batters in 174 innings. He was an all-star in 2013 and 2014 and finished top 10 in Cy Young voting both years. Holland, 31, was also lights out in 2014 as the Royals went all the way to the World Series, posting a 0.82 ERA with seven saves and 15 Ks in 11 innings of work. The Rockies used a bullpen-by-committee in 2016, Jake McGee leading the way with 15 saves and Carlos Estevez chipping in 11. Holland, if healthy, represents a terrific option in the closer role.
11. Texas Rangers – 1B James Loney
For a guy who is still just 32, James Loney has an extensive resume in the major leagues. He’s played 11 seasons in the big leagues, amassed 1,425 hits, 669 RBI and a lifetime .284 average. He’s not on the 40-man roster this spring after signing a minor league contract, but the Rangers are currently without a true first baseman with big league experience after Mitch Moreland left. Ronald Guzman will get a look and maybe even ageless wonder Adrian Beltre, who could switch from third. Loney was a good pick-up, considering he hit .265 with the Mets last year, including 16 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 34 RBI. Defensively, he’s a career .993 fielder and in 2016 he made eight errors on 734 chances (.989). The impending signing of Mike Napoli could make Loney’s job of making the team out of spring training a bit tougher.
10. Cincinnati Reds – RP Scott Feldman
When the Toronto Blue Jays traded for Scott Feldman at the trade deadline last year, it was expected that the big converted long reliever would put in quality innings down the stretch. He was 5-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 26 games for Houston before the trade, but struggled in 14 games with the Jays, going 2-1 with a lofty 8.40 ERA and 1.933 WHIP. He never did pitch in the post-season with Toronto and was left completely off the ALCS roster. A free agent at season’s end, Feldman, 34, signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal to pitch with Cincinnati in January, returning him to the NL Central for the first time since pitching with the Cubs in 2013. With the departure of fellow veteran Ross Ohlendorf to Japan, Feldman will be in line to soak up significant innings in middle relief.
9. Seattle Mariners – SP Drew Smyly, SP Yovani Gallardo, UT Danny Valencia
The Mariners were oh so close — yet so far — from making a post-season berth in 2016. They finished three games behind wild card teams Toronto and Baltimore at 86-76, leading to a multitude of off-season changes. They traded away promising starter Taijuan Walker (for a package that included INF Jean Segura), leaving a big hole behind Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez in the starting rotation. They also waved bye-bye to Wade Miley Nate Karns. So, they brought in two live arms via trade to bolster their chances. First they traded OF Seth Smith to Baltimore for rightie Yovani Gallardo, who had a down year, going 6-8, with a 5.42 ERA and 1.585 WHIP. He should bounce back to a form that saw him post 102 wins in nine previous seasons. Then they packaged up three prospects for Tampa southpaw Drew Smyly, who started the most games of his career in 2016, and sported a 7-12 record with 4.88 ERA and 167 Ks in 175.1 innings. Back in November they traded for Oakland uber-utility man Danny Valencia who will assume some of the duties supplied by departed OF Smith, OF Nori Aoki and 1B Adam Lind.
8. Miami Marlins – SP Dan Straily, SP Edinson Volquez
The unfortunate passing of budding superstar Jose Fernandez last year left the Marlins starting rotation without an ace. The rest of the staff didn’t punch above their weight, with Tom Koehler leading the pack in wins at 9 and only Adam Conley having a sub-4.00 ERA at 3.85. Now, management couldn’t fill Fernandez 16-win hole with one starter, so they got two. Sixth-year man Dan Straily, a righthander, came in a trade for three prospects from Cincinnati, where he was 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA in 31 starts. His task for the year will be to bring down his league leading home runs surrendered total of 31. The other reclamation project is Kansas City starter and free agent Edinson Volquez, who was 10-11 in 34 starts last year, but saw his ERA balloon to 5.37 (from 3.55 in 2015) by giving up an AL leading 113 earned runs.
7. Oakland A’s – RP Santiago Casilla, UT Trevor Plouffe
Relief pitcher Santiago Casilla crosses back over San Francisco bay this season, signing a two-year contract to throw for Oakland eight years after leaving the A’s for the Giants. Casilla, 36, was a very dependable workhorse with San Fran, winning three titles with the team. In the past five seasons, the 36-year-old righty pitched in 313 games, saved 115 (31 in 2016) and struck out 265 batters in 287.2 innings. His lowest ERA was 1.70 in 2014 and his highest 3.57, in 2016. Sensing a need for veteran infield depth, the A’s signed Minnesota Twins utilityman Trevor Plouffe to a one-year deal. The 30-year-old made 84 appearances last season, starting 60 games at third base and 13 at first. He showed thump at the plate, hitting .260 with 13 doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 47 RBI in 344 plate appearances.
6. Philadelphia Phillies – OF Michael Saunders, SP Clay Buchholz
The Phillies, who suffered through a miserable 2016, have taken a chance on two former all-stars, hoping to have both regain past glory. Outfielder Michael Saunders, a first-time all-star with Toronto in 2016, was a study in first half/second half dynamics. His first half of 2016 really was stellar, as he clubbed 16 of his season total 24 homers and 41 of his 57 total RBI, as well as sporting a .298 batting average the day of the all-star game (July 12). After that he struggled, hitting .218 in August and .154 in September to close out at .253. He signed for one year at $9 million and the Phillies will have their fingers crossed he is more first half, than second in 2017. Clay Buchholz, a lightning rod for criticism in Boston, will not have the yoke of expectation weighing him down in Philly. Traded to Philadelphia for a minor league second baseman, Buchholz will get a chance to be more like the all-star he was in 2013 (12-1, 1.74 ERA) than in 2016 (8-10, 4.78 ERA).
5. New York Yankees – INF Ruben Tejada
If Ruben Tejada’s name doesn’t ring a bell, just think “Utley Rule.” The 27-year-old utility man was with the New York Mets had his leg broken on a dirty slide by Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley in game 2 of the 2015 NLDS, leading to a change in rules on how players slide into bases. He was released by the Mets in early 2016, signed with St. Louis and was injured again in the pre-season. He played all of 36 games with the Cards and San Francisco Giants last year, hitting .167 with five RBI. Prior to his unfortunate injuries, Tejada was a fairly reliable contact hitter, posting a career high .289 batting average in 2012, including 26 doubles. He started at third base and shortstop in 2016 and saw duty at second. He isn’t on the Yanks 40-man roster but will compete with Ronald Torreyes for the backup infield spot.
4. San Francisco Giants – C Nick Hundley
Hundley isn’t likely to supplant all-star catcher Buster Posey behind the plate this season, but he is a good insurance policy. The 33-year-old veteran catcher signed with the Giants for one year at a reported $2 million this season. Injuries limited him to just 83 games last year with Colorado, yet he was still productive at the plate, swatting 20 doubles, a triple, 10 homers and driving in 48 runs in 317 plate appearances. In 2015, Hundley recorded career highs in batting average (.301), doubles (21), runs scored (45), triples (5), slugging percentage (.467) and OPS (.807). Behind the plate last year, he fielded .988 and threw out just 14 percent of his runners (9-of-66). But, he was closer to his career caught stealing average of 27 percent in 2015, gunning down 26 of 76 prospective base stealers (34 percent). He’ll be a good fill-in when Posey needs a rest.
3. Toronto Blue Jays – RP J.P. Howell, RP Joe Smith
The Jays, who again lost in the ALCS in 2016, leaked a few relief pitchers in the off-season and have scrambled to find depth prior to this week’s report date for pitchers and catchers. They lost significant arms in RHP Joaquin Benoit and LHP Brett Cecil and beat the weeds for replacements. In the space of two days this past week, they signed another righthanded reliever in journeyman Joe Smith and a lefty in J.P Howell. Smith, 32, has been remarkably durable and consistent in 10 big league seasons with the Mets, Cleveland, Angels and the Chicago Cubs last year. In 54 games between L.A. and Chicago last year, he had a 2-5 record, 3.46 ERA, 1.250 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 52 innings. Howell, 33, had a blip in his ERA in 2016, seeing it rise to 4.09 in 64 games after posting a 1.43 ERA in 65 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. Both signed one-year deals.
2. Cleveland Indians – CF Austin Jackson
The AL champion Indians didn’t have a lot of holes to fill in their line-up this off-season and with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to DH, their batting order looks suddenly scarier. One signing piqued our curiosity though, that of centerfielder Austin Jackson. Now, Tyler Naquin should blossom further this year in center field, however, signing playoff proven Jackson could be a coup. Signed to a minor league deal, the 30-year-old speedster will compete for the fourth outfielder job. Limited to just 54 games last season, the career .272 hitter logged a .254 batting average, 12 doubles, two triples and 18 RBI in 203 plate appearances. In 40 post-season games with Detroit and the Chicago Cubs, Jackson has seven doubles, a triple, two home runs, three steals and 11 RBI.
1. Chicago Cubs – SP Brett Anderson
The fifth spot in Chicago’s already formidable five-man rotation is up for grabs. Jason Hammel, who went 15-10 last year, is gone and the world champion Cubbies might be hoping free agent lefty Anderson takes the bull by the horns. The 29-year-old southpaw had a rough year with the Dodgers in 2016, missing most of the season after undergoing surgery for a bulging disc in his back. When he did slot in, he made three starts and relief appearance, registering a 11.91 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. This was a far cry from his 2015 season with the Dodgers, when he went 10-9 in 31 starts, with a 3.69 ERA, a complete game and 116 strikeouts in a career high 180.1 innings. He signed a one-year deal with Chicago, for a reported $3.5 million with many incentives for games started.