Much of the attention of this MLB offseason has gone to the likes of Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, and Jacob deGrom — and for good reason. However, there were very smart moves made that probably didn’t receive all that much attention. With that considered, let’s take a look at five of the best underrated moves made this winter, starting with a new infielder in Anaheim.
We start off our look with new Angels infielder Gio Urshela. Acquired early in the offseason via trade, the former Twin hit .285/.338/.429 with 13 home runs and 43 extra base hits in 144 games for Minnesota. The team from Anaheim, aside from Mike Trout & Shohei Ohtani, has had issues generating offense in recent years. While Urshela might not be a slugger, the infielder possesses strong contact skills. Last season, Urshela posted the highest LD% (30.1%) rate in baseball last season, ahead of batting champions Luis Arraez and Jeff McNeil.
2023 will be a pivotal year for the Los Angeles Angels, as the aforementioned Ohtani is set to enter his final year before hitting the free agent market. Urshela wasn’t the only addition Anaheim made to its lineup, but the 31-year-old should provide some added punch for the Angels next season.
Former Met reliever Seth Lugo is headed to San Diego, as the right-hander agreed to a two-year deal with the Padres in December. Primarily used as a reliever with the Mets, Lugo did make a fair amount of starts with New York in 2016, 2017, and 2020. The new Padre’s arsenal consists of a solid fastball, a plus-plus curveball, as well as a slider and changeup.
Armed with at three average or better pitches, Lugo could slot in nicely to round out a Padres rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell. However, the right-hander’s last run in the rotation did not work during the shortened 2020 season. That will be something to keep in mind come next season.
A former NL All-Star, Ross Stripling moves back to the National League after a stint with the Blue Jays. Stripling agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants, reuniting the righty with Farhan Zaidi in the Bay Area. The right-hander pitched quite well last season with Toronto, as Stripling posted a 3.01 ERA in 134.1 innings. The Texas Longhorns product won’t blow many hitters away with his fastball. He does, however, mix a low-90’s heater effectively alongside a power changeup and a solid curveball.
No, Ross Stripling is not Carlos Rodón, the latter of whom joined the New York Yankees this winter after a dominant season in San Francisco. Stripling, does, however, fit the bill for an analytically-driven Giants club. The right-hander generates plenty of whiffs, and should slot in to the Giants’ rotation nicely next season.
The Cleveland Guardians surprised many in 2022, as the club won the AL Central title and nearly took out the Yankees in the ALDS. Cleveland boasted a solid lineup last season, and it should be better next season with the addition of Josh Bell. A 2022 NL Silver Slugger winner, Josh Bell torched NL pitchers with the Nationals last season. The 1B/DH posted the 11th-highest OPS (.877) in baseball prior to the blockbuster deal that sent him and Juan Soto to San Diego. Things, however, did not go well with the Friars.
Given Bell’s track record, it’s more likely that Guardians fans see the Nationals version of Bell, as opposed to the Padres version. Bell’s skillset, highlighted by plus pop and a good approach, should be welcome for a Cleveland team that talented hitters like 2022 AL Rookie of the Year finalist Steven Kwan and Jose Ramirez.
Joe Jiménez & Lucas Luetge
Yes, this last one features two transactions. However, both pickups made by the Braves do deserve some recognition. Let’s start with Joe Jiménez, acquired by the Braves via trade earlier in the winter. The former Tiger possesses a hard fastball, coupled with a plus slider that generates plenty of whiffs. More recently, Atlanta scooped up lefty Lucas Luetge from the Yankees. While Luetge doesn’t light up the radar gun, the crafty left-hander did a tremendous job of beating hitters in 2022. Luetge posted above-average Pop Up% and Under% rates, alongside a Hard Hit% (23.5%) that ranked in the top 1% of all pitchers.
Atlanta needed to pick up some new arms for its pen, as Tyler Matzek will miss all of next season, and closer Kenley Jansen inked a deal with the Red Sox. Luetge & Jiménez should be comparable replacements, as Atlanta looks to win in a competitive NL East next season.