Ross Atkins and the Art of WAR

Monday, December 09 2019 @ 06:25 PM EST

Contributed by: Gerry

This is a pinch hit post from our own Mike D.

With the Winter Meetings now underway, I thought it might make sense to take stock of Ross Atkins’ transaction record since December 3, 2015, when he took the GM job vacated by Alex Anthopoulos.

Prior to Atkins taking the job, interim GM Tony LaCava signed J.A. Happ to a three year, $36 million contract in November 2015. It was a good deal – Happ put up WARs of 4.5, 3.3 and again 3.3 over his three seasons, with his last season split between Toronto and the Bronx after being dealt by Atkins at the deadline. It’s safe to say that Atkins has not acquired anyone as impactful as Happ since he took the job the next month.

Each year, roughly 150 players put up a WAR of 3.0 or greater – split roughly evenly between hitters and pitchers. A three-win player is typically not an All-Star, but is a good, productive player. Having combed through Baseball-Reference, I have identified 98 transactions since Ross Atkins assumed the GM’s chair in which a team acquired a player that eventually put up at least one season with a WAR of 3.0 or better with the acquiring team.

Not one of those transactions was made by Ross Atkins.

In fact, every other MLB team has acquired at least one 3+ WAR player since Atkins was hired in December 2015, and most have acquired several 3+ WAR players. Some have been splashy free agent mega-deals or win-now trades for established stars. Other productive players, however, have been acquired through shrewd smaller dealers, modest free agent signings, and even waiver claims. Unfortunately, Ross Atkins has not been able to execute any of the above.

Here, by my account, is a team-by-team list of 3+ WAR players acquired since December 3, 2015. Some ground rules:

Arizona (5 players, 2 multi-season players): Signed GREINKE (12/15); traded for Segura (01/16); traded for MARTE (11/16); signed Buchholz (05/18); traded for E. Escobar (07/18).

Atlanta (3 players, 1 multi-season player): Traded for INCIARTE (12/15); signed An. Sanchez (03/18); signed Donaldson (11/18).

Baltimore (4 players): Re-signed C. Davis (01/16); traded for Beckham (07/17); traded for Villar (07/18); claimed Alberto (03/19).

Boston (4 players, 3 multi-season players): Signed PRICE (12/15); traded for Pomeranz (07/16); traded for SALE (12/16); signed J.D. MARTINEZ (02/18).

Chicago Cubs (4 players, 1 multi-season player): Signed ZOBRIST (12/15); re-signed Fowler (02/16); signed Darvish (02/18); traded for Hamels (07/18).

Chicago White Sox (5 players): Traded for T. Frazier (12/15); traded for Giolito and R. Lopez (12/16); traded for Moncada (12/16); signed J. McCann (12/18).

Cincinnati (5 players): Claimed Straily (04/16); traded for L. Castillo (01/17); claimed Gennett (03/17); signed J. Hughes (12/17); traded for S. Gray (01/19).

Cleveland (3 players, 1 multi-season player): Drafted Bieber (06/16); traded for A. MILLER (07/16); traded for C. Santana (12/18).

Colorado (1 multi-season player): Traded for G. MARQUEZ (01/16).

Detroit (1 multi-season player): Signed J. UPTON (01/16).

Houston (8 players, 2 multi-season players): Signed Y. Gurriel (07/16); traded for Y. Alvarez (08/16); signed Morton (11/16); signed Reddick (11/16); traded for VERLANDER (08/17); traded for G. COLE (01/18); signed Brantley (12/18); signed Chirinos (12/18).

Kansas City (2 players): Traded for Soler (12/16); traded for Keller (12/17).

L.A. Angels (1 player): Signed Ohtani (12/17).

L.A. Dodgers (4 players, 3 multi-season players): Traded for C. TAYLOR (06/16); re-signed J. TURNER (12/16); signed MUNCY (04/17); re-signed Ryu (11/18).

Miami (2 players): Traded for Alcantara (12/17); traded for S. Castro (12/17).

Milwaukee (7 players, 2 multi-season players): Traded for C. Anderson (01/16); traded for T. SHAW (12/16); signed Aguilar (02/17); traded for Jeffress (07/17); signed L. Cain (01/18); traded for YELICH (01/18); re-signed Moustakas (02/19).

Minnesota (2 players): Traded for Odorizzi (02/18); signed N. Cruz (01/19).

N.Y. Mets (3 players): Re-signed Colon (12/15); signed Cespedes (01/16); drafted Alonso (06/16).

N.Y. Yankees (6 players): Traded for G. Torres (07/16); traded for T. Frazier (07/17); traded for Stanton (12/17); purchased Urshela (08/18); signed LeMahieu (01/19); traded for Tauchman (03/19).

Oakland (3 players): Traded for Treinen (07/17); traded for Laureano (11/17); traded for Fiers (08/18).

Philadelphia (2 players): Traded for Realmuto (02/19); signed Harper (03/19).

Pittsburgh (2 players): Traded for B. Reynolds (01/18); traded for Dickerson (02/18).

San Diego (2 players): Traded for Tatis Jr. (06/16); signed Machado (02/19).

San Francisco (1 player): Signed Cueto (12/15).

Seattle (3 players, 2 multi-season): Traded for HANIGER and SEGURA (11/16); traded for M. Gonzales (07/17).

St. Louis (3 players, 1 multi-season): Traded for GYORKO (12/15); drafted Edman (06/16); signed Mikolas (12/17).

Tampa Bay (6 players): Traded for Mal. Smith (01/17); re-signed L. Morrison (02/17); traded for Wendle (12/17); traded for Meadows (07/18); traded for Pham (07/18); signed Morton (12/18).

Texas (3 players, 1 multi-season): Signed Cashner (11/16); signed MINOR (12/17); signed Lynn (12/18).

Toronto: None.

Washington (3 players): Signed D. Murphy (01/16); signed An. Sanchez (12/18); signed Corbin (12/18).

To be fair to Atkins, Cavan Biggio came close this year at 2.8. The club can reasonably expect Biggio or Bo Bichette to become 3+ WAR players soon, although every other club has its own pipeline of drafted talent, and others have been able to supplement it through acquisitions.

Also, it must be said that Ken Giles was excellent in 2019 and trading Roberto Osuna was the right thing to do. In part due to injury, however, Giles pitched just 53 innings and his WAR topped out at 2.4. Giles, if he is healthy and not traded, is probably the best bet of all the Atkins acquisitions to hit 3+ wins. Who’s second – Simeon Woods-Richardson?

The excuses such as the payroll, turf, customs, the border, the division and the exchange rate are well-documented. But Alex Anthopoulos had all of these constraints as well, and he did not have the advantage that Atkins had after 2015 and 2016 of selling an incumbent playoff team to free agents. By the time of AA’s fourth anniversary as GM in October 2013, he had acquired six players who had put up 3+ WAR seasons as Blue Jays: Gonzalez, Lawrie, Escobar, Morrow, Rasmus and Encarnacion (admittedly after he first waived Edwin). Over his final two years, the team enjoyed 3-win-or-better seasons from six more acquired players -- Reyes, Cabrera, Buehrle, Martin, Estrada and Donaldson, plus three AA draftees in Pillar, Sanchez and Stroman.

It is really hard to avoid the conclusion that Atkins struggles to identify and acquire pro talent. I know most fans are hoping Atkins does not strike out in his search for quality additions this offseason. But he has had four offseasons, and has nothing to show for it but a golden sombrero.

Thanks Mike D, lots of food for thought there.