What free agents do rebuilding teams sign?

Wednesday signings turned the focus to two rebuilding teams the White Sox would just as soon not emulate. The Oakland A’s, who seem destined for a third-straight losing season, with no clarity in sight for the stadium/revenue issues that prompted the teardown of the 2014 team, signed 36-year-old veteran outfielder Rajai Davis to a one-year, $6 million deal. While the Reds, who seemed destined for their fourth-straight losing season and lack any kind of boffo farm system to show for their dark period, signed fallen relief ace Drew Storen to a one-year, $3 million make-good deal.

Neither player figures to be on the roster the next time either of the franchises make the playoffs–provided they make it before the fall of Western Civilization at all–but Storen fills the more typical profile of a rebuilding signing. He’s a former name brand talent who could be worth something in a trade if finds some of his old magic, and since he doesn’t turn 30 until August, the magic is not particularly old.

He had success in the second half with Seattle (3.44 ERA in 18.1 innings with a 5.33 strikeout/walk ratio), so there’s some reason to hope he’s not all the way gone. It bears some resemblance to the Sox signing Derek Holland in that way, even if the starter/reliever dynamic gives Holland a higher value ceiling. Storen is also missing as much as 3 mph from his peak and never missed bats at an elite rate, a transition from Safeco to Great American Ballpark should bring that home run rate back to normal, and he is unlikely to do much to fix the Reds’ historically awful bullpen.

With Storen possibly representing the Reds’ only major league signing of the offseason, the Reds look like an uninspiring alternate history version of the future White Sox at this point. Not fencing their homegrown superstar–Joey Votto–to aid their rebuild seems like a merciful nod to their fans, but it was not coupled with groundswell of investment to build around him, met with uninspiring prospect development and returns on trades, injuries to other core players Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco, and the continued presence of a declining Brandon Phillips, so Votto enters his age-33 season having never won a playoff series.

With a middle of the pack farm system, and nothing but a solitary low-risk, low-reward signing to dream on in the majors, the Reds both lack a clear projection for when they will be able to win again, and the ability or willingness to do much of anything interesting to generate value on their big league roster (they have over $62 million tied up in Votto, Bailey, Phillips and Mesoraco for 2017). Rebuilding doesn’t guarantee anything but a lot of losses for a long time if it isn’t managed well, and the Reds are a reminder of that, and I want to remind you the reader of that, even if I can’t tie it to the White Sox as well as I thought I could when this post started.

Davis, on the other hand, is nothing more than a short-term salve for the major league roster. Even with a great year he’s unlikely to be flipped for more than a song. As Melissa Lockard of Scout wrote, Davis is an A+ clubhouse guy who enters into a murky 2017 outfield situation, and will provide a veneer of professionalism and competence where there otherwise might have been unprepared prospects getting overexposed.

The nightmare scenario is that Bob Melvin falls hopelessly in love with Davis in the way that managers fall in love with light-hitting speedsters who do all the little things, and hands him way too much playing time instead of letting younger talent develop. But there’s a balance that needs to be struck between that, and a purely nihilistic gaping maw of a major league roster that demoralizes everyone involved.

The A’s are another team the Sox do not want to be, but possibly resemble, in that uncertainty for how much money they will ever have free to spend on a contention cycle places extra pressure to fill out nearly all of their team needs internally and inexpensively. With that, any dollar not spent on the future feels like a potential waste, and the Sox will likely begin the season with some or all of the group of Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier aboard, so they might not need to worry having enough veterans to maintain sanity just yet. But it should be a consideration for 2018 or 2019. Rebuilding teams cannot live on longshot reclamation projections alone.


Lead Image Credit: Ken Blaze // USA Today Sports Images

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