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The AL East’s Most Underrated Offseason Moves

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There were some big splashes made by the five teams in the AL East, but some flew under the radar. Let’s fix that.

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Although some may argue that this offseason lacked the aplomb of years past, there were still some large-scale contracts handed out and trades made, especially in the AL East. The Red Sox traded away four players, including two of their best prospects, for Chris Sale, the Orioles resigned MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo and the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman ... again.

These moves and more will shape how the AL East division race plays out, but there were some other transactions that were finalized and will make an impact as well, even if they don’t come with an All Star name or salary.

Blue Jays - Signing Steve Pearce

Toronto may have known early on that it was not going to retain the services of Edwin Encarnacion and with Justin Smoak the heir apparent at the first base, it made sense to get some insurance. Pearce is just that.

For anyone that plays fantasy baseball, you’ll recognize Pearce for his versatility. Over the last few years with Baltimore and Tampa Bay, he has been a jack-of-all-trades. Last season he played 37 games at first, 15 at second, 13 at DH and 12 in the outfield. With such a diverse skill set, the 33-year-old gives the Blue Jays some much needed roster flexibility. Not only can he serve as a platoon partner for Justin Smoak (a career .223/.308/.392 hitter who is a bit worse against lefties), but he can give needed time off in right field for Jose Bautista, who might just see more plate appearances at DH this season. Pearce is just a few years removed from a 5.9 bWAR season (2014) and was worth roughly two wins above replacement a year ago, although he was injured for some time. He’s not going to make any All Star teams or collect any MVP votes, but odds are he will be an important part of Toronto’s season.

Orioles - Signing Welington Castillo

Like the Blue Jays signing Pearce, this move signaled that Baltimore was likely out on a free agent that had spent the previous portion of his career in orange and black, namely Matt Wieters. With agent Scott Boras drilling hard for gold in a market that didn’t seem to want to give any up, Wieters did eventually sign a two-year deal worth $21 million with the Nationals. If the Orioles had put all their eggs in the Wieters basket, they may have come up empty, and getting Castillo made it easier not to bend to Boras, even if they probably could have afforded what Washington paid.

Castillo, at 29, is actually a year younger than Wieters and has been a somewhat consistent one to two win player, with a high-water mark of 4.5 with the Cubs in 2013. He has plenty of pop and is coming off a strong year in Arizona when he slashed .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs. Although he has been below 100 in wRC+ in each of the last three seasons, you could do worse when trying to find a player to plug in as the everyday catcher.

That doesn’t even take into account Castillo’s defensive abilities, which are better than you might think. He posted seven defensive runs saved with Arizona last season, including two stolen base runs saved. Granted, he recorded negative numbers in those categories the year before, but that was the first time had done that in his career.

To put it all in perspective, Wieters had a wRC+ of 88 last season and three DRS. Castillo may actually end up being a slight upgrade, assuming Wieters doesn’t return to the double digit DRS totals he had early in his career. Projections back that up, as Castillo’s aggregate WAR projection is 1.5 and Wieters’ is 1.4.

And all of that doesn’t even take into account the fact that the Orioles have their catcher in the future waiting in the wings in Chance Sisco.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays - Signing Nathan Eovaldi

All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, fresh off his career-high 22 home runs, was a nice get, even if it is a bit of a risk considering he is coming off a torn ACL in September, but I think the Eovaldi signing is a bit more intriguing and certainly less flashy. As a Yankee the last two years, Eovaldi never developed into a front of the rotation starter, posting an ERA of 4.45, a FIP of 4.11 and a WHIP of 1.387 in 51 games, including 48 starts. However, he was a rather reliable starter and pitched better in the second half last season, although he appeared in only six games in that time. Still, he lowered his ERA to 3.29 in those six outings during the second half, down from 5.18 in the first. He also averaged nearly six innings per start, which is pretty good if you need a guy to eat up some frames.

Now, I’m not here saying that Eovaldi is going to turn over a leaf and become Clayton Kershaw in Tampa Bay. Plus, he’s going miss all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, the Rays have a club option on the righty for 2018, when he’s pegged to return, and he could come back and make an impact in that season.

Red Sox - Holding on to Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers

There’s no question that the Red Sox gave up a lot to get Sale. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are both top of the line prospects and will likely be part of the White Sox’s core for years to come. However, the price could have been steeper, apparently, as Benintendi was close to being included in the deal and Devers was asked about as well. Of course, putting in either would change the makeup of the deal. Perhaps if Benintendi is in there, Moncada stays. Who really knows? What we do know is that the Red Sox were able to hold onto some of their best prospects when the White Sox had every right to shoot for the moon and ask for them all, including Benintendi, who has already flashed an ability to succeed at the MLB level.

Yankees - Signing Chris Carter

How does a guy hit more home runs than anyone in the NL and not get signed until February? There is more than one answer to that question, as Chris Carter brings a whole lot of negative with those glorious dingers. He strikes out a ton (MLB-leading 206 last season) and does not hit for average even a little bit (.222 career average). He also adds nothing defensively (-19 career DRS), meaning it made a lot of sense that he would move back to the AL to become a DH. Plus he may have been asking for more than teams were willing to shell out for a one-trick pony. However, as crazy as it may sound, the Yankees kind of needed more of that one trick. After ranking 19th in baseball in home runs last season, New York had to be looking to find batters who could take advantage of homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. Carter, a dead-pull right-handed hitter may not use the short porch in right, but he will certainly be able to lift more than a few balls out of the yard, adding another power bat to a team that is about to get a full year of Gary Sanchez while other sluggers like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird come into the fold.