Traded for: C Miguel Montero
2015 Impact: One of the Chicago teams--could be the Cubs, could be the White Sox--wins the prize for most-improved over the past week. Lester was one of the marquee free agents this year, and, because he was traded from Boston to Oakland during the season, the Cubs don't lose a draft pick for signing him. Ditto Hammel, who, it should be noted, has been an above-average (measured by park-adjusted ERA) only three times in his career: 2009 with Colorado, 2012 with Baltimore, and last year with the Cubs. (He was 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA after being traded to Oakland in July.) Montero plugs a hole, as Cubs catchers had a .620 OPS last year, second-worst in the league.
2016+ Impact: The Cubs have a fabulous farm system, so the fact taht Godley and Mejia don't show up on Keith Law's top ten list at the start of the season doesn't mean that they're not promising. However, the Cubs added three solid players who'll be with the team for a while. Lester's signed through 2020, Hammel through 2016 with a club option for 2017, and Montero through 2017. These moves made the Cubs a better team in the short term and the long term.
Traded for: SP Jonathan Crawford, SP Anthony DeSclafani, SP Matt Masill, SS Eugenio Suarez, C Chad Wallach
Free agents signed: None
2015 Impact: Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs thinks that the Reds "quietly won the winter meetings," but this sure looks like a present-value-for-future-value set of moves to me. I agree with his general premise that the three major leaguers the Reds traded aren't all that good. But the haul they got in return isn't likely to help much, at least in the near term. Suarez lost a starting job in Detroit, and he's the only one with meaningful major league experience. I think these moves leave the Reds worse off in 2015, though not by a lot.
2016+ Impact: I'll buy the idea that these moves make the Reds a better team beyond 2015. Latos and Simon will be free agents after the 2015 season and Heisey's a free agent after the 2017 season. So they traded three guys who very likely weren't going to be Reds much longer anyway. A major-league contribution from any of the five young players they received will tip the moves in the Reds' favor.
Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Nobody
Traded for: RP Antonio Bastardo
Traded away: SP Joely Rodriguez
Free agents signed: SP Francisco Liriano
2015 Impact: Positive. The signing of Liriano, the team's best starter over the past two seasons, coupled with the previous signing of starter A.J. Burnett for a one-year last hurrah, shores up the Pirates' rotation. The 29-year-old Bastardo is a decent left-handed reliever (3.43 career ERA in 270 relief appearances with 305 strikeouts in 236.1 innings). The Pirates traded one of their two left-handed relievers in November, so Bastardo fills a hole.
2016+ Impact: Liriano slipped from a 16-8 won-lost record in 2013 to 7-10 in 2014, but that was due more to a sharp decline in run support (4.5 runs per game in 2013, 3.4 in 2014, 12th lowest in the league among 60 ERA qualifiers) than a drop in effectiveness (though his ERA did rise by over a third of run). Signing him for three years provides benefits beyond 2015. Rodriguez, 23, struggled in Class AA this season after a solid 2013 in A ball.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: 1B/3B Mark Reynolds
2015 Impact: The Cards signed Reynolds to a one-year, $2 million contract. He's always been an all-or-nothing type of hitter: swing for the fences, connecting sometimes and missing a lot. Among players with at least 4,000 career plate appearances, he's first all time in at bats per strikeout, 2.72 (i.e., he strikes out 221 times per 600 at bats). He bats right, so presumably he'll pinch hit and platoon some with Cardinals 1B Matt Adams, who's pretty dreadful against left-handed pitchers (.197/.227/.326 career slash line, his home run against Clayton Kershaw in the postseason notwithstanding). If Reynolds doesn't work out, they'll release him. This is a $2 million flyer with little or no downside to St. Louis.
2016+ Impact: He probably won't be around after 2015, but if he is, it's because it worked out well. Again, little or no downside.