Last week, I gave my thoughts on the best and worst transactions of the winter, but those lists only covered 16 different moves — four trades appeared on both lists — so they don’t exactly represent a complete overview of the offseason. So, in the spirit of thoroughness, I figured it was worth giving a brief overview of my take on every team’s moves this winter. As always, a reminder that my opinion is just that, and you can put as much or as little weight on it as you’d like; a lot of the comments below are going to look silly in 12 months.
And as I mentioned in the worst transactions write-up, MLB teams have gotten a lot better at making decisions in the last five years, and it is now much more difficult to find moves that are clearly destructive to the organization. In general, teams are mostly making smart decisions, or at least justifiable ones, well within the margin of what can be known at the time a decision has to be made. There will be deals that don’t turn out, and moves organizations regret making with the benefit of hindsight, but with just a few exceptions, most of the moves made this winter appear to be rooted in reasonable assumptions.
The result of more efficient decision making? The offseason probably matters a lot less than it used to. Because the market is doing a better job of valuing players rationally, and we don’t have as many rogue GMs just giving away star players, it’s tough to dramatically overhaul your franchise in just one winter. The magnitude of what a great offseason means has been diminished, and sustained winning in baseball is now more about making a long series of good decisions than it is about winning big on a handful of moves. But, with all that said, there are still some teams who helped themselves more than others this winter, and what follows is my assessment of how each team fared in their attempt to upgrade their organizational standing.
30. Colorado Rockies
Barring some remarkable good fortune, the Rockies simply aren’t going to be a contending team in 2016. We have them projected for 74 wins at this point, Vegas has them at 72, and I haven’t seen a single forecaster that has them within 15 games of the Dodgers. But instead of focusing on the future, the team spent their winter adding veterans who probably aren’t going to be a significant part of the next good Rockies team. Jake McGee, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls might be part of an interesting test about fastball usage in Coors Field, but these are short-term pieces for a team that needs to be looking long-term. And if Carlos Gonzalez gets injured — as he’s known to do — before July rolls around, they may regret not dealing him when they had the chance.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks
Unlike some others, I’m actually okay with the contract the D’Backs gave Zack Greinke; he’s an elite player who signed for a lot of money, but unless he ages quite poorly, that contract shouldn’t hurt them too badly, and it certainly gives them a dramatic rotation improvement in the short-term. But I hated pretty much everything that came after that. They made the consensus worst-move-of-the-winter in overpaying for Shelby Miller, the bet on Jean Segura cost them an interesting arm and a valuable prospect, and they didn’t do enough to make sure the supporting cast is contention-ready. While they made headlines with big splashy moves — one of which they will likely regret in the not-too-distant-future — there’s a general lack of depth on the roster, and the organization squandered a lot of assets without addressing those issues.
28. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds offseason is basically two moves; the Todd Frazier trade and the Aroldis Chapman trade. They signed some guys to minor league deals and claimed a couple of guys off waivers, but for significant transactions, it was those two trades, and in both cases, the returns seem light, even given the circumstances. Yes, Frazier’s lousy second half likely nuked a good portion of his trade value, but the preference of lower-upside, close-to-the-majors prospects is a bit weird for a team that probably won’t be that good any time soon.
And while they can’t be held responsible for Chapman’s off-field issue, it does raise the question of why they didn’t simply keep him, absorb the suspension themselves, and then move him when his value was higher in-season. In both cases, the team traded away players who should have helped reload the organizational talent base, but the kinds of players they got back in return are underwhelming to say the last. And they didn’t make any other moves that will help the get the team back on track down the road either, so it’s tough to love what the Reds did this winter.
27. Baltimore Orioles
This is mostly about the Chris Davis deal; the rest of their off-season is okay-ish, at least as long as they also get a bargain on Dexter Fowler to offset the decision to give up their first round pick for Yovani Gallardo. But the Davis contract just seems like a huge mistake, especially given what the market was interested in paying for a first baseman with a ton of red flags. Hitters fared remarkably poorly in free agency this winter, with almost of the money going to pitching, but the Orioles still managed to bid against themselves anyway, rather than taking advantage of a soft market for offense and loading up on multiple players at discounted rates who could have provided more value overall.
The Orioles are good enough to at least think about contending in 2016, so the Davis contract could work if he plays well and the team makes a run in the short-term, but the long-term costs are probably going to be quite high, and they probably would have been better off letting Davis walk.
26. Houston Astros
While I think they probably overpaid to land Ken Giles, I don’t really hate any of the Astros moves in isolation, and getting Doug Fister for $7 million could prove to be a very nice addition if he’s healthy. But given where the Astros sit on the win-curve, this felt like a potentially missed opportunity to add talent and dramatically improve their chances of getting back to the postseason. Going into 2016 with holes at first base and designated hitter might prove to be mistakes, especially if A.J. Reed doesn’t turn into a rookie of the year candidate, and the team’s second-tier position player group doesn’t look strong enough to carry the team if they don’t get production from those spots.
This isn’t so much a grade on what the Astros did, but more on what they didn’t do; for a team in their position, I think it could have been worthwhile to be a bit more aggressive in upgrading for the short-term.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates
Ditto what I just said about the Astros. For a team trying to not waste Andrew McCutchen‘s peak, adding John Jaso, Jon Niese, Neftali Feliz, and Ryan Vogelsong is a pretty underwhelming plan. This is still a very good roster, but the back half of the rotation is a potential land mine that could sink the team’s season, and while trusting Ray Searage has worked out well for the organization, believing that your pitching coach is a wizard is a risky proposition. As the saying goes; if life didn’t also hand you water and sugar, your lemonade is going to suck. Searage has made some pretty good lemonade in the past, but I’m a bit worried that the front office is asking him to do a little too much magic this time around.
24. Oakland A’s
Like the Astros, I don’t really hate any of the moves the team made by themselves. Similar to a lot of other teams, they paid a high price to upgrade their bullpen this winter, but Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, and John Axford should help the relief corps be significantly better. Rich Hill was a good high-risk bet to make for a team that needs things to break their way. Bringing back Jed Lowrie was a solid pickup, given the price. But the A’s moves look like round-out-the-roster additions a team with a strong core would focus on, except the A’s don’t really have a strong core that should be expected to carry these decent role players to the postseason. And besides Hill, there just isn’t a lot of upside here.
For the fifth best team in their own division, it seems like maybe they would have been better off going after lottery tickets who could pan out in a big way, or admitting that building for a year or two down the line could be a better use of resources. As it is, the A’s seem to be caught somewhere in the middle, and they might have been better off going a bit more boom-or-bust.
23. Washington Nationals
We can’t say they didn’t try; they made runs at Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, and Ben Zobrist, as well as attempting to trade for Brandon Phillips, but in each case, the players chose not to come to Washington. In the end, they settled for Daniel Murphy, Ben Revere, and a bullpen makeover. The Murphy signing was fine for the price, and Revere is a solid pice for a team that needed another outfielder, but given this is likely the last year of the Bryce Harper/Stephen Strasburg combination, a more impactful move would have been nice. And their attempts to landing an upper-tier player suggest that they agree with that assessment.
This is still a team built to contend in 2016, but if they end up losing the division to the Mets by a few games, they may regret their decision to try and lure free agents to Washington with deferred-money deals. When you have these kinds of generational talents, you don’t want to squander their primes with subpar secondary pieces.
22. Cleveland Indians
On the one hand, I think I’m giving mental credit to the organization for something they haven’t done yet, which feels unfair and potentially like a sign of bias. But as we saw last week with the Juan Uribe signing, it seems like the Indians are still bargain shopping, and Austin Jackson is such an obvious fit for them that I’ll be pretty surprised if they don’t end up signing him in the next few weeks. If they don’t sign Jackson, then I’d probably push them down a few spots and say similar things to what I said about the Astros; this is a contender who might not have done enough to take advantage of their opportunity.
The pitching is very good, but Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe aren’t exactly the cavalry, and with Michael Brantley‘s health in question, I think a greater focus on adding to the outfield is in order. But if they land Jackson, they’ll have brought in a couple of solid regulars to help keep the team in contention, and that may be enough to justify the C grade. But they really need to sign Austin Jackson. Like tomorrow.
21. Texas Rangers
When your biggest move of the winter is trading Leonys Martin for Tom Wilhelmsen, you had a quiet offseason. The team suggested that would probably be the case after trading for Cole Hamels in July, suggesting that the deadline acquisition was their one big move, but I still think they should have been a bit more aggressive in shoring up their rotation. Colby Lewis is a barely serviceable fifth starter at this point, and there isn’t much depth behind him, which is also troubling given that the #2-#4 guys in the rotation aren’t exactly specimens of perfect health. The organization also didn’t do much to address their potential weakness in the outfield or the 1B/DH spot that Prince Fielder isn’t playing, so there are enough question marks left unanswered that the Rangers could regret not being a bit more active this winter.
20. Minnesota Twins
Another team that had a quiet winter, the Twins added a potential big-bat in Byung-ho Park but subtracted a useful outfielder in Aaron Hicks, so I’m not sure whether they actually improved this winter. The team’s plan to build around their developing prospects is the right choice, but I still think there was more room to supplement those players this winter, and this feels like a a one-foot-in, one-foot-out offseason. If the Twins were committed to building for the future, there were probably moves they could have made to help get them to a better long-term position. If they wanted to contend, well, I don’t know that Park is really going to get them over the hump.
This offseason looks like treading water to me, and while it didn’t do much damage to just stay in place, I don’t see that the Twins got markedly better over the last few months either.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
The winter got off to a bit of an embarrassing start, with GM Alex Anthopolous walking away after the most successful season of his career, and the front office drama wasn’t a great way to follow-up on a fantastic 2015 season. But if we limit ourselves to the players acquired, I think the Blue Jays had a decent winter. I probably wouldn’t have given Marco Estrada $26 million, but J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez provide some necessary rotation depth, and using their outfield depth to bring in Drew Storen was a nice way to round out the bullpen.
There’s nothing particularly notable here as an amazing deal, but the Jays already have star players in place, and mostly needed to make sure those guys didn’t get dragged down by having too many replacement level scrubs in key positions. Adding solid role players isn’t the sexiest work, but it’s necessary, and the Jays did a decent job of that this winter, even after the drama that kicked off the offseason.
18. Miami Marlins
The Marlins are always a bit hard to figure, as they mostly sat out the winter, but with one exception; the signing of Wei-Yin Chen. At $80 million with an opt-out clause, plus a surrendered drat pick, he wasn’t any kind of bargain, but Chen’s a good pitcher who upgrades their rotation, and the cost shouldn’t hurt them too much long-term. Given that they’re still the third best team in their own division, I think you could have made a case for the Marlins being a bit more aggressive on their second-tier acquisitions — Chris Johnson isn’t someone to get excited about, for instance — but the Marlins added one good player without surrendering much talent, so there was some value added here.
17. St. Louis Cardinals
Like the Nationals, the Cardinals took some big swings this winter, trying to spend big on David Price and Jason Heyward, but failing in both pursuits. The fallback plan of giving a lot of money to Mike Leake and then standing pat on offense is a bit curious, though; if they had the money for one of the best free agents on the market, it seems like they should have had the money for other players once prices started dropping. The Cardinals have gotten where they are by continually developing homegrown talent, and I see the rationale in wanting to give guys like Randall Grichuk and Steven Piscotty a shot to show what they can do, but this team still feels a bit thin on the hitting side of things to me, and if Brandon Moss doesn’t have a big bounce-back season, I think they might regret not reinforcing the line-up a bit more aggressively.
16. Kansas City Royals
This is not a particularly easy grade to hand out, because I loved the Royals re-signing of Alex Gordon, but the Ian Kennedy decision is just so inexplicable that it’s tough to remember that they also made one of the best moves of the winter. If you look at the two moves combined, they probably cancel out to a large degree; $140 million for Gordon and Kennedy would seem fine if the split was $100M/$40M, so maybe it doesn’t really matter that it’s actually $70M apiece in the long run. But you don’t really want to wrap up your offseason by canceling out your good move, and the Kennedy signing meant that the team ended up not addressing second base, which could turn out to be a mistake.
The Royals still have their core that went to the World Series the last two years, but they’re going to have to hope those guys can sustain their performances, because the front office didn’t give them a lot of help this winter.
15. Seattle Mariners
Jerry Dipoto was brought in to fix the Mariners roster in the wake of the firing of Jack Zduriencik, and he wasted no time in overhauling the way the team was constructed. While most of the moves were small in nature, the sheer quantity of transactions was impressive in its scope, and moved the organization from a team built around the home run to one that might actually be able to play a little defense again. Their best move, re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma, fell into their laps after the Dodgers walked away due to medical concerns, but a lot of the moves leading up to that helped strengthen the team’s overall base of talent, even though their individual magnitude won’t be that large.
Given the mandate to try and win while the team’s aging core is still in place, these moves seem to provide some chance of contention in 2016, but the real test for Dipoto will come down the road when he has to find a new crop of stars to build around.
14. Philadelphia Phillies
Given the present state of the Phillies roster, it wasn’t going to be so easy for the new regime to come in and immediately start an impressive rebuild; there just weren’t that many quality assets to trade. Matt Klentak and his staff deserve credit for extracting a premium return for Ken Giles, as they did well to move the one player they had with significant remaining trade value. The role players brought in to provide some kind of floor on how bad the 2016 Phillies will be aren’t the most exciting lot in the world, but at least they’re young enough to retain some semblance of upside. I wouldn’t bet on too many guys from this current team still being on the Phillies team to contend, but given what they had to work with, this was a pretty successful winter for the Phillies new front office.
13. New York Yankees
The lack of spending on free agents is getting the headlines, but it’s not like the Yankees just sat out the winter. They got Aroldis Chapman for next to nothing and picked up Aaron Hicks in one of my favorite small moves of the winter, both of which should help make the Yankees a good bit better in 2016. I didn’t love surrendering Adam Warren to get Starlin Castro, and Chapman might not be as valuable to a team that already had two great relievers, but the Yankees are a better team heading into 2016 than they were, and they retained their long-term financial flexibility.
One can question whether or not the Yankees new policy of fiscal responsibility was wise, given some of the good-value signings that were available this winter, but I think the perception of the Yankees is underselling how good they are, and they did make at least a couple of good moves to upgrade their roster.
12. Anaheim Angels
Things started off quite promisingly for the Angels, with the team picking up Andrelton Simmons on the cheap, but the offseason seemed to fizzle out pretty quickly after that. When your major free agent signing is Cliff Pennington, you know you didn’t spend a lot of money. The team will take heat for passing on a lot of outfielders while they have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon in left, and perhaps rightfully so; when you have Mike Trout, you probably owe it to yourself to put a better roster around him. That said, they didn’t do anything that actively hurt the team long-term, and there will be players available to acquire in-season, so it’s tough for me to grade the Angels winter too harshly.
The Simmons pickup was a good place to start; they just shouldn’t have been done after that. On the list of teams that need to make a spring trade, they’re near the very top.
11. San Diego Padres
The Padres signaled early on that they were ready to admit that the failed go-for-it strategy of a year ago was a mistake, and they hit a home run with the Craig Kimbrel trade, bringing in one of the best returns of any seller in a deal all winter. But then, after Joaquin Benoit for low-level guys, the Padres offseason seemingly ground to a halt for reasons I don’t really understand. Why Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross weren’t moved during a winter when teams were paying a premium for pitching is a mystery, and the team’s decision to fill out the roster with no-upside guys like Alexei Ramirez and Fernando Rodney is a weird one for a team that should be focused on the future.
Like the Reds a year ago, the team seems afraid to put a bad team on the field in the year they’re hosting the All-Star game, but that ship has already sailed, and failing to make further trades to bolster the future simply makes it less likely the team’s rebuild will go well.
10. Detroit Tigers
Under new GM Al Avila, the Tigers showed something of a shift in direction, with the team staffing up the analytics department and looking for different kinds of players than Dave Dombrowski had emphasized previously. But they’re still the Tigers, and they are still attempting to win their aging owner a championship, so it’s no big surprise that they want back to the well of long-term deals for free agents by signing Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton. While both deals come with risk, and the opt-out for Upton limits the value there, the Tigers at least added enough wins to put themselves back in the 2016 AL Central race, and the deals weren’t so expensive that they prevented the team from also upgrading the bullpen.
I don’t think they’ll love having Zimmermann’s contract on the books for the duration of the contract, but for a team in win-now mode, this was probably a decent attempt to make one last run at the World Series before things start crashing down.
9. Boston Red Sox
Dave Dombrowski was brought in to change the direction of the Red Sox franchise, and he wasted no time pursuing a very different plan than Ben Cherington had before him. In paying premium prices for David Price and Craig Kimbrel, the team obtained the best available players at the respective positions they wanted to upgrade, but the costs could prove prohibitive long-term. The Kimbrel deal, in particular, is one I can’t endorse, given the somewhat limited value of a relief pitcher and the assets surrendered in order to bring one in. That said, they did a nice job also bringing in Carson Smith to help get the ball to Kimbrel, and there’s certainly enough talent in place to justify the go-for-it moves Dombrowski specializes in.
I think there were probably other options that could have gotten the Red Sox to a similar place without paying quite as high of a price as they did this winter, but the end result is that the Red Sox roster again looks like one of the best in the American League, and that helps justify the prices paid.
8. San Francisco Giants
The Giants were betrayed by their starting pitching a year ago, and spent the winter trying to make sure that didn’t happen again. They didn’t get any kind of bargains in Jeff Samardzija or Johnny Cueto, but given the price of pitching this winter, neither deal really seems out of line either. They fit the organizations needs well, should help keep the team in contention for the next few years, and even give them a bit of upside, as both Cueto and Samardzija would have cost more if they had been free agents a year ago. The Denard Span addition was their value purchase, and a good one, as they got an above average outfield the price of a good reliever.
I think they could still use another reliever, but given the high prices on bullpen arms this winter, I’m not going to fault a team for passing on that market and evaluating their internal options. Overall, the Giants added three significant pieces to their team, and didn’t cripple their franchise in doing so.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
Very quietly, the Rays had a pretty nice winter. I remain the high man in baseball on Brad Miller, who I continue to believe has the ability to be one of the better shortstops in baseball, and getting him in a package for Nate Karns and Boog Powell was a neat trick. Likewise, the Corey Dickerson trade brought in a solid player for the present and future, and the fact that they upgraded prospects in that deal as well still remains pretty shocking. Toss in a nice value signing of Steve Pearce, and the Rays put themselves in a position to contend if things go right in 2016 while also upgrading their future talent base. They didn’t make any headlines, but this is the kind of offseason that the Rays needed to have in order to stay in the race.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers probably had one of the most polarizing offseasons of any team in baseball, as they once again eschewed the pay-for-stars approach that people expect from an organization with their resources. The front office clearly believes in the value of depth, and so they spread their money around instead of locking up one or two high-end players, and while it isn’t going to be viewed as positively from a P.R. perspective, I think it’s a better way to win baseball games. Individually, Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson, and Kenta Maeda can’t match up to Zack Greinke, but I won’t be too surprised if the Dodgers get more from their trio than they would have gotten by just re-signing Greinke. Add in some nice values on Howie Kendrick and Joe Blanton, plus the prospect upgrade they got by inserting themselves into the Todd Frazier deal, and I like what the Dodgers did this winter.
5. Atlanta Braves
If you take away the Shelby Miller trade, I’m not a huge fan of the rest of the Braves moves. The return on Andrelton Simmons seemed light to me, and most of the other acquisitions are short-term placeholders who are just around for a year to soak up playing time while waiting for the kids to develop. But the Miller trade was so good that it makes them one of the winners of the winter anyway, as they picked up a good outfielder and two quality minor league assets. If the team proves to be as poor as the projections think, and they reevaluate their win-in-2017 goal, Ender Inciarte can likely be flipped for even more young talent, and that deal alone could help reshape the Braves future.
By hitting a home run on their major trade of the winter, the Braves ended up as one of the winners of the offseason.
4. Chicago White Sox
Last year, the White Sox tried to push in on contention a bit early, and ended up with a disappointing roster. This year’s moves to solidify the depth of the organization seem to have gone a bit better, with the Todd Frazier trade in particular representing a big upgrade at a minimal price. While they’re certainly betting against the importance of team chemistry by bringing in both Brett Lawrie and Mat Latos — the acquisition prices there reflect the poor reputations those guys have around the league — the White Sox managed to solidify some very weak spots from last year, and while I’m still not sure they’re quite good enough to win their division, they’ve at least put themselves in striking distance.
The Frazier trade alone was enough to call this a good winter, and if Lawrie or Latos live up to the potential suggested by their talent, the risks they took could pay off in a significant way.
3. New York Mets
The Mets had one of the weirdest offseasons of any team in baseball. After watching their defense betray them in the World Series, they doubled down on poor defenders, bringing in Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker to cover minimal ground up the middle. Once Yoenis Cespedes fell into their laps, they essentially were all-in on an offense-and-pitching strategy, and while it isn’t necessarily the way I’d prefer to build a roster, the individual moves look smart enough to call it a good winter overall. At the prices they paid for Cespedes and Walker, those deals were too good to turn down, while Cabrera is still a useful player, and he didn’t cost much either.
The team’s strength of dominant starting pitching should help alleviate some of their defensive weakness, and if the line-up hits well, the Mets will be contenders once again. Overall, you have to give the Mets positive marks for their moves this winter; they took advantage of a soft market for hitting and set themselves up for a chance to return to the World Series in 2016, and gave up nothing they’ll miss long-term to do so.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
If you want to see a blueprint for how to rebuild, look at what the Brewers did this winter. David Stearns first winter at the helm produced a steady stream of smart risks, taking flyers on guys like Rymer Liriano and Ramon Flores who could prove worthwhile and are at least deserving of a look. The Jean Seugra trade not only brought back a quality prospect, but a young pitcher who can step right into the rotation. They landed a real prospect for Khris Davis, who was in Domingo Santana‘s way, and potentially made their team no worse in the short-term while adding to their stockpile of long-term talent. If you want to knock them for anything, this might have been a good winter to sell Will Smith, and perhaps their asking price on Jonathan Lucroy is too high, but it’s hard not to love the moves they did make this winter.
The Brewers are going to be bad for a while, but the foundation of the next contending Brewers team was laid this winter.
1. Chicago Cubs
Given that the Cubs landed two deals (Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist) on my best transactions list, then also got two honorable mentions (John Lackey and Adam Warren), it’s probably no surprise that I love their offseason moves. They got one of the three +5 WAR players available this winter, and paid the lowest price for the youngest one of that group, then added two of the better aging veteran free agents as well, before turning a superfluous infielder into a valuable piece of pitching depth.
I’d still have preferred if they turned one of their extra pieces into a center fielder, allowing Heyward to shift back to right field and reducing the pressure on Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber, but with that exception, the Cubs offseason was basically perfect.
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