02 March 2014

The winners & losers of the 2014 MLB offseason

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As spring training is underway and with baseball being back, I think it is a good time to take a look at the offseason and, because we love to divvy things up into winners and losers, see who won and lost the offseason.

Now you will notice I left out a number of clubs, and that's because I viewed their offseason work as being neither good nor bad. Think of them being in the C range.

Winners
St. Louis Cardinals
It is just about become a cliche for praising the Cardinals and their front office for having a strong office, but let's give credit where credit is due, again. St. Louis was able to replace key contributors and make room for players deserving of more playing time, all at the same time. The talented Matt Adams takes over at first now with Allen Craig making the move to right field to replace the departed Carlos Beltran. 2011 World Series hero David Freese took several steps back at third base, so the Cardinals were able to deal him to Anaheim for Peter Bourjos, which will greatly upgrade their outfield defense, while upgrading at third by moving Matt Carpenter and then putting Kolten Wong at second. Then they took advantage of Jhonny Peralta being on the market and snapped him up to provide some sorely needed offense at shortstop. With this strong of an offseason, they just may be the early World Series favorites.

Chicago White Sox
The White Sox took a significant step back from a surprising 2012 by winning a remarkable 22 fewer games, but GM Rick Hahn uncorked himself a very strong offseason, with two excellent moves made at the hands of the Diamondbacks by acquiring Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson, a pair of top 100 prospects. Eaton projects to be a very fine leadoff hitter that excels at getting on base and plays strong defense to boot. Davidson should bring strong pop to what was awful production from third base last year. But the best move, albeit one with plenty of mix, was signing the Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who brings big power to the South Side.

Texas Rangers
Texas took a little step backwards last year and countered that in the offseason with some big moves, namely the signing of Shin-Soo Choo and the trade of Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. Choo is coming off a very strong 2013 and will bring the Rangers the leadoff hitter that they have lacked and craved. Sure, Fielder saw some decline during his sole year in Detroit, but he is also an excellent fit for his new home in Arlington, plus his trade allowed Texas to carve out a spot for the much-hyped Jurickson Profar at second. While they did also make a number of low-risk signings, they could have added more security to their rotation.

Washington Nationals
Nobody will deny that the Nats were a disappointment last year, and they still won 86 games. Better health on this own would put them in a great spot to return to the playoffs under new manager Matt Williams, but a quality offseason should help solidify that. I still do not understand how they were able to acquire Doug Fister for essentially a dime and a nickel on the dollar from Detroit, and he will upgrade the rotation from dan Haren. Nate McLouth will be an upgrade in center over Steve Lombardozzi, who could not hit off my ex-wife and I don't even have an ex-wife, and Luis Ayala, an original National, should be an underrated bullpen guy.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The biggest news for the Angels came just a few days ago with the news of Mike Trout signing a one-year extension. But beyond that, the Orange County club had themselves a shrewd offseason that lacked the expensive signings we had come to expect from there. They sold high on Mark Trumbo and got a couple of potential starters in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Peter Bourjos was a luxury and was flipped to David Freese, who sucked last year but will fill a big hole at third, and Raul Ibanez will likely bring similar production to Trumbo at DH.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta took care of their own this offseason for the most part, while mostly sitting out of the free agency game. The Braves gave very reasonable extensions to their core youngsters in first baseman Freddie Freeman, closer Craig Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and starter Julio Teheran. And perhaps the biggest news to come out of the winter for this club was the ridiculous news that they would be vacating Turner Field in a few years for a new ballpark in suburban Cobb County.

Oakland Athletics
The Athletics have been resurrected the last couple of seasons and while they did not blow up the bank this winter (big surprise there, eh?), they made a number of strong moves that should keep them in serious contention in the Junior Circuit. They spent a little to bring in the reclamation project that was Scott Kazmir, who looked good in Cleveland, to replace Bartolo Colon. Jim Johnson has shown he can be a solid MLB closer, even if he may not look the part, but their bullpen is so deep he only appears to add to the riches. For how well they work on a budget, the A's should be on HGTV.

Tampa Bay Rays
Speaking of spending on a budget, Tampa Bay has appeared to have done it again and looks ready to aim for an AL crown. I really liked the Ryan Hanigan acquisition, they gave up nothing for one of the most underrated catchers on baseball thanks to who well he gets on base and works with a pitching staff. David DeJusus got a solid contract and fits perfectly with the Rays blueprint. Grant Balfour should help lead a revamped bullpen and while James Loney was overpaid after a surprisingly solid 2013, the first base market was so weak it's almost a decent move.

Seattle Mariners
Now the M's absolutely overpaid Robinson Cano, but you do not see franchise players like him hit free agency anymore and to lure him to Seattle, serious money was going to be forked over. He's the top second baseman in the game and immediately improves any infield he joins. And I thought that Fernando Rodney was a worthwhile gamble for a shallow bullpen. But beyond that, Corey Hart or Logan Morrison do not represent much of an upgrade at their respective positions.

Kansas City Royals
One could argue that the Royals should have been more aggressive coming up to a pivotal 2014, especially with James Shields entering his contract year, but they made a number of solid moves that helped to fill key holes. Kansas City was a fiasco at second base and thus made a strong signing of Omar Infante to help fill the void. And in rightfield, the underrated Norichika Aoki was acquired at minimal cost. Now are they a playoff club? I doubt it, but still a solid offseason in my view.

New York Yankees
Now delusional Yankees fans may try to say they "won" the offseason, but with what is shaping up to be an awful infield with Brian Roberts trying to somewhat fill the void of Robinson Cano at second (whose decision not to re-sign I defend and support), Kelly Johnson trying to provide some pop at third, Mark Teixeira regaining his power and Derek Jeter aiming to go out strong, and with a number of questions in the bullpen post-Mariano Rivera. That said, Masahiro Tanaka was a great addition to the rotation, Brian McCann is a big upgrade behind the plate, Jacoby Ellsbury adds some speed, glove and flash to the outfield and Brett Gardner re-signing for a reasonable sum prevents a bidding war next year. The playoffs are no guarantee, but there should be improvement from 2013.

Baltimore Orioles
The O's seemed bound for a step back after what was developing as a quiet offseason that led to some consternation in Charm City, but then they made a couple sound moves to move into the winners category. Ubaldo Jimenez surely has his flaws, but he will give the rotation the strong arm that it needed if it wanted to stay competitive in the tough AL East. And Nelson Cruz for only $8 million was a steal and if they keep him out of the outfield and instead at DH, even better.

New York Mets
I like Sandy Alderson, and do have a funny story about running into him at Citi Field, but there is no way the Metropolitans are winning 90 games. And the Sports Pope is right on this one. That said, the club has had a much-needed quality offseason highlighted by the strong signings of Curtis Granderson for some much-needed pop and lineup protection for David Wright and of Bartolo Colon for a rotation veteran. Sure the Chris Young contract looks bad compared to what Nelson Cruz signed for, but he's not an awful player either. Now what to do with Ike Davis and first base.

Houston Astros
Now the Astros did not have an offseason that is going to propel them into playoff contention, everybody knows that. But they resisted any urge to go wild and make a few shrewd moves that will help to improve their club and take some steps in the right direction. They made an excellent trade for Dexter Fowler from Colorado, who will be a major upgrade over whatever Houston tried in centerfield last year. A number of arms were added to the bullpen and Jerome Williams will provide some innings in the rotation.

Losers
Cincinnati Reds
I do give the Reds credit for getting an extension done with Homer Bailey but beyond that, this offseason has been a mess. Shin-Soo Choo was allowed to walk and to replace him will be either Billy Hamilton, who has amazing speed but has very little big league experience and whose bat is widely not seen as ready, or Skip Schumaker, who is fine and little more. Sure Ryan Hanigan did not have a good season, with a fair amount of bad luck, but the team all but gave up on an underrated catcher by dealing him to Tampa for nothing of consequence. And with Bronson Arroyo now in the desert, they are relying a whole on Johnny Cueto staying healthy, a bet I want no part of.

Philadelphia Phillies
Whatever Ruben Amaro is drinking, please bottle it and ship some here to Washington. I mean, this team would be a strong contender if this was 2009, but Amaro continues to deal with an aging roster by getting older. There will be nine players north of 35 years old on the roster. A.J. Burnett was not an awful signing in a vacuum, but why sign Marlon Byrd, who came out of nowhere with an excellent 2013 season, to a multi-year deal or sign a declining Carlos Ruiz to a three-year pact? And why was Bobby Abreu re-signed? Does Amaro legitimately this this is 2009?

Arizona Diamondbacks
I will say, I did like the signing of Bronson Arroyo to join the rotation, even as he could block a spot, but beyond that, there was not a whole lot to like for the D'Backs this offseason. Kevin Towers is generally known as a good general manager, but I struggle to figure out why he decided to deal so many of his prospects this winter for a guy like Mark Trumbo, who will hit a lot of homers, strike out a lot, not walk much and play terrible defense in the outfield. Sure, Tyler Skaggs was probably overrated, but there was no reason to give up on Adam Eaton.

Toronto Blue Jays
So much for their high hopes last year after a very aggressive offseason, which resulted in the team bottoming out at 74-88. This go-around, they had a rather quiet offseason, save for brining in Dioner Navarro who will replace J.P. Arencibia, who was awful last year, meaning that their same flaws remain. Those particularly come in the rotation, which was a major disappointment in 2013 thanks to a down year from R.A. Dickey and numerous injuries, and even if they bring in a Ervin Santana, that will not be enough to get Toronto out of the cellar.

Cleveland Indians
Cleveland had a great 2013 season where they ended hot and found themselves in the AL Wild Card game, but one would think that they would be relatively active to improve their footing, right? Wrong, the Indians did quite little this offseason. With losing Ubaldo Jimenez in free agency, now there is a lot of pressure on their young arms like Danny Salazar to step up their game and carry the load. Not to mention that they brought in to replace the unreliable Chris Perez at closer with the unreliable John Axford.

Chicago Cubs
Save for hiring the highly regarded Rick Renteria as their new manager, the Cubs did very little this winter. Now they are obviously in a rebuilding process and never were going to win in 2014, but the burgeoning farm system is still a year or two away from hitting the bigs. They were aiming to go hard after Masahiro Tanaka, which seemed a little unusual for a rebuilding club to go after an expensive import like that, at least to me, but they failed to get him to town. Quite frankly, there is not many reasons for folks to go to Wrigley this year based on what they did this offseason.

Pittsburgh Pirates
I understand that the Pirates are limited by their tight resources come offseason time, plus have the benefit of a fantastic farm system with a number of top prospects, but they cannot expect simply to repeat their magical 2013 by all but standing pat, especially as they are due for regression due to tremendous luck that is unlikely to repeat. They downgraded in the rotation by losing A.J. Burnett and replacing him with the immortal Edinson Volquez. Gaby Sanchez should not be a full-time first baseman anywhere. And they failed to replace the bat of Marlon Byrd.

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