In baseball, winning the offseason generally means very little in terms of winning the regular season. A year ago, the White Sox, Red Sox and Padres were each declared Hot Stove champions. It simply didn't translate for any of those clubs.
This year, a few teams have grabbed headlines -- notably the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Cubs and Red Sox -- for their offseason exploits. But those headlines count for nothing until the new additions start impacting the bottom line.
In that regard, it's sometimes better to fly under the radar during the winter. After all, the Royals and Mets reached the World Series following an offseason in which Kendrys Morales and Michael Cuddyer were their biggest acquisitions, respectively (two players who hardly turned the needle in terms of national attention).
A handful of clubs have followed their lead this winter, opting for prudence over big-money signings or blockbuster deals. How might that work out? Each team is a different case study.
The Indians have finished above .500 in each of the past three seasons, yet they don't have a Division Series appearance to show for it. In the eyes of many, that kind of pseudo-success should have been a precursor for a busy offseason, with one or two key pieces likely required to put them over the top. Instead, Cleveland remained largely quiet.
The Tribe did bring Juan Uribe, Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis on board -- and all three are probably upgrades. (Plus, Uribe and Napoli are two of the game's more accomplished postseason veterans.) But none of those three is capable of carrying a team to the playoffs.
That said, they may not have to. Cleveland was a different team once Francisco Lindor came aboard last season, and the front-end of its pitching staff is one of the most fearsome in the American League. As a smaller market club without the financial wherewithal for major additions, the Indians are banking on some carryover from their 36-26 finish to last season. It could end up being the smart play.
St. Louis Cardinals
Unlike the Indians, the Cards set out to make a splash this offseason. Things just never fell into place. Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon were squarely on St. Louis' radar, and each ended up signing elsewhere. (The fact that those free agents chose the Cubs and Royals over the Cardinals didn't sit well either.)
But it's worth remembering just how good the Cardinals were in 2015. The baseball world seems ready to pencil the Cubs in as Central Division champs, ignoring the fact that St. Louis won 100 games -- without ace Adam Wainwright for the majority of the season. When the Cardinals faltered in the postseason, they did so without Carlos Martinez, who has since recovered from his shoulder injury. And while John Lackey will undoubtedly be missed, Mike Leake should serve as a worthwhile replacement.
Even without Gordon or Heyward, St. Louis boasts an extremely capable outfield, with Stephen Piscotty Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday returning. There's no question St. Louis could've used a big name or two to fill out its roster. But there's also no question that the Cardinals are on the short list of World Series favorites, even with a relatively low-key offseason.
The Twins were well ahead of schedule when they won 83 games last season under new manager Paul Molitor. And they'll be well ahead of schedule if they happen upon any success in 2016, as well. This is an extremely young team with an extremely bright future -- but they're probably still a couple years away.
Which is why Minnesota's decision to stay quiet this offseason is probably the least surprising of all. There was no need for the Twins to sacrifice their future or to limit themselves financially.
Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last season, and Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios could easily do the same this year. And while the Twins' rotation could certainly have used an upgrade during the offseason, the pieces are clearly in place for future success in Minnesota.
The Pirates have a good thing going, and their strategy over the past three years has at least been consistent: Don't mess with it. Once again, the Bucs settled for tinkering this offseason, bringing John Jaso and Jon Niese on board (and saying goodbye to beloved second baseman Neil Walker). But for the third offseason in a row, general manager Neal Huntington did not make a major splash.
And maybe that's the best strategy. The Pirates have a world-class outfield, an elite bullpen, a bona fide big league ace and some very solid depth. Pittsburgh is quite clearly one of the most complete teams in baseball.
The Pirates' biggest flaw is probably the division in which they play. They won 98 games last season, and they'd certainly take 98 wins again in 2016. But even that might not be enough with the Cubs and Cardinals as their biggest rivals.
The Rangers concluded baseball's quietest offseason with a bang on Sunday morning, when they agreed to sign Ian Desmond, who will presumably play left field. But even with Desmond's signing, Texas' roster looks eerily similar to last season's.
In fact, it's entirely plausible that the Rangers' Opening Day lineup is the same one they used in Game 5 of the ALDS -- except with Desmond presumably slotting into the place of an ailing Josh Hamilton. Texas also made no changes in its bullpen, and Yovani Gallardo was the lone departure from the rotation (which won't matter much, if ace Yu Darvish has a successful return for Tommy John surgery).
The strategy of general manager Jon Daniels was clear: It wasn't broke. There was no reason to fix it. The Rangers surged to an improbable AL West title in 2015 and came within one heartbreaking seventh inning of reaching the AL Championship Series. With almost all of the same pieces in place -- and potentially a returning Darvish -- Daniels' strategy seems to be a sound one.