Relatively speaking, this hasn't been as bonkers a Hot Stove season -- replete with "mystery teams" or stunning and previously unimaginable trade or free-agency activity -- as we might like.
Color me less-than-shocked that Dave Dombrowski unloaded a bunch of prospects to land an established star (Chris Sale) or that Aroldis Chapman went back to the team (Yankees) to whom he wrote "bye for now" on Instagram when he was traded last summer, or that the Mets re-signed the guy (Yoenis Cespedes) around whom their entire offense operates or that Jose Canseco's ranting about something or that Manny Ramirez is doing something unorthodox or that people are arguing about the Hall of Fame.
That all sounds about right.
But thankfully, not everything has fit the script. And while none of the entries on this year's list of the 10 biggest offseason surprises (so far)* were enough to shake the foundation of the sport to its core, at least they gave us something to talk about.
* While the spirit of this column is to analyze surprises specifically related to the transaction wire and more light-hearted fare, I am of course one of many people in and around the Major League Baseball community who was floored by the news about Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte on Sunday. I had the pleasure of knowing both men, and I join the chorus of those offering sincerest condolences to their families, friends and teammates. I wrote more extensively about Ventura and Marte here.
10. Jerry Reinsdorf signed off on a rebuild
You might have known it was time to tear things down on the South Side. I might have known it was time to tear things down on the South Side. General manager Rick Hahn sure as heck knew it was time to tear things down on the South Side -- and had for some time.
But Reinsdorf, to his competitive credit, has always been reluctant to rebuild, and there was pretty much even split in the industry as to whether or not he would authorize the trades of Sale and others. Reinsdorf, Hahn and the rest did the right thing, and the hauls for Sale and Adam Eaton look good on paper. But Reinsdorf was sage in his assessment that "you have to have four prospects who can't possibly miss to get one [that hits]."
This stuff isn't as easy as it sounds, and making the decision to go in this direction wasn't as easy as it looked.
9. Brett Cecil's contract with the Cardinals
Don't want this to come across as a "Wow, a non-closer got a lot of money!" revelation, because there's really nothing novel about that. Just last year, Darren O'Day got four years and $31 million from the Orioles.
Still, it was hard to expect the Cardinals giving Cecil basically the same money (four years, $30.5 million) and a full no-trade clause, to boot. O'Day was coming off a season in which he posted a 1.52 ERA in 65 1/3 innings when he got his deal. Cecil has a strong track record and finished '16 strong, but he was limited to 36 2/3 innings because of a lat strain, and he had a 3.93 ERA.
8. The Padres non-tendered Tyson Ross
Ten years ago, you could probably put a move like the Brewers' non-tender of Chris Carter, who tied for the National League lead in home runs (41) last year, on this list. But as Mark Trumbo can now attest, the game doesn't value bat-only players the way it once did. (That said, replacing Carter with Eric Thames, whose Korean Baseball Organization performance they scouted solely via video, was surprising.)
The market conditions are different for quality starting pitching, and Ross has been that, when healthy. So it caught people off guard when the Padres' cut the cord on Ross in the midst of his rehabilitation from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. That's not to say it wasn't a defensible move. Had the Padres gone through the arbitration process with Ross, they would have probably paid him the $9.6 million he made last year, whereas Ross only commanded a $6 million guarantee from the Rangers on the open market. The Padres obviously know his situation better than anybody.
Still, Ross was not far removed from All-Star-worthy success, and the Padres were in flexible enough payroll terrain to justify taking a chance on him and hoping he re-emerges, possibly as a trade chip. So yes, this one was a surprise.
7. The Collective Bargaining Agreement details
Not that the new CBA didn't address some critical topics, but the process was a little more contentious and certainly more prolonged than you'd expect considering the financial strength of the game and the lack of an issue truly polarizing enough to cause a labor war.
Ultimately, it wasn't terribly surprising that the new deal didn't shorten the regular season or that the controversial home-field advantage tie-in at the All-Star Game was eliminated or that the Draft pick compensation issue was altered.
But 26-man rosters had seemed an awfully strong possibility, only to be skirted. The future rises in the luxury tax thresholds weren't as high as some clubs (and, I'm sure, every agent) hoped for or expected (and that had some ripple effects in the market, as we'll discuss in a sec), and while the Players Association did successfully shoot down an international draft, the creation of a hard cap on international amateur spending is a surprising concession.
6. David Ortiz's replacement is … Mitch Moreland?
How many column inches were wasted in the Boston papers last summer speculating about which of the many free-agent bats set to hit the open market would replace Big Papi? Ortiz himself even weighed in at the All-Star break with his endorsement of Edwin Encarnacion, setting off even more wasted energy assessing whether he was guilty of tampering.
Looking at this logically and rationally, you can understand Boston's desire for better lineup balance with a lefty, which wiped away a good chunk of the marketplace. And you can understand an aversion to the luxury tax that keeps the 2017 payroll in check.
But rationality is not always so easily applied, especially not when it involves a team with such a rabid fan base and such a lofty organizational expectation. The Red Sox still made their big splash with the Sale trade, but the approach to Papi's absence, measured and explainable though it may be, is surprising.
5. Mike Trout ran away with the American League Most Valuable Player Award
In a perfect world, this wouldn't be surprising, because you'd have to divorce yourself not only from all rational statistical analysis but also the blessing of even limited eyesight to think Trout was undeserving.
But we know this world isn't perfect, and that extends to the Mr. Magoos out there who somehow think this is a team award, and Trout was on such a lousy team that even he admitted to having doubts he'd take home this hardware (it had been 13 years since the AL honor had gone to a guy from a non-playoff team).
The results, then, were a pleasant surprise. Trout, who led the Majors in runs, walks, OBP, OPS+, wRC+ and WAR, received 19 of 30 first-place votes to deservedly beat out Mookie Betts and win his second MVP in three years (he arguably should have five of these right now, but let's not quibble here).
4. Brian Dozier is not a Dodger
Dozier is/was an obvious trade candidate for the Twins. They control him for two more years at a reasonable rate, but with their rotation in the state it is, their odds of being a contending ballclub in the next two years are pretty slim. Between the 42-homer year and the contract, Dozier is at the peak of his trade power, and the Dodgers' need to upgrade at second base with a right-handed bat is painfully clear.
But the Twins believe Dozier is worth multiple quality prospects, while the Dodgers are resolute in the value they place upon a strong farm system with contractually controllable pieces that will soon help them get to a more sensible place on the luxury tax penalty scale.
Even if you respect the viewpoint from both sides, it's still pretty amazing that middle ground wasn't found.
Then again, it ain't exactly Opening Day yet.
(Speaking of surprising Dodgers non-dealings, where's that Yasiel Puig-for-Ryan Braun trade we were promised?!)
3. The Nationals' trade for Adam Eaton
This, to put it lightly, was not the most obvious backup plan after missing out on Sale and Mark Melancon. When word of the Nats' trade for Eaton (which cost them pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning) filtered through the Winter Meetings hotel, there was much shock and even more second-guessing.
But remember: Eaton is a good player (he's been worth an average of five Wins Above Replacement over the last three seasons, with an OPS+ of 120) who is under the Nats' control for five years. Giolito's stock took a hit with an uninspiring transition to the bigs last year, some evaluators think Lopez is going to ultimately be a bullpen guy and Dunning's yet to pitch above A-ball.
And anyway, how many bad trades has Mike Rizzo made over the years?
So we'll see.
But no, we didn't see this coming.
(Another surprise? The Nats still don't' have a closer!)
2. The Blue Jays' slugger saga and Edwin Encarnacion's arrival in Cleveland
These two are intertwined.
The assumption going into the winter was that the Blue Jays couldn't afford both Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, and they made clear their priority when they offered Encarnacion four years and $80 million guaranteed at the onset of the Hot Stove. It's easy to fault Encarnacion for turning that down now, but it's not at all uncommon for a player of his caliber to want to explore his open-market worth.
What was surprising was how quickly the Blue Jays moved on and to whom, as they wasted no time throwing three years and $33 million at Kendrys Morales. To be fair, they didn't know Encarnacion's price tag would soon drop, in part as a byproduct of the aforementioned luxury tax issue and the drastically altered Draft pick compensation (which made the first-round pick attached to Encarnacion more valuable).
The Indians capitalized. Even after an AL pennant run, the Indians were not at all Encarnacion's likely landing spot. It has been a fiscally frugal organization that received only a moderate revenue boost from October (remember, the Indians finished 28th in attendance last year). But opportunity knocked, and the Indians answered.
It would knock for the Blue Jays, too. Bautista's market was also hindered by the above factors and, well, his own toxicity. The Jays wound up getting him back for little more than the qualifying offer, and, as I wrote recently, the entire saga could wind up working in their favor in the long run, despite the bad optics.
1. The Rockies signed Ian Desmond
This is this year's Shelby Miller trade, in that the industry agreement that the Rox overpaid is widespread. Obviously, the Rockies hope it works out quite a bit better than did the D-backs trade for Miller last year, and it says here that Desmond is going to make a successful switch to first base. Our own Manny Randhawa explained the method to the Rockies' madness.
But with so many first-base bats in the market, giving up $70 million over five years AND the highest unprotected Draft pick possible (No. 11 overall) in order to play Desmond out of position was unusual. Rather that knock the Rox, I'm personally going to applaud them for giving us the kind of unorthodox, outside-the-box roster move every Hot Stove season deserves.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.