On Tuesday, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the defending champion Houston Astros met with Yu Darvish, the hottest name left on the free-agent pitching market. Darvish would seem to be a fit for the Astros, who need a more stable, entrenched starter for the next few years, considering their rotation is full of guys who are either older (Justin Verlander), a free agent after next year (Dallas Keuchel) or unproven throughout a whole season (Lance McCullers Jr., Collin McHugh, even Charlie Morton). Darvish would make some sense.
But jeez, didn't these guys just win? It's always fascinating to see what a defending champion does in its offseason, to see whether or not a title makes the team (and its fan base) complacent or just hungrier for another. This is particularly relevant to the Astros who, after all, had never won a championship before last season. Most of the Astros fans I know are still floating around in a post-title haze, still sort of amazed that, at last, this happened to them.
You can learn a lot from how a franchise handles its first offseason after it wins a title. The Astros appear to be going for it again, as evidenced by the Darvish flirtation, though we will see: They've got some extensions for Jose Altuve, George Springer and even Carlos Correa coming up, and it might behoove them to save some of those pennies. But every team in recent history handled its first offseason as champions differently.
Let's take a look at this decade's champions and how they handled the Hot Stove after winning a title. You'll find that going out to try to improve the team immediately is not the modus operandi … and sometimes it's even the right call.
2016 Chicago Cubs
Offseason moves: Signed Jon Jay, Koji Uehara, Brett Anderson; traded Jorge Soler for Wade Davis
After an inspiring, essentially dominant 2016, the Cubs decided to improve on the margins for 2017, assuming they had enough to commence their dynasty. Having Kyle Schwarber for a whole season gave them confidence to trade Soler for a new closer to replace Aroldis Chapman, a trade that turned out great; Soler was a mess in 2016, and Davis handled Chapman's role just fine. But the kismet of 2016 was replaced by the hangover of 2017 … though the Cubs still managed to reach the National League Championship Series. The Cubs made no major moves: They tinkered on the edges. They remain a serious title contender in 2018.
2015 Kansas City Royals
Offseason moves: Signed Ian Kennedy; re-signed Alex Gordon
The Royals lost two key pieces in free agency in Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, but they were clearly of the "we just won a title so let's just get the band back together and try to do it again" school. It hasn't quite worked out. Kennedy was OK in 2016 but a mess in 2017, and Gordon hasn't been close to the same player since signing the new deal. (And he still has two years left on that contract). They haven't had a winning season since their title and could wave goodbye to Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas this offseason. They'll always have 2015. And that might be all they have for a while.
2014 San Francisco Giants
Offseason moves: Signed Norichika Aoki; traded for Casey McGehee
The Giants had won three of the past five World Series -- we'll be talking about the other two in a moment -- so you can't blame them for not having much urgency this particular offseason. But perhaps they should have had some. Aoki and McGehee took over for Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, but neither of those guys had much of a future. The rotation got old overnight; remember, Tim Lincecum was still on the 2014 team. The Giants hung around in 2015 and '16 but fell off a cliff in '17 and are now trying to claw their way back with an older roster that will include the newly acquired Evan Longoria. It's tough to rebuild after you win a World Series, even if you probably should. The Giants are learning that now.
2013 Boston Red Sox
Offseason moves: Signed Grady Sizemore, A.J. Pierzynski
The Red Sox stood as pat as any team on this list, and you could understand, at the time, why. They had just won a highly emotional World Series after a highly emotional year for the city, they had a ton of young players coming up through the system (including Xander Bogaerts, expected to ascend to superstar status) and were only losing Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency. But the wheels came off in 2014, with a last-place finish and all sorts of typical Boston angst that led to Dave Dombrowski's arrival in 2015. Imagine how insane Red Sox fans would have been with everything that happened after this season had they not won the World Series that year.
2012 San Francisco Giants
Offseason moves: Signed Andres Torres; re-signed Angel Pagan
The key acquisitions for the Giants actually came during the 2012 season, when they traded for Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. On one hand, it clearly didn't work: The Giants went 76-86 in 2013 and looked for all the world to be in dire need of a reboot. But then the 2014 postseason happened, and the Giants won another World Series, and it's clear they were wise not to tear anything down at all.
2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Offseason moves: Signed Carlos Beltran; hired Mike Matheny as manager
No team went through as much offseason turmoil after their title as the Cardinals, though hardly through any fault of their own. Their seasons-long quest to sign Albert Pujols long enough to keep him a Cardinal for life failed, but they pivoted to Carlos Beltran, who was better than Pujols both years he was a Cardinal. (And now Pujols is struggling for the Angels, not St. Louis.) Tony La Russa retired, but they hired Mike Matheny, who would be their manager for four straight playoff runs afterward (while earning his fair share of detractors). For all the frustrations Cardinals fans may have with their team right now, going to the playoffs four consecutive seasons after losing their superstar and their manager is better than anyone else on this list.
2010 San Francisco Giants
Offseason moves: Re-signed Aubrey Huff; signed Miguel Tejada
Back in 2010, it looked like the Giants could dominate the NL West for the next decade. The Dodgers were floundering, the Rockies were the Rockies, the D-backs were just starting a rebuild and the Padres had just traded Adrian Gonzalez in his prime. The Giants, fresh off a thrilling championship, their first in San Francisco, decided to let it ride. It is, suffice it to say, difficult to argue with their decision.
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