Obviously, not much is happening in MLB's Hot Stove season. But in some cases, not much needs to happen. There are times when the biggest improvements are internal ones, be it a key player returning to something more closely resembling his career norm after a down year or fewer guys winding up on the disabled list or some hotshot kid coming up and changing the equation.

Here are five examples of teams that might see significant improvement in certain areas without a major acquisition.

Bouncebacks in Boston

The Red Sox hit 168 home runs last season. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combined for 169 home runs. So you can see why Yankees fans are geeked up about the Bronx Bombers and Red Sox fans are freaked out about Boston's roster. It is quite clear that Dave Dombrowski could afford to add another bat (J.D. Martinez, natch) and it is almost certain that he will. But don't dismiss the Red Sox's clear room for internal improvement.

To wit:

  • Mookie Betts saw his slugging percentage crater from .534 to .459 last season. He's projected by Steamer to slug at a .519 clip in 2018.
  • Hanley Ramirez had the 12th-highest drop in OPS (from .866 to .750) in baseball last season. He's projected for an .821 mark in '18.
  • Andrew Benintendi is projected by Steamer to see a 53-point climb in his OPS.
  • Xander Bogaerts, who played through a right hand injury for much of last year, is projected to have a 51-point rise.
  • Rafael Devers (who posted a .284/.338/.482 slash line in his first 240 Major League plate appearances) is on hand for his first full season.
  • The re-signed Mitch Moreland's 36-point gap between his expected (.371) and actual weighted on-base average (.335), as determined by Statcast™, was the second largest in the game. (In other words, he experienced a ton of bad luck.)

Young arms in the Cards

The Cardinals began a transition within their rotation during the 2017 season, shipping Mike Leake to Seattle. They are likely to let Lance Lynn walk in free agency. So that's more than one-third of their starts from 2017 out the door.

It must be noted that St. Louis has added to its starting group this offseason in the form of Miles "Lizard King" Mikolas, who spent the past few seasons pitching in Japan. But there is nonetheless a good chance the Cards reassert themselves as one of the better rotations in baseball largely on the strength of their internal system.

The 24-year-old Luke Weaver has likely earned himself a spot in the Opening Day rotation after posting a 110 ERA+ in 60 1/3 innings (13 appearances, 10 starts) last season. Another right-hander, 22-year-old Jack Flaherty, could soon push for a spot, as well, having put together a 2.18 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A last year (he got five starts in the big leagues, too). And a big X-factor for the Cards this year is Alex Reyes, who appeared to be on the cusp of a breakout in 2017 (he had a 1.57 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine in 12 appearances in '16) before his UCL snapped in Spring Training. He could be ready as early as Opening Day.

None of the above even mentions the possibility of improvement from Carlos Martinez, whose ERA+ dropped from 133 to 117 last year. FanGraphs projects St. Louis' rotation to have the sixth-highest WAR accumulation in the game this year.

Eaton good in the District

The Nationals' minus-2.5 Wins Above Replacement mark in left field, per Baseball Reference, was the second worst such mark in the game. Jayson Werth brought so much on-field and off-field value to this team over the length of his seven-year contract, but the final year was one to forget. He played just 70 games and logged an 88 weighted runs created plus mark (100 is league average).

Things should improve substantially in 2018, assuming all continues to go well with Adam Eaton's recovery from that gruesome ACL tear in his left knee. Eaton can be an impact defender, and he was justifying the steep price the Nats paid for him in a pre-2017 trade with an .854 OPS in 107 plate appearances before the injury. When he's healthy, Washington effectively has two leadoff men in Eaton and young Trea Turner, and it has a strong outfield overall with Bryce Harper in left and the emergence of Michael A. Taylor in center.

Eaton is projected by Steamer to be a two-win player with a 104 wRC+. Those aren't star-caliber numbers, but they are a big upgrade over what the Nats got from this position last year. And the outfield has further internal upside in the form of prospect Victor Robles, who received his first big league exposure at the end of 2017.

Turning the page by the Bay

Let's be clear: It's going to take a lot for the Giants to rise from the rubble of a 98-loss season to October. Like, a lot a lot. More than the usual even-year magic and more than the addition of an aging Evan Longoria.

But obviously some bad luck was involved in their rapid fall from grace last year, and several spots project to be better simply because 2018 is different than '17. We'll go back to those Steamer projections here:


2017 FanGraphs WAR

2018 projected WAR

Buster Posey



Brandon Belt



Joe Panik



Brandon Crawford



Hunter Pence



Madison Bumgarner



Johnny Cueto



Jeff Samardzija



Mark Melancon



So there's an improvement-by-default of nearly seven wins from that core group. It's a relatively modest upgrade with so much ground to cover, but it's a little more of a window into understanding why San Francisco is pushing forward this offseason as opposed to totally blowing things up (the compromised trade value of many of the above players of course plays a part, too). For what it's worth, FanGraphs currently projects the Giants to go 81-81 -- and that's before they address their obvious issues in the outfield.

To health and back in Queens

This is our now-annual reminder that with better health, the Mets could have the best rotation in the game. You're sick of hearing it, and we're sick of writing it. But that doesn't make it any less true.

FanGraphs forecasts the Mets' group to be worth 15.9 WAR in 2018. That's the fifth-highest projection for any starting staff and an 81-percent jump from last year's fWAR (8.8) for this group, which was besieged by Noah Syndergaard's right lat muscle injury, elbow issues for Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, another wilderness year for Matt Harvey, etc., etc. Jacob deGrom was the only member of the Mets to amass as much as 120 innings last year.

The Mets have added two bright pitching minds in manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland, and they're planning to be proactive with their early hooks (Harvey, Matz and Zack Wheeler are expected to be limited to facing the opposing lineup twice) and usage of hybrid guys like Lugo and Robert Gsellman. It's an interesting strategy at a time when bullpen usage is rapidly evolving, and perhaps it will allow the Mets to get through this season with the majority of their arms intact.

Two other American League West teams besieged by injuries in the rotation last year were the Mariners, who need a full slate from James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, and the Angels, who have as much riding on the health of Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and others as they do on Shohei Ohtani's transition to the States.

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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.