I'd like to invite you to join me in bidding farewell to the 2013-2014 MLB offseason. Sad to see it go. Some might question the wisdom of extending this invitation today, on the 22nd of January, as opposed to at some later date when baseball players are actually out there on the green stuff, moving around and doing sports. My reply is that there's 10 inches of snow on the ground in New York City, it's Pro Bowl Week and the most sought-after international pitcher of the winter has finally found a home -- a very, very lucrative home.
Which means, of course, that it's just about time to sit down and see how each team's offseason affected its fortunes for the upcoming year. Sure, there are still some fairly significant moves yet to be made, but it's close enough to the end that we should have a general idea of who the winners and losers of the offseason are going to be, so long as we're willing to flip the table and move clubs around as the rest of the big free agents (such as Ervin Santana and Matt Garza) finally start to sign. We should also be prepared to be completely wrong in doing so. Ask the Toronto Blue Jays how well being the offseason champion worked out for them last year.
Winners (So Far)
1. Chicago White Sox. I'm not sure what the White Sox would have to do in the next several weeks to convince me that they didn't have the best offseason in baseball this winter -- throwing too much money and too many years at Matt Garza (for instance)?* Still, even if they did overpay for a very solid middle of the rotation arm, it would do very little to change the fact that the team added Cuban phenom Jose Abreu and outfielders Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia. (On Garcia, I'm cheating a bit and counting that late season trade with Detroit as part of the White Sox offseason, but I think that's fair considering that the move was made with the 2014 season in mind.) A huge part of how the White Sox do next year hinges on Abreu: whether he's ready for the big leagues now (which he should be, being a seasoned Cuban League superstar in his late twenties) and how he contributes in the field and on the basepaths, as well as at the plate. The White Sox are going to be very disappointed if it turns out they've just bought themselves another one-dimensional designated hitter.
*(Edit note: After this article was published, Garza was nearing a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.)
2. Texas Rangers. Jon Daniels has some blindspots as a general manager; he might get too attached to his own guys every once in awhile, whether they be players on his 40 man roster or his strategic disaster of a field manager. Even taking that attachment into account, I still don't understand why he's handed out the long-term contracts he has -- especially that Andrus monstrosity -- but the man is adept at finding solutions to immediate problems. The Rangers' immediate problem this offseason was they lacked two credible middle of the order hitters. Getting Shin-Soo Choo was the easy part -- Choo got seven years and over $130 million to come play in Arlington -- but somehow convincing the Tigers that swapping Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler was something a team in Detroit's situation should be doing is something else entirely. In fact, the Rangers' offensive revitalization is probably more Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski's doing than any other one person's, but that's not something that can easily be discerned from the outside looking in. What can easily be discerned is that Daniels did what he needed to do in free agency and the Rangers remain near the front of the pack in the AL West.
3. New York Yankees. While I don't particularly care for any specific move the Yankees made this offseason outside of signing Brian McCann, that's for reasons involving the length of those contracts' term and their monetary value, two things the New York Yankees employ lots of very smart front office people to perpetually render irrelevent. Up until roughly 9 a.m. this morning, the Bronx Bombers were pursuing something called "Plan 189," which was aimed at bringing the team's payroll below the luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season (and likely only for the 2014 season). Then the Yankees agreed to give a man who hasn't pitched a single game of North American professional baseball in his life roughly $22 million a year for the next seven years, and that pretty much put an end to Plan 189. The man in question, of course, is Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, formerly of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and if you're a professional sports team deadset on throwing over $155 million at a man to throw baseballs in North America when he has not actually done that specific thing before in any real sense, you make sure the guy pitches like Masahiro Tanaka does. His signing doesn't make the Yankees favorites for the division or even second place -- New York has far too many problems in the infield and question marks in the outfield corners to privilege them over the Tampa Bay Rays -- but it gets the odds much closer to even than they were before.
4. New York Mets. I'm a bit disgruntled that I'm putting the Mets in the winners' column so far because I told myself that the Mets were not a team that Curtis Granderson alone could fix. They were precisely the sort of team that would sign Curtis Granderson and only Curtis Granderson and then reassure season ticket holders that a great number of problems had in fact been solved. And sure enough, the most interesting thing that's happened this offseason for the Mets was signing Granderson -- they were pretty much done after that. But that's actually fantastic, considering this is the Mets we're talking about. Sandy Alderson and his people are nearing the last leg of a rebuild that quite frankly should have collapsed in on itself three or four times already, but instead has produced a team that could conceivably challenge for the second Wild Card spot next year and will almost certainly have divisional title aspirations in 2015.
Losers (So Far)
1. Baltimore Orioles. I almost disqualified the Orioles from this list under the theory that failing at something is different than just not showing up to try in the first place. Baltimore went into this offseason with an intriguing power-heavy offense and a pitching staff composed entirely of No. 3 starters and inconsistent relievers, and it will leave it the same way. From least to most noteworthy, the three top acquisitions of the Baltimore offseason so far are former middle infield prospect Jemile Weeks, former Royals outfielder David Lough and the active malevolent intent of Grant Balfour, wherever he may yet end up. Unless the Orioles have another MVP candidate ready to pop out of the woodworks for 2014, there's no particular reason to believe next year's Orioles team should be any better than last year's team -- because that's precisely what it is.
2. Detroit Tigers. But then, at least Baltimore hasn't been going around actively making themselves worse. It's still unclear why a team that has gone deep in the postseason three years running and is in the middle of an open and obvious Win Now championship window chose either not to retain or actively got rid of three-fourths of its infield, and then sent their cost-controlled No. 3 starter to Washington for a utilityman and a pitcher who will probably start next season as bullpen depth stashed in AAA. What is clear is that, at least of this writing, the Detroit Tigers have parted ways with roster necessities in order to secure roster luxuries, and then turned around and placed those luxuries at the disposal of a guy whose sole previous managerial experience was at the helm of the Israeli national baseball team. And Nick Castellanos might not actually be a real improvement over Miguel Cabrera as a third baseman, but the Tigers effectively named him their everyday 3B going forward in December. Just a bizarre offseason all around.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks. So far the Arizona offseason has been mostly unimpressive housekeeping punctuated by... trading two of the organization's top five prospects for (effectively) Mark Trumbo and minor leaguer Brandon Jacobs. This was during that "three-way" trade with the White Sox and Angels that wasn't anything of the sort. Here is Baseball-Reference's transaction entry for Hector Santiago, the White Sox swingman/starter who was also involved in this madness:
"December 10, 2013: Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Chicago White Sox with a player to be named later to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sent a player to be named later and Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Arizona Diamondbacks sent Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox. The Arizona Diamondbacks sent Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Chicago White Sox sent Brandon Jacobs (minors) (December 13, 2013) to the Arizona Diamondbacks to complete the trade. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sent A.J. Schugel (minors) (December 13, 2013) to the Arizona Diamondbacks to complete the trade."
At no point do the Angels or the White Sox exchange even PTBNL. That's just two trades, both of which the Diamondbacks stand a fairly high chance of losing, executed in succession. In fairness to Arizona, none of the guys they've cut bait on have given them real reason to regret it (unless Justin Upton having a career average year in Atlanta counts), and part of that has something to do with General Manager Kevin Towers being one of the game's better evaluators of young talent. But then again, the Diamondbacks haven't seen any real increase in productivity from the talent they've been returning in these deals over the past few years; eventually something has to give.
4. Seattle Mariners
Seattle's the flipside of the Mets above, in that not only did they sign a single big free agent and then essentially call it quits on the rest of the offseason, but they spent $210 million on him and he's a second baseman over the age of thirty. Sure, he's an elite second baseman over the age of thirty, but still.
The other "moves" the Mariners made after the Robinson Cano signing were headlined by Corey Hart, a 1B/RF with bad defense coming off a terrible knee injury, and Logan Morrison, who's basically in the same boat except instead of being hurt, he was a Marlin. Seattle made noise about trading for David Price, and Price's agent politely informed the entire world hours later Price had exactly zero interest in signing an extension there. In fact, after the Cano signing, the most notable part of Seattle's offseason to date was the Geoff Baker piece that dropped in the Seattle Times a couple days later portraying the entire front office as a group of backbiting yes men and fools with little to no understanding of how to adapt to the pressures of the modern game. One would think that if the Mariners had the money to extend Price, they would have had the money to be real players for Tanaka, but this time two months ago, one would have thought a number of things about the Seattle front office that no longer seem like sure bets.
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Beyond these eight teams, there are clubs that haven't done much (like the Dodgers and the Marlins), and clubs that have done a lot but not really accomplished anything (the Astros and Twins come to mind). Houston is trying to allay some concerns about their overt tanking last season by signing a whole bunch of middle relievers they'll try to convert to closers and flip to someone like Detroit; Minnesota is pursuing whatever insane internal pitching philosophy leads to specifically and intentionally putting Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes in the same rotation.
And all of this is in so much flux -- not just with the possible signings in the next 20 days, but with what's going to happen in Spring Training and the inevitable injuries that will pop up between now and Opening Day. These are more barometric readings than they are true leaderboards -- all it would really take to shake them up is one good storm. Seems like New York has had that and then some.