While we’re still more than a month away from the start of the regular season, it’s very possible that moves that will decide who wins the World Series were made during the MLB offseason. It’s also possible that teams played themselves out of contention with moves they made, or didn’t make.
So, which were the best and worst moves of the 2016 MLB offseason?
Best: Chicago Cubs sign Jason Heyward and John Lackey
Any time you can make a 97-win team better, it has to be classified as a good move. The Cubs did that when they signed Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist. But what makes the signings of Heyward and Lackey so strong is that they signed them from the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The truth is that it’s hard to ever count the St. Louis Cardinals out. They’re the MLB equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs or New England Patriots. But the Cardinals were only three games ahead of the Cubs in 2015, and while St. Louis will be healthier in 2016 than they were in 2015, they’ve lost two key players to a chief rival.
When the Cubs inked these two players, they made themselves not only the favorites in the National League Central, but probably the entire National League. How that plays out on the field remains to be seen, but these were two of the better moves of the MLB offseason.
Worst: Arizona Diamondbacks sign Zack Greinke, trade for Shelby Miller
Zack Greinke had received a qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers, so when Arizona signed him to a six-year, $206.5 million deal, they forfeited the 13th overall pick in June’s MLB Draft.
When they traded for Shelby Miller, the Diamondbacks gave up Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, and Dansby Swanson. Inciarte is young and has shown promise, Blair was a first rounder in 2013, and Swanson was the first overall pick in 2015.
That’s three first round picks. Mind you, Greinke is 32 already, so his window as an elite pitcher is definitely shrinking. Arizona mortgaged much of their future for what could turn out to be a 1-2 year championship window, if even that.
It’s already a shaky move but if they don’t win a World Series in that time, this will go down as a massive blunder.
Best: Atlanta Braves load up on young talent
While the Diamondbacks put a huge target on their backs for the next 1-2 seasons, the Braves made a strong move loading up in their rebuilding project.
While Shelby Miller (traded to Arizona) is a good, young pitcher, Ender Inciarte is a good young, and starting outfielder and Aaron Blair is not yet 24 and has a career Minor League ERA/WHIP of 3.62/1.168, striking out nearly eight hitters for every nine innings.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick in 2015, plays shortstop, and produced a short-season, minor league slash line of .289/.394/.482.
Sure, Miller could have been a good pitcher for years in Atlanta, but he was worth giving up for three potential future cornerstone players.
Worst: Baltimore Orioles don’t upgrade their starting rotation
The problem with the Orioles isn’t so much that they signed Davis to a huge contract. It’s that they did very little else. While Chris Davis was signed to a large deal, it’s hard to be especially critical of the contract. After all, he has averaged 40 home runs a season over the last four years with an .876 OPS. But this team just doesn’t have a championship caliber rotation.
Ace Chris Tillman is a good pitcher, but is nothing more than a decent No. 2 starter. In a strong free agent market that included David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardziza, Mike Leake, and even their own Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles could have done a lot more to upgrade the starting rotation. Unless they make a trade or sign Yovani Gallardo, they’ve done nothing positive on this front.
The problem with that is that the American League East should be very winnable. The Red Sox are improved but have recorded consecutive last place finishes. The Rays have good starting pitching but don’t appear to be much of a threat. The Yankees have a great bullpen and solid pitching staff but have question marks up and down the offense, while Toronto has the opposite problem.
Baltimore could have made a few moves to upgrade the rotation and make themselves the favorites in the division. It did not happen.
Best: New York Mets bring Yoenis Cespedes back
The strength of the 2015 National League champions was their pitching, but it’s unlikely that they would have reached the postseason if not for the trade deadline acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes. Granted, Cespedes was incredibly hot for two months and it’s not likely he’ll do that again, but he gives them a legitimate heart of the order power threat that they need.
A player like Cespedes not only gives the team around 30 home runs, but he allows the rest of the hitters in the lineup to hit in their more natural spots.
In general, this was a good offseason for the Mets. Right now, they have a championship-caliber pitching staff. And while their offense isn’t one of the best in the league, it’s good enough to make them a championship contender again.
Worst: Toronto Blue Jays lose David Price, don’t replace him
Essentially everything that was said about the Orioles also applies to the Blue Jays. The difference is that one of the offseason’s best free agents, David Price, was an integral part of Toronto’s 2015 American League East champions.
This loss will hurt. At the end of play on July 30 (the day the Blue Jays acquired Price), Toronto was 52-51 and six games back in the division. In 11 starts for the Blue Jays, Price was 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, and 87 strikeouts in 74.1 innings.
The loss of Price wouldn’t have hurt so much if Toronto signed one of the market’s other top starters, but that did not happen. It also doesn’t help that Price signed with the Boston Red Sox, who are division rivals.
The Blue Jays have had a great offense for years but did not make the playoffs until they backed up it with a solid pitching staff. With the season right around the corner, that pitching staff is a question mark. Even with a great offense, it’s hard to contend without good pitching.
Best: Los Angeles Dodgers upgrade pitching depth
Granted, the Dodgers lost Zack Greinke and didn’t sign a player of his caliber to replace him, but the overall starting rotation is actually better. The acquisitions of Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, combined with the return of Hyun-Jin Ryu, gives the Dodgers a better rotation than they had with Greinke in 2015.
Now, this would not be the case if Greinke was L.A.’s ace. Even if you add depth, it’s hard to replace a No. 1 starter. But Greinke is not the Dodgers’ ace. That title always belonged to Clayton Kershaw and still does.
The Dodgers will be solely judged based on what they do in the playoffs. As things stand now, they’d enter a playoff series with Kershaw starting Game 1, and some combination of Kazmir, Maeda, and Ryu in games 2-4, with the possibility of Brett Anderson or Alex Wood jumping up.
Given that they’ve lacked depth in the playoffs beyond Kershaw and Greinke in the past, they’re currently in much better shape to match up to the National League’s best teams in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series.
Worst: Angels do not add a top starting pitcher
Much like adding a true power bat sets a batting order in a good way, adding an ace goes a long way in setting a pitching rotation. The Angels did not do that, or come terribly close.
Garrett Richards looks far better as a No. 2 starter than a No. 1, just like C.J. Wilson would look a lot better as a No. 3 than a No. 2. Jered Weaver is much better suited to be a No. 4 than a No. 3, and so on. A pitcher like David Price or Zack Greinke would have done wonders for the Angels, but they would have even done well to go after someone like Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Kenta Maeda, or Scott Kazmir.
The American League West doesn’t have a clear, dominant team, so it’s possible that Los Angeles will still make the playoffs. But as presently constructed, it’s very hard to see a team with that kind of pitching staff making much noise in October.
Best: New York Yankees trade for Aroldis Chapman
The American League East is wide open, but the Yankees’ acquisition of Aroldis Chapman gives them a leg up. Better yet, if it can find a way into the playoffs, New York’s back three of Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances will put the team in a spot where they’ll basically be playing 6-7 inning games, which is a tremendous advantage.
The Kansas City Royals have given us all a great indicator of what it will take to win in October in the current era of specialization: great pitchers who can dominate for roughly an inning. New York’s bullpen isn’t as deep as Kansas City’s, but their starting rotation is better, so it doesn’t need to be.
There isn’t a better back three in all of baseball than Chapman, Miller, and Betances. Heck, you may not be able to compile an All-Star team with a back end much better than that.
The Yanks would do well to add a bat. But even as constructed, New York’s offseason has already made them an incredibly tough team to face in a postseason series.
Worst: Nationals not trading Jonathan Papelbon
Just in case anyone out there has a short memory, one of the final moments of the Nationals’ season was when closer Jonathan Papelbon attacked star outfielder Bryce Harper in the dugout after Papelbon felt that Harper didn’t give adequate hustle on a fly out.
Papelbon, who hadn’t even been with the team for two months, felt it was appropriate to yell at and eventually attack the team’s franchise player for not hustling.
Say what you will about Harper, but lack of hustle has not been a problem. As a matter of fact, 2015 was the first time in his career that Harper played in more than 140 games. His missed time in the past was, in no small part, due to him constantly hustling. Remember, this is the guy who didn’t slow down when going int a wall.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Papelbon gave us this beauty (per MLB.com’s Bill Ladson and Ian Browne) when it was announced that he was filing a grievance for his suspension:
“My mistake was doing that in the dugout in front of a camera. I’ve got two young kids. They know that’s not right, but it happens. I fully apologize for doing that but most of it’s handled in the tunnel. [Harper is] a competitor, too.”
Fantastic apology. Not “I’m sorry for doing it,” but “I’m sorry for doing it on camera.”
This is the same guy that previously threw at Manny Machado, apparently just for hitting a home run. Harper’s comments per the (New York Post’s Jonathan Lehman) at the time weren’t exactly supportive of his teammate:
“I mean, Manny freaking hit a homer. Walked it off and somebody drilled him. I mean, it’s pretty tired. It’s one of those situations where it happens and, I don’t know, I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow.
Remember, Papelbon was only on the Nationals from July 28 on. Give this guy a full season, and who knows what might happen? Granted, Papelbon’s value may not have been terribly high during the MLB offseason, but Washington should have traded him for basically anything they could get.