So to wrap up the 2014 portion of this offseason, we here at Baseball Essential decided it would be interesting to pose the question, ‘Who has had the best offseason thus far?’ to a group of writers in a roundtable style form. Here’s what resulted:
Dan Siegel – Boston Red Sox
While teams like the Padres and White Sox have made the big splashes in the past few weeks, it was the Red Sox who made the original big splash. The Sox made Thanksgiving extra thankful when they brought in the two biggest free agent bats on the market in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez brought with him the highest WAR of any free agent shortstop and Sandoval was highly regarded as the best free agent third baseman. The two best bats in a offense deprived market and they got both at reasonable length deals for under $100 million each.
Before the offseason they resigned closer Koji Uehara who might have rivaled David Robertson as the top reliever on the market. They signed Justin Masterson to a one year deal, the only other free agent starters to be in the top 30 WAR among starters more than Masterson since 2011, James Shields and Max Scherzer (both unsigned). They also traded for Wade Miley who for three straight years has made 30+ starts and pitched 190+ innings.
For a team that had as many holes to fill as the Red Sox did, they’ve been able to do so without shelling out mega long term deal for big dollars and also avoided trading their minor league system away, something hard to say about any other noteworthy move made this offseason. The Red Sox have had by far the best offseason thus far for these reasons.
Griffin Meadors – Chicago White Sox
Things are looking up for White Sox fans in 2015 and beyond, thanks to several key additions the front office, (led by General Manager Rick Hahn) made.
Jeff Samardzija (Trade OAK)
In 2014, a big problem for the White Sox was their Bullpen. They had no proven closer after trading young stud Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks for Matt Davidson during last offseason, and there were many young players thrusted into roles they were not ready to fill. Also, due to the injuries of Matt Lindstrom/Nate Jones, and the inconsistency from Scott Downs and Ronald Belisario, pitchers such as Zach Putnam, Daniel Webb, and Jacob Petricka were relied on heavily. The signings of David Robertson and Zach Duke and trading for Dan Jennings should help restore the bullpen that had many flaws in 2014.
Jeff Samardzija was one of the most surprising moves of the offseason. Not so much that he was traded, it’s more that he was traded to the White Sox. Samardzija will be a nice #2 to pitch between ace Chris Sale and one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, Jose Quintana. Samardzija, a right handed pitcher, will help balance a rotation with 3 left handers at the moment (Sale, Quintana, and John Danks) and one that figures to include top draft pick from 2014 Carlos Rodon. General Manager Rick Hahn has also said that it the team will try as hard as possible to extend the newly acquired Samardzija. While it is unclear whether or not a deal will get done, look for him to be in a White Sox uniform for years to come.
Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn(until he was traded to OAK), the two players that split time at DH for the White Sox in 2014, have both hung up their spikes, leaving a hole at the Designated Hitter position for the White Sox in 2015, or until Adam LaRoche signed a 2 year, 25 million dollar deal. LaRoche figures to also give Jose Abreu some time off at First Base. LaRoche is a nice short term solution while prospects Andy Wilkins, Matt Davidson, and Keon Barnum continue to develop in the Minor Leagues (the three figure to be possible long term fits at the DH position) LaRoche also fills a hole for a left handed power hitter, in a lineup that
Melky Cabrera fills the last major hole for the White Sox in 2015. Dayan Viciedo, who is still just 25, was the White Sox starting Left Fielder in 2014, and while he has decent potential, and can hit for power, his defense is pretty atrocious and he had 32 walks compared to 122 strikeouts last year while he batted .231 with a .281 OBP. Melky hit .301 with a .351 OBP in 2014 with 43 walks compared to 67 strikeouts. He will most likely fill the 2 hole in the 2015 lineup, and with the ability to switch hit, he is able to fill another left handed hole where many of the core pieces in the lineup are right handed.
The White Sox filled the most holes out of any team this offseason, and it should help them compete now, without completely selling out the future.
Jake Hasan – St. Louis Cardinals
I think the Cardinals quietly had the best offseason. The few holes they had were filled. The hole in right field left by the tragic passing of Oscar Taveras was filled with Jason Heyward, a two-time Gold Glover, and All-Star caliber player. Heyward brings great line-up versatility, as manager Mike Matheny will be able to put Heyward in the 1st, 2nd, or 5th spot in the lineup as he wishes. The other hole was left by the imminent departure of Pat Neshek, as General Manager John Mozeliak was not going to overpay Neshek for his 2014 performance. Instead Mozeliak filled the spot in the eighth inning set-up role with veteran righty Jordan Walden, who had 20 saves setting up for Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta in 2014. Mozeliak also signed righty 1st baseman Mark Reynold to a 1-year contract, who gives the Cardinals a righty power hitter (22 HR in 378 at-bats in 2014) off the bench, as well as someone to spell Matt Adams against southpaws, which they lacked last year.
With the acquisitions of Walden and Heyward, both made in one trade, and the signing of Reynolds, Mozeliak accomplished all the major needs the Cardinals had this off season, and set the Cards up all nice and pretty, and looking strong, which was important given how competitive the NL Central looks to be in 2015.
Robert Villarreal – Miami Marlins
The Marlins have become one of the most financially interesting movers and shakers in this offseason. Of course when you say the words Miami and baseball one would think straight away to Giancarlo Stanton who five weeks ago signed a 13-year , $325-million contract extension. However aside from Stanton himself, the Marlins brass seems dead set on surrounding their All-Star outfielder with talent enough to contend immediately. Last year they had a (in baseball terms) relatively meager $46-million salary. However in 2015, many are expecting this number to eclipse $75-million.
There are considerable upgrades all around for this South Florida team as they’ve quickly added bats and depth the likes of Michael Morse, Dee Gordon, Miguel Rojas and Martin Prado. Gordon alone is a substantial upgrade, stealing a Major League leading 64 bases in 2014. The pitching has also been tweaked for the upcoming campaign adding Mat Latos and three time All-Star Dan Haren to the rotation. David Phelps is a welcome addition to a bullpen that’s struggled with long relief and spot starting.
A World Series run may still be a far reach for this ball club, but an 80-85 win season isn’t much of a stretch, and that means competing for the wild card come the end of September.
Zack Cook – Chicago Cubs
As most recent memory serves, pitching and defense wins championships. Look no further than last year’s post season and what Madison Bumgarner did with the San Francisco Giants. When you go into the off season, your goal is always to upgrade the weak points of your roster, and the Cubs were able to add a proven winner and front of the rotation starter in Jon Lester. Over his 10 year career, Lester has won 116 games while only losing 67 to go along with his great 3.58 Earned Runs Average.
While dishing out over 245 million dollars this off season, the Cubs are no longer a team that can be pushed over in the National League Central. David Ross, a veteran catcher that is very familiar with Lester was also signed by the Cubs to help bolster veteran leadership and add a new dynamic to their back stopper.
The Cubs were also able to add a pitcher they were familiar with in the off season as they signed Jason Hammel to a 2 year deal worth 9 million per season. When the Cubs traded pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Oakland, they were able to in return receive Shortstop prospect Addison Russell. Look for Russell to make an immediate impact in the Cubs organization as he could make the jump to the big leagues this season and begin contributing.
One of the biggest impacts in the Chicago off season is one that won’t even play an inning for them this season, or any season for that matter. With the signing of new Cub’s manager Joe Maddon, look for the Cubs to adapt a new identity and be more competitive in close games next season. Not only is Maddon one of the best managers in the big leagues, his strategical analysis will help embitter the team’s fundamental baseball, which has been an issue in the past.
Shawn Brody – Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Dodgers—who have won the NL West the past two seasons—certainly did not need to do as much as other teams like the Padres, Marlins, Cubs, White Sox or Red Sox this offseason, no one told that to new GM Andrew Friedman. Friedman was able to sure up a middle infield that was a question mark upon the departure of Hanley Ramirez to Boston by acquiring Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick via trade from the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. The Dodgers also managed to strengthen their rotation with Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson—a rotation that was already considered to be one of the best in baseball. Not to mention the addition of a cost controlled switch hitting catcher in Yasmani Grandal.
While, yes, the Dodgers are now without Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon and Dan Haren they have the positional depth to replace them. Obviously, Rollins will replace Gordon at second and McCarthy will be Haren’s replacement. The latter might be an upgrade, as well. With Kemp, the Dodgers free up future financial obligations, as they pay only $32 million of Kemp’s remaining $107 million contract that runs through 2019. To replace him? Well, look no further than the Dodgers surplus of outfielders to find the answer. The Dodgers now have 3 outfield spots to divvy up between 5 players—Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Scott Van Slyke—with the knowledge that they will now have the financial freedom in the future—or should I say, more than they already had—to possibly extend someone like Pederson, or even a non-outfielder in the future.
As for the Dodgers farm system, they were able to make all these deals without losing a significant amount of top prospects. Even in Howie Kendrick’s case, Friedman was able to acquire the talent of a major league veteran middle infielder for prospect in Andrew Heaney that was essentially passed along from the Marlins—never playing an inning for the Dodgers. That’s brilliance.
It’s hard to argue that any other team had a better offseason than the Dodgers. Apparently, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs agrees with me—projecting them to win 91 games and own the best record in the majors. However, the Dodgers’ offseason thus far has been so impressive because it has not only positively affected the current state of their roster, but has also given them a bit of future flexibility—something that every team would love to have.