Spring training is in full swing, bestowing us all with the long-awaited warmth of actual baseball (even if it doesn’t really matter yet), as we breathe a sigh of relief that another offseason is behind us. And while the frigid hot stove seasons of recent memory might have left us craving a hit off that sweet, sweet free agency pipe, we all got our fix during this year and then some. Teams threw money around like Mike Bloomberg trying to buy an election and we learned that, while Mike Bloomberg may not be able to actually buy an election, after this offseason, Scott Boras can certainly buy himself a small island country.
Let us not forget the real story of the offseason, the elephant in the room, as it were. But the room turned out to be a china shop, with a bull in an elephant suit he picked up at a Spirit Halloween store in a rundown Circuit City a little while back, before he grazed on an overgrown infield for a couple of years, filling that big old elephant-sized suit with the remnants of many, many meals while the Astros strategically slipped sticks of dynamite into his suit. A match was lit and now there’s shards of a whole bunch of couples’ would’ve been wedding gifts and bull you-know-what plastering the walls, and you think your ears are ringing from the explosion, but it turns out it’s really the sound of someone banging a trash can over and over and over again. Welcome to the state of baseball in 2020.
But we won’t let all the off-the-field stuff stop us from doing the whole report card thing. Except… we kind of have to talk about some of the off-the-field stuff, because there was a mess of changes to managers, general managers or Co-Senior Executive Director Person in Charge of the Management of Oversight of Baseball Related Things, or whatever your club is calling it these days, and it’s a whole lot to manage. So, where applicable, we’ll be factoring that into the grades as well and kicking it off with the Senior Circuit.
Given that the Braves’ 2019 season ended with an NLDS Game 5 unceremonious 13-1 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinals, and the fact that their division opponents in Washington went on to win the World Series, it’s easy to forget that the reigning champs were a Wild Card and Atlanta actually won the NL East for a second-straight year. In their quest for a third, there’s surely more than a little remorse that they weren’t able to hang onto 3B Josh Donaldson after a very successful one-year deal in 2019, but they took that same short-term approach with a couple of potentially impactful players. OF Marchell Ozuna on a one-year, $18 million deal was an excellent snag (leaving aside commentary on the qualifying offer that made him available at that price), and he’ll at least assuage the loss of Donaldson from the lineup a bit.
SP Cole Hamels on the exact same terms as Ozuna was another solid move, as Hamels not only had an excellent first half in 2019 before dealing with injuries, but he’s also an excellent sensei for all those young Atlantan pitchers. The three-year, $40 million deal to RP Will Smith, was another move I’m fond of. And, last but not least, I’m not going to argue with a minor-league deal for Felix Hernandez, y’all. Did the Braves do enough? It’s a tough division and Atlanta may regret not shelling out big money for further reinforcements, but they have a strong farm system and they certainly look like they’re going to contend again in 2020.
The Marlins are the only team in the division that clearly has no aspirations for 2020, one without much major league talent to trade after much past fire-selling. Nobody was really expecting much to happen this offseason, but they still managed some moves of note. IF Jonathan Villar was coming off a career-best season by WAR in 2019 in Baltimore and the Fish acquired his walk-year services for LHP prospect Easton Lucas. It’s weird that he ended up in Miami rather than with a contender, but it’s not hard to see a 4-ish WAR position player ending up on the move midseason and netting a better prospect than the one Miami gave up. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least baseball will be a little more watchable in 2020 for Marlins fans.
The other moves Miami made were less surprising, as they simply shelled out some cash for veterans that they can potentially shop come the trade deadline. 1B Jesús Aguilar had a rough year in 2019, but was a 3 WAR player in the season prior, and OF Corey Dickerson was pretty much in the same boat. Claiming the latter on waivers from the Rays and the former on a two-year, $17.5 million deal are precisely the kind of moves that a rebuilding team should be making. RP Brandon Kintzler on a one-year, $3.25 million deal? More of the same. It almost pains me to say it, given how much I love to rage-write about Miami, but this was actually a pretty solid offseason, one that makes them far more watchable and provides some trade-bait and all it cost them was some bucks.
New York Mets
The Mets’ offseason did not get off to a very great start, what with the loss of SP Zack Wheeler to a division rival in Philadelphia and the fact that they hired Carlos Beltrán right before Trashcangate took wings. But the Mets actually handled the adversity pretty well, shockingly enough. The immediate firing of Beltrán was a good look, and his replacement, Luis Rojas, is a member of the Alou family and, by all accounts, generally a good dude.
The loss of Wheeler will be far more apparent on the field, though. While the additions of one SP Michael Wacha (one-year, $3 million) and one SP Rick Porcello (one-year, $10 million) certainly do not add up to one Wheeler, they provide a couple of veteran options to pick up at least some of the slack. My personal favorite Mets move was the one-year, $10.5 million (plus options) deal to RP Dellin Betances. Betances lost basically all of his 2019, but he was one of the best relief options in MLB for the five prior years. He has a lot of mileage on his arm, but it’s a worthwhile gamble for the Mets in the hopes of shoring up a bullpen that was pretty damn awful last season. Now, if only the Wilpon’s sale of the team would have gone through, Mets fans would truly have had an offseason to celebrate.
Moving onto the team that stole Wheeler from the Mets on a five-year, $118 deal, Philly needed another top-level arm to complement Aaron Nola and some combination of the other pitchers in their pantry. Wheeler wasn’t the marquee pitcher this offseason that Cole or Strasburg were, but he still ranked fifth on my top free agents list, and provides the Phillies with exactly what they need (health permitting) in terms of boosting the top of their rotation.
The only other big player move this winter was snagging SS Didi Gregorious from the Yankees on a one-year, $14 million deal that’s pretty hard to argue against unless you’re a Yanks fan who wanted him back. He’ll bump Jean Segura to second and upgrade their defense at short, not to mention provide the Phillies with some much needed left-handed at-bats. It wasn’t a perfect offseason, as they could certainly use some bullpen help. Also, there were lots of non-player moves of import this offseason, and you have to appreciate the Phillies’ bringing in Joe Girardi to try and correct the course after the Gabe Kapler Experience didn’t turn out quite as well as they hoped.
Closing out the division, we arrive at the 2019 champs. While they weren’t able to hang onto their best position player in Anthony Rendon, they at least held onto the veritable heart and soul of their team by re-signing SP Stephen Strasburg. As I said at the time of the signing, it was quite the contract, but a potential overpay the price you pay for some feels, and seeing Strasburg spend the rest of his career with the team that drafted him after being an essential part of their first championship certainly scores big in the feels category. In terms of slightly less notable re-signings, 1B Howie Kendrick, IF Ryan Zimmerman and utility IF Asdrúbal Cabrera will all be coming back for a year and C Yan Gomes returns for two. We’ve heard the story before. Team wins World Series, brings folks back, team misses postseason.
Washington, however, wasn’t that team, because they kept signing folks like an underrated RP Will Harris, OF Eric Thames and IF Starlin Castro. Will all those players make up for losing Rendon? Probably not, but it was always going to be tough to hang on to him and Strasburg. I probably would have gone the other way, but Washington’s pitching is the best on paper in the division in 2020 and they may have upgraded enough elsewhere to give themselves another shot this year.
Like so many other clubs during this particular winter of our discontent, the Cubs have had their fair share of off-the-field stuff. They fired manager Joe Maddon after a rough finish to the 2019 season, but it’s hard to argue with bringing in David Ross to take his place. There was also the fact that 3B Kris Bryant lost his service time manipulation grievance. For better or worse (read: worse), he’s now under Chicago’s control for the next two seasons, and the stove has at least temporarily cooled in regard to the Cubs’ pulling a Mookie Betts on their best player.
While the Cubs have “money issues” (we don’t do footnotes here at RealGM, but if we did I would definitely have a long one to insert here), the moves they made weren’t exactly inspiring. They snagged a trio of RPs on modest deals in Jeremy Jeffress, Dan Winkler and Ryan Tepera and did the same with OF Steven Souza Jr., who could end up a steal at $1 million, if he can just stay healthy. While they’re working within the confines of some recent rough signings and the do need to extend members of their core, there’s just not much to get excited about in the moves they made. But at least they brought in Ross and didn’t trade Bryant.
If the Cubs pretty much sat tight, the same can’t be said for the Reds, who came out of the gates swinging when they signed 3B Mike Moustakas to a four-year, $64 million deal. I was a fan of it then, and I’m a fan of it now. A team in need of a proven slugger paying market-ish price for a proven slugger who’s gotten screwed by free agency is A-OK by moi. OF Nick Castellanos got the same deal as Moose, and he gives the Reds another potent bat in a lineup that was woefully short on them in 2019, even if both those players come with defensive caveats. A three-year, $21 million deal to veteran Japanese CF Shogo Akiyama rounds out the offensive side of the ledger.>
I’m pretty clearly in the apologist camp when it comes to SP Wade Miley at this point, given my affinity for Houston’s signing him last offseason, and I feel the same way about the Reds adding him to an already strong rotation this time around. The Reds won 75 games and finished 4th in the division last year, but they’re definitely the most improved in the Central this offseason. The competition is still extremely tough in these parts, but all Cincinnati’s moves absolutely check out.
The biggest move of the Brewers’ offseason wasn’t adding anyone new, but inking their best player to an extension. It was just made official as I’m writing this, but Milwaukee has made sure OF Christian Yelich will remain in town until at least 2028 at $28 million a year, with an option for 2029. Given that we were just talking about the extremely rocky Cubs-Bryant relationship and the now defunct Boston-Betts one, it’s more than a little heartening to see a much smaller market team shell out for one of the best players in baseball. The signing merits many, many more words than we can afford it here, perhaps a treatise on baseball economics, but it suffices to say that it was, in this writer’s opinion, a very good move.
Which is important, because when I started on this article a couple of days ago, things looked very different. Milwaukee lost Moustakas to a division rival and C Yasmani Grandal, too. They made a ton of relatively low-key moves this offseason, signing many position players (Justin Smoak, Avisaíl García, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko) and pitchers (Brett Anderson, David Phelps, Ryon Healy, Alex Claudio) and also acquired IF Luis Urías from the Padres. While most of their free agent signings weren’t particularly sexy, they definitely grade out better after the Yelich extension, even if he won’t be a new face on the field next year.
The Pirates have a tough road to hoe. It wasn’t that long ago that they were attending Wild Card games on the basis of a farm system that cranked out enough talent to keep a non-spending team in the mix. But they never supplemented that talent and now they’ve traded away OF Starling Marte for a couple of 19-year-old prospects in RHP Brennan Malone and SS Liover Peguero. Pretty much all remnants of the sort-of-good-old days are gone. They cleaned front-of-the-house and are in full rebuild mode with new GM Ben Cherington at the helm.
It’s not going to be pretty and it’s not fair to be too hard on them in terms of what they did this in this particular offseason. Them’s the breaks when you live in a really tough division and you “can’t” spend money. If only they’d figured out how to come up with Milwaukee-type money back when they had something going on. But we’re grading the past winter, so they basically get an “incomplete,” which we’ll turn into a middle-of-the-road grade. Good luck, Bucs fans.
St. Louis Cardinals
The cornerstone move of the Central Division champs was a six-player trade with the Rays that brought a super promising LHP prospect into town in the form of Matthew Liberatore. In typical Cardinals fashion, they dealt from a position of strength to procure a promising young prospect who will inevitably turn into an MLB regular, because: Cardinals. Other than that, though, the offseason was pretty meh. They lost Ozuna, brought back SP Adam Wainwright and signed RP Kwang-Hyun Kim. But that’s about it.
There’s a couple of ways of thinking about the Cardinals’ offseason: (1) They won the division last season and they didn’t really need to do much, or (2) they put up a Liberatore-shaped cornerstone and then just kind of forgot about the rest of the building. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. But their grade is definitely going to be in the middle, too.
Arizona had a very successful, under-the-radar offseason, maybe one of better low-key jams in either league. SP Madison Bumgarner wasn’t the best pitcher on the market, but the D-Backs got him on a deal that is almost certainly an underpay. He rounds out an extremely compelling rotation. They also acquired Marte from the Pirates and managed to hold onto their best prospects, and then made another move to improve in the outfield by signing Kole Calhoun.
They’re certainly not going to be able to compete with the Dodgers, but that’s true of every team in the division. And they almost certainly did enough to stay in the mix. That’s pretty impressive, given all the talent that they’ve shed recently and, for that, they earn higher marks than most of the other teams in the West.
As someone who moved to Denver this past summer, I really, really wish I had some positive vibes to share in this portion of the article. I love baseball and I will, therefore, happily attend some Rockies games, but there’s no mincing words here. In any offseason where MLB wasn’t crumbling under the weight of a ridiculous scandal and a high-profile team like the Red Sox trading away a legitimate superstar, we’d be paying a lot more attention to the abysmal winter the Rockies have had. Colorado did basically nothing all winter, except for alienating their own legitimate superstar in 3B Nolan Arenado. There’s nothing like signing a player to a long-term extension under the auspices that you might actually try and contend, then firing up the trade talks and preceding to sit on on your hands. I know that I’ve written two paragraphs about every other team so far, but we’re leaving it at one for Colorado.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Most of the winter was pretty rough for Dodger fans and players. The fact that they recently lost back-to-back World Series to a team of confirmed cheaters and a team of likely soon-to-be-confirmed cheaters just plain sucks. And this is coming from Houston-born, ex-denizen of San Francisco who absolutely participated in various chants that were not particularly kind towards the Dodgers and now feels pretty bad for them. But there is at least a silver lining.
In the biggest fleecing of the offseason, the Dodgers basically stole Betts from the Red Sox and added SP David Price for good measure. They made a solid gamble in their signing of RP Blake Treinen. The losses (like SP Hyun-Jin Ryu) pale in comparison to what they added and they’re now early favorites for not only another pennant, but also to win the whole damn thing. Baseball is going to baseball, but here’s to hoping that, if they don’t go all the way, they at least lose fair and square.
San Diego Padres
San Diego tried and failed to take advantage of Boston’s dubious desire to deal Betts, hoping to take advantage of their prospect depth and get themselves into a position to compete with Los Angeles. That ship not only sailed, but it sailed about 120 miles up the coast to the exact team they were hoping to challenge for the throne. Needless to say, it’s a rough time to try and contend in the NL West.
But San Diego did make a variety of other moves this offseason, like a four-year, $34 million deal to Drew Pomeranz, which was either extremely prescient or extremely stupid. Only time will tell. They were active on the trade market as well, adding a whole mess of position players, headlined by deals for OF Tommy Pham and INF Jurickson Profar. Were the Padres in any other division in the National League, these are the sort of moves that we’d be romanticizing. But, as we’ve said, it’s a tough division.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants made one of my favorite rebuilding trades of the entire offseason when they simply ate Zack Cozart’s salary for the coming season in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick from the Angels in SS Will Wilson. With the endemic prospect hoarding in MLB these days and the fact that rebuilding teams are loathe to spend actual money when they’re doing said rebuilding, it’s refreshing to see a team just plunk down some dollars and see what happens with a promising prospect. Sure, the Angels had to clear salary in preparation for their big signing, but San Francisco took advantage.
Losing Bumgarner to a division rival stings, but at least he didn’t end up with Dodgers and, given the current stage of the rebuild, it would’ve been a bad call for them to overspend to hang onto a hometown hero, even if it would’ve provided the feels we mentioned upstream. They did however lean into the feels elsewhere, bringing back an old favorite in Hunter Pence. They also negated a bit of that pleasantness in bringing in Gabe Kapler to replace Bruce Bochy, but at least the very limited roster moves they made with their very currently limited resources were solid.