Times were much simpler when I wrote the National League version of this article. Since then, the world has flipped upside down, and the same is true of baseball. We don’t know yet whether a single game will be played this season or not, but at least some progress has been made in terms of providing support for minor leaguers. The latest news seems to be that MLB is attempting to arrange for a shortened season to be played in empty spring training stadiums and, hoo boy, that will not be an easy thing to arrange when we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And the longer it takes to sort out, the shorter the season, which means the potential for truly glorious small sample size chaos.
But we’ll come back to that. Right now, we need to return to a time when we could worry about roster moves instead of ventilator counts and flat curveballs instead of flattening the curve. It’s time to finish what we started before the proverbial poop hit the fan. We don’t want to deprive the American League of their due, so let us lavish praise on the teams that navigated the offseason deftly and have some fun at the expense of the teams that botched it. Also, I may or may not have already been working on this write up when the world started burning.You be the judge.
And, to be clear, we’re grading teams as if this virus nonsense never happened, even if we can’t avoid talking about it. We don’t yet know the details on how MLB is dealing with all aspects of this, but there will certainly be some interesting developments with far reaching implications. The Mookie Betts trade is a prime example: If the season is canceled, did Los Angeles trade for him only to never see him dress up in Dodger Blue? Did Boston fight to get under the luxury tax, only now it doesn’t matter because everyone’s luxury tax clock is being reset? Did they actually win by trading Betts if the season is canceled? Nope, that’s a hot mess, and we’re going to assess grades just as we did for the NL, which means Boston’s offseason sucked.
I didn’t plan ahead for this article when I wrote the NL version back in the before-COVID-times, doing things alphabetically and starting in the East. If you’re looking for excitement, you best move on down the list. The Orioles are in full tank mode and, this offseason, I think they might have leaned a little far into the tank and fell in. I’d toss ‘em a life jacket, but I honestly don’t think they’d take it.
Last season, O’s position players came in 28th in MLB by fWAR with 6.4. They traded the final season of their most valuable position player, IF Jonathan VIillar, who was worth 4.0 fWAR of that total, to the team in 29th place on that list (the Marlins, no less) in exchange for a single LHP prospect Easton Lucas. Last season, O’s pitchers came in 30th in MLB by fWAR with 5.5. They traded the final two seasons of their second most valuable pitcher, SP Dylan Bundy, who was worth 2.5 fWAR of that total, to the Angels for a quartet of pitching prospects. In the latter trade they got quantity, at least, but it’s not really clear why they didn’t wait out the market on the former. It’s way too early to say whether this’ll all work out, but it’s not too early to say that the Orioles aren’t going to be a pleasant watch if baseball does get played this season.
Boston Red Sox
Back when it was a sign-stealing scandal threatening the future of MLB and the immediate prospects of this very team, rather than a virus threatening lives and the baseball season, it was actually impressive that Boston was able to distract us from all that noise. Yet that’s just what they did when they traded away their best player in OF Mookie Betts. I already wrote a bunch of words about that, wherein I tried to be sympathetic to the choppy monetary waters that the Red Sox had to navigate. That all remains true in terms of the deal they made, but it still stinks when one of the richest teams in baseball who also happened to win the World Series way, way back in 2018 can’t keep the face of their franchise around.
There wasn’t that much to talk about apart from the Betts trade, either. They re-signed 1B Mitch Moreland and signed 2B José Peraza on matching one-year, $3 million deals and brought in LHP Martín Pérez on a one-year, $6 million pact. The biggest non-Betts news was off the field. Manager Alex Cora, who played a major role in Houston’s sign stealing, was let go. GM Dave Dombrowski is gone. The results of MLB’s investigation into Boston’s sign stealing in 2018 and likely punishment are on hold for now because of the pandemic, but they’ll come eventually. For now, we can just look at the moves Boston made this past winter and wonder what might’ve been, I guess.
New York Yankees
While their archnemesis over in Boston was worrying about maintaining financial flexibility and trading away their best player, the Yankees did more or less what we always expected them to do and signed the best available free agent in SP Gerrit Cole. They didn’t really do much else other than re-sign OF Brett Gardner on a one-year, $12.5 million deal. But they didn’t really need to do that much other than grab one Cole from the undisputed ace store. That, and stay healthy. It’s still insane that the Yankees won 103 games last year despite suffering multitudes upon multitudes of injuries.
Late winter was not kind on that front, with pitchers James Paxton, Luis Severino and Zack Britton, and position players Aaron Judges, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton all dealing with injuries, but that doesn’t really affect how we should grade their offseason as a whole, though. It’s not as if the Yankees (or any team) could have really done much over the offseason to prepare for yet another litany of injuries in spring training, and the Yankees have tons of depth in their lineup, as evidenced by their 2019 dominance against all odds. Assuming that there is actually baseball this season, all the extra time will give everyone time to rest up and the Death Star should be fully functional if and when baseball actually happens.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays, who were one win away from the ALCS last postseason, approached this offseason with what can only be described as Tampamodus operandi, rocking their usual approach of (1) attempting to field a competitive squad in a division where they will be far outspent, and (2) maintaining the steady stream of prospect talent that is the only reason the first feat can be pulled off.
Sending OF Tommy Phan to the Padres in exchange for OF Hunter Renfroe and a top SS prospect in Xavier Edwards? Check. Sending out a well-regarded LHP prospect in Matthew Liberatore in a six-player blockbuster that brought back DH José Martínez and an intriguing OF prospect in Randy Arozarena. Check. Truly analyzing the Rays offseason moves in this, or any, offseason is far more work than we can get into a quick recap, but I can’t find any reason to fault any of their moves. After all, there’s a reason that other organizations won’t stop raiding their braintrust, and the same was true this offseason, with former Vice President of Baseball Operations James Click now in Houston and Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom heading to Boston.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto’s actions this offseason demonstrate that they basically had one goal: improve the starting pitching. They signed Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark to respective four-year, $80 million and two-year, $24 million deals. The former had issues down the stretch but was MLB’s ERA leader in 2019 and has been extremely valuable when healthy. The latter has been much more average-ish and less sexy, but that’s important to a team that relied on 21 different pitchers to start games last season.
They also added Japanese SP Shun Yamaguchi on a two-year, $6 million deal and traded 1B Chad Spanberger for SP Chase Anderson. They may very well have a respectable rotation and they definitely have a whole bunch of young players who could change the fate of the team. They were never likely to challenge the Yankees this season, but they are a much better team now than they were last fall, and they did it relatively cheaply without mortgaging their future.
Chicago White Sox
C Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $73 million deal was one of my favorites of the whole offseason. It was the first major deal of the offseason and it came early. It was an absolutely reasonable deal and set the tone for the absolute madness that followed. It also gave a proper contract to a player who’d gotten screwed by modern free agency. But, in terms of this article, it signaled that the White Sox were truly ready to emerge from their rebuilding cocoon. Then they went and signed a whole bunch of other folks.
A three-year, $55 million deal to Dallas Keuchel, another player who’d suffered the slings and arrows of being a free agent in this day and age. One-year pacts with DH Edwin Encarnación ($12 million), SP Gio Gonzalez ($5 million) and Steve Cishek ($6 million), grizzled veterans who can help a team in need. These are the moves that a team like the White Sox should be making. They need the young players to do their part and break out, but everything is ready and in place for that situation, should it arise.
The last year wasn’t particularly kind to Cleveland fans. Their trifecta of division titles came to an end, they missed the postseason completely and the trade rumors regarding SP Corey Kluber finally came to fruition, sending him to the Rangers in exchange for OF Delino DeShields Jr. and RHP prospect Emmanuel Clase. While I would hear arguments that the Kluber trade makes a modicum of sense in the long term, given Kluber-related health questions, it certainly didn’t bode well for the 2020 season, as Kluber is statistically more likely to be a bigger piece of a contending team right now than Clase.
Their only major free agent acquisition of the offseason was signing 2B César Hernández to replace the outgoing Jason Kipnis. Would that have been enough to give the Indians a chance in a division where the Twins look like the early favorite based on their breakout season last year and the fact that they reloaded this offseason? What about the fact that Chicago looks like they could surprise? Given that the Francisco Lindor rumors have been a-ragin’ for a while now, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see another Indian fan favorite on the move come the trade deadline, should there be one.
Detroit seemingly didn’t enjoy all the home runs they suffered at the hands of the 307 HR hitting, MLB-record setting divisional foes in Minnesota, so they set out to dinger-up this offseason, signing former Twins 1B C.J. Cron and 2B Jonathan Schoop on matching one-year, $6.1 million deals. Their collective 48 home runs should certainly do wonders for a Tigers team that placed 29th in MLB with 146. It certainly won’t be enough to move the needle for a team that lost 114 games last year and is still firmly in rebuilding mode, but at least they did something to make the on-field product a bit more palatable and potentially provide something to offer in a minor return (again) if there’s a trade deadline.
The other, lesser one-year deals to C Austin Romine and SP Iván Nova are also totally fine. They’ve stripped the club of everything that other teams might want that they’re willing to part with and now fans are just going to have to do that whole trust the process thing. There’s not too much to hate about Detroit’s offseason, but also not too much to love, either. It was just kind of there.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals on the other hand, just sat pat. They re-signed OF Alex Gordan on a one-year, $4 million deal and brought back an old friend in RP Greg Holland a minor league deal. The roster move of their offseason with the biggest potential was 3B Maikel Franco for one year at $3 million, but that might be damning with faint praise because they probably could have done a bit more. The biggest non-roster move was an ownership shift and the hiring of Mike Matheny to take over the management reins. No particular bones to pick with the latter, and we’ll just have to see where the tank takes them. Nothing sexy here, no sexy grade to match and not much words to spare.
Closing out the Central, we have the reigning division champs and the reigning home run leaders. They lost some pop in Cron and Schoop and their 48 home runs, but they more than made up for it by signing 3B Josh Donaldson, who had 37 dingers all by himself, to a four-year, $92 million deal. Apart from his injury-shortened 2017 and 2018 seasons, the former MVP has been one of the best players in baseball since 2013. While that was the centerpiece of their offseason, there was a bunch more going on.
We shan’t try to parse the failed three-way Betts trade here, but the Twins ultimately got their man, RHP Kenta Maeda, from the Dodgers directly, in exchange for an OF and RHP prospect, with Minnesota also receiving cash and C prospect back in the deal. It was complicated, but the Twins added some pitching depth. Starters Homer Bailey and Rich Hill and relievers Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard did more of the same. Minnesota saw their window slam open in 2019 and the moves they made this past winter showed they were going to do their damnedest to keep it from shutting. I, for one, have absolutely no bones to pick with how the Twins set themselves to build on their recent success over the offseason.
Ummm, yeah. It was an unspeakably bad offseason for the Astros, who have gained some pretty special nicknames (e.g., Disastros, Asterisks) thanks to their propensity for can banging. If the 2020 season does eventually happen, there will be beanballs and boos, and there is no singular team in sports who would benefit from spectatorless games more than Houston. But there’s on-the-field stuff to talk about, too.
They lost a trifecta of important pitchers. We already talked about Cole, but they also lost one of their best relievers in Will Harris and a valuable, lf less exciting starter, in Wade Miley. While they didn’t add much, that’s because they didn’t really need to. On paper, they’re still one of the best teams in baseball even with that pitcher turnover, even if they’re a worse team than they were in 2019. It’s quaint to think about a sign stealing scandal being a big deal in light of everything else going on in the world right now. But let us not forget how much everyone hated the Astros before the world went to hell. We all know where this is going....
Los Angeles Angels
Houston falling apart at the seams may have had at least a little bit of upside, because they finally got Mike Trout "fired up" on camera, talking smack and cracking jokes, even if it was still very much on-brand for Trout. While he had every right to be low-key pissed at his division rivals, he also has every right to be at least a little chipper about how the offseason went in Anaheim. The centerpiece of the Angels’ winter was clearly the seven-year, $245 million deal to 3B Anthony Rendon that showed that the offseason was inebriated beyond belief. After their attempts to pick up much needed frontline starting pitching didn’t pan out, they pivoted and grabbed the best position player available, and the top part of the Angels’ lineup will be absolutely terrifying whenever baseball comes back.
The only caveat is that they weren’t able to pick up any of that frontline starting pitching and had to settle for nabbing Bundy from the O’s and signing RHP Julio Teheran to a one-year, $9 million deal. That’s a far cry from the Cole they were targeting, but, oof, that top of Anaheim’s lineup is stacked now. While it’s good to see the Halos spending some money to field a competitive team around Trout, however they can do it, they also made one of the weirdest non-Betts moves of the offseason, sending Zack Cozart and his $12 million salary to the Giants in exchange for a first-round pick. It was an unsightly blemish on an otherwise refreshingly solid offseason that also saw them add Joe Maddon as a manager.
This was a relatively quiet offseason compared to those we’ve gotten used to with Billy Beane’s A’s. While there’s usually an abundance of low-key tinkering going on, there were really only a few roster moves of note. They shipped out IF Jurickson Profar, who they creatively acquired last off season, to the Padres in exchange for a couple of prospects. They also acquired IF Tony Kemp from the Cubs and signed LHP reliever Jake Diekman for two years and $7.5 million.
But, that was, well, it. Whether they needed to make any changes is another question. They won 97 games in the last couple seasons, securing back-to-back Wild Card appearances. Sure, they lost both those games, but, as we know, anything can happen in a single game. They still have a Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Matt Olson infield whose talent can’t be argued with, and there are plenty of promising young pitchers. But it was certainly weird to see so little lineup tinkering from a team that’s a master of doing so and we can’t really score them too highly because, should a season ever get played, it’s a lot harder to imagine them snagging out another Wild Card appearance with the improved Angels and still-scary Astros.
Moving on to another team that had a comparatively quiet winter, Jerry Dipoto has apparently decided that it’s time to shed the Trader Jerry moniker. Sure, he didn’t have a lot of assets to work with thanks to his prior wheeling and dealing and, sure, Seattle is leaning in to the rebuild, but it still feels weird that they didn’t do, well, much of anything.
If your team just signs a few lesser relievers to short deals and the biggest deal they made over the offseason was an extension for your rookie 1B (Evan White), I wouldn’t believe that your team was managed by Trader Jerry. The farm system is in better shape and all that, but I think they could’ve shelled out a few more bucks in the veteran department. Although I guess the decision has been made to go full tank.
The Rangers were in an interesting spot before our collective world was turned upside down. They’ve got a new stadium that is supposed to open this year, one for which Arlington taxpayers are shelling out half a billion dollars. Texas had netted some relatively surprising postseason appearances but had failed to replicate the success that they had nearly a decade ago when they went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011. Needless to say, they needed to gin up some excitement for the occasion. When they failed to land Rendon and he headed to a division rival, they opted to go a familiar route.
Veteran starters have been having something of a heyday in Texas as of late, with both Mike Minor and Lance Lynn putting up the best numbers of their careers after moving there. So, I suppose it shouldn’t be entirely surprising that Texas opted to hope they could keep the ball rolling, first signing Kyle Gibson to a three-year, $28 million deal, then grabbing Jordan Lyles for two years and $16 million and, lastly, trading for Corey Kluber. The latter was a solid move and there’s some upside to all of them. It probably won’t be enough to win them a division title, but it might be enough for a Wild Card, and it would certainly be enough to get some butts in seats if that ever happens.