Which MLB teams improved, which took step back?
If we’ve learned anything from “winning the offseason,” it’s that most of the time it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Things don’t always go according to plan. Everyone loved the Nationals and Mariners last year, and neither got a sniff at the postseason.
The consensus was that the Padres did a good job last winter, and they were a bust. The White Sox got kudos for their acquisitions, and they finished below .500.
On the flip side, the Mets weren’t wowing anyone at this time a year ago, and they corrected their offensive issues at midseason. The Blue Jays were going to be disappointing again, but they had an epiphany, acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at the deadline, and created the most excitement in Toronto since 1993. Who thought the Twins were going to be a contending team? The Astros?
For the upcoming season, the World Series champion Royals are projected at 79 wins by FanGraphs. Really?
So, while we’re not quite ready to project or predict, here are the teams that improved the most this offseason and the ones that may have taken a step back:
1. RED SOX — With the signing of Price and the trade for Craig Kimbrel, they dramatically improved the front and back of their pitching staff. Whether the middle is good enough remains to be seen. Dave Dombrowski also made a significant signing in Chris Young, who may turn out to be more than a platoon player in the offensively challenged outfield. FanGraphs projects them at 92 wins.
2. TIGERS — The Tigers are going for it once again, this time with Al Avila and not Dombrowski at the switch. The acquisition of Justin Upton gives them an elite lineup, provided Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez stay healthy. J.D. Martinez is a bona fide power hitter. The signing of Jordan Zimmermann gives the Tigers a bulldog No. 1 or 2 starter. They are banking that Justin Verlander’s late-season success carries over. The bullpen, always an Achilles’ heel, improved with Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Lowe added to the mix.
3. CUBS — This was already a 97-win team, but mix in John Lackey and veteran hitters Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, and the Cubs can certainly say they’ve separated themselves from the Cardinals and Pirates.
4. WHITE SOX — They probably need one more hitter, but the trades for third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie should improve this lineup. The White Sox managed to hold on to their pitching and should be able to compete much better.
5. METS — The Mets feel good about offseason acquisitions Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker up the middle, and then the late re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes to a three-year, $75 million deal ($27.5 million in the first year) with an opt-out after one season.
6. GIANTS — They are coming off one of their usual down seasons in an odd-numbered year. They have won the last three World Series in even-numbered years, and added Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to the rotation and Denard Span to the lineup. They could use another power bat, but the Giants are already seen as the team to beat in the tough National League West.
7. DIAMONDBACKS — This is a team that must be taken seriously, adding Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to the front of the rotation. They also have a strong young lineup.
8. MARINERS — Jerry Dipoto went to work fast, reworking the roster by adding Nori Aoki in the outfield, Adam Lind at first base, Chris Iannetta behind the plate, Wade Miley and Nathan Karns to the rotation, and Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen.
9. ASTROS — The Astros added young closer Ken Giles, which should help their very good bullpen and take pressure off the starters.
10. YANKEES — The addition of Aroldis Chapman gives them a shutdown bullpen from the seventh inning on. They also got younger by adding Starlin Castro at second base, and Aaron Hicks replaced Young as the fourth outfielder.
11. NATIONALS — Losing Zimmermann was not a positive, but they helped the offense by signing Daniel Murphy and trading for Ben Revere. They lost out on Cespedes but still have enough offense and pitching to win.
12. MARLINS — You have to like what they’ve done in adding Wei-Yin Chen as the No. 2 starter behind Jose Fernandez. A healthy Giancarlo Stanton and a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna could be huge. But the biggest improvements could be at manager (Don Mattingly) and hitting coach (Barry Bonds).
A STEP BACK
1. BLUE JAYS — Any time you lose Price, you lose, right? The Jays don’t see it that way. They may make up for some of it with a full season of Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez shifting to the rotation. They also lost Mark Buehrle, who was very good last season.
2. DODGERS — Signing Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir to free agent deals can’t make up for losing Greinke to the rival Diamondbacks. The Dodgers still have an unsettled outfield situation, and re-signing an aging Chase Utley wasn’t impressive.
3. ROYALS — The World Series champions did well in re-signing Alex Gordon, but Ian Kennedy replacing Cueto is questionable. They also lost Zobrist, who was an important cog in the offense. They’re looking for one more bullpen piece.
4. PIRATES — They lost A.J. Burnett (retirement) and Walker. They let Pedro Alvarez go. They were a 98-win team a year ago, but we wonder if they can stay at that level.
5. ORIOLES — They did a great job keeping their own players, including Darren O’Day, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters. They added Korean sensation Hyun-soo Kim for left field, but Chen, who won 16 games a year ago and was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher, is a huge loss.
6. CARDINALS — There aren’t many who believe losing Lackey and Heyward is a good thing, though Adam Wainwright comes back for a full season.
7. ANGELS — While they acquired all-world shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Braves and created a left-field platoon of Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, they needed one more big bat and didn’t get it. They could have used another starter, as well.
Time was right for Anthopoulos
Alex Anthopoulos turned down a five-year contract extension from the Blue Jays at a time when he was on top of the world. He could have stayed in Toronto as new president/CEO Mark Shapiro’s general manager, but he felt it wouldn’t have worked. Anthopoulos said at Thursday’s Boston Baseball Writers dinner that he would have stayed in Toronto to honor his contract if it had time remaining, but his deal expired Dec. 31.
Anthopoulos took the chance that he would get another job. And guess what. A flood of offers came in, even one from an NHL team. In the end, he became vice president of baseball operations with the Dodgers, joining a crowded but talented front office.
“I’m just trying to get up to speed,” said the 38-year-old Anthopoulos. “I was [in Los Angeles] last week for four days. Probably spend the next two weeks up there. I hadn’t changed organizations in a long time, so it’s been an adjustment, but I’m moving my family to LA because I feel it’s a place I’m going to be for a long time.”
A Montreal native, Anthopoulos led the Jays last year to their most exciting season since 1993, the last time they won the World Series. He obtained David Price and Troy Tulowitzki in midseason trades that transformed the team, dealing away some of Toronto’s top prospects to get it done. Ownership told him to go for it, and he did.
“I think they can win the division,” Anthopoulos said. “The Red Sox have done a great job in the offseason, but I think the aspect of the team that was underrated was how much the defense improved.
“For the longest time, Jose Bautista was injured with a bad shoulder and he had to DH, so we had [Edwin] Encarnacion at first, Danny Valencia and Chris Collabello at the corner outfield spots, [Jose] Reyes at shortstop. I think we had four players who weren’t playing their best positions.
“I had our analytics department do a study on our team and it was amazing how many one-run losses we had earlier in the year, and that was because we weren’t making plays. Once we got Tulo, and Jose was able to get back to the outfield, things really turned for us.
“Don’t get me wrong, Price was a huge addition for us. What he did was amazing, and he’s going to be a big plus for the Red Sox, but I think the Blue Jays are going to be really good. They have a good pitching staff. They’ll have Marcus [Stroman] back for the entire season.
“Listen, I have a lot of friends there and I’ll be rooting for them.”
Anthopoulos said he and Shapiro have a good relationship, despite reports to the contrary.
“I was treated tremendously by Mark and the ownership,” he said. “Turning down the contract is on me. I take ownership of that.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was the only major leaguer to play all 162 games last season.
2. Things that don’t excite me anymore: reading that Pablo Sandoval has lost 20-22 pounds and Hanley Ramirez is down about 15 pounds, according to John Farrell. Beats the alternative, I guess.
3. If Yoan Moncada doesn’t become an All-Star player, I’ll be shocked. Just don’t know at what position. Not sure he’s a major league second baseman.
4. When I asked Orioles executive vice president/baseball operations Dan Duquette whether he can add a starting pitcher, he said, “I’m trying.” And I’ll bet he is. Don’t bet against Duquette pulling off a deal before spring training.
5. Unless Blake Swihart really improves his defense, Christian Vazquez has a great chance of taking the Red Sox’ No. 1 job at catcher once he gets a little playing time at Pawtucket and tests his Tommy John-repaired elbow.
6. Looks like Don Orsillo’s workload in San Diego will be 65 TV games and 35 radio games for the first year, before going to TV full time in 2017 after Dick Enberg retires. Orsillo received the Good Guy Award at the Baseball Writers dinner.
7. Guess we can’t refer to the July 31 trade deadline anymore. It was changed to Aug. 1 at the owners’ meetings.
Updates on nine
1. Juan Uribe, INF, free agent — He has become a playoff-caliber-team good-luck charm. Uribe can still contribute and could be a tack-on to a roster before spring training. He makes sense for the Indians and Angels, who could use reinforcements at third base.
2. Doug Fister, RHP, free agent — The Astros have been exploring the possibility of Fister to round out their rotation. They’ve also discussed Yovani Gallardo, Alfredo Simon, and Kyle Lohse. The Astros would like to add a starter but are looking for a bargain at this stage.
3. Howie Kendrick, 2B, free agent — He remains a perfect fit for Arizona, but the Diamondbacks won’t give up another draft pick to sign him. It will be interesting to see where he ends up. The White Sox are a possibility. Here’s a guy who hit .295 for the Dodgers last season, and has a .293 career average, tremendous consistency. There’s the possibility that Kendrick could be viewed as a left fielder, a position he’s willing to play. But the biggest obstacle is that he’s tied to draft pick compensation.
4. Joel Hanrahan, reliever, free agent — The former Pirates and Red Sox closer continues to rehab for another comeback bid. Hanrahan is said to be doing well, and could be ready to go during spring training. Now 34, he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013 with the Red Sox. He was signed by Dave Dombrowski’s Tigers in 2014, but had to undergo a second Tommy John procedure.
5. Ian Desmond, INF, free agent — The White Sox could have a spot for him at shortstop. Desmond could even be a fit for the Indians at third base. He had an off year in 2015, but there are many who believe he’ll rebound to be a power-hitting infielder.
6. Austin Jackson, OF, free agent — Jackson remains one of the better outfield choices left out there. He’s getting attention from a few teams, including the Brewers, Angels, Rangers, and Cubs.
7. Bobby Parnell, RHP, free agent — Some scouts have expressed surprise that Parnell hasn’t been signed. “He’s someone a team could easily take a chance on and hope he regains that power he once had,” said an American League scout. Parnell has had a rough couple of years, with Tommy John surgery and then ineffectiveness and arm fatigue last summer. He was once a flamethrower, but it appears he’ll have to find his way on a minor league deal and prove himself again.
8. Dae-ho Lee, 1B, free agent — Those who have seen the big South Korean play in Japan think he’s worth a gamble at the major league level. But nobody has taken the plunge on Lee, who is 33 and hit 31 homers in Japan last season. Some estimate his weight at 275-290 pounds. Perhaps a Prince Fielder type? Scouts who have seen him think he has too many holes in his swing that would be exposed in the majors.
9. Mat Latos, RHP, free agent — Latos is one of the better starting pitchers out there, and he has drawn interest from a handful of teams. The issue is that he hasn’t always projected as the best teammate, but at 28 he has won 14 games three times in his career. Latos probably isn’t going to be able to demand a multiyear deal and needs a one-year pillow contract to reestablish his worth.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2015, five teams played 30 games in which they had five hits or fewer. The Yankees and Nationals went 6-24; the Mets and Dodgers went 7-23; yet somehow the Cubs went 13-17.” . . . Happy birthday, Franklin Morales (30), Cory Bailey (45), and Ted Cox (61).
While Dodgers fans have long been mocked for arriving late and leaving early, there’s no denying one thing: they show up. For the third year in a row the Dodgers led the majors in average attendance. And for the second time in three years they also led the majors in road attendance. And historically, the fans have always showed up: the Dodgers have finished first or second in attendance 35 times since moving to LA in 1958.