Spring training has begun, and there are many players wearing brand-new uniforms. Some teams did a great job with this over the winter, and they used their money wisely. They brought in quality talent for a reasonable price. They did not waste needlessly, but they made the moves that they needed to make to be prepared for 2014.
These are the basic criteria that led me to conclude that the following seven teams were the smartest spenders of this past offseason.
I like the pair of signings that the San Francisco Giants made. On one hand, they brought in Michael Morse. He had a difficult season in 2013 and had a hard time getting on the field. However, in 2011 he did hit 31 home runs, and if he could pull out a performance like that, he would be a major bargain.
I also really like the acquisition of Tim Hudson. Last season ended badly for him with a very difficult injury, but he has been a consistent pitcher for a long time. I don’t see why he can’t get back to form. He is a smart pitcher who could do a very good job.
Matt Garza is another piece to what is becoming a pretty solid starting rotation for the Milwaukee Brewers. He will join with Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo, and you have to think that any one of these three could win 15 games next season without much of a problem. If all three of them can pull it off, Milwaukee will be in a much more competitive position than it was last season.
This team has a pretty solid collection of players, and its starting rotation did have issues last season. Even though Garza did not come cheap, I think that it was smart spending. We should see improvement out of Milwaukee this season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks did not make many free-agent signings, although it is worth pointing out the acquisition of Bronson Arroyo. He will add additional depth to their rotation, and he is a veteran on a young staff.
The other major moves that Arizona made were trades. It brought in Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed. Both of these two men are solid players who will fill in problem areas that the Diamondbacks had last season.
One will help them get a lead, and the other one will help them hold onto it at the end of the game. It is also helpful that they did not need to spend very much money to fill in the gaps they had last season.
I know that the Kansas City Royals did not do very much this winter, but I like the two moderately important acquisitions they did make. On one hand, they acquired second baseman Omar Infante. Second base was a major problem for them last season, and outside of Robinson Cano, they got the best run on the market.
Jason Vargas is not outstanding pitcher, but he does provide them with more rotational depth, which is something they could use. They are getting closer to playoff contention, so by making small improvements over what they had, they were smart with their resources.
The Washington Nationals were not very active this winter, but that is the beauty of it. Without spending big money on a free agent, they went and traded for Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers. Even though he presumably fits in the middle of their rotation, he has a career 3.53 ERA in the American League.
By moving to the National League, you can expect that number to drop, and he will only look better than he does right now. His career win-loss record is below .500, but I would not be concerned about that. He doesn’t surrender many runs, and he does his job. This is a very smart move by the Nationals without having to spend very much money.
I keep talking about the Houston Astros in every article I write, and while I don’t think that they're any type of playoff contender right now, they made some smart acquisitions. Dexter Fowler is an affordable and well-rounded center fielder who will add speed to their lineup.
On the mound, Scott Feldman is a reliable option who might not be a superstar but is certainly serviceable. Also, adding Jesse Crain out of the bullpen was smart. He had an excellent year for the Chicago White Sox in 2013 with a 0.74 ERA over 38 appearances. As I said before, these moves were not monumental, but they are the smart way to build the franchise.
The Detroit Tigers made key upgrades this winter that will help them in the long-term. For one thing, even though they did lose Omar Infante to free agency, they made a great deal to get Ian Kinsler while simultaneously losing the paycheck of Prince Fielder. Also, a beneficial side effect of that transaction is that prospect Nick Castellanos will have position in the lineup.
They also brought in closer Joe Nathan to solidify the ninth inning. These two moves were major upgrades to team that really did not have that many weaknesses to begin with. I would say that these were both smart moves.