Biggest Surprises, Disappointments 2 Months into MLB's Offseason Frenzy
Per usual, this MLB offseason is filled with interesting moves. Unlike seasons past, however, the amount of activity since the end of the World Series leaves much to dissect when analyzing the surprises and disappointments.
To be clear, we will stay away from individual contracts or trades. Instead, we will focus on things at the franchise level.
Which general managers, for example, have been surprisingly active even though their clubs finished well out of the playoffs? Conversely, which executives have been disappointingly quiet this offseason after reaching the MLB postseason in 2014?
Sure, every club could be included in one of those two sets. Frankly, some teams make sense in both. As a result, we will avoid honorable mentions and keep things pointed.
Here are two disappointments and three surprises two months into the frenzy of activity this offseason.
Surprise: A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres
At the end of September, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller spoke about the offseason process, covering topics ranging from embattled shortstop Everth Cabrera to the potential trade of Andrew Cashner, per MLB.com’s Corey Brock. At the time, Preller said that examining every facet is “how to improve the big picture in general.”
Well, examine he did.
Just over two months later, Preller has been able to land Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks and Wil Myers. In the process, the GM has all but answered the question: Where will the offense come from?
To be sure, there is still a hole in the leadoff spot. An upgrade at first base is also in order, as is the addition of a left-handed bat to balance the right-handed slugging Preller acquired. And let’s not forget that as of right now, the Padres will open the season without a proven contributor at shortstop.
All in all, though, this is surely a surprising offseason. After years of mediocrity and playing also-ran to the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Padres have firmly inserted themselves into the National League West playoff conversation.
What a difference an offseason makes—and it’s not over yet.
Disappointment: Dan Duquette and the Baltimore Orioles
Going into the offseason, Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette knew he had some work ahead of him.
After all, Nick Markakis, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy and Nelson Cruz were set to hit free agency, Andrew Miller was sure to find another home after living up to expectation in his short time with the club and the team didn't have a bona fide ace.
To this point, unfortunately, Duquette has only been able to retain Young and Hardy. Not exactly what some members of the fanbase hoped for following the O's first American League East title since 1997.
Worse than the relative inactivity heading into January is the fact that there aren’t a lot of options left on the free-agent market and many of the best players available via trade have already switched teams.
True, the San Diego Padres have some extra outfield depth, and Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun recently cited sources when he wrote that “dialogue continues” between the two clubs regarding their surplus. Encina pointed out Seth Smith and Will Venable as the two players that “are drawing the most interest from the Orioles.”
It must be noted that Duquette has earned the benefit of the doubt and wasn’t very active early on last offseason, but the lack of aggressiveness has to be a concern.
Surprise: Rick Hahn and the Chicago White Sox
Oh, the work Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has done.
Starting with the signing of left-hander Zach Duke, Hahn has added closer David Robertson, designated hitter Adam LaRoche, left fielder Melky Cabrera and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. As MLB.com’s Phil Rogers pointed out, that is $128 million in guaranteed money, not counting Samardzija’s $9.5 million arbitration projection.
That the White Sox made some targeted additions is not a surprise—that the club made so many in such a confined window is.
When the dust settled, each signing was a considerable improvement to the club. The bullpen is now balanced and has defined roles, the lineup finally has a No. 2 hitter and the starting rotation has the right-hander that was missing each of the past few seasons. Even the defense should improve with better pitching.
As Hahn said, “It’s a fun time to be a White Sox fan,” via CBS Chicago.
Now, pennants aren’t won in November and December. The White Sox have to translate the talent on paper into production on the field. That said, they are easily the most improved team in the American League and have been one of the bigger surprises in all of baseball.
Disappointment: Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals
Yes, the Kansas City Royals made it to the 2014 World Series. And, yes, Dayton Moore has earned a bit of leeway.
The way this offseason has gone, however, fans have to wonder what in the world he is doing.
In giving $56.5 million to Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen, Moore effectively gave enough money to land a second-tier starting pitcher like Ervin Santana or a top-flight bat like Nelson Cruz to a collection of players with more question marks than guarantees. True, he limited the amount of committed years, but at what risk?
To be sure, there are those who wouldn’t categorize this offseason as a disappointment.
Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star, for example, chose to look at the positives. “So the offseason,” he wrote, “did not go exactly how general manager Dayton Moore and his assistants dreamed, but for a real-world solution, this is pretty good: their three biggest holes filled with veterans, none of them signed for more than two years.”
Mellinger went on to point out that the club’s success next season will rest on how well guys like Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Wade Davis perform, which is exactly the way it was last season. And while that is a fair point, the Royals had a chance to do so much more.
Frankly, coming off a World Series appearance, "more" had to be the only goal worthy of the effort.
Surprise: Dan Jennings and the Miami Marlins
So far this offseason, Miami Marlins general manager Dan Jennings has traded for Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Dan Haren and Mat Latos. He’s also signed Michael Morse to a two-year contract and inked Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million extension.
What makes Jennings’ activity so surprising is that going into the offseason, signing Stanton was a long shot on its own. Totally revamping the 25-man roster was hardly considered.
He’s been methodical in his approach so far, almost purpose-driven, and it's not just about spending money. He’s trading talent to get talent, filling holes on his roster and finding ways to complement the immense skill that Stanton possesses.
And after improving by 15 wins in 2014, the Marlins are on pace to push the Washington Nationals for the National League East crown.
That said, the work is not done yet. As Mike Oz from Yahoo Sports noted, the Marlins could use another starter. Jennings would also be wise to add an arm to the bullpen.
Either way, the outlook hasn’t been this bright for some time in South Florida.
Unless otherwise noted, all traditional, team and advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information is from Cot's Contracts. Transaction, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.