MLB's Biggest 2015-16 Offseason Winners and Losers Entering the New Year

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 31, 2015

MLB's Biggest 2015-16 Offseason Winners and Losers Entering the New Year

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    One part of the 2015 MLB season that will persist even after we all change our calendars is the offseason. That makes now as good a time as ever to take stock of what's going on, and we're going to do that by honoring the Internet gods with a good, old-fashioned list of offseason winners and losers.

    We'll look at only the five biggest winners and losers of the winter to date. And though we can't say they're ranked in any particular order, we can say they range from teams that are and aren't doing well to specific players who have and haven't made a killing in free agency.

    Step into the box whenever you're ready.

Winner: Chicago Cubs

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    Jason Heyward is the biggest prize of a big offseason for the North Siders.
    Jason Heyward is the biggest prize of a big offseason for the North Siders.Associated Press

    The Chicago Cubs won 97 games in 2015, went to the National League Championship Series and entered the winter with much of their roster still intact. They didn't need to go wild this offseason.

    But, hey. Just because you don't need to go wild doesn't mean you shouldn't.

    The Cubs have taken their 97-win roster and augmented it with three big free-agent signings: right fielder Jason Heyward, second baseman/do-everything Ben Zobrist and right-hander John Lackey. In right-handers Trevor Cahill and Adam Warren they've also secured some solid depth for their pitching staff.

    After all this, you know what the Cubs look like? Basically the best team in baseball.

    That's what FanGraphs WAR projections for 2016 say, and it's not that close. It's also easy to believe. As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out, the roster now includes some of the best players in baseball and some of the best depth in baseball. Come 2016, this is a roster that could well result in Cubs boss Theo Epstein breaking the second legendary curse of his career.

    Meanwhile, things aren't quite as peachy for another NL Central power...

Loser: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has been dealt a bit too much adversity this winter.
    Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has been dealt a bit too much adversity this winter.Associated Press

    It's not often we get to say this about a team coming off a 100-win season, but man, those poor St. Louis Cardinals.

    It's been a rough winter for the Redbirds, mainly because of what's happened to them in free agency. They had to watch two of their own (Heyward and Lackey) depart for their biggest rival, and they also fell short on David Price and have seemingly been priced out of the markets for other big-name free agents. 

    On the bright side, the Cardinals at least managed to reel in Mike Leake, who we've noted is a strong fit for a rotation that needed a pick-me-up. But in the wake of the Cardinals signing a $1 billion TV contract, one can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by Leake.

    The injury bug has also dealt the team some blows. Lance Lynn has been lost for all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, and Yadier Molina had to have a second surgery on his left thumb after the first didn't take. St. Louis' rotation will miss Lynn, and the entire team will suffer if Molina's thumb hinders his catching or hitting.

    Mind you, the Cardinals do still look like a good team. But they also look short of the great team they were in 2015, especially in light of how their primary competition on the North Side of Chicago happens to be a rising superpower.

Winner: Boston Red Sox

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    David Price is the big piece of Boston's impressive offseason puzzle.
    David Price is the big piece of Boston's impressive offseason puzzle.Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox endured their third last-place finish in four years in 2015, but they at least finished with some momentum. Their youth-infused roster played well down the stretch, and new boss Dave Dombrowski looked like just the guy to find the pieces they were missing.

    And he has. 

    At the top of the list was an ace starting pitcher, something the Red Sox had been lacking since Jon Lester left town in 2014. That prompted Dombrowski to sign left-hander David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract, thus granting Boston's rotation a former American League Cy Young winner.

    Next on the list was depth for one of baseball's worst bullpens. That led to trades for right-handers Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, who join Koji Uehara in what now looks like a dominant bullpen.

    "It's not going to matter if the starter goes six innings or if he goes eight innings," Kimbrel said, per Aaron Leibowitz of MLB.com. "We're not going to lose games when the starter comes out. We're going to expect our bullpen to go out there and carry those innings throughout the entire season."

    Refer back to FanGraphs' WAR projections and you'll find the Red Sox placed ahead of all other American League teams. That's admittedly a place they've been before, but we've discussed how the difference this time is that Boston's roster looks as good in reality as it does on paper.

    And now for a team that has tried to go as big as the Red Sox have, only to fall flat...

Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman haven't had much luck this winter.
    Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman haven't had much luck this winter.Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have tried this winter. They've really, really tried.

    They just, you know, haven't actually done much.

    Coming off their third straight NL West title in 2015, the Dodgers were expected to be among the big players on the offseason market. When we heard early on from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that they had their eyes on targets such as Price, Zack Greinke, Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick, it seemed like just a matter of time before they lived up to those expectations.

    Instead, the Dodgers' offseason has devolved into a sequence of disappointments.

    They lost out on Price and Greinke—who left the Dodgers for a division rival, no lessand have had deals for Hisashi Iwakuma and Aroldis Chapman fall apart. Along the way, the best they've been able to do is retain Brett Anderson and Chase Utley and settle for Scott Kazmir in lieu of their top pitching targets.

    In fairness to the Dodgers, they're hardly ruined. They still have a roster full of stars, and the WAR projections for 2016 reflect that. Only the Cubs are projected to outproduce them.

    Nonetheless, the Dodgers' assorted failings this winter make their roster look worse in reality than it does on paper. Translating what they have on paper into wins could be difficult, particularly in an NL West that features upgraded versions of the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants.

Winner: Seattle Mariners

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    Nori Aoki is one of roughly a million players Jerry Dipoto acquired this winter.
    Nori Aoki is one of roughly a million players Jerry Dipoto acquired this winter.Associated Press

    It was around this time last year that the Seattle Mariners were emerging as a trendy pick to do big things in 2015. Instead, they went "pluh" out on the field and ended up firing their general manager.

    That role went to Los Angeles Angels castoff Jerry Dipoto, and it was clear he wasn't walking into a dream job. He had upgrades to make and little financial flexibility or farm system depth to play with.

    But what Dipoto did have, apparently, is lots of creativity.

    With the one exception being the trade that sent Carson Smith to Boston, Dipoto has pulled off a series of low-risk moves that have fortified the weak roster he inherited. Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Chris Iannetta and Leonys Martin all fill specific offensive and defensive needs, while Wade Miley, Nate Karns, Hisashi Iwakuma, Evan Scribner, Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek add quite a bit of depth to Seattle's pitching staff.

    Are the Mariners now a flawless team? Not exactly. But they've put themselves in a position to have a fighting chance at the AL West title in 2016, and they did it without compromising their long-term future.

    That's what creativity can do for you, and two teams that should be taking note happen to be...

Loser: The 2015 World Series Teams

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    There's been a steady downhill from here for the Royals.
    There's been a steady downhill from here for the Royals.Associated Press

    It's a two-for-one loser special! Hooray for everyone...except for the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets, of course.

    The last time we saw the Royals, they were celebrating their first World Series title in three decades. Now, they're reeling from the losses of Zobrist and Johnny Cueto and are said by Heyman to have "no chance" of re-signing Alex Gordon. Without these three, Kansas City's roster looks significantly downgraded.

    The last time we saw the Mets, they were actually getting the better of the Royals for a good chunk of the World Series. But though they've made some solid moves this winter, they've since lost Daniel Murphy and have broken off talks with Yoenis Cespedes, per Heyman. They, too, look downgraded.

    Looking back, you want to say that the Royals and Mets should have used their trip to the World Series as a springboard to spend more money this winter. But it's not so simple.

    The Royals are a small-market team that needs to set some money aside for in-house players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. And as Howard Megdal of Vocativ.com recently noted, the Mets' spending power is still limited by ownership's massive debts.

    Whatever the case, neither club is being helped by its relative silence. There's been plenty of activity around the Royals in the AL Central, and the Washington Nationals look like an improved foe for the Mets after signing Murphy away from them.

Winner: Atlanta Braves

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    Braves GM John Coppolella has built the foundation for a superpower in Atlanta.
    Braves GM John Coppolella has built the foundation for a superpower in Atlanta.Associated Press

    As much as we like to focus on the buyers, the offseason isn't all about them. There are sellers too, and they can also do well for themselves.

    Exhibit A: the Atlanta Braves.

    The Braves began rebuilding last winter when they traded away Heyward, Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and others while cutting down their expenses and restocking their ailing farm system. This process has continued this winter and in quite a big way.

    The Braves have made two big trades, sending shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels and right-hander Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks. In these trades, they've added a young, talented and cost-controlled outfielder in Ender Inciarte and four top prospects in shortstop Dansby Swanson, left-hander Sean Newcomb and right-handers Aaron Blair and Chris Ellis.

    The bad news? Atlanta's major league roster is now largely devoid of quality talent. But the good news, as Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com argued, is that these deals have helped push the Braves' farm system from the bottom of the pile up to the very top. They have more than enough young talent with which to build a winner in the near future.

    This, folks, is how a rebuild is done. As for how a rebuild is not done...

Loser: Cincinnati Reds

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    The Aroldis Chapman trade is one of several disappointments for the Reds this winter.
    The Aroldis Chapman trade is one of several disappointments for the Reds this winter.Associated Press

    Along with the Braves, the Reds figured to be another big-time seller. They entered the winter off 95 losses in 2015 and with a roster that badly needed to be torn down in favor of prospect depth.

    Uh, yeah. That's not going so well.

    The first big trade the Reds tried to make would have sent flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers. But that was scuttled by an alleged domestic violence incident that Yahoo Sports reported on during the winter meetings. As a result, the Reds were forced to trade Chapman to the New York Yankees in a deal that looks like an absolute steal for the Bronx Bombers.

    The other big trade the Reds have been involved in this winter was the three-team deal that sent third baseman Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox and brought back three prospects from the Dodgers. The thinking here and everywhere else is that the Reds got an underwhelming return in that deal too.

    Lastly, there's the deal the Reds wanted to make but couldn't. They had an agreement to send second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Nationals, but that fell apart when he demanded an extension in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause, per Heyman.

    It all adds up to a rough series of events for the Reds. Trades of these three players could have been a huge boon to their rebuilding process. Instead, they've done little to push it forward.

Winner: Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke always was going to get paid, but few expected he would get paid this much.
    Zack Greinke always was going to get paid, but few expected he would get paid this much.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    As you might have noticed, it's a good winter to be an MLB free agent. According to Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors, teams have spent more money on free agents ($1.6 billion) than moviegoers have spent on Star Wars: The Force Awakens tickets ($1.2 billion).

    But if one guy has benefited the most from this winter's spending, it has to be Greinke.

    He kicked off his offseason by opting out of the final three years of his contract with the Dodgers, which would have paid him $71 million. Coming off a league-best 1.66 ERA in 2015, this was obviously the right choice. He was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to find a deal in the $150 million range, which seemed to be the loose consensus.

    Instead, Greinke beat that by over $50 million, settling in Arizona for six years and $206.5 million at nearly $34.4 million per year. Cot's Baseball Contracts highlights that Greinke's contract is worth more per year than any contract in baseball history. And it's not close, either.

    So, what was only supposed to be a big contract became a truly historic deal. Apparently, that's what can happen when a no-nonsense player crosses paths with a team that has lots of TV money (and nice sunsets) to offer.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, meanwhile, there's...

Loser: Hisashi Iwakuma

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    Hisashi Iwakuma had a sweet deal fall apart on him.
    Hisashi Iwakuma had a sweet deal fall apart on him.Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

    This winter, Greinke is the one guy who stands out as having done much better than expected in free agency. His polar opposite? This year, that's Hisashi Iwakuma.

    Before the 34-year-old right-hander signed with the Mariners, he was supposed to sign with the Dodgers. And for pretty good money, to boot, as their agreement was for $45 million over three years. That's right where MLB Trade Rumors and others had projected Iwakuma to end up, so it was a fair deal for both sides.

    But then Iwakuma's physical intervened, prompting the Dodgers to back away. Once they did, his signing for less money became inevitable.

    That's how he came to end up back with the Mariners. They gave him just a one-year contract that guarantees him only $12 million, $33 million less than the Dodgers were willing to guarantee him. It could be worth over $40 million if he activates vesting options for 2017 and 2018, but those depend on his pitching a lot more innings than the mere 129.2 he managed in 2015.

    Given Iwakuma's age and the question marks surrounding his physical and his recent health history, it's hard to say he's getting a raw deal. But that doesn't mean we can't also view his situation as a bummer.

    Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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