MLB Teams Already Looking Much Improved After 2019-20 Offseason Moves

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2019

MLB Teams Already Looking Much Improved After 2019-20 Offseason Moves

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    The MLB offseason is not all about the rich getting richer, as was the case with the New York Yankees adding Gerrit Cole to an already stacked roster.

    It's also about teams that missed out on the postseason fun a year ago making the necessary additions to improve for the upcoming year.

    Ahead we've highlighted the seven teams that have improved the most this winter after failing to reach the postseason in 2019.

    It's a mix of teams on the fringe of contention and young teams on the rise, and while there is still plenty of offseason left, each of these teams looks well-positioned to improve on last year's win total.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Madison Bumgarner
    Madison BumgarnerMatt York/Associated Press

    After finishing the 2019 season on a roll with a 31-22 record over the final two months, the Arizona Diamondbacks entered the offseason trending up.

    They made a splash post-winter meetings, signing Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million deal to anchor a starting rotation that will also include some combination of Robbie Ray, Mike Leake, Merrill Kelly and young pitchers Luke Weaver, Zac Gallen and Jon Duplantier.

    "They've got a bunch of grinders on this team, guys that don't take any pitch off. They're just a hard-nosed group of guys," Bumgarner told reporters on his decision to sign with the D-backs.

    Even if the front office decides to flip Ray ahead of his final year of club control, they will still be in a great position from a starting pitching standpoint.

    Catcher Stephen Vogt was added on a one-year, $3 million pact to replace Alex Avila in the backup role behind Carson Kelly.

    After missing the 2018 season recovering from shoulder surgery, Vogt settled for a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants last offseason. He wound up posting a 111 OPS+ with 24 doubles and 10 home runs in 280 plate appearances, and he'll now be reunited with Bumgarner.

    Former starter Junior Guerra was also inked to a one-year, $2.65 million contract to bolster the relief corps after he was surprisingly non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first season as a full-time reliever, he posted a 3.55 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 20 holds and three saves in 72 appearances.

    There is a long way to go to bridge the gap to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, but the Diamondbacks at least look like wild-card contenders as things currently stand.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Mike Moustakas
    Mike MoustakasDylan Buell/Getty Images

    "We don't comment on the specifics of payroll, but directionally, we are going to continue to build and invest in this team and have more financial resources available for us," president of baseball operations Dick Williams told reporters in October. "Our payroll will be bigger this year. There will be good opportunities to invest that payroll."

    So far, they have made two notable signings.

    After back-to-back disappointing forays into free agency, slugger Mike Moustakas finally found a lucrative multiyear deal, signing a four-year, $64 million contract.

    The 31-year-old posted a 114 OPS+ and launched 35 home runs last season while earning his third career All-Star nod, and he added second base to his repertoire defensively. That's the position he figures to play on a regular basis in Cincinnati with Eugenio Suarez entrenched at the hot corner.

    That was followed by the addition of veteran left-hander Wade Miley to the starting rotation on a two-year, $15 million deal.

    It's a nice payday for the 33-year-old, who has settled for one-year deals the past two seasons, and a great addition to a quietly excellent rotation that also includes Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani.

    While he struggled down the stretch and was a non-factor in the postseason, Miley had a strong year overall in 2019, posting a 3.98 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 167.1 innings.

    "The goal for us now, all we're talking about is the postseason," Williams said. "That's what matters. That's the goal next year. It's not taking incremental steps in a rebuild. It's about the postseason."

Los Angeles Angels

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    Anthony Rendon
    Anthony RendonAlex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Angels have had a productive offseason to date.

    There is still work to do, especially on the pitching side of things, but there is little question this is already an improved roster over the team that went 72-90 a year ago.

    While they missed out on top target Gerrit Cole, they still managed to land one of the free-agent market's biggest fish, signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a massive seven-year, $245 million deal.

    The 29-year-old set career highs in OPS+ (153), batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.412), slugging (.598), home runs (34), RBI (126), runs scored (117), and total bases (326) and helped the Washington Nationals win a World Series title. There's a good chance he will be the most productive teammate Mike Trout has ever lined up alongside.

    The Angels received just 1.9 WAR from the third base position last year, 21st in the majors, so adding a 6.3 WAR player in Rendon is a clear upgrade.

    After Trevor Cahill led the team with 102.1 innings pitched last year, adding Dylan Bundy to the rotation mix was a good first step.

    The 27-year-old has averaged 168 innings over the past three seasons, and last year he posted a respectable 99 ERA+ with 162 strikeouts in 161.2 innings. At least a couple more quality arms need to be added to the mix, but Bundy can be a useful piece of the puzzle.

    Finally, unloading Zack Cozart and his $12.7 million salary on the San Francisco Giants should give the team some additional spending power the rest of the offseason.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler
    Didi Gregorius and Zack WheelerMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    Suffice it to say, the Philadelphia Phillies were not satisfied with an 81-81 showing last season after an offseason where they added Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura to the lineup.

    The trouble is the pitching side of things went unaddressed, and they finished 17th in the majors with a 4.64 starters' ERA.

    That need was addressed early this offseason when they signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal as the first big domino to fall on the starting pitching market.

    "Well, I think you're going to have a 1 and a 1A with him and [Aaron] Nola," manager Joe Girardi told reporters. "When you look at what he's done the last few years and really throughout his career, he's continued to get better and better. This is a power guy with four pitches where I think he's just starting to reach his potential. I think there is more in the tank there. I think this guy can be more dominant than he's been, and we're looking forward to seeing the top of our rotation."

    After dealing with injuries for several seasons, the 29-year-old has averaged 189 innings over the past two years, posting a 3.65 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with an 8.9 K/9 strikeout rate along the way.

    That was followed by another addition to the offense with the signing of shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million contract.

    It's a low-risk move to add a player who is just a year removed from posting a 124 OPS+ with 27 home runs in a 4.2 WAR season. If he's back to full health after missing a good chunk of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, he could be this year's Josh Donaldson, albeit to a lesser degree.

    A few more complementary pieces would be nice, but it's been an extremely successful offseason already.

San Diego Padres

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    Tommy Pham
    Tommy PhamJulio Aguilar/Getty Images

    The San Diego Padres have focused largely on rebuilding their outfield in the early stages of the offseason.

    The Padres saw enough in 23-year-old Trent Grisham, who hit .300/.407/.603 with 54 extra-base hits and 12 steals in 97 games in the upper levels of the minors before his late-season promotion, to send young infielder Luis Urias and controllable starter Eric Lauer to the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire him.

    That trade also brought Zach Davies to San Diego, and he will slot into the middle of the starting rotation after posting a 3.55 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 159.2 innings last season.

    That was followed by a four-player deal with the Rays that sent slugger Hunter Renfroe and infield prospect Xavier Edwards to Tampa Bay in exchange for Tommy Pham and two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth.

    Pham, 31, enjoyed another strong season last year when he posted a 119 OPS+ with 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 25 steals in a 3.7 WAR campaign.

    Beyond their offensive contributions, Grisham (5 DRS, 8.9 UZR/150) and Pham (1 DRS, 1.6 UZR/150) were both above-average defenders, which is important when patrolling the spacious outfield at Petco Park.

    The Padres could use at least one more starting pitcher to provide some stability to their young staff, and their bullpen is also fairly unproven aside from closer Kirby Yates.

    However, they did spend big to add lefty Drew Pomeranz on a four-year, $34 million deal.

    The 31-year-old scuffled as a starter with the San Francisco Giants before finding new life in a bullpen role and turning himself into a hot commodity at the trade deadline. In 28 relief appearances with the Giants and Brewers, he posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and a staggering 15.7 K/9.

    This Padres team might finally be ready to turn a corner in pursuit of their first winning season since 2010.

Texas Rangers

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    Corey Kluber
    Corey KluberMark Brown/Getty Images

    Here's what I wrote earlier this week about the Texas Rangers' starting pitching situation last year beyond the terrific one-two punch of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn:

    A grand total of 17 other pitchers started at least one game, none of whom topped 100 innings in a starting role or made more than 18 starts on the year. The side-by-side numbers are staggering:

    • Minor/Lynn: 65 GS, 36 QS, 30-21, 3.63 ERA, 416.2 IP
    • 17 Other SP: 97 GS, 19 QS, 15-39, 7.22 ERA, 391.1 IP

    Despite essentially playing the season with 40 percent of a starting rotation, Texas managed to win 78 games.

    With that being said, it's clear upgrading the starting staff was the No. 1 priority this offseason, and that's exactly what they've done with the additions of Corey Kluber (trade with CLE), Kyle Gibson (3/$28M) and Jordan Lyles (2/$16M).

    The team is hoping for bounce-back seasons from Kluber and Gibson, who struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last season after ranking among the best starters in the AL in 2018.

    That season saw Kluber post a 2.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 222 strikeouts in 215 innings to finish third in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, while Gibson had a career-best 3.62 ERA in a career-high 196.2 innings.

    As for Lyles, he pitched extremely well down the stretch following a trade to the Brewers, posting a 2.45 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 58.2 innings over 11 starts.

    There is still a hole to fill at third base, and they could always use a few more arms, but the Rangers already look like perhaps the most improved team in baseball this winter.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tanner Roark
    Tanner RoarkRob Leiter/Getty Images

    In the grand scheme of things, the simple passage of time will be the biggest factor in the Toronto Blue Jays improving as a team.

    Young players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio broke through last year, and the farm system still claimed the No. 13 spot in B/R's end-of-the-year rankings, led by flame-throwing future ace Nate Pearson. The future is extremely bright, it's just a matter of waiting for all the young talent to realize its full potential.

    In the meantime, the team has made some solid additions that will help it stay competitive in the short term.

    Workhorse Tanner Roark has averaged 31 starts and 184 innings over the past four seasons, posting a 3.99 ERA and 109 ERA+ during that span. Considering the returning team leader in innings pitched is Trent Thornton, who posted a 4.84 ERA in 154.1 innings as a rookie, Roark will be well worth his two-year, $24 million contract if he can provide more of the same.

    "They were the first ones to initiate contact with me. Right off the bat, they were really interested," Roark told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. "They knew what they wanted and they wanted me and it's exciting to have someone want you like that."

    Also joining the starting rotation is Chase Anderson, who was quietly effective in his four seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, posting a 3.83 ERA and 112 ERA+ while averaging 148 innings.

    The wild-card addition to the pitching staff is Japanese right-hander Shun Yamaguchi.

    The 32-year-old went 16-4 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 194 strikeouts in 181 innings with the Yomiuri Giants last season. While he worked as a starter last year, the forkball specialist also has 112 career saves, so he could fill a variety of roles on the staff.

    It may not be enough for the Blue Jays to contend in 2020, but these are solid additions to a team on the rise, and this should be a fun squad to watch for the foreseeable future.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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