MLB Offseason Winners and Losers 1 Month Before Spring Training
Major League Baseball's 2020-21 offseason isn't over yet, but the looming arrival of spring training pretty much means the end is in sight.
That puts us in the mood for a good, ol' fashioned stock-taking.
We've broken down the biggest winners and losers of the hot-stove market so far. They mostly include teams that have or haven't made the most of the free-agent and trade markets, though we also broke down other storylines that bear mentioning.
Let's take it away, starting with the winter's single biggest winner.
Winner: San Diego Padres
Just as he did way back in the winter of 2014-15, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller has put his stamp on the 2020-21 offseason.
There is, however, a difference this time around: Whereas he was trying to turn a bad team into a good team all those years ago, there isn't much doubt now that he's made an already great team into an even greater team.
Paced by MVP contenders Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres went 37-23 to secure the National League's second-best record in 2020. They've since retained Jurickson Profar and added Korean star Ha-Seong Kim to their offense and aces Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove to their starting rotation.
FanGraphs has the Padres projected for the third-most WAR of any team for the 2021 season, yet there's a solid argument for them as the best overall team in MLB. Either way, they're a legitimate contender for what would be the franchise's first-ever World Series title.
Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers
Elsewhere in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers have responded to all the Padres' moves by doing...well, not a whole lot, actually.
Sure, they have bolstered their bullpen with moves for Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Tommy Kahnle, yet neither Knebel nor Kahnle is a sure thing to help out in 2021. The former is coming off a 6.08 ERA, while the latter is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Dodgers have otherwise played it cool this offseason. And while they've been linked to some of the market's top free agents—namely reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer—it seems as though re-signing Justin Turner is the height of their ambitions.
Granted, a team coming off a 43-17 regular season and a World Series victory perhaps doesn't have to be more active than this. But given the clear threat the Padres now pose to the Dodgers, it's not hard to imagine them ultimately regretting their laid-back winter.
Winner: New York Mets Roster
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that the New York Mets fired general manager Jared Porter after Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan of ESPN reported he sent explicit, unsolicited texts and images to a female reporter while working for the Chicago Cubs. That was nonetheless a case of the Mets doing the right thing, at least in the end.
Regarding the roster, the Mets made perhaps the biggest splash of the winter when they scored superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and ace right-hander Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland in early January. Their offseason has also seen them invest some of new owner Steve Cohen's billions in catcher James McCann and reliever Trevor May.
Though the Mets tied for last place in the NL East last season, their offense was elite, and Jacob deGrom continued to pitch at a Cy Young level. It's little wonder, then, that the projections now see them as the team to beat in the NL East.
Loser: The Entire NL Central
If you're wondering what the NL Central has been up to while the Padres and Mets have been making noise in the NL West and NL East, respectively, the answer is jack squat.
To date, the division's five teams have doled out just four major league contracts in free agency. And those have totaled less than $4 million.
In the meantime, there's been a mass exodus of talent from the NL Central. Nearly a dozen players have already departed via free agency, with Trevor Bauer all but assured to follow at some point. The winter has also seen Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Corey Knebel, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Raisel Iglesias get traded out of town.
Suffice it to say that the "why" of the NL Central's sorry state is a complicated question. All the same, there's really no sugarcoating it. Presently, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals all project to land in the lower half of MLB in WAR.
Winners: New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays
Over in the American League, much of the action has been focused in the AL East.
The New York Yankees were lying low for a while there, but they've recently come to life by signing DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber and trading for Jameson Taillon. Thus have they retained the reigning MLB batting champion while adding two high-upside arms behind Gerrit Cole in their rotation.
It's the Toronto Blue Jays, though, who have made the winter's biggest free-agent splash through a six-year, $150 million deal with superstar center fielder George Springer. Their offseason haul also includes 2019 AL MVP finalist Marcus Semien and hurlers Robbie Ray, Kirby Yates and Tyler Chatwood.
Though the Yankees and Blue Jays finished second and third, respectively, in last year's AL East race, both still made the playoffs. Now they might be the two best teams in the entire American League as each projects for a top-five WAR total in 2021.
Loser: Tampa Bay Rays
Perhaps the Yankees and Blue Jays would have been major players on the offseason market under any circumstances. And yet, their boldness might be related to the plight of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays were the class of the American League last year, winning 40 games in the regular season and ultimately advancing to the World Series. The months since then, however, have been marked by painful losses.
The Rays waved goodbye to a Cy Young Award-winning ace when they dealt Blake Snell to the Padres in December. They likewise lost a two-time All-Star when Charlie Morton signed with Atlanta, as well as a source of right-hander power when the Boston Red Sox nabbed Hunter Renfroe.
All this would seem to hint at the dire financial situation that the Rays, who aren't a big spender even in the best of times, are now in following last year's pandemic-shortened season. Their contention chances have also taken a hit as they might not even be a top-10 team anymore.
Winner: Chicago White Sox
In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox originally entered the offseason looking to take the next step after busting out of their rebuild with a 35-25 effort in 2020.
To that end, their first big move was acquiring Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers in December. He's now part of a dangerous rotation trio with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, who happened to rank on either side of him in last year's voting for the AL Cy Young Award.
By signing Adam Eaton, the White Sox added a sparkplug to an offense that led the AL with 96 home runs last season. They've also upgraded at closer with Liam Hendriks, who boasts 1.7 more rWAR than any other reliever since the start of the 2019 season.
The White Sox now project as the best team in the AL Central, and there's an argument to be made that they're a better all-around team than even the Yankees and Blue Jays.
The White Sox weren't the only team from the AL Central to make the playoffs last year. The Minnesota Twins won the division, and Cleveland finished with the exact same record as Chicago.
The Twins should be a formidable match for the White Sox once again in 2021. Though there's still a Nelson Cruz-sized hole in their lineup, they've otherwise done well to bolster their defense with Andrelton Simmons and their rotation depth with J.A. Happ.
Cleveland, on the other hand, suffered a self-inflicted blow when it dealt Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets. The damage was mainly to the club's offense as newcomers Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez are light-hitting types who won't do much to boost last year's output of 4.1 runs per game.
Ultimately, 2021 may well bring an end to Cleveland's run of eight straight winning seasons.
Winners: George Springer and Traded Stars
Since there's more to offseason life than what teams are up to, we must also tip our cap to players who've made out well.
At the top of that list is Springer, whose $150 million contract puts him nearly $35 million up on Philadelphia Phillies re-signee J.T. Realmuto for the largest guarantee of the winter. That pile of cash is validation for a career that's already seen him make three All-Star teams and win a (albeit tarnished) World Series ring.
Other stars are also in much better places now thanks to the trade market. Lance Lynn, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Josh Bell and Carlos Carrasco fall under that umbrella, but nobody may be happier than Francisco Lindor.
With the Mets, he has a chance to play on a huge stage worthy of his talent. There's also a non-zero chance of him taking a cue from Mookie Betts and signing a mega-extension even as a date with the free-agent market looms after the 2021 season.
Loser: Free-Agent Market
Apropos of the last slide, we could present a list of players who've been left cold by the offseason market. Instead, we're nominating the entire free-agent market as a winter loser.
Though George Springer, J.T. Realmuto and DJ LeMahieu have done well, the total worth of contracts signed on this winter's market is barely north of $800 million. That's less than half of the nearly $2.2 billion teams spent in free agency last winter.
With only Trevor Bauer and maybe Marcell Ozuna assured of nine-figure deals, the gap might not close all that much in the coming weeks. Such a sharp decline in free-agent spending was perhaps inevitable after 2020, in which teams reportedly lost $3 billion in revenue amid the shortened season.
But according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, one agent accused owners of "trying to manufacture a depressed market" by holding off on signing players until the eve of free agency. The technical term for that is "collusion," which has been and will surely continue to be a genuine concern for players.