With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp Tuesday and commencing first workouts Wednesday – the Korea-bound Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres already started – the handful of elite free agents and gaggle of unsigned others won’t make it on time.
Sure, almost all will find jobs, but new business is at hand. So let’s wrap up a bit of the old and examine the winners and losers of this most momentous offseason:
Not easy to do much when you’ve won 104 games and have nearly every position player under a long-term contract – yet GM Alex Anthopoulous managed to swing 10 trades involving 24 players, with several changing clubs multiple times.
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And in the end, likely made his club even better. The Braves will enjoy the upside of 24-year-old Jarred Kelenic batting eighth and oft-dominant lefty Chris Sale operating out of the No. 4 starter role. Versatile Reynaldo Lopez and Aaron Bummer were added to the bullpen.
Even if Kelenic doesn’t tap into his potential or Sale doesn’t rediscover his dominance and make 30 or so starts, it is a nice shakeup to a club that hasn’t gotten out of Philly and the NL Division Series the past two seasons.
The additions weren’t splashy – infielder Jeimer Candelario ($45 million), swingman Nick Martinez ($26 million) and reliever Emilio Pagan ($16 million) – but they give the Reds a certain strength in numbers they lacked last season, when pitching injuries slowed a surprise run to contention.
Now, they have a diverse and fortified lineup, featuring both power and speed and with eight of the nine projected starters toting OBPs between .330 and .348 (the ninth is the dynamic Elly De La Cruz). They could use one more pitcher, but the state of the NL Central – the Brewers folding, the Cardinals’ vaunted reload amounting simply to Sonny Gray, the Cubs staying fairly quiet – breeds opportunity.
It’s almost impossible for a team with a payroll south of $100 million to win 101 games and emerge the following winter in even greater position.
Yet these are heady days in Baltimore, where the Angelos family’s impending sale to David Rubenstein signals potentially less tumult and higher payrolls down the road. Meanwhile, GM Mike Elias’s sound infrastructure enabled them to acquire former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes from the Brewers, giving them three potential aces and six bona fide starters in an era many teams don’t have more than three.
With No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday expected to join the mix, the Orioles will begin the season as consensus AL East favorites for the first time this century.
A rare free agent expenditure – guaranteeing Josh Hader arguably the biggest contract ever ($95 million) for a reliever – gives their bullpen a daunting late-inning look, with Hader, Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu. Franchise icon Jose Altuve was extended for five years.
And while their starting pitching is still a little iffy, Ohtani is out of the division and the Rangers will begin the season with Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle on the mend. While Seattle will have a say, things are aligning for a seventh consecutive full-season division title.
Blue Jays, Cubs, Giants
A trifecta, simply because all had high hopes to land a Shohei Ohtani-like figure, all have been linked to at least one the remaining elite free agents – and all would really disappoint their fans if they don’t add any of them.
The Plane Ohtani Was Never On is kind of a decent metaphor for the Blue Jays’ offseason, during which they’re slated to lose Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman and only add DH Justin Turner, utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Cuban pitcher (via Japan) Yariel Rodriguez.
While Chapman had a subpar platform year at the plate, his absence would be palpable with the Blue Jays – and either of these teams failing to add him would leave glaring holes. Cavan Biggio (Toronto), Nick Madrigal (Chicago) and J.D. Davis (San Francisco) would man the position to varying degrees of capability, but likely not at an All-Star level.
Meanwhile, the Giants can’t get superstars to take their money, so overspending a bit ($113 million) on Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee was their next best option. But they still have multiple holes in their starting rotation; remaining free agents Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger would solve problems in San Francisco and Chicago, but for now, the staring contests continue.
Boston Red Sox
Not so much what they did or didn’t do but rather what they’ve become: A non-destination for elite free agents.
The franchise that won a World Series after signing Daisuke Matsuzaka expressed interest in Yoshinobu Yamamoto but wasn’t really in play for him. Ohtani? Heh.
It’s almost like years of half-measures and scrimping in odd places have turned Fenway Park into an unserious place for elite players. While the lineup features an intruging mix, the paucity of pitching (Lucas Giolito probably won’t solve that, Jordan Montgomery would only help so much) makes them an overwhelming choice to finish last in the AL East for the third time in five years.
The Dodgers? Winter spenders of $1.2 billion? Proud new caretakers of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow? Losers?
Well, everything’s relative – and the Dodgers’ ceiling was already so high, anyway.
Will Ohtani boost ticket sales? The Dodgers were already playing to 93% capacity.
Send TV ratings through the roof? The Dodgers already enjoy an $8.35 billion TV contract.
What about those jersey sales? Well, they go into a centralized revenue stream, anyway.
And how about on the field? Lest you forget, the Dodgers have already made the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons and won 100 games last year.
Certainly, the new guys will help – a lot. But come Oct. 8, they’ll simply be one of eight clubs hoping the postseason roulette wheel spins favorably. Sure, they might have a better than 12.5% chance of winning the World Series.
But the grander expectations and lavish spending will far more likely engender greater disappointment if they again fall short of a championship – as the postseason crapshoot heavily suggests they will.