Have we ever seen such a flurry of activity by so many teams in a single off-season like we have this year? Certainly not in this millennium.
The number of Billy Beane moves alone may have rivalled some of the slower years of acquisitions throughout the entire American League. Although the Athletics will not make this list – not by a long shot. No, the teams that make this list are the ones that have spent money and made trades wisely. The teams that make our Top 5 are either already existing contenders who have improved, have suddenly become contenders, or have, at least, acquired their way out of the cellar, and have improved in a few capacities.
For Fantasy purposes, it means that we might even change the way we perceive a team and adjust accordingly. In fact, 3 of the following top 5 off-season teams are ones whose position players I have generally avoided like “the plague” for years. Case in point, with our 5th place finisher:
5. San Diego Padres
Who comes to mind when the baseball media uses the words “rookie” and “rockstar” in the same sentence? Jose Fernandez? Quite possibly. Jose Abreu? Perhaps. Will Myers? Well, maybe a year ago.
Nope, in this case we’re talking about 37 yr. old rookie, A. J. Preller, San Diego’s new General Manager, and “Rockstar” is exactly the word one of his big off-season acquisitions used to describe him. The wheeling and dealing freshman G.M. was dubbed as such by Matt Kemp during Kemp’s introduction to San Diego.
In the blink of an eye Preller had traded for Kemp, Derek Norris, Will Myers, and Justin Upton, and then acquired free agent Brandon Morrow to round out the already decent rotation. And none of the players that left San Diego were recognizable Major Leaguers.
Preller has given San Diego’s outfield (and line-up) more than just a facelift. He’s done some kind of “Mission Impossible” facial metamorphosis.
Exactly how long has it been since San Diego were perceived as an offensive threat? Their fans don’t really want to be asked that question, as it may be too painful to consider. No, they would much rather look to the future, I would imagine. Perhaps even the near future, with all the moves made by their new “rockstar” G.M.
(Prediction: Padres finish 2nd behind Dodgers/Miss playoffs)
Update: Hold the press. Padres sign Shields. This would have bumped the Padres into the second spot if we had known at the time of publishing this article. Shields gives the Padres another workhorse alongside Ian Kennedy, and the two talented younger arms, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Suddenly the Friars look like playoff contenders. Does this change our prediction? You betcha: we now can slot them in for the last wild card berth.
4. Miami Marlins
Remember the blockbuster trade the Marlins made with the Blue Jays back in November 2012 that left a lingering perception that Miami really didn’t seem to care about winning? Remember how Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami media and fans alike fumed, and questioned the team’s intentions going forward?
Miami had traded Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes to Toronto, for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Anthony DeSclafani, Jake Marisnik, and Justin Nicolino.
Yes, there’s no question they were dumping some big salaries, but it didn’t really seem to matter, in hindsight, because they weren’t ready to contend at that point anyway.
Two off-seasons later it’s a different story, and perception. The Marlins management has been together for some time now, and their plan may finally be starting to take effect. President and former G.M. Michael Hill, along with his one-time assistant and present G.M, Dan Jennings have spent big bucks in their attempt to form a contender. It was a serious X-mas list to fulfill:
- Re-sign Stanton to a mega-contract: Check
- Acquire established number two pitcher: Check (Matt Latos)
- Trade for lead-off batter in order to better utilize the hitting talents of Christian Yelich: Check (Dee Gordon)
- Get better protection for Stanton in the 4, 5 and 6 spots: Check (Marcel Ozuna now gets help from veterans Michael Morse, who just earned a ring, and the ever-reliable utility man, Martin Prado)
It sounds like Jose Fernandez won’t return from Tommy John surgery until June, but if the Marlins can fight their way through the first two months they could contend. Another solid starter wouldn’t hurt, but the Marlins now have a better balanced line-up with a lot of upside after a very constructive off-season.
(Prediction: Marlins finish 3rd in division behind Nats and Mets)
3. Chicago Cubs
Will 2015 be the year that Cubs’ fans invite Steve Bartman back to the Windy City and absolve him of his past sins?
Well, if a scene in “Back to the Future II” becomes a reality, then yes.
Incidentally, for those of us who saw the movie in theatres back in 1989, and want to feel older, October 21, 2015 is indeed the date to where Marty McFly and Doc travel. We have now arrived, or at least survived.
Let’s forget about the Hollywood story lines for a minute. Do the Cubs have a realistic chance of winning it all?
If you start looking at their young talent, in combination with their off-season acquisitions, then maybe there’s a chance. If you listen to the hype, then yes, for sure. One thing is certain – the Cubs are the most hyped team going into 2015.
A big part of this buildup of hype and hope is their young already-existing talent, namely Anthony Rizzo (1B), Javier Baez (SS/2B?), Starlin Castro (SS), Jorge Soler (OF) and Minor League Player of the Year, Kris Bryant (3B). Let’s temper the hype a little though, as some of this talent may need time to develop.
It is ultimately the off-season acquisitions that really give Cub fans reason to believe they may now have a contender, particularly when the Cubs beat out the Giants and Red Sox in the Jon Lester sweepstakes. They now have an ace in place, and Lester should continue where he left off last year in what is probably the weakest hitting division in baseball.
The day before signing Lester the Cubs re-signed Jason Hammel. It quickly became overshadowed, but don’t underestimate Hammel’s importance to the rotation. He had been very good with the Cubs before going to Oakland part way through the season last year.
The Cubs also boosted their bullpen with Jason Motte, and then acquired lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler less than two weeks ago. Fowler does tend to miss time, but his OPS is better than most lead-off hitters. It was .774 last year, and .786 over his career.
In addition, more veteran experience was acquired in the catching tandem of Miguel Montero and David Ross. Montero may not be the hitter he once was, but he may feed off the momentum after being mired with the cellar-dwelling D-Backs. Meanwhile, Ross is reunited with Lester, who together won the most unlikely of the recent Red Sox championships.
So, who knows? Maybe Steven Spielberg has another talent we are just beginning to realize. After all, he is a visionary of sorts already.
(Prediction: Cubs finish 2nd in division behind Cards/Earn a wild card berth)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
There is no question the 2014 version of the Dodgers was laden with talent, but thanks to a few wiley moves by brand new G.M., Farhan Zaidi, this year’s version is a better-balanced team.
It all started with a bang on December 11 in a big trade with Miami: The Dodgers gave up 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, SS Miguel Rojas and cash to the Marlins, in exchange for top prospect LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes.
On that same day the Dodgers then traded Heaney to the Angels for 2B Howie Kendrick, more than filling the void left by Gordon. Kendrick, who despite having spent 9 years in the Angels’ “Red and White”, is so easy to picture in Dodger Blue. The crosstown transition is seamless, and despite the loss of Dee Gordon’s speed, the Dodgers now have a more complete 2B in Kendrick.
A few days later L.A. signed Brandon McCarthy which immediately filled any kind of void left by Dan Haren’s departure, but neither may be worth mentioning.
The Dodgers then released their logjam in the outfield with the “Matt Kemp” trade to the Padres. It was crucial for the Dodgers to lose one of their outfielders to allow a stable outfield to develop.
On the other hand, few non-Dodger fans will remember who came the other way, but perhaps that will change in the years to come. Make no mistake, Yasmani Grandal is the new starting catcher for the Dodgers. The 26 yr. old finally has a full season under his belt after injuries and a suspension. He managed 15 HR/49 RBI in 128 GP. He came on in the second half with a .795 OPS after the All-Star break. But perhaps the most important splits to glean are his home/away performances: His OPS at Petco was .698, while away from the hitter’s graveyard it was .758. Oh, and one more thing – he no longer has to face Dodger pitching.
The day after the “Kemp Trade” the Dodgers completed the last piece of their infield by trading minor league pitchers Tom Windle and Zach Eflin to the Phillies for veteran SS Jimmy Rollins. Rollins fills the void left by Hanley Ramirez, who was lost to free agency. And there’s a good case that Rollins is a better fit than Hanley for the Dodgers. For one thing, he’s a much better defensive shortstop than Hanley ever was. For another, he has missed fewer games in the last 4 years than Hanley.
Overall, the Dodgers look to be a better balanced team with an improved defence, and a veteran presence that says now is the time.
(Prediction: Dodgers finish first in division/Lose to Nats in N.L. Championship)
1. Chicago White Sox
So much attention is being given to their North Side rivals that the White Sox seem to have just the right mojo to slide under the radar, and win a berth in the playoffs.
White Sox G.M. Rick Hahn may not have made the most moves amongst GMs in the off-season, but he did make the most of his moves. Quality above quantity. He addressed all of the main priorities on his team’s wish list:
- Find solid protection for Jose Abreu: Check – Way back in November he signed free agent Adam Laroche to a 2-year deal. The 35 yr. old has not slowed down one iota. In 140 GP Laroche managed 92 RBI and 73 R, with 82 free passes and a .817 OPS (just above his career avg. .811) Laroche should remain well-preserved in the DH role, and should see a ton of pitches to hit.
- Acquire an established RHP to offset lefty ace, Chris Sale: Check - Jeff Samardzija fills the need perfectly. He’s no stranger to the Windy City, yet he will be to most of his A.L. opponents. His gritty look and demeanor somehow seem to fit the South Side squad over his old team.
- Nail down a reliable closer: Check - David Robertson was apparently not good enough to remain the Yankee closer, as he only converted 39 of 44 save opportunities. I mean, what were they hoping for? Mariano Rivera perfection? Oh, and he only allowed 45 H over 64 IP with 95 K. That’s getting close to elite closer stats.
- Find a tough-out hitter who fills the two-spot between speedster Adam Eaton and Rookie of the Year phenom, Jose Abreu: Check - Enter 30 yr. old Melky Cabrera. Yeah, I know (only 30?), it seems like he’s been around forever. Well, he’s definitely been around. The White Sox will be Melky’s 6th different team in 7 years. But maybe he’s found a home for a while now, because you can probably count on one paw the places a hitter would rather be, with Eaton setting the table, and Abreu in the 3-spot forcing pitchers to challenge the hitters coming before and after him.
It must be very satisfying to be a White Sox fan right now, watching this machine being assembled with efficiency and precision over the past two seasons. It’s not to say there isn’t room left for improvement, but this is the same team that lost 99 games and finished 2nd last in the American League in 2013. Wait, I guess it’s not the same team, is it? Yeah, that’s the whole point.
(Prediction: White Sox finish 1st in division/ Lose to Angels in A.L. Championship)
Acquisitions include: 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Hanley Ramirez, RHP Rick Porcello, RHP Justin Masterson and LHP Wade Miley.
Who’s the ace? Who’s even the Number Two?
(Prediction: Remember the 5-hr Yankee games? They’re Baaaaack.)
Acquisitions include: OF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorious, LHP Andrew Miller, 3B Chase Headley, RHP Nathan Eovaldi and SS Stephen Drew.
Is the Evil Empire minding their pennies? Expected more.
(Prediction: Remember the 5-hr Red Sox games?…)
Acquisitions include: RHP Marco Estrada, 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin and OF Michael Saunders.
After all the ado about Panda, the Jays swooped in for the superior 3B, Donaldson. Maybe the Bosox didn’t realize he was available. Maybe Beane decided he wasn’t available to the Bosox. They did, however, spent too much on the sentimental Canadian acquisition, Russell Martin.
(Prediction: Many runs will be scored in the high-octane-hitting/meh-pitching A.L. East, except where Tampa is involved.)
OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
To make a comment you need to register or log in. Click on the log in link below to register with us or log in with your Facebook, Yahoo or OpenID account. (For a world without spam).