We’re inching closer and closer to spring training, which means the MLB’s free agency period is headed towards its end.
There haven’t been many moves during this year’s offseason, and it’s safe to think we’ve already passed its peak. The majority of ball clubs have failed to make any noise throughout the winter, but there have been a select few that have done their part in improving their respective rosters in hope of future success. There have been winners and losers in this year’s free agency – leaving some teams with a bright future ahead of them, and others in a tough position as they’ve failed to take their franchise’s next step.
With that being said, here’s a look at 5 of the MLB’s biggest winners and losers of the MLB’s free agency period so far:
5. San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants got exactly what they needed during the offseason, filling a void in their bullpen with the signing of Mark Melancon.
After getting off to a hot start, the Giants struggled to close out and put teams away throughout the 2016 campaign – finishing with 30 blown regular season saves. Their offence wasn’t the greatest either, but with pitchers like Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla blowing opportunities left and right, the Giants didn’t have any hope of making a deep run in the postseason – losing to the Cubs in the NLDS in 4 games. With the addition of Melancon, San Francisco shouldn’t have to worry about that being the case any longer.
The 31-year-old was terrific in his 75 appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals last season, finishing with an ERA of 1.64, along with 47 total saves, and 65 strikeouts. They’ll likely have to make a trade or sign a few offensive pieces to continue improving their squad, but they definitely got themselves on the right path for next season.
4. Houston Astros
After a lackluster 2016 campaign, the Houston Astros should be well on their way back to the postseason after the moves they made during free agency.
Last season was one to forget for Houston, with them failing to even make the postseason less than a year after defeating the New York Yankees in their Wild Card game back in 2015. It was clear that the team lacked a veteran presence, relying on their young guns to guide them through long stretches throughout the course of their 84-78 season.
To make sure they wouldn’t have to carry that same load in 2017, Astros general manager Jeff Luthow didn’t waste any time finding a few veteran pieces, by trading two pitching prospects to the Yankees for former All-Star catcher, Brian McCann. He wouldn’t stop there, signing former Oakland Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick to a 4-year deal, while managing to acquire another solid pickup a couple of days later by adding veteran slugger, Carlos Beltran to a 1-year deal.
All of these moves should be able to help this young Astros team, consisting of players like George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Corre, get over the hump. If they can get their pitching staff settled and ready to go, this team could reach a solid balance and emerge as one of the biggest teams to look out for throughout the 2017 campaign.
3. Chicago Cubs
It’s crazy to think that the defending World Series Champions could get even better during the offseason, but the Chicago Cubs managed to do just that – while saving a decent amount of money in the meantime.
Letting go of Aroldis Chapman definitely wasn’t easy for them, but Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manger Jed Hoyer clearly knew what they were doing. A few days after Chapman’s deal was announced, the Cubs traded slugger Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis, one of the best closers in all of baseball.
Davis is expected to immediately fill in as their closer next season, and it’s no surprise after the way his numbers compared to Chapman’s last season. In an injury-riddled campaign, Davis managed to remain one of the best relievers in the game – posting an ERA of 1.87 (only 0.33 worse than Chapman), a 2-1 record, 27 saves, and 47 strikeouts in 45 appearances.
The Cubs must have also known that Davis is at his best in the fall, posting a 0.84 ERA, to go along with a 4-0 record, 4 saves, and 46 strikeouts; helping him earn a World Series ring back in 2015. The champs might have received the biggest bargain in the offseason with this move, giving them a great shot to become the first team to win back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees in 2000.
2. Boston Red Sox
Out of all the moves that have been made during free agency, the Boston Red Sox might have made the biggest one; creating a blockbuster deal with the Chicago White Sox to acquire superstar pitcher, Chris Sale.
Sale was exceptional with the White Sox in 2016, posting a 17-10 record, to go along with an ERA of 3.34, 233 strikeouts (2nd in the American League), 6 complete games, and a shutout to his name. The ace left-hander was traded to the Red Sox during the early stages of the MLB’s annual Winter Meetings, joining an already loaded starting rotation that features a pair of Cy Young winners in David Price and Rick Porcello, and not to forget, knuckleballer, Steven Wright.
The move even got David Ortiz excited, with the retired slugger joking around about a potential comeback. To go along with the monster deal, the Red Sox also gave a good boost to their bullpen, adding setup reliever Tyler Thornburg in a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last season, the reigning AL East Champions were bounced out of the playoffs – due to their inability to win close games. After slugging their way to a 93-69 regular season record and winning the AL East, Boston couldn’t produce the same results in the postseason; getting swept by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. With the addition of Sale and Thornburg, the Red Sox should find themselves in a much better position as they look to redeem themselves behind a pair of solid arms.
1. Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox officially won free agency after storming their way through a rebuild, loading up their roster with prospects and young talent ready to take over the league in a couple of years.
Failing to make the postseason for the 4th consecutive season with a 78-84 record, the White Sox immediately started to ship away their best players in hope for something better down the line. Giving up Sale gave the franchise a big-time package, receiving MLB top-rated prospect Yoan Moncada, fastball throwing pitcher Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, and hard-throwing fastballer Victor Diaz. Trading Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals also payed dividends for the White Sox, with them receiving right-handed pitchers in Lucas Giolito, Reynadlo Lopez, and a 2016 1st-round selection in Dane Dunning.
The White Sox now boast one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and their probably not done yet – with veteran players like Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera still on their roster. This team won’t be great for a while, but it looks like they’re well on their way to becoming one of the league’s best in a couple of years, while they still have a chance to put up a decent fight this season.
5. New York Mets
There is a lot of uncertainty in the New York Mets organization, and with the franchise doing little to nothing in free agency – it looks like things are going to stay the same heading into spring training.
Sure, they signed Yoenis Cespedes to a massive 4-year deal, but they haven’t yet dealt with the real issues on their roster. They don’t have a reliable catcher, their bullpen is shaky (at best), and their starting rotation is filled with “what ifs”; with guys like Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, and Steven Matz all coming into the 2017 campaign with injuries to their names. Time is running out, and even though there are some players left on the market, it seems like their front office isn’t interested in making any more moves.
It wouldn’t be a shocker to see the Mets in the same position as they were last season. Of course they’ll remain a solid team, but it looks like they’re well on their way to finishing with another 80-win season and a Wild Card knockout, as they continue to fight the fact that they simply don’t have enough to get the job done.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Similar to the Mets, the Baltimore Orioles have failed to do much in the offseason – leaving them with little to zero options for the remainder of free agency.
Even though they did just recently sign Mark Trumbo to a sweet 3-year/$37.5 million deal, after he led the MLB in homers, their power is the least of their concerns – with their starting rotation and bullpen bothered by inconsistencies. Their offence led them towards a 89-73 record, but it was their pitching that cost them in the postseason.
Last season, Baltimore finished 19th in team pitching – with an inconsistent starting rotation seriously harming the team on a nightly basis. The Orioles boasted one of the most suspect pitching rotations in the league – posting a 4.72 ERA (7th worst in the MLB), and a whopping 465 runs allowed (8th most in the MLB). The bullpen managed to stay strong, led by Zach Britton’s ridiculous 47-save season, but he could only do so much, with the Orioles woes in their starting rotation being too much to make up for throughout the season.
They made it to the Wild Card round, only to get bounced out by a game-winning 3-run HR by Edwin Encarnacion and the Blue Jays. Having a consistent and powerful offence is great, but without a reliable pitching game – manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles could find themselves in big trouble once again throughout the season and, most importantly, in the playoffs.
3. Washington Nationals
It looks like the Washington Nationals are content with being great in the regular season and a disappointment in the playoffs, considering the way they’ve played out this year’s free agency.
After winning the NL East with a 95-67 regular season, it seemed like the Nationals would be a threat storming into the postseason. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Dodgers would send them packing; defeating Washington in 5 games in the NLDS. The Nationals needed to make a few changes in the offseason, but as of yet, they haven’t done much.
They had a 2-1 lead over the Dodgers in the 5-game series, but an inconsistent bullpen and a lack of clutch hitting would come into effect in the last 2 games of the series. Knowing that they’d need to play a little small ball, the Nationals started off strong; acquiring Adam Eaton. It wasn’t a bad move, but they lost a lot as a result of the deal – losing a pair of hard-throwing right-handed prospects to the White Sox. Just when it seemed like they were going to make some more moves to be able to capitalize on perhaps a window of contention, the Nationals suddenly stopped their pursuit – becoming passive and allowing big-money closers and sluggers to slip to other teams. Now, they don’t have a reliable closer after the departure of Melancon, and they still have tons of question marks throughout their entire bullpen.
Add in Bryce Harper’s ridiculous contract expectations, and the nation’s capital could find themselves in a load of drama like the pile they were in by the end of the 2015 season. If they Nationals want to actually try getting to their first NLCS since 1981, back to when they were called the Montreal Expos, they’ll have to make a move, and make one fast. If this team wants to get over their playoff woes, they’ll have to address their bullpen concerns – by either making a couple of trades, or picking up a capable reliever that’s still on the market.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
Entering the 2016 campaign, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a lot to prove after losing in back-to-back Wild Card games. Unfortunately, injuries and their inconsistent play would lead to a disappointing 78-83 regular season record, as they failed to even make the postseason.
They dealt away their closer in Melancon to the Nationals at the trade deadline, leading to trade rumours surrounding their 2015 NL MVP in Andrew McCutchen. Those rumors have died down, but it doesn’t hide the fact that this team is on the verge of breaking down. Nothing’s gone right for the Pirates, and they’ve put themselves in a difficult position by not making any significant moves during free agency.
With the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals well ahead of them, it’s time for the Pirates to think about rebuilding. It’s the worst-case scenario for this ball club, but it might just be what they need in order to reach rare territory for their franchise in the foreseeable future.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays had a miserable offseason, and managed to accomplish the complete opposite of taking the step after back-to-back ALCS appearances.
In an attempted power move, they lost one of their most iconic players in franchise history – making them the biggest losers of free agency. Instead of staying patient and leaving their 4-year/$80 million deal on the table, they allowed Edwin Encarnacion to get desperate and find himself a 3-year/$60 million deal with the Cleveland Indians, also known as the team that beat the Blue Jays to advance to the World Series.
Instead, they went for a sup bar bat in Kendrys Morales, who isn’t anywhere near as consistent as Encarnacion. Morales had a nice bounce back campaign last season, hitting 30 HRs for the first time in his career since 2009. But he’s been nothing compared to Encarnacion, who has hit at least 34 HRs in each of his past 5 seasons.
The Blue Jays then tried to salvage some of their past, deciding to sign the player who had been causing them a headache for the past year over contract expectations. Instead of sticking with the slugger who had led the AL in RBIs last season, or even an All-Star outfielder in Michael Saunders, the Blue Jays decided to re-sign an older Jose Bautista to a 3-year/$55 million deal; miserably failing to find the right fit for their future DH.
It’s obvious that the Blue Jays haven’t realized the problem they’ve created by allowing Encarnacion to get to free agency, but they look well on their way to repeating the same mistake after failing to settle a contract extension with their young ace in Marcus Stroman.
All stats for this article are from MLB.com and ESPN.com
You can follow Peter Ash on Twitter @peterash_