The first weekend of February is a good time to take stock of the baseball off-season and to get your head around the question of ‘who’s gone where?’.
That led me to go through the essential MLB section on RosterResources.com and to chart out the main additions and losses for every team so far this off-season.
I started with two transactions in mind as the most important and the exercise confirmed that to be the case.
The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians were two of the best teams in the Majors in 2017 and they’ve each made a notable signing this winter to reinforce their status as favourites to battle for the American League World Series spot.
Chris Sale’s trade to Boston from the Chicago White Sox adds an ace to a rotation that already boasted David Price and reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. So long as Sale doesn’t get frustrated and go all Edward Scissorhands on us again, he should be a genuine difference-maker in the AL East.
As for Cleveland, they’ve responded to narrowly losing in the World Series by making an uncharacteristic splash in the free agent market. Few would have put much money on the Indians winning the bidding war for Edwin Encarnacion, but the former Blue Jay is indeed a new member of the Tribe and one of several reasons to be confident that their successful 2016 season will not prove to be a one-off.
What the winter hasn’t provided though is a clear case of a team making a big leap forward into the play-off reckoning.
That’s not a complete surprise as the 2016/17 free agent class was one of the weakest of recent years. Additionally, three of the most appealing free agents had come to the end of their contracts with the Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen, Rich Hill and Justin Turner. The Dodgers used their financial clout to keep the trio out of the clutches of any potential rivals and made a small quality free agent pool even smaller.
We should also not forget that the team that made the biggest noise over the previous winter was the Arizona Diamondbacks. To say that their plan – if we can call it that – didn’t work out would be a huge understatement. Winning the off-season doesn’t offer guarantees that you’ll win in the regular season.
However, there have been some interesting transactions completed and here are three teams worth keeping an eye on.
The Houston Astros were a relative disappointment in 2016 after their play-off appearance the previous year. They completed most of their off-season work early, making it easy to forget that they have made some decent additions. Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann have joined a batting lineup that was already one of the better units in the Majors. Whether their pitching staff will take a step forward could be the key question for their 2017 prospects.
The Seattle Mariners’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto should simply referred to as ‘The Trader’. He is always keen on making a deal and has completed plenty of trades this off-season, with the most notable additoins being Drew Smyly, Yovani Gallardo, Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson whilst Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns and Seth Smith head the list of players that have been moved on. They finished second in the AL West in 2016, albeit a fair way behind division-winners Texas, and we’ll see if the cumulative effect of the trades have made them better or not.
Finally, the Colorado Rockies managed a surprising third-placed finish in the NL West last year, although their 75-87 win-loss record showed that was more down to Arizona and San Diego’s poor play than their own positive performance. Undeterred, they decided to up the ante by signing Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70m contract and then announced that the intention is for him to play at first base. It ranks as one of the more baffling decisions made in recent years, worth keeping an eye on for the ‘so crazy it just might work’ potential it has.