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Ranking the best off-seasons so far

Dec 29, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT

Carlos Beltran Getty Images

We’re almost into 2014, which means we’re only about a month and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training — the official start of baseball. Most of the big name free agents are off the board and thus most teams have already finished shopping or have done most of the heavy lifting already. With that said, let’s look over the teams that have had the five best off-seasons to this point.

5. New York Yankees — Any time you add Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Hiroki Kuroda, you have had a productive off-season. The Yankees have committed $328 million in free agency so far and may still spend more depending on how far they get in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The Yankees were shocked, however, when second baseman Robinson Cano opted to take a ten-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners — a team that has finished in fourth place or worse in eight out of the last ten seasons — rather than continue his legacy in the Bronx. The Yankees’ already old and injury-prone infield became even more uncertain as they seem to be relegated to using Kelly Johnson sans Cano. The Yankees also have a bit of rotation uncertainty to address, but that could be fixed by signing Tanaka. Overall, a mostly productive off-season but the loss of Cano hit them hard.

4. Detroit Tigers — The Tigers have had an interesting off-season to say the least. They breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were able to unload the remainder of Prince Fielder‘s nine-year, $214 million deal on the Rangers and get Ian Kinsler to show for it. However, they followed up with one of the more questionable trades in recent memory, trading starter Doug Fister to the Nationals for reliever Ian Krol, infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and Minor League starter Robbie Ray. The Tigers are as in win-now mode as any team out there, so the Fister trade could only have precipitated another shoe dropping, but that shoe has yet to drop. Elsewhere, the Tigers added Rajai Davis and Joba Chamberlain along with new closer Joe Nathan. The Tigers should once again be the favorite to win the AL Central.

3. Texas Rangers — There is no doubt the Rangers got better, but the question is at what cost? Acquiring Prince Fielder cost them Ian Kinsler. While they certainly had the depth to afford to do that, they also had to take on Fielder’s gargantuan contract. The Rangers also committed $130 million to Shin-Soo Choo, who may be a platoon outfielder at best. However, the Rangers will have one of the most powerful offenses in baseball in 2014 and should be a pre-season pick to contend at least for the AL Wild Card if not win the AL West outright over the Athletics.

2. Tampa Bay Rays — The small-market Rays raised some eyebrows when they signed free agent first baseman James Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal. In a market flush with first basemen, it was surprising to see the Rays commit three years to a player at a team on the wrong end of the positional spectrum. Loney, however, had a career rebirth in 2013 and the Rays must see a reason for it to continue. Rays GM Andrew Friedman also added reliever Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds, relinquishing only two non-prospect Minor Leaguers. The Rays adequately addressed all of their needs and didn’t get bogged down by a big, expensive contract as is their habit. A pretty standard, productive off-season for them.

1. St. Louis Cardinals — The Cardinals had one need: a shortstop who can hit. The free agent market for shortstops was thin, with just Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew at the top, but the Cardinals snagged their guy, signing Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal. They also traded David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk, a trade that has a lot of upside for the Cards. They have nothing left to do, so they will bide their time until spring training when they will start their quest to win the National League pennant yet again.

  1. David Proctor - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    Shocked that the Nationals didn’t make the list. Not sure what more they could have done to improve themselves.

    • paperlions - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      Yeah, getting a free Doug Fister was a really nice move. That rotation is stacked.

      • gigab0t - Dec 29, 2013 at 7:14 PM

        Can’t believe Tigers let him go for so (seemingly) little.

    • Cris E - Dec 30, 2013 at 1:13 AM

      Judging by the list, they’d have to have been in the 2013 playoffs. I think the criteria was “Teams I found on DVR from last October.”

      • Kevin S. - Dec 30, 2013 at 8:47 AM

        Neither the Rangers nor the Yankees made the 2013 playoffs.

  2. jimmywho14 - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    Not impressed with the Phillies signing of Marlon Byrd?

  3. tsuscrumhalf - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    Can you rank Worst 5?

    • Bill Baer - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:30 PM

      Yeah, I have that scheduled for a little after 7 PM ET.

  4. djpostl - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    Lol, the Rays re-signed a guy who got off to a torrid start then fell back to very pedestrian numbers for a corner infielder in the 2d half, traded for a catcher who was under the Mendoza line last year and acquired the epic disaster known as Heath Bell and you consider that a “productive off-season”?

    • djp266 - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:56 PM

      I don’t see how heath bell is an upgrade from rodney, the padres upgraded there team quite a bit more than the rays this off season so far

      • djpostl - Dec 29, 2013 at 7:35 PM

        Neither do I. Loney will be a below average 1B (offensively), Bell is terrible and Hanigan is mediocre. Rays had zero business being on this list imo.

    • bkoz1 - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      Don’t understand how the Rays improved at all. Stayed the course (a good course mind you) at best. Heath Bell though?

      • djpostl - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:26 PM

        Yup. Once you factor in moves teams in their division (and ones they’ll have to contend with possible WC spots for) made it is hard to say they have done anything but fall behind (if only by a little)

    • clydeserra - Dec 29, 2013 at 9:43 PM

      yeah, not buying the rays

    • spol85 - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      They now have 3 catchers – none of which has ever proven capable of being a full time regular. Signed an average at best 1B for 3 years because nobody else wanted him. Heath Bell addressed their bullpen needs? Are you kidding me? Don’t forget they overpaid a part-time OF in David DeJesus, still have a guy who cant hit lefties as their DH, Matt Joyce.

      They lost their All Star closer to free agency, lost one of their top positional prospects (Tim Beckham) to a torn ACL. Committed to Jose Molina for 2 years only to trade for Hanigan. And still employ a rapist.

      Sounds like a great off season.

      • yahmule - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:03 AM

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who found that strange.

  5. pastabelly - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Who won last year’s offseason? Toronto. :)

    • Old Gator - Dec 30, 2013 at 6:32 AM

      No, it was Scrooge McLoria’s investment bank.

  6. tsuscrumhalf - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    Please make the orioles the worst. I’m writing a letter to Peter Angelos cancelling my season tix & I’d like to include a 3rd party objective of his abdication of a winning strategy given all the concessions mlb made to get a team in dc.

  7. uyf1950 - Dec 29, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    @ Bill Baer, “The Yankees were shocked, however, when second baseman Robinson Cano opted to take a ten-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners…” I think disappointed is a much better word than shocked. I doubt any Yankee official was shocked when the the dollar difference between the 2 offers was $65MM that Cano followed the money.

    • cackalackyank - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:01 PM

      After that rumored 5 million dollar discount Cano offered, I’m surprised they didn’t give him a ride to the airport.

    • proudlycanadian - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:21 PM

      Kuroda was not an addition. They also lost Granderson.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:26 PM

        In effect Kuroda was an addition in that he was a FA after the 2013 season and the Yankees re-signed him. It’s probably just a matter of semantics.

      • djpostl - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:03 AM

        Granderson = little loss. When you replaced him with Ellsburry it’s a net gain.

        Everyone gets hung up on 40 Hrs but his average is horrific and he K’s 1/3 his ABs. Hell, in a full 1/6th of his ABs he went in an 0-2 count over the last 2+ years. That cuts into any advantage the HRs gives the team and once you factor in the kajillion bad reads on balls to the CF it gets even uglier.

        As a team they massively upgraded C & RF, got an upgrade in CF that creates an upgrade in LF by shifting Gardner over. Assuming they’ll address rotation needs that =’s big net gains this off-season, even factoring in Cano’s departure.

      • Cris E - Dec 30, 2013 at 1:18 AM

        The roster didn’t change so Kuroda wasn’t an addition. The rotation is worse and they’ll have to play Ryan at SS for the infield defense not to be substantially worse. Ellsbury will have to stay healthy and they’ll need to pick up more pitching (and keep it healthy) for the Yankees to come close to “winning” the off-season, and neither have ever been sure things.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 30, 2013 at 7:08 AM

        @ Cris, I’m not sure other then your comment about Kuroda that any of your other analysis is correct.
        I’m not sure the Yankees rotation even at it is projected right now is worse then last year. CC was injured and struggled, Pettitte was OK but he had bouts of inconsistency, Hughes was horrendous the whole year and Nova was inconsistent. Aside from replacing Pettitte in this years roster the other regulars can’t help but have a better year then in 2013.

        As for the infield. Yes they did lose Cano and that will hurt. But Tex is way better than Overybay, Jeter and Ryan will be way better than the hodgepodge of players that manned SS for the Yankees in 2013 and the same applies to 3rd base regardless if it’s a combination of A-Rod/Nunez and Johnson. The Yankees had I believe 6 different players play 3rd base at one point in 2013.

        Then their is catching. The upgrade with McCann over a combination of Stewart and Romine defies description.

      • spudchukar - Dec 30, 2013 at 10:47 AM

        The upgrade at catcher is over shadowed by the loss of Cano. Texeira is iffy, Jeter is iffy at best, and Roberts is the definition of iffy. They have no one to play 3B, they have an unproven closer, no eighth inning set-up guy and their rotation is the worst in their division. If they add Tanaka, they will be will still be a starter short of good rotation, and they have six guys who need significant time off and only one DH spot spell them.

        What Yankee fans ignore is the fact that often subs will be employed at 3B, SS, 2B, 1B, C, and RF, and that will create line-ups that are arguably worse than the Astros. Never go into a season hoping, it is guarantee for a mediocre campaign.

      • forsch31 - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        @rotation–The Yankees rotation right now has a whole lot of “ifs”. Sabathia needs to prove himself healthy and show that’s what caused the drop in his velocity. Nova’s had an up-and-down-and up 3 seasons for his career, and Kuroda wore down last year from overuse. Then, there’s the last two holes, which may be filled with a handful of not-quite-young pitchers who haven’t pitched more than 100 innings in the majors (Phelps, Warren, Nuno), a talented but struggling prospect returning from Tommy John (Banuelos), and Michael Pineda…who still hasn’t pitched for New York because of injuries, has only one season in the majors for his career, and in the past two years has pitched only 40.2 innings, all rehabbing in the minors last season.

        If the Yankees don’t get Tanaka, I would be really surprised if they didn’t sign one of the other free agent starters still available. That rotation needs some stability.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 30, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        @ spudchukar, I’m happy to see that you know what ” Yankee fans ignore…”

        What else can I say but, have a good day.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 30, 2013 at 1:22 PM

        @ forsch31, obviously neither one of us has any special insight into what the Yankees will or won’t do. Having said that I do agree with your thought process that if the Yankees don’t sign Tanaka they will sign another starter. In my opinion that is and should be Jimenez. But we’ll see still 6 weeks until pitchers and catchers have to report to camp. I doubt the Yankees are done with their off season/pre-season moves.

  8. Puko - Dec 29, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Why has the media made Peter Bourjos the second coming? If he’s that much of a game-changer, wouldn’t he have commanded more than David Freese? Isn’t he just Ben Revere or am I missing something?

    • gibbyfan - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:49 PM

      I don’t think he will make much of a difference Puko…My guess is that Taveras will be up and he will wind up seeing a lot of bench time and/or late inning defensive play. Not sure that Iv’e seen that much media hype.

      • forsch31 - Dec 30, 2013 at 10:32 AM

        Bourjos is one of the better defensive centerfielders in the league, while Jay was one of the worst. That’s a big upgrade for St. Louis, who had severe issues with range in the outfield last year, and it helps upgrade the bench, since Jay would be a very good 4th outfielder with a solid bat. The question about Bourjos is whether he can avoid the freak injuries and establish his offense enough to take the job away from Jay.

        Taveras is not starting at centerfield if he’s called up. He’s a right fielder who the Cardinals were hoping could learn to play centerfield. Since the trade, GM John Mozeliak has made it clear that Taveras is now focused on right field and getting healthy, and the transition to centerfield is now on the backburner. If/when Taveras is called up and everybody’s healthy, he’ll play right with Craig going back to first and Adams going to the bench or becoming trade bait.

      • paperlions - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:21 AM

        When/if Taveras comes up, it’ll be Jay on the bench. When Healthy Bourjos has been the better player because defense and base running matter. Bourjos has hit very well when healthy and playing full time (2011 and 2013 before he was hit on the wrist by a pitch).

      • gibbyfan - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM

        Well guys that’s what nice about these forums.We can put our opinions out there and then we get to see how it actually pans out..I’ll stick with my projection.Craig and Adams become everyday guys.taveras comes up and goes to center because Craig is in right.PB goes to the bench……Let’s see’
        I know PB is a better fielder than Jay butI’ll go one step further and say that even if Taveras doesnt come up PB will share center with Jay with Jay getting the bulk of playing time

      • forsch31 - Dec 30, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        @gibby–that’s not my opinion; it’s Mozeliak’s. Up until the Bourjos-Freese trade, Taveras was having continual instruction in the fundamentals of playing centerfield, but his injury slowed his play (only 39 games in the outfield) then ended his season. At the press conference for the trade, Mozeliak acknowledged that “the pressure is off” Taveras to play centerfield. Going into Spring Training, the Cardinals will have Bourjos, Jay, and Robinson vying for the centerfield spot. They’ll also have Holliday entrenched and Craig most likely in right. Neither one is a stellar defensive player, especially Craig. Taveras is a better outfielder, and he’s played right field when not learning center. That’s the natural place for him to go next season (while Craig is a solid first baseman).

        @paper–not sure if you where replying to me, but as I wrote, Jay should already be on the bench by the time Taveras comes up. Also, last year was not a healhy season for Bourjos or a good indicator of what he can do long term. He played only 55 games and had only 196 plate appearances–just 25 more PAs than Shane Robinson, and more than 100 less than Matt Adams. He’s also coming off a wrist injury, which is something that could affect his hitting. He’s a great acquisition and I’m thrilled to have him, but there’s still things that need to shake out.

      • gibbyfan - Dec 30, 2013 at 2:17 PM

        Mo is thinking that PB will hit……..and who knows -maybe he will–I hope so but wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that not work out too well and if Taveras just has to fir in I think mos thinking will change and he will wind up in center….It may not be his ideal position but it’s not exactly like asking Craig or Holiday to play there……I will agree for sure on one thing–the outfield is in bad need of range —hate to see craig (and Holiday) out there but can’t take that bat out……Whatever teh scenario I see the Cards dominating the division.

    • asimonetti88 - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      As an Angels fan I was disappointed they couldn’t command more than they did for Bourjos. I don’t think anyone treats him like the second coming, but he is a good player that is outstanding defensively. If he stays healthy he will be a great pickup, if he has the same amount of injury issues as he usually has, it will still be a good pickup.

    • spudchukar - Dec 30, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      You are missing something. Mostly his defensive wizardry. Then there is his base-running, and career offensive numbers that are at times average, and at other times way above average.

  9. joegeshel - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    I hated to see Fister traded. Smiley did well in relief but can he go 6-7 innings every day out? I hope so. The bull pen should be better with Nathan et al. We gave up as much as we got, overall. Let’s hope for the best.

  10. chip56 - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    Bill,

    A. I don’t think the Yankees were particularly shocked. In fact, Brian Cashman said they pretty much knew it was going to happen going into the offseason.

    B. Kelly Johnson was going to play regardless of the Cano situation – he’ll likely be the opening day 3b.

  11. sfs1 - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    Choo is one of the best hitters when in the Reds context, but “may be a platoon outfielder at best” when given a Rangers context.

    Figure?

    • Bill Baer - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      The Rangers paid $130 million for a guy with a .932/.680 right-left OPS split. For the Reds, he had a .423 OBP which will be hard to replace.

    • djpostl - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      One year in baseball =’s fools gold. It’s why teams look at 3-year splits.

      Choo’s splits show he won’t be quite as good as he was in Cincy OBP-wise (though he’ll still be a very good guy for that, likely in the .380 range) but his splits versus LHP are absolutely trending in the wrong direction.

      Maybe he’ll bounce back, but playing the odds says he won’t and he’ll continue to struggle mightily versus southpaws.

  12. missingdiz - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    The Cards also picked up Mark Ellis, as insurance (and mentor maybe?), for Wong at second. So, yeah, I think they’ve had the best off-season. I don’t see how the Tigers have gotten better for next year at all. Maybe the savings on Fielder’s salary will help down the line. But Kinsler in the lineup instead of Fielder and no Fister?

    • osage44 - Dec 30, 2013 at 6:44 PM

      Are you serious? Mark Ellis? The Cardinals GM’s mother doesn’t even believe they had the best off-season.

  13. 461deep - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    Yankees did well signing big names but Beltran and McCann are past their primes and Ellsbury is injury prone so all represent risks. They should do well for 1-2 years in their new short porch stadium however. Landing Tanaka would be a late Christmas present. Orioles l6ack of action is inexcusable to their fans. Cheapo owners destroy good teams too often.

  14. metrocritical - Dec 29, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    Tigers may have paved the way to long term organizational health by getting rid of the Fielder contract but the overall offseason maneuvering didn’t do much to further the “win now” pursuits and if they don’t win now, the ill advised Doug Fister exchange for absolutely nothing will haunt them in 2015 when they lose Scherzer. As things stand right now, they have enormous holes offensively at catcher, shortstop and left field and serious question marks at third base, centerfield and no hitting off the bench. Detroit’s offseason moves helped the rest of the division close the gap on them.

    • weaselpuppy - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      Avila is the #11 C since he came up in fWAR and due to his .350 OBP and pop, is the #10 hitting catcher based on wRC+. He’s got the same impact as Miguel Montero at the plate. They are fine at C.

      Jackson is also a plus hitter at CF based on his 4 yr numbers compared to the league. walk rate is up too.

      Dirks and Davis is a nice platoon with great splits since you have to go cheap somewhere, especially considering Dirks played all year with a balky knee and still was one of 3 finalists for the Gold Glove in LF.

      Castellanos has hit at every stop. He’s the best advanced bat in MiLB and will be just fine. Iggy likely won’t be hitting .300 again, but he has a lot of impact with his glove and baserunning, ditto Davis on the baserunning.

      Good work on the research.

  15. youngcarexec - Dec 29, 2013 at 9:48 PM

    Rays were missing just a bit of offense from the catcher position, and other than 2012 hannigen has hit well enough to be a big upgrade. Also Rodney, like Soriano and Percival before him, is completely used up at this point. The rays rode him hard in 2011 and his decline was evident last year. The rays revitalized Rodney and possibly they can revitalize Bell as well.

  16. nymets4ever - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    Completely disagree with the Tigers being on this list. They gave away Fister for shillings on the dollar. The Fielder trade gives them payroll flexibility going forward, but makes them worse for right now. And Joba Chamberlain stinks.

  17. dinofrank60 - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    Reading this and the worst list, out of 750 players at any time, there are only 75 that are any good, it seems. The rest stink or interchangable.
    That’s the way it reads…

  18. Kevin Gillman - Dec 29, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    Why are the Tigers 4th best offseason? The Fister trade might be the worst offseason deal so far. Ian Kinsler ISN’T the same player, and right now, Omar Infante might be the better player. Drew Smyly taking the place of Doug Fister? Joba Chamberlain taking the place of Joaquin Benoit? I’m an Indians fan, and I say their chance of competing for the AL Central just got better.

    • djpostl - Dec 30, 2013 at 12:10 AM

      The Fister trade WAS the worst off-season move thus far. They got pennies on the dollar for the guy.

      • Kevin Gillman - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:31 AM

        Right which shocks me because Dave Dombrawski is one of the best GMs in the game. Maybe he knws something we don’t know, and Washington will find out. But calling the Tigers the 4th best offseason is reaching, and it’s all because of the Fister trade.

  19. 1historian - Dec 30, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    At this time last year – how did you rank the Red Sox for their off-season activity? How did it turn out? This is just hot stove league stuff.

    • spudchukar - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      Thanks for stating the obvious.

    • paperlions - Dec 30, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      You can do a search to verify if you feel like it, but I loved what the Red Sox did last year. Short deals, spending money only they had to burn to acquire players that filled needs and that were likely good bets to be productive or to bounce back. No, I didn’t think they would be as good as they were, but that was more a function of return to health of the players they already had….the Drew and Napoli deals were steals, the Victorino deal was fine on AAV, just a little long. Gomes was a cheap RH platoon option. Dempster gave them solid rotation depth for only a 2 year deal. None were eye-popping moves, but all were smart: they addressed needs, were short-term, and were players will solid track records that were decent bets to bounce back from 2012 performances because of health issues.

  20. osage44 - Dec 30, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    This guy must be kidding. The Yankees grossly overpaid for very questionable players, and that makes them an off-season winner? The Cardinals pick up two second or third rate players and that is the best off-season? Is there any quality control for baseball writers on HBT?

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