MLB hot stove: Ranking the five best offseasons, featuring the Yankees and Reds
During a slow offseason, these five teams did the most to improve their roster
Last week, we highlighted five teams who had the most disappointing offseasons based on our pre-winter expectations and their actual transactions. Today, let's flip the premise and look at the five teams with the most encouraging offseasons based on the same subjective formula.
Oddly, this list was the more challenging one to piece together. For as long as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper (among others) remain unsigned, every team is effectively punting on fielding their best-possible team. That's disappointing, not encouraging. Nonetheless, there are more than five teams who have reasonable cases for inclusion on this list. We just opted for these five, so don't get upset if you feel your favorite team was robbed. It's not that serious.
To the arbitrary rankings.
The Nationals have added talent all over.
Mike Rizzo signed Patrick Corbin (the best available free-agent starter), Anibal Sanchez, and Jeremy Hellickson to bolster his rotation. He traded for Kyle Barraclough and Tanner Railey brought in Trevor Rosenthal to give his bullpen more gas than Shell. He also dealt for Yan Gomes and signed Kurt Suzuki to upgrade behind the dish, while locking in bounce-back candidate Brian Dozier at the keystone and reuniting with Matt Adams to solidify his bench.
There are nits to pick here, beginning with Harper's likely departure. Realistically, the Nationals are about as well-positioned as a team can be to withstand that loss: they have Juan Soto, Adam Eaton and Victor Robles -- a five-tool prospect who scouts believe will be a better overall player than Soto.
Additionally, a little more patience could have led the Nationals to landing Yasmani Grandal behind the plate. But hey, you'd rather see a competitive team make upgrades than sit around, banking on other teams' greediness to deliver them the top free-agent backstop.
For as much as the Nationals underachieved last season, they seem likely to compete for the National League East title once again this season.
The Yankees haven't grabbed Machado the way everyone expected they would entering the offseason, but they have made a number of notable, likable additions.
The James Paxton trade happened so early in the offseason that it's easy to forget about it and its significance. Paxton has serious durability concerns, but at minimum should be a well-above-average starter for 20 to 25 starts. Pairing him with the recently extended Luis Severino gives the Yankees a nasty one-two punch at the top of their rotation.The Yankees also brought back J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia, both veteran southpaws, to fortify their starting five.
A number of ex-Rockies also made their way to New York: reliever Adam Ottavino (probably the second-best free-agent reliever), DJ LeMahieu (a good glove at second with a Jeter-esque opposite-field approach), and whatever remains of Troy Tulowitzki (a minimum-salary gamble). Add in Zack Britton, and the Yankees have the chance to run out above-average units across the board, including perhaps the best, deepest bullpen in baseball.
Machado or not, it's hard to knock that winter.
The Phillies offseason feels like it's a Machado or Harper signing away from being the best in baseball. And while that addition -- presuming one happens -- is pivotal to the Phillies' competitive chances, we can still give their activity up to this point a thumbs up.
Most recently, the Phillies added J.T. Realmuto, possibly the best backstop in baseball. Realmuto's raw numbers ought to benefit from changing teams and going from a poor ballpark for right-handed power to one of the best. Even if his production remains the same, he qualifies as an upgrade over Jorge Alfaro -- that's no insult to Alfaro, either.
The biggest upgrade the Phillies made might've came at shortstop. Jean Segura is a well-above-average starter who can contribute offensively, defensively, and on the basepaths. League sources had confirmed to CBS Sports earlier in the offseason that the Phillies had shopped J.P. Crawford at the trade deadline, so it was no surprise to see him dealt -- it was, however, a surprise to see him serve as a centerpiece for a deal with this much upside.
In other moves, the Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, and added a few interesting bullpen arms, in Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, and Jose Alvarez. It's a solid-looking bunch on paper -- albeit one that still needs one more big punch to stand out in the NL East.
We're putting the Mets here because it was nice to see them act like a big-market team for a bit.
The Mets added plenty of starpower this winter, in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Edwin Diaz, and Jeurys Familia. But they also addressed some of their depth concerns through small trades and signings. Justin Wilson came cheaper than his late-inning experience and high velocity and spin rate suggested he would, while J.D. Davis and Keon Broxton both have hit-tool concerns but could provide some utility off the bench -- Broxton with his speed and glove, and Davis with his pop (he's essentially the Matt Davidson starter kit, down to his pitching past).
Could this winter go wrong in typical Mets fashion? Absolutely. Lord knows Ramos hasn't been a bastion of good health; Lowrie looked done as recently as 2016; Cano has been outstanding forever, but he's coming off a season in which he was popped for a masking agent; and so on. Even Diaz could stumble, the way so many great closers seem to at random.
Still, give the Mets credit for making the offseason fun. That's more than most teams did.
Yes, we're giving the Reds the top spot here. Not because they necessarily added the most talent during the winter, but because they leaned into trying at a time when few others did.
The Reds haven't been competitive since firing Dusty Baker. They're in a stacked division. Their best prospects haven't yet established themselves as big-league players. Yet the Reds acquired a number of veterans on expiring contracts: Sonny Gray (they've since signed him to an extension), Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Matt Kemp.
It would've been easy for the Reds to shrug off the winter and wait until next year. But when everyone else is content to do the same, then going for it is taking advantage of an inefficient market. Whether or not the Reds' aggression pays off, well, we'll see. For now, we applaud their effort -- and wish other teams would've followed suit.
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