MLB hot stove: Ranking the five most disappointing offseasons, including the Dodgers and Cubs
During a slow winter, these five teams didn't do much to improve their rosters
With pitchers and catchers reporting across Florida and Arizona, it's time to put a bow on the offseason and recap the winter's happenings. This process includes highlighting teams who, in our estimation, had disappointing offseasons. Obviously the ongoing free agencies of Manny Machado's and Bryce Harper's make this exercise more difficult, but we've decided to proceed with the caveat that our analysis is a snapshot in time. If things change, they change.
First, a note on what we mean by "disappointing." In some cases it's relative to expectations heading into the offseason, and in others it's about the moves teams made (or didn't make). This is a subjective analysis, of course, one that's unlikely to be agreed with by all. Such is life.
Second, it should go without saying that there are other teams could slot into these spots. We essentially flipped a coin in deciding who would rank fourth and fifth and who would be left off the list. Do note you can sub in the Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, or a number of other teams into the bottom two slots and we wouldn't object. There were a lot of disappointing winters this year -- as you might expect, given that Machado and Harper remain unsigned.
Anyhow, onto the five we chose to wrote about.
The Rays entered the offseason flush with cash and prospects and signaled a desire to add impact-level talent. The Rays appeared genuine in their pursuit when they signed Charlie Morton to stabilize their rotation. Since then, however, they've came up short time and again. Barring a shocker, Tampa Bay's biggest free-agent addition to their lineup will be Avisail Garcia, with Mike Zunino, Yandy Diaz, and Guillermo Heredia arriving in trades. Of those four, only Diaz finished with an OPS+ above 100 last season, and his production came in a limited sample.
It's not the Rays' fault the Arizona Diamondbacks chose the St. Louis Cardinals' package over one headlined by outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez. It is their fault they were outbid on Nelson Cruz (among other reasonably priced free-agent options) and that they weren't one of the final few teams in the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes. Instead the Rays proceeded as they normally do, landing projects with the hopes they can coach more out of them than other organizations could.
Those gambles could pay off and the Rays could look savvy once again, but this was supposed to be the winter they landed a batter with greater certainty to buttress their young core. That they didn't is a bummer.
Is this too harsh? Probably.
The Angels finished runners-up on a number of players, and yet were fairly active in adding complementary players to their pitching staff (Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen) and lineup (Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy, Tommy La Stella). Those moves should result in an improved roster. But it doesn't feel like enough -- besides, trying and failing is still failing, right?
There are two other factors at play that contribute to our feelings about the Angels' offseason. The first is the Angels are projected to finish 10 games back of the Houston Astros, leaving them in what could be a tight competition for the second wild card spot. As such, the Angels could use every win they can get in order to improve their chances of reaching the postseason.
The other is that Mike Trout will be a free agent after 2020. We're not asking them to tear down their farm system or go wild with spending in order to make the most of these two seasons, but there should probably be a greater sense of urgency.
Speaking of which ….
Cleveland remains the favorite in the American League Central, but it's not because of. We understand that front offices can operate only within the budgets handed to them by ownership, and that Cleveland's mini-teardown probably has more to do with ownership's whims than some grand plan the front office wanted to put into motion. But jeez.
To recap: Cleveland permitted Josh Donaldson, Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen to walk; traded away Yan Gomes; and swapped Edwin Encarnacion for Carlos Santana to save cash. And they've only recently started to address their holes in the outfield and in the bullpen, with Nick Wittgren serving as their most notable addition until Friday's Alex Wilson signing.
It could be worse, we guess. They could've traded Corey Kluber or not extended Carlos Carrasco at a laughably team-friendly rate. Picking up Kevin Plawecki, Jake Bauers, and Jordan Luplow could prove smart. But it could be better, too. Cleveland shouldn't have to count on nailing every pickup in order to sail into the postseason. If anything, they should be swinging for the fences in order to catch up with the rest of the top American League teams.
That ownership doesn't seem to see that -- or doesn't want to -- is a shame.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs' rank is simple: The expectation was they'd land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. They didn't. Rather than pursue Harper or Machado, the Cubs kept Cole Hamels and added a few role players on cheap deals: Daniel Descalso and Brad Brach.
The Cubs could win the NL Central, and they might win the pennant. But it's hard to look at this offseason -- one in which they tendered Addison Russell then claimed to be too cash-strapped to land Adam Warren of all people -- and feel as though they did as much as they should have.
If we're giving the Cubs grief, it's only right that we put the Dodgers at the top of the list.
Unless the Dodgers sign Machado or Harper, their offseason will have seen them add A.J. Pollock, Joe Kelly, and Russell Martin while subtracting Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Matt Kemp, and yes, potentially Machado. That's a lot of talent loss for a club that has won consecutive pennants and remains nearly $8 million below the luxury tax.
As with some of the other teams on this list, the Dodgers still have a good squad. They're favored to win the NL West and could easily find themselves playing in a third consecutive World Series. Their path would be clearer with a better winter, however, and that's why we're deeming their offseason to be the most disappointing in the sport.
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