MLB offseason grades: Phillies dominate the winter; White Sox, Giants, Pirates have lousy report cards
In a slow offseason, a few teams managed to stand out
We are just a little over three weeks away from Opening Day 2019. Aside from the record-breaking Manny Machado and Bryce Harper deals, this winter's free agency was a bit of a snooze. Not a ton of teams appeared to be willing to spend big bucks, let alone even engage in talks with this offseason's top free agents. We're almost a week into March and including free agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel.
So while we continue to wait for meaningful baseball games to return, let's take a look at what each of the 30 teams have done this winter to address roster needs and hand out grades for their offseason work.
Starting with the American League East:
Boston Red Sox: C
The good news for the 2018 World Series champions Boston Red Sox is that they will return most of their key players from a 2018 championship run. The club's outfield -- one of the best in baseball -- stays intact, World Series MVP Steve Pearce is back and starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi inked a four-year deal to stay in Boston.
The bad news is that the Red Sox didn't do a whole lot this offseason to address how their bullpen will take form after letting both Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly walk. Since Boston did not acquire any relievers in the trade or free agent markets, their backend bullpen plan seems to include Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, and it's unclear whether or not they both can handle closing out games.
New York Yankees: B-plus
The Yankees managed to improve their roster without shelling out loads of cash for Machado and/or Bryce Harper. It was pretty odd to watch New York sit on the sidelines as other teams went after the pair of superstar free agents, but the club made solid moves to help it get ready to make a third straight appearance in the postseason. With the addition of James Paxton and the re-signings of J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia, the Yankees improved a rotation that was the club's weakest link last season. They also solidified their scary-good bullpen with the signings of Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton.
Without question, the Yankees had the best offseason in the AL East and the club looks like they're going to be one of the most balanced and talented teams in baseball this season.
Tampa Bay Rays: C
Last season, we saw Tampa Bay's young core beginning to show its promise with American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell leading the way. The club did its best to improve on 90 wins this winter, but losing out on both Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion means they're still without a big bat in the middle of the lineup. Cruz signed with the Minnesota Twins, and Encarnacion was dealt from the Cleveland Indians to the Seattle Mariners. Plus, the team had fans scratching their heads after trading away two members of that young core in Jake Bauers and Mallex Smith.
Toronto Blue Jays: C
Really not much to talk about when it comes to the Blue Jays' offseason. The team has one of the best farm systems in baseball, but the Jays didn't do much to supplement their group of talented prospects which includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Aside from the signings of Matt Shoemaker, Clay Buchholz and David Phelps plus a couple of minor trades in which they landed a few pitchers (Trent Thornton, Clayton Richard, Andrew Sopko), it was a quiet winter. The team's hiring of manager Charlie Montoyo was a great move though. Montoyo, who had previously served as the bench coach with division-rival Tampa Bay, is bilingual and known for his strong communication skills and enthusiasm. The Jays gave him a three-year contract.
Baltimore Orioles: D
It was rock-bottom for the Orioles in 2018. And judging by the lack of significant player acquisitions this winter, it's hard to say the results in 2019 are going to be much better. But it can't get worse than 115 losses, right?
The O's do get a fair amount of credit for the hiring general manager Mike Elias as their new head of baseball operations and Brandon Hyde as their next manager. In Elias, Baltimore gets an experienced exec who was part of the highly successful Houston Astros rebuild process when the team went from 111 losses in 2013 to a winning season and playoff berth in 2015 to a championship in 2017. As a member of the Astros' front office, Elias also cultivated a deep familiarity with analytics, which has been another area of relative neglect for the Orioles. Elias' hiring of Hyde, a highly regarded coach and player developer, is another good sign for the Orioles' long-term future.
Moving on to the AL Central:
Cleveland Indians: C
The Indians dealt away key pieces of their lineup such as Edwin Encarnacion and Yan Gomes, while Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen left through free agency. Even with the payroll shedding moves, the Indians are still the favorites in the AL Central, but they could have done a lot more this offseason.
With Gomes gone, the team's full-time catching duties fall to Roberto Perez and they'll field an outfield trio of Greg Allen, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin that seems to lack power. Franchise shortstop Francisco Lindor (7.9 WAR in 2018) suffered a calf injury while preparing for spring training that will likely force him to miss the start of the season, so Indians prospect Yu Chang will stand to benefit as he is the most likely candidate at this time to replace Lindor in the starting lineup.
The club entertained the possibility of trading one of its aces -- either two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, or emerging star Trevor Bauer -- but a deal never materialized. At least the team can once again rely on a strong rotation in 2019, made up of Kluber, Bauer, Carlos Carrasco (who signed a four-year, $47 million extension), Mike Clevenger and Shane Bieber.
Minnesota Twins: A
After the Minnesota Twins 2018-19 offseason, they're a team that could surprise a lot of people.
With key additions of second baseman Jonathan Schoop, first baseman C.J. Cron, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, the team managed to build some depth around its core. Center fielder Byron Buxton is expected to have a comeback season after battling injuries early on last year, while third baseman Miguel Sano won't be on the field until sometime in May after undergoing another debridement procedure on his right leg.
The Twins are only two seasons removed from winning a wild card slot with an 85-77 record, and with their moves this winter, the team's going to have a chance to improve and win right away.
Detroit Tigers: C
The Tigers will continue the painstaking process of retooling their entire roster in 2019, and another 90-loss season is highly likely. But the team made some modest improvements this winter in the hops of topping the 64-98 record they posed in successive seasons.
The team's notable additions this winter include starting pitchers Tyson Ross and Matt Moore along with infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison. Mercer and Harrison, former Pittsburgh Pirates teammates, will form Detroit's new middle infield duo. Mercer will be filling the hole left behind by free agent shortstop Jose Iglesias, who left for the Cincinnati Reds.
Chicago White Sox: D
The White Sox missed out on both superstar free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter... and yeah, that's not great. After a multitude of reports deeming Chicago as legitimate suitors in the Harper and Machado sweepstakes, the team went 0-for-2.
The White Sox missed out on a golden opportunity to add to their core and build toward contention but they still were able to make some productive moves like acquiring Ivan Nova, Yonder Alonso and Alex Colome. The new guys will pair with the team's tangible young talent such as Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez and top prospect Eloy Jimenez, and while this squad's not going to be make a playoff run in 2019, it'll get another step closer to seeing their approach pay off.
Kansas City Royals: C
Like many other teams this offseason, the Royals' winter was just another stepping stone in the current rebuilding process. It was a lot of bargain signings for Kansas City as they grabbed Billy Hamilton and Chris Owings as quality low-cost additions. Rule 5 picks Chris Ellis and Sam McWilliams, as well as Homer Bailey and Kyle Zimmer will try to help address their rotation.
The Royals will now also have to address the catcher position, with Salvador Perez expected to undergo Tommy John surgery. The team is likely going to use the duo of Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria.
But, the Royals best move of this winter was extending utilityman Whit Merrifield who slashed .304/.367/.438 with a 5.5 WAR in 2018, to a four-year, $16.5 million deal.
Houston Astros: B
The Astros are coming off consecutive 100-plus-win seasons, and even with a fairly minimal winter, this team remains atop in the AL West. Houston lost a batch of players to free agency this offseason: starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, utility player Marwin Gonzalez and both of the catchers, Martin Maldonado and Brian McCann. But they have the personnel to withstand the key departures. It's also going to help have Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa return in 2019 for a full, healthy season.
Houston's best moves of this offseason included grabbing a quality bat in outfielder Michael Brantley (.309/.364/.468 last season), finding a new catcher in Robinson Chirinos, trading for infielder Aledmys Diaz and signing free agent starter Wade Miley. The team's biggest question heading into 2019 is its starting rotation. Morton and Keuchel are gone, and Lance McCullers Jr. will be out for the season after Tommy John. The rotation has some holes after Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, so the Astros will probably use some combination of Josh James, Framber Valdez, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Miley to fill the vacant spots.
Oakland Athletics: C
Last season, Oakland got a lot done with very little and now judging by their moves this winter, they're planning to do the same in 2019. The Athletics nabbed a batch of bargain pitchers in Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson. Last season, 15 different pitchers started games for the A's and it looks like they're going to continue with a makeshift rotation for the 2019 season.
Other spots that Oakland filled this offseason: Joakim Soria for the bullpen and Jurickson Profar for second base. It's going to be hard to get this their minimalist plan to work two years in a row, but then again no team is better at getting more with less than the A's.
Seattle Mariners: C-plus
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto's massive rebuild included offloading much of their roster this winter: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura and Mike Zunino. Included in returnamong Dipoto's many trades this winter were J.P. Crawford, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, Domingo Santana, Omar Narvaez, Mallex Smith and a group of pitching prospects including Justus Sheffield.
Sheffield wasn't the only upgrade to the Mariners' previously thin farm system, the team also added seven more top 30 prospects: outfielders Jarred Kelenic, Dom Thompson-Williams and Jake Fraley and pitchers Justin Dunn, Erik Swanson, Ricardo Sanchez and Gerson Bautista. The M's offseason moves make it clear that the team's ready for a change in direction. Seattle is giving itself a chance to end an 18-year playoff drought and be legitimate contenders in a few years.
Los Angeles Angels: B
This winter, it was critical for the Angels to try to build a better supporting cast around superstar Mike Trout (who will be a free agent after 2020), but it just doesn't feel like they got enough. They brought in some new faces to their pitching staff (Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen) which finished 19th in the majors with a 4.34 ERA last season. The team grabbed the aforementioned trio after finishing runners-up on marquee free agent pitchers of Nathan Eovaldi and Patrick Corbin.
While the pitching additions weren't the big splash L.A. was looking for, at least the team added Justin Bour, Tommy La Stella and Jonathan Lucroy to its lineup, which does have a chance to be a powerful offense when paired with the bats of a healthy Shohei Ohtani, Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, Trout and Albert Pujols. They might be able to secure the second wild card spot, but it'll be a tight competition.
Texas Rangers: D
The Texas Rangers are just getting started on their rebuild under new manager Chris Woodward, but they definitely didn't do enough this winter to stay relevant in the AL West in 2019 or in the future. They moved Jurickson Profar to the A's in a three-team deal, signed Lance Lynn to a three-year deal and brought on catcher Jeff Mathis.
Moving on to the National League, starting in the NL East:
Atlanta Braves: C-plus
The Braves looked to build on their 90-win season this winter, and they managed to do a decent job. They added Josh Donaldson to the middle of their lineup, re-signed right fielder Nick Markakis and brought back catcher Brian McCann to pair with Tyler Flowers. The Braves will pair the veterans with 2018 National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2018 All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies. Atlanta also has a young, talented pitching staff, but it's hard to say if that's going to be enough to keep them competing in a division that was very busy this offseason. Spending a little more free agent money would've helped give them a better chance for 2019.
Washington Nationals: B-plus
The Bryce Harper era in Washington is officially over, but the Nats still managed to improve their club even with Harper's departure for Philly. They added top-tier starter Patrick Corbin as well as Anibal Sanchez, to pair with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the rotation.
But the Nats' pitching staff wasn't the only spot where they added talent. Washington improved its catching with the trade for Yan Gomes and the signing of Kurt Suzuki. They also brought in second baseman Brian Dozier and reunited with first baseman Matt Adams. They're well-positioned to withstand the loss of their franchise player and better their 2018 record of 82-80.
Philadelphia Phillies: A-plus
The Phillies delivered on their promise to spend "stupid money" this offseason. Big time.
The team now looks like it's ready to compete in a tough NL East as they managed to address all of their major needs: Jean Segura to fill their gap at shortstop, Andrew McCutchen for a corner outfielder, David Robertson, Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez for bullpen upgrades, J.T. Realmuto as their newest backstop and of course, the Phillies signed this winter's most coveted free agent in Bryce Harper for a record-breaking 13-years, $330 million.
This new squad is likely set as pennant contenders for years to come.
New York Mets: B
Agent-turned-GM Brodie Van Wagenen kicked off his first year in Queens with a flurry of moves. The first major move was acquiring his former client Robinson Cano along with elite closer Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners. Then the Mets tacked on Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia.
The Mets probably won't be at the top of their division in 2019, but at least they're going to be somewhat relevant again thanks to their offseason moves.
Miami Marlins: C
The Marlins' road back to contention still looks like a long one after this winter. They sent their All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies in a four-player deal. The best prospect in the package was right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez. The rest of the package included catcher Jorge Alfaro and southpaw Will Stewart, as well as an international bonus slot. Their return for Realmuto wasn't all that impressive. Earlier in the offseason, they were trying the Mets for Noah Syndergaard and the Yankees for Gary Sanchez and Miguel Andujar.
Back in October, Miami landed Cuban outfielders Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr and the pair definitely has the most upside. Victor Victor was rated the top international free agent at the time of his signing. The Marlins also signed free agent infielder Neil Walker and free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson.
Milwaukee Brewers: B-plus
The Brewers had a solid winter and after making a few small tweaks to the team, and they should be set for another deep playoff run. They sent their 2019 competitive balance pick to the Texas Rangers in exchange for lefty reliever Alex Claudio. They also non-tendered Jonathan Schoop and traded Domingo Santana, replacing them on the roster with Cory Spangenberg (signed to a $1.2 million, one-year deal) and Ben Gamel (acquired in trade with Seattle).
They re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas to a one-year contract, allowing Travis Shaw to return to second base. The team also signed the top free agent catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal, to a one-year deal worth $18.25 million. The Brewers didn't bring in a top starting pitcher, but manager Craig Counsell will have plenty of options when it comes to finalizing a rotation. Chase Anderson, Brandon Woodruff, Zach Davies, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Junior Guerra and Adrian Houser will all be in the mix.
Chicago Cubs: C
The Cubs, like the White Sox, missed out on landing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Unlike the White Sox though, the Cubs aren't in a rebuild, they're looking for their fourth straight playoff appearance. This team had money to spend but they stayed quiet.
So they kept Cole Hamels and added utility infielder Daniel Descalso along with right-handed pitchers Brad Bach and Kendall Graveman. While the rest of the NL Central got better this winter, the Cubs watched from the sidelines and because of it, they're not going to be viewed as the runaway favorites for their division in 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals: A
No Bryce Harper and no Manny Machado, but the Cardinals rebounded with the additions of star reliever Andrew Miller and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. With Goldschmidt, St. Louis has a big-time bat which should help the Cards get back to the playoffs. With Miller, the Cards' bullpen get a veteran presence and the help that they have desperately needed.
The other key acquisition of this winter was trading for super-utilityman Drew Robinson from the Texas Rangers in exchange for infielder Patrick Wisdom. Robinson adds depth to St. Louis' bench, and he has great versatility on defense having played all three outfield spots, second base, shortstop and third.
The NL Central is not getting any easier, but at least the Cardinals made the right kind of moves to try and end their playoff dry spell.
Pittsburgh Pirates: F
The Pirates won't see any substantial improvement from their fourth-place finish and 82-79 record in the 2018 season after a slow winter. They allowed Josh Harrison to join the Detroit Tigers via free agency and dealt starter Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox.
Pittsburgh brought in left-handed reliever Francisco Liriano and right-handed starter Jordan Lyles. Free agents Lonnie Chisenhall and Melky Cabrera both became Pirates this winter. Chisenhall will be used as a fill-in at right field until Gregory Polanco returns from offseason shoulder surgery and Cabrera will be competing for a spot in the outfield in spring training. A few solid improvements but none of Pittsburgh's offseason moves are going to be enough to help them advance in the NL Central.
Cincinnati Reds: B
It was a very productive winter in Cincinnati. The Reds acquired Sonny Gray, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, Jose Iglesias, Derek Dietrich and Matt Kemp. Puig, Wood and Kemp all came over in the blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cincinnati also signed closer Raisel Iglesias (30 saves in 2018) to a team-friendly three-year, $24.1 million extension.
The team might finish in last place for the fifth straight season, but it didn't wait until next winter to start making the right moves. Roark and Wood will instantly make the starting rotation better, while Puig and Kemp will be quality bats.
Los Angeles Dodgers: C
The NL West is the Dodgers' division to win again even after suffering a huge talent loss this winter. Los Angeles added A.J. Pollock, Joe Kelly, and Russell Martin but lost Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier and Matt Kemp.
Both Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu will return in 2019 after Kershaw signed a three-year, $93 million extension and Ryu agreed on the qualifying offer. The team will still be at the top in their division, but it's just not a successful winter when you miss out on both Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. They'll stay under the luxury-tax threshold again though.
Colorado Rockies: C-plus
Colorado's best move of the offseason was signing third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension. Getting the deal done early relieves pressure off both sides, and locks down Arenado as the franchise third baseman.
The other noteworthy offseason deal was the signing of veteran Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million deal. Murphy has a proven ability to hit in key situations and has a chance to provide decent value, especially when he's healthy. He'll play first base and Ian Desmond will return to the outfield. Colorado has a young starting rotation, run-producing bats in the lineup and playoff experience. Even after a fairly low-key winter, they should be able to make their presence felt again come this October.
Arizona Diamondbacks: C
The D-Backs faced an important decision this offseason after their September collapse: attempt to retool the roster, rebuild entirely at once or keep select players and try to build around them. Arizona chose to rebuild.
The club traded first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. They also saw Patrick Corbin leave for the Washington Nationals, outfielder A.J. Pollock sign with the Dodgers, catcher Jeff Mathis join the Texas Rangers, veteran utilityman Daniel Descalso leave for the Cubs and right-hander Clay Buchholz sign with the Blue Jays.
Right now the Diamondbacks' plan is have Jake Lamb (third to first) and Ketel Marte (second to center) switch positions as a start to address the gaps from the winter's significant losses. But the team still faces serious issues with its bullpen, even after the acquisition of veteran arm Greg Holland.
San Francisco Giants: F
Quiet offseason is an understatement for San Francisco. They're a team in the middle of a rebuild, with an aging core of players and a drained farm system.
When San Francisco appeared as a late contender in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, it could've been the big signing they needed to jumpstart their path back to relevancy. But no Harper, and instead they signed pitchers Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and Pat Venditte all to one-year deals.
San Diego Padres: B-plus
The Padres have a talented farm system and bright hopes for the future, and signing Manny Machado will accelerate their path to winning. Even though the team is probably still a few years away from legitimate contention, the addition of Machado gives their infield the potential to become one of baseball's best.
At first base, there's Eric Hosmer, veteran Ian Kinsler will play second base until Luis Urias is ready to take over, top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. will be the Padres' shortstop and Machado will be the club's new third baseman. The turnaround isn't going to happen in 2019, but Machado will be a foundational piece in helping shape the young core's development.
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