With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings wrapped up and Opening Day just a few months away, there were a lot of big names on the move and still a handful of marquee players available. The hot stove was blazing the past few weeks, setting up for a very interesting 2016 season. Here are my 5 Big Winners of the MLB Offseason so far. The 5 teams that I think improved themselves the most from last year.
#5– San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are looking to get back into the post-season after missing out last year. A very successful team over the past decade, the Giants have won two World Series titles under manager Bruce Bochy and still have a very talented team. Led by ace Madison Bumgarner, they added to their arsenal by adding two solid arms in Jeff Samardzija (5 years, $90 million) and Johnny Cueto (6 years, $130 million).
The Giants have the potential to have the most talented rotation in all of baseball and may even be the favorites to win the National League West, if not the pennant as well. Veterans Matt Cain and Jake Peavy round out the rotation, with perennial all-star Buster Posey calling the pitches. The Giants also may be interested in signing left fielder Alex Gordon, which would move the Giants way up this list.
#4– Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox haven’t made much noise in the American League Central the past few years as they have entered somewhat of a rebuilding mode. Last year, the Chi Sox got only 13 homers from their 3rd base spot, so they went out and sought better hitting from the infield. In a 3-team deal with the Dodgers and Reds, Chicago gave a few young players to get 3rd baseman Todd Frazier from Cincinnati. Frazier is one of the better power hitters in baseball the past couple years, bringing 30+ home runs annually, and will add some major pop alongside first baseman José Abreu.
In a previous deal, the White Sox acquired Brett Laurie from Oakland, who is set to play 2nd base. They are hoping he will reach his full potential and be a guy that can find the seats in a hitter friendly ballpark. Lawrie is a reasonably cheap upgrade and Frazier is an absolute steal right now as he is set to make just $7.5 million, and doesn’t hit free agency until after 2017.
#3- Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks needed to make a big move to try and compete with the likes of the Giants and the Dodgers out west, and what a splash they made. Getting potentially the biggest free agent in all of baseball, starting pitcher, Zack Greinke for 7 years in a monster deal. A signing that came out of left field, nobody saw Greinke heading to the desert. Joining Greinke in Arizona will be another quality arm as the Diamondbacks acquired Shelby Miller from Atlanta for former first round pick Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte.
While dealing away two potentially great players, the Diamondbacks get potentially an even better player in Miller. He is a legitimate #2 after posting solid numbers with the Braves last year but was very unlucky with what little run support he received. Also, at just 25 years old, Miller is under team control for another few years.
#2- Boston Red Sox
When Dave Dombrowski joined the front office in Boston, he wasted little time in trying to build another championship roster in Beantown. Headlined by the signing of former Cy Young winner David Price, the Red Sox improved their pitching staff immensely. Coming off one of his best seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, Price signed a 7 year deal worth $217 million but has an opt out option after 3 years. For Boston, they are back into familiar territory looking to win now and they feel they have the pieces to make it happen.
Joining Price on the pitching staff, the Red Sox acquired one of the best closers in baseball from San Diego, Craig Kimbrel. Koji Uehara has been lights out in that role for the Red Sox over the last handful of years but with an injury plagued season a year ago, the Red Sox now boast a nearly unbeatable backend of their bullpen.
In a trade with Seattle, the Bo Sox also received reliever Carson Smith and starting pitcher Roenis Elias. Smith is a very reliable bullpen arm who posted a 2.31 ERA in relief with a lot of strikeouts. Elias is more of a backend of the rotation guy who doesn’t have outstanding career numbers. He does have five more years of team control for cheaper than what Wade Miley was earning, and for arguably around the same if not slightly better numbers. Bottom line, with the offense that the Blue Jays has in that division, the Red Sox had to get some pitching to be able to shut them down, and took the ace of Toronto’s staff in the process.
#1- Chicago Cubs
My winner thus far in the MLB offseason has to be the Chicago Cubs. Theo Epstein has done a remarkable job since joining the Cubbies front office. After making it to the NLCS last year, it’s looking like World Series or bust for the Cubs this year. The two biggest acquisitions the Cubs made may be more about who they stole them from and not as much about who the players are. Constantly looking up in the standings to the St Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, the Cubs plucked two very talented players from St Louis to hopefully shake the standings up a bit this year.
The biggest splash was with the Cubs agreeing to terms with outfielder Jason Heyward for 8 years and $184 million. A pretty large contract possibly considered a bargain considering Heyward is rumored to have turned down some $200+ million offers to sign with Chicago. The other former Cardinal to join the Cubs is veteran starter John Lackey. At 37 years old, Lackey signs a 2-year, $32 million deal with the hopes of building on his already sound postseason numbers. Coming off a year in which he finished the regular season with a 2.77 ERA, Lackey appears to have plenty left in the tank.
A familiar face for manager Joe Maddon also joins the Cubs as former Tampa Bay Ray Ben Zobrist signed a 4-year $56 million deal. While this deal may prove to be a little steep for a utility guy at age 34, Zobrist isn’t your average utility man. He can play just about anywhere in the outfield and infield, and he was a key piece in the Kansas City Royals’ World Series run last year, as he started most of their games after being acquired at the trade deadline. He’ll see a lot time in the starting lineup again this year and may even see some time in the middle infield helping to take over for Starlin Castro, who was traded to the Yankees in exchange for a talented young pitcher Adam Warren. The Cubs are set up nicely with a lot of young talent to contend for many years to come.