- Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hogged most of the spotlight this offseason, so let's reset all of the big moves that happened since November.
Manny Machado and Bryce Harper finally have teams, so can we finally call it a wrap on the offseason? With Opening Day just a few weeks away, let’s take stock of a long and hectic winter, recapping the biggest moves and seeing how it all shook out for the spring.
Plenty of Players Remain Unsigned
Even though Machado and Harper have new homes, the free-agent market still offers plenty for the interested buyer even into March. Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Adam Jones, Gio Gonzalez, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gonzalez and James Shields can all be had for just money, as can a plethora of useful veterans and minor leaguers. No, you can’t assemble a particularly good team from what’s left, but that list does include a former Cy Young winner in Keuchel, one of the five best relievers in the game in Kimbrel, a solid centerfielder and clubhouse leader in Jones, and a fair amount of back-of-the-rotation or bench help. Weirdly, though, no one seems interested; Kimbrel reportedly hasn’t even received a single contract offer, in what I’m sure is merely a strange coincidence.
Big-Name Players Who Changed Teams
It wasn’t just Harper and Machado who switched clubs and helped reshape the league’s power balance. This winter was a busy one, particular on the trade front, as several teams shook up their rosters.
No one did more than the Phillies: Beyond adding Harper, they also picked up two All-Stars in Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto, a former MVP in Andrew McCutchen, and a veteran setup man in David Robertson. Those moves didn’t come cheap, but they’ve set Philadelphia up as a true contender.
Perhaps the best player traded this winter, though, was Paul Goldschmidt, who left the Diamondbacks for the Cardinals, his spiritual home. St. Louis also bolstered its bullpen by signing long-limbed lefty Andrew Miller in a bid to reassert its NL Central supremacy.
Elsewhere, the Mariners shipped lefty ace James Paxton to the Yankees as part of Seattle’s rebuild; along with him and Segura, Robinson Canó and Edwin Diaz also left the Pacific Northwest, sent to Queens to join the Mets. New York was plenty active under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, signing Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos and reuniting with Jeurys Familia.
Speaking of NL contenders: The Brewers beefed up their lineup by signing Yasmani Grandal and bringing back Mike Moustakas; the Nationals added a third ace to their rotation by giving Patrick Corbin a $140 million contract; the Dodgers picked up A.J. Pollock to take over centerfield and extended Clayton Kershaw’s contract; the Rockies snagged Daniel Murphy to fill their hole at first base; and the Braves took a one-year gamble on Josh Donaldson.
Over in the AL, Michael Brantley moved from Cleveland to Houston, while Marwin Gonzalez left the Astros to sign with the Twins. Minnesota also added ageless slugger Nelson Cruz and ex-Rays first baseman C.J. Cron, slotting two power bats into an enhanced lineup. Tampa Bay unexpectedly made a free-agent splash by signing righty Charlie Morton while Boston kept both World Series MVP Steve Pearce and hard-throwing starter Nate Eovaldi. But the biggest moves in the AL East unsurprisingly came courtesy the Yankees, who added Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki, DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino into the fold while also re-signing Zack Britton, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner.
The Best Under-the-Radar Moves
Not every impactful move had to make the headlines. Here are a few signings and trades that could make a substantial difference despite being seemingly minor.
• Catcher was a huge hole for the Nationals last year. It shouldn’t be this season with Washington signing Kurt Suzuki and trading for Yan Gomes. Both are solid hitters for the position, with the latter a strong defender.
• The Nationals also smartly added some rotation depth in Anibal Sanchez, who climbed out of baseball purgatory with Atlanta and was one of the majors’ best at inducing soft contact last season.
• Jonathan Schoop had a disastrous 2018 split between Baltimore and Milwaukee, but he’s only two years removed from a 32-homer campaign. He’s a nice addition on the cheap for Minnesota.
• Justin Bour doesn’t offer much beyond power, but he’s got plenty of it, and he should bring that in spades to an Angels team that needs it.
• Amid Seattle’s depressing rebuild, they scored an intriguing young power bat in Domingo Santana, who was squeezed out of Milwaukee’s crowded outfield rotation.
• Houston lost Keuchel and Morton from the rotation (as well as Lance McCullers, who will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery). Veteran lefty Wade Miley won’t replace all those innings, but he should provide quality thanks to a newfound cutter that produces lots of weak groundballs.
The NL East: It’s Very Tough
What is MLB’s toughest division? My bet is on the NL East, where the Phillies, Mets, Braves and Nationals all look like postseason contenders. The favorite of that quartet is probably Philadelphia, which took a big step forward by signing Harper in a necessary move. But you can’t overlook last year’s champ in Atlanta, stacked with young talent and set to get a full year of Ronald Acuña Jr. along with Donaldson, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies. The big question there is pitching depth.
The Nationals will miss Harper, but their rotation should be better with Corbin behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and in-house Harper replacement Victor Robles should form a powerful pair in the outfield with NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Juan Soto. And while the Mets are still a rickety team, they filled a lot of holes this winter, even if they remain unwilling to spend what they should to do so.
Pity the Marlins, though, who are in the unenviable position of being the punching bag for all four of these squads. Miami is all but a lock for 100-plus losses having to play half its schedule against this rough-and-tumble group.
The AL Central: It’s Very Bad
The inverse of the NL East is the AL Central, where mediocrity rules the day … and even that might be too kind. Division leader Cleveland spent the offseason actively getting worse; the Indians’ only addition of note was bringing back Carlos Santana while shopping in the dollar bin. Minnesota added some power in Cruz and Cron and some versatility in Gonzalez, but it’s hard to feel good about that rotation and bullpen.
At least those two teams have playoff hopes, though. The rest of the division is a rebuilding mess. The White Sox pursued Harper and Machado only to come up empty, and the team was otherwise bizarrely reluctant to open its wallet despite a miniscule payroll and the need for a developed star. The Sox are still in better shape than the Tigers and Royals, though: Both will be awful in 2019—and the latter just lost Salvador Perez for the season. Don’t be surprised when the AL Central champion clinches the division with 85 wins.
A Bunch of Teams Still Aren’t Trying
You can safely pencil in the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, and Marlins for losing seasons. The Blue Jays, Mariners, Pirates and Giants are likely to join them, with the Diamondbacks and Padres also good bets to land under .500. That’s a third of the league cruising toward irrelevance with no hope of the playoffs this year. Sure, there are plenty of teams that look like real World Series threats. But the league as a whole remains sharply divided between the haves and have-nots: Few if any squads are in that middle ground of dark-horse contention. In today’s MLB, you either shine or you suck.
The Reds Suddenly Are
Kudos then to Cincinnati for deciding to give it a shot in 2019 after years of terrible play. The Reds were one of the league’s most active teams this winter, landing Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark through trades, and if you squint just right, you can see the outline of a contending team in the Queen City. The lineup is strong, the rotation is better, and the bullpen has some talent. First place in a tight NL Central is unlikely, but if nothing else, at least the Reds are trying, which is more than can be said about plenty of teams.
A Lot of Contenders Did Nothing
On the other hand, a lot of teams already safely in the World Series picture sat on their hands this winter. As noted, Cleveland had a terrible offseason, apparently content to trim payroll knowing that winning the AL Central takes no effort. But what’s the Cubs’ excuse? The NL Central is going to be a dogfight all year, but Chicago goes into the season with next to nothing in terms of reinforcements for a roster that fell apart down the stretch last year. The Cubs’ only notable free-agent signing was utility infielder Daniel Descalso, as they sat out the Harper and Machado chases despite ample need for either (and honestly both). It was a stunning display of cheapness from one of the league’s wealthiest franchises.
The Dodgers also had a winter to forget. Pollock is a fine outfielder when healthy, but that’s a big “if,” and beyond him, Los Angeles didn’t do much else. Bringing back Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu was a necessity, and maybe the Dodgers’ coaching staff can unlock Joe Kelly’s consistency in the bullpen. But this is another team that easily could’ve used Harper and instead passed for budgetary reasons. It’s baffling that a team coming off back-to-back World Series losses didn’t get aggressive.
And while you can argue that a team coming off 108 wins and a championship doesn’t need much help, Boston spent the offseason on the sidelines, re-signing Pearce and Eovaldi but otherwise staying quiet. The biggest question is what happens with a bullpen that was already thin with Kimbrel and is now even weaker. The Red Sox do have the majors’ biggest payroll, but Dave Dombrowski is putting a lot of trust in his roster not taking even a small step back, as the Yankees are right there waiting to pounce if Boston does slip up.