With six weeks before spring training, there’s still a ton of talent available in free agency and trades. But there already are some clear offseason winners in terms of the 2017 season.
A few disclaimers: 1) Teams that simply re-signed their own players (Dodgers) aren’t necessarily improved; 2) teams that sacrificed the future for the present (Nationals) are improved, since the focus is on the 2017 season; 3) teams that loaded up on top prospects for the future (White Sox) aren’t necessarily improved for the upcoming season.
Without further ado, the five most improved MLB teams so far this offseason:
USA TODAY SportsThomas B. Shea
What do you get when you take an 84-win team and add Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Charlie Morton and Nori Aoki, among others? An AL West champion, at least on paper … in January. The main problem with Houston last season was the 7-17 hole it dug for itself in April and from which it could never escape.
There’s already a talented (and young) core in place with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis – and now upgrades in left field, right field, catcher and DH. Plus, Morton provides a veteran insurance policy for the rotation, which is due to get several bounce-back efforts and still might be upgraded further.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
Boston pulled off the offseason’s biggest blockbuster, paying a steep price in prospects to pry left-hander Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale joins Rick Porcello and David Price as a three-headed monster atop the rotation. The bullpen got a boost, too, with the acquisition of Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers.
Yes, there is plenty of offense to replace with the retirement of David Ortiz, but free-agent addition Mitch Moreland can help. He has hit 20-plus homers in his past three full seasons (he played only 52 games in 2014) and has a 1.061 OPS in 14 career games at Fenway Park.
USA TODAY SportsPatrick Gorski
They didn’t need to do much – not with that rotation, which will be healthy come spring, and a tremendous young core in the lineup. It’s tough to part ways with Mike Napoli – both for his on-field production and his clubhouse contributions – but there was simply no guarantee he’d duplicate his career-best season at age 35.
Enter Edwin Encarnacion, who was arguably the most valuable free-agent slugger on the market, at a relatively bargain price. Nothing is a given, but Encarnacion’s track record – he ranks second in the majors since 2012 with 193 homers and sixth with a .912 OPS – is obviously encouraging.
Toronto Star via Getty ImagesCarlos Osorio
Not only does Dexter Fowler provide power and speed to the lineup – perhaps from the leadoff spot – and outstanding defense in center field, he is a tremendous team leader. That was obvious given the way his former Cubs teammates welcomed him back last spring and then wished him a fond farewell after he signed with St. Louis in December.
The Cardinals also addressed a glaring bullpen need by inking lefty Brett Cecil, who has an 11.46 K/9 ratio, a 1.17 WHIP and 2.90 ERA over the past four seasons while averaging 60 appearances and 51 innings per season.
Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty ImagesErin Hooley
They have been busy for the second consecutive offseason, but haven’t made the splashy kinds of moves that grab headlines. Instead, Seattle has added several valuable pieces to a roster that won 86 games last season. Chief among the additions is shortstop Jean Segura, who led the National League with 203 hits while playing for the Diamondbacks last season. Segura gives the Mariners a much-needed leadoff man – one who has pop (20 homers) and speed (33 steals)
Seattle also added the versatile Danny Valencia, who can play both corner infield and corner outfield spots. And although the M’s parted ways with Taijuan Walker, they added some insurance depth with Chris Heston, who is a season removed from posting a 3.95 ERA with the Giants. Finally, don’t overlook the addition of veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz.