With MLB spring training opening up next month, let’s take a look at what offseason moves will have the biggest impact in 2017.
Every offseason there are a few moves that seem to either put contending teams over the top or make a losing club much more competitive. This winter has been no different. While there wasn’t as much premier talent on the MLB free agent market than in year’s past, there were still moves made that could shift the balance of power in MLB.
From power hitters and premier closers to a deal that sent one of baseball’s best starters to an already great rotation, this offseason has seen its fair share of changes. That’s not to say that some of the more impactful moves of the offseason have to make the biggest headlines. Sometimes it’s the under-the-radar signings and trades that can make all the difference. Still, normally the best talent makes the most impact.
For this list, we’ll be looking at what transactions this offseason will make the biggest impact on MLB in 2017. Many of these free agent signings and trades will affect teams’ outlooks for longer than just next season, this list is only focusing on how these moves will shift the landscape for this coming regular season.
So without further adieu, here are the most impactful MLB offseason decisions thus far.
I wrestled with putting Aroldis Chapman in this spot over Mark Melancon, but in the end I think that the team acquiring Melancon allows the former Pittsburgh Pirate to make more of an impact, even though Chapman is the superior closer. While Melancon did not get the hype of Chapman or Kenley Jansen on the free agent market, he’s been one of the most consistent closers in MLB. He does not have the strikeout numbers of a normal All-Star reliever, but he throws a full arsenal of pitches and will thrive in the ninth inning for the Giants. San Francisco was never really a true World Series contender last season because of its bullpen. But the addition of Melancon fills that hole and drastically changes the dynamics in the National League West.
9. Washington Nationals Trade for Adam Eaton
In one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, Nationals general manager, Mike Rizzo, decided to trade away three of his top pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Granted he does get a highly talented and effective outfielder in Adam Eaton, who can play all outfield spots, but the Nationals weren’t expected to deal all three of these farmhands. However, even though there is a lot to criticize about the actual trade, Eaton does improve Dusty Baker‘s lineup dramatically. Presumably, the 28-year-old will play center field in 2017, which will shift Trea Turner back to his natural position of shortstop. Washington was very close to advancing to the NLCS, and adding a player the caliber of Eaton at the top of the lineup will allow for more RBI opportunities for Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper. The price to acquire Eaton was extremely high, but when an All-Star caliber player is added to a contender like the Nationals, it’s going to make a big impact on MLB.
8. Chicago Cubs Acquire Wade Davis
After breaking the longest championship drought in the United States, it looks like Theo Epstein is serious about a repeat. When the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in the summer, they knew that he had a strong possibility of walking in free agency after the season. However, not only did Cubs management fill this void, they added one of the few relievers of similar caliber. When looking at Chicago’s roster, the only major hole this offseason resided in the ninth inning. It would’ve been cost efficient to let the likes of Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Rondon duke it out for the closing. But by adding a pitcher like Wade Davis, the Cubs will return a team that is extremely similar to the one that broke the curse. This trade solidifies Chicago’s hold of MLB’s top spot.
7. Houston Astros Add Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran
No, I’m not leaving out Brian McCann, I just don’t think he makes as big of an impact than Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran. Both sluggers were traded during the 2016 season and did not cost Houston a draft pick. The Astros were unable to return to the playoffs last season after their surprising run two years ago. Much of this was due to a regression of the starting rotation and a lack of power offensively. While the Astros have not addressed its pitching staff this winter, the team did add two middle of the order hitters. Beltran is simply an ageless wonder. He will be 40 years old for much of this coming season, but his production has not really dropped. He brings both a solid batting average and power to a lineup that already includes game breakers like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Reddick has been a premier power hitter with the Athletics, but struggled to find his form with the Dodgers. He’s now in a great situation with all the offensive talent around him, so I expect improvement in 2017. Beltran and Reddick make Houston’s lineup one of the best in MLB, and for that, they rank in the top ten.
6. Ian Desmond Signs with the Colorado Rockies
This was the most shocking development of the offseason thus far. We all knew that the Rockies had holes in the bullpen, rotation and at first base, so why would they sign a former shortstop and current outfielder in Ian Desmond? Apparently, the Rockies expect Desmond to be their starting first baseman in 2017. The impact from this signing is not solely based upon Desmond’s expected contributions, but how it affects MLB in general. By adding Desmond, the Rockies have may be willing to trade an upper-tier outfielder like Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez. This would drastically shift the outfield market, and throws a wrench into what teams expected to occur this offseason. Desmond’s free agent decision adds some drama to a market that seemed set, which is why his move to Colorado ranks this high. Plus, the 31-year-old is coming off a very solid season as well.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers Make a Flurry of (Re) Signings
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Kenley Jansen: 5 years, $80 million
Justin Turner: 4 years, $64 million
Rich Hill: 3 years, $48 million
After the Dodgers lost in the NLCS, Andrew Friedman knew that the core of this team was about to enter free agency. He risked losing one of his best hitters, his second best starting pitcher and one of the best closers in MLB. With that, we knew keeping the team intact, let alone improving the team would be a challenge. Still, the 2016 NL West champs were able to re-sign all three of their impending free agents.
Justin Turner, 32, suffered through a tough first half in 2016, but bounced backed in a big way during the second part of the regular season. Finishing with a career-high 27 home runs and an impressive WAR of 4.9 (Baseball Reference), the Dodgers knew that were not many third baseman available to replace that kind of production. So giving him a four-year deal with approximately $16 million a year was a no brainer.
Rich Hill was outstanding when he took the mound in 2016. The only problem was that the 37-year-old suffered through blister problems during through much of the season. Still, beefing up the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw was clearly an important task this winter. Kenta Maeda was solid in his first year in MLB and Julio Urias has a tremendous amount of potential. But neither is an extremely reliable option to hold down the fort if Kershaw were to get injured again. If the veteran left hander can stay on the field in 2017, he adds a tremendous value to a team that is looking to compete with the rotations of the Cubs and Giants.
Brining back Kenley Jansen may have been the most surprising move considering the amount of completion in the free agent closer market. Even with intense interest from Miami and Washington, the All-Star reliever reportedly took less money to re-up in Hollywood. Los Angeles’ bullpen would have been a major question mark if the Dodgers were unable to retain Jansen. Now, Dave Roberts can use his All-Star closer as a shield to the rest of his relief staff, which will help to keep the Dodgers in prime position to reach the NLCS once again.
4. Cardinals Steal Dexter Fowler from Division Rival
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Unlike many other positions, the group of free agent outfielders was fairly stocked with top-level talent. The best of the bunch to move made a switch inside the National League Central. A year after the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward away from St. Louis, the Cardinals took the World Series champs’ 30-year-old center fielder.
For the Cardinals sake, hopefully this move plays out better than last winter’s outfield switch. After re-upping with Chicago for at least one more year last winter, Dexter Fowler put up great numbers in 2016. Posting an on-base percentage of .393, while also adding power and speed, the center fielder made sure that he would be able to sign a long-term contract this offseason.
St. Louis just missed the playoffs in 2016, but adding a player like Fowler greatly improves their chances in 2017. Mike Matheny deplored an outfield combination of Randall Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss and Jeremy Hazelbaker. The addition of Fowler adds much-needed stability to an outfield that needed to improve defensively. The signing will shift Grichuk back into a more natural corner outfield spot, which will settle the team’s everyday positional lineup.
Fowler should lead off for the Cardinals in 2017, and give the likes of Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Aledmys Diaz much-needed protection as well. Fowler was the best all-around player to switch teams in MLB this offseason, and because of that, his move to St. Louis puts him at number four on this list.
Last offseason, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was able to bring back his All-Star slugger with not much hope that they could at the start of the offseason. Well, the Mets were back in the situation in 2016, and once again the Mets slightly shocked MLB by signing Yoenis Cespedes. However, the deal looks a lot different this time around.
While many expected Cespedes to opt out of his short-term contract last winter, New York made sure that they’ll be able to keep the 31-year-old outfielder for the foreseeable future. His signing came on the heels of the decision to pick up Jay Bruce‘s 2017 team option, which made the deal a bit more surprising.
By retaining Cespedes, New York keeps pace with the Washington Nationals. It’s well known that the Mets are led by its starting rotation with Cespedes being the only real middle of the order threat. Neil Walker, Curtis Grandson and Jay Bruce can be productive, but none are the perennial performer that Cespedes is. Losing him would leave a gaping hole in the middle of Terry Collins’ lineup, and would apply even more pressure on the team’s deep pitching staff. Ever since the Mets traded for the outfielder prior to the 2015 trade deadline, the Mets offense has drastically improved because of the affect that Cespedes has on the batting order.
The move also impacts the Mets overall outfield situation. With Cespedes back in the fold, it has been reported that New York is heavily shopping both Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson. Both outfielders do have glaring weaknesses, but can still add solid power to any lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion‘s free agent market was the greatest travesty in MLB this winter. Having been one of the best power hitters in MLB for the past five seasons, it was expected that the soon to be 34-year-old would have cashed in this offseason. However, his market never seemed to materialize.
Potential big market suitors, Texas and Boston, decided it wasn’t worth it to invest a large sum of money in an aging ballplayer. Colorado decided that they wanted Ian Desmond’s versatility. Houston decided to go with a glut of sluggers instead of one, and the Blue Jays were not willing to wait for Encarnacion to make a decision.
This gave the American League champion Cleveland Indians the opportunity to make a rare splash in free agency. Known for being one of the more frugal franchises in MLB, general manager Chris Antonetti decided that coming off a World Series appearance, that this was the time to push his chips into the center of table.
Cleveland has a rotation to compete with the Boston Red Sox, even with Chris Sale, and now they have the lineup to match. Encarnacion will effectively be replacing Mike Napoli next season, and with all due respect to Napoli, the former Blue Jay is in a completely different ballpark. The Indians roster is actually looking better than last season’s when the team won a stunning 94 games.
We saw the writing on the wall. After all the years of “will they or won’t they”, this was now the time that White Sox management was going to trade its ace. Chris Sale is a top five pitcher in MLB and will now be moving into a rotation with another dominant lefty in David Price, and the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello. This threesome with the Red Sox’s MLB-best lineup? That’s just downright scary.
Chris Sale was the best player that was going to be moved this offseason, and when a player of his caliber moves, it’s going to have the greatest impact. Since entering MLB in 2010, the lengthy lefty has been nothing short of spectacular. Posting an ousting career strikeout rate of over 10.0 K/9 IP, while never finishing a season with an ERA over 3.41 will certainly be a welcome addition to Beantown.
Sale has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting four different times and has shown a unique ability to be durable, making 26 or more starts in the last five years. Staying healthy is a crucial part to be a dominant starting pitcher in the big leagues and Sale has been able to consistently dominant over the course of his MLB career.
Everyone knows hoe good Sale is, and he’s being criminally underpaid for the next three season. The entire landscape of the league changed when we learned Sale was going to a team as talented as the Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs were in a league of their own, now with this move, Boston has entered that tier.