The teams that make the biggest moves in the offseason, giving out huge amounts of money for an aging star or deal three prospects from your future of the franchise for a “proven” star, almost never are the teams that make it to the playoffs. Rather the teams that do make it are the ones that make smaller under-the-radar moves that are cost-effective options that turn out to pay huge dividends.
Take a look at the Kansas City Royals’ offseason prior to its World Series championship. They lost James Shields and Billy Butler and simply replaced them with Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales. Morales turned out to be the power threat in their lineup that they desperately needed, and Volquez was reliable for the Royals to get the job done from Day 1.
Thus, I’ve decided to look at all of last year’s playoff teams that reached the Championship Series and analyze their offseason/mid-season acquisitions to see how it helped them and in what manner these acquisitions occurred.
1. Kansas City Royals
Offseason Losses: All-Star James Shields (4 years: $75 MM), All-Star Billy Butler (3 years: $30 MM), 7-time Japanese All-Star Nori Aoki (1 year: $4.7 M)
Offseason Additions to Negate the Losses: All-Star Edinson Volquez (2 years: $20 MM), Silver Slugger Kendrys Morales (2 years: $17 MM), 2-time All-Star Alex Rios (1 year: $11 M)
Other Offseason Additions: Luke Hochevar (2 years: $10 MM), Kris Medlen (2 years: $8.5 MM), All-Star Chris Young (1 year: 675 K), Ryan Madson (1 year minor-league deal)
Non-Waiver Trade Deadline deals:
Acquired All-Star Johnny Cueto from the Reds for two former top-100 prospects in Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb as well as prospect Cody Reed
Acquired 2-time All-Star Ben Zobrist from the Athletics for Royals’ #3 prospect Sean Manaea and prospect Aaron Brooks
The Kansas City Royals replaced three All-Star caliber players that wound up getting over $100 million combined with 3 potential All-Stars that only cost them $48 million–less than half the cost. Their other offseason additions were even better, such as the signings of Young and Madson all to less than $2 million. Their mid-season deals were much costlier though. They had to surrender 5 of their best prospects in getting back 2 All-Stars for only the remainder of the 2015 season. Because these deals did end up helping them to the ultimate goal of a World Series crown, they’re acceptable for now. However, a few of these players that they gave up could turn out to be more valuable to the Reds and/or Athletics than Cueto and Zobrist ever were.
2. New York Mets
Offseason Additions: 2-time All-Star Michael Cuddyer (2 years: $21 MM)
Non-Waiver Trade Deadline deals:
Acquired All-Star Yoenis Céspedes from the Tigers for top prospects Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa
Acquired 2-time All-Star Tyler Clippard from the Athletics for Casey Meisner
Acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves for prospects John Gant and Rob Whalen
The New York Mets had a quiet offseason last year with only one major acquisition–Michael Cuddyer–to add to their outfield mix of Lagares and Granderson. It was a small commitment, and it became even smaller once Cuddyer decided to forgo the second year of his contract to retire. The Mets made more of their moves from their own farm system, in the form of calling guys up and traded depth pieces. Céspedes turned out to be the biggest deadline addition which propelled the Mets to the World Series. It cost them a top-100 prospect with lots of upside in Michael Fulmer, but it was worth it. The other deals were much easier to make for the Mets. Perhaps the biggest additions to their roster came from their own farm system–Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Michael Conforto. These three prospects rejuvenated their roster. The two starters proved that they’re big-league ready and became a part of the cost-effective super rotation that the Mets currently feature of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Matz.
3. Chicago Cubs
Offseason Additions: 3-time All-Star Jon Lester (6 years: $155 MM), Jason Hammel (2 years: $20 MM), 2-time All-Star Miguel Montero via trade, and Dexter Fowler via trade.
Waiver Trade Deadline deals:
Acquired Austin Jackson and Fernando Rodney from the Mariners for cash considerations
Although Cubs spent quite a bit in free agency (over $175 million), they made some smart depth options that weren’t as costly in acquired Montero, Fowler, Jackson, and Rodney throughout the season. In Lester’s case, the Cubs needed a front-line ace and believed Lester to be that guy (little did they know that Jake Arrieta would have a historical season on his way to the NL Cy Young). They didn’t need to spend much money or trade from their minor leagues beyond the Lester signing because of their class of rookies. NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant debuted with the Cubs in April along with other rookies that made their mark like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber. Outside of Lester, the Cubs spent very little money and instead relied on their farm system to provide that punch.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Offseason Losses: All-Star Melky Cabrera (3 years: $42 MM), Colby Rasmus (1 year: $8 MM), Brett Lawrie (via trade), Silver Slugger Adam Lind (via trade), J.A. Happ (via trade)
Offseason Additions to Negate the Losses: Michael Saunders (via trade for Happ), Justin Smoak (1 year: $1 MM), MVP Josh Donaldson (via trade for Lawrie+), Marco Estrada (via trade for Lind)
Other Offseason Additions: 4-time All-Star Russell Martin (5 years: $82 M), prospect Devon Travis (via trade for Anthony Gose)
Non-Waiver Trade Deadline deals:
Acquired 5-time All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins from the Rockies for Jose Reyes and top-100 prospect Jeff Hoffman and top Jays’ prospect Miguel Castro
Acquired Mark Lowe from the Mariners for three minor-leaguers
Acquired Ben Revere from the Phillies for two minor-leaguers
Acquired Cy Young David Price from the Tigers for top-100 prospect Daniel Norris and other top prospects Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt
The Blue Jays ended up losing some major players in the offseason, all of which signed for a combined $50 MM. They did happen to sign Russell Martin to a big 5-year deal, but outside of that, it was mostly active on the trade front for the Jays. In the offseason alone, they acquired the to-be MVP Donaldson, Estrada, 2B of the future in Devon Travis, and power threat Smoak. Those trades didn’t hurt that bad for the Jays, but the mid-season ones could have some long-lasting ripples. They had to part ways with four of their best prospects, including two in the top-100 overall. Three of the players they traded for are no longer with the Jays (Price, Lowe, and Hawkins). One deal to watch out for is how Daniel Norris develops with the Tigers. Before last season, Norris was a consensus top-25 prospect and has a chance to be a star in the league, and if he does, that would’ve been a lofty price for 2+ months of David Price.
All in all, outside of a few outliers (Lester and Martin), the four best teams in the Major Leagues last year spent wisely and decided to negate their losses and improve their teams with cost-effective signings and smart trades. It becomes rare that a team that becomes the “winner of the offseason” will have great success during the season. Look at just last year’s winners:
The San Diego Padres made several trades and a few signings that they thought would propel them into the thick of the NL West run. They acquired Justin Upton, Melvin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, James Shields, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks and completely turned over their team. New GM A.J. Preller was hailed as a fresh new mind that was willing to make bold moves. However, their season was a major disappointment, and they’ve lost Upton to free agency, and have traded Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox already.
The White Sox made some big moves last year too. They traded for Jeff Samardzija and signed Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, and Zach Duke. They finished in a disappointing fourth place in the AL Central in 2015. Interestingly, they haven’t backed off from making headline moves this winter. They’ve already acquired Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, and they’re still trying to sign Yoenis Cespedes and trade away Avisail Garcia.
It seems to me the teams that did the best in the playoffs relied on their youth rather than big name stars. The Royals and Blue Jays were two teams that gave up future stars to win in 2015, and that could come back to bite them in the not-so-distant future. The Mets relied on their young super rotation and had depth to trade away a top-100 hurler to get Cespedes. The Cubs are the team that has the best outlook for the future because they have so many young stars.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the team that makes smaller and smarter moves than dishing out loads of money to aging stars are the ones that prosper in October (like signing Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez for the KC Royals). Or relying on cheap and controllable youth (see: Cubs lineup and Mets rotation). I guess we’ll have to see whether this year’s offseason winners (Giants, D-backs, Cubs, Tigers) will fail like the White Sox and Padres did in 2015 or have short-term success like the Blue Jays did.
What do you all think? Agree? Disagree? Comment below!