No one wins the World Series in December.
However, teams that sit idly by while key free agent ink contracts elsewhere — especially those on their targeted wish list — could doom themselves to failure.
The 2017 season will get rolling in less than two weeks when pitchers and catchers report for workouts between Feb. 13 and 15, followed by full team workouts commencing Feb. 17 (through 21).
This off-season was marked by a few notable names inking big deals on new teams, while some, like Baltimore slugger Mark Trumbo and the New York Mets Yoenis Cespedes, opted to stay put.
There are a smattering of bigger names left on the free agent market, including pitchers Jason Hammel, Joe Blanton, outfielder Angel Pagan, infielder Chase Utley and catcher Matt Wieters.
We have gone over the list of off-season signings and identified 10 teams who improved their lot with major — and some minor — free agent acquisitions, in no particular order.
10. New York Yankees
In a tightly packed and very competitive AL East, the New York Yankees fell just five games short of a wild card spot, despite having a mediocre season. That campaign saw them deal two key bullpen pieces to the two teams who competed for the 2016 title, Andrew Miller to Cleveland and Aroldis Chapman to the champion Chicago Cubs (that still sounds weird). Well, the Yanks got the ball rolling in order to keep up with their foes and resigned Chapman to a spanking new five-year, $86 million contract. The Cuban Missile was lights out in 59 combined games with New York and Chicago, with a 1.55 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 36 saves. Not content with shoring up the bullpen, the Bronx Bombers also signed St. Louis slugger Matt Holliday. After trading Brian McCann and losing Carlos Beltran last summer, they needed a veteran bat and Holliday will fit in well in the middle of a batting order that includes up-and-comers like Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius.
9. Miami Marlins
The unfortunate death of budding superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragic in more ways than one. Not only did a promising young man lose his life at age 24, but it also robbed the Marlins franchise and fans of a brighter future. However, after mourning Fernandez the Marlins front office got busy bolstering the tenth best staff in the major leagues (ERA wise at 4.05) with four free agent pitcher signings. Arguably the biggest was Kansas City’s Edinson Volquez, who needed a change of scenery after a down year with the Royals. He went 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA in 34 starts, but still pitched 189.1 innings. The Marlins bulked up the bullpen by signing Boston’s Brad Ziegler (2.25 ERA, 22 saves) to a two-year, $16 million pact, as well as Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa (54 Ks in 49.2 innings). They also signed long reliever/spot starter Jeff Locke, who was 9-8 with 5.44 ERA with Pittsburgh.
8. Oakland Athletics
To say the ever frugal, Money Ball A’s were horrible last season was an understatement. Their offence was truly a gong show, as the team batted just .246 (fifth worst), scored 653 runs (third worst), hit 169 homers (10th worst) and had a team OBP of .304 (also third worst). So, the 69-83 A’s did their level best to bring in some offence, while not breaking the bank. First they signed Pittsburgh rightfielder Matt Joyce (13 homers. .403 OBP in just 293 plate appearances) to two year, $11 million deal. Then they lured veteran centerfielder Rajai Davis away from Cleveland on a one-year, $6 million pact. Davis led the American League in stolen bases with 43, as well as swatting 12 homers and driving in 48. Oakland filled a need at third with a one-year, $5.25 million contract for Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe (12 homers in 84 games) and got some infield insurance by signing veteran second baseman Adam Rosales to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. A former Athletic, Rosales hit 13 homers in just 248 plate appearances for the San Diego Padres last year.
7. St. Louis Cardinals
The perennial NL Central champion Cardinals were a shadow of their former self in 2016, finishing 17.5 games behind eventual champion Chicago and out of the playoffs (by only one game, mind you). A shake up, then, was needed to get this team going again. And the Cards went big, inking the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler to a lucrative five-year, $82.5 million contract to man centerfield. Fowler was a first time all-star in 2016, hitting .276 with 13 homers, seven triples, 48 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a lofty OPS of .840. He also hit .250 in the post-season for the Cubs, swatting three homers, five doubles and driving in six runs. The Cardinals also banked on lefthanded reliever Brett Cecil being able to provide set-up help by signing him away from Toronto for four years and $30.5 million. Cecil started slowly in 2016 but finished with a 3.93 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. He was good in the playoffs, allowing no runs and striking out four in four innings of work.
6. Texas Rangers
Still searching for the secret sauce to get them past the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League playoffs, the Rangers have had a mixed bag off-season that has seen the departure of Ian Desmond (to Colorado) and Carlos Beltran (Houston), as well as starting pitcher Derek Holland (White Sox) and 1B Mitch Moreland (Boston). However, the team re-signed CF Carlos Gomez for another year after acquiring him at the trade deadline in 2016. He will make $11 million to provide speed and some pop in his bat. The Rangers signed two former San Diego Padres starters they hope will have bounce back years. Andrew Cashner, who split last season with San Diego and Miami, is in the fold for one year and $10 million. He was a combined 5-11, with a 5.25 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 132 innings. The other former Padre they inked was Tyson Ross, who only started one game for San Diego last year, after winning 23 and losing 26 the previous two seasons with them. Signed to a one-year, $6 million deal, he is a high strikeout guy, having fanned 407 in 391.2 innings between 2014 and 2015.
5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants squeaked into the playoffs last year with a 87-75 record and just as quickly disappeared, losing 3-1 to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. An area that needed addressing, that of a bonafide closer, got it big time. Giants relievers blew 30 saves last year, which was worst in baseball, so they went out and signed three-time all-star fireballer Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal. Melancon, who led the National League in saves with 51 in 2015, mopped up successfully 47 times in 75 games split between Pittsburgh and Washington last year. He had a miniscule 1.64 ERA and struck out 65 in 71.1 innings. San Fran also got a decent set up man in Miami’s Bryan Morris (3.06 ERA, 13 K in 17.2 IP) and got a good back-up catcher in Nick Hundley (10 HR, 48 RBI in 83 games). Both are signed to one-year deals, $2 million for Hundley and $1.25 million for Morris.
4. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros played the addition and subtraction game in free agency, waving bye bye to LF Colby Rasmus (Tampa), C Jason Castro (Minnesota) and 3B Luis Valbuena (Angels). But, they more than capably filled the offensive void by signing RF Josh Reddick (four years, $52 million) and DH Carlos Beltran (one year, $16 million). As an added bonus, they signed Philadelphia starting pitcher Charlie Morton to a two-year, $14 million pact. Reddick’s numbers slipped somewhat from a good 2015 campaign in Oakland (.272 BA, 20 HR, 77 RBI), as he hit .281 with 10 HR and 37 RBI in 115 games split between Oakland and the Dodgers. He did hit .285 in the playoffs though for Los Angeles, with two RBI and three stolen bases. Beltran was still whacking the ball with authority at age 39, hitting .295 with 29 HR and 93 RBI for the Yankees and Rangers. Morton, a nine-year veteran, was 1-1 with the Phillies in 2016, with a 4.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in just 17.1 innings of work.
3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies, who were neither very good, nor very bad in 2015, plucked a plum free agent prize out from under the Texas Rangers, as well as improving their bullpen with a couple key signings. Ian Desmond, who was an all-star in Texas last year, signed for five years and $70 million to man first base in the Mile High City. He hit .285, scored 107 runs, hit 22 homers, drove in 86 and slugged .446 in 2016. As for the bullpen, Mike Dunn was lured away from Miami to provide long relief, at the tune of three years and $19 million. He was 6-1 with a 3.40 ERA in 51 innings work, along with 38 strikeouts. The Rockies also took a big gamble on Kansas City closer Greg Holland, who missed the entire 2016 season after Tommy John surgery. He signed for one year at $7 million and the Rockies are probably hoping he regains the form that saw him save 125 games between 2013 and 2015.
2. Cleveland Indians
The Indians, already a stacked team that went to the World Series, outbid a lot of other teams to put the premier bat of Edwin Encarnacion in the meat of their batting order. We’re not saying he makes them odds-on favorites to win it all this season, but he sure doesn’t hurt them. Not many players have hit more homers (193) or driven in more runs (550) in the last five seasons than “Edwing.” Encarnacion, who hit three homers and drove in nine runs in nine playoff games last year, comes to the Indians for three years at $20 million per season. And the Tribe, which rode bullpen arms to an American League pennant and a seven-game thriller with the Cubs, also signed hard-throwing set-up man Boone Logan from Colorado. A big left-handed reliever, Logan was 2-5, with a 3.69 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 46.1 innings pitched. He’ll cost Cleveland $6.5 million for the 2017 season.
1. Chicago Cubs
The defending champion Cubs lost expensive players Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler to free agency. But, they are still a deep team and not content with resting on their laurels, made a quartet of smaller signings to replace Fowler and add considerably to their bullpen depth with the departure of Chapman. Centerfielder Jon Jay, the most expensive signing at one year, $8 million, hit .291 in 90 games for San Diego last season, with 29 extra base hits and 26 RBI. The Cubs added veteran relievers Koji Uehara (2-3, 3.45 ERA, 7 saves, 63 K, 47 IP in Boston) and Brian Duensing (1-0, 4.05 ERA, 10 K, 13.1 IP in Baltimore) on inexpensive one-year deals. The last piece was starter Brett Anderson of the Dodgers, who got into just four games last year after going 10-9, with a 3.69 ERA in 31 starts during the 2015 season. He will make $3.5 million on a one-year contract.