The New York Yankees won the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes, dealing for the slugger in a December blockbuster.
It was part of Miami Marlins new ownership (including Derek Jeter) purging the team of high-priced stars, which will pretty much chase away fans.
Outside of a few notable trades, the free agent market was opened with the Los Angeles Angels high profile signing of highly rated (and expensive) Japanese P/OF Shohei Ohtani.
That sent ripples through a competitive American League and making the Angels that much better.
The Colorado Rockies, who are oh so close to being a true contender, also made a flurry of moves, signing relief pitchers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee.
But, we’re not focusing on 2017 playoff teams, but rather what all the onlookers have done this off-season to get them back to any kind of relevance. With pitchers and catchers reporting in under a month, crunch time is here.
Here is a grading of all non-contending teams’ action in the off-season, with a letter grade and who might be available to fill any remaining needs. From worst to best records. (We will do contenders later.)
15. San Francisco Giants (64-98)
The worst team in baseball, which is shocking to say, considering how good the Giants were for so long. Not content to stand pat or strip the team down for a rebuild, San Fran acquired CF Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh this week, in exchange for young RP Kyle Crick, a minor leaguer and cash. This bold move was preceded by a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought veteran 3B Evan Longoria to town, for veteran CF Denard Span, SS Christian Arroyo and two minor league pitchers. McCutchen, who hit .279 with 28 HR and 88 RBI, is a definite upgrade on the traded Span (.272, 12 HR, 43 RBI), while Gold Glover Longoria solidifies the team’s need at third base — considering the incumbent was Pablo Sandoval. Otherwise, the team has been quiet in free agency, just re-signing back-up C Nick Hundley. The team could still use some help in the rotation and guys like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are still available. Grade: B+
14. Detroit Tigers (64-98)
That other worst team in baseball, Detroit, started a big salary dump at the deadline, sending Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros for three minor league pitching prospects. In December, the mini-purge continued, with 2B Ian Kinsler getting dealt to the Angels for minor league OF Troy Montgomery and RHP Wilkel Hernandez. On the free agent side, the Tigers have made two small moves, signing Houston starting pitcher Mike Fiers and Chicago Cubs CF Leonys Martin to inexpensive one-year deals. Fiers, who went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 starts with the champion Astros — but didn’t see action in the playoffs — is a good addition on the back end of the rotation. Martin, who was a decent starter in Texas and Seattle up until 2016, had a tough time of it in 2017 and needs a bounce back year. The Tigers could still use some bullpen help and veteran help is available, such as Francisco Liriano. Grade: C
13. Philadelphia Phillies (66-96)
Dec. 15, 2017 was kind of a weird day in the Philadelphia Phillies front offices. First they bolstered a very thin bullpen by signing free agent, and veteran, relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. But then later that day, the sent homegrown every day shortstop Freddy Galvis to San Diego for minor league righthanded starter Enyel De Los Santos. A curious bit of business, considering the speedy Galvis was putting things together (14 SB, 12 HR, 61 RBI, .989 fielding percentage). Then, five days later, the Phils plugged a huge hole at first base, signing Cleveland Indians’ slugger Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract. In eight seasons with the Tribe, Santana hit .249 with 174 homers and 587 RBI in 1,116 games. Philadelphia still needs starting pitching, and judging by the big deal with Santana, they may have to settle for a cheaper guy like Baltimore’s Chris Tillman. Grade: B
12. Chicago White Sox (67-95)
The South Siders were a hot mess last season and have taken some small steps at rebuilding the roster. Their biggest signing of the off-season was getting Baltimore catcher Welington Castillo. He signed for two years and $15 million and will start ahead of 2017 platoon-mates Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez. Castillo hit for good power (career high 20 homers) and average (.282) in just 96 games for the O’s last season. Their next order of business, just a week ago, was to re-sign former starter Miguel Gonzalez. He actually started the season with the White Sox, was dealt to Texas and elected free agency. He was 8-13 in 27 starts last season, with a 4.62 ERA (made higher with the Rangers where it was 6.45 in five starts) and slots in the middle of the rotation. With Juan Minaya designated as the team’s closer, the White Sox may want to consider inking a helper in someone like St. Louis veteran Trevor Rosenthal (should arbitration not work out with the Cards). Grade: B-
11. Cincinnati Reds (68-94)
Outside of MVP candidate Joey Votto’s outstanding season, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about in Cincinnati last year. The Reds were out of it long before September, which should mean an overhaul of the current roster. So far, the team has done little to address any shortcomings, starting with a mediocre starting rotation. What happened first was the loss of homegrown, and productive, shortstop Zack Cozart to the Angels in free agency. They did sign effective reliever Jared Hughes out of Milwaukee, where he was 5-3 with a 3.02 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 67 games (59.2 innings). With Cozart gone, the Reds have shifted 2B Jose Peraza to fill his spot. The Reds still have plenty of pop in the line-up, so don’t need any position players, but they could use a premier starter or three. Texas starter Andrew Cashner wouldn’t break the bank. Grade: C-
10. New York Mets (70-92)
The Mets were a huge disappointment in 2017, which was made even worse by the renaissance of the Yankees up in the Bronx. What truly hurt the team last year wasn’t a lack of talent, but injuries. Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz all spent significant time on the IR, leaving Jacob de Grom as the only legit starter in the rotation. Thus, if even just three of the four get back to full strength, the Mets are suddenly contenders again in the NL East. In free agency, the biggest thing the Mets did was bring back OF Jay Bruce, who swatted 29 homers and drove in 75 runs in 103 games for New York before being a rental in Cleveland (43 games, 7 HR, 26 RBI). Needing a set-up man, the team also got hard-throwing righthanded veteran relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak (6-4, 2.33, 91 K, 77.1 IP in 2017 with the White Sox and Milwaukee). They also got low cost back-up help at first in veteran Adrian Gonzalez (one year, $545,000). What they need is a hybrid 1B/OF to switch in and out. Taking a run at Tampa’s Logan Morrison might not be a bad idea. Grade: B+
9. San Diego Padres (71-91)
The Padres, who were bad last year because they lacked talent, have been busy on the trade front this off-season. In December, they gave up AA ball pitcher Enyel De Los Santos to Philadelphia for starting shortstop Freddy Galvis. He’ll add speed, an improving bat and decent middle infield defence. Before that deal was consummated, the Pads picked up 3B Chase Headley, RP Bryan Mitchell and cash from New York in exchange for RF Jabari Blash. Headley easily replaces the departed Yangervis Solarte, who was dealt to Toronto for minor league CF Edward Olivares and SP Jared Carkuff. With those trades, the left side of the Padres infield looks decent, just not overpowering. The youngsters they got back will help down the road, with lefty Mitchell able to jump in sooner. The team is still woefully thin in starting pitching, in particular veterans, after losing Jhoulys Chacin to the Brewers. They should take a look at St. Louis veteran Lance Lynn. Grade: B
8. Atlanta Braves (72-90)
Through the middle, the Braves are young and solid and new GM Alex Anthopoulos has set out to make them even better. They have Ender Inciarte in center, Dansby Swanson at short, Ozzie Albies at second and Tyler Flowers catching. Freddie Freeman, should he be healthy all year, will be a wrecking ball at first. Thus, the Braves haven’t been hugely busy this off-season, swinging just one trade of significance and remaining quiet in free agency, so far. Last December they sent very expensive OF Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Scott Kazmir, SP Brandon McCarthy and INF Charlie Culberson. In basically a big salary for salary dump, the Braves released Gonzalez immediately, but Kazmir and McCarthy, who are both expensive too, were retained. Kazmir hasn’t pitched since 2016, but if he’s healthy, can contribute as will McCarthy. Both McCarthy’s and Kazmir’s salaries come off the books in time for a better free agent class in 2019. Grade: C
7. Baltimore Orioles (75-87)
The Orioles, who regressed in 2017, have a ton of free agents, none of who they have made a move to re-sign. They include Welington Castillo (signed with the White Sox), SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Chris Tillman, SP Wade Miley and RF Seth Smith among a few other starters. Their bullpen is still very solid with Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton, but if all the aforementioned leave, that leaves Kevin Gausman the “ace” of a pretty thin staff. At the plate, they will require bounce back seasons from Chris Davis (just 26 HR last year) as well as Mark Trumbo (23 HR, 65 RBI after 47 HR and 108 in 2016), if they are going to be successful. So far, Baltimore hasn’t done anything to improve a team that finished well out of the running last year and in a tough division where the Yanks and Bosox have upgraded. Grade: Incomplete.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
Andrew McCutchen was MVP not that long ago. And now he’ll be shagging fly balls in San Francisco. In what was really a salary purge, the Bucs dealt the 2013 top player and some cash considerations to the Giants for young left-handed reliever Kyle Crick and minor league centerfielder Bryan Reynolds. Just two days before that, Pittsburgh moved workhorse starter Gerrit Cole to the champion Houston Astros for INF Colin Moran, A ball OF Jason Martin, SP/RP Joe Musgrove and RP Michael Feliz. Both Musgrove and Feliz will have impacts to varying degrees with the Pirates, but the loss of premier starter Cole can’t be understated. Pittsburgh restocked the prospect cupboard with these deals, but didn’t get much better. But, hey, they got a bit cheaper. Grade: D
5. Oakland A’s (75-87)
Moneyball is still the order of the day in Oakland, which neither makes them good, or really bad. Just meh. They packed up their best starter, Sonny Gray, at the deadline last year and what’s left isn’t all that tantalizing outside of Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea. They did make a move to shore up the bullpen, plucking Yusmeiro Petit off the Angels roster on a two-year, $10 million contract. They hope he can replicate his 2017 season (his best), where he went 5-2 in 60 games, with a 2.76 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 91.1 innings pitched. Otherwise, Beane and his staff have been busy swapping. In November they sent promising corner infielder Ryon Healy (.271, 25 HR, 78 RBI) to Seattle for minor league SS Alexander Campos and lefthanded reliever Emilio Pagan (2-3, 3.22 ERA, 56 K, 50.1 IP). And in December they acquired RF Stephen Piscotty from St. Louis for minor league 2B Max Schrock and SS Yairo Munoz. Piscotty had a bit of down year in 2017 after breaking out in 2016, but is decent defensively and should be an upgrade in left. Grade: C+
4. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
By all accounts, 2017 was an absolutely miserable season in Toronto. A team that made the playoffs in both 2015 and 2016 was suddenly reduced to also-ran status, with not a lot of hope on the horizon other than in their starting rotation. New GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro are still trying to figure out what they want the team to be, and have dithered somewhat while the Yankees and Red Sox have either made bold moves, or will soon. Not that Atkins hasn’t been busy, but his moves so far have been of the “depth” variety only. With Jose Bautista gone, the team has not filled his position and they still have corner outfield needs to address, or hand the jobs to youngsters Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford. Now, they did sign aging slugger Curtis Granderson, who still has pop, but he’s not a great contact hitter or fielder. Trades have brought in back-up 2B Gift Ngoepe from Pittsburgh, 2016 All-Star SS Aledmys Diaz from St. Louis and utility INF Yangervis Solarte, all for virtually nothing, so they have done well there. They have to hope Aaron Sanchez stays healthy. Grade: C-
3. Miami Marlins (77-85)
We have to wonder who in South Beach will be stupid enough to part with their hard earned dollars to watch a bunch of subs get whupped game in and game out. It’s been a tire fire of an off-season for the Marlins, with new ownership hell bent on ridding the team of talent (high priced, yes, but talent no less). The first dump was CF Dee Gordon to Seattle for three minor leaguers. Then there was the monster deal with the Yankees that saw MVP (!) Giancarlo Stanton shipped away for 2B Starlin Castro and two more minor leaguers. Three days later, LF Marcell Ozuna was packed off to St. Louis for four more guys no one has heard of. And Christian Yelich may be out the door soon, too. Pity manager Don Mattingly, who is saddled with the minor league conglomeration left behind. In Gordon they lost 60 stolen bases and a .308 average, then 52 HR and 132 RBI from Stanton and another 37 HR and 124 RBI off Ozuna’s stick. Grade: F-
2. Texas Rangers (78-84)
Keeping pace with the champion Houston Astros in the AL West is looking more and more like a futile effort, but the Rangers have made a couple of low-key but decent moves to get back to at least some semblance of relevancy. With an opening or three in their starting rotation and bullpen, the Rangers picked up relatively inexpensive starter-turned-reliever Mike Minor from Kansas City (three years, $28 million). In 65 games last year, Minor posted a 6-6 record, 2.55 ERA and struck out 88 in 77.2 innings. Texas also plugged two more holes in the rotation by signing veteran starter Doug Fister to a one-year, $4 million contract and trading for San Francisco Giant and former AL All-Star Matt Moore. Fister, who also saw some action in the 2017 playoffs with Boston, was 5-9 in 18 games (15 starts), with a 4.88 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. Moore, so good for Tampa not that long ago, suffered along with the Giants, going 6-15 with a 5.52 ERA in 32 games. They could still use another inning-eating starter (just in case) and have decisions to make on free agent veterans Carlos Gomez, Andrew Cashner and Mike Napoli, too. Grade: B-
1. Seattle Mariners (78-84)
The M’s were one step forward, two steps back in 2017, leading to a sub-.500 season and another dark October. However, the baseball minds in the American northwest have been busy in the off-season plugging a few leaky holes, with an eye to making life more miserable for Houston in the AL West. In November, 2017, Seattle got the ball rolling on a bit of a makeover by acquiring Oakland 1B Ryon Healy for a couple of minor leaguers. Healy put in a great second season with Oakland, hitting .271 with 25 homers, 29 doubles and 78 RBI in 149 games. He’ll more than replace the departed Yonder Alonso and unsigned free agent Danny Valencia at first. With pitchers Drew Smyly (Chicago Cubs) and Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee) gone in free agency, the Mariners needed some depth. So they signed starter-turned-reliever Juan Nicasio. He was excellent in 76 games with three different clubs in 2017 (PHI, PIT and STL), going 5-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 72 strikeouts. The last, and best, piece of the off-season puzzle was relieving Miami of speedster Dee Gordon. With a NL leading 60 thefts, he’ll make the Mariners one of the faster clubs in the American League. Grade: A