Baseball is nigh upon us.
Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training last week, and teams began their first workouts this week. The 2021 season is in full swing.
Some notable free agents—such as Jake Odorizzi and Jackie Bradley Jr.—remain unsigned. However, most teams around MLB have made their moves and await another season under the specter of the coronavirus pandemic.
How did each team fare this winter? We assigned grades based on the impact of both offseason additions and departures. Some teams might also be rewarded for being more aggressive in a winter constrained by financial concerns.
The Arizona Diamondbacks might have looked to sell this offseason, especially considering the gap between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and the rest of the National League West.
Outfielders Kole Calhoun and David Peralta could have garnered interest, and the same can be said for infielder Eduardo Escobar. Ultimately, though, the Diamondbacks made fringe additions and likely hope for some bounce-back seasons.
Arizona signed veteran reliever Joakim Soria to a one-year deal after the 36-year-old had a 2.82 ERA in 2020. It also added former Houston Astros reliever Chris Devenski, who will look to rediscover the form that made him an All-Star in 2017. Right-hander Tyler Clippard had a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past two seasons, and he reportedly rounds out the bullpen additions.
The D-backs signed veteran Asdrubal Cabrera to give them more positional versatility in the infield with Ketel Marte also capable of playing in center field.
This could have been a good time for Arizona to deal assets and keep building for the future. But the D-backs have a top-10 farm system, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter, and most of the pieces from the 85-win club in 2019 are still around. The additions could provide marginal upgrades for an Arizona team that might be competitive in 2021.
Fresh off an NLCS berth, the Atlanta Braves moved to add rotation depth.
Atlanta signed Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to one-year deals, bolstering a starting group that looks formidable pending the health of Mike Soroka.
Morton struggled a bit and dealt with injuries in 2020, but he went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 2.81 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark in 2019. Smyly has a history of injuries but flashed his upside with 42 strikeouts in 26.1 innings (14.4 per nine innings) this past season.
The biggest splash was re-signing Marcell Ozuna to a four-year, $65 million deal that could be worth $80 million over five years. Ozuna looked more dangerous than ever in the middle of the Braves lineup, hitting .338 with a 1.067 OPS while leading the NL in homers (18), RBI (56) and total bases (145). While there are questions as to how he will fare in left field, his production was too important to lose.
Most of the other moves were fillers. Atlanta brought back Josh Tomlin, who should fill a middle relief role. Jason Kipnis could give Ozzie Albies—better against left-handed pitching—the odd day off. Jake Lamb has rarely been healthy in recent years but looked decent in a 13-game stretch with the Oakland Athletics last year (.882 OPS) and could provide slugging.
The one question mark is the bullpen. Mark Melancon signed with the San Diego Padres, and Shane Greene remains a free agent. The Braves will probably rely on Will Smith to hold down the closer role, and it is unlikely he'll again allow 3.9 homers per nine innings as he did in 2020. But Atlanta could use more depth in the relief corps.
The Baltimore Orioles mostly cut bait again this offseason.
Baltimore non-tendered Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez. The Orioles traded shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels and dealt left-handed starter Alex Cobb to the Halos as well.
But the O's deserve credit for building prospect depth. They added a pair of arms—Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto—in the Iglesias trade and acquired the versatile Jahmai Jones in the Cobb deal. Plus, Baltimore shed Cobb's $15 million salary, though they will have to pay over half of it.
The Orioles replaced Iglesias with Freddy Galvis for $1.5 million. Earlier in the offseason, they claimed former Gold Glover Yolmer Sanchez off waivers from the Chicago White Sox. While Galvis and Sanchez are not the sexiest names, they should be decent additions. Baltimore will also give opportunities to a pair of former aces in Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey.
The reality is the O's are years away from contention. Is it fair to penalize them when MLB does little to discourage tanking? Besides, they got value from veteran players.
Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom prioritized versatility this offseason. He also mixed things up in the outfield.
Bloom signed Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, giving the Red Sox a pair of players who can play almost anywhere.
Boston might need that versatility. It sent Andrew Benintendi to the Kansas City Royals as part of a three-team deal that included the New York Mets. That deal netted Franchy Cordero, a toolsy outfielder yet to get an extended look in the bigs.
Bloom also signed Hunter Renfroe after the Tampa Bay Rays let him go. Renfroe hit just .156 in 2020, but he hit at least 26 homers in each season from 2017 to 2019 and could benefit from hitting behind J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.
The most important additions, however, were in the pitching staff. Boston traded for right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino. Aside from a clunker (six earned runs) against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 7, he had another strong season in 2020. Boston also added depth by signing Japanese right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura and 31-year-old Matt Andriese.
Garrett Richards will be the guy to watch in 2021. Richards has dealt with numerous health issues but pitched to a 4.03 ERA this past season. He also has good velocity and tremendous spin rates, which could bode well should he maintain decent health. The 32-year-old is of vital importance for a Red Sox rotation that ranked last in fWAR last season, especially as Chris Sale continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Martin Perez is back in Boston's rotation after posting a 4.50 ERA in 12 starts last year, but he is more of a back-end guy.
Bloom and the Red Sox did some repositioning this offseason. The versatility of guys like Hernandez and Gonzalez will be important both at second base and in the outfield, and Cordero has good upside. But the question is whether the Red Sox added enough quality pitching, even with the return of Eduardo Rodriguez and (eventually) Sale.
Additionally, might Boston have been better off re-signing Jackie Bradley Jr. given some of the question marks regarding Renfroe (can he hit righties?) and Cordero (experience and health)?
Chicago Cubs fans will remember this offseason for the Yu Darvish trade.
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made a big move in his first year taking over for Theo Epstein, sending Darvish and backup catcher Victor Caratini to the San Diego Padres in exchange for right-hander Zach Davies and four prospects. The deal could pay dividends. But Cubs fans won't know for years to come, which might not be an easy pill to swallow in a winnable NL Central.
Instead, the Cubs will turn to the soft-tossing Davies and a pair of reclamation projects in Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta to fill out the rotation.
The Arrieta signing looks positive early. The former Cub is saying all the right things and has seemingly taken a special interest in right-hander Adbert Alzolay. But his velocity is down, and he has dealt with injuries in the last couple of years. At $6 million, might the Cubs have opted for cheaper arms like Rich Hill or Brett Anderson, or could they have paid extra money for someone like James Paxton?
Chicago's other moves could be good ones, though. Joc Pederson had a rough regular season in 2020 but still boasts an .806 OPS and dominated this past October. He might exude even more confidence with the chance to play every day in left field.
Andrew Chafin will be a vital left-handed relief asset who generates a lot of whiffs and induces soft contact. Brandon Workman could be a steal at $1 million (escalators can take it to $3 million) if he can recapture his 2019 form. Both Jonathan Holder and Pedro Strop might provide intrigue in the bullpen as well.
There is some stuff to like. But the rotation looks shaky, so the Darvish trade stings if the Cubs still hope to win now with Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo headed for free agency in 2022.