We like to joke about the worthlessness of “winning the winter.” Baseball history is, sadly, loaded with examples of teams whose much-hyped offseason activity netted them nothing in games that counted.
But actively trying to get better sure beats the alternative. So while there is still plenty to prove in the season proper, here are the 10 teams that did the best job improving their rosters this Hot Stove season.
This may have already been the most fun team in baseball, and you can be forgiven if you thought the flurry of Trade Deadline activity last summer might not be matched. But the Padres topped even themselves by lighting the winter transaction wire aflame with successive swaps for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in December. Those moves, as well as a later deal for Joe Musgrove, help account for the absence of Mike Clevinger and any elbow iffiness for Dinelson Lamet to give San Diego one of the best rotations in baseball. Obviously.
But what’s underrated about this offseason is how the Padres also now resemble the National League West rival Dodgers in terms of stacking depth upon depth in the position-player group, with the signing of Ha-Seong Kim and the re-signing of Jurickson Profar. Either of those guys would be locked-in regulars on a lot of clubs. In San Diego, they are utility pieces.
The Padres did all of this while retaining much of the top end of one of the game’s most highly rated farm systems, meaning Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers and top prospect MacKenzie Gore are still around as rotation depth options.
Jan 5, 2021
Padres introduce Ha-Seong Kim
As tends to be the case with the Mets, whether the news was positive or negative at a given moment, the last few months have never been boring. But as Spring Training opens, it is clear this club is a lot better today than it was at the end of the 2020 season.
The blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco speaks for itself and came with only a minimal player capital cost. But the Mets also significantly deepened their roster with the additions of Trevor May, James McCann, Jonathan Villar, Albert Almora Jr., Joey Lucchesi and Aaron Loup.
And we shouldn’t gloss over the return of Marcus Stroman, who may have been the second-best starter available in free agency had he not accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer. Certainly, fans would have loved to see J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and/or Jackie Bradley Jr. here, but the depth matters. PECOTA and FanGraphs both project the Mets to win the NL East.
3) Blue Jays
Going in, we knew this would be a fascinating winter for the Blue Jays. With a flexible roster and budget, they were in prime position to overcome their traditional difficulty in signing top free agents (and the specific difficulty of international travel and their unique home stadium uncertainty). They did just that with the monumental signing of George Springer, who takes a young and burgeoning lineup to a new level. And Marcus Semien further raises the floor and addresses the club’s need for improved infield defense.
The bullpen could get a big boost from Kirby Yates, who is only one year (and one elbow procedure) away from posting a 1.19 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in San Diego. The wild cards are in the rotation, where Toronto brought back Robbie Ray and added Steven Matz. But the Blue Jays maintained a farm system deep enough to address any midseason needs and are now a viable threat to win the American League East.
4) White Sox
Let’s state from the start that the hiring of a 76-year-old Tony La Russa to manage this predominantly young and lively bunch was … a little unorthodox. But no matter what you feel about that particular move, the roster received two significant upgrades. Lance Lynn takes the rotation outlook to another level and, along with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, gives the Sox three of the top seven finalists in 2020 AL Cy Young voting.
And Liam Hendriks is arguably the best reliever in baseball right now, so he boosts the bullpen. Bringing back Adam Eaton in lieu of some higher-upside outfield options isn’t especially inspiring, but the South Siders maintained the momentum of their step forward last season, and the arrow is pointed upward.