If you felt dizzy keeping up with the action at Major League Baseball‘s 2015 Winter Meetings, we don’t blame you. There were more twists and power shifts in those four days in Nashville than anyone could follow, journalists included. It’s easy to say that the biggest spenders and trade-makers are ready to dominate on the field in 2016 based on their moves, but we’ll start by taking a look back at last year’s offseason champions.
The Padres, Red Sox, and White Sox seemed to get better on paper but ended up being disasters on the field. In 2015, we saw upstart teams make their moves in hopes of defying the odds and moving up in the standings, while one contender made upgrades that pushed them to frontrunner status. Here are the five most improved teams after the 2015 MLB Winter Meetings.
5. Detroit Tigers
Detroit fired the first major shots of the offseason by signing Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year deal worth $110 million. At the meetings, Tigers GM Al Avila addressed a perennial weakness of the club: the bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez (alias K-Rod) joins the relief corps after another exceptional year for Milwaukee (2.21 ERA, 38 saves in 60 games). Avila dealt starting pitching prospects to the Yankees for flame-throwing southpaw Justin Wilson (5-0, 3.10 ERA in 61.0 IP in 2015) and signed setup man Mark Lowe to a two-year deal worth $11 million. Is that a lot of money for a bullpen? It sure is, but Detroit needed the help badly.
4. Atlanta Braves
For every team hoping to reload, there is a club conceding to a rebuild, and Atlanta falls in the latter category. The Braves made the haul of the offseason (maybe the decade) in a deal that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona. For Miller, a starter with a 3.22 career ERA in the National League, Atlanta got a solid outfielder, Ender Inciarte; a top-100 pitching prospect, Aaron Blair; and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft, shortstop Dansby Swanson. That’s how you stock a team with young talent. The fact that the Braves front office did it with a single player is impressive. They won’t win next year, but watch out down the road.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks went from pitching poor to a force in the NL West in the span of a few days. Zack Greinke’s record-setting signing came before the meetings, but Tony LaRussa and GM Dave Stewart went all in to get Shelby Miller from the Braves. It appears that Arizona saw weakness from the Giants and Dodgers and pounced. Now they enter 2016 with Greinke at No. 1, Miller at No. 2, and one of the best offenses in the game, pounding opposing staffs. Plus, they get to wear those wild new uniforms while they intimidate the NL West.
2. Boston Red Sox
Like Detroit and Arizona, the Red Sox started with big pieces before filling in the blanks. David Price is the ace the team needed, but Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith are the bullpen forces who improve Boston so much ahead of 2016. Red Sox relievers were bad (26th in ERA) in 2015, but now Kimbrel and Smith make Koji Uehara just part of the bridge to the ninth inning. The cost was considerable to get both Kimbrel (two top prospects) and Smith (Wade Miley), but Dave Dombrowski pulled the trigger with a team that already has offense.
1. Chicago Cubs
Even with the other teams improving, no club came close to what Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs pulled off at the Winter Meetings. They nabbed the starter they needed, John Lackey; a champion second baseman, Ben Zobrist; and the best position player available, Jason Heyward. This trio of moves checked off all the boxes that the Cubs had on their offseason wish list, making them the favorite in the NL Central (if not all of baseball) in 2016. We can’t call the Cubs lovable losers — at least not in the offseason — anymore. How it plays out on the diamond remains to be seen, but we like their chances.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY