By: Romeo Wada
The 2020-2021 off season for Major League Baseball progressed as slowly as any offseason we have seen. Combine the COVID-driven caution many teams have for signing players who hit the free agent market in their mid-30s, many big leaguers were left unsigned until Mid-January and February. Nonetheless, all 30 clubs made their moves, big and small, and here we look at the teams who had the best offseasons as well as other teams who made intriguing moves.
Padres Close the Gap
It’s appropriate to start off this discussion with the most trendy team, the ‘Slam Diego’ Padres. The Los Angeles Dodgers, arguably the best current team in baseball, have reigned over the National League West with eight consecutive division titles ever since 2013. But the Padres have made it clear that they are sick of playing second fiddle to the Dodgers and clearly took steps forward this offseason. One of the most exciting teams in baseball is now one of the most dangerous.
Perhaps the two most significant moves this offseason were the signings of 2020 Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish and 2018 Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell. The addition of two ace-caliber frontline starters is a big step towards closing the gap between the Dodgers. Darvish, entering his age-34 season, is coming off of a fantastic 12-game performance in 2020. During this span, he pitched 76 innings (averaged 6.33 innings per game) while posting an 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and striking out 93 hitters. While age is a concern for all players, Darvish seems to be resurging towards a nice mid-career bounceback after having subpar seasons in 2018 and 2019. Heading into 2021, it seems like Darvish will live up to the role he was signed for. The Composite projections on Rotochamp, which combine several of the best projection systems available to predict a player’s performance, has Darvish pitching 184 innings while posting a 3.42 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, striking 225 hitters, and winning 14 games for the Friars.
Blake Snell, who is presumably the Padres’ number 2 ace, is projected to pitch fewer innings, but quality innings nonetheless. After a down 2019 season, last year was a step closer to his 2018 Cy Young form when he struck out 221 hitters in 180 innings, posting an 1.89 ERA. The Composite projections have Snell posting a 3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, while striking out 189 hitters over 154 innings. With the Rays, Snell experienced multiple games where he was pulled out of games he was dominating, most notably Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. With his new team that has more of the “Let the Kids Play” mentality, we can expect Snell to go out there and pitch to his limit, perhaps a few more innings compared to when he was with the ‘bullpenning’ Rays. These two veteran starters can give you innings and a ton of strikeouts, and they also have plenty of experience in the postseason.
In addition, the Padres have added Joe Musgrove who most likely slots in as their number 4 starter behind Darvish, Snell, and Paddack. With Dineslon Lamet slated to return from his injury during the 2021 season, all of a sudden the Padres have one of the nastiest rotations in baseball. From a long-term perspective, the Padres will also be getting Mike Clevinger back in 2022. A Padres potential rotation of Clevinger, Darvish, Snell, and Lamet will surely get the Dodgers uneasy for the next couple of seasons.
But it’s not just in the pitching department where the Padres excel. Signing Victor Caratini (Darvish’s personal catcher) from the Cubs, Ha-Seong Kim (a top international free agent), and veteran relievers Keone Kela and Mark Melancon add to the depth of their current roster. With this offseason’s key additions, a team with two of baseball’s top stars – Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado – is now led by several ace-caliber hurlers and looks to be in good shape to challenge the Dodgers for the division title.
Mets Add Star Power
Despite having the best pitcher in baseball, namely Jacob deGrom, for the past few seasons, the Mets have fallen short. Bringing in Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Indians may be their piece to the puzzle. Similar to how Mookie Betts took the Dodgers from a really good team to baseball’s best team, Lindor brings the glove, the bat, and the star power to Queens.
Since 2016, Lindor has totaled 65 Outs Above Average (OAA) and 34 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). That’s averaging 13 OAA and 6.8 DRS every year. In the last five years, only two other shortstops have posted better defensive metrics: Nick Ahmed with 80 OAA and 69 DRS and Andrelton Simmons with 67 OAA and 84 DRS. These are elite defensive numbers. However, Ahmed and Simmons come nowhere near Lindor in terms of the overall package they bring. The next best defensive shortstop is Trevor Story with 26 OAA and 60 DRS. During the most recent three-year span, excluding the shortened 2020 season, Lindor has posted 103 home runs, 255 Runs Batted In (RBIs), 62 stolen bases. That is a big and speedy bat at the top or the middle of the lineup, wherever the Mets decide to put him. Composite projects him to hit .269, 30 home runs, 85 RBIs, with a 0.819 OPS, but Lindor has shown that he shines the brightest on the biggest stage. At Queens, it’s quite possible that his numbers jump up even more. Whatever happens, the Mets brought in a player who has averaged 5.85 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) during 2015-2019 and who can bring all the energy and smiles to Citi Field.
The Mets’ other notable addition is Lindor’s teammate from Cleveland, Carlos Carrasco. Once viewed as having the stuff to become one of baseball’s best starters, Carrasco has overcome chronic leukemia and several injuries. Now, he slots in as the number 2 starter behind deGrom. At best, he can be that ace who takes you deep into ball games racking up strikeouts, as he did in 2017 and 2018 where he pitched a total of 392 innings striking out 457 while posting a 1.10 and 1.13 WHIP. For 2021, Composite projects him to throw 141 innings, striking out 165 hitters, with a 1.17 WHIP and 3.57 ERA. He gives the Mets pitching depth at the top of their rotation and brings playoff experience from his Cleveland days.
The Mets also secured their number 3 starting pitcher by resigning Marcus Stroman and solidified their bullpen by bringing in Trevor May from Minnesota. Both are fine additions. Stroman is projected to pitch 166 innings with 11 wins, a 1.32 WHIP, and a 3.85 ERA. May is projected to set up for Edwin Diaz and pitch 62 innings with 81 strikeouts, a 1.19 WHIP and a 3.63 ERA. The signing of James McCann adds a quality backstop behind the plate after the departure of Wilson Ramos. All of a sudden, with this offseason, the Mets have emerged as one of the NL powerhouses.
South Side of Chicago Making More Noise
The White Sox are making a lot of noise the past two years. Most notable are their hitters. Led by 2019 MLB Batting Champion Tim Anderson, 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu, switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, and several rising stars led by Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, the Sox have one of the most lethal lineups in baseball. In 2020, they ranked fourth in baseball in Home Runs per Game at 1.60 only behind the Dodgers, Yankees, and Braves who were arguably the three best teams in baseball last year. What were they lacking compared to the other top teams? It had to be pitching and experience. During the 2020-2021 offseason, it seems like they’ve focused on their weakness.
The addition of Lance Lynn is a major upgrade for the White Sox. Lynn has been one of baseball’s most durable and reliable starters throughout his career. These projected numbers for 2021 reflect it: 197 innings pitched, 15 wins, 3.34 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 262 strikeouts. With hard-throwers Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn at the top of their rotation followed by the savvy veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel, the White Sox have as good a chance as anyone in baseball at making a deep playoff run with their explosive lineup. The addition of Liam Hendriks at the back end of the bullpen and Adam Eaton in right field adds experience and stability to this emerging team. It looks like the White Sox have the pieces they need to challenge the Twins and Indians, and take the American League by storm.
Talking About Emerging Teams…
The Blue Jays might be the next favorite trendy team. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the lineup that goes: Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Teoscar Hernandez, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. However, this Blue Jays team is extremely young and inexperienced. They took steps this offseason to address that and upgrade the team.
George Springer and Marcus Semien are the two big-name additions to the club. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Springer has hit 95 homeruns, driving in 252 runs, averaging a .280 batting average and .881 OPS from 2017 to 2019. Semien was an MVP finalist in 2019. Both are still in their early 30’s and are projected to add production to this lineup in addition to the intangible assets and experience they will bring. Springer, projected to hit 32 home runs, drive in 88 runs, with a .271 batting average and .859 OPS, is a big upgrade over prior center fielder Randal Grichuk who posted 31 home runs, 80 RBIs, a .232 batting average and .738 OPS in 2019. Semien, who will man either second base or third base with Bichette occupying shortstop, is projected to hit 23 home runs with 74 RBIs and 11 stolen bases, and have a .779 OPS. The Blue Jays now have multiple good options both in the infield and outfield with Tellez and Grichuk (who are projected to have a .809 OPS and .786 OPS respectively) presumably on the bench or in the DH spot. Springer and Semien will provide that spark at the top of the lineup. If they hit in the middle of the order, they will provide protection for the younger players.
The Blue Jays also brought in bounceback candidate and closer Kirby Yates. When right, he is one of the best in the business (191 strikeouts over 123 innings from 2018-2019). With Composite projecting him to have 85 strikeouts over 60 innings, with 29 saves and a 3.30 ERA, the Blue Jays seem to have locked down their closer for 2021. Starting pitching remains an issue for this young team, but this offseason was certainly a step forward towards the AL East title.
The Usual NL Powerhouses with Unusual Uncertainty
Up until now, this discussion has been about teams who clearly won the winter. Let’s wrap up this discussion by looking at two teams who we have yet to determine whether their offseason is a win. The first team: St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals are in a winnable division with the Cubs unloading Darvish and Schwarber, the Reds losing Bauer, and the Brewers not making any offseason splashes. They bring in Nolan Arenado. Eight consecutive gold gloves. 199 home runs during 2015-2019 (that’s averaging 39.8 home runs each year). A career .293 batting average and .890 OPS. Do I have any skepticism at all? A little bit. This will be the first time we see Arenado for a full season playing in Busch Stadium-not Coors Field. Plenty argue that Arenado’s offensive performances are inflated due to the Coors’ altitude effect. Meanwhile, the Cardinals desperately needed a big bat in the middle of the lineup and Arenado provides that production nonetheless. Composite has Arenado hitting 32 home runs with 99 RBIs, a .275 batting average, and .847 OPS. Although a modest projection, this is a definite upgrade over Matt Carpenter. What should not change, is Arenado’s defense. He has 130 DRS since 2013 (averaging 16.25 DRS per year) and 61 OAA since 2016 (averaging 12.2 OAA per year). He has been and should continue to be one of the best at the hot corner. Ultimately, whether the Cardinal version of Arenado is the 40-HR 120-RBI Arenado we have known may determine how successful the Cardinals are in a competition-heavy National League.
Surrounded by countless rumors and controversies, Trevor Bauer is now a Dodger. Signing a contract that makes him the 6th highest paid player in baseball (annually), he is the newest and biggest addition to the star-studded Dodger roster. Coming off 2020 in which he won the National League Cy Young award, posting a 0.79 WHIP, 1.73 ERA, and 100 strikeouts over 73 innings, Bauer emerged as one of the most electric and exciting pitchers to watch. Adding Bauer along with Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have a trio of aces to roll out. However, there is room for skepticism here too… Bauer is a career 3.90 ERA pitcher. While he consistently strikes hitters out (career 1279 strikeouts over 1190 innings and a career 9.7 strikeout per nine ratio), his ERA tends to be erratic. Aside from 2020 and 2018 in which he posted a 1.73 and 2.21 ERA respectively, his ERA has ranged from the mid-4’s to the low-6’s. If he maintains his 2020 form and maintains his high strikeout rate, he and the Dodger pitching staff will be a force to be reckoned with. However, considering how dynamic of a player Bauer is, it is too early to make the verdict right now. For all we know, he might end up winning the Cy Young posting a 1.50 ERA with 250 strikeouts. Or, it could be a 4.50 ERA with 200 strikeouts. Nonetheless, he is an exciting player to watch and more eyes will be on him now that he dons Dodger blue.
The offseason is a crucial and exciting time for all clubs. Each club’s offseason speaks to the season they intend to have. Teams like the Padres and White Sox officially made it clear that they will compete for the World Series title. Meanwhile, the Champion Dodgers showed no signs of weaknesses, resigning Justin Turner and bringing in Trevor Bauer, while the Mets added a face of a franchise type of player. And then there are teams like the Blue Jays who added veteran pieces to their young and emerging team, as well as the Cardinals who face uncertainty and will have to do a lot of mixing and matching. But, the team that “wins” the offseason doesn’t always win the season, so we can only wait until October.