By Michael Levitt
For most of Major League Baseball’s offseason, there was little activity in free agency. It has picked up as of late with some major names signing, but there are still an overwhelming number of players who are still unsigned. This has led some teams to look at trades to fill their open spots, and some superstars have changed teams via trade this offseason.
With most teams trying to cut money due to financial losses incurred this past season from having games without fans, there have been fewer teams willing to pay up for big names. These few teams who paid big money to upgrade have in general been the winners of the offseason. One of these teams was the New York Mets, who acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco via trade and catcher James McCann from free agency. Lindor and Carrasco came over from Cleveland in return for infielders Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez and prospects. That could end up being a steal for the Mets, especially if Lindor signs an extension to stay in New York. Lindor only has one year left on his contract, and the Mets are going for broke for this season since outfielder Michael Conforto and starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are also free agents next year. They most likely will not be able to re-sign all four players, so this could be their best shot to win a championship.
The San Diego Padres have been arguably the biggest winner of the offseason so far. After trading for starting pitcher Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline last season and watching him get hurt soon after, it was announced that he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending his 2021 season before it began. To replace him, the Padres traded for 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and 2020 National League Cy Young Award runner-up Yu Darvish, along with quality back-of-the-rotation piece Joe Musgrove. The Padres will add these three to youngster Chris Paddack and injury-prone Dinelson Lamet to form one of the best rotations in baseball, if not the best. To get their three rotation additions (along with Darvish’s personal catcher, Victor Caratini), the Padres traded starting pitchers Zach Davies (to the Chicago Cubs for Darvish) and Joey Lucchesi (to the Mets in the three-team Musgrove deal), young catcher Francisco Mejia (to Tampa Bay for Snell), and 11 prospects. Surprisingly, the Padres were able to hold onto four of their five prospects who are on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, which helps them have high-talent depth and also gives them replacements for veteran players down the road. Assuming their rotation can stay healthy, which is a big if considering the injury histories of Lamet and Snell, the Padres should be one of the best teams in the National League and could give the Los Angeles Dodgers a run for their money in the National League West division.
The American League’s biggest winner of the offseason has probably been the Chicago White Sox. They came close to winning their division last year and have the young talent to possibly win a World Series title in the next five years, but still supplemented that young talent with some veterans. The main hole in the White Sox’s roster was a third proven starting pitcher to take some of the pressure off Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, and they found it in Lance Lynn. Lynn, who was traded to the White Sox from the Texas Rangers in exchange for young starting pitcher Dane Dunning and a prospect, is under contract for the next two seasons and will add another veteran to the rotation, along with Keuchel. In addition to getting Lynn, the White Sox also made some moves in free agency, signing outfielder Adam Eaton and relief pitcher Liam Hendriks. Eaton will take over as the starting right fielder, replacing Nomar Mazara, who the White Sox acquired from the Rangers last offseason but struggled in his opportunities with the club. This will be Eaton’s second go-round with the White Sox, as he played with them from 2014-2016 before being traded to the Washington Nationals in a deal that netted the White Sox three pitching prospects, including Giolito and Dunning. Hendriks will be the closer for the White Sox and join Aaron Bummer and Evan Marshall at the back end of the bullpen. Last season, Alex Colomé did a tremendous job as the closer for the White Sox, so Hendriks has some big shoes to fill, although considering what he has done the last two seasons, Hendriks is probably more than up to the task. The White Sox have the talent to make it far in the postseason, but that will likely require some development from their young core. The veterans can get the team to the postseason, but the youngsters will have to perform for the club to make it far in the playoffs.
Another American League team that has had a great offseason is the Toronto Blue Jays. While they do not currently know where they will be playing the 2021 season due to Coronavirus restrictions on travel in Canada, they have still improved the roster, adding outfielder George Springer and relief pitcher Kirby Yates and re-signing starting pitcher Robbie Ray. Springer was one of the top free agents this offseason and found a new home in Toronto after spending his whole career to this point in Houston. The Blue Jays signed Springer for six years and $150 million, the largest deal given to a free agent so far this offseason. Springer will be the new center fielder for Toronto, pushing Randal Grichuk to right field and Teoscar Hernandez to designated hitter. Signing Springer should help the Blue Jays’ outfield defense since Hernandez is better known for his bat than his glove, but it should also help the offense by adding one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. Kirby Yates was one of the top relief pitchers on the free agent market despite still working his way back from an elbow injury, and Toronto thought it was worth the risk to take a chance on him as their closer. Yates will take over from Anthony Bass, who was also a free agent and recently signed with the Miami Marlins. If Yates can come back from his elbow injury and regain his past successes, this could be a great signing for the Blue Jays and give them an experienced relief pitcher who could be one of the best closers in the game when healthy. Robbie Ray was acquired by Toronto from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline last year, and was okay in his time with the club, but was mainly an innings-eater. Toronto re-signed him and will hope that he can find his previous success, but he is mainly a placeholder in the back of their rotation at this point. He still walks too many batters to be a great pitcher, but he strikes out a good amount of batters and has a high groundball rate, which helps him avoid too many home runs. The Blue Jays’ rotation is mostly waiting for the next wave of young talent to come up, although top prospect Nate Pearson came up last year and will likely hold down a spot in the rotation this year. With the additions of Springer and Yates, the Blue Jays are signaling that they are ready to compete for a playoff spot and will likely fight with Tampa Bay for second place in the American League East behind the Yankees. However, the new talent they brought in might be enough to get them another step closer to the World Series, even without their young players making progress with their development.
There are other teams that have had a good offseason, but these four have had the best so far. There are plenty of free agents still on the market, so another team could jump one of these four or join this category. The baseball offseason is always a waiting game, and one that could change the trajectory of a team for years to come. There are big moves that are yet to be made, but once the dust settles and the season starts, anything is possible.
Edited by Emma Moloney