By: Joey Schneider, KCOU Sports
It’s interesting how quickly times can change in baseball. Less than six months ago, the Oakland Athletics led Major League Baseball with 59 victories and honed seven All-Stars in this year’s Midsummer Classic. But if you tried looking at their roster now, you would hardly even know it.
After losing 38 of their 67 final regular season games in 2014 and being eliminated in the single game AL Wild Card play-in, Oakland general manager Billy Beane decided to start from scratch, again. Going back to the infamous “Moneyball” strategy from the early 2000’s, the Athletics traded away five different All-Stars from last year and dumped tens of millions in payroll for the upcoming season.
For better or for worse, the Oakland A’s have set up one of the most interesting offseasons in a long time. Beane’s bold moves have opened the floodgates for a busy December across Major League Baseball, but it’s not just the A’s controlling their own destiny.
Let’s take a closer look into the numbers. Since the final out of the 2014 World Series, 27 of 30 teams have been involved in at least one trade, nine free agents have signed deals over $50 million and six teams have hired a new manager.
There’s not much of an explanation to this sporadic offseason, but it’s becoming more evident that teams believe in the idea of change. With new faces traveling to new destinations, teams are paving the foundation for new expectations in 2015.
The Windy City brought baseball fans the earliest gusts of change this offseason, as both of Chicago’s teams have expanded payroll with new acquisitions. The Cubs won on the Jon Lester sweepstakes with a 6-year, $155 million deal, while signing free agent pitchers Jason Motte and Jason Hammel to new contracts. Their South side counterparts made adjustments as well, adding veteran pitchers Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson, in addition to a few new perennial sluggers.
With all of these moves, both teams are making statements in Chicago. It’s what loyal fan bases would hope for anyways, as the Cubs and White Sox symbolize the ability to build an improved team with whatever resources come available.
Other teams in smaller markets are jumping on a similar bandwagon, but focusing more on bats. The Miami Marlins addressed infield issues by picking up Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Michael Morse, while the San Diego Padres may currently boast the best outfield core in baseball after landing Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton within the last week.
Both the Marlins and Padres finished 77-85 in 2014, which stands as the best record between the two since San Diego’s last winning season in 2010. But rolling the dice may improve weak areas of both teams in the long run. The Fish now have a few sluggers to hit around record-breaking contract outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, while the Friars are in a position to finish better than dead last in run production.
Of course there are a few different catalysts sparking all of these offseason moves. The most obvious one is the Oakland A’s, who now only have four original pieces from last year’s Opening Day starting lineup. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves have also let go of a combined seven former All-Stars via free agency or trades this month.
The “Moneyball” cycle may be making a comeback with teams outside of Oakland. Perhaps the Dodgers and Braves are beginning to realize innovative ways to reduce payroll or scout talent. Trade acquisitions Jimmy Rollins and Shelby Miller provide cheap option and could be in for comeback years with larger responsibilities.
Despite all of the changes, many mysteries remain to be solved in Major League Baseball’s busy offseason. Where will prized free agent aces Max Scherzer and James Shields wind up? Which heavy-spending teams will emerge as surprise contenders? And how far will Oakland go with their fire sale?
Nevertheless, this offseason is helping teams define their true ambitions well before the 2015 Spring Training. If change serves as a formula for success, then most teams prove ready for a new competitive era of baseball.