Every year, some team makes a flurry of offseason moves in an attempt to alter their roster for the better, and significantly boost their playoff chances for the following year. In recent years, teams such as the 2009 Yankees have made large offseason investments in star-quality players, and they watched as their decisions bore fruit in the form of deep playoff runs or championships.
Then again, every year, several teams makes a different flurry of notable deals, only to fall flat on their faces, just like last year's iterations of the Angels and Blue Jays.
This winter, a number of teams have made noteworthy moves as they try to put themselves in a better position to not only make the playoffs, but win the World Series. More often than not, these teams will fall short of expectations, but for those who don't, the rewards can be extremely satisfying.
So, which team has most significantly improved itself this winter?
Notable subtractions: Alex Rodriguez (3B), Vernon Wells (just kidding...), Robinson Cano (2B), Joba Chamberlain (RP), Boone Logan (RP), Mariano Rivera (RP), Andy Pettite (SP), Phil Hughes (SP), Curtis Granderson (OF), Kevin Youkilis (1B/3B)
No team has made a greater number of significant free agent signings than the Yankees have this winter, but the question is, will it be enough?
The three biggest signings here are obviously those of McCann, Beltran, and Ellsbury. McCann is a huge upgrade over the likes of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, and could represent as much as an extra 4 or 5 wins in that transaction alone. Ellsbury and Beltran relieve a couple of aging veterans such as Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki from having to play the field, while also significantly altering the top of the Yankees' lineup.
The team also retained Hiroki Kuroda, bolstered their bullpen with Matt Thornton (though they did lose Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan), and made a rash of infield additions in Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and Brendan Ryan. The latter trio should help to slightly ease the void left by Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez*, as well as to lessen the damage caused by Derek Jeter's defensive atrocities. It's also worth mentioning that though he isn't technically an addition, a healthy Mark Teixeira will provide a big boost to the club's offense.
*Yes, I did list A-Rod as a notable subtraction. Off the field, his loss is a huge addition, but as for on-field performance, I'm pretty sure any team would take him over Kelly Johnson based strictly on production.
For more on the Yankees' infield situation, please check out Josh Duggan's excellent piece on this unusual cast of Bronx infielders.
Landing Tanaka, Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran and others should help the Yanks win a few more games over the next few years despite the loss of Cano, but it didn't come cheap. They've made $465 million in new commitments this offseason.
The Rangers and Tigers shocked the baseball world with November's trade of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, and then Texas did it again by signing Shin-Soo Choo to a monstrous deal nearly a month ago. Aside from those two moves, the Rangers also let Joe Nathan walk, as well as making a four-player swap with Oakland that saw them land highly-regarded outfield prospect Michael Choice.
Overall, the team made huge improvements to their offense, adding a middle-of-the-order power bat and an on-base machine at the top of their lineup. Choice should also play some kind of role with the big league club this year, and has the chance to develop into a first-division regular down the line.
In the rotation, there is some cause for concern with the impending departure of Matt Garza and the recent injury to Derek Holland. Still, it's hard to find a better pitcher than Yu Darvish to top your rotation, and a top four of Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez is still pretty good.
The Athletics were extremely busy this winter, especially in upgrading their pitching staff, where they added relievers such as Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Josh Lindblom, as well as starters Scott Kazmir and Drew Pomeranz, while their offense remained largely intact.
Adding Johnson, Gregerson, and Lindblom to a bullpen that already features Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook is certainly beneficial, even if they dealt Jerry Blevins to Washington and are likely to lose Grant Balfour to free agency. In the rotation, they lose Colon and Anderson, but gain Kazmir, Pomeranz, and a full season of Sonny Gray.
Both certainly help Arizona in 2014, as Trumbo gives them a middle-of-the-order slugger to complement Paul Goldschmidt, and Reed should provide them with a suitable ninth inning option.
Arizona missed out on the Tanaka sweepstakes, but there are still a few options left on the open market. If the D-backs still want to add a starter, they can probably do pretty well with Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, and it won't cost $155 million.
A lot of the Angels' improvements in 2014 should come just from being healthy. Full seasons of Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, Chris Iannetta, and Sean Burnett should help, as well as the fact that Josh Hamilton should be expected to rebound at least somewhat this year.
The Angels' biggest hole was pitching, and they did a decent job of addressing that this winter. Smith and Salas are nice adds to what was a disastrous bullpen in 2013. In the rotation, they lost Jason Vargas, but added two promising young starters in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in the Mark Trumbo trade. They're also reportedly in on Matt Garza, whose market could pick up in light of Tanaka's new deal. Plus, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson are very good options at the front of any rotation, and Garrett Richards has shown the promise to take a step forward this year.
Losing Bourjos and Trumbo definitely hurts their outfield makeup, but that blow is always lessened when you have Mike Trout. Also, the team really believes that Kole Calhoun is ready to step in and produce in an everyday role. Of course, Trumbo's loss is also somewhat mitigated with the Ibanez addition, and Freese fills what may have been the club's only hole on offense.
Notable additions: Bartolo Colon (SP), Chris Young (OF), Curtis Granderson (OF)
Notable subtractions: LaTroy Hawkins (RP)
Winners of just 74 games last year, the Mets won't fool anyone as a legitimate contender this year. However, they do have the look of a team that could take a step forward into the 80-84 win territory.
On offense, they added two toolsy outfielders in Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. Young could reap a handsome reward if their bet on him pays off, and Granderson has proven to be an All-Star caliber outfielder when healthy. The team will also (hopefully) get a full season from David Wright, and an improved Ike Davis is certainly a possibility. The Mets will also be replacing John Buck with promising prospect Travis D'Arnaud behind the plate, and it's quite feasible to think that D'Arnaud could be a ROY contender.
Pitching wise, though they will miss Matt Harvey (my apologies, Mets fans), Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Jenrry Mejia form a very strong rotation behind potential ace Zack Wheeler, and adding Bartolo Colon to that mix only makes it better. This rotation could be sneaky-good this season.
Though it's sensible that the Mariners' reconstruction plan isn't finished yet, they've already made quite a few moves including one which may have been the biggest of the offseason. Signing Robinson Cano immediately gave the impression that the Mariners are going for it, and subsequent deals for Logan Morrison and Corey Hart did little to shake that.
Cano gives the Mariners something that they really haven't had since Ichiro left town: a generational superstar position player. He slots right into the heart of Seattle's order and will likely remain there for the next decade or so. Interestingly enough, his arrival displaced a solid young second baseman in Nick Franklin, who theoretically could be used as trade-bait if the Mariners are still looking to make another big splash.
Seattle's refurbished lineup is pretty deep from top to bottom, although they do have a significant amount of first base/DH types, and that surplus could grow even further if they retain Kendrys Morales (a very realistic option considering his other suitors).
After Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the rotation is a significant question mark. Taijuan Walker has thrown just 15 big league innings, James Paxton has thrown 24, and Erasmo Ramirez has yet to show the potential to be even a back-end starter. They were players in the early market for Tanaka, so the M's could consider targeting one of the top remaining starters.
Overall, Seattle's team definitely looks better on paper than it was last year, but the question still remains: will it be enough to make the playoffs in a crowded American League?