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MLB Offseason: 5 rebuilding efforts examined

Rebuilding efforts abound over the winter months and every teams has their own take on how go about the process.

Maddie Meyer

Every team is trying to improve their chances at a World Series title over the offseason, but some have more work to do than others. The Red Sox and Cardinals needed to make moves to stay on top, but the core of talent that brought them head-to-head in late October will still be there on opening day.

Other teams aren’t as lucky. They don’t just need a new shortstop or a catcher to replace a departing free agent. They were far from the Promised Land as the final games of the season were being played and then they may have lost even more to the ravishes of free agency. For these teams, one or two moves isn’t enough. It is time to rebuild.

There is more than one way to turn a team around. This offseason, teams have adopted a range of strategies to re-up and reload.

Building Rome in Day

The Yankees

Strategy: Superstars and scrubs

Acquisitions: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Matt Thornton,

Key Losses: Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Curtis Granderson, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Chris Stewart

Still Seeking: Masahiro Tanaka, starting pitching

Last season, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and for just the second time since the 1994 strike and that basically guaranteed a reenactment of their 2009 spending spree. Sure enough, the Yankees have already grabbed three of the top free agents on the market and now that Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka is being posted, they could make it four. By adding McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran, they have re-energized a lineup that finished 10th in the American League in runs scored in 2013 despite playing in one of the most pro-hitter parks in the game, but they still have to address the rotation and the bullpen.

While the headlines understandably revolve around the multi-million dollar deals, the Yankees can’t simply fix every hole with the best player available. After landing their top targets, the Yankees switched to a strategy that is more often associated with their rivals in TampaBay. To fill the gap left by Robinson Cano, the Yankees turned to two players with issues and upside in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts. They added a talent lefty who has been in decline recently in Matt Thornton to help a bullpen that has a Mariano Rivera-sized hole in it now. There might still be a big-money deal to be made in the Bronx this winter, but even the Yankees have a budget. They have been the big spenders this offseason, but the success of their rebuild will also depend- at least in part- on their ability to find one or two hidden values.

The Diamondbacks

Strategy: Sell the Farm

Acquisitions: Addison Reed, Mark Trumbo

Key Losses: Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton, Mark Davidson, Heath Bell

Still Seeking: Starting pitching with Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana as possibilities

Can this really be called a rebuild? Arizona has added just two key players this offseason and if their 81-81 record from 2013 is any indication, they will need to do a good deal more if they hope to compete with the Dodgers. There have been plenty of hot takes on the specifics of their two trades, but the overall strategy is even more questionable than the returns. GM Kevin Towers has dealt highly-rated prospects for established major leaguers this offseason the way a GM managing a 90-win club might. The 2013 team didn’t under-perform in any meaningful way and while there are a few players who might take a small step forward, the Diamondbacks lineup is not busting with young talent on the verge of a breakout.

So, can the slightly retooled Diamondbacks contend in 2014? Beating the Dodgers to take the NL West seems like a stretch, but with two wild card spots up for grabs, Arizona can conceivably compete with the likes of the Reds, Nationals and Pirates to earn their way to October baseball. Mark Trumbo will hit some bombs, but add little value elsewhere. Addison Reed will give them an easy answer at the end of close games. These are nice pieces to add if you are already a contender, but so far, this rebuild doesn’t amount to much more than a new coat of paint.

Adding Tanaka would help change the story some and it wouldn’t be surprising if Towers the Trader has another big swap up his sleeve. If that is the case, maybe this Arizona offseason will begin to make sense. It feels like the Diamondbacks are trying to build something this winter, but right now, it doesn’t look much like a contender.

The Wait is Over

The Mariners

Strategy: Be the Yankees

Acquisitions: Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Willie Bloomquist

Key Losses: Carter Capps,

Still Seeking: Starting pitching with Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana as possibilities

Mariner’s fans have had to endure four losing seasons and they have been deprived of a playoff berth since 2001, but with a crop of talented young players hitting the majors now, the team has channeled their inner Steinbrenner and they are finally adding top talent. Unfortunately, they are doing it at top prices, but that might be unavoidable. While the strategy might not be a solid one over the long haul, the Mariners needed a radical change from the previous course after years of failing at other, more moderate methods of team building.

The Mariners gave Robinson Cano the sixth $200 million-plus deal in the history of the game this winter, and they certainly didn’t do that to try to win in 2018 or 2019. This is the end of the Seattle rebuild, not the start. GM Jack Zduriencik is putting everything on the line this offseason, but even at $240 million, his biggest bet isn’t on Robinson Cano. The biggest gamble Seattle is taking that players like Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Taijuan Walker and Kyle Seager are the real deal. If that wager goes bad, all of the money they have spent this offseason will have been in vain regardless how players like Cano and Hart perform.

The Long and Winding Road

The White Sox

Strategy: Buy Upside, sell security

Acquisitions: Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Felipe Paulino, Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs, Matt Davidson

Key Losses: Hector Santiago, Addison Reed

Still Seeking: more young talent

Under former-GM Kenny Williams (now the team's Executive VP), the White Sox had their own unique way of doing things and that is still the case with Rick Hahn at the helm. The White Sox hold a number of interesting pieces to dangle out on the trade market, but they have gone about things quietly. They found their way into the Mark Trumbo trade talks and walked away with one of the best deals of the offseason. They surprised most of the baseball world by winning the bid for Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu and they have made a number of low-cost, high-upside signings that could help drag them out of the basement in 2014 or else help them trade for more talent at the deadline if things go well.

The White Sox are still not a great team and their farms system isn’t expected to be ranked as elite after all these deals either, but it is clear that Hahn has a plan. He isn’t calling much attention to his own work, but he is building up the team's talent base with under-the-radar moves. With the financial resources Chicago has, this rebuild won’t have to be solely based on talent from the farm, but the youth movement on the South Side over the last six months deserves praise. When Hahn does begin chasing more expensive free agents, he will have young, cost-controlled talent around to maximize their impact. That won't happen this offseason, but that day isn't far away.

The Astros

Strategy: Tanking for talent

Acquisitions: Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, Jesus Guzman, Matt Albers, Chad Qualls

Key Losses: Brandon Barnes, Jordan Lyles, Ryan Jackson

Still Seeking: better Nielsen ratings

The Astros have lost more than 100 games for three straight seasons and it is hard to imagine things looking more bleak than did at the end of 2013. All of that losing has cost the team fans, but it has netted them a wealth of top prospects. Most of those players are still a year or more off, but the tide is beginning to turn in Houston and fans might see better days in 2014 if they actually bother to tune in.

The deal with the Rockies that brought Dexter Fowler to Houston seems to indicate the team is entering phase-two of their ruthless rebuilding strategy. Investing the bare minimum and picking up draft picks over the last three years has cured the lack of a farm system, but now the team needs to start winning back the hearts and minds of the people of Houston. A small improvement in their record built around moderate additions like Fowler and the progress of a few young player like Jason Castro, Dallas Keuchel and Jarred Cosart should help them out of the century-loss range and hopefully, that brings fans back to the team. A few more additions aimed improving now and in the future could happen before the winter is over as well. The great Houston rebuild is still years from complete, but the team is now starting to add talent to places other than the low minors at least.