It's like in Tim Burton's more-fondly-remembered-than-it-should-be Batman movie, but in reverse. In it, Jack Nicholson's Joker terrorizes the city with toxic chemicals that have been put into various toiletries and cosmetics. But using just one of the ingredients isn't enough to do anything. Used in combination, however, the Joker's toxin turns deadly, causing the victims to laugh uncontrollably and die.
Typically, one move doesn't make the difference between a club being an also-ran and a contender. Unlike basketball or football, baseball is far less dependent on one or two superstars being able to carry a club. So it's not like signing Zack Greinke alone is going to take the Diamondbacks from an 81 win team to a contender for the NL West division. But that move in combination with other moves? That could work. And it's the final move that's the catalyst that turns the team into a legitimate threat.
And that's what we're interested in today and tomorrow. Among the teams projected to move from disappointment to postseason contenders, what are the moves that finally pushed them over the top? Just so that we're not here forever, we're going to look at every team ZiPS thinks will win at least 84 games in 2016, starting at the bottom. We're going to do the American League today, and the National League tomorrow.
The Rays operate on the shoestring, of course, so they haven't made splashy moves this offseason. However, just after the season ended, they sent Nathan Karns to the Mariners for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar. Karns doesn't grade out terribly well, at about a win and a half. That should be easily eclipsed by the package the Rays received, especially Miller, who should be worth around two wins by himself. The move also freed up room in their starting rotation for Matt Moore, which should be a huge upgrade if he comes back healthy and effective from Tommy John surgery.
Speaking of the Mariners, Jerry DiPoto has revamed them this offseason with a flurry of moves. What wound up sealing the deal for them, though, was the physical exam that caused Hisashi Iwakuma's deal with the Dodgers to fall through. Iwakuma came back to the Mariners on a one-year, $11 million deal with two team options (that can become guaranteed if he stays healthy). The Dodgers' loss is Seattle's gain.
The Indians haven't done much this offseason, especially considering how tenuous their outfield situation is. ZiPS essentially says they were a playoff team simply because of regression from guys who had a tough 2015, and a full season of Francisco Lindor. But, for argument's sake, we'll say it was signing Mike Napoli and his projected one WAR that put them over the top.
I got news for you, the Ken Giles trade didn't make Houston into a contender. It made them a lot more dangerous at the end of games, mind you, but they were looking like a playoff team long before they sent five players to the Phillies for him. No, the biggest move came over the summer, when they traded for both Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez, who should both be huge factors in a full season in Houston in 2016. Is this cheating my own system? I don't know and I don't care.
To be clear, I don't much like the J.A. Happ signing. I think it's too many years for a guy who has proved far too little. But it helps in 2016, especially with the loss of Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchinson's injury concerns, and the uncertainty around Aaron Sanchez's ability to stick as a starting pitcher.
Earlier today, Jayson Stark was marveling that the Yankees haven't signed a free agent. That doesn't mean they aren't willing to spend heavily. Aroldis Chapman, who they traded for when his value was at its lowest, is going to cost them a ton of money once he and the Yankees agree on a contract, but given that he's worth almost three wins by himself at the back end of their bullpen, he's going to be entirely worth it. At least from a baseball perspective.
The Sox were rocked by opposing hitters in 2015, finishing 14th in the American League in runs allowed. Enter David Price, the biggest free agent signing this offseason, to stabilize the rotation and lead the Sox back into contention.
Bonus! Kansas City Royals
You know, at some point you just have to say that the Royals are probably going to win the AL Central again because they're the Royals, no matter what the projections say. That's where I'm at currently. Ian Kennedy helps solidify their rotation, of course, but bringing back Alex Gordon was the real move that makes them my least favorite favorite in the AL Central.