Yesterday, we talked about the offseason moves that put also-rans over the top, and turned them into playoff contenders in the American League. I made an elaborate metaphor to Tim Burton's Batman movie. It was a whole thing. You should go back and re-read it.
My point was that, while one move doesn't make the difference between a club being projected to be a contender or not, each move (hopefully) collectively pushes them closer and closer to that goal. Like how one punch isn't very effective in the Batman: Arkham Asylum series of games (look, another Batman reference!), but chaining them together makes you far more powerful. 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. He had a ton of impact on the games he pitches every five days, but if the Diamondbacks were forced to rely on Josh Collmenter, or Allen Webster, or some other replacement level guys, it wouldn't matter. But that move in combination with other moves? That could work, and it's that final catalyzing move that turns a club into a legitimate threat we're interested in.
Among the teams projected be postseason contenders in 2016, 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 in the National League that ZiPS thinks will win at least 84 games in 2016, starting at the bottom.
Like the Indians, the Pirates haven't made a ton of major moves. The combination of Jo(h)ns Jaso and Niese are worth around three wins, but it's the Niese for Neil Walker trade that matters most, as it allows the Pirates to install Josh Harrison at second base permanently, shift Jung-ho Kang to third, and Jordy Mercer gets regular playing time at short, in addition to the value Niese provides.
I don't much like the Mike Leake signing from a years or a money perspective. It's fine and not likely to hurt the Cardinals, but it's hardly a value. That said, the Cardinals have a solid five starters now for 2016, and Leake will be incredibly competent for 200 innings, preventing the team from rushing guys like Marco Gonzales and Alex Reyes, and from over exposing replacement level pitchers like Tyler Lyons. In what should be a fierce fight in the NL Central, every win will be important.
No team has been more aggressive in free agency this offseason than the Giants, and it's their biggest offseason acquisition that's going to get them back to the postseason in 2016. Assuming he's healthy, Johnny Cueto's a three win pitcher easily, and probably more, and gives the Giants a formidable 1-2 combination at the top of their rotation.
The numbers say that the Mets are the third best team in the National League and that they were probably a playoff team before they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes. I don't know that I believe that.
The numbers also say that the Nationals essentially just as good as the Mets. I don't know that I believe that either. But if they are playoff bound, it's because they went out and signed Daniel Murphy away from their division rivals. And also because they drafted Bryce Harper back in 2010.
Kenta Maeda is probably the linchpin that holds this offseason together. The Dodgers may have been a postseason team already, but he helped solidify what was suddenly looking like a very shaky rotation, and settled questions about the Dodgers' financial viability going forward.
The Cubs probably didn't need him, but Jason Heyward is like the rug in The Big Lebowski. Signing him really ties the whole room together, man.
Double Secret Bonus! Arizona Diamondbacks
ZiPS doesn't like the Diamondbacks in 2016, but I give them a puncher's chance thanks to the trade that brought them Shelby Miller to pair with Zack Greinke. Yes, they massively overpaid for the right-hander. But if Arizona can sneak into the postseason, most won't care.