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Cubs rank No. 1 among offseason winners

Red Sox, Tigers also look primed for bounce-back seasons
January 11, 2016

Some will tell you it's bad luck to win the offseason. Sets a club up to fail. Burdens it with expectations. On the other hand, what's the alternative? As one of baseball's wise men, Jim Leyland, once said, "It means someone thinks you've probably got a pretty good team."That's why

Some will tell you it's bad luck to win the offseason. Sets a club up to fail. Burdens it with expectations. On the other hand, what's the alternative? As one of baseball's wise men, Jim Leyland, once said, "It means someone thinks you've probably got a pretty good team."
That's why winning the offseason is a good thing. It typically means a team went out and got some good players, and isn't that the bottom line? While this offseason isn't over, we've seen enough to start drawing up our lists of who won and those who, well, didn't.
Given that Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Yovani Gallardo remain unsigned and that some big-name players -- Carlos Gonzalez and Jake Odorizzi, anyone? -- could still be traded, this list is incomplete.
Hot Stove Tracker
At the moment, though, here are five teams who've made real good use of the offseason:
1. Cubs
When in doubt, go with the team that might just be the best in the entire sport. That's where the Cubs find themselves. After winning 97 games and getting to the National League Championship Series last season, they've added Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to the lineup and John Lackey and Adam Warren to the pitching staff.
Throw those guys onto a team that already had Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and well, this could be close to a monster team. There's probably one more deal coming. The Cubs and Rays match up nicely in a pitching-for-offense move, so Odorizzi seems a decent bet to open the season with the Cubbies.
Regardless, the heavy lifting is done. Expectations? Sure, there'll be some of that. There'll be all that talk about not having won a World Series since the Teddy Roosevelt Administration (1908) and all that.
How many different ways can manager Joe Maddon answer this baby? Let's make a note to collect his Top 10. Not that it matters. Not a bit. Rizzo? Arrieta? All they know is they've got a chance to have about as much fun as a Major League player can imagine having.
2. Red Sox
Talk about changing the narrative. New president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski upgraded the rotation, reworked the bullpen and positioned himself to do even more.

If you look at the Red Sox from a certain angle, you might just make them the American League East favorites. And not just because Dombrowski added David Price to the top of the rotation and Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to the back of the bullpen.
Dombrowski is also excited to watch all those young guys -- Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, etc. -- get better. Dombrowski also has some degree of optimism that Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello will have healthy and productive seasons.
Dombrowski is also saying all the right things about new first baseman Hanley Ramirez, who could have a huge impact if he's healthy and engaged. If Ramirez doesn't work out, Dombrowski has Travis Shaw, a young kid who showed enough last season to earn playing time.
There's also enough depth to make a trade or two if the need arises. The Red Sox appear to be good enough to make a run at the Blue Jays in the AL East.
3. Tigers
First, there's the bullpen. New general manager Al Avila aggressively attacked his team's biggest problem -- 27th in ERA the past two seasons -- by getting Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. He also added Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey to the rotation.

If the veteran players -- Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler -- stay healthy, the Tigers have a chance to take back the AL Central from the Royals in a division that might be baseball's most competitive.
4. Nationals
Will this be the season that the performance matches the expectations? It very well could be. General manager Mike Rizzo didn't get all the guys he wanted this offseason, but the ones he ended up with are plenty good enough. In second baseman Daniel Murphy and center fielder Ben Revere, he added a pair of solid veterans, both left-handed hitters who add balance to the lineup.

Rizzo also nicely reworked his bullpen with four veteran arms -- left-hander Oliver Perez and right-handers Trevor Gott, Shawn Kelley and Yusmeiro Petit. They'll line up in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who remains one of the best closers on the planet despite so much attention being focused on his occasionally saying or doing the wrong thing.
Here's the bottom line: If they can keep their core guys on the field, the Nats are once more solid favorites to win the NL East.
5. D-backs
This was one of baseball's surprise teams in 2015 by finishing second in the NL in runs scored and by being above .500 until late August. To a very nice core, the D-backs added the best free-agent pitcher on the market in Zack Greinke and then traded for a solid No. 2 in Shelby Miller.

If Patrick Corbin is healthy again -- and indications are that he is -- and if one of the young prospects has a breakthrough season, Arizona could have a rotation capable of supporting all that offense.
The D-backs won't be favored to win the NL West. The Dodgers and Giants will both be picked to finish in front of Arizona. That's no big deal. The D-backs are good enough to stay in the mix and play meaningful games in September. This could be a fun baseball summer in Arizona.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.