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On the rise: 5 clubs set to rebound into contention

MLB.com @RichardJustice

We keep waiting for a wave of signings -- not just signings, but jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping signings. We want signings that change the balance of power and the shape of division races.

Guess what? This may not be that kind of offseason, when one move leads to another and sets off a chain reaction in which everything happens to fast it's hard to follow. On the other hand, plenty of teams have gotten better. That part of the story gets lost. Little moves do add up, and that ultimately may be the larger story of this offseason.

We keep waiting for a wave of signings -- not just signings, but jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping signings. We want signings that change the balance of power and the shape of division races.

Guess what? This may not be that kind of offseason, when one move leads to another and sets off a chain reaction in which everything happens to fast it's hard to follow. On the other hand, plenty of teams have gotten better. That part of the story gets lost. Little moves do add up, and that ultimately may be the larger story of this offseason.

Hot Stove Tracker

At least five teams have moved themselves into contention after tough 2017 seasons. Some of them still have work to do, but we shouldn't lose sight that they've already done a lot. Here are my power five:

1. Giants

If this was Opening Day, they'd probably be picked to finish second in the National League West, which is a nice jump for a club that finished 40 games out of first place in 2017. While the focus is on the trades for third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Giants are confident they'll get way more production from Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt. One of the few remaining questions is who'll play center field. Free-agent Jarrod Dyson is an intriguing possibility, as is Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton. Stay tuned.

Video: McCutchen, Longoria will help defense and lineup

2. Mets

Their most significant acquisition may be the hiring of former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway as manager. His history of developing young pitchers is among the best in the game, and he could end up being an important person in Matt Harvey's career arc. But the Mets have enough pitching that Harvey's re-emergence would be a bonus. If Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz can make, say, 90 starts, the Mets will finish second in the NL East and contend with the Cardinals and Giants for an NL Wild Card berth. Did we mention the Mets also re-signed Jay Bruce to play first or the outfield and are giving first baseman Adrian Gonzalez a look?

Video: Bruce on being excited to reunite with the Mets

3. Angels

The Angels have had a great offseason, beginning with the signing of baseball's most intriguing player in 2018. If Shohei Ohtani can do what no player has done in 99 years -- be both a starting pitcher and a position player (or DH) -- he may change scouting, player development and roster construction forever. GM Billy Eppler also filled holes at third (Zack Cozart), second (Ian Kinsler) and left field (Justin Upton, a re-sign). Yes, it still comes down to Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and either Andrew Heaney or Tyler Skaggs combining for at least 90 starts. All four of them are healthy at the moment, and if the Angels can just catch a break with the injuries, they've got a great chance to go back to the playoffs.

Video: Healthy rotation, Ohtani reasons to believe in Halos

4. Cardinals

New left-fielder Marcell Ozuna gives the Cardinals a solid middle-of-the-order bat as well as a Gold Glove-caliber defender. With center fielder Tommy Pham and shortstop Paul DeJong having established themselves last season, the Cardinals have undergone a dramatic makeover. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak is still shopping for a third baseman and closer, but he says he's prepared to open the season with Jedd Gyorko back at third and Luke Gregerson pitching the ninth inning. Even if the Cardinals don't make another move, they will have made up significant ground on the Cubs in the NL Central and probably positioned themselves for a return to the postseason. How about Giants vs. Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game?

Video: Matheny eager to pencil Ozuna into Cardinals' lineup

5. Blue Jays

The Yankees and Red Sox have sucked so much of the oxygen out of the room that it's easy to overlook another American League East club poised for a significant improvement. They need another corner-outfield bat, but let's not overthink this thing. If Aaron Sanchez can make 28 starts and if third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy, it would be a mistake to overlook the Blue Jays.

Video: MLB Tonight: Donaldson, Toronto reach record pact

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals