These 10 teams won the offseason
Let’s embark upon an annual tradition by puckering up our lips and applying the kiss of death.
That’s right. It’s time to name the Winter Winners!
You know how this so often goes. A team wins the winter and loses the season. That’s of course not always the case, but it’s close enough to have become a running gag in our game. Still, regardless of any dubiousness attached to this distinction, it should be the goal of teams to, you know, try to win baseball games. So kudos to those who made our list this year.
Honestly, we could have included half the league here, because you can always make an argument for why this signing or that trade will benefit a ballclub.
But these were the 10 best.
We knew, going into the winter, that for the Mets to merely maintain their standing as one of the best teams in the National League, it would take a massive amount of financial flexing.
They did not disappoint.
Though the Carlos Correa commitment famously fell apart over a faulty physical, the Mets and the whopping wallet of owner Steve Cohen nevertheless strengthened this squad. They remade the rotation, replacing Jacob deGrom with reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, and made up for the departures of Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker by landing Kodai Senga and José Quintana. The Mets also re-signed elite closer Edwin Díaz, center fielder Brandon Nimmo and reliever Adam Ottavino, and improved the catching spot with Omar Narváez. And underrated in all of this is that they didn’t have to give up Draft picks for any of the above.
The only obvious complaint is that the lineup could still use more power, but the benefit of all that big spending is that it preserves the Mets’ prospect pool and leaves the door open for an in-season acquisition.
Continuing to outpunch their market weight, the Padres followed the trades for Juan Soto and Josh Hader with another absolute stunner -- the signing of star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Beyond what that move means for the middle of the lineup, it gives the Padres (who also made a late play for Aaron Judge) the flexibility to shift Ha-Seong Kim to second, Jake Cronenworth to first (a position where the Padres were below average last year) and, upon his return from suspension, Fernando Tatis Jr. to the outfield (where he might be better suited long term). The veteran bats of Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter could also add to the Padres’ power (and if nothing else, Cruz should prove a valuable mentor to Tatis and others), while Seth Lugo serves as a swingman for a staff that looks a little top-heavy in the rotation. San Diego also re-signed Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez.
One of these years, we’re bound to go through a Trade Deadline and Hot Stove period without the Padres making some kind of shocking splash. But not in 2022-23.
The 2022 Rangers were evidence of the dubiousness of the winter win. Not only did Corey Seager and Marcus Semien experience drawdowns from their 2021 stats, but the club, as a whole, proved not yet ready for prime time.
Still, if the Rangers were to shorten their road to contention, they had no choice but to press -- and spend -- on. That’s what they did, first and foremost, with the jaw-dropping signing of deGrom, whose presence alone reinvents the rotation. The Rangers also signed Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi, re-signed Martín Perez after his terrific 2022 and made a trade for depth piece Jake Odorizzi. On paper, the Rangers’ rotation, which had a 4.63 ERA last season (third-worst in the AL), has to be the most improved of any segment of any squad in MLB, so they definitely belong on this list.
That said, the rotation is going to have to live up to its potential, because the Rangers’ bullpen acquisitions amount to low-profile lottery tickets, and Texas has been unable to land the impact outfield bat it sought.
Coming off the glow of a surprising and stirring surge to the NL pennant after a third-place finish in the deep NL East, the Phillies were faced with two hurdles -- Bryce Harper’s elbow surgery (limiting his availability for 2023) and the potential hangover effects the deep postseason run could have on their top-heavy pitching staff.
So both lengthening the lineup and making it more dynamic from a speed and on-base perspective with Trea Turner was a huge win. He was their guy from the outset of the offseason, and they went out and got him.
The jury is out on the acquisitions of pitchers Taijuan Walker, Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm, but the bottom line is that the Phillies are deeper in that department today than they were before. With the division race bound to be dynamic again, the Phillies needed to maintain the momentum from their deep run, and they did exactly that.
5. Blue Jays
To be clear, the big trade the Blue Jays and D-backs made feels like a win for both clubs. But because Arizona’s return is centered on catching prospect Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays’ end more clearly and immediately improves the Major League club and, combined with the rest of their activity, lands them on this list.
Toronto had a rare catching excess and a glaring need to balance the lineup, so bringing in the left-handed-hitting Daulton Varsho was a really nice score. This team also had DH/first base at-bats to offer, and the capable veteran (and, yes, left-handed) bat of Brandon Belt is a good get. We know this lineup can put up runs aplenty (especially with Rogers Centre’s new dimensions), but run prevention was another emphasis of the offseason. The Blue Jays addressed it by significantly lengthening their rotation with Bassitt, as well as adding the elite center-field glove of Kevin Kiermaier and landing late-inning reliever Erik Swanson.
Parting with Teoscar Hernández softens the enthusiasm for the Blue Jays’ winter slightly, and you’d like to see them go into the season with clearer answers in the back of the rotation, but the improved balance and defense make this feel like a more stable squad than it was before.
Nobody expected the Twins to retain Correa -- certainly not Correa. So to seize the (uncomfortable) moment when Correa had two contracts come apart and bring him back was a big win for the Twins and a rare score for a midmarket team. (Now let’s hope that leg holds up.) It was enough to land them on this list.
But of course, that wasn’t all. The Twins’ rotation looks a lot better today with Pablo López. To get him required parting with batting champ Luis Arraez, so the lineup looks a lot different, too. It will be fun and fascinating to pick apart that pact years from now. For now, let’s just assume that López was worth the risk. The Twins are also better at catcher with Christian Vázquez, they are deeper in the outfield with Michael A. Taylor and in the infield with Kyle Farmer, and perhaps their scratch-off ticket in the form of Joey Gallo will bring them a bunch of dingers.
Had Correa departed, the Twins would have been a tough sell as a contender, but they are now once again a viable threat to win the AL Central.
The Angels weren’t among the offseason’s splashiest spenders, but it says here that they were one of the biggest winners.
Why? Simple. Because instead of trading away the once-in-a-lifetime talent of Shohei Ohtani a year ahead of his free agency, as Angels fans understandably feared, the team instead made an earnest effort to compete, even amid the possibility of being sold (a possibility we now know is moot).
In years past, the Halos have seen some of their big swings in free agency turn out to be big whiffs. Soon we’ll see if the lower-profile, depth-oriented route taken by GM Perry Minasian with the acquisitions of starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, power-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe, utility men Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela, and back-end reliever Carlos Estévez pays off. The Angels still need help at shortstop, and perhaps they have not done enough to reach the playoffs. But we know a healthy Ohtani and Mike Trout would give the Angels a high floor, and this club is now better equipped to handle injuries elsewhere on the roster than it was before.
It’s not exactly a novel concept, but the Cubs decided their quickest path to contention is to improve their pitching and defense. Although they didn’t land the absolute best of the shortstop crop or a top-of-the-rotation starter, the signings of Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon unquestionably make this a better ballclub, and those guys might both still have their best seasons ahead of them.
The Cubs were in perfect position to take a swing at a Cody Bellinger comeback. If it works out, he can either help vault Chicago into contention or serve as a gorgeous trade chip. They also seemingly improved their offensive floor with the signing of Trey Mancini, they added veteran reliever Brad Boxberger and they took a flier on Eric Hosmer.
Is this a playoff team? Hard to say. Is it a more capable, dependable team than the one that took the field in 2022? Almost certainly.
The D-backs won’t be -- and shouldn’t be -- anybody’s pick in the ridiculous NL West. But with a horde of young talent on the roster and on the horizon, you don’t have to squint too hard to see this club making big strides this season.
If you enter with the assumption that Arizona is not ready to splurge on its needs, then Mike Hazen and Co. were successful in solidifying this squad within the allotted resources. Trading Varsho just as he appears to be reaching his potential stings. But he was dealt from a position of depth, and he landed the D-backs a big league-ready, consensus top 10 prospect in Moreno, as well as veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
The rest of the additions, including veteran third baseman Evan Longoria and 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, were more on the margins of the roster. Overall, the D-backs did a good job supplementing an intriguing young core.
It feels like the Yankees belong on this list because, as obvious as re-signing Aaron Judge was, it was by no means an easy deal to get done, and the Yanks also landed one of the best starting pitchers available in Carlos Rodón.
The Yankees signed two of the top 10 free agents, so they make the list. Pretty simple.
But if you want to quibble with the Yankees’ inclusion over some other clubs, it’s understandable. It’s not as if there was a great deal of creativity here, and the team’s pre-existing question marks -- the left-field situation, the right-hand dominance of the lineup and the general vulnerability to age and injury -- all remain questions in the Bronx.