With the winter meetings rapidly upon us and the hot stove heating up by the day, we decided to take a step back briefly to analyze offseason transactions and chart out a broad plan for all 30 MLB teams to move toward a World Series berth.
Over the next two days, we will be releasing our end of year review and plan forward for each team. The American League is being released Tuesday with the National League blurbs coming out on Wednesday.
This project is truly a site effort, with many of our writers involved in writing about one or more teams. These were all written prior to Monday, so activities from Monday onward are likely not included. Feel free to leave comments at the bottom or contact any of us on twitter.
Steven Martano, @SMartano
Texas Rangers, 88-74, first in the AL West. Lost in the ALDS
Written off after Yu Darvish's Tommy John surgery last March, the Texas Rangers surprised everyone by winning the AL West in 2015. Resurgent seasons from Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo were aided by the emergence of Rougned Odor, Delino DeShields Jr., and the acquisition of Cole Hamels at the trade deadline. The unexpected season was undoubtedly a success, despite the manner of their defeat in the ALDS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Texas has made only two moves made so far in the offseason, one (Patton for De La Rosa) seeing the Rangers deal from surplus to add a prospect. In the other move, Leonys Martin was moved to the Mariners following an offensive decline (50 wRC+) and the emergence of Delino DeShields. Tom Wilhelmsen has a wide repertoire and throws hard, so despite control problems, he offers Jeff Banister another late-inning option in the Rangers’ bullpen.
Texas is hoping for healthy returns from several key players in 2016. Beyond Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar, full, consistent seasons from Derek Holland and Martin Perez could do wonders to solidify the team's rotation. The team's only 30-start pitchers in 2015 (Colby Lewis and Yovani Gallardo) are free agents, so there are innings to eat behind the ace duo of Hamels and Darvish.
The team is reportedly interested in adding rotation depth as Darvish, Holland, and Perez all missed significant time in 2015 with arm and shoulder injuries. Despite large payroll commitments, a mid-tier free agent like John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, or Hisashi Iwakuma would add security.
In 2015, the team received 2.3 fWAR at catcher from Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez. However, both combined for 386 plate appearances and have spotty track records - the Rangers may look to add depth. Matt Wieters’ qualifying offer acceptance leaves little on the free agent market, and trade target Jonathan Lucroy may have a prohibitively high cost attached. To improve over the tandem on the roster, creativity is necessary.
With Mitch Moreland, Odor, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre all returning in the infield, that area seems set. If anything, the Rangers would like to shop Andrus’ contract, but getting a team to take him seems unlikely. Fielder has a similarly onerous contract but after a rebound season is a more palatable DH for the Rangers than he was entering last season.
Choo returned to his typical offense (127 wRC+) in 2015, which is still valuable if he can maintain it in right field. Martin’s trade solidified Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields in center, despite metrics rating him below everyday player value in 2015 (1.3 fWAR and 1.1 rWAR). If healthy, left field will be manned by Josh Hamilton, who has missed significant time with injuries and seen offensive decline over the last three seasons.
Between Hamilton and DeShields, more certainty in the outfield would be nice. Despite a number of outfield options in free agency, high payroll commitments and near-ready prospects make spending in this area impractical. Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson, and Ryan Cordell are all impact prospects with above-average ceilings and triple-A exposure. They should quickly rise and fill any holes in the outfield that emerge.
The Rangers made the best of a surprise opportunity in 2015 and won 88 games. By adding full seasons from Hamels, Darvish, Holland, Perez, and Profar, they may add enough wins alone to predict a playoff berth. With the possible addition of insurance in the starting rotation, depth behind the plate, and the promotion of impact outfield prospects, this team could reach lofty goals in 2016.
Houston Astros, 86-76, second in the AL West. Lost in the ALDS
Re-Signed OF Colby Rasmus as he accepted 1-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer
The Astros performed much better than expected in 2015. The organization has taken the full tear down and rebuild approach, and it seemed like that plan had them positioned for contention in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the progress came early. They finished 86-76 (.531 win percentage), second in the American League West, and in place for the second wild card spot. They took down the Yankees in the wild card game before eventually succumbing to the Royals' devil magic in the Division Series, wrapping up a season that foretells good things.
Colby Rasmus was the first player to accept the qualifying offer. He has been an above average hitter in each of the last three seasons and can provide around average defense at all three outfield spots. He strikes out at an alarming rate (30+% K rate in each of the last two seasons), but that fits just fine with the Astros, who have been accepting of high-K% players that also provide power. Rasmus has posted a .220+ isolated power each season since 2013. He likely could have gotten himself a multi-year deal on the free agent market, so this looks like a nice deal for the Astros.
The Villar and Lowrie trades are fairly simple moves that exchange utility-ish infielders, who will struggle to find playing time with the Astros, for minor league pitching depth. McCurry is an interesting reliever, who with continued success could see time with the big league club in 2016. Sneed has not played above high-A, but like McCurry presents an interesting pitcher for the Astros' future.
The Astros should be in the mix again in 2016 (and the next several years), as such the plan for finalizing their roster should be focused on the short term more than it has been in recent years. They have a strong core in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Carlos Gomez, Jason Castro, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Luke Gregerson, and Will Harris. They still have major holes at the corner infield spots, will need to fill in the bullpen, and add a starter.
Chris Davis represents an interesting free-agent option for the Astros at first base. He fits their mold of a high strikeout, high power player and any contract he commands will have him with the club for the same years as many of those listed in the core above. They spent considerably on the bullpen last offseason, adding Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but are not done with completing the end-of-game group, as they are reportedly going hard after a capital-C closer. Scott Kazmir opting for free agency leaves an opening in their rotation, but one that is not necessarily all that difficult to fill.
This team has a realistic chance at playing in any of the next three World Series.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 85-77, third in the AL West
Signed C Geovany Soto to 1-year, $2.8 million contract
Signed INF Cliff Pennington to 2-year, $3.75 million contract
The Angels made waves this November by making a rather unexpected move to acquire defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons from the Braves. Simmons, at just 26, is young and signed cheaply through 2020. He is - almost inarguably - the best defender in the majors, grading out at 57.4 runs above average since 2013 according to UZR. However, his decidedly below-average offensive production makes him a risky proposition. The return is not insignificant; Simmons' fWAR of 9.7 over the past three seasons is only 3 wins higher than Aybar's, and Newcomb could develop into a mid-rotation cog someday. Soto and Pennington are low-upside depth pieces.
The Angels completed a season in which they made a late push for the postseason that ultimately fell a game short. With 183 wins over the past two seasons, second in the American League behind Kansas City, Los Angeles finds itself squarely in the midst of its championship window.
The team features the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, coming off a 9-win season that somehow ranks as the second worst of his career. Beyond Trout, however, there are myriad holes that need to be plugged if Los Angeles is to contend this season. Cole Kalhoun has established himself as an above-average player, and the newly acquired Andrelton Simmons should provide elite defense at the very least.
Many of the Angels' other position players, including third baseman David Freese, are now free agents. Some, like David Murphy, could be retained, but Freese is entertaining offers elsewhere, and with the third baseman market as weak as it has been in years, Los Angeles could be in trouble.
The Halos also have the formerly-great Albert Pujols signed to an albatross of a contract through 2021 and owe erstwhile team member Josh Hamilton $48 million. The team could still spend on a free agent hitter, but the money owed to Pujols and Hamilton severely restricts their flexibility. As a result, the Angels may have to adopt some form of a "stars and scrubs" philosophy.
The rotation is another story, with cheap ace Garrett Richards headlining a solid corps of starters. Youngsters Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Nick Tropeano combine with veterans Jered Weaver, C.J Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago to form a decent enough back end with a little depth. Los Angeles could still use a quality mid-rotation starter; someone like Mike Leake or Wei-Yin Chen may make sense for an affordable price.
With a rotation that looks average at worst and world-beater Mike Trout providing his irreplaceable production, Los Angeles is set up to contend for the AL West. However, the Halos could enter the 2016 season with multiple holes, especially at third base and in left field. The play of the Angels' non-Trout position players, such as Simmons, may end up determining if Los Angeles returns to the playoffs or squanders another year of Trout's prime.
Seattle Mariners, 76-86, fourth in the AL West
Traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison, and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, and CF Boog Powell
The Mariners gave up some infield defense in Brad Miller, but the emergence of Ketel Marte made shortstop a position of surplus. The pitchers Farquhar and Riefenhauser are relievers. Logan Morrison has some power, but he does not fit the future plans of the Mariners, which involve improving defense. Powell fits that plan. Karns was a roughly average starting pitcher, and those players are always valuable.
Re-signed LF Franklin Gutierrez to a 1 year, $1.5 million contract with incentives
Gutierrez, when healthy, is an excellent player. He had a ridiculous 2015 in only 189 PA. If he stays healthy, this contract is a steal.
Traded RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward for RHP Joaquin Benoit
Benoit fits as a reliever at SafeCo. De Los Santos and Ward have potential but are far away from the majors. This is a win-now move and replenishes the bullpen after trading Farquhar.
Traded RHP Tom Wilhelmson, CF James Jones, and a PTBNL for CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass
Leonys Martin continues Jerry Dipoto's priority to improve the defense. Martin has a cannon for an arm; the Mariners bought low on him after a down 2015. Martin is also an excellent baserunner. Wilhelmson and Bass are both relievers. James Jones has not showed much of his potential in the big leagues yet.
Signed C Chris Iannetta to a 1 year, $4.25 million contract with incentives and a team option for $4.25 million in 2017
Iannetta had a down year, so the Mariners got him at a reduced price. He had several good offensive years before, but StatCorner rates many of his seasons previous to 2015 in pitch framing as below average (his 2015 rated very well by StatCorner). This could turn out pretty well for the Mariners; it could hardly be worse than Mike Zunino's 47 wRC+.
The main problem, or at least one of the main problems, with Seattle was team defense. In order to reach the World Series in the near future, I would suggest that the Mariners improve their defense, especially given their home park. Acquiring Leonys Martin is good for that goal, and having a healthy Franklin Gutierrez would go a long way toward improving team defense.
Nathan Karns supplements Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. They have Joaquin Benoit and Carson Smith at the back of the bullpen, but grabbing another bullpen arm (like re-acquiring Mark Lowe) would be great. Finding another starter like Wei-Yin Chen, who fits the park and improve defense, would also be a good move.
Really, the Mariners are well on their way to building a more competitive team. The main pieces are in place. The rest of the roster just needs to be filled out with complementary pieces that help the team defense improve. Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano provide a good level of offense.
Oakland Athletics, 68-94, fifth in the AL West
Traded RHP Jesse Chavez to Toronto for RHP Liam Hendriks
Hendriks was a good reliever for the Blue Jays, but Chavez was a useful starter. This seems a little odd to me, though the bullpen has been an issue for the A's. Hendriks helps stabilize a rough part of the A's team.
Signed LHP Rich Hill to a 1 year, $6 million contract
Hill had a ridiculous four starts with the Red Sox; if he retains any of that, he will likely be worth the risk and dollars for the A's.
Traded RHP Brendan McCurry to the Astros for 3B Jed Lowrie
Lowrie had a decent two years with the Athletics before signing with the Astros in free agency. McCurry could be a decent reliever. Lowrie gives the A's flexibility in the infield. The A's love flexibility.
The A's need more offense, though not a ton more. They had a 96 wRC+ as a team (non-pitchers), which ranked 19th, so their offense isn't that bad. They can't sign any big free agent to fill that need, so they need options to trade or have to focus on the low end of the market. With the presence of Lowrie, they have the option to trade Marcus Semien, Lowrie himself, or Brett Lawrie. Seth Smith, an outfielder in Seattle, could be an option as a platoon guy. They need some rebound performances with Billy Butler and Ike Davis.
Honestly, not having watched the team all season, I can't say a ton about their team defense other than DRS thought they were pretty good while UZR hated them, but team defense was a significant drag on their fWAR since that formula uses UZR. It's possible their team defense is just fine.
On the pitching front, they have Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Rich Hill, and maybe Jarrod Parker as starters. They have some other starters as depth, but the A's need a better bullpen the most out of all their needs. The addition of Hendriks starts to get at that problem, and a healthy Sean Doolittle plus Drew Pomeranz gives them a good foundation. If they really wanted to go all out in the bullpen, they could check on Wade Davis' availability. Aroldis Chapman might be available. Will Smith of the Brewers could be available if the Brewers are thinking tear-down with their new GM. Other options in free agency might include Ryan Madson or Joe Blanton.