Unusual Suspects Making Moves This Winter in MLB

Photo: AP

A lot of teams are spending big money this MLB offseason…just not the ones you’d think.

With the announcement that free agent pitcher Max Scherzer will sign with the Washington Nationals, this signals the beginning of the end of free agency. There is only one real big name left, and that is starting pitcher James Shields, who is holding out for $25 million a season for five years. Other than that, there are some good relievers, but mainly back of the rotation starters, platoon players, and international free agents who haven’t cleared the proper channels. Given recent history, people were expecting to see the big market teams go after the big players, but that wasn’t the case this winter.

One thing that is surprising when looking at this free agency – a lot of the usual teams are missing. In the past, the New York Yankees were always rumored to be in on the big name free agents and prices didn’t seem to matter. That strategy goes double when they miss the playoffs, which New York did this past season. This offseason though, they re-signed Chase Headley and a risky deal in reliever Andrew Miller, but that was it. They made a couple trades, but it’s been quiet for them.

MLB: SEP 10 Yankees at Orioles

Brian Cashman and the Yankees have been unusually quiet this winter

As of late, the Los Angeles Dodgers have assumed the role of top spender, but the biggest name they signed was journeyman starter Brandon McCarthy. The Dodgers also made a couple of trades, but they were expected to be in on pitchers like Scherzer and Shields. The Angels haven’t signed a free agent to a major league contract this season. The MLB has to be thankful that the Boston Red Sox were throwing around money at the start of the offseason, but the league is excited that other teams are starting to spend some money. Three teams in particular have been making some big moves this offseason, as none or them finished the season with more than 73 wins.

The Chicago Cubs have made some of the biggest moves this offseason, highlighted with the signing of starting pitcher Jon Lester. They brought in Lester’s favorite catcher in David Ross, while also acquiring one of the better offensive catchers in the game in Miguel Montero. Chicago re-signed starter Jason Hammel, who did well in his half season with Chicago before being traded to Oakland. Add that to the young core of players Chicago has, and they could be one of the more intriguing teams to watch this season. The Cubs appear to be one of the most improved teams in the majors, as they are looking to end their 106-year-and-counting championship drought.

Across town, the Chicago White Sox have had a very active winter as well. They finally got a closer in former Yankee David Robertson, a front of the rotation starter to go along with Chris Sale in Oakland’s Jeff Samardzija, and looked to replace the retired Paul Konerko/Adam Dunn with the signing of Adam LaRoche. The White Sox rounded out their outfield with the addition of Melky Cabrera, and picked up a valuable utility player in Emilio Bonifacio. Baseball is going to be big in Chicago, which has to be great following the decade of mediocrity for both teams since the White Sox World Series win in 2005 and the Cubs NLCS push of 2003.

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The new additions on both sides of Chicago represent a shift in baseball power. Photo: AP

The Houston Astros have long been the laughing stock of the entire MLB, but they have made a couple of solid moves to build around their young team. They loaded up in the bullpen by signing Luke Gregorson and Pat Neshek. Houston signed Jed Lowrie, who used to play with them, and recently signed outfielder Colby Rasmus. Houston surprised some people with the acquisition of catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis from the Atlanta Braves. It looks like the Astros are close to signing starter Ryan Vogelsong, which would give their rotation a veteran presence it so desperately needs. Houston is determined to claw their way over .500, it’s just too bad they play in a tough division. If some of their rookies perform, they should remain in the picture in a crowded AL West for the majority of the season.

After these teams, some of the other smaller market teams have made some great moves. San Diego revamped their lineup with the acquisitions of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Will Myers. Arizona spent some money on the top Cuban prospect in Yasmany Tomas. The Miami Marlins, who never seem to spend on big players, signed the biggest contract in professional sports and look to improve on an impressive season as they traded to get a leadoff hitter in Dee Gordon. Teams that don’t like to spend a ton of money are now spending to improve their team, and fans are going to be in for some good baseball.

Padres Offseason

Small-market San Diego has made unusual noise this offseason. Photo: AP

The spending is great for the game of baseball. Even though they like to see the big market teams constantly in the playoffs, everyone seemed to rally around the Orioles and the Royals this past year. Every now and then, it is good to get some new blood in the playoffs so the league can start to get more names out there. Fans of the game can have easier access to an Alex Gordon or an Adam Jones, two players who many feel are underrated. Year after year, look at some of the matchups the league has had. St. Louis and San Francisco have faced off in two of the past three NLCS. In the American League, Detroit has made it to three of the last four ALCS matchups. While these teams shouldn’t be penalized for their consistency, it’s good to see some new teams.

The 2015 Major League Baseball season looks to be one of the most intriguing in recent memory, as some of the teams that people usually write off are making noise. Assuming teams stay relatively healthy, there are going to be some great matchups all season long. Every division has a set of new storylines to help generate interest and make this season worth watching. For the MLB, the drop-off in payroll is a little more gradual with more teams spending more money which is a bonus. Spring training will start in a month, and many unusual suspects can’t wait to get going.

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