We’re into the real dog days of winter as snow cascades on my hospital window and children citywide play sledding video games on this day off. It’s high time we took a look back at the offseason for not just the Rays, but for all those other teams whose plans have barely had time to run awry. While the fans dream of sugar plum grand slams the real winners are those that are just happy to have their head above water. Air never tasted so sweet until you’ve been deprived of it’s moist embrace. For these fans let’s see if their teams are merely treading water or rising like a glistening Leviathan poised to strike the shores and move inland towards that great ship which many have only learned of in passing rumors at the trough.
If your question is, “Which team has improved the most over last year’s roster?” well you have your answer. The Red Sox have added a cavalcade of wins (2015 Steamer Projections), but it hasn’t come cheaply as they’ve added roughly $73M in payroll which is offset somewhat by the $25M they would have paid to players that walked (I will refer to this as “payroll increase” from here on out, know there’s a difference). Here’s what that looks like:
2015 salaries are to the best of my ability, but please shake your fist at some clouds where I mucked it up. I think you get the idea. Those fucking savages from Boston have added six players that profile at a win or better and a couple of all stars in Hanley and Panda and don’t sleep on Porcello. Of course to get him they had to trade Cespedes, but you can see that’s a pretty solid re-allocation considering the dollars are similar and they had a surplus in the outfield.
While the Red Sox are increasing their payroll substantially they were slightly beaten out in that regard by not one, but both of the Chicago teams who also look they’ve gotten quite a bit better. We’ll start with the Cubs because they gave Joltin’ Joe two tickets to paradise:
The Lester contract is a bit under-represented due to his preposterous $30M signing bonus. Factor that in and they’re spending pushes even higher. While Luis Valbuena is a sneaky nice player they didn’t really lose a whole lot and added a bunch of present value to help them get to what looks like a Royals-esque future. The top-four guys they brought in all look like everyday starters at positions of need. You can quibble about Fowler, but I have him projected to put up a 109/117 wRC+ in Cubs home games versus righties and lefties, respectively.
The White Sox had a similar plan as they added some players that profile as everyday contributors at multiple positions while only losing Semien, and Phegely I guess, in the Samardzija trade. While it’s pretty bleak there right about now it looks like summer is going to bring more than sunshine as both these clubs took big steps forward so far this offseason. Thing is, the Cubs have their real reinforcements on the way. The White Sox have a couple of nice prospects, including Carlos Rodon sometime this year, but their acquisitions have much more of a “this is it” vibe.
Fowler’s last team, the Astros, have also added a bunch of wins to the now while only adding around $20M in payroll, but enough pussyfooting around. This is the Rays #2 fansite, goddammit, so let’s get to the show:
We saw in the first chart that the Rays sit very near the bottom as they look like they’ve lost about five wins this year compared to getting the band back together. The bulk of that is from the backbone Zobrist, but he wasn’t the only strong player to ride the wave out of town. Of course, this viewpoint doesn’t take into account future wins, but the Rays look to be a bit worse at a savings of close to $17M this year. Rivera and Souza are the guys that profile to stick around a while, but Cabrera and Jaso shouldn’t be buying a new home yet as both players project to be as good as gone if the team is 7+ games back of the division by June. While the hit is substantial this still profiles as a team that can win around 85 games. With several other teams floating around that level it’s going to take a hot start and some non-Tough Breaks for the Rays to still be in this thing, but they’ve got a good of a chance as a bunch of other teams in the AL.
One of those teams is just so incredibly fascinating. While the Oakland Athletics go about things in a very similar way to the Rays they’re even more committed to the principles that guide these clubs to value rationality and the long view over short-sighted moves:
That’s an awful lot of churn. Oakland could have brought all those guys back (ok maybe not Lester), but doing so would have cost them around $44M which isn’t far removed from their total payroll just a few years ago. In the place of guys that profile as better bets they have a small army of guys that look like contributors and with the sheer number of them it’s likely that one or more end up breaking out in a big way. Steamer loves Lawrie and over the next three years he’s going to make in arbitration what Donaldson will make in the next two. You know Zobrist. He’s in an ideal situation and the A’s are easy to root for so most Rays fans should take this as a best case landing spot. This is a team that took a hit, but their payroll made that situation a necessity. They look poised to continue to do what they do. Win games and take names.
Baltimore is interesting in the fact that they are utterly uninteresting. Casey’s asleep at the wheel, but when you’ve got the second best manager in baseball it might not even matter. The two other teams that come even remotely close the cash savings of these last two teams are the obviously punting Braves and Phillies. If you have young children you may want to cover their eyes:
The Braves are around 9 wins worse than September, but at least they’re saving nearly $30M on that now fictitious club. A year ago the Braves looked like a club with a late-90’s Yankees-esque core, but like a fart in the wind that has completely vanished. When your manager is an over-rated joke the only thing that makes sense is trading away any player of value. I get that Heyward and Upton were going to be free agents so cash them in whil you can, but to see this team completely gutted so that Fredi Gonzalez can have an actual excuse for why his team sucks is a poor way to go about things. I guess this is what happens when your team STILL does not have a General Manager on the books. Plenty of other jokes that are happy to crash the ship into the rocks as long as they don’t have to put their name on it. Resembling sand paper is great, but when you run into something that’s already polished you’re going to be left on the shelf as worthless. Speaking of lacking worth:
The Phillies finally realized that they’re fucked, but I’m not all that impressed with what they’ve done. Trading Rollins, Byrd and Bastardo is akin to cutting the crusts off of a moldy sandwich. Sure you’ve eliminated some of the problem, but that’s not going to make things better. There are still a few pieces that could fetch real value, but when you’re dealing with incompetence on the scale of Ruin Tomorrow you may as well skip the season and just go get yourself some Eagles tickets.
I’ve mapped each team out in a similar fashion, which you should be able to download from THIS LINK. Just click the downward facing arrow and you should be golden. The big market teams sure have big marketed so far, but if you’re a real fan of the game you have got to appreciate the hell out of what the Rays, A’s, Indians and even the Padres have done. On that note I want to leave you with two of the more busy teams from this offseason that I have yet to touch upon:
I’m not counting any of the money going back and forth between these two (or any of the other) teams, but the Dodgers and Padres have had such wild and wooly offseasons that I wanted to take a look at the machinations on the page. The Dodgers have added some really good talent, but they’re also replacing some REALLY good players. While Andrew Friedman is working his magic by lowering payroll roughly $20M you have to wonder if maybe they should have just given that money to Hanley Ramirez. They’ve added several very nice players including a guy that can still play SS, but for all the maneuvering it looks an awful lot like a team stuck in the sand with the tide coming in when so many yackers in the media wanted to crown these guys. The Dodgers have shored up some weaknesses, but this is far from a complete team.
The Fathers gave up a couple of good catchers and a nice platoon hitter they were able to snag some players that have staggered amounts of control and the commonality of being right-handed mashers. Who knows if they’ll be able to field a lick, but here’s a team that is down to party. I can’t wait to watch them in Coors, but at home they’re going to really need to muscle up as even shortened fences at Petco didn’t do a whole lot to improve the offensive outlook. Oh yeah, the plan is to play Won’t Myers in CF. Haha, good one!