The 4 surprisingly quiet teams of the MLB offseason
These teams fancy themselves as contenders. They have a funny way of showing it so far.
On Tuesday, we looked at the surprising win-now teams of the offseason, defined as the sub-.500 teams last season that have decided this is the winter to go for it. They were supposed to be making charitable donations around the league, giving away their good players because they had nothing better to do. Instead, they’re making moves and spending money.
This is the corollary — the teams that might have been expected to have a sense of win-now urgency, but have been strangely quiet this offseason. Here are the teams that could have been doing much more.
There’s a catch, though. Call it the Orioles Contingency. It might not seem like the offseason is young, but there are still waves to make, ripples to surf. Last offseason, the Orioles were deathly quiet and enjoying their second straight dormant offseason. It was a strange time to be boring. The Orioles were newly relevant, and they needed help. Then, suddenly, POW, Ubaldo Jimenez signs in the middle of February. Then, BLAMMO, Nelson Cruz signed just before March. The quiet offseason was no more, and the Orioles addressed two of their needs right before breaking for camp. Ubaldo didn’t work out; Cruz made up for it. They ran away with the AL East.
Any one of these teams could sign Max Scherzer. Any one of them could trade for Cole Hamels. A couple of them need outfielders, and the Red Sox have 48 to trade. Just because these teams have been mostly inactive as of December 18, it doesn’t mean they’re going to sit the offseason out. Remember the Orioles Contingency.
With that in mind, here are the surprising do-nothing teams so far this offseason:
For the third straight offseason — and I didn’t really check the offseasons before that, either — the Orioles made it through the Winter Meetings without a major move. So far, it’s Wesley Wright and only Wesley Wright, and that just happened. Nick Markakis is gone. Delmon Young is gone. Cruz is with the Mariners. As of now, the top first baseman on their depth chart is Christian Walker, who had a .335 on-base percentage in Triple-A last year. The Orioles thought they were going to bring Markakis back on a four-year deal. Instead, they’re looking at Steve Pearce, everyday right fielder, and Alejandro De Aza, leadoff hitter.
Their needs are obvious: At least one more corner player. Could be a left fielder, right fielder, or a first baseman. If the Orioles want to keep Chris Davis in the field, their options are wide open for a DH. If they start the season with this permutation, it will be stunning. There just aren’t as many options as there once were, of course. Michael Morse is gone, Melky Cabrera was never a serious consideration, Billy Butler signed early, the White Sox scooped up Adam LaRoche … it’s starting to look like it’s trade or bust for the Orioles.
Bringing Delmon back and waiting for March wouldn’t be much of an offseason plan. That isn’t what the Orioles are going to do, right?
They were on this list when I started writing it before they poked their heads into the Wil Myers deal, and that almost bounced them from the list. Except they acquired players for 2016 and beyond. For a team looking to run away with the NL East and make the postseason, they sure haven’t done much for next year. So they’re back on with an asterisk.
We’ve been through this before. Back before the 2013 season, when the Nationals looked like the best team in the world, they signed Rafael Soriano for a whole lot of money. The logic behind the deal? They didn’t have a lot of other places they needed to apply it. There weren’t a lot of gaps in the 25-man roster, nothing that could be fixed easily by money, at least. So they went with the premium closer.
You can do the same thing with the Nationals’ roster this year. They finally found a place for Ryan Zimmerman at first, and the outfield is totally set. They were flirting with the idea of trading Ian Desmond, but now they have his ostensible replacement, Trea Turner. They’re solid at catcher, and you know about the pitching (with rumors they could add Max Scherzer, too.) The only obvious upgrade to make is at second, with Danny Espinosa penciled in, but the market for middle infielders is a wasteland.
More than the other teams on this list, this is a team that can afford to back away from the offseason and feel okay with it. If a trade for, I don’t know, a heavily subsidized Chase Utley falls into their lap, that might change things. They still might get wacky and deal someone like Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister to make room for Scherzer and get prospects back at the same time. If they’re done, though, it wouldn’t be a totally nonsensical option.
San Francisco Giants
Ah, you were waiting for this one. Here’s a team that’s been in the middle of every offseason rumor, but when they came back from the bathroom to sign the paperwork, the player was gone. Every danged time. Jon Lester took the Cubs’ offer, even if the Giants might have been offering more. Pablo Sandoval apparently wanted the heck out of San Francisco from the moment he caught the last out of the 2014 season. Yasmany Tomas didn’t tickle them quite enough. Chase Headley wasn’t their bag because they didn’t want to go past three years. Ervin Santana spurned them for the Twins.
They want to spend money. Someone should take their money. They’re on to Plan C right now with James Shields, whose World Series performance was the equivalent to someone interviewing for a job with a Cannibal Corpse shirt and one missing shoe. Still, they know what they need: Rotation first, third base second, right-handed outfielder who can cover center in a pinch third.
They did finally make a move to address their major league roster, reportedly re-signing Sergio Romo to a two-year deal on Wednesday. They’re reportedly interested in Jake Peavy, too, and they’ve long mentioned re-signing Ryan Vogelsong as one of their fallback options. Which means the Giants could take their overflowing postseason war chest of money, already filled with sellout and cable money, and bring back the same team from last year, minus their #5 hitter.
Bruce Bochy already said the team is looking for external help at third base, so there’s likely going to be a trade (or lesser free agent deal) coming. It’s very unlikely to be the exact same team, minus Sandoval. But if Shields slots them in second place like the other free agents did, they aren’t going to have a whole lot of great options to reshape the team dramatically.
It’s been a disappointing, confusing offseason for a team that might have expected to be the league’s most desirable destination for free agents. You want to laugh off the even-year jokes as something your dad would make … except you’re talking about a subset of the population who jump over foul lines when taking the field, wear Phiten necklaces, and stand on their heads to brush their teeth when they want to break out of a slump. You have no idea what they’re capable of believing in.
Yes, they’re a win-now team. That’s probably a future column of its own, but considering that the 57 players they lost to injury last year just might come back, the horror story of 2014 might be a pleasant surprise in 2015. They’ll need help, though. So far, they’re not getting it anywhere, apart from a minor move to replace Alexei Ogando with Ross Detwiler.
The lineup is counting on several bounce-back seasons from players they have no choice but to try again — Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus — but it’s also a surprisingly deep lineup, with just one obvious hole. That would be left field, which is temporarily filled by Jake Smolinski, who isn’t likely to fool the Rangers with 86 out-of-character at-bats over two separate call-ups. That’s unless they’re counting on Kyle Blanks, who has had one of the more unfortunate injury histories in baseball since Nick Johnson retired.
Melky Cabrera — especially at three years — would have given the lineup a much different look, but the best option on the current market is Colby Rasmus, which just might be crazy enough to work. If a team has to have one glaring hole, though, it’s best to have it at a corner-outfield spot. Teams like the Red Sox, Phillies, and Rockies have depth to deal, and it beats looking around for a shortstop right now. The only team with an abundance of options there might be the Rangers, even with Jurickson Profar’s shoulder still bothering him.