The 99-day lockout split the MLB offseason into two frenetic chunks of activity. But now 49 of the top 50 free agents this winter have signed (sorry, Michael Conforto), most of the monumental trades have been consummated, and it’s time to take stock of all that action.
Which teams enjoyed the best offseason? Which suffered the worst? Let’s rank them all, from 30 to 1, by considering the players who moved, the chances teams grabbed, and the overall changes to each club’s outlook entering the 2022 season.
Tier 10: Congratulations to their owners for saving more money.
Key gains: None
Key losses: Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez, Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, Tucker Barnhart
Cincinnati lost better players this offseason, but the most representative move came early, when the Reds surrendered Miley—who recorded a 3.37 ERA in 163 innings last season—on waivers because they didn’t want to risk paying him a mere $1 million buyout, let alone his $10 million option for 2022. The Reds’ front-office directive was to shed payroll, and to that end, the group succeeded. Hurray for Bob Castellini’s bank account.
Key gains: Cristian Pache
Key losses: Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Andrew Chafin
Just because the Athletics’ miserly modus operandi means everyone expected them to trade the Matts this offseason doesn’t make the actual deals any easier to stomach. Over the last four seasons, the A’s rank fifth in total wins—but now their top four position players over that span are gone, the remaining lineup is dreadful, and starters Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea might soon join Bassitt in departing Oakland via trade.
This team has displayed a consistent ability to reload over the past two decades by swapping proven, arbitration-eligible stars for prospects to replace them, and this winter’s trades are cut from the same cloth. But when owner John Fisher’s net worth is estimated at $2.4 billion, it’d be nice to just hold on to those stars instead.
Tier 9: They didn’t do much and they’re bad.
Key gains: None
Key losses: None
Key gains: None
Key losses: None
Key gains: Mark Melancon
Key losses: None
Key gains: Zach Thompson
Key losses: Jacob Stallings
Key gains: Zack Greinke
Key losses: None
All these teams are grouped together because they didn’t really make an effort this offseason, so I shouldn’t have to when discussing them, either. The Royals earn the best ranking of the bunch because of the warm feelings inspired by Greinke’s homecoming; the Guardians bring up the rear because they’re wasting superstars’ primes. Otherwise, they all deserve scorn for how little money they’ve spent trying to improve their rosters.
Embarrassed for your fan base…be better. If you can’t, sell ur team to somebody that wants to show the fan base and baseball they’re at least trying to compete. Sorry unacceptable pic.twitter.com/n5KZpxgEor— Joc Pederson (@yungjoc650) March 23, 2022
At least these teams didn’t trade away current stars like Cedric Mullins or José Ramírez—a thin silver lining in an otherwise discouraging tier.
Tier 8: Their division rivals improved by much more.
Key gains: Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Key losses: Gio Urshela, Gary Sánchez, Luke Voit, Corey Kluber
In a vacuum, the Yankees probably deserve better than placing last among teams that are making real moves to try to win in 2022. Donaldson is still a very good hitter, and Kiner-Falefa fills a gaping hole at shortstop. It’s something.
But the opportunity cost is much higher because the Yankees could have added the likes of Carlos Correa or Trevor Story instead. Even if they were adamantly opposed to a long-term shortstop contract because of top prospects at that position—a foolish justification because, as the Yankees well know, rostering two great shortstops means a team can field a great shortstop and a great third baseman—Correa ended up signing a short-term deal with Minnesota and could have been a perfect fit in the Bronx. If the Yankees’ offense isn’t productive enough this season—like it wasn’t last year—they’ll have only themselves to blame.
Key gains: Carlos Rodón, Alex Cobb, Matt Boyd
Key losses: Kevin Gausman, Buster Posey, Kris Bryant
There’s reason for optimism around the Giants’ new pitchers—both Rodón, Cobb, and Boyd, listed above, and also larger gambles like former Cardinal Carlos Martínez. But would they rather have four higher-risk upside plays or one Gausman?
The offense is a more pressing concern, as the club curiously decided not to replace Bryant’s bat with anything more than Joc Pederson as another platoon option and left the catcher spot untouched even after Posey’s retirement. The likely backstop duo of Joey Bart and Curt Casali ranks tied for 26th in FanGraphs’ WAR projections at the position. Meanwhile, the Dodgers added Freddie Freeman. Compare the Giants’ and Dodgers’ lineups, and it’s clear that the latter now has an advantage at every single position.
Tier 7: Their biggest additions are pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery.
Key gains: None
Key losses: Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, Kendall Graveman
The Astros are still the AL West favorite, but they didn’t add anyone more exciting than reliever Héctor Neris. And like the Yankees, Houston probably should have tried harder for Correa. Shortstop prospect Jeremy Peña packs plenty of promise—but he’s not his predecessor, who finished fifth in last year’s MVP vote.
Not on this list because he’s not new to the team, however, is Justin Verlander, who re-signed after missing all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Verlander is working against precedent, as no starting pitcher on record who underwent TJ at his age has lasted even 100 more innings in the majors—but the last time Verlander was healthy, he won the Cy Young Award, so he might offer more value than anyone else Houston could have acquired this winter.
Key gains: Nick Martinez, Luke Voit
Key losses: Tommy Pham, Mark Melancon, Adam Frazier
The Padres are one spot ahead of the Astros because they didn’t lose any player nearly as important as Correa. But their offseason has taken a similar shape, with Mike Clevinger as the Verlander analogue as he returns from TJ. The Padres also didn’t do enough to fill multiple holes on offense—especially with Fernando Tatis Jr. slated to miss half the season after breaking his wrist.
Tier 6: The Rockies
Key gains: Kris Bryant
Key losses: Trevor Story, Jon Gray
The weirdest team in the sport deserves a tier unto itself. The Rockies didn’t have a bad offseason, per se, just an eminently strange one. Here’s a chronological list of the five weirdest moments of Colorado’s winter:
1. This first entry technically came before the offseason, but it’s related: The Rockies didn’t trade Story at last year’s deadline, even though he was set to reach free agency after the season and seemingly had no intention of re-signing. Other teams reportedly didn’t even know who to call to make an offer.
2. They didn’t give Gray the qualifying offer that would have guaranteed them draft compensation if he left in free agency.
3. The Rockies split with their director of research and development, who had been hired just last September to oversee the “grand rebuild of an analytics department that was in shambles,” The Athletic reported, with just a single analyst remaining at the start of the 2021 season. While this list is primarily focused on on-field matters, this abrupt leave after just five months on the job feels mighty revealing about the state of the franchise.
4. After losing Story, and after trading the recently extended Nolan Arenado and paying the Cardinals $50 million for the honor, the Rockies turned around and lavished Bryant with a seven-year, $182 million deal. Credit Bryant for getting paid, especially after the Cubs blatantly stole a year of his service time, but he’s not of Arenado’s caliber as a player.
5. Finally, despite Bryant’s ability to play a solid third base and move around the diamond as needed, manager Bud Black said he envisioned Bryant as the everyday left fielder—one of the least valuable positions on the defensive spectrum. This decision isn’t as strange as when the Rockies signed Ian Desmond, a shortstop and center fielder, to play first base, but goodness, this is a weird franchise.
Tier 5: They didn’t do much, but at least they’re good.
18. White Sox
Key gains: Kendall Graveman
Key losses: Carlos Rodón, César Hernández, Ryan Tepera
The White Sox are still heavy AL Central favorites and can bank on full seasons from Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez for internal improvements, but they could have pursued more aggressive upgrades at second base (where Josh Harrison probably isn’t the answer) and right field. The starting spot vacated by Rodón (who, like with Gray and the Rockies, inexplicably didn’t even garner a qualifying offer) is also an area of concern if Michael Kopech struggles in his transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Remember: The new playoff structure means the White Sox can’t just worry about beating the rest of their division, because the worst division winner in each league gets a best-of-three against a wild-card team instead of a bye to the division series. So the White Sox could come to regret their relative inactivity.
Key gains: Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Renfroe
Key losses: Eduardo Escobar, Avisaíl García
Milwaukee shuffled the deck chairs around its uninspiring lineup, with two decent bats in and two decent bats out. The Brewers’ pitching staff remains incredible—FanGraphs ranks both the rotation and bullpen third best in the bigs—but they’re desperately counting on Christian Yelich to rediscover his MVP form at the plate.
Key gains: Steven Matz
Key losses: None
The Cardinals were already solid at almost every position—the newly opened DH spot is the glaring exception—so they couldn’t have made meaningful gains short of adding a star. That’s something they’ve done before, via surprise trades for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, but this winter, evidently, no such deal was in the cards (sorry).
Key gains: Corey Kluber
Key losses: Nelson Cruz, Collin McHugh, Joey Wendle
The Rays’ biggest move this winter—and the reason they top this group—was extending Wander Franco just 70 games into his MLB career. With McHugh and his 1.55 ERA gone, along with various depth hitters, the rest of the Rays’ roster is probably a bit less talented now than it was in 2021. But a full season of Franco, whose batting line was 27 percent above average as a 20-year-old shortstop, should more than make up for those losses. And Tampa Bay will now benefit from his services through 2033.
Tier 4: They’re definitely better—but to what end?
Key gains: César Hernández, Nelson Cruz
Key losses: None
Washington took immediate advantage of its new DH slot, signing Cruz to mash homers until July, at which point he’ll likely fetch a prospect in a trade to a contender. That’s a good bit of business for a team that is still at least a year away from contending after all its trades in 2021.
Key gains: Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera
Key losses: Alex Cobb
The good news is the back three in the Angels’ bullpen—Loup and his 0.95 ERA, Tepera, and incumbent closer Raisel Iglesias—were all excellent last season. The bad news is the rotation is still lacking. A flurry of starters changed teams this winter, yet the Angels—a team in desperate need of reliable innings—landed Syndergaard, fresh off Tommy John surgery, and Michael Lorenzen, who’s started five total games in the past six years and wasn’t even good in the bullpen last season.
Syndergaard offers considerable upside, of course, and the lineup could benefit from better health from Mike Trout and a rebound from Anthony Rendon, as well as breakouts from young outfielders Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell. But the Angels still look—and project—like a .500ish team, as they have for so many years. Their improvements push them forward only an inch at a time.
Key gains: Avisaíl García, Jorge Soler, Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle
Key losses: Zach Thompson
Good for the Marlins, who are at least trying to improve an offense that ranked 29th in runs last season. Their new position players should angle the production up toward average—but it’s unclear if any of them can really anchor a lineup, which could leave a club with an exciting group of pitchers still searching for enough runs to contend.
Soler, for instance, is the biggest name of the bunch as a former home run champion and the reigning World Series MVP. But he’s probably not a world-beating bat: In the last two seasons, spanning 776 plate appearances, Soler has a 102 wRC+.
Tier 3: They balanced harmful losses with impressive gains.
11. Red Sox
Key gains: Trevor Story
Key losses: Eduardo Rodríguez, Kyle Schwarber, Hunter Renfroe
Boston’s offensive exchange exemplifies the premise of this tier. Story is a great addition at a reasonable cost—a plus defender up the middle with power, speed, and an extensive track record at the plate. In the short term, he’s a much better option at second base than Christian Arroyo; in the long term, he provides shortstop insurance if Xander Bogaerts leaves next winter. But all else being equal, is a lineup with Story and Jackie Bradley Jr. that much better than one with Arroyo and Renfroe?
And while they added depth pitching options like Rich Hill and Michael Wacha in free agency, the Red Sox will miss Rodríguez’s upside in the rotation, especially with Chris Sale injured to start the year. It’s hard to contend with a pitcher of Nick Pivetta’s caliber as the no. 2 starter.
10. Blue Jays
Key gains: Kevin Gausman, Matt Chapman, Yusei Kikuchi
Key losses: Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, Steven Matz
I wrote much more about the Blue Jays’ offseason here. Even after losing last year’s Cy Young winner and third-place MVP finisher, they’ve vaulted to become the favorite in the best division in the majors. That’s quite a winter.
Key gains: Freddie Freeman
Key losses: Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers are indeed missing stars from their 106-win club, but those subtractions aren’t as vital as they might seem: Scherzer was on the team only after July, and Seager was injured for about half the year. Put another way, the 2021 Dodgers received 147 combined games from Seager and Trea Turner—and the 2022 version will theoretically enjoy full seasons from both Turner and Freeman, who isn’t as much a like-for-like replacement as a dynamite addition all to himself.
Absent Scherzer and Jansen, and with Clayton Kershaw’s health uncertain, the pitching staff doesn’t look quite as dominant as it has in recent years. But that relative weakness won’t matter if the Dodgers, as projected, lead the league in runs scored.
Key gains: Matt Olson, Collin McHugh, Kenley Jansen
Key losses: Freddie Freeman, Jorge Soler, Cristian Pache
Given the similar contracts that Olson and Freeman eventually signed, Atlanta effectively decided it would rather choose the soon-to-be 28-year-old first baseman over the 32-year-old and a quartet of prospects. The chain of decisions that led to the ousting of a franchise cornerstone, MVP, and World Series winner is the most fascinating for any team all winter.
If the first base exchange is something of a wash, it might be a surprise to see Atlanta ahead of the Dodgers—the team that added Freeman in Atlanta’s stead—in these rankings. Yet Atlanta sneaks in front because it signed McHugh and Jansen, who might have been the two best relief pitchers to change teams this winter. Atlanta’s bullpen was dominant last October, but had to work its top three arms, all lefties, incredibly hard; now, the unit has depth and better balance, too.
Tier 2: At the very least, they’re more entertaining now.
Key gains: Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber
Key losses: Andrew McCutchen
Out of 15 Phillies who recorded at least 100 plate appearances last season, MVP Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins were the only ones with batting lines at least 10 percent better than average. This team needed more thump, and Castellanos and Schwarber can certainly provide it. Add in catcher J.T. Realmuto and an offense-first ballpark, and Philadelphia is now tied for fifth in projected runs scored.
But the Phillies might not be able to stop other teams from matching their prodigious run totals. This defense could be hilariously awful. Harper and Schwarber were both six runs below average in the outfield last season (tied for 105th out of 124 qualified outfielders) and Castellanos was seven below (tied for 115th). In the infield, Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, and Alec Bohm are all various degrees of disastrous on defense. Only one can DH at a time.
Here’s a fun question to ponder: Last season, the NFL’s Eagles played games that ended 17-11 and 13-7. How many Phillies games will eclipse those totals this summer?
Key gains: Marcus Stroman, Seiya Suzuki, Wade Miley
Key losses: None
In spirit, the Cubs probably belong in the “definitely better—but to what end?” tier. Even this much-improved roster is still projected to finish well below .500, and even after a busy offseason, the collapse of the Cubs’ payroll is staggering; they’ve shed roughly $70 million from their Opening Day payroll since 2019. But Chicago made so many interesting acquisitions this winter that the club warranted further consideration. Stroman and Miley don’t have the strikeout stuff of the best modern pitchers, but they get outs regardless. Jonathan Villar and Yan Gomes are sneakily solid veterans. Clint Frazier offers potential in the outfield.
More than those MLB vets, Suzuki, who was by far the best hitter in NPB last season, is the most exciting new Cub. Projection systems are enamored of the 27-year-old outfielder, who was a .300/.400/.500 hitter in each of his last four seasons in Japan.
Tier 1: Money might not buy a title, but it certainly bought them good players.
Key gains: Eduardo Rodríguez, Javier Báez, Tucker Barnhart, Andrew Chafin, Michael Pineda
Key losses: Matthew Boyd
The Tigers’ balanced additions evince the great strides they made with both the pitching staff and lineup. For the former, Rodríguez had a 1.42-run gap between his 4.74 ERA and 3.32 FIP last season—the largest for any pitcher with at least 150 innings. With better luck and defense behind him in Detroit, E-Rod could give the Tigers a real ace atop a young staff. And while Báez boasts one of the more streaky bats for any All-Star, he is also immediately Detroit’s best position player, as a slick-fielding shortstop who can also hit in the middle of the order.
Detroit’s roster is undoubtedly better this season, and the team will try to claw back toward the top of the AL Central standings after years of irrelevance. But the club falls to the bottom of this tier because it probably could have pursued even more upgrades. If touted prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene hit like All-Stars right away, the Tigers’ lineup will be fine—but if not, the offense really could have used another bat. FanGraphs ranks Detroit just 27th in projected runs per game this season.
Key gains: Robbie Ray, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez, Adam Frazier
Key losses: Kyle Seager, Yusei Kikuchi
Signing the reigning Cy Young winner is a nice start to any team’s winter; even if Ray beat out a relatively weak field (last year’s best pitchers were all crowded in the National League), he still represents a tremendous boost compared to any other pitcher in the Seattle organization. And with their three trade targets—Winker, Suárez, and Frazier—now in the lineup, the Mariners might have at least an average player at every position, which would be a remarkable turn for a franchise that has so often filled its lineup with black holes.
Like Detroit, however, the Mariners still feel one addition short to contend in 2022. They can’t count on outperforming their Pythagorean record by 14 games again, and the rotation doesn’t offer much depth beyond Ray, Chris Flexen, and youngster Logan Gilbert. They would have done well to pry away one of Cincinnati’s pitchers in the Winker trade, too.
Key gains: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Jon Gray, Mitch Garver
Key losses: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Strip away pitcher hitting and the Rangers had the majors’ worst offense last season. Other teams in the bottom five included the Royals, Diamondbacks, and Pirates, who responded by basically doing nothing; the Rangers, conversely, signed two of the best free agents available—and handed out two of the winter’s three largest contracts in the process.
Semien and Seager won’t make the Rangers a contender right away, given the other holes in this lineup. (Top prospect Josh Jung’s shoulder surgery doesn’t help.) And there’s some reason to question the specific players they targeted—will the 31-year-old Semien still be an elite option when the rest of the roster catches up?
But those are nitpicks in a broadly encouraging winter. Over the last half-decade, the Rangers rank 26th in total wins and haven’t reached the playoffs. Yet they seem to think help is soon on the way: In recent trades, they’ve prized closer-to-the-majors prospects, like last year’s Joey Gallo deal. And now, when those players reach the majors, they won’t have to wait for the team to start spending to supplement the prospect core; instead, the prospects will themselves be the supplementary pieces, while Seager and Semien lead the way.
Key gains: Carlos Correa, Sonny Gray, Gio Urshela, Gary Sánchez
Key losses: Josh Donaldson, Mitch Garver, Michael Pineda
The Twins win the award for best individual transaction of the winter, as they swooped in—literally in the middle of the night—to give the best free agent available the richest free-agent deal in franchise history. Correa is worth it: an offensive force and Gold Glove winner at shortstop, who not only makes Minnesota better with his own talents but creates pleasant ripple effects, too: Now, Jorge Polanco can play second base, where his glove is better suited; Luis Arraez can adopt a utility/DH role; and the Twins’ shaky pitching staff can benefit from better up-the-middle defense.
That pitching staff, however, is why the Twins didn’t have the best overall winter. Gray and Dylan Bundy would have been fine acquisitions for the middle of the rotation—but not the no. 1 and 2 spots they now occupy. As is, the Twins probably need to land another starter like Manaea or Montas to truly challenge the White Sox’s division crown. Despite receiving a worthy prospect package in return, the Twins probably regret last summer’s José Berríos trade now.
Key gains: Max Scherzer, Chris Bassitt, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha
Key losses: Javier Báez, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Loup, Michael Conforto
All five teams in this top tier missed the playoffs last season—fitting for an offseason in which fringe contenders strove for improvements while the very best teams rested on their laurels. But the Mets take the top spot in the rankings because of these five teams, they are the closest to contention, with the best projection and most talented overall roster.
Owner Steve Cohen’s money was well spent this winter; even with key players from last year’s team leaving, the 2022 Mets look like a legitimate threat to Atlanta’s four-year reign atop the NL East. Marte, Escobar, and Canha improve the team’s defense, inject speed into the roster, and lengthen the lineup. Canha has a 129 wRC+ since the start of 2019 and might hit eighth.
But the crown jewel of the Mets’ spending frenzy is the rotation, which—to nobody’s surprise—projects as the best in the majors. The top three now includes the best no. 1 starter in the majors, in Jacob deGrom; the best no. 2 starter in the majors, in Scherzer; and one of the best no. 3 starters in the majors, in Bassitt. Put another way: Bassitt returned from Tommy John surgery in the 2018 season; since then, he ranks 12th out of 75 pitchers with at least 400 innings in park-adjusted ERA. First on that list is deGrom. Third is Scherzer.
Winning in the winter doesn’t necessarily equate with winning in the spring, summer, and fall, of course. But it’s a start. And there’s no better way to start than with deGrom, Scherzer, and Bassitt all in a row, leading the Mets’ 2022 rotation.