It was not a jaw dropping off-season in particular for any National League team this season. While their American League counterparts went to war on the free agent battlefield, the NL clubs played it slower, instead choosing in many cases to make the subtle move over the splashy one. As a result, headed into spring it does not appear that this year’s races will be much different than the one’s that just concluded last September.
However, that would a complete error in judgement to assume, because the tortoise is just as adept as the hare in many cases. There flat out were not many teams that needed to have huge offseasons to get much better. The majority of the senior circuit is made up of balanced, well adjusted rosters that have what they need to succeed in place already, it is just about being consistent on a day to day basis. The elite competitors, it is about either eliminating their few blaring weaknesses or setting up their future to stay intact. For the middle tier, the name of the game was making the smart move to get in firing range of the upper class, because as last year showed, the race is never over until it is completely over. And for the few bottom rung teams, it is about honoring the process of the rebuild, and not falling straight on their face trying to get the job done too quick.
With the exceptions of a few clubs, each team achieved these measures by the standards of what was expected coming into the winter. And while a good winter far from guarantees anything much more than good sentiment headed into Opening Day, it does give a read on intent and where a team is looking to land. And in the air tight 2014 NL, every advantage helps out.
Here’s how the 15 NL clubs made out (to date) headed into the new year…
1.) St. Louis Cardinals: A few years ago, if one was to say the Cardinals are going to lose Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran all in one offseason, it would seem asinine to think they had a successful winter in any way. However, not only did all of those things happen—they were actually encouraged.
They did not have many needs to fill, but they addressed all of them and did so both aggressively and concisely. By moving the out of place Freese to Anaheim, they received the rangy Peter Bourjos to man centerfield and improve a limited defensive outfield. Adding Jhonny Peralta at shortstop may be the single-largest upgrade any team makes from 2013 to ’14 offensively, as he replaces Pete Kozma who was rated the worst offensive regular in either league last season. Considering these are the National League Champions, this was the ultimate “final touch” effort made good on.
2.) Washington Nationals: The steal of the offseason may be the Nats grab on Doug Fister, who was moved out as part of the Tigers payroll restructuring effort, and only at the cost of reliever Ian Krol and utility man Steve Lombardozzi. The addition of Nate McLouth gives the Nats the deepest outfield group in the NL, quietly even more than the Dodgers.
3.) Philadelphia Phillies: They stuck to their usual method of pulling in veterans with big contracts, but they also addressed many of their most frustrating gaps as well, by bringing in Marlon Byrd to be an offsetting right handed bat and AJ Burnett to be the needed middle of the rotation arm that had been lacking the previous two years with the downturn of the now retired Roy Halladay.
Carlos Ruiz was retained as well and the gamble taken on young Cuban power throwing righty Miguel Gonzalez could be the move that pulls them back up with the likes of Atlanta and Washington if all goes as right as it possibly can.
4.) San Francisco Giants: They continued their ways of retaining their own guys over making massive splashes in the free agent market by giving substantial extensions to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, as well as retaining Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong. However, they still made room to add Michael Morse and Tim Hudson to round out a roster that is only one underachieving summer removed from a World Series title.
5.) Arizona Diamondbacks: They wanted to make a big splash by landing the likes of a Masahiro Tanaka to pull their rotation to the next level, but they still made out well via a series of smaller moves. They mortgaged a few of their top prospects to land Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed, but both should play a solid part in pushing them completely into the postseason competitive mix.
6.) Atlanta Braves: They added nothing from outside of the organization, but in the last few weeks made it an offseason could help to define the future course of the franchise, securing Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward through their arbitration years. Sometimes, less is more, especially down the road.
7.) Milwaukee Brewers: For the second straight year, they played the slow hand on the free agent pitching market and came out with a nice deck. They addressed one of their prime needs in landing Matt Garza to solidify a rotation that was nearly constantly in flux a year ago. It remains to be seen however if Mark Reynolds can add the type of power they need to replace the departed Corey Hart at first.
8.) Los Angeles Dodgers: The big move of the offseason was the Clayton Kershaw extension, which was clearly the top priority for the team, but otherwise it was a winter based on potential in LA. IF Juan Uribe and Alexander Guerrero pan out, it was a successful winter, just like IF Brian Wilson and Chris Perez can find their vintage form over the course of a full season they made may have constructed a powerful bullpen group. To be continued all around.
9.) New York Mets: They had a one foot in, one foot out type of winter. On one hand, they made a headline signing in Curtis Granderson, but then were tentative in pursuing Stephen Drew, who would be an instant improvement on their entire roster. Bartolo Colon is good bookmark for their young rotation while Matt Harvey rehabs in 2014 however.
10.) Miami Marlins: It is always hard to read what the Marlin’s intentions truly are, but by all accounts, it looks like they don’t want to be a blantantly terrible as they were a year ago. Jarrod Saltalammachia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker are all solid veteran adds that should make the team relatively more competitive—or at least enough to show Giancarlo Stanton they are “trying”…for now.
11.) San Diego Padres: Questionable winter for the Pads, trading one of their best arms in Luke Gregorson for a platoon outfielder in Seth Smith, only to in turn spend major money on essentially the same type of pitcher in Joaquin Benoit to pitch the eighth. Josh Johnson is a coin flip signing, that if he stays healthy is great, but that rarely happens.
12.) Colorado Rockies: It was a hurricane of a winter in Colorado, but it is still uncertain if all the bluster made a difference. They added Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson, two of the most undependable, upside reputation carrying assets in baseball, to boost their lineup and staff respectively. All while dealing one of their most consistent sure bets, Dexter Fowler, for little in return. It feels like Colorado just ran really, really fast on the treadmill this winter.
13.) Pittsburgh Pirates: Tough to say they took a step back, but without a doubt it feels like they should have done more, especially after being one of the most aggressive teams in the game at the trade deadline last season. In the end, they lose A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones, and only add in return a resigned Clint Barmes. Hard to say that’s a quality winter for a team that is firmly on the edge of breaking through—or topping off.
14.) Chicago Cubs: The deliberate rebuild continues, and they used the winter to patch up their rotation with the additions of Jason Hammel and Jason McDonald, while truly improving their bullpen with Jose Veras and Wesley Wright. But it feels like it is time for Theo and company to make a legit move add some credibility to the only team that is clearly on the outside looking in in the NL Central.
15.) Cincinnati Reds: I’m not sure what the goal was here, unless it was to just write off 2013 as a mulligan and go at it again. At any rate, the losses of Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Hanigan resonate much louder than the additions of Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena. Perhaps the full-on investment in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips was a much heavier cross to carry than they even realized, because they seem frozen from a personnel movement standpoint—and will soon owe Homer Bailey an answer on his future as well.
The AL grades will come down later in the week (because the picture is still painting itself over there), but until follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.