Recapping This Winter’s Arms Races
This offseason can be summed up in simply one way — the rich got richer. Where does each division race stand entering the 2018 season?
Since the implementation of the second Wild Card in 2013, clubs have been forced to place a greater emphasis on winning division championship due to the uncertainty of a one-game playoff. Just ask the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 98 regular season games but did not reach the National League Division series after running into Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card game.
Additionally, the hierarchy of Major League Baseball is as clear as it’s ever been — it’s tough to remember a time when the game was so effectively divided into echelons, giving the good teams even more of an advantage over their counterparts.
Many of the teams at the top have taken note of the league’s disparity. Simply put, the rich got richer this winter. So which contending teams took steps forward in competing for their divisions by adding even more talent? And are we destined for another season of predictable divisional outcomes?
American League East
Let’s start with the most obvious arms race in baseball, that between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Many have been quick to project the Yankees as this season’s American League champions, but it’s important to remember that the Red Sox have won the division each of the last two seasons, return essentially every piece that won 93 games a year ago (and some might even argue that they underachieved) and added perhaps the most underrated power hitter in baseball in J.D. Martinez.
Despite the impressiveness of the Yankees’ improbable ALCS run and trade for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, there is no reason to believe that the Sox should be just as good as they were a year ago, if not better. Should Boston receive better production from starters David Price and Rick Porcello, the Red Sox will remain a force in the American League.
Still, it’s tough to ignore the team that General Manager Brian Cashman has assembled in New York. The Yankees have been the talk of baseball because they earned it, reaching Game 7 of the ALCS, and subsequently winning the offseason by trading for Stanton. On top of the Stanton acquisition, the Yankees added veteran infielder Brandon Drury, who will fill in seamlessly should prospects Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres need more seasoning.
This will be the most intense division race in the big leagues during 2018, which is lucky for us. Baseball is better when the Yankees and Red Sox are both playing meaningful games.
American League West
Clearly, the Astros are the class of the West. And despite winning the World Series, the Astros have not rested on their laurels, trading for All-Star starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. But the Astros were not the story of the Winter in this division.
By signing Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, retaining outfielder Justin Upton, and adding third baseman Zack Cozart the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have positioned themselves to make the playoffs for just the second time in Mike Trout‘s tenure. The Angels must win more games in order to prove to Trout that Southern California is the right place to spend the prime of his career.
The Mariners, now the owners of the longest postseason drought in professional North American sports, were also active in trading for second baseman Dee Gordon, whom they plan to transition into the outfield. The clock is ticking on this Seattle core group of players, led by Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Felix Hernandez. If they fail to qualify for the postseason once again, it could be the end of their window of contention.
American League Central
Nothing of note here, except for the Minnesota Twins trading for veteran starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi. The Twins were heavily involved in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes but ultimately lost out to the Chicago Cubs.
The truth is that the Cleveland Indians are so much better than the rest of the teams in the division that they did not need to make any significant offseason moves, and it did not make sense for any of the other clubs in the division to overpay for players that would not close the gap nearly enough.
If the Indians lose this division it will be one of the greatest under-performances by a club in recent memory. This should be the most lopsided divisional race in baseball.
National League East
Like the Indians, the Washington Nationals are the overwhelming favorite in the NL East and did not make any major offseason moves except for the addition of veteran outfielder/infielder Howie Kendrick. But this race could be closer than many anticipate if things break correctly for the New York Mets or Philadelphia Phillies.
The Mets reunited with outfielder Jay Bruce and signed third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year contract, adding some necessary offensive firepower to a club that will rely heavily on its starting pitching. These were not splashy acquisitions, but Bruce and Frazier should prove to be worthwhile additions to the team.
The Phillies are currently in serious discussions with Jake Arrieta and have already signed first baseman Carlos Santana, who will bring a winning mentality to this young roster. This is not the Phillies year to contend, but Santana and (possibly) Arrieta are surely capable of expediting this exciting rebuild.
National League West
It’s all about the Giants in the NL West, who have decided to double down and add veterans Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. These moves do not bring the Giants to the level of the Dodgers, but it’s understandable for the organization to try and keep up with their rival given the team’s typical standards.
Last season, the West was the most competitive division in baseball. The Colorado Rockies are attempting to capitalize on this bullpen-centric era of baseball by signing All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are trying to compensate for the loss of J.D. Martinez with the speedy Jarrod Dyson.
But this is still the Dodgers’ division. They should feel comfortable despite not adding any more weaponry — they don’t need it.
National League Central
Out with Arrieta and in with Yu Darvish for the Chicago Cubs, who hope to get back to the World Series again in 2018.
For the Milwaukee Brewers, it was all about adding outfield talent. Milwaukee traded for All-Star Christian Yelich and signed 2015 World Series champion Lorenzo Cain. It’s likely that the Brew Crew will need to make more moves at the trade deadline to keep up with the Cubs, but this was a fantastic offseason for a team that surprised many a year ago.
And in St. Louis, the Cardinals traded for All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who should benefit from the national attention he will receive on a club that is capable of making the playoffs.
The Central will be a three-team race for the entirety of the summer. The Cubs are clearly the best team in the division, but the Brewers and Cards are not too far behind. If they’re lucky, the talent they’ve added will be enough of a boost to topple Chicago.