MLB Hot Stove: Three Winners in the NL
The Hot Stove league is that time of year between the end of the World Series and when players report for spring training. It has just seen the conclusion of the annual winter meetings, a gathering of executives around baseball; and so far there have been three NL teams that have improved significantly for the 2015 season. These three NL teams have outpaced their competitors so far this offseason and fans of these teams should be ecstatic with the efforts of ownership/management as the hunt for October has already begun.
2014 Regular Season Record (73-89)
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been hitting the ball out of the park this offseason. They signed Jon Lester, a three-time all-star who has twice flirted with the Cy Young award since 2010, to be the ace of a rotation that includes Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel. Lester has a career win-loss record of 116-67. His poor win-loss record in 2012 seems to be an outlier and is a distant memory. His WHIP was an impressive 1.102 last year with a career mark of 1.276. With a top-ten WAR of 4.6 last year, it’s easy to see why the faithful in Chicago are already dreaming post-season.
I briefly mentioned Arrieta and Hammel. Neither should be taken lightly, as Arrieta finished 11th last year in WAR for starting pitchers and Hammel owned a K/9 of 8.6. Wrigley Field is a pitcher-friendly park, in fact it ranked 23rd in runs and 20th in hits last year. With the top of the rotation set with these three, the Cubs improved their chances at being contenders. To top all that, they went out and procured the services of catcher Miguel Montero, one of the best pitch-framers in the business from the Diamondbacks. While Montero’s offense has regressed of late, he will earn his keep managing the pitching crew he now has in Chicago.
To manage the team, they signed Joe Maddon of the Devil Rays to a five-year deal. He is the perfect fit for the young Cubbies to grow with. The Cubs have made the moves to win a lot of games, and they have the talent and leadership to be consistent winners in the years ahead.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2014 Regular Season Record (94-68)
Another team that has great leadership now, has the pieces to contend the entire season. How do you improve a team while cutting payroll and shedding Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp? Just hire Andrew Friedman and let him go to work. So, instead of Ramirez and Kemp, they have an up-the-middle defense anchored by Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, and Joc Pederson at SS, 2B, and CF, respectively. While it is true that Rollins doesn’t have the upside of Ramirez, he fills the position more than adequately. The Dodgers also held on to their top prospects in Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias.
They also signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year deal that adds to a rotation that includes two Cy Young winners. The Matt Kemp deal with San Diego landed the Dodgers the services of promising catcher Yasmani Grandal, who posted a 112+ OPS in 128 games last year and who will remain under club control for four more years. Over the past three years Grandal has a better than serviceable .763 OPS.
There is consensus that the Dodgers are not yet done with offseason moves. Most likely, they will add another starting pitcher (James Shields or Cole Hamels?) and perhaps more. The team hired Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Josh Byrnes to make the difficult decisions that had to be made to restore what had become a somewhat dysfunctional clubhouse. They deserve the praise, because so far, they have nailed it.
2014 Regular Season Record (77-85)
Miami turned some heads when they signed Giancarlo Stanton to a massive $325 million dollar deal and promised to surround him with good players. Well, they have been true to their word so far by adding Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, and a yet-to-be named first baseman. Losing Andrew Heaney in the deal with the Dodgers for Gordon was a significant, but necessary loss to compete in their minds.
Gordon will likely bat leadoff, with Christian Yelich batting behind him. Gordon led the majors with 64 stolen bases last year and Marlins Park is a favorable hitter’s park. The team hopes that Gordon will continue to provide the same or better production than he did at Dodgers Stadium, a noted pitchers park. Dan Haren is also slated to come over in the Gordon trade and is needed in the rotation, but may decide to retire instead. The Marlins hope a $10 million dollar payday will persuade him to join the team. With Jose Fernandez expected back during the year, they will be a force to contend with in the NL East down the stretch. Certainly, they have a tough road ahead in order to compete with the Nationals, but they have taken the first steps necessary to do so.