After examing the offseason's five biggest losers yesterday, today I take a look at five teams that won the winter.
The Braves brought in some much-needed righthanded pop in the form of the Upton brothers, who will team with Jason Heyward to form the National League's most exciting outfield. Though they failed to acquire a strong replacement for Chipper Jones (Chris Johnson is replacement level at best) and lack catching depth behind Brian McCann (Gerald Laird? pass), the Braves are primed for another playoff run in 2013.
Boston Red Sox
Boston began the offseason by firing Bobby Valentine, the man responsible for so much of the controversy and dysfunction that plagued the Red Sox last season. Ben Cherington found a good replacement in John Farrell, a former Red Sox pitching coach whom many members of the team (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia) respect. He satisfied David Ortiz with a contract extension, then went about reshaping the roster with cheap, productive character guys. Cherington signed Mike Napoli to replace Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino to man right field (then slide over to center when/if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves) and Ryan Dempster to fill Josh Beckett's void in the rotation. He also added David Ross to complement Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate, imported lefty-masher Jonny Gomes and traded for All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan, thus relegating Andrew Bailey to eighth inning duties. The Sox needed a new shortstop after trading Mike Aviles and found a decent one in Stephen Drew, younger brother of J.D. Drew, who played the last five years of his career in Boston and collected $70 million for his services. All winter long Cherington preached patience and discipline, and the mantra seems to have paid off. There's no question the Red Sox will be a better team in 2013--the only question is will they be good enough to reach the postseason for the first time in four years?
The Tribe lost 94 games last year but got significantly better this winter. They upgraded their outfield outfield by signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, signed slugging corner infielder Mark Reynolds to a cheap one-year deal and traded for Trevor Bauer, who projects to be a future ace. With veteran skipper Terry Francona at the helm, Cleveland now has one of the best managers of the past decade at the reins. The Indians aren't talented enough to surpass the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central but have the pieces to move above .500 for the first time since 2007.
Besides locking up their staff ace/face of the franchise for the rest of the decade, the M's brought in plenty of offensive firepower in the way of Michael Morse, Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Kelly Shoppach, all of whom will be the first Mariners to benefit from Safeco Field's closer fences. The starting rotation could use more depth, but King Felix is an ideal hurler to build around. The Mariners will have their hands full with the Rangers, Angels, and A's this year, but they could be sneaky-good and post a winning record in baseball's toughest division.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jaybirds look like World Series favorites (on paper, at least) after completing two blockbuster trades to bring in Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Not to mention, Melky Cabrera could turn out to be a massive steal for a two-year, $16 million commitment.