These developments are most evident when you’re making predictions for the 2015 season. Five of the MLB’s six divisions contain at least one non-playoff team that made unexpectedly significant gains over the course of this offseason.
The Blue Jays, Red Sox, White Sox, Marlins, Cubs and Padres have all retooled with game-changing players. In addition to other, smaller moves, each of these teams signed or traded for at least one marquee name over the past few months. The front offices of these organizations expect to watch their teams make the playoffs this season. They believe that it is their time to strike and that to fall short would be a failure.
Meanwhile, the Athletics, Rays, Phillies and Braves were sellers. All four traded away established All-Stars in exchange for young talent, signaling that the front offices of these organizations have their sights set on a title in 2017 or 2018. Furthermore, several teams that qualified for the 2014 postseason have made improvements, making it that much more difficult for the up-and-coming teams to break in. The Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants are good examples.
What accounts for the recent spike in offseason activity? Part of the reason is that competitive balance in the MLB is at an all-time high. The implementation of revenue sharing and the general growth of the game have allowed small-market teams to make more money and spend it on quality players. As a result, it is easier for these teams to nudge themselves into the playoff picture; the playing field is as level on the diamond as it is in the front office.
When so many teams are competent, every win counts, so teams are more likely to do what they have to do in order to score or prevent just a few more runs. In addition, the implementation of a second wild card in each league has made the playoffs more accessible to more average teams. Aggressive moves are a by-product of these developments.
The rebuilds of teams such as Oakland and Atlanta are akin to tanking NBA teams. While they won’t actually attempt to lose any games, they are similar in concept. Front offices have realized that there just isn’t much value in mediocrity. If your team isn’t qualifying for the playoffs, then you might as well make sure that you’ll be getting a high draft pick next year.
Ironically, being terrible for a few seasons in order to amass a slew of young stars is often a better practice in attempting to field the best team possible every year. Just ask the Nationals, Pirates, Orioles or Royals. Five years ago, these teams were four of baseball’s worst, but thanks to young talent, all made the playoffs in 2014.
Thanks to all of this, teams scrambled to move and acquire players like never before. Many teams are still a mystery at this point, but it will be fun to watch how this season unfolds.
James Shields to the Padres is just one of the many offseason moves in the MLB. Courtesy of AP Charlie Riedell