Every year baseball writers love to decide who won and lost the offseason at the start of spring training. Most of the time the "winners" are those who signed a big name free agent while the "losers" are the teams that let one go. But there are always under the radar moves that end up being season savers come September. Rarely do we go back and take a look at which moves from the past off season worked and which didn't. Below we rank the best moves from last winter.
6. Yankees Trading For Aroldis Chapman
Following Chapman's domestic violence scandal the Reds basically decided they would trade him no matter the return. While many teams were skeptical of taking the PR hit the Yankees pounced and ended up with one of the steals of the offseason. Combining Chapman with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances gave the Yankees the three pitchers with the highest strikeout percentages in all of baseball from 2014-15.
During his time with New York Chapman was as advertised. In 31.1 innings (following his 25 game suspension) he pitched to a 2.01 ERA with 44 strikeouts and a career high 5.50 strikeout to walk ratio. The reason this move is a winner from last offseason is the fact that at this year's trade deadline the Yankees were able to flip him for a much better package of prospects than they acquired him for. While the Reds received four low ceiling prospects for a year of Chapman the Yankees sent two months of his services to the Cubs for a MLB reliever in Adam Warren, a midseason top 25 prospect, and a preseason top 100 prospect.
5. Giants Signing Johnny Cueto
It's debatable whether or not Cueto was the best free agent starter entering the offseason. What's not debatable is that he has not only having the best season of the free agent aces, but he has also been the best value. While David Price and Zack Greinke combined to sign for a whopping 13 years and $423.5 million, the Giants inked Cueto to a 5 year, $110 million deal.
Through his first 30 starts this year Cueto is 16-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 207.1 innings pitched. In the National League he ranks fourth in WAR, seventh in ERA, fourth in wins, third in BB/9, third in innings pitched, and first in complete games. He combines with Madison Bumgarner to form arguably the best 1-2 starting pitching duo in all of baseball. Assuming they can hold off their late season swoon and sneak into the playoffs they are as dangerous a team as any, especially in an even year.
4. Rangers Signing Ian Desmond
Two years ago Desmond turned down a seven year, $107 million extension from the Nationals. At the time he was one of the top shortstops in the game but decided he could cash in for more if he had a big contract year in 2015. Things couldn't have gone worse as he posted career lows across the board. Worsening the situation was the fact that after the season he turned down a one year qualifying offer worth $16 million. Free agency did not go as planned and he had to settle for a one year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $8 million.
In the long run it's looking like it was all for the best though. Desmond moved to the outfield for Texas and is having an unbelievable second contract year. It's the type of season that could reasonably get him more than that original $107 million Washington was offering. In 2016 he has hit 22 homers, stolen 20 bases, batted .288/.340/.458 and showed versatility in the field. With the Rangers in first place in the AL West Desmond will have a chance to impress even more with a big postseason.
3. Blue Jays Signing JA Happ
The Blue Jays had Happ in their rotation from 2012-14 so there was familiarity with him when they gave him a three year, $33 million contract this offseason. They could not have been expecting much from a 33-year-old with a career ERA over 4.00 but there was sneaky upside to be had. Following a mid season trade to the Pirates last year Happ quietly went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 63.1 innings for them down the stretch. The Jays must have been paying attention because he has turned out to be one of the best offseason bargains from last year.
In 2016 Happ has combined with Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez to give Toronto a formidable threesome at the top of their rotation, which is depth they were missing in last year's playoff push. Happ received some mid season Cy Young buzz this year but while that has cooled down his season numbers are still strong. He is currently 19-4 with a 3.27 ERA. In the American League he ranks second in wins, ninth in ERA, ninth in WHIP, and sixth in hits per nine. Not bad for an after thought of a signing at the time.
2. Indians Signing Mike Napoli
The impact of guys like Napoli can often be tough to quantify because so much of their value is tied to the effect they have on the clubhouse. Napoli himself has been no stranger to winning teams, reaching the World Series with the Rangers in 2011 and winning it all with the Red Sox in 2013. He is once again assisting to a winning culture with the Indians in 2016. Currently they sit at 86-63, which is the second best record in the AL and the fourth best in all of baseball.
In addition to his effect on the clubhouse Napoli is also having one of his best on field performances of his career. The 34-year-old has already reached career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (98) to go along with a .342 on base percentage. What makes him the second best addition of the offseason is that he was signed to just a one year deal worth $7 million.
1. Nationals Signing Daniel Murphy
There was not an offseason move that affected this years division races more than the Nationals signing of Murphy to a 3 year, $37.5 million deal. All he has done for the division leading Nationals is hit at an MVP caliber level. Currently Murphy leads the NL in doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. In addition he has 25 homers, 104 RBI and is batting .348 with a .391 OBP.
What's more insane is the actual damage Murphy has done to his former team this year. In 19 games against the Mets in 2016 he has gone 31-75 (.413) with seven homers, 21 RBI, five walks, and 13 runs scored. The Nationals, who currently have an eight game lead on the defending NL champions, have won 12 of those 19 games thanks in large part to him switching division rivals.