FOX Sports MLB Analyst
It’s February! Surely, all the best free agents have signed and general managers are done swinging blockbuster trades by now, solidifying each team’s roster with spring training right around the corner.
OK, maybe not. There’s still another half-billion or so combined dollars left to be committed to Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger, not to mention impact bats like Jorge Soler and J.D. Martinez. Dylan Cease continues to headline the trade market that could heat up in the aftermath of the Corbin Burnes swap.
For the most part, though, teams are counting down the days before pitchers and catchers report to camp in Arizona and Florida later this month. Soon enough, the sounds of spring will largely wash away the discourse and speculation surrounding winter transactions. As such, it’s still a reasonable time to assess how each team should feel about its hot stove activity.
From 30-1, here are my MLB team rankings and grades for the winter that was.
30. Colorado Rockies: F
Coming off a franchise-record 103 losses, general manager Bill Schmidt told reporters at the winter meetings in December that the club’s two primary goals of the offseason were to acquire a backup catcher and fill out the bench. I’m not joking. To be fair, it is basically impossible to come up with a series of moves that the Rockies could have made this winter to launch themselves into even wild-card contention, but it’s still a bummer to see such a bad team just accept its reality to this degree. There are bright spots to find in Nolan Jones’ tremendous breakout and an underrated farm system loaded with intriguing bats, but until this organization figures out how to get outs on the mound, it’s not going anywhere. But hey, Colorado did sign Jacob Stallings to back up Elias Díaz. Mission accomplished!
29. Miami Marlins: D
Still the only team yet to sign a single major-league free agent, the Marlins have spent the first few months under new president of baseball operations Peter Bendix making a handful of minor moves, and strictly making headlines as trade rumor fodder. The biggest “addition” — Josh Bell picking up his $16.5 million player option for 2024 — wasn’t even their move to make, and if anything, it seems to have tapped out any budget they had to spend externally. Remember: This team JUST MADE THE PLAYOFFS! The Marlins! Somehow, someway! And even if you thought their late September push to sneak into the playoff field was fluky, there was still reason to believe this organization would try pushing forward in an effort to sustain their surprising success. I guess not.
28. Cleveland Guardians: D+
When the most exciting moves of your offseason have been signing a backup catcher coming off a .461 OPS (Austin Hedges) and a Rule 5 pick who might not even make enough contact to make the Opening Day roster (Deyvison De Los Santos), you know it’s been a slow winter. Not that we expected Cleveland to start throwing money around like the Dodgers, but while fellow small-market midwest teams like Cincinnati, Detroit, and Kansas City all opened up their wallets to improve their rosters via free agency, the Guardians did next to nothing. I suppose you can give them credit for not trading Shane Bieber or Emmanuel Clase as an indication of wanting to compete in 2024, but to do this little to upgrade a roster that clearly wasn’t good enough last season is disappointing. If they hadn’t won the first overall pick in the 2024 draft by an improbable stroke of luck in the lottery, this might be an F.
27. Boston Red Sox: C-
The few moves Boston has made — signing Lucas Giolito, dealing Chris Sale for a core infield piece in Vaughn Grissom, swapping out Alex Verdugo for Tyler O’Neill — all look pretty good to me in a vacuum. But when you’re coming off consecutive last-place finishes, and you communicate promises of a “full-throttle” offseason meant to get back into the playoff mix, these medium-splash deals aren’t nearly enough to move the needle, let alone satiate a fan base angry and starving for its team to start acting like the Boston Red Sox again. With many parallels to San Francisco, Boston, too, still has the opportunity to salvage a winter of frustration by landing a Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery. Otherwise, the vibes are likely to remain bitter in Beantown as camp opens.
26. San Francisco Giants: C-
I adore Jung Hoo Lee and think he’s going to be a really good MLB player. Signing Jordan Hicks and trading for Robbie Ray could eventually prove to be creative ways to add upside to the rotation. Tom Murphy is probably my favorite backup catcher in baseball. Yet, for a team that once again entered the winter with sky-high expectations of spending big and returning to relevance in an increasingly tough division, it’s hard to argue that the Giants had a definitively successful winter.
The good news is that several premier free agents remain available for San Francisco to bump this grade up into B-range. Adding Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery or Matt Chapman would certainly be a nice boost heading into spring training. Even then, relative to the behemoth Dodgers, the still wildly talented Padres, and the defending NL champion D-backs, this roster would lack the depth required for me to project a return to October for San Francisco.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates: C-
You can apply much of the same sentiments expressed regarding Cleveland to Pittsburgh, although at least the Buccos made a handful of veteran additions to stabilize certain parts of their roster. I wouldn’t bet on Rowdy Tellez, Martín Pérez, Marco Gonzales or Aroldis Chapman fueling this team to a division title in 2024, but at least it’s something. The NL Central is also becoming increasingly less forgiving than the AL Central, leaving less room for Pittsburgh to stay patient amid its rebuild. If payroll is going to stay in the bottom tier of big-league teams, the Pirates will need their young players to take some big steps forward on both sides of the ball to stay relevant this summer.
24. Oakland Athletics: C
It’s not the front office’s fault that payroll will likely remain the lowest in MLB until the painful and messy transition to Las Vegas finally culminates in full in a few years, so it seems harsh to judge the A’s too critically. I actually think they have enough young talent on both sides of the ball to be far more watchable in 2024 than 2023. But on the hot stove front, it was predictably quiet aside from a few low-impact veteran additions.
23. Chicago White Sox: C
With a blockbuster trade of Dylan Cease still looming over this organization — and not knowing whether such a deal will come before Opening Day or late July — it’s a bit difficult to judge Chicago’s offseason as it continues its rebuild. I dig the Erick Fedde and Martin Maldonado signings, but analyzing the moves GM Chris Getz has made thus far as the White Sox enter a year with little to no expectations of competing is relatively frivolous as long as Cease remains on the roster. Nailing the Cease trade will be the most important thing Getz will do in the coming months, and the return will go a long way toward confirming or invalidating his decision to hang onto the prized pitcher through much of the winter. We’ll go C for Cease but honestly, consider this grade incomplete.
22. Washington Nationals: C
Washington has some promising pieces in place (CJ Abrams 2024 breakout incoming) with more on the way, headlined by last year’s No. 2 overall pick Dylan Crews. But I would’ve liked to see the Nationals start to surround their young core with some more accomplished veterans than the ones they ended up signing. It seems GM Mike Rizzo is preferring to play it slow and see what he actually has before spending big. In a brutal NL East that isn’t getting any easier, they’ll need to start making some more sizable steps sooner rather than later.
21. Los Angeles Angels: C
Whether or not losing Shohei Ohtani was a foregone conclusion, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Anaheim once it entered the post-Ohtani era. Rather than focus on replacing his impact in the lineup, the Angels have instead opted to spend big to fill out the bullpen — a reasonable decision considering how weak it was, although some big questions remain about the rest of the roster. They could still be a player for the top names remaining in free agency, but landing a Blake Snell or Cody Bellinger won’t do much to ease the pain of Ohtani taking his talents up the freeway to Chavez Ravine.
20. San Diego Padres: C+
It’s one thing to lose a superstar in free agency, it’s another to willingly ship one off before his contract expires. The decision to trade Juan Soto can be understood in the context of San Diego’s increasingly crowded payroll puzzle and desperate need to reload the pitching staff, but that doesn’t make trading him feel any better. I commend A.J. Preller for being tremendously creative in backfilling the huge portion of 2023 innings lost to free agency, but I’m still looking at this roster with a ton of concerns about the depth on both sides of the ball. Maybe there’s another unexpected move still to be made here — and if anyone can be counted on to explore all avenues in improving a roster, it’s Preller.
19. Tampa Bay Rays: C+
Landing Ryan Pepiot as the centerpiece of the Tyler Glasnow trade was a promising move that could keep Tampa Bay’s rotation a legitimate strength. Swapping Luke Raley for Jose Caballero was a clever way to bolster the infield depth. Beyond that, though, the Rays sure didn’t do much else to make me overly optimistic about their chances of repeating their success from 2023 (99 wins!!!) — other than, you know, their still the Rays. I’m watching this team closely in terms of the trade market leading up to Opening Day.
18. Milwaukee Brewers: C+
Let’s just say this grade was considerably more kind in an earlier draft before Miwaukee’s stunning trade of ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore two weeks before spring training. It’s less about the decision to deal Burnes itself and the package it received (DL Hall is nasty) as much as an incoherence regarding its competitive direction. Extending top prospect Jackson Chourio and signing Rhys Hoskins to fortify an exciting young lineup seemed to indicate a willingness from the Brewers to ride into the season as is and see where they were in July before making any decisions to deal Burnes or fellow free-agent-to-be Willy Adames. Instead, Adames now returns to the spotlight as a trade candidate with camp about to open, especially with one of the players in the Burnes return being an MLB-ready shortstop in Joey Ortiz. Strange times in Milwaukee.
17. Minnesota Twins: C+
Minnesota was also having one of the quietest winters of any team until dealing away its longest-tenured player in Jorge Polanco to Seattle in exchange for four players. From a value perspective, the Twins did reasonably well in the Polanco deal. But it’s also hard to argue it made them a better baseball team in 2024, which would ideally be the goal for a team coming off a division title and its first taste of playoff success in nearly two decades. There still might be time for a few minor additions, but without replacing Sonny Gray, it’s hard to argue they are going to enter the season with a better roster than the one they had four months ago.
16. New York Mets: C+
After missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto despite a legitimate effort from owner Steve Cohen, the Mets settled quickly into a much more levelheaded, albeit underwhelming, offseason strategy. I like some of the additions aimed at potential bounce backs like Luis Severino and Sean Manaea, but I don’t love treating 2024 like some kind of transition year while this roster still boasts so many stars in the middle of their primes (see: Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo). Add in the Alonso extension question that continues to hang over the franchise, and it’s just been a rather unfulfilling winter in Queens. I understand the bigger picture, but I’m just not so sure that I like it that much.
15. Texas Rangers: C+
The champs have largely stood pat this offseason, adding two veteran bullpen arms in Kirby Yates and David Robertson as well as Tyler Mahle on a nifty two-year deal that could prove especially valuable once his Tommy John rehab is complete. There’s still time for the Rangers to find a new DH with Mitch Garver off to Seattle in free agency, but even if they roll with some younger internal options, their offensive unit remains one of the best in the AL. While I can’t blame them for laying relatively low this winter, it’s also hard to give them much credit either.
14. Toronto Blue Jays: C+
You could argue that Toronto belongs in the same tier with Boston and San Francisco when you factor in the hype and expectations for big-time additions that existed at points this winter. However, even considering the sour note the Blue Jays’ 2023 season ended on and the roster holes they needed to address, they still entered the winter with a much stronger roster and thus less desperation to dramatically improve via external additions. That keeps their grade in this middle group of teams that maybe didn’t improve much, if at all, this offseason but also made enough moves (Kevin Kiermaier, Justin Turner, Yariel Rodríguez) to avoid getting markedly worse.
13. Houston Astros: B-
Entering his first full offseason as GM, Dana Brown had the primary task of rebuilding a bullpen that saw the bulk of innings depart in free agency. With the backing of owner Jim Crane, he opted to do so in the most extravagant way possible, signing Josh Hader to the largest free-agent deal Houston’s handed out since Crane became the owner in 2011. Hader could end up supercharging this bullpen to a truly special level, but for that to essentially be the Astros’ only move of the winter gives me pause regarding their offseason objectives.
12. Philadelphia Phillies: B-
Like their 2022 World Series foes, the Phillies have also done virtually nothing beyond one major move: re-signing Aaron Nola to a monster seven-year pact to open the offseason. It’s been stunningly quiet since then, but securing Nola for the long haul is a big deal. So big, in fact, that the $172 million guaranteed to the right-hander is still more money on its own than any other team not named the Dodgers has spent in free agency this winter (thus far). So, while it would have been nice to see Dave Dombrowski act a bit more aggressive in bringing in a fresh face or two coming off a disappointing exit in the NLCS, let’s not lose sight of how relatively stacked Philadelphia’s roster still is. Retaining Nola was always the priority, and even though that feels like years ago at this point, it’s not a bad singular move to make, if that does end up being it.
11. Seattle Mariners: B-
After another whirlwind of Jerry Dipoto trades, is Seattle’s roster demonstrably better than it was at the conclusion of last season? You could reasonably argue no, but I think the acquisition of Jorge Polanco pushes the answer to that question slightly toward yes. More importantly, that the Mariners were able to drastically remodel their lineup without touching what could be one of baseball’s best rotations is a legitimate achievement considering the widespread expectations that at least one of Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo would need to be dealt for them to upgrade their offense. Ownership’s reluctance to invest further into this core remains rightfully maddening for the fan base, but considering the payroll constraints under which Dipoto & Co. are apparently operating under, it’s hard not to be impressed with how they reshaped the roster this offseason.
10. Chicago Cubs: B-
If the White Sox’s winter is tough to gauge with the Cease trade still on hold, their neighbors to the north arguably also deserve an incomplete grade for a very different reason. The Cubs still appear to be a possible landing spot for either Cody Bellinger or Matt Chapman, leaving the possibility of an exciting finale to what has otherwise been a solid set of additions. Shōta Imanaga strengthens the rotation, Hector Neris beefs up the bullpen, and trade acquisition Michael Busch looks like the first baseman of the future. Swiping Craig Counsell from the rival Brewers to manage the team wasn’t exactly an insignificant move, either. Cubs fans are still hoping for more, though, and a reunion with Bellinger or the signing of Chapman to create an all-world defensive infield would go a long way toward asserting this team as a legitimate playoff contender.
9. Detroit Tigers: B-
It might have been somewhat overshadowed by Kansas City’s unlikely spending spree, but Detroit also made a bevy of nice moves to strengthen a roster that quietly won a respectable 78 games last year and appears to be in realistic position to make a surprise playoff push. I’m much more bullish on the Kenta Maeda signing than the Jack Flaherty one, but both should help fortify an otherwise young rotation, while the trade for Mark Canha still stands out as one of my favorite smaller deals of the entire winter. Extending top prospect Colt Keith was a great note for the Tigers to seemingly end the offseason on. I kinda wish they did even more, to be honest. On the whole, though, solid work all around.
8. Kansas City Royals: B
No team has handed out more MLB deals to free agents this offseason than the Royals’ seven, a fairly shocking fact for a team coming off a 106-loss campaign. Granted, I’m a lot more encouraged by the additions of Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha than I am of Adam Frazier, Garrett Hampson and Will Smith, but hey, a big-league signing is a big-league signing! Mired in the depths of a rebuild, Kansas City finally decided to put some real money toward a pitching staff that has struggled immensely in recent seasons. With two franchise pillars to build around in Bobby Witt Jr. and Cole Ragans, there is still a ton of work to be done to build this roster back into a legitimate playoff threat. Nevertheless, the efforts that were made in an effort to return to competence if not contention are worthy of a strong grade.
7. St. Louis Cardinals: B
St. Louis wasn’t shy about its intentions of adding multiple starting pitchers this offseason, and we didn’t have to wait long to see those promises come to fruition. Sonny Gray was the big prize and slots in perfectly atop the rotation, while Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson represent more traditional veteran innings-eaters. It was hardly the sexiest trio of starters to build an offseason around, but it should go a long way toward pushing the Cardinals back into the playoff picture after an uncharacteristic down year.
6. Cincinnati Reds: B+
They certainly didn’t spend in ways many expected them to — adding Jeimer Candelario to an already crowded infield and signing Frankie Montas to a lucrative one-year deal — but seeing a small-market, traditionally frugal team like the Reds shell out over $100 million in free agency was an extremely encouraging sign regardless of the details. That is exactly how a team should act coming off the kind of breakout season Cincinnati had in 2023 and with the wealth of young talent that makes up the foundation of its roster. Bringing in veterans to raise the floor and ceiling of a team that might just be scratching the surface is textbook GM-ing, even if some of the specific additions have raised a few eyebrows regarding fit. The Reds got better this winter, and for that, I commend them.
5. Baltimore Orioles: B+
It’s hard to say this front office is doing a bad job considering what it’s already accomplished, but it’d be nice to see the Orioles be more aggressive in both trades and free agency at some point. For whatever reason, we’re not quite there yet. The recent news of an ownership change could portend a move in that direction sooner rather than later, though. Birdland should still be buzzing with spring training approaching.
This is what I wrote just a few hours before the Orioles swung a massive blockbuster trade for Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. And let me tell you, Birdland is now most certainly buzzing. After a quiet winter that previously featured only the signing of Craig Kimbrel to replace the injured Félix Bautista, it seemed like Baltimore was going to play it safe once again heading into 2024 instead of building off its division-winning breakout in a big way. But no! GM Mike Elias finally pushed some real chips in, and the O’s fan base could not be more ecstatic. For the first time in a long time, Baltimore has made a move focused definitively on the present and not the future. It’s hard to tell whether the news of new ownership coming in soon made a difference in this bold move coming to fruition or if it was merely a coincidence, but either way, the already-bright future for the Orioles is suddenly that much more exciting.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks: A-
Hats off to the Arizona front office for opting to add several significant pieces following their surprise World Series run rather than resting on their laurels and assuming their October success was a sign that the roster was good as is. Eduardo Rodríguez could prove to be one of the better value adds in relation to what Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell end up commanding. The return of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. paired with upgrades at DH (Joc Pederson) and third base (Eugenio Suárez) makes this lineup look far deeper than the one we just watched in the World Series. I would’ve liked to see the D-backs bring in a bullpen arm or two (and they still could), but for the most part, great stuff from this front office group. SNAKES ALIVE!
3. New York Yankees: A-
Sure, their pitching depth has taken a massive hit this offseason, and they whiffed in fairly embarrassing fashion with Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But if you trade for Juan Soto, I’m going to have a hard time disliking your offseason by any means. The dude is primed for an absolute monster season, and regardless of how likely he is to stay in the Bronx long term, credit to Brian Cashman for doing what was necessary to add a generational talent to a lineup in need of another star alongside Aaron Judge. Adding Trent Grisham was also an underrated bonus to the Soto blockbuster, and I also like the Alex Verdugo and Marcus Stroman fits on this roster quite a bit. Yankees fans are still understandably hungry for any additional moves to help push the memories of an ugly 2023 further into the past. If they are done, though, this was still a really strong winter.
2. Atlanta Braves: A
Even after an embarrassing postseason exit at the hands of the rival Phillies, the Braves didn’t need to do a ton this offseason to enter 2024 as a World Series contender again. Instead, GM Alex Anthopoulos orchestrated a convoluted yet savvy array of moves to directly address the few holes Atlanta did have. He spent big to bulk up the bullpen (signing Reynaldo López and Joe Jiménez, trading for Aaron Bummer), swung a big deal to fortify the rotation with Chris Sale, and secured a potential long-term left field solution in Jarred Kelenic. All in a winter’s work! Of course, no one will care until the Braves exact revenge on the Phillies in October and/or return to the World Series.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: A
Here’s one way to think about L.A.’s outrageous offseason: Trading for and extending Tyler Glasnow probably would’ve been the biggest move of every other team’s offseason besides the Yankees (trading for Juan Soto) and maybe the Phillies (re-signing Aaron Nola). For the Dodgers? It might be a stretch to call it afterthought, but you’d be forgiven if the Glasnow move slipped your mind when reflecting on their winter due to the monumental combination of historic Japanese talent that joined the team in December.
The signings of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto are such massive deals on their own that it remains borderline unfathomable that they ended up on the same team. Yet, here we are, gearing up for a star-studded spectacle like few we’ve seen in Major League Baseball history. Add in Teoscar Hernández, Jason Heyward, Joe Kelly and James Paxton, and a nifty trade of Michael Busch for two exciting young prospects from the Cubs, and, well, of course the Dodgers won the winter!
And by the way, would we really be surprised if they had one more big move up their sleeves? Nope!
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
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