We still have more than a month to go until the official start of spring, the vernal equinox, but baseball fans go by a different reckoning than the astronomers. For us, spring training means spring, even if there's a foot of snow on the ground -- and no scientist or groundhog can convince us otherwise.
To wrap up the winter festivities, I asked ZiPS to evaluate team winters based on 2017 wins resulting from trades and signings by estimating the projection difference between two depth charts: a theoretical depth chart for 2017 if the team retained every single player that was traded or lost in free agency and the actual, current depth chart.
This is not an evaluation of how smart an offseason was, simply because not every team's front office has the goal of maximizing wins in 2017. It's a 2017-only evaluation, so a team like the White Sox will rank low here, but that's not a reflection on the front office's overall performance.
Seattle didn't make one huge Chris Sale/ Adam Eaton-type blockbuster trade this winter, but the Mariners did make an impressive number of incremental gains, similar to how you win a game of chess against a competent foe.
ZiPS sees Jean Segura, Drew Smyly, Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson as safer bets than the players general manager Jerry Dipoto traded away, and some of the lesser names involved, such as Danny Valencia or Carlos Ruiz, provide real value as role players.
Now, the Red Sox did make one huge Chris Sale-type blockbuster: Chris Sale. That's enough to put them close to the top of the list, but Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech both project to provide real 2017 value -- if they were still in the depth chart, especially Moncada. The Red Sox would have had a lot more trouble getting them playing time than the White Sox will.
It's not surprising to see the Braves here, simply because they tried to throw one- or two-year contracts at every 35-year-old free agent in existence this offseason. They succeeded in this mission often.
Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey, Brandon Phillips and Kurt Suzuki all make the Braves a better team in 2017 than they would have been otherwise. But is that a good thing? Rebuilding seeks to make improvements that are long term while these moves are all transient and have no effect on the team's years in which they are expected to actually be good.
Like the Braves, the Phillies made real, incremental improvements by adding Michael Saunders, Joaquin Benoit and Howie Kendrick, and given what the back of the rotation would have looked like, even Clay Buchholz counts here.
It's also not as much a problem as Atlanta's veteran accumulation since the Phillies still have enough open spots on the roster, whereas the Braves could have as few as two under-25 players on the 25-man roster at the start of the season.
The changes aren't as dramatic as some may suggest -- Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro and Colby Rasmus are all real players -- but the Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran trio represents a real upgrade to the lineup from a win standpoint in an offseason in which it was really hard to make giant improvements without giving up elite prospects.
Not one player projected to be worth a single WAR left the roster. The Angels were able to add Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, Ben Revere and Jesse Chavez without losing anyone of real consequence for 2017. Even so, the team still looks a lot like a 72-win club plus Mike Trout.
Yes, the departed Mike Napoli hit a career-high 34 home runs in 2016. He also had a 104 OPS , below average for a first baseman and the second-worst number for him in his career. Edwin Encarnacion is a serious upgrade.
There's still a chance that they'll flip some of these players later, but people generally overestimate the odds of this happening. If you look at below-.500 teams with veterans on one-year contracts the past five years, less than 20 percent of those players were traded, and even less fetched significant prospects in return.
Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Jeff Locke don't exactly cause much excitement, but it's better than the back end of the Marlins' rotation at the close of last year, and they made real pickups ( Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa) to fill out their bullpen.
ZiPS is in the minority in liking the Cardinals -- the other projection systems do not -- but ZiPS is much happier with the team having Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil than Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia at this stage of their careers.
As for Alex Reyes, his injury threatens his entire 2017 season. But while that affects the Cardinals' bottom-line win total, he hadn't been added by an offseason move, so it doesn't affect the Cardinals' position in this ranking. That bottom-line win total hurts, though -- it's a two-win loss with upside possibilities, which is a big deal for a team that was already far more likely to need to make the playoffs via the wild card than a divisional win.
11. New York Yankees
Sure, they traded Brian McCann, but he was almost superfluous at this point given the emergence of Gary Sanchez and the team's other options at the designated hitter spot.
Plus, Aroldis Chapman. It's hard for a reliever to move the needle that much; they generally throw too few innings and the differences in leverage between a starter and a reliever do have practical limits given that even a dominating closer will essentially end up in a lot of low-leverage situations. But Chapman is one of those truly elite relievers who can affect a team's win total at more than just the margins.
Considering the Adam Eaton trade, some may be surprised to see the Nationals this low. The Eaton trade is still terrific, in my opinion, but it's not just for short-term reasons. Eaton's a very good player with a great contract, but he's more like a 3- to 4-win player than a 5- to 6-win one, and it's likely that Lucas Giolito would have contributed something to the 2017 team. Mark Melancon is gone from their playoff roster as well, and Danny Espinosa and Ben Revere were useful complementary talents.
13. Tampa Bay Rays
Nothing too sexy, but Colby Rasmus and Mallex Smith both project to be solid contributors, ZiPS thinks Jose De Leon is ready, and there's that chance that Wilson Ramos can contribute at some point during the season.
Travis Shaw doesn't have a lot of upside and his hitting ended up matching projections much more closely than it looked like it would when he hit .314 last April. But he proved to be a pleasant defensive surprise and should be a solid league-average player for the Brewers. ZiPS isn't as bullish on Eric Thames as some projections, but he's all upside for the team. Plus, Tommy Milone may at least eat some innings.
15. Colorado Rockies
Colorado could have finished a few places higher, but the Ian Desmond signing still hasn't led to an outfield trade that could help the team right now. As of this moment, it has led to the Rockies playing Desmond at first base, where he provides the least possible amount of value to the team.
Unlike last winter, they're not playing for short-term win additions, but the trade featuring Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger both project as short-term losses for the team. The team stays in the middle of the pack with ZiPS still thinking Taijuan Walker will be a league-average starter and with their status as the world's last remaining Ketel Marte believer.
17. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs generally had a boring winter, mostly swapping out parts with equivalent ones. But that's a good thing. This is a team that is again projected by ZiPS to be the best in baseball, and it seemed as if this winter's motto was to "Do No Harm." And they didn't. World Series teams tend to have trouble keeping their rosters together, but the Cubs did -- with a few exceptions (losing Dexter Fowler while plugging in Wade Davis for Aroldis Chapman).
18. Detroit Tigers
Thanks to his long injury history, Cameron Maybin is the world's longest-running question mark, but according to ZiPS he still represented a much-preferred option for the Tigers in center field. Detroit did very little this winter to hurt or help its 2017 season otherwise.
19. Minnesota Twins
Jason Castro is an upgrade from Kurt Suzuki, but the non-tendered Trevor Plouffe at least had some value (ZiPS had him at 1.2 WAR in 2017). It was a quiet offseason for the Twins as the improvements in the projections from last season (and they're significant) come from internal solutions, not external ones.
20. Texas Rangers
Texas retained Carlos Gomez, but losing both Ian Desmond and Carlos Beltran hurts, and Mike Napoli is just not that great. The Rangers go into the season with a better roster than the one they started the 2016 season with. It's just that their most valuable additions were made last season, not this winter.
I really like the Mark Melancon deal for the Giants, but they did bleed a lot of lesser players in free agency: Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo were both excellent bounce-back candidates, Jake Peavy's nowhere near as horrific as his 2016 suggests, Chris Heston is a decent No. 5 starter candidate and Angel Pagan is at least a good fifth outfielder at this point.
Despite ranking this low, ZiPS projects the team to actually be better overall than 2016 simply because of a (hopefully) normal injury year. The Dodgers added several players this winter, but this offseason they also lost Josh Reddick, Jose De Leon, Howie Kendrick, Joe Blanton and Brett Anderson, among others, and all those players projected to provide positive value in 2017.
Welington Castillo is a better value than Matt Wieters (though perhaps not given the Wieters market), but they're kind of treading water from an ability standpoint, and Steve Pearce, Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley all projected to be worth around a win (or better in the case of Pearce).
It's good the team brought Ivan Nova back, but ZiPS hardly counts that as improving the team's roster from last October, given they had Nova then as well. Other than that, the Pirates have mostly shuffled role players. ZiPS is optimistic about the Pirates -- in large part because their young pitching represents their largest bucket of upside in 2017 -- but not because they had an exciting winter's worth of transactions.
25. New York Mets
The Mets get points for retaining the services of Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes, but they didn't actually make any moves to make the team better than it was last year. Arguably they're even worse given that they appear to be just handing the starting right field job to Jay Bruce and using Curtis Granderson in center, but that's not really relevant to this particular look.
26. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds did get an impressive haul for the serviceable-if-unimpressive Dan Straily, and ZiPS thinks the outright release of John Lamb was a mistake. Surprisingly, it's the Brandon Phillips move that doesn't really hurt their projected wins total that much simply because of BP's age and defensive decline, while both Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera project as superior players.
27. San Diego Padres
ZiPS had the Padres losing four players worth around one WAR or more this winter in Tyson Ross, Derek Norris, Adam Rosales and Jon Jay. Not a single one of the players the Padres added even projects to contribute as much value to the 2017 team as the unimpressive 0.9 WAR in 412 plate appearances that ZiPS projects for Jay, which is a good thing as this team has a long rebuild ahead of it.
Note that this projection does not include anything stemming from the death of Yordano Ventura. It's just that the Royals didn't do that well elsewhere. Nathan Karns is probably worse than Edinson Volquez, Brandon Moss is probably worse than Kendrys Morales, and Jarrod Dyson and Wade Davis are much preferable to have on the team than Jorge Soler. The Royals will get some wins back from, say, a healthy Mike Moustakas, but the team's roster is simply worse than it was in November, even before Ventura's untimely death.
Simply put, Edwin Encarnacion/Michael Saunders playing elsewhere isn't offset by Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, at least from a projection standpoint. Brett Cecil and midseason addition Joaquin Benoit were key contributors in the bullpen, and even R.A. Dickey could have still eaten some innings.
That the White Sox place here is testament to their success in trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for two peerless packages of prospects. They can't get lower than last place on this list, but if they can get similar value from their remaining players of value -- Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and even Jose Abreu (and others) -- this team could be a juggernaut in four years.