It seems like the last piece of ticker tape hasn't even fallen on a given year's World Series Champions parade before teams are lighting up the phone lines to begin wheeling and dealing in anticipation of the next year's Spring Training. Without a doubt, the period between the World Series and when pitchers and catchers report the following year is one of Major League Baseball's busiest times of year. And it seems as if the madness really begins in earnest with the kickoff of MLB's annual winter meetings.
A four day event in which representatives of all 30 MLB clubs attend to discuss league business, such as rule changes, and possible innovations to the game – as well as participate in the Rule 5 Draft on the last day of the meetings – each and every year, there are dozens of deals that go down involving countless sums of cash and a good number of ballplayers. Oftentimes, following the conclusion of the winter meetings, a good number of teams don't look nearly the same as they did before the meetings began.
This year's winter meetings were no different in that regard. Held in San Diego, California, this year's MLB meeting may have been in fact, one of the busiest and craziest in Major League history. One anonymous general manager, following the conclusion of the meetings said he'd “never seen a crazier few days,” and said the final day, in which a flurry of trades were consummated, was like the “grand finale of a fireworks show.”
Indeed, a total of 79 players will be in different uniforms than they wore in 2014 – with a total of 20 All Stars changing addresses in 2015. Some teams definitely got weaker, but some teams came out of the winter meetings loaded for bear. In looking at the plethora of deals, there seems to have been a shift in the balance of power around the Majors.
With that in mind, let's look at 15 of the biggest surprises in the Majors this offseason...
15 Giancarlo Stanton's Outlandish Contract
14 Los Angeles Dodgers Trade Matt Kemp
13 Boston Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez to Monster Deal
12 Joe Maddon Leaves the Tampa Bay Rays
11 Jon Lester Signs with the Chicago Cubs
10 Dan Haren to Walk Away from $10 Million?
Dan Haren has never been one of the game's most dominant pitchers – his best season coming in 2008 when he was 16-8 with a 3.33 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks – and now that he's on the downside of his career, he's become more of a liability than an asset whenever he takes the mound. In 2014, coming off of his worst statistical season as a pro, the Dodgers inexplicably gave Haren a 1-year deal worth $10 million, with a second year, $10 million dollar option for 2015 that vested if he pitched 180 innings. Haren did, and the Dodgers were on the hook for that $10 million.
9 Los Angeles Angels Trade Howie Kendrick
8 Los Angeles Dodgers Trade Dee Gordon
7 Miami Marlins Looking to Contend
6 Oakland A's Trading... Everybody
On the other end of the spectrum from the Marlins, we have the Oakland A's. Operating on a small budget every year, the A's always somehow seem to remain in contention. With a number of trades in the second half of the 2014 season, the A's looked like they were going all in on a World Series or bust ride. Despite making trades to bring in big guns like Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel to bolster the team for what looked like a legitimate World Series run, the A's fell flat down the stretch, losing the AL West title to the Angels, and then losing a heart breaker of a wild card playoff game to the Kansas City Royals, ending their season far sooner than many believed.
5 Chicago White Sox One of Baseball's Most Improved Teams?
Given their disappointing 73-89 record, and 4th place finish in the AL Central in 2014, the White Sox are a team looking for answers. The Sox went into the offseason with a plan and seemingly, a win it all now attitude. They've been one of the busiest clubs this offseason, signing a slew of free agents to bolster their club. They've traded for Jeff Samardzija to bolster a rotation that features Chris Sale, Jose Quintanta and John Danks. The Sox have also signed Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, and Melky Cabrera to add some punch to a lineup that includes sluggers like Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu.
4 Andrew Heaney's Wild Day
3 Max Scherzer's Impending Mammoth Deal
2 Boston Red Sox Deal Yoenis Cespedes
Knowing that he would be a free agent at the end of the season, the Boston Red Sox dealt star pitcher Jon Lester to the Oakland A's, gambling that they would get slugger Yoenis Cespedes out of the deal, and then lure Lester back to the Boston fold when the season ended and he became a free agent. Unfortunately for Boston, the gamble did not pay off, and the cards didn't quite fall that way, with Lester signing with the Chicago Cubs.
1 The San Diego Padres – Contenders?
The Padres have been irrelevant for so long, that a lot of people tend to forget that San Diego still has a professional baseball team. Apparently, the Padres under new GM A.J. Preller, have a new vision for the club. No longer content to be the doormats of the NL West, the Padres have had a very busy offseason that's been full of surprises. The first domino to fall being the trade for Matt Kemp, formerly of their division rival Dodgers.
The Padres weren't done. They kept on wheeling and dealing, bringing in outfielder Justin Upton from the Braves, Derek Norris from the A's, Wil Myers from the Rays, and Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox. If there is a question mark, it is with San Diego's starting rotation which is not one of the most formidable in the Majors. But with a lineup that features a lot of power, they might be able to outslug some teams. And there is every indication that the Padres aren't done dealing, so they may address their pitching situation yet. The Padres may be the most improved team in the Majors – at least on paper. But like the White Sox, we'll have to wait and see if all of these moves and that improvement on paper translates to on-field production, and most importantly, more wins.
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