Every year, there are several sports teams that spend big in an attempt to “win the offseason,” bringing in big-name free agents or making bold trades with the hope of creating a bulletproof roster destined to win a championship. In most cases, these moves lead to preseason predictions of outright dominance that make the regular season and playoffs nothing more than a coronation for the team that looks best on paper.
These kinds of roster moves sometimes work out quite well, as the NBA in particular has seen several of these so-called “super teams” enjoy immediate success. The 2008 Boston Celtics won the title following years of mediocrity by making savvy trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the 2007 offseason, and the Miami Heat won two titles in four years by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to their roster. While there have been plenty of examples in all sports where this strategy has worked, there have also been a host of failures as well.
There are a multitude of reasons why these moves don’t always work out, with some players finding it difficult to adapt to a lesser role, while others simply cannot accept that they are no longer a team’s primary figure. Some rosters are simply poorly assembled, as a collection of exceptional talent does not always mean that the roster will be functional on the field. Despite the fact that the following 15 teams all had talented rosters and enjoyed a great deal of preseason hype, each team was ultimately a disappointment that failed to deliver in the postseason.
15 15. 2004 New York Yankees
Through an offseason trade, the Yankees got a hold of the reigning AL MVP, trading for Alex Rodriguez and giving up Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias in the process. A-Rod was coming off a phenomenal season in which he slashed .298/.396/.600 with 47 home runs and 118 RBI while playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop, but it wasn't like the Yankees were lacking in the talent department at the time. The club also added Kenny Lofton to a high-priced team that was already loaded with former All-Stars at varying stages of their careers, including Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera.
14 14. 2011 Philadelphia Eagles
13 13. 2008-09 San Jose Sharks
12 12. 1996-97 Houston Rockets
11 11. 2015 Washington Nationals
By adding Max Scherzer on a massive contract to an already talent-laden rotation, the Washington Nationals looked like a team that would dominate the NL East simply by virtue of their starting pitching staff alone. With Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth providing the offensive punch, the Nationals were a popular choice as the favorite to win the World Series this season.
10 10. 2015 San Diego Padres
The recently acquired Matt Kemp called Padres GM A.J. Preller a “rock star” after the flurry of offseason moves that brought Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel and Derek Norris to San Diego. While many saw a potential offensive juggernaut in San Diego, it wasn’t hard to see that the roster had its share of shortcomings, especially on defense. Kemp, Upton and Myers were heralded as one of the best offensive outfields in baseball, but that triumvirate’s potential offensive aptitude could not hide the glaring defensive weaknesses.
9 9. 2003 Oakland Raiders
Just one season after making it to the Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders rapidly descended to the bottom of the NFL despite returning the bulk of a roster that included the reigning NFL MVP in quarterback Rich Gannon and future Hall of Fame receivers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. On defense, the Raiders had Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski, yet the Oakland franchise went from 11-5 and first in the AFC West to 4-8 and last place in the division in just a single season. While the roster was undeniably old, no one expected such a precipitous fall from the reigning AFC Champion.
8 8. 1999-00 St. Louis Blues
7 7. 2012 Miami Marlins
The Marlins began the 2012 season with outsized expectations, as the team had acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in the offseason before opening a new, taxpayer-financed stadium in Miami. Those players joined Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton on a roster managed by the fiery Ozzie Guillen, and it was supposed to represent a departure from the low-budget operating strategy that saw previous World Series teams dismantled when core players became too pricey to retain.
6 6. 2004 USA Olympic Basketball
5 5. 1991-92 New York Rangers
Having endured one of the longest championship droughts in sports history, the New York Rangers made a trade to bring in Mark Messier from Edmonton in the hope that he could help bring the Stanley Cup to a franchise that had not won one since 1940. In Messier’s first season in New York, he won the Hart Trophy while Brian Leetch won the Norris, and the Rangers looked unstoppable on the way to a conference-best 105 points.
4 4. 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
Gary Payton and Karl Malone became a pair of basketball mercenaries during the 2003 NBA offseason, as the pair sought the NBA title that had eluded them both throughout their illustrious careers. By joining forces with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, a pairing that had already racked up three NBA titles together, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Payton and Malone would be able to get a ring and be free of their reputations as great players who never won a title.
Shaq recruited the two future Hall of Famers to come to Los Angeles despite having to take a healthy pay cut and reduced roles, with both Malone and Payton more than willing to make sacrifices after having been previously denied titles as the focal points of their own teams by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Though the Lakers won 56 games and made it to the NBA Finals, tensions simmered throughout the season and Los Angeles ultimately lost in five games to a Detroit Pistons team that many felt was inferior.
3 3. 2000 Washington Redskins
2 2. 2011 Boston Red Sox
During the 2010 offseason, the Boston Red Sox were among the most active teams, signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, leading some to compare Boston’s lineup to that of the 1927 New York Yankees. With David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury already on the roster, the Sox looked like a potential juggernaut and appeared headed to a playoff berth late in the season. What followed was a historic late-season collapse, as Boston failed to make the playoffs despite holding a 9-game lead in the AL East in September.
1 1. 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already on the roster, the Lakers brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard via trade during the offseason. That foursome, along with Metta World Peace, was thought to be an intriguing and balanced mix of offensively and defensively gifted players who had all played at exceptionally high levels throughout their careers. Nash and Bryant had both won MVP Awards (Nash in 2005 and 2006; Kobe in 2008), and Howard and World Peace had both won Defensive Player of the Year Awards (Howard in 2009, 2010 and 2011; World Peace in 2004), but the season was an unmitigated disaster right from the start.
The team fired Mike Brown just five games into the season and eventually brought in Mike D’Antoni, spurning Phil Jackson in the process. Howard, a pending free agent who would leave at season's end, sulked through most of the season and Bryant tore his Achilles just before the playoffs started. A team many had pegged as serious title contenders was instead swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.
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