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January 07, 2015

Which National League teams are winning the winter?

Championships aren't won in January, but some have moved to the front of the class

Each winter, baseball fans live and die at the finger tips of guys like John Heyman, Buster Olney, and Ken Rosenthal. Every tweet, article, rumor, and whisper has the potential to change the fortune of a hungry fan base.

But is the hot stove season actually important in determining future success?

Neil Paine of recently took a look this correlation, and the results may surprise you. Be warned, it's about to get nerdy.

Since the 2000-01 offseason, only about 14 percent of all wins above replacement (WAR) in any given MLB season have been generated by hot stove acquisitions. That number is on the decline; last season, hot stovers created only 7.6 percent of all the WAR in baseball. That wasn’t much more than the share of all WAR (5.4 percent) generated by players making their major league debuts (a cohort not typically known for its immediate impact).

How insignificant has the offseason been recently? Before the 2014 season, you could have zeroed out the WAR each team received from its hot stove pickups (relative to average), and absolutely nothing about the playoff picture would have changed, in terms of which teams qualified for the postseason. That’s because, under this exercise, the typical team would see a movement of only about plus-or-minus two wins over the entire season if there were no hot stove winners or losers at all.


And remember, this is all after we know how well each team’s offseason pickups performed. Predicting which offseason pickups will do well ahead of time is much more difficult — perhaps because the teams themselves can’t reliably know. [via]

So if you choose to ignore all that*, and put a ton of stock in what's happened so far off the field, here's a look at some of the National League's biggest offseason winners so far. Just don't bank on this when you call your local bookmaker. 

*And I didn't even get in to the part about "the variation in teams’ pythagorean wins."


The Cubs were one of the first teams many proclaimed to be a "winner" after landing one of the biggest free agents out there: former Rays manager Joe Maddon. Then they went out and signed arguably the year's most coveted free agent, lefty Jon Lester.

They may not be ready to compete for the NL Central crown in 2015, but there's a lot to look forward to for Cubs fans. Considering what Maddon was able to accomplish in Tampa with a minuscule payroll, it'll be interesting to see what he can do at Wrigley.

As for Maddon, he was eyeing the playoffs before the team even signed Lester.

KEY ADDITIONS: LHP Jon Lester,  RHP Jason Hammel, C David Ross, C Miguel Montero, RHP Jason Motte

KEY LOSSES: RHP Arodys Vizcaino, OF Justin Ruggiano


The NL West is certainly going to be interesting this summer, as the Padres and Dodgers are both busy adding and subtracting players at a furious pace. That doesn't always translate to wins*, but these moves have some substance to them.

*The Padres signed a ton of players last offseason, too. They finished 17 games behind the first-place Dodgers.

And not only are they making moves, as Grant Brisbee of SBNation writes, they're also affecting the free agent landscape as a whole.

This offseason, though. This incredible, maniacal, unexpected offseason. I'm not sure I agree with every move the Padres have made and are planning to make. But this Padres team is a presence on the offseason. They're affecting everything. They're bidding up free agents and making wild trades. The old Padres were Charlie Brown, forever losing and mumbling "I can't stand it" with their heads down. The new Padres still might get their Sopwith Camel shot up, but at least they're tangling with the Red Baron.

At least they're tangling with the Red Baron. Or maybe the cat next door. Either way, it's something.  [via]

If they want to make up those 17 games to the Dodgers, they're going to need all the reinforcements they can get, because their northern neighbors have been just as busy this winter.

KEY ADDITIONS: OF Matt Kemp; OF Justin Upton; 3B Will Middlebrooks; RHP Brandon Morrow; OF Wil Myers; C Derek Norris; RHP Shawn Kelley; SS Clint Barmes

KEY LOSSES: RHP Jesse Hahn; SS Everth Cabrera; C Rene Rivera; C Ryan Hanigan; RHP Joe Wieland; INF Jace Peterson


Like the Padres, the Dodgers have been busy this offseason.

With new President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman now in charge, they underwent a complete makeover, ditching guys like Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, and Josh Beckett for guys like Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, and Brandon McCarthy.

Will it work? That's yet to be seen. However, there's still another prized free agent out there that could really cement their place at the top of the division while driving the opposition nuts: Max Scherzer.

According to Richard Justice of, the Dodgers - they have more than enough money to spend - have already improved their defense and starting rotation, but going after Scherzer would cap-off what has already been a whirlwind offseason:

Still, despite everything, it feels like the Dodgers have one more big move left in them. One big one might create significant space between them and the other four NL West clubs.

Scherzer is the best free agent on the market, and can you imagine a rotation that begins with Kershaw, Greinke and Scherzer? That would be one of the most dominant in recent history and might just make the Dodgers the consensus favorites in 2015. [via]

KEY ADDITIONS: SS Jimmy Rollins; 2B Howie Kendrick; RHP Brandon McCarthy; C Yasmani Grandal; LHP Brett Anderson; OF Chris Heisey; RHP Joel Peralta; RHP Chris Hatcher

KEY LOSSES: OF Matt Kemp; SS Hanley Ramirez; 2B Dee Gordon; RHP Josh Beckett; RHP Dan Haren; RHP Roberto Hernandez; RHP Kevin Correia; RHP Jamey Wright; RHP Brian Wilson; RHP Chad Billingsley


The biggest move the Marlins made this offseason was extending outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. That move alone makes their offseason a success, assuming David Sampson can put the right players around the 25-year-old power hitter.

I went in to more depth about the Marlins in my NL East offseason breakdown, if you care to read more about their situation.

KEY ADDITIONS: 2B Dee Gordon; RHP Dan Haren (maybe); LHP Mat Latos; 3B Martin Prado; RHP David Phelps; SS Miguel Rojas

KEY LOSSES: 1B Garrett Jones; RHP Nathan Eovaldi; RHP Domingo German; LHP Andrew Heaney, 3B Casey McGehee; RHP Anthony DeSclafani; C Chad Wallach


I learned a long time ago that it doesn't really matter what moves the Cardinals make in the offseason. 

They'll lose a guy like Albert Pujols - a once-in-a-lifetime player - and find a way to make up for his offensive numbers by spreading them out over three or four other players.

Last season, St. Louis was last in the NL (second to last overall) in total home runs. Then they go out and sign Jason Hayward and Mark Reynolds. They should be just fine in 2015. 

KEY ADDITIONS: OF Jason Heyward; RHP Jordan Walden; 1B/3B Mark Reynolds; RHP Matt Belisle

KEY LOSSES: RHP Shelby Miller; OF Oscar Taveras; INF Daniel Descalso