Ranking the best off-seasons so far

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We’re almost into 2014, which means we’re only about a month and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training — the official start of baseball. Most of the big name free agents are off the board and thus most teams have already finished shopping or have done most of the heavy lifting already. With that said, let’s look over the teams that have had the five best off-seasons to this point.

5. New York Yankees — Any time you add Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Hiroki Kuroda, you have had a productive off-season. The Yankees have committed $328 million in free agency so far and may still spend more depending on how far they get in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The Yankees were shocked, however, when second baseman Robinson Cano opted to take a ten-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners — a team that has finished in fourth place or worse in eight out of the last ten seasons — rather than continue his legacy in the Bronx. The Yankees’ already old and injury-prone infield became even more uncertain as they seem to be relegated to using Kelly Johnson sans Cano. The Yankees also have a bit of rotation uncertainty to address, but that could be fixed by signing Tanaka. Overall, a mostly productive off-season but the loss of Cano hit them hard.

4. Detroit Tigers — The Tigers have had an interesting off-season to say the least. They breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were able to unload the remainder of Prince Fielder’s nine-year, $214 million deal on the Rangers and get Ian Kinsler to show for it. However, they followed up with one of the more questionable trades in recent memory, trading starter Doug Fister to the Nationals for reliever Ian Krol, infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and Minor League starter Robbie Ray. The Tigers are as in win-now mode as any team out there, so the Fister trade could only have precipitated another shoe dropping, but that shoe has yet to drop. Elsewhere, the Tigers added Rajai Davis and Joba Chamberlain along with new closer Joe Nathan. The Tigers should once again be the favorite to win the AL Central.

3. Texas Rangers — There is no doubt the Rangers got better, but the question is at what cost? Acquiring Prince Fielder cost them Ian Kinsler. While they certainly had the depth to afford to do that, they also had to take on Fielder’s gargantuan contract. The Rangers also committed $130 million to Shin-Soo Choo, who may be a platoon outfielder at best. However, the Rangers will have one of the most powerful offenses in baseball in 2014 and should be a pre-season pick to contend at least for the AL Wild Card if not win the AL West outright over the Athletics.

2. Tampa Bay Rays — The small-market Rays raised some eyebrows when they signed free agent first baseman James Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal. In a market flush with first basemen, it was surprising to see the Rays commit three years to a player at a team on the wrong end of the positional spectrum. Loney, however, had a career rebirth in 2013 and the Rays must see a reason for it to continue. Rays GM Andrew Friedman also added reliever Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds, relinquishing only two non-prospect Minor Leaguers. The Rays adequately addressed all of their needs and didn’t get bogged down by a big, expensive contract as is their habit. A pretty standard, productive off-season for them.

1. St. Louis Cardinals — The Cardinals had one need: a shortstop who can hit. The free agent market for shortstops was thin, with just Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew at the top, but the Cardinals snagged their guy, signing Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal. They also traded David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk, a trade that has a lot of upside for the Cards. They have nothing left to do, so they will bide their time until spring training when they will start their quest to win the National League pennant yet again.

Brad Ausmus seems to know he’s a dead man walking

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The Tigers have been terrible and the embarked on a rebuild this summer, shipping off Justin Verlander and multiple other players. Miguel Cabrera is hurt and may never be his old MVP-level self. It is, without a doubt, that the Tigers and their fans are about to begin a new chapter in the franchise’s history.

Such new chapters usually involve new managers. Fourth-year manager Brad Ausmus is still at the helm and the Tigers have made no public statement about his future. Ausmus, however, is a lame duck, with his contract ending a week from Sunday. He is also no fool. He seems to know very well that he’s not going to be around next year. From Katie Strang of The Athletic:

Ausmus, of course, has been on the hot seat several times. When Detroit exercised his option for this year, their refusal to extend it sent a pretty clear signal.

If this is the end of the road in Detroit for Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager, it will end with him having missed the playoffs in three of his four seasons at the helm of a star-studded team that was expected to Win Now, as they say. Yes, there were a lot of issues with the Tigers — their bullpen has always been a problem and the brass made a lot of questionable choices in signings and trades over the past few years — but there is no escaping the fact that Ausmus’ Tigers under achieved.

Marco Estrada signs a one-year, $13 million deal for 2018

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Marco Estrada and the Blue Jays have agreed to a one-year, $13 million extension with the Blue Jays, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Last night Morosi reported that the sides were near a deal.

This extension is, functionally, like adding a year on to his old deal, which paid him $26 million for the 2016-17 seasons. As Bill noted last night. while the 34-year-old right-hander has a subpar 4.84 ERA on the season, he has a solid 170/67 K/BB ratio in 176.2 innings this year and has improved in the second half.