Usually when a team replaces its manager, 60 percent of its rotation, its left fielder, and its starting middle infield, it’s just trying to keep its head above water following an awful season. The Toronto Blue Jays have made all of those moves, but they made them to thrust themselves into the middle of the AL East race.
In light of Russell Carleton’s work on team turnover, Jays GM Alex Anthopolous has his work cut out for him and is trying a different tactic to bring the team together. “We’re hoping to make cuts early, and we’ve told some of the players that we know aren’t going to make the team [that that will happen] and trying to get down to 25 as fast as we can to let the team come together. I think everyone is optimistic. But when we get down to the last couple of weeks we’ll really get a feel for how this is going to gel.”
For the purposes of this list, we’ve “zeroed out” the negative WARP totals from the previous season (sometimes regressing to the mean is a positive!) The Jays’ winter haul of 16.7 WARP ranks 12th and qualifies as the biggest single-offseason influx since (drumroll…) the 2009 Yankees, who won the World Series. (Probably not surprisingly, the top of the list is littered with Yankees teams.) Here's the rest of the top 12, organized by, well, organization.
New York Yankees (1st, 2004—31.5 WARP, 4th, 2005—20 WARP, 5th, 2009—19.7 WARP, 6th, 2002—19 WARP)
Maybe the only surprising thing about this list is that the Yankees don’t own the top four spots. The names added in these seasons are remarkable: Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez (in the same offseason, no less), Kenny Lofton, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi, Robin Ventura, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett. I’m not sure how much analysis this really calls for, other than to alert Yankee fans under the age of four that the club actually once had a history of spending money on free agents and trading for big contracts. Maybe the most interesting part is that three of those seasons happened in a four-year stretch. If anything, the Yankees got more selective in the way they acquired talent and made the big splash in the ’08 offseason (Teixeira, Sabathia, Burnett via free agency, Swisher via trade). The team won the World Series in 2009, lost in the ALCS in 2004, and lost in the ALDS in 2002 and 2005 (to the Angels both times)
Texas Rangers—(2nd, 2002—20.6 WARP, 11th, 2001—16.8 WARP)
Ah, the free-spending Tom Hicks days. In ’01, Texas gave Alex Rodriguez his record-breaking $252 million deal and added veterans Ken Caminiti and Andres Galarraga. (As an aside, Darren Oliver was making $7 million for the Rangers as a starter that year, at age 30. I just saw him throw a scoreless inning for the Jays in spring training, 12 years later. He’s still got it.)
The next year, Hicks spent richly on pitching. Chan Ho Park was his big free agent add, but Texas also imported Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, and Ismael Valdez. For all the dollars they spent on their payroll (which more than doubled from 2001 to 2002), the Rangers lost 179 games over those two years.
Arizona Diamondbacks—(3rd, 1998—20.2 WARP)
The expansion Diamondbacks added Jay Bell, Matt Williams, and Devon White to the club in what became the core for the 1999 team that went from 97 losses to 100 wins. (Incidentally, that ’99 team that added Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley is 15th on the list.)
St. Louis Cardinals—(7th, 1996—17.5 WARP)
The Cardinals brought in St. Louis area native Gary Gaetti, Ron Gant, defensive wizard Royce Clayton, and pitchers Andy Benes and Stottlemyre. They also hired Tony La Russa as their manager. The team improved by 26 wins and went up 3-1 in the NLCS before the Braves rallied to win the pennant.
Baltimore Orioles (8th, 2004—17.4 WARP)
Coming off a 91-loss season, the O’s added Rafael Palmeiro, Javy Lopez, and Miguel Tejada and re-signed Sidney Ponson, whom they’d traded to San Francisco the previous July. Lopez and Tejada were both outstanding. Palmeiro and Ponson were not. As a result, the Orioles only lost 84 games.
New York Mets (9th, 2002—17.3 WARP)
Two years removed from winning the pennant, the Mets made a big, surprising splash by trading for Roberto Alomar, who was coming off the second-best season of his career. They also added Jeromy Burnitz, Shawn Estes, Jeff D’Amico and Pedro Astacio. But Alomar’s decline was swift, and The Mets won five fewer games than they had in 2001
Seattle Mariners (10th, 2000—17.2 WARP)
The Mariners make the list for what they added, but they also subtracted over the 1999-2000 offseason: Ken Griffey, Jr. was dealt and replaced by Mike Cameron, the defensive wizard. The M’s also added free agent John Olerud, utility guy Mark McLemore, and starter Aaron Sele. The club would lose 4-2 to the Yankees in the ALCS, but that season stared a string of four consecutive 90-plus-win seasons, including a league-record 116 in 2001.
All quotes courtesy of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio Spring Tour.