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Who Won the MLB Offseason?

Introduction


It is my favorite time of the year- Spring Training. Hope springs eternal all around the baseball world. Pitchers and Catchers report. Position players get into their Spring Training complexes early. We all go insane with optimism over the non-roster invitee that half of the fan base never heard of.


Before we engage in this annual rite, let's ask this question to close the book on the offseason.


Who Won the MLB Offseason?


Which team did the best? How one answers this question depends on how one defines best.


Disclaimer- There are several key players STILL not signed and the numbers I show now will change. Teams play a game of chicken with some free agents every year. Many things will happen fast. There will be a few players that won't be given a deal for months- ask Dallas Keuchel. I will update the numbers in a revised version of this article right before the season.


Let me encourage you to bookmark the following link. This is going to be my Spring Training and Season Preview Index. We will link the articles leading up to the season including an index for the season previews. You may just want to check it out to see what lies ahead.




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Defining the BEST OFFSEASON


What is your definition of the best offseason in the MLB? Here are some definitions I would come up with based on social media and media coverage.


  1. Making major deals that the fans love and media fawns over regardless of if they make sense long term.

  2. Doing what the fans want and demand regardless of if those demands are actually best for the team.

  3. Spending the most money to prove how serious the franchise is committed to winning regardless of if the deals make sense.


You may think those definitions are unfair, but that is what it truly seems to come down to during the winter months. I do NOT think this is what the definition of success really is.


My Definitions- Here is what I THINK SHOULD be the definition of winning the offseason.


  1. Making moves that lead to the largest improvement in the expected team win total. The best way to measure this proactively is to measure who added the greatest projected WAR during the offseason.

  2. Making the most cost-efficient deals- the best cost per WAR added. Being cost efficient allows a team to make further deals for improving the team. Spending SMART is winning the offseason. Spending dumb is losing.

  3. Addressing your defined weaknesses. Did the team fix the weakest links?


Let's go through these definitions of offseason success and see who won the offseason and how the Astros did.


Improving WAR- did the team improve over last year


My definition here is probably easiest to understand. First let's look at the MLB 2023 final WAR. You can find this data on Fangraphs.com here.

2023 War

The Astros are shaded orange. The other postseason teams are shaded blue. The World Series teams are shaded red with the dark red Rangers being the champions. There were a few teams with good WARs that missed the postseason.


How are the teams projected for the 2024 season? This data comes from Fangraphs also here. The data here is as of 2/15/23 AM.

2024 Proj WAR

Forgive me as I get wonky here for a minute. The total WAR in a season is 1000 (570 from hitters/ 430 from pitchers). The projected WAR is often higher than that in the offseason. Right now, this projected WAR is 1113 (666 from hitters/ 447 from pitchers). I want the projected WARs on the same basis as what they will be for the actual season so the above WARs were adjusted (570/666 for hitters and 430/447 for pitchers). This is what the adjust 2024 WAR table looks like.

Adj 2024 WAR

The projected postseason teams are again shown in blue.


Projected WAR Improvement


So, who improved the most over their 2023 WAR and how did the Astros do?

WAR Inc

Currently, the Yankees and the Athletics are projected to have improved the most since last year. If one ignores any financial element in the analysis, the Yankees have won the offseason.


The Yankees revamped their outfield around Judge by trading for Soto and Grisham and Verdugo. They improved their expected OF WAR by a whopping 9.3 WAR and their offense by 12.1 WAR. Their pitching also improved.


The Athletics are projected to improve more organically with their young talent showing improvements and a handful of acquisitions playing like MLB players vs. players that were completely over matched last year.


The Astros are currently projected to lose 1.0 WAR compared to last year. Their losses are spread out as well among the batters (-2.0 WAR) with McCormick, Dubon, and Altuve projected for a combined -3.4 WAR compared to last year. The pitching projects to improve 1.0 WAR with the biggest gains coming from starting pitching.


Division foes Mariners and Rangers are two of the biggest losers in the projected WAR. The Rangers have had significant financial issues with their media rights. The Rays project to have lost over 16 WAR! The Padres have been shedding payroll all offseason and have lost over 10 projected WAR in the process.


The Offseason winners by WAR alone would be the Yankees and the Athletics. I put a grade on each team. The Astros losing 1.0 projected WAR means they grade out a C-. What about the financial aspects of this offseason?


Cost Efficiency


Payroll Costs


As I said in the introduction, an ideal offseason would be extremely cost efficient so that additional improvements can be made. Yes Folks, an MLB owner is rich, but he/she does not have a bottomless pit to spend, well at least most don't. Ideally, a team would add a lot of WAR while cutting the payroll. In reality, we have had teams do the opposite. They have lost WAR while their teams will have to spend a lot more money in 2024. This includes the Astros.


Payroll Increase

Here are the payroll changes 2024 compared to 2023.

You can see the actual payroll numbers in the reference at the end.


The Padres have shed $96M from their 2023 Payroll. The Dodgers have added $66M.


The Astros you may be shocked to learn have added $39M ($201M to $240M) to their actual 2023 Payroll according to the numbers on Fangraphs. Here is the breakdown.


Astros Payroll









Every one of these add up folks. The Astros added $15M to their payroll just to keep their roster as intact as they did. For those who have been screaming that the Astros have been cheap, is adding the SECOND most Payroll in the MLB enough for you to stop this silly narrative?


When you hear me rail on the media for not reporting facts, this is the sort of thing that fuels my frustration.

Here is the truth. The Astros have spent and spent a LOT. The Astros payroll today is only behind the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, and Phillies.


Payroll Efficiency


How should we measure Payroll efficiency in an environment where only some teams are improving and only some teams are adding payroll.


What I propose to do is rank the teams:

  1. The WAR increase shown above- 1 (biggest WAR Increase) to 30 (lowest)

  2. The actual payroll change shown above- 1 (Biggest DECREASE) to 30 (Biggest Increase)

  3. Add the two rankings- shown as "Offseason Rank" in the table below. The lowest number will be the best.


Here is my Offseason Rank:


Full Offseason Rank

Many of the top teams on this list are basically being projected to suck less. Let's filter out teams that are unlikely to compete (2024 Grade of C or less.)


Of the teams competing, here are the offseason rankings.

Competing Rank

I think the top 3 teams here can be said to have had a good offseason.


  • Mets- They have made some strong pitching moves with Manaea and Severino. They also added to the OF with Bader. Baty is projected to fix their 3B woes.

  • Red Sox- Acquiring Grissom helps at 2B, projections have Story playing average vs. poorly part time, O'Neil helps the OF, Giolito helps the pitching. Overall, some good deals.

  • Guardians- Counting on prospects Rocchio and Manzardo. Laureano more PT in 2024. The Guardians made smaller moves that might work.


This methodology is not going to reward the teams that are constantly declared winners. It is going to favor teams that made smart deals that fit their needs.


As you can see the Astros grade poorly in all of these metrics. Why do the Astros grade out so badly?


The Caratini deal was actually one of the best the Astros could make and we showed it at the time.


On the other hand, as I warned in the Hader deal articles (now available here and here to everyone), spending significant resources on RP is probably the worst thing to do from an efficiency standpoint.


The Astros went from spending a combined $14.15M on Neris, Stanek, and Maton in 2023 and they delivered 1.5 WAR. In 2024 they replace that with Hader, Sousa (?), and Martinez (?) spending over $20.5M for a combined projected WAR of 1.4. It does not matter who you pair with Hader in this comparison. It does not change the fact that the Hader deal was a terribly inefficient deal. That does not mean it was a bad deal; but given that was the primary acquisition, it does mean the Astros do not rate well in their offseason.


I know these answers are not what you want to read. I know my definition of winning the offseason is different than most. Maybe my alternate way of thinking will challenge you. Thank you for giving me the chance to share my thoughts.


Here is a more traditional media hype about the postseason.



Reference- These are the actual payroll numbers that comes from FanGraphs.com on each team's payroll page. Link is to the Astros page.

2023 2024 Payrolls

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