The Christmas holiday marks the midpoint of the baseball offseason. In fact, given an initial spring training reporting date of Feb. 13 for pitchers and catchers, the recent Dec. 25 respite neatly splits the hot stove season perfectly in two. We’re a week past that now, so we are officially on the downslope toward the return of big league baseball.
So how is everyone doing?
The real grades for each team are “incomplete” because there is so much left to do. We don’t know the outcome of the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dramas yet, and both of those players represent five-win swings for some bold team. Key free agents such as A.J. Pollock, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Yasmani Grandal also are unsigned. Key trade candidates such as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto remain in limbo.
All of this is to say that the story of the 2018-19 baseball offseason has not quite been written. But the landscape of the majors already looks a little different than it did when the season ended on Oct. 30 with the Red Sox’s World Series-clinching win over the Dodgers. Which brings us to the return of my monthly Stock Watch — a thematic glimpse at how things have changed since the last time we checked in.
Today, we are ranking teams by how much their 2019 outlook has changed since the end of the season. There is a lot that goes into this assessment. What players have been lost? What players have been acquired? What players who finished 2018 on the disabled list will be back? How will players improve, decline or regress from their 2018 performance? In the comments for each team, I’ll note the key drivers of the team’s measurement.
The data behind the rankings are a combination of my roster rankings as they stood at the close of the 2018 regular season, along with the Steamer projections from fangraphs.com, as they stood through Jan. 2. Teams are listed in order based on the change in their 2019 forecast since the end of the 2018 campaign, though their current forecast and overall standing in baseball’s hierarchy also is noted.
1. Washington Nationals
Change: Gain of 7.4 wins
Current forecast: 93.7 wins (2019 rank: 6 | 2018 final rank: 10)
The two biggest “losses” on the board right now are Bryce Harper for the Nationals and Manny Machado for the Dodgers. Machado’s loss is more than offset by the “return” of Corey Seager from injury, so the Dodgers are good there. However, the Nationals have no such star returning from the DL, so how does this ranking come to pass?
Well, first of all, the Harper loss is pending — it’s entirely possible that he returns to the fold in Washington, which would make the Nats the overwhelming winner of the hot stove league. But the thing is, they might be that already. Washington leads the offseason in WAR gained thanks to the aggressive acquisitions of Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, along with Howie Kendrick‘s and Sean Doolittle‘s return from injury.
On top of that, let’s not forget how badly the Nationals performed in relation to their preseason projections in 2018. Take a number of key spots of regression and a projected second-year improvement from star rookie Juan Soto and — voila! — what projected as a problematic offseason for Washington could turn out to be a major triumph.