After missing postseason in 2014, several teams counting on new acquisitions to get over hump
By John Schlegel
An entirely new outfield and a veteran ace starter is a huge haul for any offseason, so there's no denying that the San Diego Padres enter Spring Training with the mythical award for the winter's biggest movers and shakers -- the champions of change, if you will. But the Padres weren't alone in juggling things heading into 2015, and all those transactions on paper are becoming reality on the field with players making their way to camps this week and next.
Sure, nobody has as many significant uniform changes as the Padres, who brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers via trades to create a new outfield, and brought in free-agent starter James Shields to upgrade the top end of an already promising rotation. This offseason, the Friars stood out for making moves and turning heads.
"We've had an offseason that made headlines," first-year general manager A.J. Preller said recently.
Whether they make headway in the National League West after the dust settles remains to be seen, and the Padres have plenty of company when it comes to heading to Spring Training with new faces on the roster and a renewed sense of confidence that fortunes are on the upswing.
Here are a few of the clubs that made the most out of offseason changes they hope will be for the better in 2015:
Chicago White Sox
That will be lifelong Sox fan Jeff Samardzija getting comfortable in the black and white as the South Siders report to camp on Friday, and the big right-hander is just one of the stars who are heading to Glendale, Ariz., to join a team hoping to be on the move in the American League Central.
A team that already had an AL Rookie of the Year Award-winning hitting phenom Jose Abreu and AL Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale did nothing but improve this offseason, bringing in closer David Robertson and bolstering the lineup with Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche also changing into Sox gear this offseason. The White Sox are thinking big after finishing 16 games under .500 last year, thanks to an offseason of change.
The team that kept it close to .500 through much of the season behind a NL MVP Award-caliber performance by Giancarlo Stanton aims to take the next step with some impact players brought in this offseason. Dee Gordon will be creating runs from the top of the lineup, and ostensibly RBI opportunities for Stanton, while Michael Morse will be brought in to help protect the franchise.
On top of that, Mat Latos was added to a rotation that hopes to have 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jose Fernandez back before the All-Star break, and veterans Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado and Dan Haren are also new to the Marlins' fold. Change is nothing new to Miami in recent years, and these changes are turning some heads entering 2015.
Toronto Blue Jays
Another team that hasn't been shy about making changes in recent years but hasn't reaped the benefits yet, the Blue Jays brought in All-Star talent in third baseman Josh Donaldson and proud Canadian catcher Russell Martin during their offseason haul in hopes of finding some traction in the AL East race this summer. With a solid foundation already, these moves could push the Jays over the top, or so they hope.
Right next door to the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex: the Mariners, who upped their high expectations after a strong 2014 season by adding a true power hitter for the heart of the lineup. Nelson Cruz brings his boomstick to the Pacific Northwest, where the addition of Robinson Cano the year before had the desired effect of putting the Mariners back into contending mode. With other additions like left-hander J.A. Happ and outfielder Seth Smith, the Mariners are looking for a bump in the rough-and-tumble AL West.
By snagging top-flight lefty Jon Lester off the free-agent market, the Cubs took the next big step toward getting back into the thick of things in the NL Central, and they hope into October. Whether that year is this year remains to be seen, but this was a big offseason in Wrigleyville. The Cubs also brought in Miguel Montero for veteran presence behind the plate and Joe Maddon for his unique brand of leadership from the top step of the dugout.
Boston Red Sox
The championship cha-cha-cha of one step forward, one step back and, they hope, one step forward has the Red Sox an intriguing team to watch this Spring Training. With the changes showing up in person at Fort Myers, Fla., third baseman Pablo Sandoval already filled out his Red Sox uniform, and Hanley Ramirez will be preparing to guard the Green Monster. Also adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to the rotation, the Sox are hoping to boomerang right back into contention this year.
Those are just a handful of the teams that took the opportunity this offseason to embrace change. They all obviously did it so they will improve their 2015 over how things went in 2014.
Now, finally, those changes are taking shape on the fields of Arizona and Florida.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.