Jim Duquette

Creativity accounts for 3 teams' upgrades

Despite flying under the radar, Yankees, Mariners and Blue Jays fortified their rosters

Creativity accounts for 3 teams' upgrades

With much of the attention being doled out to the teams who spent the most money, several clubs have had really good below-the-radar offseasons. While the three teams below have refrained from chasing big-name free agents, they are positioned to contend in 2016 -- thanks to a number of wise offseason moves.

Amazingly, the Yankees are the one team that has not signed a Major League free agent this offseason. Instead, they have taken a more cost-effective route to roster building, with an eye on assembling a more youthful and financially flexible club. In a pair of trades, general manager Brian Cashman acquired two All-Star-caliber players who are under the age of 28: Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman.

Hot Stove Tracker

Castro is coming off a down season, but he is just one year removed from making the National League All-Star team and is still just 25 years old. After making the transition to second base with the Cubs late last season, Castro should provide an offensive upgrade at that spot for the Yanks -- who recorded the third-worst batting average (.223) in the Majors at that position in 2015.

Yankees acquire Castro

Although Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances delivered dominant campaigns in New York's bullpen, manager Joe Girardi had few relief options he could consistently trust aside from that pair. Chapman should change that. The left-hander has made the NL All-Star team in each of the past four seasons, using unrivaled velocity and a dazzling slider to record a 1.90 ERA with a 16.1 K/9 rate during that span.

With an exceptional relief corps to help take the pressure off a talented but injury-plagued rotation, the Yankees should continue to be a force in the American League East.

The Mariners' struggles were well documented in 2015 -- with an injury-riddled rotation, an inconsistent bullpen and a low-scoring offense, they finished 76-86. New general manager Jerry Dipoto told me recently that joining the front office for the final two weeks of last season made a huge difference in understanding the Mariners' roster and creating the blueprint for a frenetic offseason in which he has dramatically revamped the roster.

By trading for Nathan Karns, Wade Miley and Joaquin Benoit, signing Steve Cishek and re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma, Dipoto has assembled a deeper pitching staff than Seattle had a year ago. Along with the additions of Leonys Martin, Adam Lind, Nori Aoki and Chris Iannetta, the Mariners could boast a much-improved offense in 2016.

Mad Dog, Divish on Mariners

Although any major overhaul like that comes with concerns about team chemistry, Seattle's main core -- Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez -- is still in place and should help to smooth the transition.

With the roster Dipoto has built, the Mariners are primed to compete in an AL West the Rangers captured with 88 victories a season ago.

Blue Jays
David Price departed as a free agent, but the rotation is prepared to absorb that major loss.

Even though Marcus Stroman missed most of last season with a torn left ACL and Price made just 11 starts with the club, the Blue Jays still registered the fifth-best rotation ERA (3.96) in the AL. Marco Estrada was a big reason why, as he ranked fifth in the league with a 3.13 ERA. Coming off that terrific performance, Estrada was re-signed and should serve as the No. 2 starter behind Stroman.

LaCava on re-signing Estrada

Toronto also picked up R.A. Dickey's club option, signed J.A. Happ and traded for Jesse Chavez, so it has assembled a good deal of rotation depth. Though the acquisition of Drew Storen was made primarily to augment the bullpen, the transaction could potentially impact the rotation by freeing up Aaron Sanchez to start.

Given the Blue Jays' stellar offense and quality defense, these pitching moves should allow the club to remain in contention for a second straight AL East crown -- even with Price pitching for the Red Sox.

Jim Duquette is an analyst for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.