MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Top 5 difference-makers to change teams

Top 5 difference-makers to change teams

Every offseason, teams attempt to fill holes. Sometimes the name doesn't make as much of a splash as the player does later on, and maybe that's the secret to the whole thing.

For example, the Red Sox didn't know they were getting a future Hall of Famer when they signed David Ortiz in 2003, and the Cubs didn't know they were getting a cornerstone when they traded for Anthony Rizzo in 2012.

But some difference-making players changed teams this offseason. While it may take a few years to truly grade those moves, there are players that clearly have the ability to significantly impact a franchise in the short term and/or long term.

How has each MLB club changed for 2017?

Here's my top five:

1. Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox
This is the kind of trade that can win a team a World Series. To get a dominant 27-year-old left-hander gives the Red Sox more of an October look than they already had. Sale's 5.2 Wins Above Replacement was tied for fifth best among all Major League pitchers in 2016. In five seasons since moving into the White Sox rotation, he put up a 1.06 WHIP and a 3.04 ERA -- sixth and fifth among all Major League starters. In that time, Sale has averaged 203 innings and 227 strikeouts. He's also under team control through 2019, which is why the Red Sox had to give up Yoan Moncada (the No. 2 prospect in baseball), among others, to get him.

Outlook: Sale, SP, BOS

2. Dexter Fowler, CF, Cardinals
Fowler is a perfect fit with his new team in upgrading the defense and adding an impressive on-base presence (.393 OBP in 2016, .373 since the start of 2012). In an offseason in which Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak focused on steering his team back to pitching and defense, Fowler is a tremendously sensible addition.

3. Edwin Encarnacion, DH/1B, Indians
Encarnacion adds a presence that could have an impact up and down a lineup that scored 777 runs -- second most in the American League -- last season. He averaged 39 home runs in his five seasons in Toronto and twice hit 42, including last season. With left fielder Michael Brantley back from an injury and shortstop Francisco Lindor now a franchise-type player, the Indians may not match Boston's 878 runs last season. But they've definitely closed the gap.

4. Jean Segura, SS, Mariners
Segura's 2016 season was overlooked at times because the D-backs weren't in contention. But he finished 13th in National League MVP Award voting, with a season that included an NL-best 203 hits, a .368 OBP and a 5.0 WAR. Segura was one of the top defensive second basemen in the game, but he will move back to his natural position with the Mariners. Having him in front of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz will improve a lineup that scored 768 runs and makes Seattle a bit more October ready.

Outlook: Segura, 2B/SS, SEA

5. Carlos Beltran, RF/DH, Astros
Beltran has just about constructed a Hall of Fame resume, but that's a conversation for another time. For now, the Astros are thrilled to add his .850 OPS to a lineup that had too many holes. Beltran also brings an impressive postseason resume (55 games, 1.078 OPS) and the reputation of being one of the most respected players in the game to a lineup of young stars like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.

Also in the conversation: Giants closer Mark Melancon, Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond, Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe, Rays catcher Wilson Ramos, Mariners left-hander Drew Smyly.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.