As the postseason picture gets clearer, so, too, does our vantage point of all that transpired last winter.
By now, we are well-groomed to the notion that it is not always the most high-profile swaps and signings (read: the Josh Hamilton contract and the Blue Jays' dramatic retooling) that pay the biggest dividends, at least in the immediate.
Sure enough, last winter's savviest transactions, in retrospect, include several moves that were more shrewd than standout. And though not all of those moves involved eventual contenders (the Cubs, for instance, made a nice bargain pickup in Nate Schierholtz, and the Mets did likewise with Marlon Byrd ), the ones that did get the most credit here.
These were the top 10 moves -- blockbuster or otherwise -- of 2012-13:
10. The Orioles' re-signing of Nate McLouth
Maybe a re-signing of a player who has already contributed can be considered a no-brainer, but let's be honest: Nobody knew whether McLouth's contributions to the 2012 playoff run (.268 average, .777 OPS) were a fluke, considering the years of poor production that preceded them. The O's figured he was worth a $2 million shot, and McLouth has held up his end of the bargain, posting a .262/.335/.400 slash line predominantly out of the leadoff spot and stealing 30 bases. Nothing flashy here. Just a good, solid investment on the part of the O's.
9. The A's trade for Jed Lowrie
When the A's dealt Chris Carter to Houston for Lowrie shortly before the start of Spring Training, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. Oakland seemed somewhat secure in the middle infield, particularly after signing Hiroyuki Nakajima. Turns out, Nakajima has not played a game in the bigs this season, and Lowrie, who had never logged more than 97 games in a single season, has stayed healthy and productive, often batting in the A's No. 3 spot in recent weeks. He does not have the slickest glove or the biggest bat, but Lowrie has been steady, putting up the third-highest WAR among AL shortstops this season.
8. The Dodgers' signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu
It was a mere 20 hours after the ink dried on Zack Greinke's six-year, $147 million deal (which, of course, is also worthy of this list) when the Dodgers wrapped up negotiations with Ryu, the Korean left-hander posted by the Hanwha Eagles. You never know exactly how a player like Ryu will translate to the Majors, so the $36 million contract (plus a posting fee in excess of $25 million) was quite risky. But Ryu, with a 13-7 record and 3.03 ERA, has transitioned seamlessly and become a key cog in a devastatingly good rotation.
7. The Reds' trade for Shin-Soo Choo
It was a complicated three-way swap that has yet to pay big dividends for Cleveland (Trevor Bauer did not even merit a September callup) or Arizona (Didi Gregorius has been slick with the glove, as advertised, but still has a ways to go offensively). The Reds made the trade based solely on the immediate, knowing Choo could walk in free agency. It has proved to be a trade worth making, as Choo and his .426 on-base percentage have firmly filled what was the most glaring hole in the Cincinnati lineup.
6. The Red Sox's signing of Shane Victorino
It looked pretty perilous, did it not? The prevailing wisdom was that 32-year-old outfielders coming off a .667 OPS in a contract year are probably not going to age particularly well, and so Boston's three-year, $39 million commitment was seen as steep. Nine months later, the Red Sox have not only returned to respectability but to the ranks of the elite, and Victorino, with a 6.0 WAR, is a huge reason why.
Honorable mention for the Red Sox: The Mike Napoli signing, which took a long time to hammer out because of his hip condition but has reaped major offensive rewards.
5. The Rays' trade for Wil Myers
Look, you figured this would one day wind up looking like a heck of a trade for the Rays. They might take a short-term step back in the rotation with the loss of James Shields' 200 bankable innings, you figured, but Myers would eventually blossom into a stud in the heart of the order. What we did not know was how quickly Myers, the odds-on AL Rookie of the Year, would take to this level. In fact, not only has he avoided the September slag one might expect from a guy in his first Major League season, he has outright carried the Rays offensively in their playoff push, with a 1.089 OPS.
Honorable mention for the Rays: The James Loney signing, which was particularly helpful in the first half.
4. The Indians' trade for Yan Gomes
The Tribe's surge from 94 losses to Wild Card contention is the product of a few surprising developments, such as Scott Kazmir's strong comeback from independent ball and Ryan Raburn's rebirth on the bench. But nothing has affected the Indians' bottom line quite as much their November swap with Toronto for Mike Aviles, with Gomes thrown in. All it cost the Indians was former waiver-wire bullpen pickup Esmil Rogers, and it netted them a versatile and valuable bench player in Aviles and, as it turns out, a productive and defensively dependable starting catcher in Gomes. Entering Thursday, Gomes had thrown out 37.2 percent of opposing baserunners and helped coax a 3.72 ERA out of the pitching staff. The Indians were 40-30 in games started by Gomes.
3. The Royals' trade for Ervin Santana
It took a lot of guts to give up Myers in the trade centered on Shields, though there is no question that Shields' arrival made a major impact on the professionalism and poise of that Royals' rotation. Still, the best move the Royals made was for Santana, who had looked like a lost cause in Anaheim. In exchange for cold, hard cash and a 28-year-old Triple-A left-hander who wound up needing Tommy John surgery (Brandon Sisk), the Royals right-hander has gone 9-9 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.143 WHIP and, as an added bonus, cooks up a mean Dominican meal.
2. The Braves' trade for Chris Johnson
All right, fine, this is, officially, the Justin Upton trade. And Upton, aside from a rough May and June, has been the pivotal middle-of-the-order bat the Braves expected he would be. But as good as the trade with Arizona looked at the time the Braves made it, it is even better now that we have seen the way Johnson has vied for the batting title and made Atlanta's hot corner transition from the Chipper Jones era a surprisingly seamless one. Fredi Gonzalez has used Johnson all over the order, and he has been a steady contributor toward the best record in the National League.
1. The Pirates' signing of Francisco Liriano
I remember standing in the Pirates' clubhouse on the first day of Spring Training camp, listening to Liriano tell the story of how he broke his right arm trying to pull a Christmas morning prank on his kids and, reflecting on the frustrating turns his once-bright career had taken, thinking, "You know, this might not turn out extraordinarily well." Boy, was I wrong. Liriano healed up in time to become what I think was, in retrospect, the wiliest signing of the offseason -- one that has played a major role in the Buccos' breakthrough. If they find themselves in the do-or-die of the one-game playoff, you could make a pretty strong argument that Liriano, possessor of a 16-7 record and 2.92 ERA, ought to be the one getting the ball. And by the way, the Russell Martin signing has turned out pretty well, too. You don't erase 20 years of bad luck by accident.