The Mets sent a jolt through the baseball world by
The two clubs have lit up the Hot Stove, and they’ve been the biggest stories in baseball. So the question is: Who’s winning the offseason so far?
Let’s break it down into two categories: potential impact on the field, and overall shock value.
Padres: We had the privilege of watching a Dodgers-Padres National League Division Series last October, and you’re not alone if you got the feeling these two clubs will be battling at the top of the NL West for years to come. The Dodgers showed why they’re the defending eight-time division champs. But fast-forward a couple of months and add former American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and 2020 NL Cy Young Award runner-up Yu Darvish to San Diego’s rotation. Oh, and we can’t forget that the Padres also won the Ha-Seong Kim sweepstakes.
How much closer does this bring the Padres to the World Series champs? We obviously can’t know until the 2021 season plays out, but if we’re already talking about a club that had a legitimate shot last year to become the first team other than the Dodgers to win the NL West since 2012, it’s pretty clear these teams are not far apart. Last season, San Diego swung a deal with Cleveland to acquire Mike Clevinger for the stretch run, but he’ll be out for the 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Well, the Padres certainly made up for that loss and then some with their recent moves.
After his Cy Young Award campaign in 2018, when he posted a 1.89 ERA and 32 percent strikeout rate, Snell struggled to a 4.29 mark in an injury-shortened ’19, when he had to undergo elbow surgery. But he bounced back in the abbreviated ’20 campaign, finishing with a 3.24 ERA and 31 percent K rate over 11 starts. He then worked in and out of trouble through the first three rounds of the postseason before turning in a sterling performance in Game 6 of the World Series, yielding one run and striking out nine Dodgers over 5 1/3 innings for the Rays. And Snell just turned 28 last month.
Darvish was as good as he’s ever been in 2020, pitching to a 2.01 ERA (221 ERA+) while fanning 31 percent of the batters he faced over 12 starts. The right-hander owns a career 3.47 ERA in eight MLB seasons, and there’s no reason to think he won’t pick right back up where he left off when he takes the mound in a Padres uniform.
Kim can play all around the infield, but was mostly a shortstop in seven Korea Baseball Organization seasons (he’s still only 25 years old). He had a huge 2020 with the Kiwoom Heroes, slashing .306/.397/.523 with 30 home runs and 23 steals in 138 games. Acquiring Kim was, of all things, a very Dodgers-esque move — he’s likely going to be deployed as a super-utility player.
The Dodgers, for their part, have been rumored to be in the mix for some big names, but have yet to make a major move this offseason. Of course, they are the defending champs, and the Friars’ aggressiveness isn’t necessarily causing anyone to lose sleep in L.A. Still, San Diego has moved significantly closer to Los Angeles, and we’re not talking geography.
Mets: The Braves have won three consecutive NL East titles, and the Nationals are only a season removed from winning the World Series. But they’ll be stepping right up to greet some new Mets in 2021, specifically a pair that may very well shift the balance of power in the East. Lindor is one of the best shortstops in the game, and Carrasco has the stuff to be a sleeper Cy Young Award candidate year-in and year-out.
They call Lindor “Mr. Smile,” and he just brought a smile to the face of countless Mets fans in Queens and beyond. The 27-year-old shortstop is entering the final year of his current contract, but an extension to stay in New York certainly isn’t far-fetched, particularly if the club makes a deep postseason run in ’21. He’s won two Gold Glove Awards and a Platinum Glove Award, owns a career .833 OPS and hit 30-plus homers in each year from 2017-19 before launching eight in last year’s shortened campaign.
Carrasco joins a rotation that already features Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard (though he’ll be out until midseason due to Tommy John surgery) and Marcus Stroman. Outside a 2019 campaign in which he missed a big chunk of the season undergoing treatment for leukemia before making an inspirational return to the mound in September, Carrasco hasn’t posted an ERA above 3.63 since he became a full-time starter in 2015. He was stellar in 12 starts last year, finishing with a 2.91 ERA (157 ERA+) and 29 percent strikeout rate. With him in the fold, the Mets have bolstered a rotation that entered the offseason with a lot of question marks, now with three ace-caliber starters at the front.
Like the Dodgers and most other teams so far, the Braves have had a relatively quiet offseason, though they did make a big move to add veteran depth to a loaded young starting rotation by signing Charlie Morton.
Edge: Padres. This is a tough call because the Mets made big strides viz-a-viz the Braves in one fell swoop Thursday. But while New York added two impact players, including one to bolster the starting rotation, San Diego transformed its starting staff with two elite arms. Its rotation stacks up well with the Dodgers’ group — we can’t forget about Dinelson Lamet (2.09 ERA in 12 starts last year) and Chris Paddack (a season removed from a 3.33 ERA over 26 starts as a rookie).
Last season, the Padres’ rotation was third in baseball with a 3.46 ERA, behind the Dodgers’ 3.29 and the Indians’ 3.17. But San Diego’s staff had a better FIP, at 3.71 to the Dodgers’ 4.11. With the offseason additions, it’s not crazy to suggest San Diego’s group might even be slightly better than the defending World Series champs’.
Padres: General manager A.J. Preller had an incredibly prolific calendar year in 2020, right up through the very last day. Preller and company showed just how committed they are to winning, and winning now with their flurry of big splashes. San Diego was the first team to truly light the Hot Stove, so there are major points for that when it comes to shock value. And the Padres were already the darlings of the NL, a fun group of young players led by the most exciting player in the game — Fernando Tatis Jr. Building even more around him and Manny Machado raised a lot of eyebrows and ramped up anticipation of the NL West race in 2021.
Mets: From Day 1 of new owner Steve Cohen’s administration in Queens, it was clear the Mets were going to be major players this offseason. And somehow Cohen and Co. still managed to send shockwaves across baseball with the acquisition of Lindor and Carrasco on Thursday. A big reason why may be that while it wouldn’t surprise us if the Padres were done with big moves this offseason, it certainly would surprise us if the Mets were. It is anticipated that Thursday’s blockbuster was just the beginning for the makeover taking place in Queens.
Edge: Mets. It’s the Big Apple. The lights are brighter and the stage is bigger. The Yankees have owned that town for several years now, and suddenly their brothers from another borough are flexing. The Mets-Yankees dynamic, combined with the first significant move of the Cohen era makes New York’s acquisition of Lindor and Carrasco of higher shock value than the Padres’ big moves out west, though that’s not to take away from the significance of San Diego’s aggressiveness.
But there’s still a long way to go
It’s still early January in an offseason unlike any other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So there’s still a long way to go and many moves to come around baseball. That could certainly change the calculus here, and it’ll be fun to see what comes next.
The Mets are reportedly trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold this year, but haven’t ruled out big spending on free agents — George Springer has been the name that has popped up the most in connection with the Mets, but they’re a wild card in free agency with their new ownership, so anything seems possible.
While the Padres have already packed an entire offseason worth of activity into three days in late December, more maneuvers from San Diego aren’t out of the question. Preller has surprised us too many times for us to count him out.
So happy Hot Stove season — the heat was just turned way up.