Spring training is a time for eternal optimism among all 30 MLB clubs, but none more so than for these five teams who did the most to get better this offseason
Players began filtering into spring training sites last week after a tumultuous offseason of scandal and big moves.
The sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox was a black mark on the league’s integrity and threatened to overshadow everything teams were doing to make a run for the World Series in 2020. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any deals making headlines.
Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, two players who were integral to their clubs facing off in the Fall Classic last October, are now on different teams. A former MVP still in the prime of his career was traded away for prospects. And the Chicago White Sox, a middling team for much of the past decade, may have been the club that did the most to change their fortunes for the upcoming season.
Here are the five teams that improved the most this offseason.
New York Yankees
With the 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft, the New York Yankees took a hard-throwing right-hander from a California high school. Gerrit Cole grew up as a diehard Yankees fan and now had the chance to join his favorite organization. But he spurned the Yankees in order to attend UCLA.
Eleven years later, the Yankees had another chance to acquire Cole and this time were determined not to let him get away, signing him to a nine-year, $324 million deal in December. Cole was just a high school prospect the first time the Yankees tried to get him; he finally joins the club as one of the premier pitchers in the game coming off a record-breaking season.
Cole led the American League with a 2.50 ERA in 2019 while pitching for the Houston Astros, finishing second in Cy Young Award voting behind teammate Justin Verlander. His 326 strikeouts were the most by a right-hander since Nolan Ryan in 1977. His strikeouts per nine innings rate of 13.8 was the highest by a starting pitcher in history. He reached double-digit strikeouts in each of his last nine starts during the regular season; no pitcher ever had a streak that long. And he joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers to strike out at least 14 batters in three straight games.
The Yankees won 103 games in 2019 and advanced to the ALCS without Cole; with him, they head into the 2020 season as clear favorites in the AL to get to the World Series. He joins a Yankees rotation that finished in the middle of the pack last season in ERA. They also get back Luis Severino for a full season after he missed all but three starts in 2019. The Yankees’ path to winning their division even got easier because of a deal they had nothing to do with, the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts and David Price in a cost-cutting move.
The Yankees ended the last decade without a World Series appearance for the first time in a century. With Cole at the top of their rotation, they’re due to start off the new decade right.