On January 2 of last year, MLBTR’s Zach Links looked at the lowest-scoring offenses in the 2014 season and what they had done that winter to improve. In 2015, the five lowest-scoring teams in baseball were the Braves (573 runs), Marlins (613), White Sox (622), Phillies (626) and Reds (640). What’s perhaps most striking about that list in comparison to the five teams Zach profiled (the Padres, Braves, Reds, Rays and Cubs) is that there are more teams than usual simply not acting like improving for the upcoming season is a top priority. The Braves and Phillies headed into the 2015-16 offseason already in the midst of obvious rebuilds; the Reds, having traded Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman this winter, now appear to be close to that status. Meanwhile, the Marlins continue to exist in a state of flux. Only the White Sox have made decisive moves to improve their run-scoring.
It should, perhaps, be noted that many of the top hitters in this winter’s free agent class remain on the market, with Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis and Alex Gordon yet to find new teams. A team looking to upgrade its offense will have more opportunities to do so this month. But with a few exceptions (like the Cardinals, who actually finished 24th in the Majors and 11th in the NL in runs scored with 647 despite winning more regular-season games than any other team), it looks like many of the teams most likely to sign one of those players are teams whose offenses were already good.
With that in mind, though, there are plenty of interesting things even rebuilding teams can do with their offenses, including acquiring prospects and clearing space for young players. So let’s look in on what 2015’s lowest-scoring teams have done this offseason.
- Braves – Atlanta re-signed A.J. Pierzynski and signed Tyler Flowers, giving them a pair of veteran backstops to compensate for the departure of former top prospect Christian Bethancourt, who they shipped to San Diego. They also made a couple small signings of veterans Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio to shore up a shaky infield and bench, and they added a couple hitters via minor league free agency, Nate Freiman and Ryan Lavarnway (actually a re-signing), who could provide a bit of upside. Replacing Andrelton Simmons with Erick Aybar obviously will hurt defensively, but might not make much difference on offense. The Braves’ key move to help their hitting, though, was their trade of Shelby Miller to Arizona for a package that included Ender Inciarte (an already-good outfielder who will likely replace the departed Cameron Maybin if he doesn’t head elsewhere in another trade) and 2015 No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson. If Swanson develops, he could have a profound effect on the Braves’ future offensively.
- Marlins – Miami re-signed Ichiro Suzuki and Jeff Mathis, and has otherwise had a quiet offseason in which it will return many of the hitters it featured last year. That might not be all bad, of course — Giancarlo Stanton only played in 74 games in 2015, and a full season from him would be a huge help. The Marlins’ other two young outfielders, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, were much better in the second half of 2015 in the first, and they (along with Stanton and Dee Gordon) could help anchor a Marlins offense that looks likely to score more runs than it did last year.
- White Sox – The White Sox are, in some ways, this offseason’s equivalent of the 2014-15 Padres — the team taking the most urgent action to address an offense that struggled the previous season. Unlike the Padres, whose series of trades for a bunch of square pegs last winter had a deleterious effect on the franchise, the White Sox’ moves seem to have been well chosen. Chicago’s performances at both second base and third base were among the worst in baseball in 2015, and their deals for Brett Lawrie and especially Frazier were decisive moves to strengthen both positions. The additions of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro perhaps weren’t as dramatic or as likely to be effective, but those players will provide help at another position at which the White Sox struggled. The team has shown at least some interest in many of the top free agent bats available this offseason, and it could also still potentially use a shortstop.
- Phillies – Philadelphia’s main moves this offseason (such as their trade of Ken Giles for a package that included Vincent Velasquez and Mark Appel, and their deals for rotation-filling pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hellickson) have mostly been oriented around pitching, but they’ve made a few small moves that could help their offense as well. Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, selected from the Rays with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, could potentially provide a bit of help. Waiver claim Peter Bourjos should figure in their outfield plans as well, although he’s not likely to hit much.
- Reds – Cincinnati hasn’t made any big-league signings this offseason, and the defining moves of their winter have been their trades of Frazier and Chapman, which have returned two grab bags of young players. Jose Peraza, the key to the Frazier deal, could collect plenty of at-bats for the Reds in 2016, particularly if the team is ever able to deal Brandon Phillips, but Peraza is a light hitter who figures to make most of his offensive impact with his speed. Scott Schebler, a lefty-hitting outfielder acquired in that same deal, could help somewhat, although his upside appears to be limited. The prospect from the Chapman trade most likely to help the Reds’ offense in 2016 is third baseman Eric Jagielo, although he hasn’t yet played at the Triple-A level and might not reach Cincinnati until late in the season. In the Rule 5 Draft, the Reds grabbed Jake Cave, another lefty-hitting outfielder; he did not hit well at Double-A last year and doesn’t seem like a great bet to add much offense, at least not right away. The Reds don’t look to have improved their offense enough to compensate for Frazier’s departure. They are, however, in an earlier stage of rebuilding or re-tooling than the Braves or Phillies are (or perhaps they’ve just approached it somewhat less aggressively). They should also benefit next season from better health — having Devin Mesoraco behind the dish could make a big difference.