The Dodgers might be kings of the NL, but their closest competition (literally) isn’t far.
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and first-half awards already shipped off to their humble recipients, we’ve officially entered the stretch run of the 2020 season. If that feels like an abrupt shift from “still feeling things out” to “it’s gut-check time,” that’s OK—there are a little more than three weeks left to go, though we’ve only completed about six weeks of baseball, which normally would be right around the time trends are starting to carry more weight.
This juncture feels like as good a time as any to look back to the not-so-distant offseason and evaluate each club’s most impactful acquisition. Some were costly, while others came from the discount aisle, though all of the following newcomers have played key roles in his team’s success to this point.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates (Last Week: 30)
It is extremely slim pickings here. Reliever Sam Howard, whom the Pirates claimed off waivers from Colorado, is the default choice after registering a 2.63 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
29. Boston Red Sox (Last Week: 29)
Alex Verdugo has enjoyed a breakout year in his first opportunity at everyday playing time. He leads the Red Sox in fWAR (1.5), stolen bases (three) and runs scored (26). Red Sox fans—if the manner in which Verdugo was acquired disqualifies him for consideration, please consider Phillips Valdez, who was claimed off waivers from the Rangers and has thrown 21 innings in 14 games with a 0.86 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
28. Texas Rangers (Last Week: 27)
Reliever Joely Rodriguez has been a revelation after spending the past year and a half pitching in Japan. The hard-throwing lefty has a 2.25 ERA in 11 outings this season, with 17 strikeouts and no home runs allowed in 12 innings.
27. Los Angeles Angels (Last Week: 28)
Dylan Bundy is sporting a 2.47 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 43 2/3 innings. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his seven starts this season, with just four homers allowed.
26. Kansas City Royals (Last Week: 26)
The Royals’ most impactful acquisition is no longer on the team: former closer Trevor Rosenthal, who signed a minor league deal this past offseason and was traded to the Padres before the trade deadline. In between, he saved seven games for Kansas City with a 3.29 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
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25. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 23)
Like the Royals, Arizona traded away its best offseason addition in outfielder Starling Marte. The Diamondbacks certainly couldn’t have imagined trading Marte to the Marlins this season after acquiring him from the Pirates in January. But in a season that’s quickly gone awry, Marte led the team in batting average (.311), runs scored (23) and stolen bases (5) while providing above-average defense in center field.
24. Seattle Mariners (Last Week: 25)
For a rebuilding Seattle team, hitting on a few lottery tickets helps shorten its path to contention. Left-handed starting pitcher Nick Marevicius fits the bill. The 24-year-old was claimed off waivers from San Diego in January and has pitched in seven games with four starts, posting a 3.86 ERA over 25 2/3 innings. Even if his ceiling is that of a back-end starter, his sustained success would be a boon for a Seattle rotation that ranks 27th in ERA (5.38).
23. Washington Nationals (Last Week: 18)
Save for Anthony Rendon, the Nationals got the band back together to defend their World Series title. It, uh, hasn’t exactly worked out so far. Starlin Castro, one of the few new stage hands, was performing like a league-average bat before breaking his wrist a couple weeks ago. He’s signed through next year on a $12 million deal.
22. Baltimore Orioles (Last Week: 22)
José Iglesias has always been a magician defensively, and any value he provided with his bat was merely a bonus. Through 87 plate appearances, that bat has produced at a delirious clip: .405/.414/.548. His 40.5% hard-hit rate indicates his strides at the dish aren’t entirely a fluke, either. With a prorated salary of less than $1 million, he’s been among the best bargains in the game.
21. Milwaukee Brewers (Last Week: 21)
The Brewers dramatically revamped their roster after a heart-wrenching wild-card loss to the eventual champions, but don’t have much to show for it as nearly all of their additions have failed to live up to expectations. Jedd Gyorko is the exception, as the veteran infielder has provided some pop in a part-time role after signing a $2 million deal.
20. New York Mets (Last Week: 19)
Brodie Van Wagenen bookmarked $23.5 million in one-year deals for Rick Porcello, Dellin Betances and Michael Wacha … and the trio has combined for a 7.82 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. New York’s embattled GM did, however, unearth a gem in minor league signing Chasen Shreve. The 30-year-old lefty leads all Mets relievers with 17 2/3 innings and a shiny 2.04 ERA.
19. Cincinnati Reds (Last Week: 17)
Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas signed identical four-year, $64 million contracts with the Reds this offseason, and Castellanos has adjusted to Cincinnati far better than his fellow slugger. His 10 home runs and eight doubles lead the team, and his .894 OPS is second-best behind breakout designated hitter Jesse Winker. That being said, Castellanos has just one home run since Aug. 19 and is batting a career-worst .246 after a recent slump. The Reds could use some more of what he showed in Chicago last season to jump into the playoff picture.
18. Detroit Tigers (Last Week: 24)
The Tigers are surging of late, having won six of their past seven games to move to the edge of the American League playoff picture. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who signed a one-year, $6.1 million deal with Detroit in the offseason, has been key during that stretch, batting .400/.500/.640 with two homers and eight RBI in that span. Schoop leads the Tigers in most offensive categories and has been a savior for a team that ranked last in second base fWAR in 2019 (-0.8) with a combined slash line of .238/.270/.380.
17. Colorado Rockies (Last Week: 13)
The Rockies managed to alienate the face of the franchise during the offseason with their lack of activity, and after an encouraging start, their results are starting to closer reflect the 91-loss squad from 2019. Daniel Bard’s ascension from retirement to non-roster invitee to the closer’s role has been a nice story, though.
16. San Francisco Giants (Last Week: 20)
Wilmer Flores is showing his mini-breakout in Arizona last season was no fluke, as the 28-year-old has settled into a utility role while slashing .291/.331/.520 for a career-best .851 OPS. Having signed with San Francisco for just $6.25 million over two years with a $3.5 million club option for 2022, Flores seems primed to be a low-cost bat over the course of that contract.
15. Miami Marlins (Last Week: 16)
Miami has revitalized the careers of several relievers who were picked up off the scrap heap, including Brad Boxberger, Josh Smith and Brandon Kintzler, who’s converted all eight of his save opportunities. But Jesús Aguilar is the pick here even as he’s tapered off a bit as of late. The former All-Star leads the team with 20 RBI after keeping the team’s offense afloat while it endured its coronavirus outbreak.
14. St. Louis Cardinals (Last Week: 13)
It’s a tough call here between Brad Miller (one year, $2 million) and Kwang Hyun Kim (two years, $8 million). Miller has knocked the cover off the ball while splitting time between third base and DH. His 1.131 OPS trails only Juan Soto among players with at least 80 plate appearances. Kim has come over from South Korea and quietly compiled MLB’s lowest ERA (0.83 ERA) among pitchers with at least 20 innings, having not allowed a run since joining the rotation four turns ago.
13. Toronto Blue Jays (Last Week: 14)
Of the team’s 21 (!) starters last year, just three of them reached the 100-inning threshold and Trent Thornton was the team leader with 139 1/3 innings pitched. With an obvious problem in need of addressing, Toronto signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million deal, and he’s been every bit as good as advertised. He’s given up one earned run or fewer in his last six starts, and has put up a 2.72 ERA with 48 strikeouts over 43 innings so far.
12. Philadelphia Phillies (Last Week: 15)
Zack Wheeler’s five-year, $118 million contract raised some eyebrows in the offseason after he never quite fulfilled his potential in New York. But the rival Phillies bet they could get him there, and with Wheeler boasting a 2.20 ERA through seven starts despite his career-worst strikeout rate (5.8 K/9), it’s hard to argue otherwise.
11. Chicago Cubs (Last Week: 10)
The Cubs spent no more than $1 million on any free agent this offseason, but that didn’t stop them from signing reliever Jeremy Jeffress to a one-year, $850,000 pact. He’s been worth far more than that as the glue holding together Chicago’s bullpen with a 0.80 WHIP, .104 batting average against and zero home runs allowed in 15 innings.
10. Houston Astros (Last Week: 11)
Houston had a quiet offseason, so we’re bending the rules a bit to highlight Martin Maldonado, who’s been Houston’s steady, unsung hero all season. The Astros traded for him at the deadline in 2019, then chose to re-sign him in free agency in December. Always lauded for his defensive abilities, he’s been an asset in the batter’s box this season. Maldonado’s batting .272/.416/.457 in 103 plate appearances, upping his walk rate to 18.4%.
9. Chicago White Sox (Last Week: 9)
Of all the available top-tier starting pitchers on the free agent market this past offseason, Dallas Keuchel might have been viewed as the most risky. He’d taken a step back since the 2017 season, and at 32 with diminishing velocity, there were question marks as to how effective he could still be. Through eight starts in 2020, he’s been sensational, with a 2.42 ERA over 48 1/3 innings. Though he still doesn’t throw hard and his strikeouts are down, he remains a ground-ball machine, with a 55.8% ground-ball rate.
8. Minnesota Twins (Last Week: 5)
Like fellow former Dodger Ryu, Kenta Maeda has been outstanding in his first season away from Los Angeles. After splitting time in the rotation and bullpen the past two years, Maeda’s thrived as a full-time starter again, leading the team in fWAR (1.4) with a 2.53 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. Maeda’s allowed a career-best 23.9% hard-hit rate, as opposing batters have been unable to consistently square up his pitches. His changeup and fastball have been particularly lethal, with opposing batting averages of .091 and .103, respectively.
7. New York Yankees (Last Week: 4)
The Yankees’ slide continues after Thursday’s brutal extra-innings loss to the Mets. Though he’s taken a few lumps as of late, high-priced starter Gerrit Cole has been critical to New York’s success, particularly with injuries or ineffectiveness from many of the team’s rotation alternatives. Cole’s issues with the long ball are troubling, but his stuff is as filthy as it’s ever been, and the Yankees will need him to bounce back from recent subpar outings to gain ground in the AL East race.
6. Atlanta Braves (Last Week: 7)
Marcell Ozuna has thrived as Atlanta’s primary designated hitter after haunting them as a part of St. Louis’s lineup in last year’s NLDS. He’s raking at a clip far better than he ever did with the Cardinals, though—or in Miami, for that matter. Ozuna’s 12 home runs are one off the MLB-leading pace set by five players, and his 1.014 OPS ranks eighth among qualified hitters. The Braves are certainly getting what they paid for with a prorated salary just under $7 million.
5. Cleveland Indians (Last Week: 8)
César Hernández has been his usual, consistent self in his first season with Cleveland, providing much-needed reliability for an offense that’s gone through long dry spells in 2020. He still doesn’t hit for much power, and his strikeouts have risen a bit, but he gets on base at a solid clip and ranks third among the team’s hitters in fWAR (1.1).
4. San Diego Padres (Last Week: 6)
Jake Cronenworth has come out of nowhere to make the Rays look silly—which doesn’t happen often—for trading him alongside Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe and a couple prospects. The 26-year-old, a former seventh-round pick, is the NL Rookie of the Year favorite after doing a little bit of everything for the Padres while compiling a slash line of .346/.403/.598. Cronenworth has nine doubles, three triples, four home runs and a pair of stolen bases with 11 walks and just 19 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances.
3. Oakland Athletics (Last Week: 3)
The A’s didn’t really make many big-name acquisitions this past offseason. Their core was mostly intact, so the team filled in the margins. Among key additions has been utility man Tony Kemp, who’s primarily manned second base this season after former top prospect Franklin Barreto failed to win the job. Kemp’s hit a serviceable .250/.377/.281 in 78 plate appearances so far. With the recent acquisition of Tommy La Stella from the Angels, Kemp should shift back to moving around the diamond more.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (Last Week: 2)
The Rays shipped reliever Emilio Pagan to the Padres this offseason for outfielder Manuel Margot, who’s been a valuable addition to an already stacked offensive group. Margot has played all three outfield spots, upping his production at the plate with a 104 wRC+ after posting an 84 wRC+ in four years with San Diego.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: 1)
Yeah, we’re gonna have to go with Mookie Betts on this one. Even with a rather unlucky .295 BABIP—somehow lower than his .299 batting average—Betts ranks third in the Majors with 2.1 fWAR, trailing only Fernando Tatís Jr. and Mike Yastrzemski. He’s the best player on the best team in the league, and the Dodgers may not feel the true weight of his impact until the playoffs, when the 2017 World Series champ could bring some swagger to a team that’s experienced its fair share of October heartbreak the last few years.
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