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Zuba: MLB’s best offseason moves

| Tuesday, February 10, 2015

There should be an award for MLB’s best offseason acquisition.

I guess there is, when the bold move pays off the next season in the form of a pennant or World Series title. Until then, the moves are just big and bold, not necessarily best.

They don’t all pan out, and sometimes a team ends up paying a large amount for significantly less than it expected to get.

So far this offseason, however, some of the big moves look like they should be successes.

On Monday, the San Diego Padres asserted themselves as potential contenders in the National League West with a reported four-year deal for right-handed pitcher James Shields, previously of the Kansas City Royals, to be finalized if he passes a physical.

Shields has posted a 3.72 ERA over a nine-year career and has recorded 1,626 strikeouts, including 200-plus in both 2011 and 2012. Most importantly, Shields is a winner. He’s won at least 11 games every year other than his first in the majors and eats a lot of innings. In each of the past eight seasons, Shields has passed the 200-inning mark.

The Padres also acquired outfielders Matt Kemp and Justin Upton in the offseason. Kemp has battled injuries but can swing a potent bat, something the Padres desperately need as a team whose RBI leader last season had just 51.

Another team, the Chicago White Sox, made some key moves this offseason, namely adding right-hander Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija has put together a 3.85 ERA, and like Shields, was a workhorse last season, racking up 219 and 2/3 innings. He went 7-13 last season despite possessing a 2.99 ERA, largely because he didn’t receive many favors with the cross-town Cubs.

Last season, the White Sox rotation finished ranked 13th of 15 AL teams and 27th out of 30 MLB teams with a staff ERA of 4.29.

Chicago also acquired left-handed reliever Zach Duke, right-handed closer David Robertson and first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche.

Big-name free-agent and trade acquisitions have been known to flop big-time, bringing their massive contracts right along with them in exchange for draft picks and talented young prospects.

But how can a team protect itself? With a little financial restraint? Perhaps. If you’re willing to shell over $100 million over an extended contract or part with a stable full of prospects, you’re tempting a flop.

The Padres and White Sox have that financial restraint, generally, as the teams don’t rank among MLB’s biggest spenders. But what they’ve demonstrated this offseason in particular is the ability to make a series of quality trades and signings.

They haven’t heaped all the pressure on one guy as the team’s savior. They’ve done their best to put together a group of players who will make each other better. They’ve addressed both pitching and offensive needs.

The Padres and White Sox finished with similar records last season at 77-85 and 73-89, respectively. San Diego finished third in the National League West, while Chicago finished fourth in the American League Central, both teams a hefty 17 games behind their division winners.

With records like those, they needed more than one piece. They didn’t need everything, though.

Although the Padres offense was abysmal last season, they already had right-hander Ian Kennedy in the rotation and finished ranked second in the NL in staff ERA at 3.27. The White Sox had rookie sensation Jose Abreu, plus reliable and dominant lefty Chris Sale.

For middling teams hoping to climb the ranks, San Diego and Chicago seem to have executed the recipe just right. Their managements evaluated their needs, built around established pieces and sought to make their teams more consistent, not just flashier.

Catchers and pitchers will report to spring training in under two weeks, and managers will start watching their new players fit in with the team and get in peak condition for the upcoming season.

For the Padres and White Sox, at least, that process is shaping up to be quite successful.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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