These final four excellent teams, who together averaged exactly 100 regular-season wins, didn’t get to league championship series by accident. They did it via major acquisitions, both savvy trades and signings.
Of course the draft played a major role for all these successful teams, especially for the three biggest market teams remaining; the Astros’ consecutive last-place finishes put them in excellent position, and they took advantage (Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, etc.), the Red Sox had a run of excellent drafts (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts) and the Dodgers hit on some major stars (i.e Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger). But all four teams seriously augmented their rosters with wise transactions that made them what they are.
There’s a reason why there’s so much interest in the three GM openings, probably even more than for the six managerial openings; the leader of the front office has an even greater impact than the manager on an organization going forward. That’s just reality. The small-market Brewers (the smallest market team in the majors) get an extra star for doing it with a $100 million payroll, much lower than that of the big-spending Astros ($175 million), Dodgers ($195 million) and Red Sox ($230 million). But they all made great pickups.
The decision makers who determine the rosters can make or break their teams. And in this case, the four GMS (and their assistant) made many positive moves that got their teams where they are today.
Here are the 21 best major-league transactions made by the current GMs of the final four teams (not counting drafts or transactions that were made before their time; obviously ex-GMs like Doug Melvin (i.e. Josh Hader), Ned Colletti (half the roster), Ben Cherington (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, etc.) and Ed Wade (Jose Altuve, George Springer, etc.) made real impacts, and no less than three of those execs have been connected to the GM openings this offseason. Here goes, in order of impact …
1) Christian Yelich, Brewers: Half the league was clamoring for Yelich, but Brewers GM David Stearns and Co. made sure to get him by sending the Marlins a prospect package headline by Lewis Brinson, a promising outfielder who happened to be from Fort Lauderdale, Fla, which may have been an added bonus for Miami. Word now is that while Brinson is promising, there was a bit of a split opinion among Brewers people about how well he’d hit. No matter what Brinson becomes, and despite a slow start with the bat he will probably be at least an above average major leaguer, Yelich was well worth it. He’s the likely NL MVP, and he’s signed for years to come.
2) Justin Verlander, Astros: With a little nudge by owner Jim Crane, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow made the last-second trade for Verlander that already has won the Astros one World Series, and may make it multiple World Series. Teams didn’t love his $28-million salary, but he looks like a bargain now. They gave up three decent prospects to get him, headlined by first-rounder Daz Cameron, but none of the can’t miss variety.
3) Chris Sale, Red Sox: Michael Kopech looks like a future star (though he needed Tommy John surgery), Yoan Moncada has immense physical skill (though he strikes out a ton) and two more promising prospects made it a logical deal for the White Sox at the Winter Meetings two years ago. But Sale is one of the best three or four starters in the game, and is under contract at a reasonable rate again next year after starring for two years already in Boston.
4) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: The deal seemed to take forever. But it was certainly worth it. Martinez had a monster second half for the Diamondbacks last year, yet in a weird winter, there was something less than the anticipated bidding war for Martinez. Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski took advantage, signing his former Tigers player for what turned out to be a bargain rate of $110 million for five years, and finalizing the contract after some agita over an alleged foot issue. After some haggling, Martinez wound up with an extra opt out to make it a record three, but alas, it doesn’t come after this monster year but rather the next three years.
5) Max Muncy, Dodgers: Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi had him in Oakland, where he absolutely bombed. In L.A. he’s been a Godsend, under a very bargain rate.
6) Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers: Hard to believe but he performed best of all the free agent pitchers from last winter, better even than the much more expensive Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb. He’s the ace of the team for the deal of $15.5-million over two years. Another analytical home run for Stearns.
7) Gerrit Cole, Astros: Houston beat out the favored Yankees for Cole, and their hunch was correct that he’d thrive on a better team. Many pitchers went to Pittsburgh to get better but Cole did the opposite.
8) Justin Turner, Dodgers: Technically, he was first acquired by former GM Ned Colletti at the bargain price of $1 million. But he was re-signed by Andrew Friedman and Zaidi for the very fair price of $64 million over four years. He’s become a major star back in his hometown, and in fact is one of the great postseason players ever.
FOLLOW JON HEYMAN ON FANCRED
9) Jesus Aguilar, Brewers: The Stearns group saw something they liked in Aguilar and acquired him for a song from the very smart Indians (waiver pickup), where he’d been a minors home run champ three years running but was blocked by Carlos Santana and others. In any case, it took awhile for him get a foothold in Milwaukee, barely making the team the last two years before showing what he could do when Eric Thames — another nice pickup — went out with injury.
10) Charlie Morton, Astros: Some (yes, me included) thought his $14-million, two-year deal was rather high considering his injury-prone past. But they saw something in his spin rate and took a chance on an oft-injured talent. He has turned out to be one of the best free agent bargains for a starting pitcher ever. Became a standout, and even an All-Star, in Houston.
11) Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox: He may have looked a tad shaky in games this postseason. But don’t you know the Red Sox are thrilled to have him. Dombrowski got one of the game’s two or three best closers for a quartet of prospects who remain just that, prospects.
12) Wade Miley, Brewers: He’s been an overpaid pitcher for a couple of years, but now he’s one of the more underpaid pitchers in the game. After signing a minor-league deal, then injuring himself early, became one of the Brewers’ two most effective starters down the stretch. He’s so good in fact, the Brewers let him pitch into the sixth inning in Game 2 (that’s a lot for them!).
13) Manny Machado, Dodgers: L.A. gave up a haul (five prospects) and he has ably replaced star shortstop Corey Seager. While he wasn’t as good in L.A. as he was in Baltimore, he’s shown his otherworldly talent in the postseason — and to be fair, a couple less desired traits, too.
RELATED: It's the postseason, and Moustakas' surge is right on time
14) Mike Moustakas, Brewers: His acquisition seemed to be overkill since they already had Travis Shaw, a very fine third baseman. But Milwaukee loved the idea of positional depth and flexibility, and with their second deadline moves, they came close to having the kind of depth to rival L.A.
15) Lorenzo Cain, Brewers: He’s another MVP candidate, so on contributions alone, he’d probably be in the top five. But they paid him a regular free-agent rate (and actually more than many others received last winter) at $80 million. A terrific all-around player.
16) Travis Shaw, Brewers: He came with others for promising pitcher Tyler Thornburg, who soon after the trade got hurt. He was very good at third, and he’s been just as good at second. While his range for a 2B isn’t great, with the shift, no one notices.
17) Kenta Maeda, Dodgers: Alleged physical problems detected in his exam caused them to redo a deal and make it mostly incentives. But he’s been the healthiest Dodgers pitcher since he signed it, and he’s going to wind up making most of those incentives.
18) Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox: He had a couple rough moments early but he’s come up big when they’ve needed him most, stepping up his game. Heading into free agency, he’s helping himself, too.
19) Steve Pearce, Red Sox: He’s been exactly the right-handed hitter Boston wanted, and more. That bomb of 456 feet in Game 3 at Houston was quite something,
20) Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers: Try to forget this NLCS please. He’s been very good for the Dodgers, and they unloaded Matt Kemp when they needed to, and saved themselves some money in the process. Later, they took back Kemp as an accounting trick to allow them to go below $197 million luxury tax threshold. So that was pretty nifty, too.
21) David Freese, Dodgers: He’s helped them moderate their weakness vs. lefties, which is big.
22. Mitch Moreland, Red Sox: Boston has signed him twice, and if the second time it seemed like overkill with Hanley Ramirez already there for first base, it turned out to be a wise move. His big first half led to an All-Star appearance this year, the defense is excellent and the grittiness to play through injury is a plus, too.
23. Ryan Madson Dodgers: He's been so effective he's almost an everyday playoff performer for L.A., is hometown team.
24. Erik Kratz, Brewers: Picked up off the scrap heap in the early season, he became the oldest to make a postseason debut in 113 years, then added big hits to earn near folk hero status.
25. Curtis Granderson, Brewers: A plus for every team, he even sacrificed a tooth to keep a rally going in Game 5.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.