It was such a weird offseason that three different executives told us that when they first asked themselves which NL teams improved the most this winter, their first instinct was to answer: "No one." Half the teams in the league, quipped one exec, basically "took the winter off." But of the others, the Nationals pulled away from the pack, thanks mostly to their heavily praised deal with Detroit for Doug Fister. And while we like what the Padres have done, it's still kind of amazing, said the same exec, that they got the second-most votes, for "signing an injury-prone pitcher ( Josh Johnson) and an eighth-inning guy who's getting a lot of money ( Joaquin Benoit), and trading for Seth Smith. Really?" Hey, it was that kind of winter.
Fun poll fact: The Diamondbacks, Rockies and Mets managed the impressive feat of attracting multiple votes in both the "most improved" and "most unimproved" balloting. So however their seasons turn out, this poll has it covered!
There has to be a logical explanation for the Orioles' mystifying offseason. Doesn't there? We doubt we'll ever get to hear it (or at least all of it). But there has to be. Dumping Jim Johnson? Backing out of a deal for Grant Balfour? Never adding a veteran closer to replace Balfour (or Johnson, for that matter)? Flirting with a bunch of starting pitchers but signing none of them? Acting as if they were out of money, in an offseason where TV cash came flooding into the sport? Not good. There's still time for them to rewrite this script by signing an Ervin Santana kind of guy. But for now, the only categories the Orioles led this survey in were "I don't get its" and "I don't understands." In our experience, that's not usually a portent of great things to come.
Fun poll facts: We found it interesting that three of last year's playoff teams -- the Indians, Tigers and even the champs, the Red Sox -- got Most Unimproved votes. But no one was a match for the Orioles and Blue Jays, who crushed the rest of this field in the voting. In fact, only the Tigers (with four votes) were within 10 of either one of them. But there's so much certainty within the industry that the Blue Jays are a lock to add a starting pitcher, several of the votes they attracted were on an "until-they-sign-a-pitcher" basis. So they get an asterisk, if it brightens their spirits any.