How playoff-bound MLB teams clinched spots

Justin Upton, Hyun-jin Ryu and Mike Carp are among the off-season acquisitions who helped lead their new teams to the post-season. (AP)

Five MLB teams have now clinched post-season berths. Six months ago, you might have expected the Toronto Blue Jays to be one of them.

But despite Alex Anthopoulos’ off-season moves, Toronto is once again watching as others clinch playoff spots. What moves did the general managers of the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers make in the last calendar year on the way to the post-season?

Here’s a closer look:

Boston Red Sox

In the aftermath of an ugly 93-loss 2012 season, the Red Sox relied heavily on free agency to reshape their roster. GM Ben Cherington targeted veteran players on two and three-year contracts, pursuing “clubhouse guys” whose appeal extended beyond their baseball skills.

The result: a memorable turnaround and one of baseball’s deepest teams—six capable starters, three catchers and a diverse collection of outfield/first base types.

Still, if the Red Sox didn’t already have a core of impact players and a highly-ranked farm system, this strategy might not have worked so well. They enter the post-season with a chance to win their third World Series title in the last decade.

Off-season signings: David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli
Re-signed players: David Ortiz
Off-season trades: Mike Carp
Mid-season trades: Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton

Oakland Athletics

No one expected the Athletics to win the American League West in 2012, so they weren’t exactly a sexy pre-season pick after staying relatively quiet during the off-season. As it turns out, the A’s had enough depth within the organization to repeat as division winners without overhauling their team.

GM Billy Beane did have to supplement his catching corps, making a series of trades to obtain John Jaso, Stephen Vogt and Kurt Suzuki. While they continue seeking answers behind the plate, they have enough pitching to find the post-season success that has eluded them in recent years.

Re-signed players: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour
Off-season trades: Jed Lowrie, John Jaso, Chris Young
Mid-season trades: Stephen Vogt, Kurt Suzuki, Alberto Callaspo

Atlanta Braves

The Braves’ off-season was undoubtedly highlighted by the acquisition of the Upton brothers. However, a handful of unheralded moves have been just as integral to Atlanta’s success.

GM Frank Wren claimed David Carpenter (1.84 ERA, 70 strikeouts, 63.2 innings) on waivers and traded for Jordan Walden (3.30 ERA, 52 strikeouts, 46.1 innings) to bolster a bullpen in need of reinforcements. Credit the Braves for re-acquiring Jordan Schafer, a left-handed hitting speedster who has filled in at all three outfield positions.

Their starting rotation may be a relative weakness, but anything can happen in October.

Off-season signings: B.J. Upton, Gerald Laird
Re-signed players: Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson
Off-season trades: Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, Jordan Walden
Off-season claims: David Carpenter, Jordan Schafer
Mid-season trades: Scott Downs

St. Louis Cardinals

Utility player Ty Wigginton and lefty specialist Randy Choate were not exactly big-ticket acquisitions, but that’s all the Cardinals needed to return to the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 14 years.

GM John Mozeliak has shown restraint in recent years, spending modestly in free agency to complement what’s arguably the most impressive core of homegrown players in MLB.

The Cardinals aren’t going anywhere, either. Many of their best players, including breakout star Matt Carpenter and starting pitcher Shelby Miller, are under team control for years to come.

Expect the Cardinals to remain an annual threat to win it all.

Off-season signings: Ty Wigginton, Randy Choate
Mid-season trades: John Axford

Los Angeles Dodgers

Skeptics might say that the Dodgers spent their way to a National League West title. They overpaid for Brandon League, outbid the field for Zack Greinke and splurged on Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Yet GM Ned Colletti rightly identified the Dodgers’ need for pitching and his decision to add a pair of frontline starters now seems justified. While Ryu’s declining strikeout rate and Ricky Nolasco’s recent struggles create some cause for concern, this team seems capable of making an extended playoff run.

Off-season signings: Zack Greinke, J.P. Howell
Re-signed players: Brandon League
International signings: Hyun-Jin Ryu
Mid-season trades: Ricky Nolasco, Carlos Marmol

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