2023 MLB Season Preview

On March 30th, the most astonishing thing happened: I turned on my television, and regular season baseball appeared! While some may view the baseball seen as unnecessarily long, how could we ever complain about being able to watch the world’s greatest sport nonstop for the next seven months?

See, the thing about baseball is that it’s always there for you. Essentially, until October, there is only one day where not a single baseball game/activity is taking place. I mean, what else could you ask for? Plus, after the past few years, consisting of a pandemic and a lockout, let’s all be grateful for a much smoother beginning to the season.

This past Thursday, the most astonishing thing happened: I turned on my television, and regular season baseball appeared! While some may view the baseball seen as unnecessarily long, how could we ever complain about being able to watch the world’s greatest sport nonstop for the next seven months?

See, the thing about baseball is that it’s always there for you. Essentially, until October, there is only one day where not a single baseball game/activity is taking place. I mean, what else could you ask for? Plus, after the past few years, consisting of a pandemic and a lockout, let’s all be grateful for a much smoother beginning to the season.

After all, when it comes to exciting storylines, the 2023 MLB season is certainly not lacking in excitement. Can the $335 million Mets finally get over the hump? Will there be a new king of the NL West? Just how much money will Shohei Ohtani make? Any season is going to bring intrigue and optimism, but with the collection of teams pushing for a World Series title and the amount of young talent spread across the country, there’s something extra thrilling about this year.

I could continue to ramble here, but we have 30 teams to preview, and that’s not even including any award predictions! Right now, anything is theoretically possible, even if I wouldn’t bank on a Nationals-Athletics World Series matchup, and we get to watch it all unfold. What do we have to look forward to this year, and who will define the 2023 season? With so much to unpack, let’s not waste any more time!

American League East

Toronto Blue Jays

Photo Cred: Yahoo

Offense Rank: 5th

Defense Rank: 2nd

Pitching Rank: 13th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 90.5

Top Storylines:

  • How Does The Team’s Reconfigured Outfield Perform?
  • Can The Back End of The Rotation Hold Up Their End of The Bargain?
  • Is This The Year It All Comes Together?

Have you ever watched the trailer for a movie, which was well produced enough to set unreasonable expectations about the final product? That may be the best way to describe the 2022 Blue Jays. In the words of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., their 91-71 record in 2021 was supposed to be the trailer for a breakthrough 2022 season, which technically was true- they did win one extra game, after all! That being said, this is a team that has spent considerable resources to capitalize on their current contention window, and they’ve yet to win a playoff game. With a payroll now exceeding $200 million, a reconfigured roster, urgency is at an all-time high.

With the sixth-lowest ground ball rate allowed as a pitching staff last year, the Blue Jays would naturally appear to be reliant on their outfield defense than others, which made their modest defensive metrics (18th in OAA, 27th in UZR, 21st in drs) concerning. Add in their poor baserunning (25th) and lack of left-handed hitters, and the need to become much more athletic and balance was a clear area they were willing to address. Well, in comes Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier to fill all of those voids. All of a sudden, Toronto figures to have one of, if not the best outfield defenses in the MLB, and when you’re getting the offensive production you’re expecting from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, the catching tandem of Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen, Matt Chapman, and George Springer, you can sacrifice offensive production (Teoscar Hernandez) to be much more flexible. The health of Kiermaier and veteran addition Brandon Belt will be a question, but even with that, they feature an extremely deep crop of versatile position players that goes beyond the top of their lineup.

The improved defense certainly is tremendous news for the team’s pitching staff, especially after Kevin Gausman allowed the highest batting average on balls in play last year. With the signing of Chris Bassitt, you’d hope for more stability behind Gausman and Alek Manoah in the rotation, though a lot will hinge on bounce backs from Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. At the same time, should things go south from an injury perspective, depth is a concern, and I wonder if the team would be willing to make a small-level trade to package one of their depth position players (Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal) to help with that. With the benefit of a superb defense, there should be enough frontline pitching talent to carry the load, but a story where the Blue Jays don’t take a step forward likely starts with the back-end of the rotation.

Ultimately, the Blue Jays figure to be one of the league’s most impact offenses with high-end defense, baserunning, and high-end pitching. You do wonder about them sustaining a long season between the pitching depth issues and the durability of Kiermaier and Belt, but this would appear to be the best roster this front office has put together. Is that enough to overtake the Yankees and Rays in the AL East? Regardless, they’ve done a tremendous job demonstrating proactiveness and being honest with themselves, giving themselves as strong of a chance to make a World Series push as they likely could have in one offseason. If all goes according to plan, grab your popcorn; the sequel should be much better than the original movie.

New York Yankees

Photo Cred: Pinstripe Nation

Offense Rank: 9th

Defense Rank: 1st

Pitching Rank: 2nd

Win Total Over/Under: Over (?) 94.5

Top Storylines:

  • Having 3/5 of Your Starting Rotation Injured Isn’t Ideal
  • Anthony Volpe’s Rookie Season
  • Is There Enough Lineup Depth?

Life, death, taxes, and the New York Yankees being at the front of the baseball news cycle. The last time this organization had a losing record, Bill Clinton hadn’t even yet been elected president, Dennis Eckersley won the AL MVP despite being a reliever, and Derek Jeter had just been drafted. Yeah, it’s been a long time.

Without a World Series title since 2009, it’s getting restless by the Bronx, and they’ll run it back this season with another top-end payroll with many of the same faces as last year. Retaining Aaron Judge was the obvious priority, yet it’s the position players around him that may be most significant. Between veterans such as DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Donaldson, as well as players such as Gleyber Torres, Harrison Bader, and Jose Trevino, the lineup mainly consists of players who’ve experienced tremendous volatility in terms of their performance and/or health, and Bader is already injured. Right now, only the Mets, Dodgers, and Marlins have an older lineup age than the Yankees, which is naturally a concern over a long season, particularly as the rule changes prioritize athleticism.

Luckily, there is one young buck for the fanbase to dream on, and it comes at the game’s most premium position. It was a surprise to see top prospect Anthony Volpe break camp on the opening day roster, but ZiPs already projects him to be 9% better than league average offensively and worth over three wins above replacement thanks to strong baserunning and up-the-middle defense. In addition to simply being the best shortstop option for a team under pressure to win right away, his diverse skillset is a welcome addition for a slower, older collection of position players, which was one of the added benefits of the acquisition of Bader last July. At full form, they’ll have exceptional defense at catcher, shortstop, and center field, which is a major turnaround over where they were heading into last year. Of course, that relies on Bader coming back healthy, Volpe’s defensive scouting reports being accurate, and Trevino’s framing metrics sustaining, so there is plenty of risk present.

Speaking of injuries and depth concerns, the Yankees seemingly were bound to come into this season with arguably the league’s strongest rotation, but they’ve now already lost Frankie Montas for the season, are without Luis Severino and free agent signing Carlos Rodon for the time being. That forces Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt, and rookie Jhony Brito into the opening day rotation, and while Brito impressed with a strong debut, the sirens are firing. When your depth immediately becomes relied upon, you don’t only have a worse pitching staff, but the depth also worsens significantly. In other words, even with a prominent bullpen, there is essentially zero margin for error with the pitching staff as currently constructed. Sadly, Gerrit Cole cannot pitch every day, even if that would be quite exciting.

At the end of the day, there’s a reason the Yankees have had such a long run of success, and they return this year with a roster likely to rank in the top ten in offense, defense, and pitching. It’s hard to see that not leading to another playoff appearance, though it’s also fair to feel queasy about the team’s injury situation, especially when factoring in the age of their lineup. Fortunately, that’s where an abundance of resources can help settle the stomach. Which player should we expect to be connected to the Yankees at the trade deadline? Really, who won’t be?

Tampa Bay Rays

Photo Cred: ksp.com

Offense Rank: 17th

Defense Rank: 13th

Pitching Rank: 3rd

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Under 89.5

Top Storylines:

  • A Very Exciting Infield In Full Force
  • Is This The Best Pitching Staff In Baseball?
  • Wander Franco: The Rise To Stardom?

From Goliath to David, what’s $200 million among friends? Well, that’s the gap in payroll between the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays this season, which is nothing new; the Yankees spend a lot of money, and the Rays do not. After all, this is a team currently spending less money than the Cincinnati Reds, who have been openly accused of tanking. When you don’t spend money on your roster, it places extreme pressure on the front office to continue to churn out a deep group of unheralded, yet productive players, and there’s a lot to be excited about with the 2023 version of the Rays.

Not allowing runs is a great way to be a successful team, and, fortunately, that shouldn’t be very difficult for Tampa Bay this season. Shane McClanahan’s brilliance goes without saying, but what about Jeffrey Springs each ranking in the top 30 in fielding independent pitching (FIP), or free-agent acquisition Zach Eflin? Hey, once healthy, Tyler Glasnow is pretty prolific in his own right! If that wasn’t enough, does a bullpen with Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, and ample depth do the trick? 2016 was the last time this organization didn’t rank in the top-ten in runs allowed, and I wouldn’t expect that streak to end this year.

While run prevention is half of the puzzle, you also need to score runs, which remains the question in St.Petersburg after scoring just 4.07 runs per game (21st) in 2022. Getting full seasons from the middle infield tandem of Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco will certainly help matters, particularly with an expected surge into superstardom for Franco, a projected 5.5-win player by Fangraph Depth Charts projections. Meanwhile, Yandy Diaz is fresh off a year in which he posted a .401 on-base percentage, and both Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes are pegged to be over 20% better than league average offensively. Yet, what does the team get from the catcher position, center field, or the void left by Ji-Man Choi? Can a left-handed hitter such as Jonathan Aranda or Luke Raley step up, or is a promotion of top prospect Curtis Mead needed? Currently, only five of the team’s nine position players can be counted on to be above league average hitters, which is the natural concern.

Then again, considering how effective they should be as a pitching staff and the upside present should one of their offensive holes get filled, there’s something particularly intriguing about the Rays this season. If Glasnow can come back at full strength, Tampa Bay may have an actual rotation of five starting pitchers (no bullpen games), they’re getting back significant reinforcements just from improved health, and youth is on their side. Plus, if there’s any organization that will be looking to find a gem on the waiver wire or with a small transaction, it’s them. It’ll never come in conventional fashion, but do we really expect them not to continue to be the most optimized team in baseball? Either way, more games in these Devil Ray jerseys wouldn’t hurt!

Boston Red Sox

Photo Cred: kstp.com

Offense Rank: 12th

Defense Rank: 7th

Pitching Rank: 20th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 78.5

Top Storylines:

  • Masataka Yoshida’s MLB Debut Year
  • An Intriguing But Scary Pitching Staff
  • A Lot of New Additions and Moving Pieces Needing To Mesh Together

October 19, 2021. Heading into the eighth inning of the fourth game of the ALCS, the Red Sox were two innings away from taking a 3-1 series lead over the Astros, putting them on the precipice of a World Series appearance. From there, Jose Altuve hit a baseball over the green monster, Boston’s bullpen imploded, and their dreams were squashed right when they seemed to turning into reality. Now, coming off of a disappointing season, their win total suggests they’re expected to be a sub-.500 team, and the mood surrounding the franchise is as low as one could imagine. Does that negative energy translate onto the field, or has the narrative surrounding them gone too far?

To put into perspective how much turnover the Red Sox have undergone in just a year, consider this: only three members of 2022’s opening day lineup (Enrique Hernandez, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo) were still in the lineup to start this season. Notably, Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez each now preside in Southern California, while Trevor Story is likely to miss at least the first half of the year due to injury. Add in issues in the corner outfield and first base last year, and the front office needed to be proactive in completely rehauling their position player corps.

Consequently, the front office is counting on Justin Turner to remain a steady offensive producer shifting to a designated hitter role at age 38, in addition to a bounce back from Adam Duvall in center field and a breakout by rookie first baseman Triston Casas. That being said, if there is one player who both defines Boston’s offseason and will be under the greatest microscope this year, it’s with one of the offseason’s most scrutinized signings. Brought in on a five-year, $90 million contract, expectations are going to be high for Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, but it’s hard to not think he can match them; this is a player who walked twice as much as he struck out in Japan each of the past three years, is universally pegged as a high-end offensive contributor (128 to 142 wRC+) by all projection systems, and has done nothing but succeed so far. In other words, I doubt the Red Sox freely gave him $90 million – the contract he commanded should say a lot about his likely outlook even before considering his resume.

Now, those are a lot of “ifs”, which is the story of the 2023 Red Sox; it’s unclear if any team has a wide discrepancy between the floor and ceiling than they do. If the lineup didn’t demonstrate that enough, one look at the rotation should solve that matter:

  • Chris Sale: Has Pitched 48.1 Innings Since 2019
  • Corey Kluber: 36-Years-Old, Has Only Eclipsed 80 Innings Once Since 2018
  • James Paxton: Has Only Pitched 21.2 Innings Since 2019, Already On Injured List
  • Brayan Bello: 57.1 Career MLB Innings, Already On Injured List
  • Tanner Houck & Garrett Whitlock: Have Shuffled Between Rotation and Bullpen
  • Nick Pivetta: Career 5.02 ERA

A perfect world in which this rotation stays healthy and performs to their capabilities is one I’d love to live in, but we’ll have to settle for where we are now. Even before the injuries started to mount up, the risk with this pitching staff was always going to be extreme, and it creates a severe downside scenario where it becomes a notable liability. As such, despite a complete revamp of the bullpen, it’s easy to be quite pessimistic about their run prevention abilities.

I’d like to compare the 2023 Red Sox to an entree consisting of foods that just don’t mesh together; sure, they’re all individually productive, but the sum of their parts doesn’t equal the final product. Having some source of risk is fine, but when the whole roster classifies as such, then it’s much more complicated. A scenario exists where the Red Sox are a top-ten offense and get enough from their rotation to supplement a strong bullpen. The likelihood of it, however, is what’s in question; even if we as a baseball community have perhaps been too negative about their outlook for this year, it isn’t going to be easy to make headwaves in a remarkably difficult division. We’ll see what that could mean for an organization that hasn’t exactly been the poster child for patience in recent years.

Baltimore Orioles

Photo Cred: birdwatcher.com

Offense Rank: 14th

Defense Rank: 10th

Pitching Rank: 23th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 76.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Youth Movement On Full Display
  • Can The Bullpen Continue Their Magic?
  • Can Certain Players Avoid Falling Out of Favor To The Team’s Top Prospects?

Whereas the Red Sox were on the brink of a World Series appearance in 2021, the Orioles had just finished the year with the worst record in baseball, another chapter in a rebuilding novel with a plot taking too long to develop. Fortunately, with a winning record, they may have finally reached the climax in 2022, and it’s time to build on that this year. Doing so will be tricky, but they’ll be incredibly fun to watch.

Since taking over as the team’s general manager following the 2018 season, Mike Elias has made it an emphasis to target hitters through the draft, and that’s led to a farm system rich with position player talent. The 2019 draft haul of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson is already showing itself at the major league level, and prospects such as Colton Cowser, Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby, and Joey Ortiz are all in line to make their major league debuts this year. Yet, it’s not as though the current MLB roster doesn’t have plenty of productive players in their own right; in addition to Rutschman and Henderson, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Ramon Urias are projected to be above league average offensively and worth at least 2.2 wins above replacement by Fangraphs Depth Chart projections. That’s an exceptional amount of lineup depth, especially when all of these players are right in the thick of their prime years.

Of course, when you have the league’s second-lowest payroll, it’s highly unlikely you a fool-proof roster, and that’s where the pitching staff comes into play. The same projections don’t foresee any pitcher being worth more than 1.5 wins above replacement, and the demotion of top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez makes that very likely to end up being true. Perhaps even as interesting is the team’s limited group of pitching prospects beyond Rodriguez and DL Hall, making them a clear candidate to use future resources (excess position player prospects, funds) to fill that void. Given the volatility of young pitchers, that’s not a subpar strategy, though it leaves them with an unbalanced roster for this year.

That’s okay, though! Now, having such a low payroll after a winning season is morally inexcusable, but from a pure baseball perspective, this is an organization clearly on the upswing. This year, in many ways, marks the tipping point; which players get squeezed out in favor of top prospects, and how deep of a future core is solidified at the end of this year? Regardless of the results, this is going to be a very telling season for them.

AL Central

Minnesota Twins

Photo Cred: Yahoo

Offense Rank: 11th

Defense Rank: 3rd

Pitching Rank: 7th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 84.5

Top Storylines:

  • With Pablo Lopez, The Rotation Is Remarkably Deep
  • The Injury Risk Is Quite Scary
  • Ample Depth Could Lead To Lineup Optimization

Remember the “Bomba Squad” in 2019? En route to an 101-win season, the Twins managed to break the homerun record, and then followed that up by signing Josh Donaldson to a lofty four-year contract. Even with questions in terms of run prevention, the front office leaned into building the most powerful lineup possible, hoping that “eliteness” would defeat “completeness”. Instead, they’ve missed the postseason each of the past two years, and, consequently, made major changes this offseason.

While Minnesota still ranked 9th in weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+) last year, their baserunning (29th), defense (23rd in OAA), and pitching (20th in fWAR) left a lot to be desired. Thus, the organization took major steps forward to address it. In addition to resigning Carlos Correa in stunning fashion, they’ve also solidified a very strong catcher pairing by signing Christian Vasquez to go along with Ryan Jeffers, while they’ll be hoping for a bounce-back season from Joey Gallo. Interestingly, though, it may be the team’s depth position player additions that make the most difference. Bringing in Michael A. Taylor, one of the league’s top-rated defensive center fielders, gives the team a much better backup plan to Byron Buxton, giving them the flexibility to use him more as a designated hitter and be covered if an injury presents itself. Furthermore, both Donovan Solano and Kyle Farmer provide infield flexibility and should slot into the lineup against left-handed pitching, allowing the team to try to platoon their way to lineup optimization. A year after injuries played a significant role in a late-season collapse, it’s hard to see that happening again.

Ultimately, though, the player that is the face of this rebrand is none other than Pablo Lopez. Acquired from the Marlins for fan favorite Luis Arraez, Lopez is expected to front a rotation that, by the looks of it, is suddenly filled with quality options; Lopez, Joe Ryan, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, and Kenta Maeda are a very strong starting five, and that doesn’t include depth provided by Bailey Ober, Louie Varland, and Josh Winder. In fact, once you take into account the state of the bullpen, the pitching staff has suddenly gone from the potential liability to the roster’s greatest strength, particularly when its fly-ball tendencies pair very well with what should be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, It’s remarkable how much things can change in one offseason.

It’s easy to forget, but the Twins spent more time in first place last season than the Guardians, and it’s hard to argue that they could be a significantly better team this year. Along with their acquisitions, simply getting better health while being better compensated for adversity can’t be overlooked as well. There’s a clear opening in the AL Central right now, and it’s one that they’ll be looking to exploit. Let’s just hope the Yankees won’t be waiting come postseason time!

Cleveland Guardians

Photo Cred: Beacon Journal

Offense Rank: 13th

Defense Rank: 5th

Pitching Rank: 17th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 86.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Impact of Josh Bell and Mike Zunino
  • The Injury To Triston McKenzie Raises Major Rotation Questions
  • This Team Remains Extremely Fun!

When it comes to all facets of competition, there is a general establishment of homogeneity with regards to the optimal strategy. Thus, when a participant sways away from conformity, it is very much appreciated. At a time where most organizations prioritized a “three true outcomes” style of play, the Guardians were able to build a playoff team off of contact quantity, on-base skills, athleticism, baserunning, and defense. For such a small-market team, continuing to win between the margins will be significant, but is it a replicable approach?

Now, it’s also clear that Cleveland acknowledged the limits of such a one-sided offensive approach. Thus, in comes first baseman Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino. Ironically, Bell’s on-base skills and K/BB numbers stand out over his power ability, though he’s an interesting fit for an otherwise flexible roster defensively, while Zunino’s offensive profile couldn’t be more different than the rest of the pack. Of course, he adds to a extremely strong defense, and the offensive upside is clearly there if he’s closer to his healthy 2021 self (134 wRC+). All told, though, the Guardians have added multiple upgrades offensively, are going to run the bases extremely well, and remain a tremendous defense.

That latter aspect is notable for a pitching staff that, once again, doesn’t figure to miss many bats. With Triston McKenzie on the mend for the next few months due to injury, Shane Bieber is the only projected starter to have an ERA under 4.19, as the team was likely going to need to lean into its minor league depth even before this injury. Fortunately, they have an ample supply of potential contributors there, and 2022’s fourth-most valuable bullpen remains intact. That being said, to have that as their path to success rather than a luxurious fallback option is quite concerning, and highlights the main distinction between them and the Twins currently.

In many ways, the Guardians are the prototype of baseball team that the league wants to see more of. That being said, even if recent rule changes could benefit them specifically, it is difficult to continuously win between the margins, though the main issues lie with a starting rotation that is clearly in transition. In a year, there are a glut of minor league pitchers that could fortify the next high-end Cleveland pitching staff, yet they’ll need to once again benefit from batted-ball luck to have enough run prevention success. There’s no doubt that they’re going to remain an incredibly fun baseball team, but will that result in another AL Central title? It’s times like this where we could use a bonus for style points.

Chicago White Sox

Photo Cred: The Athletic

Offense Rank: 18th

Defense Rank: 19th

Pitching Rank: 18th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 83.5

Top Storylines:

  • An Abundance of Players Looking To Bounce Back
  • Depth Is a Major Concern
  • Can Any Core Players Take a Leap Forward?

When an organization undergoes a significant rebuild, it can be a difficult time for the fanbase; seeing the roster’s top players traded away is never easy. The White Sox, however, had the promise of a glut of incredibly well-regarded prospects that were expected to lead the next elite team in the South Side, which started to show with multiple postseason appearances in 2020 and 2021. Rather than take a step forward in 2022, the year was filled with organizational dysfunction, injuries, and unexpected struggles, putting the franchise in a peculiar position this upcoming season. Is a new manager and bounce backs enough to give the fanbase what they were promised?

Fundamentally, the 2022 White Sox were flawed in obvious ways. No team in baseball walked at a lower rate than they did and the oversaturation of defensively-limited players led to a defense ranked 24th or worse in all three major defensive metrics. Essentially swapping Jose Abreu for Andrew Benintendi helps with both of those issues, but there are a lot of what ifs present. Were the struggles of Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada solely due to injury? Considering he’s already injured, what can the team expect from Eloy Jimenez? Can Andrew Vaughn take a step forward as the team’s starting first baseman? How big of a hole do right field and second base turn out to be? One look at their starting lineup still shows a very talented group of players, but we’re playing a game of 20 questions to try to get any sort of idea of how they’ll perform this year.

The same applies to the pitching staff. Of course, being led by Dylan Cease is a strong start, while Lance Lynn was ultra-productive (3.35 SIERA) over the final three months of last season and Lucas Giolito’s peripheral data was much better than his 4.90 ERA. At the same time, his average fastball velocity was down more than a full MPH from 2021, leading to a swinging-strike rate three percentage points lower, and we’ve yet to see signs of the velocity coming back this year. Even if you bank on him performing closer to his 2021 numbers, there’s the rest of the rotation. See, Michael Kopech’s underlying numbers (4.73 SIERA, 4.50 FIP, 21.3% K, 11.5% BB) all don’t particularly cast a positive outlook for him in his second year as a starter, which was also true of Mike Clevinger (4.49 SIERA, 4.98 FIP, 18.8% K, 7.2% BB) in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. If any sources of pitching depth was present in the minors, then perhaps this would be less of a concern, but the team’s ability to withold any struggles/injuries is as close to zero as it gets.

A story can be written where the White Sox see their core players all perform to the best versions of themselves, but that’s only part of a remarkably high range of outcomes that includes a significant downside scenario. If that happens, it’ll present quite an awkward situation between a restless ownership group, a general manager (Rick Hahn) who has a lot of pressure placed on him, and a first-year manager in Pedro Grifol. Certainly, the organization is hoping this dynamic can be avoided.

Kansas City Royals

Photo Cred: fultonsun.com

Offense Rank: 25th

Defense Rank: 29th

Pitching Rank: 27th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 68.5

Top Storylines:

  • Which Young Players Take The Next Step?
  • Does a New Coaching Staff Lead To Improved Pitching Development?
  • Significant Defensive Questions

In life, when an opportunity presents itself, we’re advised to not only take advantage of it, but cherish the experience provided by it; after all, none of us know what the future holds. In many ways, these principles can be directly applied to the past decade of Kansas City Royals baseball. To go from an organization in back-to-back World Series between 2014 and 2015 to posting a 282-426 record since the start of 2018 is a remarkable shift, and, unfortunately, they may not be any closer to coming out of their rebuild than they started.

These struggles finally resulted in action being taken; general manager JJ Picollo was promoted to take over for Dayton Moore, with Rays bench coach Matt Quartaro being hired as manager, Considering the roots of the franchise’s woes start with prospect acquisition and development, especially in terms of pitch design, some sort of change was needed, and we’ll see if that leads to immediate progress this year. Notably, Bobby Witt Jr., the face of the rebuild, will be looking to improve in terms of on-base skills (.294) and shortstop defense (-18 drs), with players such as MJ Melendez, Michael Massey, Edward Olivares, Kyle Isbel, and Nick Pratto looking to establish themselves as well. Really, at the moment, a case can be made that Vinnie Pasquantino, ironically an 11th-round pick in 2019, is the only player acquired during this rebuild that the organization can safely count on to be an above-average position player at his position, and a similar theme is true on the pitching side of things.

When the Royals drafted college pitchers with each of their first five picks in the 2018 draft, all within the top-58 selections, they did so anticipating a prolific pitching staff that would develop together. Instead, while Brady Singer (3.40 SIERA) has more than matched expectations set on him, the rest of those selections consist of players (Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar) who posted ERAs north of 5.00 last year, or have yet to debut (Jonathan Bowlan). While there should be hope that a new coaching staff can make an impact here, it’s a lofty ask for them to simply wave a magic wand and fix every pressing concern, and there isn’t much coming in the farm system either. Hence, why they’re in such a rough position for an organization heading into the sixth year of their rebuild.

With exceptional jerseys, a beautiful stadium, and opportunities for young players, tuning into a Royals game in 2023 is not something to be frowned upon. However, is there any sign that this year will be the different than the past five? Let’s just say that 2015 banner may need to be cherished a bit longer.

Detroit Tigers

Photo Cred: bvm.com

Offense Rank: 27th

Defense Rank: 22nd

Pitching Rank: 25th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 68.5

Top Storylines:

  • A Pivotal Season For Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene
  • Can The Team’s 2021 Free Agent Acquisitions Bounce Back?
  • Will One of The Players From The Gregory Soto Trade Breakthrough?

As evident with the Royals, executing a rebuild can be very difficult. Thus, when there is any sign of a competitive window opening, it’s very easy to perhaps become overeager. For instance, the Tigers improving to a 77-85 record in 2021, setting the stage for a busy offseason involving multiple premium free-agent signings (Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez) and plenty of activity on the trade front (Austin Meadows, Tucker Barnhart). Heck, owner Chris Ilitch went as far as to declare the rebuild to be “100% over”, while general manager Al Avila made it clear the team expected to be a playoff contender in 2022. Instead, they stumbled to a 66-96 record, scored the fewest runs in baseball, and, now, are starting over with a new regime in place. Even if a similar season to last year is likely, the lower expectations coming in should make it much more palatable.

There were a lot of concerning developments for the Tigers last season, but chief among them was the lack of progress of their supposed core players. For instance, 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson was a below-replacement level player in his first season, Riley Greene stumbled (93 wRC+) a bit offensively in the second half, Akil Baddoo went from an expected building block to posting a 65 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR, and the farm system regressed significantly. Furthermore, Baez had his worst offensive season (90 wRC+) of his career (not counting 2020), Rodriguez regressed notably (4.56 SIERA) before stepping away from the team, and Meadows played just 36 games due to injuries and a needed leave of absence. Add in both Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize needing elbow surgery, Jonathan Schoop hitting to the tune of a 57 wRC+, and a rough season for Jeimer Candelario (80 wRC+) leading to him being designated for assignment, and a case can be made no team had a more disastrous year than Detroit.

Thus, when it comes to this season, looking for improvement from Torkelson and Greene will be at the top of the pecking order, while the opportunity is there for one of the players acquired in the trade of reliever Gregory Soto (Matt Vierling and Nick Maton) to make an impact as well. The pitching side of things provides more intrigue, where Rodriguez will look to bounce back, Matt Boyd and Michael Lorenzen were brought in on one-year deals, and Spencer Turnbull returns from Tommy John surgery. In some ways, the lack of established talent present on the roster makes it more interesting; as opposed to last year, the Tigers have very little to lose, and much to gain if any players exceed expectations.

In Scott Harris, this franchise has a extremely well-regarded executive to try to lead a more successful rebuild than the last attempt. Of course, that’ll take time, and, really, the draft is likely the most paramount event for them this year. That being said, identifying core contributors at the MLB level, particularly Torkelson and Greene, would go a long way, and Harris should be expected to be very aggressive utilizing every resource to take as many shots on young players as possible. I’d imagine it’s difficult for this fanbase to remain faithful and patient to the thought of another elongated rebuild, but the past is the past, and this front office deserves the benefit of the doubt. Now, we’ll see how quickly they can get this organization back on track.

AL West

Houston Astros

Photo Cred: thespun.com

Offense Rank: 4th

Defense Rank: 9th

Pitching Rank: 6th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 97.5

Top Storylines:

  • How Does The Team Compensate For The Injury To Jose Altuve?
  • The Thinnest Rotation In Recent Houston Astros Memory
  • Can Any Of The Team’s Younger Depth Position Players Stand Out?

Can a team be too successful that they become boring? It’s common to eventually get worn out when one organization is consistently being featured on the biggest stage, and the further we get away from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the complete lack of storylines become more evident. That being said, they shouldn’t be lacking for wins.

Prior to March, you’d figure there’d be practically zero to discuss here. Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve? Yeah, they’re pretty good at this baseball thing. Oh, and after ranking 29th in first baseman fWAR last season, they proceeded to address that by signing Jose Abreu, and should eventually be able to have a healthy Michael Brantley too. When it’s all settled, they could get above-average production from eight of nine lineup spots, with at least five of them 30% above league average. Nevertheless, Altuve suffered a broken thumb during the World Baseball Classic, while Brantley remains sidelined due to injury as well. Thus, they’re relying on a rotating cast of their position player depth to fill two lineup spots, mainly Mauricio Dubon, David Hensley, and Corey Julks. The issue? These are all players THE BAT X projects to post a wRC+ under 95, and it’s left the bottom of the lineup in a rough situation. There’s more than enough star talent to get by just fine, but down the stretch, winning a World Series becomes much more complicated with every game those two miss; their ability to withstand anymore injuries also is impacted.

In fact, a lack of depth is a theme throughout the entire organization, and perhaps a consequence of the draft pick sanctions placed on them for 2020 and 2021. That’s clear in the rotation, where the loss of Justin Verlander and injury to Lance McCullers Jr. has sent the team from not being able to fit Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy into a postseason rotation to having no trusted options outside of their starting five. Considering rookie Hunter Brown has pitched a grand total of 20.2 MLB innings coming into this year and averaged under five innings per appearance in Triple-A last season, that’s something worth monitoring. Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention they’re still loaded with a rotation of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Garcia at the top, and the bullpen remains in superb shape. Still, consider them less bullet proof than in year’s past.

Slowly but surely, the Astros have become more reliant on their star players, and as many continue to age, it sets up an interesting predicament for an organization without much minor-league talent. That’s not a concern for this season, however, and it’s difficult to imagine them not winning the AL West for a sixth straight non-2020 season. Hey, that means more Yordan Alvarez, which means more of this:

As it turns out, bringing in a lefty doesn’t zap him of his powers.

Seattle Mariners

Photo Cred: sports.mynorthwest.com

Offense Rank: 15th

Defense Rank: 12th

Pitching Rank: 8th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 86.5

Top Storylines:

  • Holes Present At Left Field and Designated Hitter Could Present Trouble
  • An Incredibly Fun Pitching Staff
  • A Volatile Middle Infield Defense

For whatever “pizzazz” the Astros are lacking, the Mariners more than make up for it in the AL West. En route to breaking a 21-year postseason drought, Seattle has not only taken major strides forward from a competitiveness standpoint, but the joyous energy they play with have made them a natural favorite among baseball fans. Now, we’ll see what the next step of their journey is.

We’ll get to a certain superstar player than commands the spotlight, but the strength that the Mariners are going to continue to leverage is their prodigious pitching staff. The acquisition of Luis Castillo last trade deadline already looks like a massive success even before extending him, and he’ll be complemented by a strong trio of George Kirby, Robbie Ray, and Logan Gilbert. Is the #5 starter spot a slight question mark? Sure, but when you also boast the bullpen they do (6th in ERA last season with a similar returning group), that becomes less of an issue, especially with how much stability the top four provide them with. Let me put it this way; run prevention is unlikely to be the reason that this team struggles this year.

The lineup, on the other hand, presents a few more questions. It’d be a surprise if Julio Rodriguez wasn’t in the thick of the AL MVP race, and there’s a group of players (Ty France, Teoscar Hernandez, Cal Raleigh, Eugenio Suarez, Kolten Wong, JP Crawford) that should all be worth at least two wins above replacement this year. That leaves two glaring holes at left field and designated hitter, the former being filled currently by a platoon of Jarred Kelenic and AJ Pollock, and the latter a rotating cast of players. Those are multiple potential weak spots for a lineup which, unlike the Astros, can only compensate it with one elite player, and that’s assuming Wong and Crawford both improve defensively from unexpected down seasons a year ago. Should they get have enough impact here to complement their pitching staff? Yes, but to take the next step, you’d have hoped that they perhaps would have been more aggressive striving for more than that.

After all, the Mariners ranking just 18th in payroll is a disappointment at a time where you may have expected them to build off of the organizational momentum they were working with. Instead, they’ll be in a tight race to get back to the postseason with a collection of other American League foes, which, as was the case last year, will likely come down to the wire. Regardless, though, one thing is for certain; you’ll want to tune into as many of their games as possible. After all, who doesn’t like to be reminded how fun this game is?

Los Angeles Angels

Photo Cred: essentiallysports.com

Offense Rank: 7th

Defense Rank: 25th

Pitching Rank: 16th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 81.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Last Dance For Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani?
  • Will The Team’s Added Depth Make an Impact?
  • The Ascension of Logan O’Hoppe

When have arguably the two best players in baseball, merely fighting for a postseason spot should be far from the only goal. What would you do for a Klondike Bar? Rather, what would you do for Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout to play in a postseason game together? In Ohtani’s final year before free agency, this may be the last chance for that to happen.

Throughout Trout’s career, and then extending to Ohtani, the Angels’ struggles start from within. This organization’s ownership group, led by Arte Moreno, has not only notoriously failed to invest in player development resources, but has also consistently pushed for the signing of high-priced free agents, a majority of whom did not match expectations. This offseason, however, the front office at least had improved intentions, prioritizing depth with a variety of signings. Players such as Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, and Gio Urshela all help provide much more lineup length than we’re used to from them, while starter Tyler Anderson and relievers Carlos Estevez and Matt Moore do the same from the pitching staff. Should rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe build off his dominant minor-league track record, they could receive at least average production from all nine lineup spots and from all five members of the rotation, which is far cry from the past few years.

Texas Rangers

Photo Cred: tawainnews.com

Offense Rank: 20th

Defense Rank: 15th

Pitching Rank: 9th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Under 81.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Ultimate High-Priced, Boom-or-Bust Rotation
  • Lineup Depth Remains a Concern
  • Josh Jung Represents The Organization’s Best Chance At Developing a Player From Within

When all else fails, throw money at whatever problem you’re facing, right? Well, Rangers owner Ray Davis has certainly accepted this philosophy. A year after spending nearly half a billion dollars on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray, Texas responded to a 68-94 season by spending $263.5 million on Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Martin Perez, vaulting them into the top ten in payroll for this year. Add in hiring Bruce Bochy as manager, and it’s clear that expectations are sky high for a dramatic turnaround. That being said, it’s quite difficult to simply buy your way to success.

What do I mean by this? When looking at the Rangers roster, there is one glaring deficiency: Josh Jung is their only everyday position player or starting pitcher that was either drafted or signed internationally. Now, they do deserve credit for the acquisitions of Nathaniel Lowe, Jonah Heim, and Adolis Garcia, but when wondering why they only have four hitters (Semien, Seager, Lowe, Garver) projected to be above league average offensively by THE BAT X, it starts from within. Thus, even if their high-priced rotation lives up to the price tag, it’s not a given they’re ready to flip the switch.

Speaking of the rotation, deGrom, Eovaldi, Heaney, Gray, and Perez is a starting five that is easy to drool over, but whether it’s injury questions (top four) or sustainability (Perez), you’d be hard-pressed to find a pitching staff with as wide a range of outcomes. The bullpen, too, presents a lot of uncertainty, leading to far too many question marks on the pitching side to compensate for lineup deficiencies. If that turns out to be the case, should we just look ahead to the 2024 free agent class? If you want to know how far money alone can take you, look no further than the Lone Star State.

Oakland Athletics

Photo Cred: sportsnaut.com

Offense Rank: 26th

Defense Rank: 21st

Pitching Rank: 26th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Under 59.5

Top Storylines:

  • Will Any of Their Prospect Acquisitions Breakout?
  • Who Is Eventually Traded?
  • A Fascinating Rotation

Spend money? That definitely isn’t happening in Oakland. It isn’t a surprise that the A’s enter this season with the lowest payroll in baseball, and those deficiencies extend to the attendance as well. Add in them playing in the West Coast, and they enter 2023 with as little attention as possible, and it may be a while before that isn’t the case – trades of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Chris Bassitt during the 2021-2022 season haven’t panned out, while the return for the Sean Murphy trade this past season didn’t get rave reviews. As such, they’re a team without much major league talent and a below-average farm system, making the road ahead very difficult.

Signed to a $7 million deal this offseason, Trevor May is tied for 212th in contract value for this season. Why is this significant? Well, he’s Oakland’s highest-paid player, while the team only has 11 players either signed as free agents or in their arbitration years. As such, Fangraphs projects them to only have three players exceed two wins above replacement, which shouldn’t be a surprised; this what a complete roster teardown looks like. Should players such as Ramon Laureano, Tony Kemp, Seth Brown, Jace Peterson, Aledmys Diaz, and a collection of relievers find themselves on new teams come the trade deadline, the competitive nature of this roster would be extremely concerning.

Generally, a roster teardown should be the chance to showcase the next group of a contending Oakland A’s team, but that isn’t the case. Catcher Shea Langeliers posted quite concerning peripheral numbers (5.9% BB, 34.6% K, below-average framing) in his MLB debut, while no player hit the ball softer last season than Esteury Ruiz. On the pitching side of things, Kyle Muller has walked over 12% of the batters he has faced at the MLB level, and Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears have struggled in Oakland since being the headliners of the Frankie Montas trade. There’s a realistic world where the team doesn’t get back a single impact player for any of Olson, Chapman, Bassitt, Montas, and Murphy, which would be very troubling; falling from the #2 pick to the #6 pick in the draft lottery, on top of the team’s lack of prospect development, only makes matters worse.

Based on the trade returns for their key players, it has been clear that the A’s have a much different evaluation strategy than the rest of the industry. That would be fine if it was producing improved results, but when a questionable decision leads to an undesired outcome, then straying from the rest of the pack isn’t as sensible. When you’re prioritizing proximity above all else, it theoretically should lead to a team that can execute a quicker rebuild, but the opposite has happened; Oakland has struck out thus far to the point the rebuild hasn’t even begun. Can we bring back the Moneyball days? This organization should definitely use Peter Brand right about now.

NL East

Atlanta Braves

Photo Cred: http://www.bignewsnetwork.com

Offense Rank: 6th

Defense Rank: 16th

Pitching Rank: 1st

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 96.5

Top Storylines:

  • A Fully Healthy Ronald Acuna Jr.
  • Questions In The Rotation
  • How Does Shortstop + Left Field Settle Itself Out?

Speaking of Matt Olson and Sean Murphy, being part of a competitive team is the least of their worries. Despite possessing a lower-rated farm system, Atlanta has been able to fortify their roster by perhaps taking advantage of the Athletics’ prospect evaluation methods, and they’ve built a juggernaut ready to contend for the foreseeable future. As one of the most stable franchises in baseball, they figure to continue their run of success this year.

The mere fact that Olson and Murphy aren’t considered the headline players for this roster speaks to the level of talent the Braves possess. Remember Ronald Acuna Jr.? Well, his sprint speed is back to where it was prior to his ACL injury in July 2021, when he was in the midst of posting a 157 wRC+ and was worth 4.4 wins above replacement in half a season. He fronts a list consisting of Austin Riley, Michael Harris III, Olson, Murphy, and Ozzie Albies, all of whom are expected to exceed 3.5 wins above replacement; essentially, six of their nine starting position players are potential All Star starters. If that wasn’t enough, Travis d’Arnaud was tied for fifth in fWAR last season among catchers, and Orlando Arcia is now projected to post a league-average offensive statline with strong shortstop defense by Fangraphs Depth Chart projections. Ideally, they’d have a better solution in left field, but you can afford one qualm with how absurd of a lineup they have the potential to possess.

Oh, and the pitching is just as strong! Now, that’s assuming Max Fried and Kyle Wright both don’t spend more time on the injured list than expected, both those two combined with Spencer Strider, fresh off leading the league in FIP (1.83), and Charlie Morton is a heck of a top four. Plus, for the final spot of the rotation, they have five legitimate options (Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd, Bryce Elder) to fill that role. It’s rare to have both incredible depth and exceptional frontline talent, on top of high-powered bullpen. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos knows a thing or two about building a winning baseball team?

The best part? Reliever Joe Jimenez is the Braves’ only pending free agent; this is not a one-year run at a World Series title. They may have Baseball America‘s lowest-ranked farm system, but when you’re built with young talent locked up on long-term contracts, that’s not much of a concern at all. Now, that doesn’t mean they can afford to just rest on their laurels, but if recent drafts are any indication, they’re not doing that at all. One more division title puts them more than halfway to matching their previous 11-year NL East title streak, which is just incredible to think about; starting in 1995, they have won the division (16) five more times than the other four teams combined! That, my friends, is the definition of dominance.

New York Mets

Photo Cred: abc7news.com

Offense Rank: 8th

Defense Rank: 4th

Pitching Rank: 4th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 94.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Injuries Are Already Piling Up
  • What Impact Do The Team’s Top Two Prospects Make?
  • A Completely Reworked Rotation

It’s incredibly ironic that the Braves and Mets are competing for an NL East title; they couldn’t be different from one another. Whereas Atlanta has established themselves as a stable organization built through developing from within, owner Steve Cohen has crafted a contender based mainly out of an unimaginable payroll. It’s hard to not be a winning team when spending over $344 million, but it’s also hard to build a team strictly through free agency. That dynamic will be fascinating to see play out.

After all, it’s always a risk to invest in older players both from a performance and health standpoint, but that’s what you do with lofty free-agent signings. At the moment, 28-year-old Pete Alonso is the Mets’ youngest starting position player, while four of their expected starting pitchers were 34-years-old or older. That’s already showing up with Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana, and Omar Narvaez all on the injured list, leaving the team scrambling for pitching and catcher depth already. Now, there are worse ways to fix these matters than promoting baseball’s top-rated catching prospect in Francisco Alvarez, while Tylor Megill and David Peterson probably would be starters already for nearly every other team. That being said, when the depth is already relied upon, it sets up a disastrous scenario – the team’s age-related concerns aren’t going away.

Then again, nearly every member of a lineup that ranked 3rd in wRC+ is back for this season, while Alvarez and third base prospect Brett Baty raise the floor. Eventually, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander should form one of the premier starting pitcher duos, and the options behind them (Kodai Senga, Megill, Peterson, Carlos Carrasco, eventually Quintana) are productive pitchers in their own right. Again, that’s what happens when you spend $344 million on a roster! That being said, the Braves possess the same level of star talent, and the organizational depth they continue to produce gives them a notable edge over a full season; we saw this play out last year. In a “stability vs instant fix” battle, the former generally comes out on top, but, then again, this is still a star-driven team. Cohen has already indicated a desire to not have to spend as much in the future, but why not keep pushing the limits? Hey, it’s fun for us to watch!

Philadelphia Phillies

Photo Cred: 6abc.com

Offense Rank: 10th

Defense Rank: 26th

Pitching Rank: 12th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 89.5

Top Storylines:

  • A Lineup Decimated By Injuries
  • The Bullpen = A Volatile As It Gets
  • Has The Team Done Enough To Improve Defensively?

Speaking of teams that have spent a lot of money on free agents, the Phillies may be spending $100 million less than the Mets, but who isn’t? With only four members of their starting lineup or rotation developed internally, they’ve utilized their checkbook to get back to being a postseason team, but will be looking to recapture last season’s magic with more adversity pressed upon them. If they’ve done enough to compensate for that adversity will define their season.

When you’re a team front-loaded with stars, you can’t afford for them to miss any time due to injury or perform under expectations – this is the risk with building a fragile team. Thus, the fact that the Phillies will be without Bryce Harper for half a season and Rhys Hoskins for the year due to injury is remarkably concerning, particularly when the initial replacement for both (Darick Hall) is now injured as well. As such, the team is particularly thin when it comes to options against right-handed pitching, with a surge in performance from Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott or a bounceback from Nick Castellanos needed. This was a roster already likely to not be strong defensively, but if the offense can only be expected to be in the 10-15 range, then they’re facing an uphill climb.

The top-heavy nature of the roster extends to the pitching staff, where Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are easily both NL Cy Young contenders, but with Ranger Suarez on the injured list for the moment, there also isn’t another pitcher projected by Fangraphs to be worth two wins above replacement; Nola and Wheeler account for 61% of their projected starting pitcher WAR. To boot, a bullpen led by Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, Craig Kimbrel, and Gregory Soto would win a velocity contest, but it’d be harder to build a relief corps with more volatility. That creates a very risky floor already lowered by the lack of rotation depth and below-average defense, which is why they’re supposed to be scoring runs at a rate to compensate for this.

Yet, with the current state of the lineup, it’s unclear if that can happen. Baseball is a long season, and for the Phillies’ worst nightmares to already be recognized is obviously problematic. After the exceptional atmosphere provided by their home postseason games last year, a slip-up would be very disappointing, and they still have enough individual star players to remain in the NL wildcard mix. Expectations are understandably higher than that, but the baseball gods haven’t been on their side thus far. Can we please just ban injuries?

Miami Marlins

Photo Cred: http://www.metro.us

Offense Rank: 22nd

Defense Rank: 18th

Pitching Rank: 14th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 75.5

Top Storylines:

  • So Many Moving Pieces, And The Early Results Are Concernings
  • Can The Team’s 2021 Acquisitions Bounce Back?
  • High Expectations For The Non-Sandy Alcantara Starting Pitchers

In any competitive aspect of life, while you have some control of your fate, you’re also privy to the strength of your competitors as well. Some individuals may like bubblegum ice cream, for instance, but if they have to compete with cookies & cream, cookie dough, and salted caramel, then there’s very little extra they can do to stand out. As it turns out, the Marlins are bubblegum ice cream. Despite continued efforts to change the narrative, it’s likely they remain at the back of the freezer.

When looking at the Marlins lineup, the bubblegum ice cream label becomes even more fitting; it just doesn’t mesh together. During the 2021 offseason, they made power a priority, signing Avisail Garcia and Jorge Soler. Yet, they then struck out more than they’d like, leading to them acquiring contact-oriented hitters in Luis Arraez and Jean Segura. In the process, they’re also moving Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field, which he has never played, while also Arraez has consistently rated as a below-average defender at second base – in addition to trading away starter Pablo Lopez and prospect Jose Salas, they made their defense much worse in multiple ways. Ultimately, the end product is the looks of a “whack-a-mole” roster, with immediate priorities being filled over a wider-ranged vision. The additions and full seasons from Chisholm Jr. and Soler should lead to an improved lineup over last year’s group (25th in wRC+), but the early returns have already been worrisome, and it’s unclear if the offensive upgrades will be worth the significant defensive questions. Then again, calculated decisions usually aren’t made during an arcade game.

The general expectation is the Marlins will get by due to a very strong pitching staff, but will they? I wouldn’t put it past Sandy Alcantara to simply pitch every inning this year, and Jesus Luzardo (30% K) shined in a limited sample last year. Then again, Luzardo also has yet to pitch a full season, and the rest of the rotation consists of Trevor Rogers coming off a very rough season, Edward Cabrera walking nearly 15% of the batters he’s faced in just over 100 MLB innings, and Johnny Cueto looking to defy standard pitching peripherals (15.7% K, 4.49 SIERA) for a second straight year. Trading away Lopez seemed like a chance to use a strength to fix a weakness, but, really, they took an above-average aspect of their roster, and made it average, while the other aspect remained below average. All together, that sounds a lot like the 2021 and 2022 Marlins.

When you’re a small-market organization competing with the Braves, Mets, and Phillies, you’re margin for error is slim. Thus, Miami’s recent track record in both free agency and the draft should raise alarm bells, and sets the franchise up in a difficult situation. They remain committed to trying to be a postseason team, yet how much in their range of outcomes is that possibility? I’d love to say the problem lies with the competition, yet maybe bubblegum ice cream just wasn’t meant to rise to the top. It’s just too difficult to built cookies and cream when you’re trying to mesh bubblegum flavor with chocolate sauce and peanuts.

Washington Nationals

Photo Cred: wtop.com

Offense Rank: 30th

Defense Rank: 28th

Pitching Rank: 30th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 59.5

Top Storylines:

  • Will The Magic of Joey Meneses Sustain?
  • What Comes Out of The Juan Soto Trade?
  • Newly-Extended Keibert Ruiz Looking To Take The Next Step

Do you remember when the Nationals won the World Series in 2019? That was only three-and-a-half years ago! Now, only Patrick Corbin, an injured Stephen Strasburg, and Victor Robles remain from the World Series team; said roster included Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, among others. Sometimes, you don’t know what you had until it’s gone, and the good memories are going to need to cherished as long as possible.

I’m going to be frank; the Nationals are unlikely to win many games this season. Keibert Ruiz is their only position player projected by Fangraphs to be worth over two wins above replacement, while MacKenzie Gore is their only starting pitchers projected for an ERA under 4.80. Add that together, and you get a frontrunner for the #1 overall pick, which is widely recognized. Thus, what is truly meaningful about this season is the organizational progress. Ruiz, Gore, CJ Abrams, and Josiah Gray are the four main current MLB players from the Turner + Scherzer and Soto trades, and Washington desperately needs them to live up to their prospect pedigree; so far, the results have been mixed. Without much way to add prospects via trades given the state of the MLB roster, coming out of the rebuild consists of development from their current group of players and the draft, yet that has yet to transpire.

Of course, the trade of Soto has led to a much-improved farm system, headlined by high-end outfield prospect James Wood. At the same time, this is not an organization that has proven equipped to consistently develop impact players, and their current MLB roster is a reflection of this. All told, you not only have a team that will struggle to win games, but, also, won’t be able to attract any sort of audience for the next few years. Should we cue up the Baby Shark music and send it back to 2019? Those were simpler times.

NL Central

St.Louis Cardinals

Photo Cred: sportsnet.com

Offense Rank: 3rd

Defense Rank: 17th

Pitching Rank: 19th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 88.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Debut of Jordan Walker + A Crowded Outfield
  • Is The Rotation Sufficient Enough To Support a Playoff Run?
  • A New Catcher In Town

The team the Nationals beat to advance to the World Series in 2019? That would be the St.Louis Cardinals, who’ve certainly experienced much more success since that NLCS. Since 2000, this organization has had ONE losing season. Think about that for a second; they’ve done that with 11 straight different leaders in Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement, four different managers, and multiple front office configurations. Let’s just say the odds of them having a winning record are in their favor.

After all, St.Louis has quietly constructed a lineup that rivals the best in baseball. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt remain the headliners, but the depth beyond them is tremendous. Outside of them, six other players project to be two-win players by Fangraphs, and that doesn’t include rookie standout Jordan Walker or the combined contributions of the likes of Nolan Gorman and Alec Burleson. When it’s all said and done, this is a team that should get above-average contributions from every position, and it’s a matter of finding room for everyone. That’s what happens when you from ranking 27th in catcher WAR to signing Willson Contreras, while building so much depth that a players like Dylan Carlson couldn’t crack the opening day lineup.

In fact, with how many quality position players they possess, you wonder if the Cardinals would flex their muscles there to upgrade a rotation that has both short-term and long-term concerns. No team struck out batters at a lower rate than them, and there are a lot of open questions; what the team gets from Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz, who bought struggled last season and missed considerably time due to injury and the currently injured Adam Wainwright is a complete unknown. It’s likely their early struggles to the season hold merit, and could potentially constrain their ability to go head-to-head with the premier NL contenders. Or, they’ll somehow Cardinal their way to success.

Really, what else would you expect from this organization? In many ways, it feels that they’ve gone too far under the radar based on how productive their lineup projects to be, and there is plenty of organizational depth to be excited about. That not only gives them the flexibility to make trades to improve the rotation, with Matz and Mikolas the only starters under contract for next year, but also the path to continued stability even as Goldschmidt and Arenado move further into their 30s. There may be no team in baseball with a more narrow range of outcomes than them, yet that’s the product of their roster construction strategy; their functionality and long-term vision consistently raises their floor tremendously. As such, in a weak NL Central, another postseason appearance should be on the horizon.

Milwaukee Brewers

Photo Cred: http://www.newstime.com

Offense Rank: 21st

Defense Rank: 23rd

Pitching Rank: 5th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 86.5

Top Storylines:

  • Opportunities Available For Young Position Players
  • Speaking of Which, Lineup Depth Is A Major Question
  • Can They Continue To Work Magic In The Bullpen?

The Cardinals have been the staple of consistency, but it’s not as though the Brewers haven’t been right there with them recently. Starting in 2017, they’ve won at least 86 games in every full season, all while not exactly spending an abundance of money on their roster; they will look to keep that streak going with another modest payroll (20th) and more roster turnover. There’s a path to that happening, though it’s perhaps a bit dicier than year’s past.

As is the case with any Brewers team, that path starts with run prevention, where Milwaukee wasn’t as dominant (14th in FIP) last season, and will have to manage with Aaron Ashby injured, and a full season without Josh Hader and Brad Boxberger in the bullpen. Fortunately, a rotation anchored by Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and a healthy Freddy Peralta is a great place to start, with Eric Lauer and Wade Miley more than sufficient options to fill the staff out. What’s more concerning is the lack of depth beyond those five, particularly with a thinner bullpen, but a healthy starting five stacks them with the game’s top starting pitching corps. Really, there a lot of ways this could go.

That sentiment extends to the lineup, where Milwaukee could exceed expectations with strong rookie seasons from Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang, and Joey Weimer, though relying on that comes with substantial volatility. Even from there, that volatility is present with needed bounce backs from offseason additions Jesse Winker and Brian Anderson, while injuries to Luis Urias and Tyrone Taylor places more pressure on positive outcomes. Then again, it’s not a far-cried possibility, and they’ll get above-average offensive seasons from the likes of Willy Adames, William Contreras, Christian Yelich, and Rowdy Tellez. All together, there’s a scenario where they receive at least average production at every spot in the lineup, even if no player outside of Adames is a three-win player. Yet, there’s also a likely scenario where things bottom out.

Sometimes, you want to buy a lottery ticket, but do you want to put your life savings on it? Sure, the thrill and potential reward is exciting, though there’s a downside situation that always need to be considered. With the team off to a fast start, the chances of a reset period with a midseason trade of Burnes and/or Adames lessen, though some sort of transitional period may be needed eventually. I’d still find it unlikely they score enough runs to line up with the Cardinals, but, hey, this is an organization that generally deserves the benefit of the doubt. When you’re wearing cheeseheads in the dugout (see above), anything is possible.

Chicago Cubs

Photo Cred: sportswire.usatoday.com

Offense Rank: 23rd

Defense Rank: 14th

Pitching Rank: 21st

Win Total Over/Under: Under 76.5

Top Storylines:

  • An Abundance of Offseason Additions
  • What To Expect From Nico Hoerner and Seiya Suzuki?
  • The Starting Rotation Possesses Tremendous Intrigue

Whereas the Cardinals have experienced tremendous consistency during the 21st century, it’s been the opposite in the Windy City; it’s quite comical how often the Cubs have fluctuated between winning and losing seasons. In 2016, it looked like that fluctuation was bound to be replaced by the next dynasty, but the page has been officially turned; Kyle Hendricks is the only player left from that World Series team, with the backup catcher (David Ross) now the manager and Theo Epstein no longer with the organization. Spurred by back-to-back losing seasons, the organization’s offseason spending indicates a desire to return to competitiveness rather quickly, but that may not bear out this year.

Really, it’s astonishing how much different Chicago’s lineup is from last year, with five of the nine spots being filled by an offseason addition. That includes Dansby Swanson, brought in on a lofty seven-year contract, establishing an exceptional defensive middle infield with Nico Hoerner, but also risk with a strong amount of his value coming via baserunning and defense – he’s posted just a 107 wRC+ dating back to 2021. From there, they’re hoping to strike gold with a bounceback from Cody Bellinger, in addition to Trey Mancini proving his struggles with the Astros to be a mirage, which are calculated “risks” for a team that could use extra volatility. Yet, Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki, and Ian Happ truly are the team’s sole offensive foundation, which doesn’t give them the luxury to embrace that volatility, with Patrick Wisdom the only other returning player projected by Fangraphs for league-average offensive production. All told, Swanson, Hoerner, and Bellinger form an exceptional up-the-middle-defense, yet the offensive impact is a notable concern; the lack of players they can count on beyond this season also is potential troubling.

Even if doesn’t pan out statistically, I do find the Cubs’ rotation this season to be rather fascinating. It’s easy to see the pairing of Marcus Stroman and this middle infield defense going very well, while offseason signing Jameson Taillon is coming off a very quality season (3.84 SIERA/2.3 fWAR) and was in high demand for a reason. From there, second-year starters Justin Steele and Hayden Wesneiski each impressed significantly, and even the trio of Drew Smyly, Adrian Sampson, and Hendricks presents added depth. All together, that perhaps sounds more exciting than the final output, where the lack of a premium impact starter shows up in addition to questions in the bullpen, but it’s better than you’d expect for a team still in transition.

To be frank, I’m a bit confused about where the Cubs view themselves internally; there hasn’t been much in the way of organizational progress to expect they’re ready to compete, but I’m also not going to fault anyone for spending money. Baseball is better when the Cubs are winning, which makes their urgency useful in that sense, though what comes from that is left to be determined. I’ve probably overthought an offseason mainly filled with short-term fill-ins, though isn’t that what this article is for?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Photo Cred: mlbtraderumors.com

Offense Rank: 24th

Defense Rank: 11th

Pitching Rank: 28th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 67.5

Top Storylines:

  • Does The Team’s Offseason Activity Lead To More Competitiveness
  • Plenty of Opportunities For Young Players
  • What Does The Future Hold For Bryan Reynolds?

On the other hand, spending money isn’t something you should expect from the Pittsburgh Pirates, an organization that has ranked in the bottom-four in payroll in every season since 2017. In turn, they’ve finished with a .363 winning percentage or lower in three straight years, securing two #1 overall picks in the process. In all honesty, the draft is where the focus of the organization lies, though they did take steps this offseason to field a more competitive roster. Regardless, we’ll learn a lot about the franchise’s future outlook in 2023.

Reuniting with Andrew McCutchen drew the most headlines this offseason, and for good reason, but he’s only a part of a collection of several quality additions. McCutchen, Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi, and Connor Joe all project by Fangraphs to post a 107 wRC+ or better, with Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes each likely to exceed three fWAR and Jack Suwinski also projected for a 106 wRC+ in center field. Sadly, Oneil Cruz, who had already established himself as one of the game’s most exciting players and a key cog for Pittsburgh’s future, will miss considerable time due to an ankle fracture, though his MLB resume (108 wRC+ over 407 PA) has been extremely encouraging, and we may see catcher Endy Rodriguez debut in the majors as well. All together, it’s a respectable collection of current contributors and players to be excited about moving forward, and that’s not including the team’s deep farm system. Let me put it this way; these are more words than I expected to write about the 2023 Pirates lineup.

The pitching side of things, with no one projected to be worth two wins above replacement, is much less certain, and the organization will look for more signs of progress from the likes of Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, and Luis Ortiz. Now, they’re much thinner in pitching depth both in the MLB and in the minors than position players, but that’s generally preferred; the volatility of pitching prospects makes them difficult to have the fate of the rebuild rely on. Should they select Dylan Crews with the #1 pick and work out an extension Bryan Reynolds, the position player group would be one to be incredibly excited about, though the margin for error remains zero to none given the lack of spending willingness. This may seem overly optimistic for a team many expect to win fewer than 70 games, but, hey, we have to keep positive energy flowing. After all, who could be negative about baseball?

Cincinnati Reds

Photo Cred: usatoday.com

Offense Rank: 28th

Defense Rank: 30th

Pitching Rank: 22nd

Win Total Over/Under: Under 65.5

Top Storylines:

  • Three Very Exciting Second-Year Starting Pitchers
  • Can Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson Bounce Back/Stay Healthy?
  • The Chance For Spencer Steer To Develop Into an Impact Third Baseman

For any credit the Pirates get for trying to win more games this year, the Reds deserve the opposite. Whether it was ownership directly stating the team wasn’t going to be competitive or last year’s “where else are you going to go” declaration, this isn’t exactly an organization thriving from a public relations standpoint, and that could only get uglier in 2023.

The Reds had three players exceed two wins above replacement in 2022. The issue? Those three players (Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Brandon Drury) all did not finish the season with the organization. As such, Jonathan India is their only projected two-win player by Fangraphs, and even he is coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign (95 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR). The hope is that he, Tyler Stephenson, rookie third baseman Spencer Steer, and other players such as TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley can form some sort of core to build upon, though were once again talking about Fangraphs’ second-lowest projected lineup in fWAR. At the very least, can Joey Votto please come back and defy father time again?

If you’re a neutral spectator watching the Reds this season, it likely revolves around one of their three second-year starting pitchers. Not only did Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and Graham Ashcraft all impress as rookies, but all rated out 10% better than the average starting pitcher in Fangraphs‘ stuff+ pitching modeling metric, with those numbers more than holding up during the early portion of this year. Now, outside of reliever Alexis Diaz, that’s about where the fun likely ends, particularly in a ballpark that isn’t exactly pitcher-friendly. That, along with the lack of minor-league pitching depth, places more pressure on the second-year trio to continue to progress, but at least all signs are positive there thus far.

The A’s and Nationals are giving them a run for their lack of money (see what I did there?), but the Reds have a great chance of “earning” the top pick in next year’s draft. To be fair, their farm system is rich with impact position players, and they’ll have a chance to continue to build on that in this year’s draft. That being said, it’s clear they’re at the early stages of their rebuilding phase, and the reliance on continued development from players at the lower levels of the minors is always extremely risky. Really, we’re in a wait and see mode with the franchise, but one thing is for certain; perhaps they should let their public relations department do their job? I’m no expert, but antagonizing the fanbase doesn’t seem like the best strategy. Thank goodness for Joe Burrow?

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers

Photo Cred: albat.com

Offense Rank: 1st

Defense Rank: 8th

Pitching Rank: 9th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 96.5

Top Storylines:

  • Huge Expectations For James Outman and Miguel Vargas
  • Is The Pitching Staff Too Fragile?
  • Just How Strong Is The Dodgers’ Player Development Engine?

There’s dominance, and then there’s the Dodgers’ reign over the NL West. Starting in 2013, Los Angeles has failed to win the division just one time, and it took 107 wins from the Giants in 2021 for that to happen. With a better than .650 winning percentage in each of the past four years, they’re the gold standard of baseball, but will have quite a different feel this year. Then again, don’t forget who we’re dealing with here.

Among the members of the 2022 roster that won’t play for the Dodgers this season: Trea Turner, Gavin Lux, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, and Chris Martin. That’s 20.7 wins above replacement just on those seven players alone, and the team wasn’t particularly aggressive replacing them. Nevertheless, when two of the game’s top-nine most valuable players (Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman) from a season ago, along with THE BAT X‘s top-projected catcher (Will Smith) and third third-best projected third baseman in wRC+, the chances are you’re going to have a productive lineup, and it doesn’t stop there. Offseason signing JD Martinez has posted a 119 wRC+ or better in every non-2020 season dating back to 2014,and David Peralta’s reworked swing led to the highest barrel rate of his career (8.5%); it’s easy to forget Trayce Thompson hit to the tune of a deserved 142 wRC+ last year and Chris Taylor has been worth a strong 6.4 fWAR over 1250 plate appearances the past three years. Simply off of proven/established MLB contributors, they’re in a good spot, though the upside doesn’t stop there.

That’s due to the major roles that they’ll give to rookies Miguel Vargas and James Outman. As a team that has consistently ranked near the top of the league in batter age, it’s refreshing to see an injunction of young talent, particularly when it comes to these two players. After all, Outman demolished minor-league pitching (141 wRC+) last season, currently ranks at the top of the MLB in every statistical leaderboard, and has the quality of contact + athleticism combination that raises his ceiling significantly. Meanwhile, Vargas is projected to be at least a three-win player by all systems, combining a strong offensive foundation with surprisingly above-average defense at second base in the early going. It may not look at sexy, but outside of potentially shortstop, they’re likely to get above-average value from every lineup spot, with depth that extends well beyond the starting nine. All told, don’t be surprised if they’re the top offense in baseball for a second straight year.

The pitching, on the other hand, is a bit more fragile, which is as uncharacteristic of a Dodgers team as it gets. Now, plenty of teams would be ecstatic to have their rotation fronted by Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, and Dustin May, but with volume a question with the latter two and Tony Gonsolin already on the injured list, it’s likely they’re going to count on their depth. Whether that’s Noah Syndergaard turning back the clock to 2015 or one of the team’s top pitching prospects establishing themselves at the MLB level, some sort of pleasant surprise is going to be needed, though it also helps when you’re loaded with relief pitcher talent. Simply on the injured list, Daniel Hudson, Jimmy Nelson, Alex Reyes, and JP Feyereisen could all provide reinforcements in the bullpen at some point this year, and there’s also the chance that they can flex their upper-level pitching in short-innings stints as well, It’ll take creativity to both manage workloads and figure out the back-end of the rotation, but there are enough options for them to succeed in that effort.

All told, an elite offense with substantial organizational pitching depth still equals one of, if not the best team in baseball. As we discussed with the Astros, fatigue with a successful organization is normal, and the Dodgers fall victim to taking a perceived step back at a time where the Padres spent nearly $1 billion between free-agent signings and extensions. Thus, it makes sense that they’ve suddenly almost fall under the radar. Still, even if it lacks traditional “pizazz”, the end product of the roster is bound to be extremely strong, and there’s also a benefit of the doubt given to an organization that has been the example everyone else is trying to replicate. Really, is this season just a game by the front office to test the limits of their developmental powers? Could we even fault them if it was?

San Diego Padres

Photo Cred: manguveportivo.com

Offense Rank: 2nd

Defense Rank: 20th

Pitching Rank: 15th

Win Total Over/Under: Slightly Over 93.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Return of Fernando Tatis Jr.
  • Questions With The Back-End of The Rotation
  • Offseason Spending = Tremendous Urgency

That takes us right back to Southern California, where the concept of a “small-market” is being absolutely defied. Who could imagine that the San Diego Padres would ever boast the third-highest payroll in baseball, spending more than the Dodgers in the process? Alas, this is an organization that sees their window at its peak, and they’re willing to do anything to maximize on it. With the loftiest expectations this franchise has ever had, they face as much pressure as any team in recent memory.

Interestingly, after perhaps being a team slightly stronger in run prevention the past few years, it’s their lineup that will aim to carry them to the promiseland. Lineup depth may have been problematic in 2022, but when Manny Machado is suddenly complemented by a full season of Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Xander Bogaerts, that changes dramatically. Heck, even the duo of Matt Carpenter and Nelson Cruz is an upgrade over their designated hitter situation last year, with Jake Cronenworth, Ha-Seong Kim, and Trent Grisham all potential three-win players in their own right. Would you like to have more confidence in their catching situation? Sure, but the same can also be said about half of the league. Who fills in for any of their starting nine should injuries present themselves is troubling, but a fully healthy unit is going to be prolific.

Once Joe Musgrove returns, the trio of him, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell remains intact. That being said, with both Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo transition from the bullpen to the rotation, and Michael Wacha’s 3.32 ERA not exactly being back up by his other peripheral numbers last season, there are rightful concerns about the team’s pitching during the stretch run of the season. Returns from the injury list by Robert Suarez and Drew Pomeranz should put the bullpen in a strong position, but for how aggressive AJ Preller is, it’d be surprising to not see a starting pitcher acquired at some point this season; there’s also the side benefit of getting to move Martinez or Lugo back to the bullpen. Now, if the bullpen transitions go smoothly, the upside is through the roof, yet a team with massive expectations usually wants as little volatility as possible.

Even with those qualms, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine a team this star-studded not having a successful year – there’s a lot that would need to go wrong, especially considering the top-heavy state of the National League. Nevertheless, when comparing them to the dragon up North they’re trying to slay, you do wonder if the Dodgers’ organizational depth gives them an advantage. Whereas Los Angeles has the fallback option of elite pitching prospects such as Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone, San Diego is turning to much less hearalded pitchers, while the Dodgers also have significantly more prospect capital to execute an in-season trade. Then again, they have four players who have been worth at least six wins above replacement in the either of the past two years! Who knows what the future holds for an organization that has thrown tomorrow’s worries out the window, but the present represents a truly exciting time for a fanbase that hasn’t gotten to experience something like this. I’ll leave you with this quote by Roy T.Bennett, author of The Light In The Heart:

“You cannot change your past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about your future. “

Remember this, Padres fans!

San Francisco Giants

Photo Cred: http://www.abc10.com

Offense Rank: 16th

Defense Rank: 24th

Pitching Rank: 11th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 81.5

Top Storylines:

  • An Abundance of Offseason Additions
  • How Does The Team Employ Their Extremely Deep Rotation?
  • A Potentially Defining Year With Fanbase Displeasure

With so many reputable projection systems available, it isn’t common for a team to completely defy expectations. Sure, a team projected to win 75 games may win 85, but for a projected low-70 win team to win 107 games, as was the case with the Giants in 2021, is unheard of. That success naturally set the goals much higher than previously anticipated for 2022, but an 81-81 season set the stage for disappointment, further escalated by an offseason that the fanbase wasn’t particularly fond of. The lack of impact star talent is evident, yet the front office has built a roster incredibly well-equipped for a 162-win season, which places them firmly in postseason contention.

Would San Francisco’s lineup look a lot better if their courting of Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa have had the ideal result? That’s of course not going to be disputed, with no position player projected to reach three wins above replacement by Fangraphs. Compare that to the Dodgers and Padres, and there’s a reason we’re not talking about the Giants in a similar way despite strong depth and an extremely quality pitching staff. Instead, they’ll continue to try to leverage platoons to squeeze out as much extra offensive value as possible, with several players (Lamonte Wade Jr., Joc Pederson, Wilmer Flores, J.D. Davis) fitting that mold. That being said, they aren’t derived of intriguing players. Michael Conforto may not have played in 2022, but he’s projected by THE BAT X for a 126 wRC+ and forms a major upgrade in the corner outfield spots with Mitch Haniger. Meanwhile, Thairo Estrada has been plenty productive (108 wRC+) since joining the Giants in 2021, while Mike Yastrzemski and the currently injured Austin Slater should eventually be a tremendous center field pairing.

The x-factor may be third baseman David Villar, who was 24% above league average as a rookie, yet also struck out 32% of the time and only totaled up 181 plate appearances. If he lives up to his 114 wRC+ projected by ZiPs, then they’d likely be getting at least average production at every lineup spot minus the catcher position, and some sort of youth would be aesthetically ideal. After all, this is a team that finished last in defensive runs saved a season ago, so for them to fail to become younger and substantially more athletic presents issues. That may place even more pressure on a sinker-heavy pitching staff which, by the looks of it, could have as many as seven pitchers (Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Sean Manaea, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Anthony DeSclafani, Jakob Junis) who’d be a part of most rotations. The team has already shuffled between Manaea and Stripling for the final rotation spot, and it’s likely they flex their pitching depth muscles to help preserve the staff. While not as glaring as their lack of athleticism, not being able to fill the back-end of the rotation was something that held them back tremendously last season, and it’s fascinating to see the front office essentially replace Carlos Rodon in the aggregate; they may not get the high-end production, but the upgrade from bullpen games to the likes of Stripling and Manaea should be enough to counteract that. Remember, they did lead the National League in FIP last year.

When you add a league-average offense with run prevention likely trending towards the middle of the pack due to their defense, then you get the epitome of average. This isn’t a roster with any glaring weaknesses, yet also no clear strengths, and not one the standard fan is going to be enthused by. Nevertheless, they have to play 162 games, and their ability to have the ability to handle adversity in a way that the Phillies can’t could make a significant difference in the NL Wildcard race. 2021 set unreasonable expectations that have created a disconnect between the fanbase and front office, but they’ve transformed a dire situation into a playoff-caliber team in very short order. It won’t be particularly exciting, though it’d be very surprising to see them not playing meaningful baseball games in September. All things considered, that’s a positive outcome.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Photo Cred: sportswire.usatoday.com

Offense Rank: 19th

Defense Rank: 6th

Pitching Rank: 23th

Win Total Over/Under: Over 74.5

Top Storylines:

  • The Next Diamondbacks Core Is Here
  • Can Christian Walker Replicate His 2022 Season?
  • How Do Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson Fit Into The Team’s Plans?

Think about this; by being in the NL West, the Diamondbacks have to compete with two teams (Padres, Dodgers) who have been in the top-five in payroll in back-to-back years, as well as another (Giants) who have considerable spending power as well. Heck, even the Colorado Rockies are spending over $50 million more than Arizona, and that’s after an increase by nearly $40 million in payroll. All things considered, to compete in this division means to do so the same way as their brother expansion team; just like the Rays in the AL East, it starts with developing a juggernaut from within, and they’re well on their way to doing that. With that young talent making its way to the MLB level, this marks the first time they can start to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Chief among the Dbacks’ core players is Corbin Carroll, already signed to an eight-year extension after being considered by many to be the top prospect in baseball. As a true center fielder (even if Alek Thomas’ presence shifts him to left) was 57% (!) above league average offensively in Double-A and Triple-A last year, he has so many pathways to becoming an extremely valuable player, and it’s encouraging how well he’s held up as a 22-year-old in the majors. For what it’s worth, the early returns from Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy suggests the construction of an outfield filled with athleticism and defensive value, giving the franchise something to build on. That allowed them to feel comfortable using Daulton Varsho as a means to acquire catching prospect Gabriel Moreno, who has also impressed at the MLB level, in addition to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who’s a great complement as a right-handed outfielder to match with a completely lefty outfield. From there, whether it’s Christian Walker sustaining a high-end 2022 season or Ketel Marte replicating his 2021 form (140 wRC+), there are more ways this lineup exceeds expectations, and we haven’t mentioned players such as Evan Longoria, Kyle Lewis, and Josh Rojas; they’re all above-average hitters who also help extend this lineup. With a mix of youth and established veterans, I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss them as a potential top-ten group in overall value.

So, why aren’t we more centered in on the Diamondbacks’ playoff chances? Ultimately, it’s due to a pitching staff that does feature Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly fresh off combing for 7.6 fWAR, but also two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner, Zach Davies) each projected by Fangraphs for a 4.70 ERA or higher and a bullpen that could be best described as questionable. There is a lot of intrigue with the trio of Brandon Pfaadt, Drey Jameson, and Ryne Nelson, all of whom are well-regarded pitching prospects who could be fixtures in next year’s rotation, but it’s yet to be determined how much of an impact they make on the MLB team this year. In many ways, the more innings they pitch, the more likely it is that Arizona is a postseason contender, though is it reasonable to expect them to somehow match the rest of the National League’s respective pitching staffs? A lot would have to go right for that to happen.

Regardless of games won, there aren’t many teams that should be more exciting to watch this season than the Diamondbacks, a stark contrast from what we’ve seen recently in Arizona. With a collection of young, up-the-middle players with dynamic athleticism, the core is quite strong, and they’ll finally get to showcase it in 2023. I’d say the future is bright, yet, to be honest, the future may be now.

Colorado Rockies

Photo Cred: http://www.fubotv.com

Offense Rank: 29th

Defense Rank: 27th

Pitching Rank: 29th

Win Total Over/Under: Under 65.5

Top Storylines:

  • Can We See a Full Healthy Season From Kris Bryant?
  • The Rookie Debut of Ezequiel Tovar
  • What’s Different About This Season?

Two of the World Series favorites with top-five payrolls, a big-market organization with a tremendous front office, a team with as much young talent as it gets, and….. the Colorado Rockies? At a time where homogeneity among front offices is high, it’s very rare for a franchise to run in such distinct fashion from the rest of the league, to the point they appear to be playing a different game. Nevertheless, as the game advances, the Rockies remain stuck, and no solution appears likely to come.

I could go over the team’s roster in great detail, or I could remind you this is precisely the same roster as the one that ranked 27th in run differential a year ago. No, I’m not joking; Jurickson Profar, Mike Moustakas, Harold Castro, Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand, Connor Seabold, and Brent Suter are the only players who did not play for the Rockies last season. So, clearly, this is a ascending team in the midst of a rebuild? That’s usually not the type of organization that signs Kris Bryant to a seven-year deal, has extended several players, and has the sixth-oldest lineup. Wait, so if they’re the same team as one of the league’s worst rosters a year ago and not looking towards the future, what are they? Good luck figuring that out!

In a beautiful ballpark with a passionate fanbase, it truly is a shame the Rockies are where they are, particularly when they theoretically had a left side infield of Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story to provide a foundation to build on. Instead, the trade of Arenado and letting Story depart as a free agent looks likely to net them cost savings and not much else, and it even gets worse from there. See, they traded infield prospect Juan Brito to the Guardians to acquire 25-year-old third baseman Nolan Jones, only to not even have him make the MLB roster in favor of a 34-year-old Moustakas, while Brendan Rodgers will miss the entire year with a torn labrum; even 26-year-old outfielder Sean Bouchard, who had a promising MLB debut, had to undergo biceps surgery. When you’re projected by Fangraphs to be the worst team in baseball but rank 15th in payroll, something has gone wrong, though it’s more of the same on what has been a very rough period for this franchise. It’s a good thing they’re paying Arenado $16 million this year not to play for them; when you can do that for last year’s NL fWAR leader, how can you pass that up? Some things are better left unexplained.

Wow, we’ve actually gotten through every team, and only in just over 16,000 words! Since there’s no harm in doing so, let’s take a stab at formulating season predictions that are guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate:

  • AL East Winner: Toronto Blue Jays
  • AL Central Winner: Minnesota Twins
  • AL West Winner: Houston Astros
  • AL Wildcards: New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners
  • NL East Winner: Atlanta Braves
  • NL Central Winner: St.Louis Cardinals
  • NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
  • NL Wildcards: San Diego Padres, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants
  • ALCS: Toronto Blue Jays Over Minnesota Twins
  • NLCS: Atlanta Braves Over Los Angeles Dodgers
  • World Series: Toronto Blue Jays Over Atlanta Braves
  • AL MVP: 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians
  • NL MVP: OF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
  • AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
  • NL Cy Young: Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers
  • AL Rookie of The Year: C Logan O’Hoppe, Los Angeles Angels
  • NL Rookie of The Year: OF Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • AL Reliever of The Year: Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
  • NL Reliever of The Year: Josh Hader, San Diego Padres

Here’s to a season filled with joy, excitement, and too much baseball to take in. Just kidding; there’s no such thing as too much baseball! After all, how could you not be romantic about baseball?

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