If hope springs eternal, as we’ve said in this space before, then delusion springs in January. Although to hear some executives tell it, irrationality arrived a bit early after the 2022 season, with decade-long contracts suddenly becoming the norm in free agency and prices for the rest of the market spiraling as a result. It sure beats previous alternatives, like the lockout-wrecked winter last year, or the interminable months after the 2018 season, when scant occurred at the Winter Meetings and neither Bryce Harper nor Manny Machado signed before spring training.

But there is always room for improvement. With that in mind, we continue our annual, futile tradition of offering a New Year’s Resolution for each of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Consider these aspirational. Aren’t all our resolutions?

Washington Nationals (55-107): Find a new owner.
No, this isn’t the simplest task to achieve. Selling a team takes time, but with Ted Leonis — the owner of the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics emerging as the favorite to win the bidding — some certainty would aid the direction of the baseball operations department. The Nationals used to compete for top-tier free agents, but with the team circling the drain in the years after the 2019 championship, Washington has only Stephen Strasburg’s curdled contract on the books beyond 2024. Whoever purchases the club, be it Leonis’ group or someone else, will have plenty of financial flexibility while piloting a resurgence in the National League East.

Oakland Athletics (60-102): Figure out the stadium situation.
Look, these are New Year’s Resolutions. They’re supposed to be outlandish and hard to achieve. In trading Sean Murphy, the Athletics have dealt away just about every significant contributor from their contending club in the late 2010s. There isn’t much reason to watch the club in 2023, unless you’re really curious to see how many different positions Aledmys Díaz can play. So we’re putting as much effort into this blurb as Oakland is putting into contending this coming season. Las Vegas, Howard Terminal, doesn’t matter to us — just pick one.

Cincinnati Reds (62-100): Hide Hunter Greene’s fastball.
Greene, the former No. 1 overall pick, unveiled his highly-regarded heater in his debut season in 2022. In one sense, the pitch lived up to its hype: Greene’s fastball sat at 99 mph, the fastest average for any pitcher who logged at least 100 innings. The problem was hitters clobbered it, slugging .512 against the pitch as Greene finished the year with a 4.44 ERA. His 6-foot-5 frame does not permit him to hide the ball as other, shorter pitchers might. But that can be tweaked. Greene can also increase the usage of his strong slider and improve the effectiveness of his changeup. His blazing, hittable fastball is far from doomed.

Oneil Cruz (John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh Pirates (62-100): Make sure Oneil Cruz makes contact.
In the minors, Pittsburgh’s former top prospect stuck out in about a quarter of his at-bats. That was tolerable, given all of the shortstop’s other tools. In his extended big-league look in 2022, he fanned nearly 35 percent of the time, the sort of whiff rate that triggers alarm bells. Cruz still hit with significant power — 17 homers and a .450 slugging percentage in 87 games — but all those swings and misses led to a sub-.300 on-base percentage, which would preclude him from becoming a star. Cruz can crush a fastball. But he was particularly bedeviled by breaking balls, which the modern pitcher now throws as often as the heaters. If he can display a bit more discipline, he can get closer to his ceiling, which is elevated for reasons beyond his 6-foot-7 frame.

Kansas City Royals (65-97): Turn the page.
In firing Dayton Moore, the esteemed architect of the 2015 world champions and the steward of baseball operations in Kansas City since 2006, owner John Sherman made a move that many around the industry viewed as painful but necessary. The franchise had stagnated in the years after the title. While Sherman and his ownership group are stumping for a new downtown stadium, new head honcho JJ Picollo, Moore’s longtime No. 2, rebuilt the coaching staff around former Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro. Just as vital will be the work done on the player-development side, as the Royals race to catch up to Cleveland, an American League Central rival who has built a pitching pipeline that permits its ownership group to contend while avoiding major forays into the free-agent market.

Detroit Tigers (66-96): Get a full year of September/October Javier Báez.
In the final 30 games of 2022, Báez played like a $140 million man. He posted an .831 OPS, with six homers, three doubles and two triples, all while playing solid defense at shortstop. But it was not enough to make up for the first 114 games, when Báez had a .629 OPS with 116 strikeouts in 439 at-bats. Very little went right for Detroit last year, a season in which the team had made feints at contending. After a 66-win campaign, owner Chris Ilitch declined to wade back into the big-money free-agent market. So the pressure will be on Báez again as the Tigers tread water.

Colorado Rockies (68-94): Hope Nolan Jones breaks out.
The prospect status of Jones dipped as his plate discipline degraded while he rose through the minors. That made him expendable to the Guardians, who dealt him to Colorado in November. Maybe the thin air at Coors Field can rejuvenate Jones’s bat — or at least accentuates those times when he does make contact.

Texas Rangers (68-94): Get 25 starts from Jacob deGrom.
The Rangers burst back onto the spending scene last winter with a $500 million outlay for Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. That expenditure made this winter’s $185 million investment in deGrom less shocking. But the contract still comes with significant risk, given deGrom’s recent injury history. He hasn’t made more than 15 starts in a season since 2019 (though the abbreviated 2020 output was not his fault). When he’s on the mound, scouts and executives agree, no one is better. The problem for the Mets in the final two seasons of deGrom’s tenure in Queens was actually getting him on the mound. A variety of ailments, none of which required surgery, limited him to 156.1 innings combined in 2021 and 2022. If the Rangers intend to compete, and not repeat last year’s faceplant, they will need as many starts from deGrom as they can get. Let’s aim for something manageable.

Trevor Rogers (Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports)

Miami Marlins (69-93): Rediscover 2021 Trevor Rogers — or an even better version.
Miami’s hopes of contention in 2023, small though they may be, will rely upon the starting rotation. Sandy Alcantara won the National League Cy Young award in 2022, while Pablo Lopez put together his third-consecutive solid season and Jesús Luzardo had the best year of his young career. But Rogers, an All-Star in 2021 who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, took a significant step back, below replacement level, as the Marlins sputtered through the season. Rogers increased the usage of his changeup, which scouts view as his best pitch, as the year dragged on, while could bode well if he feels confident throwing it to both right-handed and left-handed batters.

Los Angeles Angels (73-89): Same as it always is.
All together now: Make. The. Playoffs. There should be additional urgency as the Angels take the field in 2023. Shohei Ohtani can become a free agent after this season, and there will be pressure to trade him this summer if the club falters. As owner Arte Moreno explores a sale of the team, general manager Perry Minasian has drawn praise from rival executives for his fortification of the roster this winter, finding a variety of quality players — pitcher Tyler Anderson, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, infielder Gio Urshela, utility man Brandon Drury, reliever Carlos Estevez — without making major financial commitments. The Angels probably won’t be able to dethrone the Astros in the American League West. But they have a shot at a wild-card spot. The team needs to make the most of it.

Arizona Diamondbacks (74-88): Figure out if Jameson, Nelson and Pfaadt are for real.
The Diamondbacks occupy an unenviable position, as the competent but geographically cursed franchise sharing a division with the Dodgers and the Padres. You have to squint to envision a time when Arizona contends in the National League West. But if you do look hard, you can see hope in the form of three young pitchers, 2019 first-rounder Drey Jameson, 2019 second-rounder Ryne Nelson and 2020 fifth-rounder Brandon Pfaadt. Jameson and Nelson looked solid in brief appearances in the majors last year. Pfaadt wracked up strikeouts in the upper minors last season. Jameson and Nelson figure to begin the season in the rotation, behind verified No. 1, Zac Gallen. Pfaadt could join them later in the year. You have to squint. But you can see how it might work.

Chicago Cubs (74-88): Don’t stop with Dansby.
The Cubs signaled a return to the free-agent market with a $177 million contract for shortstop Dansby Swanson. It’s a good start. Swanson is a good player who can bring leadership, professionalism and experience to the franchise’s youthful clubhouse. But he is only one player. So as the Cubs plot a return to the playoffs, the ownership group will need to prepare to open its wallet once more next offseason. You know who would look nice beside Swanson on the left side of the infield at Wrigley Field? Manny Machado.

Boston Red Sox (78-84): Trade Rafael Devers.
This one won’t be very popular. But at this point, wouldn’t this feel better than repeating this winter’s fiasco with Xander Bogaerts. Like Bogaerts at the end of 2022, Devers will be a free agent at the end of 2023. Devers, 26, is a comparable hitter to Bogaerts, but he has less defensive utility. If the Red Sox wouldn’t offer a mega-contract to retain Bogaerts — let alone Mookie Betts — why would that change with Devers? Might as well see if a contender with an unlimited appetite for improvement — like, say, San Diego — would offer up a significant package for one full season with Devers. The Red Sox have been caught in between too often during Chaim Bloom’s tenure. Dealing Devers, while painful, would at least signal a clear direction. Maybe.

Minnesota Twins (78-84): Win the American League Central. Seriously!
At the end of July, the Twins led the division. Unlike the Guardians, Minnesota was aggressive in making upgrades at the trade deadline a few days later. It didn’t matter. The Twins collapsed, going 11-22 down the stretch, as Cleveland ran away with the Central. Minnesota upgraded at catcher this winter by signing Christian Vazquez. The team also took an $11 million flier on Joey Gallo. Will it be enough to overtake Cleveland? They came close last season, and with a full season from Byron Buxton — a past New Year’s resolution that we don’t have the heart to ask for again — it might be possible.

Chicago White Sox (81-81): Don’t aim for singles — unless you are Andrew Benintendi.
A recent story by The Athletic’s James Fegan outlined the offensive approach brought by new hitting coaches José Castro and Chris Johnson. “We’re not up there trying to hit singles,” said Johnson, who will be Castro’s assistant. Sounds like a good approach — unless it applies to Benintendi, who signed the largest free-agent contract in franchise history with a five-year, $75 million deal. Benintendi revived his career in Kansas City by abandoning the quest for power that waylaid him in Boston. His game works best when he’s trying to win a batting title rather than a home run derby.

Logan Webb (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

San Francisco Giants (81-81): Extend Logan Webb.
Until the games begin, it will be difficult for the Giants front office and ownership group to quell the frustration of its fanbase. Folks in the Bay Area were pining for Aaron Judge. When Judge returned to The Bronx, Carlos Correa looked like an excellent second choice. But the melodrama caused by Correa’s physical, and subsequent deal with the Mets, turned the winter into a dud — even when the franchise threw around a good chunk of money to bring in outfielder Mitch Haniger, former Met Michael Conforto, pitcher Ross Stripling, pitcher Sean Manaea and reliever Taylor Rogers. The Giants never did find a player willing to take a $300 million bundle. They would do well to shave off a portion of that and see if Webb, the team’s homegrown No. 1 starter, will accept it as a way to buy out a couple years of his free agency.

Baltimore Orioles (83-79): Add at the deadline this time.
The charm of Baltimore’s summertime surge faded, ever so slightly, when the front office chose to subtract rather than add at the trade deadline. In time, the losses of franchise cornerstone Trey Mancini and closer Jorge López may look like footnotes in a rebuilding triumph if acquired prospects like Chayce McDermott, Cade Povich or Seth Johnson join the rotation in the coming years. In the moment, though, those trades bummed out Orioles fans who had stomached nearly a half decade of wretched baseball. The Orioles played well enough in the second half to suggest that the future might be in the present. The team has done an excellent job assembling prospect capital during the rebuild; those players can also be used as trade chips, going the other direction.

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76): See if you can get a haul for Corbin Burnes at the deadline.
Milwaukee made a series of moves to cut payroll this offseason, dealing away second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Hunter Renfroe. The team won’t go into a full-on teardown, in part because the National League Central is still winnable, and in part because the team still has such excellent starting pitching. But if St. Louis glides into the second half with control of the division, general manager Matt Arnold has to listen to serious offers for Burnes, the 2021 National League Cy Young winner. Burnes won’t become a free agent until after 2024, so his value is massive to both the Brewers and other teams.

Tampa Bay Rays (86-76): Keep doing what you’re doing.
The Rays won 14 more games in 2021 than 2022. But the team still made the playoffs. The pitching staff is still remarkably deep, now complete with a $40 million investment in Zach Eflin. The defense is still strong. The offense still has its whiff-related shortcomings — but it also still has Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena. There is a lot to like about Tampa Bay heading into 2023, even if the club is unlikely to be favored in the American League East. The Rays do what they do. They win a lot of ball games during the regular season, and they give themselves a chance in October. It’s not a bad formula.

Philadelphia Phillies (87-75): Find that October magic in April.
For all the joy wrought and delirium caused by Philadelphia’s postseason run, some facts remain unchanged. Heading into 2023, the Phillies still may be the third-best team in the National League East, stuck behind the Braves and the Mets. There is still room for them in the expanded postseason, but finishing in third makes a deep October run all the less likely. The addition of Trea Turner will aid Philadelphia’s pursuit of regular-season glory. With Bryce Harper recovering from Tommy John surgery, there will be additional pressure on outfielder Nick Castellanos to rebound from an ugly first year as a Phillie.

San Diego Padres (89-73): Slay that dragon up the freeway.
That’s the metaphor Padres owner Peter Seidler has used to describe the Dodgers, and with good reason. The Dodgers have ruled the West — save for a 106-win wild-card campaign in 2021 — for 10 years. San Diego hasn’t won the division since 2006. They might enter this season as the favorite, after adding Xander Bogaerts on an 11-year, $280 million contract while preparing to welcome back Fernando Tatis Jr. from his PED suspension. The Padres keep loading up to take down Los Angeles. The team managed to do it in a four-game series last October. Swiping the division crown in 2023 would be an even more impressive achievement.

Seattle Mariners (90-72): Begin the longest streak of postseason berths in North American sports history.
The Mariners ended The Drought this past October. It ended in heartbreak at the hands of the Astros, but it still buoyed a city. So why not reverse the trend? Seattle effectively bet on itself this winter. The team has not handed out a multi-year contract to a free agent, sticking with J.P. Crawford rather than opting for one of the star shortstops on the market. Jerry Dipoto made some trades, but not at his usual frenetic pace. Teoscar Hernandez should aid the offense and Kolten Wong will bolster the infield defense. Plus, after acquiring and extending Luis Castillo during the summer, Dipoto did his winter-time shopping for a No. 1 starter a few months early. Will it be enough for Seattle to challenge Houston? At the very least, the Mariners should start making postseason baseball a habit.

Josh Bell (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cleveland Guardians (92-70): Convince Josh Bell he is still a National.
Cleveland actually spent some dough this winter, mostly in the form of a two-year, $33 million contract with Bell, the talented first baseman. Bell was coming off a disappointing second half in San Diego, which hampered his market. He had played the best baseball of his career in his season and a half with the Nationals, who dealt him to the Padres in the Juan Soto trade: hitting .278 with an .846 OPS. When Bell is going well, he can elevate the baseball and slug. When things are going wrong, he tends to ground out too often. If Bell can recapture the form he displayed with the Nationals, the Guardians offense would be that much stronger — which is no small thing for a team with its pitching staff and contact-making offense.

Toronto Blue Jays (92-70): Make The Sequel better than The Movie.
Well, it turns out Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s prediction about 2022 was right. The finish to Toronto’s 2022 season was cinematic — if you’re into Wes Craven’s oeuvre. The playoff collapse against Seattle was a horror show, but Toronto is still deep enough and talented enough to make fans forget about it. The Blue Jays should compete with the Yankees for supremacy in the American League East. Its front office did well to upgrade its defense (outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho) and pitching staff (starter Chris Bassitt and reliever Erik Swanson). But the fate of this franchise, and its subsequent film output, will rely upon the offensive trio of Guerrero, Bo Bichette and George Springer.

St. Louis Cardinals (93-69): Make the Molina-to-Contreras transition seamless.
This won’t be easy. Yadier Molina may reach the Hall of Fame because of his defensive prowess. His successor in St. Louis, Willson Contreras, scored his $87.5 million contract mostly on the strength of his bat. Contreras is a solid hitter, especially for his position. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals, who base so much of their brand on run prevention, adjust to Contreras while working with new pitching coach Dusty Blake. Transition is never easy. But St. Louis has enough talent, both in its pitching staff and in its defenders, to make it look easy.

New York Yankees (99-63): Figure out shortstop before the postseason.
Despite coasting to a division title in 2022, the Yankees entered the postseason with uncertainty at the shortstop position. The team juggled starts between incumbent veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa and rookies Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza in various postseason games. That is no way to go through life. If the Yankees make it back to October in 2023, they would do well to enter the tournament with someone they can trust in the middle of the infield. That could be Peraza, who is likely to begin the season as the starter. It could also be top prospect Anthony Volpe. But building a platoon out of desperation won’t cut it.

Atlanta Braves (101-61): Give Vaughn Grissom a shot at short.
There is a decent chance that Grissom, an 11th-round pick in 2019 who will turn 22 later this week, cannot play shortstop in the big leagues. His 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame may force him into a future at second base. But with Dansby Swanson gone to the Cubs, the Braves could use a long-term answer at the position. Grissom hit well in a small sample last season, and figures to be part of the Atlanta core for many years to come. The team should use the early days of 2023 to see if he can be the shortstop, especially if Ozzie Albies can stay healthy and play second.

Keith Hernandez (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Mets (101-61): Re-sign Keith Hernandez.
Amid the eerie quiet last week after the Mets raised concerns about Carlos Correa’s physical, the New York Post reported another source of distress for the fanbase: SNY had not yet reached a deal to bring Hernandez back to the broadcast booth for 2023. Here is one problem that owner Steve Cohen’s deep pockets can’t solve; SNY is still controlled by the Wilpon family. The booth would be that much poorer if Hernandez is not ensconced beside Gary Cohen and Ron Darling when the season begins this spring. He doesn’t cost as much as Correa, who may still end up a Met on a reworked deal. But there is only one Keith Hernandez.

Houston Astros (106-56): Hire a GM?
Jim Crane celebrated his second world championship in odd fashion. He fired general manager James Click shortly after Click rebuffed a one-year contract extension. And so the Astros have navigated this offseason without a chief baseball executive. It didn’t really make much difference. Whoever is running the front office — Crane, senior director of baseball strategy Bill Firkus, advisor Jeff Bagwell — found the time to re-sign reliever Rafael Montero and outfielder Michael Brantley while luring Jose Abreu to fill a hole at first base. Houston will need someone to run the ship once the season begins, but even without a GM, the team should enter 2023 as one of the favorites to win the World Series.

Los Angeles Dodgers (111-51): Remember that October is different than May.
There are several explanations for why the 111-win Dodgers crashed out of the playoffs in only four games to San Diego. The simplest answer is the team batted 2-for-26 with runners in scoring position in the final three games. With three or four more hits in those situations, the team likely advances to face the Phillies in the NLCS. The margin for error in October is vanishingly thin. But in the aftermath of the upset, Dodgers players and officials have conceded they may not have made the necessary adjustments to match San Diego. At the Winter Meetings, manager Dave Roberts admitted he felt the Padres operated with more urgency. “I will say that you look at that dugout versus our dugout, there was more intensity [with San Diego],” he said. There was a thought that the Dodgers coasted into October and kept on coasting. That is unlikely to happen again in 2023, not with San Diego loading up once more while the Dodgers mostly stayed quiet this winter. For the first time in quite some time, the group may not even enter the season as the favorites to win the National League West.

(Top photo: (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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