The New Year, Volume 2023 is upon us, and that means a dual occasion to reflect upon our misfires of the year prior and look forward to our derelictions of the year to come. As it turns out, this grim ritual of inventory can also be applied to the clubs that play This, Our Baseball. The Royal We shall now do such a thing.
Resolution: At least pretend to try
Assigned to: Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals
The A’s have concluded a scorched-earth teardown of the roster, and while team ownership was in the process of destroying the roster, they also raised ticket prices for the 2022 season. This, of course, was an effort to make the Las Vegas relocation threat seem somehow necessary. As for the here and now, care to wager a guess on who the current highest-paid Oakland Athletic is? That would be middle reliever Trevor May, who will make $7 million for the upcoming season. Per Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, the A’s right now have a projected 2023 Opening Day payroll of $49.5 million, which is not even half of the estimated luxury-tax bill that Mets owner Steve Cohen will have to pay. Oh, and the A’s are once again revenue-sharing recipients, so they’re heavily on the MLB dole right now.
The A’s are the current worst offender in this evergreen category of team ownership groups who aren’t even feigning effort. However, let’s not allow the Pirates and Royals to pass without ridicule. They too have Opening Day payrolls likely to come in at less than Cohen’s tax bill. Pirates owner Bob Nutting couldn’t even be bothered to invest in the roster at adequate levels when the Pirates had World Series aspirations during Andrew McCutchen’s peak, so nothing’s surprising here. As for the Royals, owner John Sherman is relatively new on the scene, and he made some overdue changes. However, he’s yet to show he’s serious about putting out an acceptable product.
So wayward are these clubs that Paul should roast them via unsparing epistle.
Resolution: Conjure/summon/will into existence the 2022 version of Dansby Swanson
Assigned to: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs not so long ago made the anticipated market splash by. It’s notable for a team whose fan base was starved for a needle-moving addition, and Swanson figures to remain for some time one of the best fielders in baseball at the highly premium position of shortstop. The question, though, is his bat. Swanson in his age-28 campaign of 2022 put up a career-best OPS+ of 115. Coming into 2022, however, he had a career OPS+ of just 90 across 665 MLB games. Swanson has issues making contact, which could bode ill for the back half of this contract, but he’s become more adept at squaring the ball up over the last handful of seasons. Whether he’s able to remain an asset at the plate likely depends upon his ability to run acceptable OBPs. The power will probably always be there in some form. The Cubs, of course, are hoping the 2022 version hangs around for quite a while.
Resolution: Conjure/summon/will into existence better health in 2023
Assigned to: Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants
The Sox and Giants were two of the most injured fringe contenders in 2022, and that obviously needs to change in the season to come. Per Spotrac, the Sox placed 25 players on the IL last season for a total of 1,405 days lost to injury. The Giants, meanwhile, sent 31 players to the sick bay for a total of 1,462 days. None of those figures topped the loop, but they were close and they were particularly damaging to these two clubs, each of which took a major step back last season.
Resolution: Stop letting the owner’s son speak in public
Assigned to: Cincinnati Reds
Trust-funders should have the decency to sit quietly in the corner with someone else’s wealth. Rarely, though, do trust-funders have the requisite decency, and Phil Castellini, son of Reds owner Bob, not so long ago reminded us of this grim reality. Phil responded to mounting – and thoroughly justified – fan frustration by dropping a foul-smelling coil upon those fans. Yes, every small-market honcho loves to pretend his team isn’t profitable and can’t possibly invest more in payroll, but at least those small-market honchos aren’t Phil Castellini. Go to your room and stay there, Phil.
Resolution: Get Spencer Torkelson right
Assigned to: Detroit Tigers
An overdue change at the top of baseball ops raises hopes for the future in Detroit, but what needs to happen right now is for Spencer Torkelson to level up at the plate. The No. 1 overall pick in 2020 has tremendous offensive upside, but last season, his first extended taste of the majors went quite poorly. After a mid-season demotion, Torkelson looked like he might be figuring things out, but it didn’t last. Is a swing overhaul in order? Or is it merely a matter of mentality and less drastic tweaks at the plate? Finding the right answer is the first order of business for Torkelson, upon whom much hinges when it comes to Detroit’s future.
Resolution: Take the next step
Assigned to: Arizona Diamondbacks
Are the Snakes ready to return to relevance? Coming off a thoroughly miserable 2021, the D-Backs in 2022 added 22 wins to their total and played even better than that if you look at their run differential. A canny trade with the Blue Jays gave them their catcher of the present and future in Gabriel Moreno, and center fielder Corbin Carroll may be the Rookie of the Year frontrunner in the NL. The pitching staff needs improvement, but Arizona has some high-ceiling young arms who are close to ready. Maybe genuine contention isn’t in the cards in 2023, but Arizona should aspire to a winning season and maybe a puncher’s chance at one of the last wild-card spots.
Resolution: Pick a lane with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff
Assigned to: Milwaukee Brewers
Burnes and Woodruff are on the short-short-list of best one-two rotation punches in baseball right now. Because the Brewers seem to be headed for disinvestment, there’s increasing trade speculation surrounding the duo. That shouldn’t be the future in Milwaukee, but if it is then make it happen soon. Each has two years of control before he hits free agency, and the sooner Brewers make the trade call, the better the return. If they’re not going to trade one or both, then they need to do a better job of surrounding Burnes and Woodruff with a playoff-worthy supporting cast.
Resolution: Deal some pitching for hitting
Assigned to: Miami Marlins
The Marlins have plenty of rotation depth but one of the worst offenses in all of baseball. That’s also not a new problem, as the Fish haven’t ranked in the top half of the NL in runs scored since 2017. While Miami’s capacity to identify young hitters who will adapt to the highest level is very much in question, they need to dip into that surfeit of pitching to address that chronically punchless lineup. Indications are that they’re working to do just that.
Resolution: Actually invest in what may be a contending roster
Assigned to: Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Guardians, Baltimore Orioles
These three teams – particularly the Mariners and Guardians – could have legitimate designs on the 2023 World Series (and/or the 2024 World Series), but their respective owners haven’t acted like it. In Seattle’s case, it’s less extreme. Lead operator Jerry Dipoto swung canny trades for Teoscar Hernandez and Kolten Wong, but the team’s radio silence on the free-agent market has been a concern. Specifically, they have an uncertain situation at DH, and they’re once again positioned to need Jarred Kelenic to take the next step – something he hasn’t come close to doing thus far. A team that’s never won a pennant should be more aggressive in complementing a contending core while they have one.
As for the Guardians, they haven’t won a World Series since 1948 – the longest drought going, and despite a pretty lengthy contending window that remains open, the Dolan family hasn’t done their part to improve the team’s chances. Only once in Terry Francona’s 10-year managerial tenure have the Dolans run a payroll in the top half of the league (they were 15th in 2018), and most of that time they’ve been near the bottom. Right now, they’re 23rd in projected 2023 payroll. That’s not good enough.
The Orioles made a surprise run at relevance in 2022, but they’ve done little of note to improve their lot for 2023. The Orioles, despite having a young core that’s ready to win now, are another team with a projected payroll that’s less than the Mets’ likely luxury-tax bill. If you’re an O’s fan, then that should be unacceptable to you.
Maybe it’s too late for these teams to make the needed splash this offseason – such is the thinned-out supply of free agents – but the meat of the 2023-24 offseason falls under the jurisdiction of this particular New Year’s resolution.
Resolution: Keep being weird
Assigned to: Colorado Rockies
In an era of front-office homogeneity, the Rockies are a throwback in that they seem to have no idea why they’re a bad team. Bless them for spicing up the league with semi-regular doses of bafflement. Rockies fans won’t sign on to this resolution, quite understandably, but may the Rockies’ front office continue being weird.
Resolution: Find a new owner
Assigned to: Washington Nationals
The Nats are in a bit of a rebuild/holding pattern, and that’s probably not going to change until the Lerners and MLB find a new owner for the team – assuming the family sticks with those plans to sell. They’re keeping the liabilities at a minimum and all that. GM Mike Rizzo loves to go for it, to his enduring credit, but such a pivot probably isn’t going to be possible until the franchise changes hands.
Resolution: Get Tyler Glasnow a Cy Young award
Assigned to: Tampa Bay Rays
Glasnow in 2023 will be working his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. The stuff is unassailable, and since being acquired from the Pirates at the 2018 deadline he’s pitched to a 136 ERA+ and 4.33 K/BB ratio. While there’s always room for prudence coming off TJ, Kevin Cash and the Rays need to let their ace cook in 2023. Get a qualifying number of innings, and a Cy Young is quite possible for Glasnow. The front office can take heart that such a season would increase his trade value.
Resolution: Trade Shohei Ohtani
Assigned to: Los Angeles Angels
This one will be resoundingly unpopular with Halos rooters, and that’s quite understandable. The reality, though, is that the Angels have failed to build a relevant team around Shohei Ohtani (and Mike Trout, but that’s another matter), and Ohtani is coming up on his walk year. GM Perry Minasian batted down trade talk this offseason, but if the Angels aren’t in a strong position leading up to the 2023 trade deadline – and it says here they probably won’t be – then they should trade Ohtani for a sheik’s ransom in prospects. Obviously, the ideal outcome would be for the Angels to sign him to an extension, but Ohtani’s willingness to do so is in question. He’s too good to let him walk for a compensation pick. The possible looming change in ownership complicates matters, yes, but they need to get back a haul for Ohtani that changes the future of the organization.
Resolution: Keep the rotation healthy in 2023
Assigned to: St. Louis Cardinals
The Redbirds right now look like heavy favorites in the NL Central, but rotation uncertainties could get in the way. Those uncertainties go beyond the fact that Adam Wainwright is 41 years of age. Right now, 60 percent of their projected rotation – Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, and Steven Matz – has significant injury concerns in the recent to semi-recent past. If healthy, that’s a good rotation, but there’s collapse potential.
Resolution: Get Royce Lewis to make the leap
Assigned to: Minnesota Twins
No more is Carlos Correa, and the Twins must do something to replace the value that he provided if they’re to have any hope of returning to relevance in the AL Central. That’s where Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 draft, comes in. He’s coming off a major knee injury, but he’s still just 23. He has the upside to be an immediate contributor, and a valuable one at that. No, he’s not Correa, but a healthy Lewis would settle the shortstop position for the Twins.
Resolution: Sign Rafael Devers to an extension
Assigned to: Boston Red Sox
In February of 2020, the increasingly hapless Boston front office dealt Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in what’s looking like a completely disastrous trade. This offseason they failed to retain the services of infielder Xander Bogaerts, who wound up inking a free-agent contract with the Padres. Next on the list is Devers, the 26-year-old elite batsman who boasts a career OPS+ of 124 and who has averaged 79 extra-base hits per 162 games played across six MLB seasons. Devers is slated for free agency after the upcoming season, which means time is running short to secure his services beyond 2023. For a team with the Sox’s near boundless resources, this is simply a matter of will. Ownership can choose to make the Devers extension happen and in doing so end a string of embarrassments. So do so. Again, it’s a matter of will and choice on the part of the derelict-of-late Boston ownership group.
Resolution: Make the playoffs
Assigned to: Texas Rangers
This one isn’t complicated. The playoffs are expanded, and the Rangers have heavily invested in star power over the last two offseasons. It’s time for Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and a revamped rotation fronted by Jacob deGrom to lift Texas into the postseason for the first time since 2016. There’s little chance that happens via AL West title, but one of those extra wild-card berths is a reasonable aspiration.
Resolution: Win the NL East (yet again)
Assigned to: Atlanta Braves
Fans love to make a morality play out of payroll disparities. While that’s pretty nonsensical – owners who invest in payroll at high levels are very much good things and something MLB needs much more of – why should we deprive Atlanta fans of this indulgence? Obviously, the Braves’ true 2023 goal is to win the World Series for the second time in three years, but foundational to that is besting the Mets (and Phillies) to win their sixth straight NL East title. Beyond the usual Mets-Braves hostilities, there’s the fact that right now the Braves’ Opening Day payroll is projected to come in roughly $130 million shy of the Mets’ figure. Stated another way, the difference between the Mets’ and Braves’ projected payroll is roughly the same as the Mariners’ projected payroll. That disparity will be useful for purposes of post-race dunking should the Braves again fend off the Mets.
Resolution: Win the NL West
Assigned to: San Diego Padres
For the first time in, well, at least a decade-plus you can argue with a straight face that the Padres are stronger on paper than the rival Dodgers. That’s largely a function of the Padres’ lineup that, once at full strength, will feature the likes of Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Xander Bogaerts. Now, Pads, go forth and claim your first division title since 2006.
Resolution: Win the AL East
Assigned to: Toronto Blue Jays
The Yankees are going to be the favorites going in, but Toronto has the roster strength to win the AL East title for the first time since 2015. There’s plenty of frontline talent in place, and the recently acquired Daulton Varsho upgrades the roster. The Jays may be a José Berríos bounceback away from landing at the top of the standings.
Resolution: Keep thriving despite the latest free-agent exodus
Assigned to: Houston Astros
Since the Astros hoisted their first World Series trophy in 2017, they’ve bid adieu to premium free agents like Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, and Charlie Morton, and they’ve kept on winning and going deep into October. This time around, Justin Verlander is the marquee loss, and the goal for the defending champs will be to keep on being a force despite the ongoing talent drain.
Resolution: Avoid the follow-up flop
Assigned to: Philadelphia Phillies
It’s easy to think of the Phils as a true juggernaut given that they surged after Rob Thomson took over for Joe Girardi and wound up winning the pennant. The reality, though, is that this is an 87-win team that still has bullpen questions (despite the October/November performance of said bullpen) and faces the extended absence of Bryce Harper next season. Yes, the addition of Trea Turner via free agency helps matters greatly, but the drop-off potential is real for the Phillies in the fairly brutal NL East.
Resolution: Win the World Series
Assigned to: New York Mets, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers
To be fair, this should be the resolution for every team, but it’s especially the goal for these three squadrons. The Mets under Steve Cohen have invested in the roster like no other team, and with that comes great pressure to achieve the ultimate objective. The Yankees have terminally high standards, and they haven’t won the World Series – or even been to one – since 2009. That qualifies as a drought for that franchise. As for the Dodgers, they’ve put together some of the greatest regular-season teams ever during their recent run, but they have only one title – won in a bubble coming off the 60-game 2020 season – to show for it. The Dodgers are starved for a return to the pinnacle and a more customarily obtained belt and title.