The 10 MLB Teams That Have Improved the Most This Offseason
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AP Photo/Matt Slocum
The 2022-23 Major League Baseball offseason technically isn’t over yet, but it certainly feels like it is. The free-agent market has been picked clean. The trade market is dormant. Spring training is near.
That makes now a good time to take stock, and what better way to do so than with close looks at the teams that have improved the most this winter?
There might have been a valid objective way to go about doing so, but we chose the subjective route of picking out 10 teams based on feel. Even if they sustained some losses in free agency and/or trades, they made up for them with the players they retained and added.
Let’s count ’em down, starting with the least improved and ending with the most improved.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
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AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Key Loss: LHP José Quintana
Key Retention: RHP Adam Wainwright
Key Addition: C Willson Contreras
This is not a thing we ever expected to say after he posted 0 rWAR between 2019 and 2021, but it hurts to lose a guy like Quintana. He gave the Cardinals a 2.01 ERA in 12 outings after coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates last August.
Still, the Cardinals starting rotation would be a lot worse off if the team hadn’t moved quickly to re-up with Wainwright. He’s 41 years old, but you’d never know it from looking at his body of work (i.e., a 3.37 ERA over 398 innings) across the last two seasons.
And as weird as it will be to watch Wainwright throw to someone other than Yadier Molina, the shift to Contreras behind the plate is a net positive if we’re strictly going off of recent history.
Cooperstown may well be in Molina’s future, but he didn’t exactly pad his résumé in finishing off his career with 0.2 rWAR in 2022. Contreras, meanwhile, ranked fourth among catchers with 3.9 rWAR while topping 20 home runs for the fourth time in seven seasons.
Granted, it’s only one position. But given that catcher is arguably the most important position on the diamond, improvement there goes further than it does elsewhere.
9. Seattle Mariners
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Key Losses: RF Mitch Haniger, INF Adam Frazier, 1B Carlos Santana, LHP Matthew Boyd, LF Jesse Winker, INF Abraham Toro, CF Kyle Lewis, RHP Erik Swanson
Key Retentions: None
Key Additions: RF Teoscar Hernández, 2B Kolten Wong, RHP Trevor Gott
It may look like the Mariners have incurred heavy losses, but only one of those players was truly an impact producer in 2022. That was Swanson, who made 57 appearances out of the bullpen and pitched to a 1.68 ERA.
All the same, he was worth giving up to the Toronto Blue Jays to get Hernández.
He slots nicely into a right field spot that produced only 17 home runs in 2022, and he might hit perhaps twice as many just on his own in 2023. Going back to the shortened 2020 season, the slugger has averaged 36 home runs per 162 games.
Seeing as how Winker apparently wore out his welcome in Seattle, the trade that sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Wong is addition by subtraction if nothing else. But that’s also underselling it.
Wong is a two-time Gold Glove winner at second base, which figures to be a good thing to have in baseball’s looming post-shift era. As he also hits right-handed pitching well, Wong and his presumptive platoon partner, Dylan Moore, should do a fair deal better than the 0.4 rWAR that Seattle got from second base in 2022.
8. Toronto Blue Jays
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Key Losses: RHP Ross Stripling, RF Teoscar Hernández, LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., C Gabriel Moreno
Key Retentions: None
Key Additions: RHP Chris Bassitt, OF Daulton Varsho, CF Kevin Kiermaier, RHP Erik Swanson
The Blue Jays’ losses amount to a quality starting pitcher, two of their three starting outfielders from last season and a guy who was a top-10 prospect less than a year ago.
That’s a lot to make up for, but we believe the Jays have done so.
Start with Bassitt, who should replace Stripling’s production and then some. It might be a bit much to call the 33-year-old an “ace,” but there’s certainly a lot to like about the 3.29 ERA and average of 5.8 innings per start that he’s put up over the last five seasons.
Now to Kiermaier and Varsho, who should at least boost an outfield defense that posted minus-three OAA last year. The former is a three-time Gold Glover, while the latter is coming off leading all outfielders with 18 OAA. Varsho was also a dual threat on offense, cranking 27 home runs and stealing 16 bases.
And then, finally, Swanson. He struck out seven times as many batters as he walked in 2022, all while posting superb peripheral metrics. He should be the setup man that Jordan Romano wishes he had last season.
7. Los Angeles Angels
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Key Loss: RHP Michael Lorenzen
Key Retentions: None
Key Additions: LHP Tyler Anderson, INF/OF Brandon Drury, RF Hunter Renfroe, INF Gio Urshela, RHP Carlos Estévez
The Angels lost 89 games last season, so take their placement on this list for what it’s worth. Whether they’re necessarily a good team right now is debatable.
They are, however, undeniably a better team. And one that could have one of MLB’s elite rotations in 2023, to boot.
Somewhat quietly, Angels starters ranked second in the league in fWAR in the second half of last season. It’ll be the same Shohei Ohtani-led gang next year, except now featuring Anderson—as in, the guy who fell in love with his changeup amid an All-Star season that ended with him posting a 2.57 ERA over 178.2 innings.
Meanwhile, the trio of Drury, Renfroe and Urshela gives the Angels additional right-handed thump. It’s something they needed, as they got only 46 home runs from righty batters not named Mike Trout or Taylor Ward.
For his part, Estévez was always a sneaky-good candidate to close for someone. The former Colorado Rockie got his fastball as high as 101 mph in 2022, while both his slider and his changeup should benefit from getting out of Denver’s thin air.
6. Texas Rangers
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Key Losses: RHP Dennis Santana, INF Nick Solak, LHP Kolby Allard
Key Retention: LHP Martín Pérez
Key Additions: RHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Jake Odorizzi
One can imagine an alternate version of the Rangers’ offseason in which they not only lost Pérez—who, lest anyone forget, was an All-Star in 2022—but failed to add any new blood to their starting rotation.
This, of course, did not happen. And the Rangers are a lot better for it.
There’s plenty of room for skepticism as to whether deGrom will hold up throughout the life of his five-year contract, but it’s also hard to deny the 34-year-old’s upside in the short-term. All he did between 2018 and 2021 was post a sub-2.00 ERA with 655 more strikeouts than walks.
Eovaldi and Heaney are likewise 30-somethings whose durability question marks come paired with legit upside. Eovaldi was an All-Star and Cy Young Award contender as recently as 2021, while Heaney benefited from a new breaking ball in whiffing 110 batters in just 72.2 innings last year.
Between those three, Pérez and Jon Gray, the Rangers rotation may well be one of baseball’s best in 2023. At the least, it shouldn’t once again be among the worst.
5. Chicago Cubs
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Key Loss: C Willson Contreras
Key Retention: LHP Drew Smyly
Key Additions: SS Dansby Swanson, RHP Jameson Taillon, CF Cody Bellinger, C Tucker Barnhart, RHP Brad Boxberger
It won’t be the easiest adjustment for the Cubs to live without Contreras’ bat. Because in all likelihood, Barnhart isn’t going to hit 20-plus home runs.
Yet as a two-time Gold Glover, Barnhart does figure to provide a significant defensive improvement over Contreras. Swanson and Bellinger are Gold Glovers in their own right, so those three, plus Nico Hoerner, should make the Cubs’ up-the-middle defense as good as any.
That bodes well for every pitcher the North Siders have, Taillon and Smyly included. The trick with Taillon will be getting him to induce more ground balls, so don’t be surprised if the Cubs let him in on their pro-sinker scheme.
Offensively speaking, the Cubs can pencil Swanson in for 20 to 30 home runs. Not exactly Judge-ian numbers, to be sure, but anything will help after the Cubs collected only 159 home runs as a team in 2022.
Bellinger is more of a wild card after basically every offensive element of his MVP-winning season in 2019 went missing. But if he can get his health and swing to cooperate, he may yet be the guy who averaged 40 home runs per 162 games between 2017 and 2019 again.
4. San Diego Padres
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AP Photo/Denis Poroy
Key Losses: LHP Sean Manaea, RHP Mike Clevinger, 1B Josh Bell, INF/OF Brandon Drury
Key Retentions: RHP Nick Martinez, RHP Robert Suarez
Key Additions: SS Xander Bogaerts, DH Matt Carpenter, RHP Seth Lugo
Though Manaea, Clevinger and Bell have more recognizable names, the Padres might regret losing Drury the most. He clubbed eight home runs in 46 games for them down the stretch of 2022.
But is it better to have Bogaerts and Carpenter? Well, what’s a firmer answer than “yes?”
Precisely how Bogaerts fits into the defensive picture is already a good question and will be that much more so after Fernando Tatis Jr. returns from his performance-enhancing drug suspension. But, whatever. Bogaerts has been a .299 hitter since 2015, and he has the ability to also provide 20 to 30 home runs.
As for Carpenter, he was basically left for dead after his production cratered in his last three years with the Cardinals. But then he returned to post a 1.138 OPS and 15 home runs in 47 games with the Yankees in 2022. With any more of that, he’ll provide a huge boost to the modest .717 OPS that San Diego got from its designated hitters in 2022.
In Suarez and Martinez, the Padres otherwise retained their best non-Josh Hader reliever and a valuable swingman. A more accomplished starter than Lugo, who’s started all of seven games since 2019, would be ideal. But for now, it’s a plenty good enough winter haul.
3. New York Yankees
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Key Losses: RHP Jameson Taillon, LF Andrew Benintendi, DH Matt Carpenter, RHP Miguel Castro
Key Retentions: RF Aaron Judge, 1B Anthony Rizzo
Key Additions: LHP Carlos Rodón, RHP Tommy Kahnle
If you’re thinking that the Yankees didn’t so much get better as not get worse, well, you have a point there.
Still, let’s not gloss over that they scored the winter’s single biggest free-agent victory when they lured the market’s single biggest (literally and figuratively) back to New York. We can talk all about the 62 home runs, but it’s more instructive to look at just how valuable Aaron Judge was relative to other Yankees hitters in 2022:
Graph via Google Sheets
You just can’t let a guy like that get away. So, good thing the Yankees didn’t!
Not to be overlooked, Rizzo hit exactly 32 home runs for the fourth time (a record some say will never be broken) in his career last year. If he and Judge stay healthy and productive, they should more than make up for what the Yankees got from 80 games’ worth of Carpenter and Benintendi in 2022.
Unlike Taillon, Rodón is an actual co-ace for Gerrit Cole, as he’s been perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher on a rate basis over the last two years. And health permitting, Kahnle and his changeup should be useful in a setup role underneath Clay Holmes.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
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Key Losses: RHP Zach Eflin, 2B Jean Segura, RHP Noah Syndergaard, RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP David Robertson
Key Retentions: None
Key Additions: SS Trea Turner, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Craig Kimbrel, LHP Matt Strahm
The Phillies probably shouldn’t be done adding yet, if for no other reason than Walker alone doesn’t quite account for the rotation depth that the defending National League champs have lost from Eflin, Syndergaard and Gibson going elsewhere.
Walker is, however, coming off a better season than any of those three. He pitched to a 3.49 ERA over 157.1 innings, throughout which his splitter took its place as one of the best offspeed pitches around.
Oh, and did we mention the Phillies have Trea Turner now? Because the Phillies have Trea Turner now.
It truly is an amazing fit, and not just because the Phillies had a hole at shortstop and have filled it with a guy who ranks third at the position in rWAR since 2018. The speedster/slugger/darn-good-hitter is also a more natural fit for the leadoff spot than Kyle Schwarber, whose low-OBP, high-SLG style is better suited for lower in the order.
As for Kimbrel and Strahm, the former is a worthwhile dice-roll after a down year, and the latter is the second left-hander that the Phillies needed in their pen alongside José Alvarado.
1. New York Mets
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Key Losses: RHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Chris Bassitt, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Seth Lugo, RHP Trevor Willliams, RHP Trevor May, LHP Joely Rodríguez, C James McCann
Key Retentions: CF Brandon Nimmo, RHP Edwin Díaz, RHP Adam Ottavino
Key Additions: SS/3B Carlos Correa*, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Kodai Senga, LHP José Quintana, RHP David Robertson, C Omar Narváez
That’s a lot of pieces the Mets have lost, and at least three of them are big ones. Some say deGrom is the greatest pitcher of all time, while Bassitt and Walker combined for a 3.45 ERA over 339 innings last year.
And yet, dare we say we’d rather have Verlander, Senga and Quintana? Verlander needs no introduction, and we talked about Quintana earlier. As for Senga, suffice it to say that he leaned on some electric stuff to post a 2.42 ERA for his career in Japan.
The big unknown, for now, is when Correa’s deal with the Mets will be made official, but the latest from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic makes it sound like it’s not a question of “if.” Long-term concerns about his leg be damned, Correa and Francisco Lindor will give the Mets arguably baseball’s two best shortstops on the same infield.
In Nimmo, Díaz and Ottavino, the Mets retained arguably baseball’s best leadoff man, its best closer and every right-handed batter’s worst nightmare. Robertson, meanwhile, proved in racking up a 2.40 ERA last season that he’s still a bullpen weapon in his own right.
There’s indeed volatility here, and lots of it. But on paper, at least, the Mets have taken a roster that produced 101 wins in 2022 and made it better.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.