Sure, the fans in Houston are still on their celebrations, and maybe Phillies fans are still working their way through the Death Cab catalog. But for the rest of us, the real season begins. Or it would be the real season if MLB owners hadn’t killed the baseball offseason, which should really be like the NBA offseason. But we can pretend for a little while that it still is. There’s a cold snap in the air, which means it’s time to gather around a hot stove and wonder what every team might or should do to warm their fingers and toes of their fans as we descend into the darkness and indifference of the winter months. We’ll start in the champs’ home, the AL West:
Projected 2023 Payroll: $179 million
Notable free agents: None? (Jesus, fuck this team)
Could they use Aaron Judge?: Sure, if he could handle a bigger centerfield over a season or they’re ready to punt Yordan Alvarez to first or DH full-time
What they could use: First base seems like a glaring need. Yuri Gurriel and his wonderful hair have finally aged out of usefulness, with an 85 wRC+ in 2022. The bottom of the Astros lineup was pretty not good most of the season, and this is surely one spot they could upgrade. They probably will just pick up Trey Mancini’s option and stick him there. In 2021 they toyed with the idea of moving Alvarez to first, but that must’ve gone so well that he didn’t play a single game there this season. This is probably farther down the road. One year deal for Jose Abreu if he’ll take it? Seems like the kind of thing they’d do.
The Astros clearly only value defense at catcher, which will keep Martin Maldonado in a job for another year. They will claim they do the same in center, mostly to cover for the fact that they haven’t replaced George Springer in the same way they were able to replace Carlos Correa with Jeremy Pena this year. They may still try Jake Meyers in center again, because it’s the cheaper option, and he does have some gaudy Triple-A numbers and was hurt by the lack of minor league baseball in 2020.
They will return basically the entire pitching staff that ran over the American League both in the regular season and playoffs. We’re going to be doing this all again next October, no matter what the Mariners might be able to come up with.
Los Angeles Angels of a parking lot full of skateboards
Projected 2023 payroll: $180 million
Notable Free Agents: Michael Lorenzen? This is the opposite of the Astros, where the Angels don’t really have any valuable free agents due to incompetence and indifference rather than efficiency and brilliance.
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Could they use Aaron Judge?: Absolutely, unless you’re related to Taylor Ward.
What they could use: It’s hard to diagnose what the Angels could and will do until we know if Shohei Ohtani is going to be around or not. It doesn’t sound like he will be, and if he isn’t suddenly they need a No. 1 starter, another hitter in a lineup that already is lacking at least three hitters, and is probably starting over entirely while never having really started at all in the first place.
Let’s say Ohtani sticks around. The Angels then need to find a bionic wrist for Anthony Rendon, and hitters in their mid-30s with wrist problems aren’t exactly foundational pieces. Outside of Rendon, they probably need to completely overhaul their infield, where only David Fletcher’s glove is worth saving, and if they could land any of the big shortstops they could certainly live the rest of their lives without missing Fletcher’s glove all that much or kick him to second. But one hitter isn’t going to save this lineup that was bottom-10 in 2022. They could use one of the bats that are available at first, too. There’s a lot of work here.
Mickey Moniak is pushing the boundaries on what could be called a prospect anymore, but will almost certainly get a full-time audition next year.
The Angels rotation was surprisingly good (6th in ERA and 10th in FIP), and while any rotation could use a boost at the top, a mid-level signing is more likely to bump Reid Detmers and Jose Suarez down a slot (something like Jameson Taillon?).
Notable Free Agents: Anyone who was notable and was an Athletic was traded for middle schoolers long ago.
Could they use Aaron Judge?: Sure could, and he’s from the area, but they also need everything else and he’s also not from Vegas. Can he bring everything with him?
What they could use: A new owner who is actually interested in paying for his own ballpark in Oakland. Seeing as how that kind of person hangs out with the Easter Bunny and Harvey the Rabbit, it’s going to be another season in purgatory as they try and settle whether or not they’re off to the desert or are going to stay in the Bay, with the occasional Ken Waldichuk start thrown in portending to a brighter day. Wherever it might be.
Projected 2023 Payroll: $132 million
Notable Free Agents: Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier, Mitch Haniger
Could they use Aaron Judge?: I don’t know, would you rather see them try Jarred Kelenic and his pool noodle for a bat for a third straight season? Yeah, exactly.
What they could use: As exciting as the Ms became in 2022, the offense still isn’t quite there. And there isn’t much help slated from the system, where the immediate help is probably on the pitching staff. One question the Mariners will have to answer is whether J.P. Crawford’s defensive collapse in 2022 (-11 Outs Above Average, -1.5 Defensive Runs Saved, by far the worst marks of his career) was just an aberration or a trend. If it’s a blip, the pitching staff is good enough to carry a glove-only shortstop. If this is the new reality, the M’s absolutely should be checking in on the big four free agent shortstops. They could use help at second as well with Adam Frazier hitting free agency. Taylor Trammel will get a look in the outfield after pilfering AAA this season, but is Kelenic really worth another shot? Brandon Nimmo could do wonders here in either corner.
The rotation is set with the extension of Luis Castillo, and would be more so if Matt Brash can move from the pen and squeeze out Marco Gonzalez at the back end. Most of one of the league’s best pens return, so it’s pretty much what the Ms want to do in the middle of the infield and on the sides of the outfield.
Projected 2023 Payroll: $113 million
Notable Free Agents: Kole Kalhoun, Martin Perez, Jose LeClerc
Could they use Aaron Judge?: Sure!
What they could use: For a lineup that has most of its spots set, the offense wasn’t all that good. It was kind of the definition of middling, 13th in slugging, 25th in OBP, and 12th in runs. Commitments to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien lock up the middle of the infield, and trust in youngsters Josh Jung and Nathaniel Lowe in the corners don’t leave a lot of space for upgrades in the infield. Even if the Rangers wanted to upgrade from Jung at the hot corner, the free agent list is dog meat. If they wanted to be ambitious, they could sign Xander Bogaerts and kick him to third because he won’t stay at short for very much longer anyway. But seeing as how they signed two of the biggest free agents last winter, who knows what their appetite is to do so again.
They could definitely use something in center, and this is another spot Nimmo would fit nicely to boost their OBP problems. Then again, so would Judge. Both especially. They like things bigger in Texas, right? Shouldn’t that be ambition too?
The rotation could use major help, especially if Martin Perez walks. After him, there’s Dane Dunning and Jon Gray continuing to convince people he’s really good when he’s actually just sort of there. Owen White and Jack Leiter could arrive during 2023, though Leiter’s numbers in 2022 suggest he still needs some seasoning. Even if Perez returns, the rotation needs help.