Shohei OhtaniPhoto: Getty Images
Sure, Houston fans are still partying, and maybe Phillies fans are still working their way through the Death Cab catalog. But for the rest of us, the real season is upon us. Or it would be the real season if MLB owners hadn’t killed the baseball offseason, which was supposed to be like the NBA offseason. But we can pretend it still is for a while. There’s a cold snap in the air, which means it’s time to gather around a hot stove and wonder what each team could or should be doing to warm their fans’ fingers and toes when we descend into the darkness and indifference of the winter months. We start in the home of the champions, the AL West:
Estimated 2023 payroll: $179 million
Notable Free Agents: None? (Jesus, fuck this team)
Could they field Aaron Judge?: Sure if he could handle a bigger centerfield over a season or they’re willing to put Jordan Alvarez in first or DH full-time
What they could use: First base seems like a glaring need. Yuri Gurriel and his gorgeous hair have finally aged their usefulness with an 85 wRC+ in 2022. The bottom part of the Astros lineup has been pretty bad for most of the season and this is certainly a point where they could upgrade. They’ll probably just pick Trey Mancini’s option and keep him there. In 2021, the idea of moving Alvarez to first place was toyed with, but it must have gone so well that he hasn’t played a single game there this season. This is probably further down the road. A year contract for Jose Abreu, will he accept it? Seems like they would.
The Astros clearly only value defense at the catcher, which will keep Martin Maldonado in the job for another year. They will claim they are doing the same in the middle, mainly to cover up the fact that they didn’t replace George Springer in the same way they managed to replace Carlos Correa with Jeremy Pena this year. You could still try Jake Meyers in the middle because it’s the cheaper option, and he’s got some banging Triple-A numbers and was hurt by the lack of minor league baseball in 2020.
They will basically return the entire pitching team that has been fielded in both the regular season and playoffs in the American League. We’ll do it all again next October no matter what the Mariners might come up with.
Los Angeles Angels from a parking lot full of skateboards
Estimated 2023 payroll: $180 million
Notable Free Agents: Michael Lorenzen? This is the opposite of the Astros, where the Angels are more likely to lack valuable free agents than efficiency and brilliance due to incompetence and indifference.
G/O Media may receive a commission
ASYSTEM – Pre-Workout+
Pre-workout gives you more energy and better recovery for your long workouts, with InnovaTea and Tibetan Cordyceps to fuel you.
Could they use Aaron Judge?: Absolutely, unless you’re related to Taylor Ward.
What They Might Need: It’s hard to diagnose what the angels might and will be doing until we know if Shohei Ohtani will be around or not. It doesn’t sound like he will be, and if he isn’t, they suddenly need a #1 starter, another hitter in a lineup already missing at least three hitters, and are likely to start all over again without really having started everything in the first place.
Let’s assume Ohtani stays around. The Angels then need to find a bionic wrist for Anthony Rendon, and mid-30s thugs with wrist problems aren’t exactly fundamental pieces. Outside of Rendon they’ll probably need to completely overhaul their infield where only David Fletcher’s gauntlet is worth saving and if they could land one of the big shortstops they could certainly live the rest of their lives without missing Fletcher’s gauntlet all that much or to kick him in pairs. But a batsman won’t save this lineup, which was in the bottom 10 in 2022. You could also use one of the racquets available at slot 1. There is a lot of work here.
Mickey Moniak is pushing the boundaries of what could be called a prospect, but will almost certainly land a full-time audition next year.
The Angels rotation has been 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 edge out Reid Detmers and Jose Suarez a spot ( something like Jameson Taillon?).
Expected payroll 2023
Notable Free Agents: Anyone who was notable and an athlete was traded for middle school a long time ago.
Could they use Aaron Judge?: Sure, and he’s local, but they need everything else, and he’s not from Vegas either. Can he take everything?
What they could use: A new owner actually interested in paying for his own ballpark in Oakland. Given how this type of person hangs out with the Easter Bunny and Harvey the Rabbit, it’s going to be another season in purgatory as they try to sort out whether they’re going to go to the desert or stay in the bay. with the occasional launch of Ken Waldichuk hinting at a brighter day. Wherever it may be.
Seafarers from Seattle
Estimated 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 third straight season? Yes, exactly.
What they could use: As exciting as the Ms 2022 have become, the offensive isn’t quite there yet. And not much help is envisaged from the system where immediate help is likely to lie with the pitching staff. One question the Mariners need to answer is whether JP Crawford’s defensive collapse in 2022 (-11 outs above average, -1.5 defensive runs save, by far the worst marks of his career) was just an anomaly or a trend. If it’s a blip, the pitching staff is good enough to wear a gloved-only shortstop. If this is the new reality, the Ms should definitely check out the free agents’ big four shortstops. They could also use second hand help if Adam Frazier hits the free hand. Taylor Trammel will take a look at the outfield after stealing AAA this season but is Kelenic really worth another try? Brandon Nimmo could work wonders around every corner here.
The rotation is set with Luis Castillo’s extension and would be even stronger if Matt Brash can switch out of the pen and push Marco Gonzalez out at the back end. Most of the league’s best pens are making a return, so that’s pretty much what the Ms in center infield and on the sides of outfield want to do.
Estimated 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 line-up that seeded the most places, the offensive wasn’t that good. It was sort of the definition of mediocre, 13th at batting, 25th at OBP, and 12th at running. Signings to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien lock down the center of infield, and reliance on youngsters Josh Jung and Nathaniel Lowe in the corners doesn’t leave much room for infield upgrades. Even if Jung’s Rangers wanted to upgrade from the hot corner, the free-agent list is dog meat. If they wanted to be ambitious, they could sign Xander Boegarts and knock him down to third place because he won’t be signed much longer anyway. But considering how they signed two of the biggest free agents last winter, who knows what their appetite for doing so again will be.
They could definitely use something in the middle, and this is another spot where Nimmo would be a good fit to boost their OBP issues. On the other hand, so would Richter. Both special. They like it bigger in Texas, right? Shouldn’t that also be ambition?
The rotation could use a lot of help, especially with Martin Perez on the run. After him there’s Dane Dunning and Jon Gray who continue to convince people that he’s really good when he’s just kind of there. Owen White and Jack Leiter could arrive sometime in 2023, although Leiter’s numbers in 2022 suggest he still needs some spice. Even with Perez returning, the rotation needs help.