Why Your Favorite Baseball Team Can And Cannot Be a Contender This Year: 2023 American League Edition
It's that beautiful time of the year again. The birds are chirping, the sun doesn't go down at 4pm anymore, and it's time we to feel more alive. You know what that means? Big Cat dropped his NFL head coaches picture breakdown? While that is true, it's also time for baseball. No more arguing over whether the World Baseball Classic is either the best thing ever or handcrafted by the devil himself. No more watching meaningless Spring Training games just praying your favorite player doesn't trip on a blade of grass and break every bone in his body. Nope, it's time for the real thing. Come Thursday all of our teams we shed blood, sweat, and tears for each year start 0-0. A clean slate baby.
With that comes hope. Some/most of it is misguided. Some warranted. Maybe it is in fact your team's year? Only one way to find out. Let's get ready for the marathon of a season with a conversation of what needs to happen for you team to contend or fail this year. There's typically three tiers of teams each year. True contenders, those which need a few things to break their way to make some noise, and the teams owned by billionaires who'd rather enter sailing competitions and spit on the commoners who dare stare at their penthouse apartments from the streets below than watch their teams win baseball games.
Now before we get into the meat of the blog let's remind ourselves the new rules entering this season.
Pitch clock. 15 seconds with nobody on base. 20 seconds with someone on. Batters have to be in their stance, facing the pitcher ready to hit at the eight second mark. Games during the spring were typically 2.5 hours long. It's going to be weird watching 7:10 PM first pitches this year end before 10:00 PM. I'm for it and think it will help the game big time when it's all said and done. From the beginning of Spring Training to the end you saw violations decrease significantly. There will still be some dumb moments in the first half of the year, but after that I expect a full adjustment and for shit to roll pretty seamlessly from there on out.
Pick off limit. You can no longer throw over to first a hundred times to stall. You get two tries per at bat. If you want to throw over a third time you can, but if the runner is safe it's an automatic balk. I sneaky think this causes more chaos in the long run than the pitch clock. You will see a ton of stolen bases for now on.
Bigger bases. I honestly just want to meet one person out there who has a legitimate gripe with making the bases being bigger. Why'd they do it? Safety. It truly has zero impact on the game itself other than safer gameplay. Now we're talking an era in human history where someone has a problem with quite literally everything. I just know there's one person out there. Show yourself!
Banning of the shift. Two infielders on either side of the bag at all times. No more Manny Machado playing short right field with everyone on the right side for a pull happy batter. Infielders must have both feet inside of the outfield grass prior to the pitch being thrown. You can bring an outfielder in as a 5th infielder which I feel like you'll see a team like the Rays do a good amount. The best part of banning the shift is that a base hit up the middle will once again be a base hit up the middle. We deserve that.
Schedule change. You no longer play your division 19 times a year. Now you're playing every team each year at least for one series. You still play your division more than anything else (13 games per team), but it's been cut signifcantly You're also going from 20 interleague games to 46 which is fun. I still don't know if I love or hate this yet, kinda gonna have to feel it out, but taking away Yankees-Red Sox games is sad. Does add importance to when they play, but I always will want more.
Alright, let's dive in….
It's my responsibility as a baseball junkie to remind you that if you have T-Mobile/Sprint today is the day to activate your free MLB TV for the year. By far the best park of having this service. Basically couldn't take a phone call during my four years at Syracuse because of bad service all to get unlimited free baseball later on. I'll take it.
*odds brought to you via the Barstool Sportsbook
New York Yankees (o/u 95.5)
The Yankees entered the offseason with one primary objective, re-sign Aaron Judge. While things looked bleak at times, specifically the Arson Judge era (my fucking heart), they got it done and brought him back on a 9 year $360 million deal. A lot of money, but necessary. Anthony Rizzo returns as well and should see his numbers improve with the shift-ban, but in terms of offense that's all they did really in terms of moves. Top prospect Anthony Volpe was just promoted to the big leagues after a huge Spring. He'll have the weight of every skyscraper in New York City on his shoulders as he tries to become the next Jeter. No pressure, kid! Still, Volpe out there makes the team better. It's just a shame Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson still have significant roles. Left hander Carlos Rodon was added to bolster the starting rotation, although at the moment there really is no rotation with the amount of injuries the team has suffered so far. The bullpen should be excellent, especially with Michael King avoiding TJ surgery in the offseason.
Contend: Volpe continues his hot spring and thrives in New York, proving he belongs. A healthy DJ LeMahieu brings order at the top of the lineup as he sets the table all year long like the guy New York grew to love in 2019 and 2020. Health is the key factor here with how injury susceptible this team tends to be. They're off to a rough start in that department already. You stay mostly healthy and the talent will pave the way to a lot of wins. Will it be enough to finally dethrone Houston as the king of this league? That remains to be seen, but the injection of youth here is for sure part of the solution. Volpe, Oswaldo, and Oswald will all play big roles. Top pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt has a gigantic opportunity early on here to slide into this rotation once and for all. He needs to have a year.
Fail: Cashman's gamble on the kids fails once again. Failing to address major needs at SS, LF, and 3rd base in the past prove fatal as his ego gets in the way of moving on from terrible baseball players who have no business having the roles that they do on this team. The injuries to Rodon and Severino become worse than initially thought and are too much to overcome. Judge is unable to reproduce an MVP type year and has a bit of a step back. Stanton doesn't bounce back from his disaster of a 2022 and the offense becomes more of what we saw in the second half of last season.
Toronto Blue Jays (o/u 92.5)
The Blue Jays were one of baseball's bigger disappointments last season. Yes they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, but with the talent they possess they should not be settling for a 92 win club. Do you remember how they got bounced in the postseason because I kinda forgot how insane it was. If you're a Blue Jay fan, shield your eyes.
There are no excuses this year. The Jays have some of the louder players in the league and need to back it up in 2023. I mean this lineup should absolutely rake from the jump.
Contend: On paper the Jays possess quite possibly the best offense in Major League Baseball. There are very few forgiving spots as you attempt to navigate through that 1-9. If they do their job this will be a contending baseball club no question about it.
Fail: If there's a glaring weakness to the Toronto Blue Jays it's their starting rotation. While they do have names, I'm not sure I like them all. Alek Manaoh is awesome and is the exact kind of guy you want on your team, but would absolutely despise going up against. While Gausman's numbers took a slight dip in production, overall he was a very good number 2 behind the big man. After that though things get a bit harry. Chris Bassit changes leagues and comes over from the Mets. I do like him, but how will he fair in the AL East? Hyun Jin Ryu is working his way back from TJ surgery and isn't expected back until July at the earliest. Berrios and Kekuchi do next to nothing for me in a rotation at this point other than hopefully eat up some innings. If you have an explanation as to what happened to Jose Berrios please let me know. So yeah I just spelled it out for you, I don't love the rotation and the pen is so-so. This team is very good, but if they stumble that's why.
Tampa Bay Rays (o/u 88.5)
The Tampa Bay Rays are infuriating and the epitome of the famous Jesse Pinkman gif
For once they took a step back in 2022 and only won 86 games, their lowest win total in a full season since 2017. They never really try to get better other than promoting their own prospects and putting a magic spell over their bullpen to make them all elite out of nowhere.
What about this lineup is special in any way? You see this on a given day and don't get scared in the slightest yet somehow someway you know they'll be sitting in that 85-93 win range and in a wild card spot.
Contend: Glasnow just started throwing the other day as he recovers from his grade 2 oblique strain. He's probably missing the entire month of April, if not a little more. If he rejoins this staff and maintains his health they're not gonna surrender a lot of runs, plain and simple. You're gonna be in dog fights with this team just begging to squeak out a run. They're not world beaters, but they're tricky motherfuckers to go up against. How they really contend is if Wander Franco becomes Wander Franco again. What a weird 2022 for him, huh? Sub .750 OPS and playing in half the year's games. The Rays need their star to carry their offense and he's perfectly capable of doing so.
Fail: The lineup that I showed above produces the unsatisfactory results you'd expect. Glasnow's shaky health problems continue to rear their ugly head and plague another season of his. Not adding really much at all to this team finally comes back to bite them in the ass? I mean it's downright malarkey they think they can put whoever out there and just figure it out. I've had enough.
Boston Red Sox (o/u 77.5)
What are the Red Sox doing? John Henry continues to smile and say he's doing the right things to put this team in position to succeed, but you know he's not. The guy honestly believes the Fenway faithful were giving him a standing ovation at the Winter Classic when they were just cheering on the Bruins after a crazy victory. Usually I'd say Boston's last place finishes are what fuel my survival on this Earth, and they do, but there's part of me that wants them to contend a little bit so that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry means something when they play. Not entertaining a Xander Bogaerts contract doesn't get you there. Pretty much ignoring the starting rotation doesn't help. Patching together this lineup with a used bandaid is not the best course of action.
Contend: By all measures the Red Sox overpaid for Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida. The five year $90 million deal was far above any other offer out there. But maybe he's worth it? You can't take the World Baseball Classic for too much value considering some of the players were actual school teachers, but Yoshida did show out and debuted his skills for many here in America as to why the Sox highly coveted him. Hopefully for them he adapts smoothly to left field despite the red flags with his defense and his bat translates quickly to the big league game. There's no path to success for Boston this year if Masataka Yoshida doesn't have a year. Devers will be Devers, he shouldn't be a concern. The need is for guys like Casas, Justin Turner, Verdugo, and Kiké to help shoulder the load. Story returning in the 2nd half and being the guy they signed for all that money would be a welcomed sight. They need to be virtually unscathed across the board health wise to have a shot.
If Boston is to contend it means miraculously the starting rotation held by glue somehow made its way through the season unscathed. Sale, Kluber, Bello, Houck, Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, James Paxton. Chaim Bloom settling for that group of SPs is a crime. Also word to the wise, keep Whitlock in the pen. Why on Earth you'd mess with a weapon like that all to turn him into an average starter is beyond me. If there's a strength to this Sox team it's actually their bullpen for a change. For once I don't hate it.
Fail: The Red Sox 77.5 win total is that low for a reason. The rotation isn't good at all to begin with and if any injuries arise they're in major shit. The lineup isn't anything to write home about either. Story never returns and Devers is left on an island by himself with all the really good hitters Boston once had now elsewhere. Henry has enough and fires Bloom mid-season even though he really should just sell the team and walk away himself.
Baltimore Orioles (o/u 77.5)
The Orioles upset me because they had legit momentum heading into 2023 with all their young studs ready to blossom. There was no bigger surprise in baseball in 2022 than Baltimore. They were fun as hell to watch do their thing. Not exactly 2017 Yankees esque where they made a run in the postseason, but they certainly are ahead of schedule. When that happens, that's when the front office should get involved and bring in some outside talent. Inspire the guys in that clubhouse that the big guns upstairs believe this team can do something.
The hell with that, John Angelos instead admitted publicly the team overachieved in 2022 and said bringing concerts to Camden Yards was a higher priority than the team itself. That's a real thing that happened. He also said they are not in a situation to have a $100 million payroll. Good stuff John! Just what the boys wanna hear.
Contend: Adley, Gunnar, and Grayson (once he's up) decide Angelos can go fuck himself and just go balls to the wall, carrying this team to a wild card spot, building off a fun 2022. Maybe that pushes the front office to buy at the deadline for once?
Fail: Adding zero to this team in the offseason just kills any chances of an improving year. While the kids show out, it's not enough to make any real noise. Good news though, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band are coming to town!
We're already at 2,200 words what is wrong with me? There's no way I wrote this much last year. I apologize for breaking whatever device you're reading this off of. It wasn't worth it. This was a mistake.
Cleveland Guardians (o/u 87.5)
Tito Francona is so good at his job. That man truly gets the most out of his players each and every year. The Guardians don't scare you in the slightest on paper, but when matched up with them in any given series they can put you through all phases of hell. They're probably the closest thing we have in today's game to the contact Royals who won the World Series about a decade ago. They return the same roster aside from adding Josh Bell into the middle of their lineup. Their o/u sits at 87.5 which feels right. After witnessing it last season, I want nothing to do with them in the postseason.
Contend: Did you know Andres Gimenez was a 7.4 WAR player last year? Gold glove defense and a really solid bat will do that for ya. He's just a straight up really fun player to watch. Do the Guardians necessarily deserve him with how cheap they are to their players? Probably not, but at least they got a nice surprise after trading Lindor. How does this team contend? They probably can't win a World Series with this roster, but they can easily find themselves back in the dance which is all you can ask for from them.
Fail: While the rotation is solid, it's not great. Similar to the lineup. If they're to drop off in 2022 it's because everything was too average and someone in the Central took a jump up. Feels like they caught a bit of a lucky draw with injuries last season. Law of averages has that reversing in 2023.
Minnesota Twins (o/u 84.5)
The Twins were the grand prize winners in the "Carlos Correa is broken in half physically, but just sign the fucking physical, doc, we need to do this" sweepstakes. Congrats to Minnesota! Surely nothing bad could happen to a guy who was rejected by two separate team doctors. He'll be fine, nothing to worry about! *ducks. For whatever reason the Twins decided it was wise to trade the AL batting champ. Luis Arraez doesn't hit for any power whatsoever so his .316 batting average takes a bit of a hit to the nerds. Still, doesn't hurt to have a guy who can consistently put up an at bat like he does. Shipping off Arraez did acquire the Twins their "ace", however. Pablo Lopez is good. Can he be a true ace though?
Contend: Joey Gallo has a resurgence in Minnesota with his arch nemesis the shift banned from existence. Buxton, Correa, and Gallo combine to assemble a deadly trio at the top of the lineup. Oh yeah, for the Twins to do anything of significance in 2023 Byron Buxton has to play 100+ games. You know the last time he accomplished that feat? 2017. 28, 87, 39, 61, 92. Those are his last five season's game totals. Minnesota desperately needs their star to stay on the field.
Fail: Pablo Lopez isn't an ace, Joey Gallo's inability to make contact foil any of his plans to thrive in a shiftless world. Buxton gets hurt again because the sky is blue, Carlos Correa's ankle implodes, and not having the batting champ actually comes back to hurt the consistency at the top. Things not going well for Minnesota sports? This is my surprised face.
Chicago White Sox (o/u 83.5)
I'm mad at the White Sox for a few reasons. For starters all I heard from that inbred WSD is that the whole league should be pray for mercy with how good the Chicago core was. In all that time this team has won two playoff games. Last year they finished .500 and 11 games back of 1st. Just an incredible waste of time and effort. The other reason I'm mad is that they just allowed Jose Abreu to go to the Houston Astros. If you're gonna be a mediocre team at least prevent the league's best team from getting your premier hitter. What the fuck guys? They added Andrew Benintendi on a pretty fair deal if you ask me. Other than that you're just running this back hoping for good health and bounce back years.
Contend: There is legit talent all over this lineup. Why can't these guys just mash all year and put up a ton of crooked numbers? No reason! The rotation is good on paper as well and I don't hate the pen. Banish White Sox Dave back to the DR for the year and maybe you have something? I kinda just talked myself into taking the over 83.5 wins I think and maybe a flier on a division title at +210.
Fail: White Sox Dave remains alive and in your life very prominently.
Detroit Tigers (o/u 70.5)
The bottom of this division is just really sad. The Tigers don't plan on contending for a little while here and that might be sugarcoating it. Hey, at least you have a few young studs to watch on a daily basis in Riley Greene and Tork.
Contend: AJ Hinch works his devil's magic, creates another elaborate cheating system that no one catches onto despite it being so painfully obvious when pointed out in a few years, and the Tigers break the game wide open.
Fail: Just look at the roster. Sorry Chris.
Kansas City Royals (o/u 68.5)
I love Bobby Witt Jr. Melendez is extremely talented. Salvy Perez is still doing his thing. Vinnie Pasquantino is electric. Yeah that's about it.
Contend: The rest of the teams in the division decide to try their hand in other sports, besides the Tigers.
Fail: I don't think you'll get bored watching the top half of the offense hit, but that pitching staff is brutal. It's so funny to see Aroldis Chapman on this team. The most obvious "please remember how to pitch in the first half of the year so we can trade you for something at the deadline" player I've ever seen.
3,200 words and counting. Home stretch, we can do this.
Houston Astros (o/u 95.5)
The Houston Astros are a juggernaut in every sense of the word. They are about as well oiled a machine as it gets. One guy leaves and they have his prime replacement ready to rock. They lost Justin Verlander, one of the most important players in this franchise's history. Think that's an exaggeration? Look what that man did in his short time there. Incredible. Well, you lose him? Here's a carbon copy of him ready to step in named Hunter Brown. The guy is a horse and pretty much copied his entire life based on JV. It's quite unfair they just have this dude ready to be unleashed. Feels like something we could file a lawsuit about.
Contend: If the Astros step on the field in 2023 play baseball they are not only a contender, but they are the team to beat. Framber, Javier, Urquidy, Garcia, Brown, McCullers. It's a dynamite starting rotation. The pen is full of arms that will silence your bats late in games, and I'm sure they won't hesitate to add another come deadline time. The offense? They lost Gurriel and added Jose Abreu. Again, fuck you White Sox for allowing that to happen. Pena, Bregman, Tucker, Yordan, Abreu, and Altuve is just a sick joke to us all.
Fail: A giant sink hole opens up at Minute Maid Park during one of their team workouts, resulting in the entire squad's annihilation. Still convinced their farm system would be able to assemble a competitive team, but they'd probably need a year or two to recover from such tragedy.
Seattle Mariners (o/u 87.5)
The Mariners finally broke through in 2022 and snapped their depressing playoff drought. Now it's time to build off that and carry actual expectations into 2023. Sometimes it's tough to repeat that magic after building such momentum. Kolten Wong, AJ Pollack, and Teoscar Hernandez join the lineup to help give it more depth. The rotation returns the same dangerous names, including now a full season of Luis Castillo.
Contend: Talent is there along with a raucous fanbase that finally got a taste of what success tastes like in 2022. They want more. This should be a playoff team once again, especially if J-Rod gets better. That's a scary sentence to type, but he's still just scratching the surface of his potential. Castillo, Gilbert, and Ray are as strong of a 1-2-3 punch as you can find in the AL. I'm sure if they need an extra push the front office won't hesitate to make another move in July.
Fail: The pressure to repeat that dream run to the postseason becomes too hard to replicate. While that top 4 of the lineup should mash, the bottom 5 concern me a bit. Kelenic really needs to put it together to help extend this lineup.
Texas Rangers (o/u 81.5)
Look at the Texas Rangers with an 81.5 over/under. While that is an improvement from years' past it is troubling that adding Jacob deGrom, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien only gets you there. I'll say this, when I look at their roster this year it definitely looks like a competitive baseball team. Does that mean playoffs? Probably not, but they should be in the hunt for that final spot for most of the year.
Contend: deGrom, Eovaldi, Perez, Gray and Heaney is a real rotation of MLB pitchers. Can't remember the last time Texas had that. Health is a huge factor here especially with Jake. You get a full season from him in that spacious ballpark and good things will happen. Josh Jung is a fun young bat to throw out in the middle of that lineup with Seager, Lowe, Semien, and Garcia. I've heard of worse bets than their over even if it might be a little inflated.
Fail: deGrom doesn't stay on the field and as a result the rotation crumbles. They're probably not quite there yet. The real time to buy in on Texas is when Jack Leiter breaks the surface. That could be a little longer than expected with how much he got rocked around last year in AA, but his time will come. For now Texas most likely is a fun team to watch on any given night, but not a contender.
Los Angeles Angels (o/u 81.5)
I truly don't know what to say about this team anymore. How does a squad with two generational players never even sniff the postseason? Terrible ownership and horrific management will do that, but still come on already. One time do something.
Contend: At the bare minimum the Angels should score a ton of runs. I like the adds of Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury to the lineup. They have to score because I don't love the rotation after Shohei and Sandoval. Trout's health is imperative obviously. He's gotta play 130 games this season. Hey maybe Anthony Rendon decides he wants to play baseball this year and actually earns some of that contract? He had a monster spring, but we all know that means next to nothing. At least at this very moment in time he is an active, alive human being who hasn't gone missing.
Fail: Trout gets hurt. Rendon chooses his ranch in Texas over his job. Ohtani gets traded to the Dodgers at the deadline. Sadness and despair follows as fans stare into the mirror asking God why Moreno didn't sell.
Oakland A's (o/u 59.5)
The A's are a few years removed from back to back 97 win teams. Even in 2021 they won a respectable 86 games. It's not right what they've done to this club.
Contend: Every team in the American League gets infected with a virus that for some reason does not impact the Oakland A's players.
Fail: If life goes on normally there is no path for any success with this team and their godforsaken owner John J. Fisher.
If you made it this far you are a real mensch. Let's have ourselves a season. NL breakdown coming out tomorrow barring my fingers ceasing all function.
Here's Alexandra Daddario to send us out