Top 10 Storylines to Follow for the 2023 MLB Offseason

New rules, free agents and Angry Steve Cohen may shape the long winter.

You know that scene at the end of the 1986 cinematic masterpiece Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, midway through the credits, when Matthew Broderick comes out in his bathrobe and tells everyone sitting in the theater, “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home”?

That’s how I feel writing this. Here we are, not even a week removed from the World Series confetti falling in Houston, and you’re reading a baseball think piece. The season is over, take a break! Seven-plus months of this stuff, and what, that’s not enough for you sickos? As the kids are saying these days, it’s time for you to go outside and touch grass. By which I actually mean, stay inside (since it’s getting chilly) and watch something else for awhile. Check your fantasy football team. College basketball is starting up, if that’s your thing. Catch up on the new season of the Great British Baking Show. I really don’t care, I’m just concerned. If you have better things to do, please stop reading this now and go do them. Got it?

Okay. Now that the casuals are gone, we can get started. Y’all know baseball never stops at PitcherListDotCom. The 2022-23 MLB offseason is upon us, and that means our favorite winter holiday is fast approaching: Speculation Season!

There’s no time better than now. Let’s talk storylines.

 

#1: Who Can Enter the Astros’ Orbit?

 

The word “dynasty” gets tossed around a lot these days, especially in articles like this, which struggle to justify the Houston Astros‘ recent run of regular season dominance with the inherent randomness of the postseason until they go and win the dang thing, which provides a comfy cushion of recency bias on which to lay one’s spiciest takes. Call it what you want, but there’s no denying the Astros have set the pace in the American League for over half a decade. Four 100-win seasons, five division titles and four A.L. pennants in the last five full seasons speaks for itself.

In winning the title this year, they may as well have been Stringer Bell in The Wire putting out the word that they still run this show:

The question becomes, who in the A.L. has what it takes to be the Omar that takes Houston down? Or better yet, the Marlo Stanfield who takes their place? The Yankees may have pole position, but their first priority is bringing back Aaron Judge. The Mariners have all the momentum to give them a run in their own division, sustaining that momentum over another full season is a lofty goal for such a young team.

In the end, the biggest threat to the Astros’ reign of terror is probably just run-of-the-mill entropy. Justin Verlander is awesome, but he’s old. So is Dusty Baker. It may seem like they have an endless supply of uber-talented Jeremy Peñas waiting in the wings for now, but nothing lasts forever… right? Please, Santa, can we have some parity for Christmas?

 

#2: Shortstoppapalooza

 

This article isn’t a free agency breakdown (you can find that here, here and here), but it is a breakdown of any and all potential league-shifting drama this offseason. And in case you haven’t heard, the six hole is a hot commodity on the market these days; in fact, four of the top eight free agents on Gabe Goralnick’s list are shortstops. Ya heard of a guy named Trea Turner? How about Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Xander Bogaerts? And also Didi Gregorious?? If your team has money to spend and needs an infield upgrade, you really can’t go wrong.

No analysis here — I’ll leave that to the experts, like our own Sean Roberts. What I will say is that each of these shortstops will be changing teams this offseason, or possibly returning to their previous team, and when they do it will make that team that much better, probably, unless it doesn’t. Something to consider.

To me, the smart money says they somehow all end up on the Dodgers. They’ll make it work, too. Just watch.

 

#3: Spending Money: Does it Work?

 

The 2022 postseason was a banner moment for the long-suffering camp of Teams that Spend Money. For the first time in modern history, the top five opening-day payrolls in MLB all made the playoffs; and not only that, but three of the five (Phillies, Yankees and Padres) advanced to the LCS. Granted the expanded postseason format had something to do with this, but it’s got to be a relief when your “stupid money” finally yields results. Since the depressing low point that was Tampa Bay reaching the world series in 2020, things have finally been looking up for those poor, downtrodden rich teams. About time!

In all seriousness, the one good thing about this trend is that it’s sending a sign to those in the financial middle-distance that going for it can prove worth the risk. The more playoffs, the more playoff money — and the more chance that the Milwaukees and San Franciscos of the world will invest in their squads. So, who’s next up driving the gravy train this winter? (And why is still, somehow, going to end up just being the Dodgers?)

 

#4: Angry Steve Cohen

 

While we’re on the subject of spending money, I’d be remiss not to mention the King of Queens himself, billionaire Mets owner Steve Cohen. His investment in the Amazins finally paid off this year, right up until it didn’t. But the disappointing finish to the Mets’ first 100-win season in 24 years is hardly likely to put a damper on Uncle Steve’s investment zeal. In fact, all signs point to the Mets spending even more money this offseason to run it back and, hopefully, get over the hump this time. But what shape will that spending take this time?

We got our first clue over the weekend, as they re-signed free agent closer Edwin Díaz to a monster nine-figure contract, the largest ever for a reliever. The next order of business is bringing back (or replacing) oft-injured uber-ace Jacob deGrom and filling Brandon Nimmo’s shoes in center field. With the living embodiment of C. Montgomery Burns running the front office, the sky is the limit. Until some poor soul shows up with sideburns, at least.

 

#5: Slam Diego 2.0 3.0 12.0

 

No team spent more time riding the emotional roller coaster this season than the San Diego Padres. Let’s review this timeline of events from the past 12 months:

  • December 5: Fernando Tatís Jr. injures his wrist in a “minor” motorcycle accident
  • March 14: It’s reported that Tatís’ “minor” injury will sideline him for  half the season
  • April 7: The Padres (0-0) swing a rare opening-day deal to acquire closer Taylor Rogers
  • June 22: The Padres (42-27) move into a a tie with Dodgers for first place in the division
  • July 2: The Padres (46-34) lose fourth straight game to Dodgers, fall 4.5 games back
  • August 1: The Padres (58-46, 12 GB) trade Taylor Rogers to Milwaukee for Josh Hader
  • August 2: The Padres (60-46, 11.5 GB) complete mega-trade to land Juan Soto
  • August 6: Tatís begins his rehab assignment in San Antonio
  • August 15: Tatís tests positive for PEDs, earns 80-game suspension
  • August 28: The Padres (70-59, 19.5 GB) lose 15-7 to the Royals; Hader allows six runs, dropping his post-trade ERA to 23.14
  • September 13: The Dodgers clinch the division; Soto is hitless in win over Mariners, dropping his post-trade AVG to .212
  • October 15: The Padres (3-1) eliminate the Dodgers with 5-3 victory in NLDS Game 4; Hader strikes out the side on 10 pitches to earn the save
  • October 23: The Padres (1-4) eliminated by Phillies with 4-3 loss in NLCS Game 5

That about covers it, no? After everything that happened, reaching the the NLCS for the first time since 1998 is no small feat. Still, we all know this Padres roster can do more — it was built to capture pennants, and as of yet, it has not done so. Now GM A.J. Preller’s focus has shifted to 2023, and barring any further motorcycle incidents, he should be getting Tatís back in April. With a full, strike-free offseason to gel and prepare, expectations for the Padres in 2023 will be higher than ever. Will this be the year it all finally comes together?

That question will be answered next summer. But in the meantime, it’ll be fascinating to see how one of the sport’s most aggressive front offices reacts to a little taste of success. Bidders, beware!

 

#6: The Ohtani Trade Simulator

 

Trading for Angels’ superstar Shohei Ohtani this offseason, even it’s just a one-year rental before he hits free agency, would require a herculean offer and a determined front office. Failing that, some standard-issue Angels foolishness could do the trick. Regardless, since the news broke that Ohtani was displeased with his current club, it hasn’t stopped everyone and their grandmother and her seeing-eye dog from crafting theoretical offers to net his services.

Never mind the fact that Angels GM Perry Minasian flat-out announced that they won’t be trading Ohtani before next season. That won’t stop the speculation machine from churning. Moreover, a counterpoint:

Personally, I’m holding out hope that the Atlanta GM Alex Anthopolous can talk Minasian into taking sleeper agent Jesse Chavez again in exchange for Ohtani. Who says no?

 

#7: Lottery Luck

 

As a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this offseason will include the first-ever MLB Draft Lottery next month in Las Vegas. The event will decide the first six picks of next summer’s MLB Draft, with 18 teams in contention for the No. 1 pick. The odds for the top slot are as follows:

  • 16.5% – WSH, OAK, PIT
  • 13.2% – CIN
  • 10% – KCR
  • 7.5% – DET
  • 5.5% – TEX
  • 3.9% – COL
  • 2.7% – MIA
  • < 2% – LAA, ARI, CHC, MIN, BOS, CHW, SFG, BOS, MIL

While similar to the format deployed by other leagues, it remains to be seen how compelling the event itself will be. But if they’re able to replicate any of that magic awkwardness produced every year at the NBA lottery when the random players are just standing there faking a smile as their pick plummets… well, it may just become must-see television.

 

#8: Should I StA’, or Should I Go?

 

Speaking of Vegas, the top pick won’t be the only choice on the Oakland front office’s mind when they visit Sin City in December. The club remains in talks with the city of Oakland to build a new stadium, but if something isn’t sorted out soon, relocating the club could be a very real possibility. If they do move, Las Vegas is the perceived favorite — though that may depend how much they’re willing to invest in a ballpark, after doing the same for the former Oakland Raiders just a few years ago.

The odds of a major move happening this offseason probably aren’t that great, but it will surely remain a hot topic of conversation in the coming months. Unfortunately for the A’s, there’s just not that much else to talk about these days. If ever there was a time for some miraculous true events to inspire a Moneyball sequel, it would be now. Where’s Brad Pitt when you need him?

 

#9: Rob Manfred’s Next Bad Idea

 

The sad truth is, Manfred doesn’t seem terribly interested in what happens to Oakland, one way or another. He’s busy working with his top evil alchemists, cooking up a new kind of baseball to throw into the mix next year. Perhaps one that explodes when you graze the top of it, discouraging ground balls; or even more insidious, a ball that changes color and density based on the handler’s mood, giving the batter an advantage when the pitcher gets rattled. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be sinister.

Of course, this is all just speculation (like I said, we’re allowed to do that since nothing real is happening right now). What we do know is that shift regulations are coming, along with a pitch timer and larger bases. These changes have the potential to really help clean up the game and boost offense going forward. It may even affect offseason decisions, as teams seek to capitalize on the opportunity to steal more bases. That’s good!

But knowing Rob, this positive energy will only encourage him to do more things. That’s bad. When your favorite team’s season comes down to nasty booby-trapped slider, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

#10: Next M Up

 

The best story of the 2022 MLB season was the emergence of the Seattle Mariners. If you disagree with that, you’re either a hater or a salty Reds fan. And as someone who dabbles in both, even I was impressed. But with their 2o-year postseason drought now snapped, the M’s have officially arrived; now the question becomes, which team can situate itself to be the best story of 2023?

The Orioles feel like a strong contender. They showed flashes this year, Adley Rutschman is as good as advertised. and they appear ready to emerge from their rebuild at long last. But do they have what it takes to compete over a full season in the loaded A.L. East? Can they leapfrog the Blue Jays and take aim at the top dog Yankees and Rays? More importantly, can such a sweet-looking bird truly be feared?? I have my doubts.

Another team that could be ready to complete their rebuild is the Cubs, who are poised to drop some serious dime this winter and play in a much weaker division. The only problem is, they lack a marketable star, and Pete Crow-Armstrong’s arrival is probably still a year away. Contrast that to a team like the Marlins, which have a Julio Rodríguez-type personality (if not talent) in Jazz Chisholm Jr. but have done nothing to show they can capitalize on it. Ditto for the Pirates and Oneil Cruz.

If you’re looking to join a way-too-early bandwagon for next year, you should ultimately just follow your heart. Unless your heart tells you to root for the Rockies. In that case, you may as well forget the whole thing.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Wynn McDonald

Born a Kentuckian, much like Dan Uggla. Braves fan by choice, unlike Dan Uggla. I enjoy long walks on the Brandon Beachy. @twynstagram

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