Baseball’s best are jockeying for position in the sport’s second season — the mayhem of October. The rest of MLB’s clubs are looking back at what went wrong. In a sport where transactions and roster decisions provide clear expectations, we have separated out the rebuilding teams from the ones who entered 2022 expecting to be setting playoff rotations, not vacation plans.
We ranked the success of 2022’s rebuilders earlier this week, and now it’s time to flip things over and assess the failures of teams who didn’t mean to fail. We've provided the preseason playoff odds from FanGraphs as a baseline of what realistic expectations looked like in early April, but the order is subjective.
These are the disappointment rankings, from most crushing to least.
1. Chicago White Sox
Preseason playoff odds: 72.9%
What went wrong? The White Sox looked like the most surefire division lock east of Chavez Ravine this spring, and it all fell apart. It was quite literally a tale of one step forward, two steps back.
On the pitching side: Dylan Cease burgeoned into a Cy Young contender, but Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito had their worst seasons in years.
On the hitting side: Jose Abreu continued his perennial production, but Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal went totally belly up with dreadful seasons.
On the health front: A.J. Pollock, of all people, managed 134 games, but Tim Anderson was cut down by injuries along with Eloy Jimenez. Luis Robert seemed limited most of the season by various maladies.
Tony La Russa’s odd managerial decisions didn’t help matters. He eventually had to leave the team for health reasons, and some early reports indicate he won’t return in 2023.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? The core here remains strong, in theory. They should once again project as a strong contender in the AL Central with a steadier hand steering the ship. But there are some persistent questions that won’t go away. Is Jimenez ever going to stay healthy? Can Moncada rebound from a grisly offensive year? And will they spend what is required to balance out a top-heavy, defense-challenged roster?
2. Boston Red Sox
Preseason playoff odds: 63.1%
What went wrong? The pitching is just flat out not good enough. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has seemed intent on implementing a Rays-style program of bulk buying and maximizing merely OK arms, but it’s not working.
Michael Wacha counts as a success story in the rotation, and John Schreiber emerged in the bullpen, but Boston needed far more to compete in the daunting AL East. Chris Sale came back slowly and immediately went out again in a nauseating series of setbacks and new injuries. Nathan Eovaldi struggled through a season plagued by injuries and home runs. Relying on Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski for 57 starts produced a 25-32 record.
On the offensive side, free agent signing Trevor Story largely repeated his 2021 down year. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are still among the best hitters in baseball. Bogaerts can (and almost certainly will) opt out of his deal after 2022, while Devers will reach free agency following 2023. If there is to be any real benefit from the purported financial flexibility they gained in the Mookie Betts trade, it will have to come in securing their services long-term.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? Recent Red Sox history is basically a yo-yo of firsts and lasts, deep playoff runs and tumultuous last-place finishes. It’s fair to wonder, at this juncture, if too many bad moves — some unfortunate, some blatantly penny-pinching — are piling up right as owner John Henry tightens the belt.
3. Los Angeles Angels
Preseason playoff odds: 42.3%
What went wrong?After the first few weeks of the season? Just about everything except Shohei Ohtani. It’s the same story we’ve grown accustomed to: This team has two of the best baseball players to ever step foot on a field, and little in the way of supporting talent or organizational wherewithal to create it.
Owner Arte Moreno announced this summer he is pursuing a sale of the team. That actually counts as something going right, but it could be a while before the potential positive effects take hold.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? It could get bleak. Ohtani has expressed a desire to win, and that probably means he isn’t signing an extension ahead of free agency after 2023. The Angels could look to trade him this winter.
4. Minnesota Twins
Preseason playoff odds: 39.4%
What went wrong? The looming questions around the starting rotation were never solved. A bright spring gave way to a subpar second half that saw them lose their grasp on a golden opportunity to seize the AL Central. Sonny Gray was the only reliable starter after the All-Star break as Joe Ryan (4.52 ERA), Dylan Bundy (5.27) and Chris Archer (6.63) stumbled. Deadline acquisition Tyler Mahle tallied only four starts before going down with an injury.
Surprise signing Carlos Correa has been as advertised, and unfortunately, so has Byron Buxton. The ultra-talented center fielder has mashed when healthy, but he hasn’t been fully healthy since April.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? Correa can opt out of his contract this winter and retry the free agent market without a lockout. On the idea of remaining with Minnesota, he told a local TV station, “When I go to the mall, and I go to the Dior store and I want something, I get it. I ask how much it costs, and I buy it. So, if you really want something, you just go get it. I’m the product here, and if they want my product, they just have got to come get it.”
The Twins should consider that sort of decisive shopping for Correa, and also some starting pitchers.
5. San Francisco Giants
Preseason playoff odds: 47.6%
What went wrong? Quick, name the most productive position player on the 2022 Giants. It’s not any of the resurgent mid-30s stars of 2021. It’s not Joc Pederson. It’s Thairo Estrada, who is having a nice, solid year.
Why is Estrada the most productive hitter? Well, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt came back to earth and dealt with injuries, Buster Posey retired, and some other 2021 revelations like Darin Ruf crashed to earth so hard they were traded. Also, Estrada isn’t JUST a hitter. The logical conclusion about an aging, lumbering team turned out to be more true than we realized. This team cannot play defense. No matter which metric you use, this is a bottom-three fielding unit in MLB. That has dulled the impact of continued excellence from starting pitchers Carlos Rodón and Logan Webb, and a strong showing from Alex Cobb.
So yeah, 107 wins to roughly .500 feels like a huge drop, but it’s only modestly under what we could have seen coming.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? It’s probably going to look different, that’s for sure! Belt and Pederson will become free agents at season’s end. Evan Longoria has a $13 million club option that could be declined, and Rodón is likely to exercise his opt out to secure a longer-term deal, although remaining in San Francisco is certainly possible. The Giants’ books are comically clear after 2023, so expect top executive Farhan Zaidi to be sniffing around all the major names this winter, including Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani.
6. Miami Marlins
Preseason playoff odds: 29.3%
What went wrong? They still can’t hit. It didn’t help that Jazz Chisholm Jr., the exciting young shortstop, missed the second half with a back injury, but there’s simply not enough offensive talent here. They signed Jorge Soler and Avisail Garcia this offseason in an apparent attempt to swing at contending, but those are complimentary pieces, not difference-makers. No difference was made. They are sporting the league’s 25th-best offense, by park-adjusted metric wRC+.
That’s particularly frustrating because they are wasting a dynamic starting rotation fronted by likely Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? Much of the same unless they either invest in real hitting talent or fix the hitting side of their player development operation in a hurry. GM Kim Ng would seem to have more space to operate now that Derek Jeter and holdover executive Gary Denbo have departed the organization.
7. Colorado Rockies
Preseason playoff odds: 0.4%
What went wrong? Well, pretty much the entire conception of how to build a baseball team in 2022. The Rockies should be rebuilding, but you can’t call them a rebuilding team because they enter every season with the baseless idea they might be winners. That on-another-planet level of self-delusion was most apparent last offseason in the $182 million they committed to Kris Bryant, only to immediately announce he would play left field every day, the least valuable spot on the diamond that isn’t DH. He fared decently when in the lineup, but only managed 42 games. Their best player is Ryan McMahon, a slightly below-average hitter with a stellar third base glove who they signed to a $70 million extension for six seasons that may or may not ever include a coherent plan to win baseball games.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? Hey, maybe they’ll convince Aaron Judge to come chase Barry Bonds’ home run record at Coors. But short of that, they look destined for the cellar in a juggernaut of a division.
8. Texas Rangers
Preseason playoff odds: 8.1%
What went wrong? Marcus Semien got off to a slow start, their post-hype pitching prospects haven’t really taken steps forward and — yeah I don’t know, their season went about as it should have. They saw clear development for a couple young players who can be part of their core (Nathaniel Lowe, Jonah Heim), got top prospects up to the majors for the first time (Josh Jung, Ezequiel Duran), and kept big-ticket acquisitions Corey Seager and Marcus Semien upright.
Rangers brass clearly counted the season as a disappointment, firing president of baseball operations Jon Daniels because the vision they allowed him to pursue didn’t load fast enough, essentially.
What’s the prognosis for 2023? The Rangers have a decent, if not elite, class of young talent coming together. They have money to supplement it.
GM Chris Young, now the top dog in Texas, should consider ways to improve the pitching so they are well-positioned to take advantage if a promising lineup gels as it could next season.
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