Spring Training is fast approaching, bringing with it renewed hope for every MLB team.
Each season, there are typically a few teams that turn around their fortunes and reach the postseason after falling short the previous year. In fact, half of the entrants in the 2022 postseason didn’t make the playoffs in 2021.
The 10 teams below are reasonable candidates to make that turnaround in 2023, but it’s hard to imagine them doing so unless certain X-factors come through. Here are 10 players who need to deliver in a big way in order for their clubs to have a chance to return to the playoffs in 2023.
Angels: Anthony Rendon, 3B
The Angels have two of the best players in baseball in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and they beefed up their roster with the additions of Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez this offseason. However, the Halos will likely need Rendon’s help to end their playoff drought.
Entering the fourth season of his seven-year, $245 million deal with the club, Rendon has played just 157 games in an Angels uniform, hitting .252 with 20 homers, a .779 OPS and 3.2 bWAR. In his final three years with the Nationals, the third baseman averaged 143 games played, 28 homers, 106 RBIs and 6.1 bWAR per season while slashing .310/.397/.556.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, OF
After a two-year run during which he nearly pulled off back-to-back NL MVP Awards and put up a .327/.415/.631 slash with 80 homers and a 170 wRC+, Yelich has been a slightly above average bat over the past three seasons (108 wRC+). Yelich remains a disciplined hitter who regularly produces hard contact, ranking in the 90th percentile in hard-hit rate and the 94th percentile in walk rate last season, but he’s no longer launching the ball like he did in 2018-19. The 31-year-old played 154 games last season but only had 43 extra-base hits (14 homers) with a .383 slugging percentage, as he notched one of MLB’s highest ground-ball rates (59.1%).
Though the strength of Milwaukee’s pitching staff means it doesn’t need MVP Yeli back to make the playoffs in 2023, he’s going to have to provide more production than he did last year.
Cubs: Seiya Suzuki, OF
The Cubs were active in free agency after back-to-back losing seasons, signing shortstop Dansby Swanson, center fielder Cody Bellinger, first basemen Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer and right-hander Jameson Taillon. However, they also lost one of MLB’s best hitting catchers in Willson Contreras -- to the rival Cardinals, no less -- and replaced him with Tucker Barnhart, so their offense arguably isn’t that much better than it was a year ago.
Chicago may be dramatically improved on the defensive end and could have a solid rotation, but to make the postseason, the club will likely need at least one of its regulars to emerge as an elite bat. Bellinger has been there before, winning the NL MVP Award in 2019, but he has a long way to go to regain that stature. Suzuki seems like a better bet to do it after recording 14 homers and a 116 wRC+ over 111 games as a rookie in 2022. The 28-year-old was a five-time All-Star in Japan, and he showed flashes of excellence while battling injuries for the Cubs a year ago.
D-backs: Ketel Marte, 2B
With Zac Gallen coming off a Cy Young-caliber 2022 season and MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect Corbin Carroll set for his first full season, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the D-backs. But even if you assume both of those players will make a big impact in 2023, it’s going to take a lot more for Arizona to emerge with a postseason berth.
The team is counting on Marte to be the linchpin of its lineup, as he was in 2019, when he hit .329 with 32 homers, a .981 OPS and a 150 wRC+, finishing fourth in the NL MVP race. The 29-year-old has never reached the 15-homer mark in any other season, though he did hit .318 with 14 home runs and a .909 OPS over 90 games in 2021, before slipping to a .240 average with 12 dingers and a .727 OPS across 137 games last season.
Giants: Michael Conforto, OF
After coming up short in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes and walking away from a deal with Carlos Correa, the Giants will enter the 2023 season with an offense that has a ton of high-floor players but lacks a superstar. Steamer projects 11 Giants to accrue at least 250 plate appearances and record a wRC+ of 100 (representing the MLB average) or better in 2023, but none with a wRC+ over 117.
Conforto could raise San Francisco’s offensive ceiling if he can recapture the form he showed across 2017-20, when he registered a 133 wRC+ and hit 97 home runs over 467 games. The outfielder had a down year in 2021 (106 wRC+) before missing all of last season while recovering from right shoulder surgery.
Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, SP
Even if Gunnar Henderson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect, lives up to expectations and forms one of the most exciting young tandems in the game with Adley Rutschman, it might not be enough for the Orioles to earn a postseason spot, given Baltimore’s rotation shortcomings. After posting an ERA north of 5.00 in each of the previous five years, the club’s starting staff made strides last season, contributing to a surprising 83-79 record, but it was still a bottom 10 unit and projects as such again this year.
The Orioles acquired a pair of veteran arms in Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin this offseason, but their best chance to add a true ace lies with Rodriguez (Pipeline's No. 7 overall prospect), a right-hander with a deep repertoire and plus command. Rodriguez is expected to receive the opportunity to make Baltimore’s rotation out of Spring Training, and the O’s are counting on him to take the opportunity and run with it.
Rangers: Marcus Semien, 2B
Signed to a seven-year, $175 million contract after the 2021 season, Semien led the Rangers’ in bWAR (5.9) while ranking second on the team in fWAR (4.2) last year, but the second baseman’s elite defense played a big part in inflating those figures. His offense, on the other hand, left something to be desired. While Semien did have 26 homers and 25 steals, he also slashed .248/.304/.429 with a 107 wRC+, spending the entire year digging himself out of a statistical hole after a frigid start to the season.
Texas’ rotation is much improved after the club spent the offseason bolstering its talent on that side of the ball, but its lineup remains thin, with Steamer projecting only three Rangers regulars to have a wRC+ over 104. The Rangers will be much more formidable if Semien has a season closer to 2021 (45 homers, 131 wRC+).
Red Sox: Chris Sale, SP
Coming off a last-place finish in 2022, the Red Sox had a lot of turnover this offseason, but it remains to be seen whether it will result in significant improvement. Justin Turner, Masataka Yoshida, Adam Duvall, Adalberto Mondesi, Corey Kluber, Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin are in, but Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes are out, and Trevor Story might miss most of the season after undergoing right elbow surgery.
Sale is the biggest variable for Boston. The left-hander has missed most of the past three years due to a litany of injuries, making just 11 starts. He hasn’t thrown more than 158 innings in a season since 2017, and he’ll have to prove he still has the stuff to consistently dominate opposing hitters. But if he can make a healthy return, the 33-year-old could give the Red Sox the ace they’ve been lacking since they won the World Series in 2018. From 2012-18, Sale posted a collective 2.91 ERA and averaged 198 innings and 240 strikeouts per season.
Twins: Byron Buxton, OF
Buxton is a supremely talented player who can impact the game with his bat, speed and defense, but injuries have been a central theme of his career, robbing him of the chance to reach his full potential. He’s played more than 92 games in a season only once over eight years in the Majors.
Minnesota was able to re-sign Correa after concerns about his physical scuttled deals with the Giants and Mets, and the club also added outfielder Joey Gallo and right-hander Pablo López. But the team’s playoff hopes will ultimately depend on how often Buxton plays. The Twins’ record with and without the 29-year-old over the past four seasons speaks for itself -- they’re a .585 club (151-107) when the center fielder starts and a .476 club (137-151) when he sits.
White Sox: Eloy Jiménez, OF
As far as White Sox X-factors go, you could pick from any number of players, from Lucas Giolito to Luis Robert to Yoán Moncada to Andrew Vaughn. But after a year in which Chicago finished just 10th in the AL in homers and lost José Abreu to the Astros in free agency, Jiménez has taken on outsized importance as the team’s best power bat.
After a ruptured left pectoral tendon cost him 99 games in 2021, Jiménez missed 65 games last season due to a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee. However, he slashed .305/.372/.523 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs over 73 games after returning last July. The 26-year-old has 40-homer potential if he can stay healthy.