Best signing? Future trade bait? Execs polled on 1st month

May 3rd, 2023

The opening month of the 2023 season is officially behind us, and while there are still nearly five months remaining before the postseason begins, the first four-plus weeks have provided a number of intriguing storylines. polled two dozen front-office executives with a number of questions to gauge what we’ve learned to this point in the season.

Note: Executives were free to skip any questions they chose not to answer, while some also provided multiple answers to some questions.

Which team has been the biggest surprise?

Pirates (15 votes)
Orioles (2 votes)

D-backs (1 vote)
Rays (1 vote)

Cubs (1 vote)

The Pirates were the overwhelming choice here – and with good reason. Pittsburgh entered May with a 20-9 record, the best in the National League. Most preseason projections had them finishing in fourth place in the NL Central with their fifth straight losing season as they continued their rebuild.

“The true talent of the roster isn’t a [.690-winning-percentage] team,” an AL executive said. “But it’s fantastic for the sport to have them be competitive and come out of their rebuild.”

“With the best record in the NL, I think it’s a pleasant surprise given their recent years,” an NL executive said of the Pirates, who lost more than 100 games in each of the past two years. “They have some young talent and solid players. It should be interesting to see if they can maintain the momentum as the season continues.”

Which team has been the biggest disappointment?

White Sox (10 votes)
Cardinals (8 votes)
Athletics (1 vote)
Giants (1 vote)

Chicago and St. Louis were the popular picks here, entering May facing nine- and 10-game deficits in their respective divisions.

“Not much has gone right on the South Side,” an AL executive said of the Sox, who ended April with an 8-21 record. “They might be forced to rebuild the rebuild.”

“They had some warts going into the year,” added an NL exec. “But they have been struggling on all fronts so far.”

At 10-19, the Cardinals entered May in last place in the NL Central, getting below-average performances from a number of key players including Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz.

“They have a really talented position player group both at the star level and depth level,” an NL executive said. “I’m shocked at how much they are struggling.”

“It has to be a disappointment to be at the bottom of the NL Central with a healthy Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras,” an AL exec said.

Which player has been the biggest surprise?

Jarred Kelenic (5 votes)
James Outman (3 votes)
Brent Rooker (3 votes)
Matt Chapman (2 votes)
Joey Gallo (2 votes)
Andrew McCutchen (2 votes)
Cody Bellinger (1 vote)
Thairo Estrada (1 vote)
Max Muncy (1 vote)

Kelenic got off to a blazing start, finally putting things together after a pair of disappointing seasons in 2021-22. The Mariners outfielder entered May with seven home runs, 14 RBIs and a .982 OPS.

“Some fans were getting ready to throw in the towel on him,” an AL executive said. “But he’s super-young and starting to live up to his prospect pedigree.”

Rooker, who is on his fourth organization since 2021, finished April with nine homers and 22 RBIs, leading the Majors in both slugging percentage (.779) and OPS (1.245).

“Incredible production,” an NL executive said of the Oakland outfielder/DH. “Never saw it coming.”

Gallo hit seven homers with 14 RBIs and a 1.063 OPS in his first 19 games with the Twins, putting his disastrous tenure with the Yankees firmly in the rear-view mirror.

“He’s always been good,” an NL exec said. “But you never know how players can play on the other side of an experience like he had in New York.”

Which player has been the biggest disappointment?

José Abreu (6 votes)
Juan Soto (5 votes)
Manny Machado (2 votes)
Lance Lynn (1 vote)
Alek Manoah (1 vote)
Max Scherzer (1 vote)
Jean Segura (1 vote)
George Springer (1 vote)

After signing a three-year, $58.5 million contract with the Astros, Abreu was expected to fit right into Houston’s powerful lineup as an upgrade from Yuli Gurriel. But the 36-year-old has struggled in Houston, posting a .535 OPS with no home runs in 29 games entering Tuesday.

One NL executive said Abreu “just doesn’t look right,” while an AL exec notes that the decline in power could be a bad sign given that he’s signed through age-38.

Soto was a close runner-up despite having far better power numbers (.780 OPS, five home runs) than Abreu. Since joining the Padres last summer, Soto has a .778 OPS – nearly 200 points lower than his career mark with the Nationals – and only 11 homers in 82 games.

“I still expect him to bounce back,” an NL exec said. “But his performance since the trade is very surprising.”

Who is the best team in the AL East?

Rays (10 votes)
Blue Jays (5 votes)
Yankees (1 vote)

It’s hard to argue with this one given Tampa Bay’s torrid start to the season. The Rays opened the year with 13 straight wins and entered Tuesday with a 3 1/2-game lead in a division featuring five teams with .500 or better records.

“They have productive players on both sides of the ball up and down the lineup,” an AL executive said. “And enough impact pitching to execute their plans.”

While Tampa Bay’s depth was mentioned by a number of executives, those that voted for Toronto cited the potential of the Blue Jays’ lineup and rotation.

“They have a solid core that has grown together and has been supplemented by exciting additions,” an NL executive said. “This is the process they’ve built the last few years playing out.”

As for the Yankees? Only one executive believed New York was the cream of the AL East crop, though one Tampa Bay supporter cast their vote with some hesitation.

“Looking at the Yankees roster and the money they spent on Judge, it should be them,” the NL executive said. “But with the record the Rays have right now, it’s the Rays.”

Which new rule has been most impactful?

Pitch timer (13 votes)
Disengagement limits (5 votes)
Shift rule (1 vote)

Another runaway winner here, with the pitch timer garnering two-thirds of the votes cast. One AL executive called it “the best thing to happen to baseball in a long time.”

“The pitch clock has created a far more watchable product, reinvigorating fan interest,” an AL executive said. “That’s far more impactful than the changes in the run game or to BABIP.”

“We’ve lost the fluff but kept the substance of the game,” an AL exec said. “Think about how much time everyone has gotten back.”

“Not only has it sped up the game but it has given the game a pace of play,” another NL executive said. “Pitchers can settle in, and it may have been more difficult on the hitters to find a balance, but at this point it seems everyone is comfortable.”

While the pitch timer has seemingly had the biggest impact on the sport, those who chose the disengagement rule believe it has had the biggest effect on the actual game.

“It has really changed the stolen base landscape,” said an NL exec. “It’s starting to shift the way we have valued speed and catchers.”

Who was the best free agent signing this offseason?

Xander Bogaerts, Padres (7 votes)
Brandon Nimmo, Mets (3 votes)
Cody Bellinger, Cubs (2 votes)
Dansby Swanson, Cubs (2 votes)
Nathan Eovaldi, Rangers (1 vote)
Trea Turner, Phillies (1 vote)
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (1 vote)
Too early to tell (1 vote)

Bogaerts was the popular pick here, getting off to a strong start with a .304/.392/.500 slash line and six homers entering Tuesday, helping the Padres stay near the top of the NL West.

“Given how Soto and Machado have struggled, and with [Fernando Tatis Jr.] missing time, Xander has kept San Diego from digging a deep hole in the NL West,” an NL executive said.

An AL executive added that signing Bogaerts to play shortstop allowed the Padres to move Tatis to right field, improving San Diego’s infield defense in the process.

“Year 1 of 11, so far, has been really impressive,” an AL exec said.

An NL executive said Bellinger “is looking like a very good one-year signing so far” for the Cubs, while another NL exec who chose Nimmo said, “it was a good signing at the time, and looks even better as he has taken steps forward on both sides of the ball.”

Who will be the biggest name moved before the Trade Deadline?

Lucas Giolito (6 votes)
Shohei Ohtani (5 votes)
Tim Anderson (1 vote)
Dylan Cease (1 vote)
Aroldis Chapman (1 vote)
Chris Sale (1 vote)
Juan Soto (1 vote)
None (1 vote)
Too early to tell (1 vote)

Giolito – who is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season – received the most votes, but he was one of three White Sox players to be mentioned in this category.

“The White Sox will realize taking advantage of a thin market is their best option overall,” an AL executive said.

“It’s hard to predict the sellers at this point,” an NL executive said. “But [Giolito] seems like a safe bet to move.”

Ohtani’s trade status has been an ongoing storyline around the game for more than a year, and while it remains to be seen whether the Angels will move him this summer – “It’s just hard to see the Angels trading Ohtani unless they are completely out of it,” one NL exec said – the two-way superstar would have no competition as the biggest name if he was to be traded.

“Who knows if anything will happen,” an NL executive said. “But it will be fun to talk about!”

An AL executive who went with “none” as their answer cited the expanded postseason field as the reason.

“With more competitive teams this year and six Wild Card spots, maybe big names won’t be on the move at the Deadline as everyone tries to improve on their margins and make the postseason,” the exec said.

Who is the most impressive rookie this year?

Corbin Carroll (9 votes)
James Outman (8 votes)
Anthony Volpe (2 votes)

One of the most competitive categories in this year’s poll, Carroll edged Outman by one vote, with multiple respondents citing the fact that the D-backs rookie is more than three years younger than his Dodgers counterpart.

“He looks like he’s going to be good for a long time,” an AL executive said of Carroll. “He has a well-rounded skill set and can impact the game in all facets.”

“Expectations were sky-high,” noted an AL exec. “And he’s surpassed them.”

An NL executive pointed out that Outman “has outperformed nearly everyone else on the Dodgers roster,” while an AL executive noted that unlike Carroll, who was No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s 2022 Top 100, Outman wasn’t even in the top five on the Dodgers’ prospect list entering this season.

“[Outman] was conspicuously absent from top 100 lists, but he was a scout darling,” the exec said. “He can run, hit bombs, take walks, and play a decent center field.”

“Another player development success story for the Dodgers,” an NL executive said.

Who is the best team in baseball?

Rays (10 votes)
Braves (5 votes)
Astros (1 vote)
Blue Jays (1 vote)
Yankees (1 vote)

Tampa Bay ended April with the game’s best record at 23-6, which was apparently enough to persuade more than half of the voters to anoint the Rays as the best team in the game.

“Star talent, deep roster,” an NL executive said. “Guys on their club continue to develop and improve. Best roster management in baseball.”

One Braves voter pointed to “so much firepower” in Atlanta’s lineup, while another who chose the Rays said there’s “no runaway favorite” in this category.

Then there was the lone Houston voter.

“It’s the Astros,” the AL executive said. “Until another team proves otherwise.”