These 11 teams are the most improved of the winter

December 26th, 2022

The goal of the Hot Stove season is to get better. But that means different things to different teams. Some are playoff-caliber clubs looking for that last little bit of oomph they need to win it all. Others are also-rans looking for a way in.

So rather than rank the most improved teams without context, let’s divide them into categories and rank them within those categories.

And don’t worry, if your club isn’t listed here, there’s still time between now and Opening Day to do something (though the free-agent pickings are sure getting slim). Here are the 11 teams that have improved the most this offseason (so far!), broken down into three categories.


1. Mets
Prior to the agreement with Carlos Correa, the Mets (who you might remember won 101 games this year) perhaps hadn’t actually improved a great deal, even after well north of $400 million in total financial investments this offseason. That’s because the vast majority of that spending amounted to filling gigantic free-agent holes with equally gigantic pieces. That said, the rotation is probably ever better now with Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and José Quintana than it was before. The bullpen has added David Robertson. And of course, if the Correa deal goes through, it lengthens the lineup, which needed power, considerably.

2. Phillies
No, the Phillies weren’t actually an elite team in the regular season in 2022. But they wound up two wins away from winning it all, so we’re putting some respect on their name. Whatever category you put them in, they are undoubtedly improved. Concerns that the Phillies will feel the effects of their great 2022 run -- from potential “hangovers” for Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to the Tommy John surgery that clouds when and where Bryce Harper will return to the lineup -- have been greatly mitigated by some major moves. The Trea Turner signing instantly makes this a much more athletic team, and Taijuan Walker, Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel ease the strain on a pitching staff that worked deep into October.

3. Yankees
A record deal with Aaron Judge is the headline move of the Yankees’ winter. But all that and the Anthony Rizzo re-signing did was maintain the middle of the order. It’s the Carlos Rodón acquisition that potentially takes the Yankees up a notch, putting them in the conversation for the best rotation in the game… and on this list.


1. Padres
Somehow, San Diego managed to surprise us yet again. Just when many in the industry assumed the pace of Padres’ acquisitions was bound to slow this offseason, they pulled off a monstrous pact with Xander Bogaerts that, combined with a full season of Juan Soto and the eventual return of Fernando Tatis Jr., could give them an embarrassingly lethal top half of the lineup. Bringing aboard Matt Carpenter improves the bottom half, and swingman Seth Lugo deepens the pitching staff.

2. Cardinals
Yadi Molina is a legend. But with Yadi limited to 78 games in his swan song season and no longer an offensive presence, the Cards ranked 20th in MLB in catcher WAR and 28th in catcher OPS. Enter Willson Contreras, who is no sure thing on the defensive end but is a clear upgrade offensively to ease the middle-of-the-order burden on Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.

3. Guardians
The signings of Josh Bell and Mike Zunino should considerably improve the Guards’ lackluster power profile. Cleveland ranked 29th in OPS at both catcher and designated hitter in 2022. Bell now joins Josh Naylor as an option at DH and first base, so they are deeper there. And Zunino assumes the starting catching duties, where he is a huge offensive upgrade over the departed Austin Hedges without compromising the defense the Guardians value at the position.

4. Blue Jays
While the Teoscar Hernández trade did rob the Blue Jays of some offensive thump, the subsequent deal for Daulton Varsho adds power from the left side. And the signing of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier allows them to move George Springer to right field and gives them a significant improvement defensively. The Blue Jays also now have three viable playoff starters (four, if José Berríos rights himself) after inking Chris Bassitt. The acquisition of Erik Swanson in the Hernández trade brought needed upside to the bullpen.

5. Mariners
And here’s the other end of the Hernández trade. To the frustration of the fan base, the Mariners haven’t made any noise in free agency (their only signing is veteran reliever Trevor Gott to a $1.2 million contract for 2023). But Hernández, who was worth 2.8 WAR (per Baseball Reference) last year to Mitch Haniger’s 1.4, has the ability to amplify their corner outfield production, and Kolten Wong, who was worth 3.1 WAR last year at a second base spot where the Mariners only ranked 23rd with a minus-1.3 mark, also raises the floor for a team that took a big step last season. It’s understandable why fans would want to see a bigger Seattle splash, because the Astros remain the better team, on paper. But the Mariners do merit a mention here.


1. Rangers
The Rangers are living proof that good things often take time. Last winter, they invested half a billion dollars into their middle infield. They improved … by eight games. Texas still finished 13 games under .500. But the club has loaded up yet again by inking the great Jacob deGrom and lefty Andrew Heaney, and the Rangers improved their depth of rotation options with Jake Odorizzi. They could still use an impact bat, but taking a rotation that ranked 25th in MLB in ERA last season and fronting it with the most dominant starter in the game (when healthy) is a pretty big improvement.

2. Angels
There’s a lot going on here, and, collectively, it’s very interesting. Lefty Tyler Anderson is a really nice pickup for a rotation that was better than expected last year. In the lineup, the Angels have significantly improved their depth with the additions of Hunter Renfroe, Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury. The bullpen looks a lot better with the addition of Carlos Estévez. None of these moves were dramatically splashy, and obviously the Angels have a lot of ground to make up in the AL West. But they already have two of the biggest stars in the sport in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, so all it will take is the right supporting cast to push this team over the top. Hopefully, the Halos have finally found that.

3. Cubs
Cubs fans entered this winter with stars in their eyes. This winter has probably not been quite as bold as many of them wanted. But while Dansby Swanson was objectively fourth among the four-star shortstops in this market, his durability and defensive dependability are huge assets for a team looking to move on up. Jameson Taillon was not in the top tier of the starting-pitching market, but, at age 31, after battling illness and injuries, his stuff has only recently returned to its pre-surgery levels. At worst, he’s a league-average arm for a rotation that needed more stability. Veteran Brad Boxberger is an upgrade for the bullpen. And of course, if Cody Bellinger can somehow recapture his old MVP form on a one-year deal with the North Siders, they might just rank as the most improved team of all.