The 9 tiers of contenders in 2023

March 22nd, 2023

There are 30 Major League teams, but they hardly enter the upcoming season with the same expectations. At the top, the expectation is either to win a title or come close to doing so. At the bottom, the goals are more modest, more about taking that next step back to respectability. How do we view each of those groups of teams? Let's explore.

As we've done in the past, we've split the 30 teams into a handful of somewhat loosely-defined tiers, mostly (though not entirely) ordered from strongest to weakest. Teams are ordered alphabetically within tiers. Excited for the season? So are we.

Tier 1: World Series or bust

Unlike years past, there’s not one or two clearly top dogs, head and shoulders above their peers. Instead, there’s a handful of extremely good teams that have their sights set on the ultimate prize. Anything less will be seen as a disappointment, and we think six teams fit in this group.

  • Astros
  • Braves
  • Mets
  • Padres
  • Phillies
  • Yankees

The Astros … need to overcome the fact that there hasn’t been a repeat champion in nearly a quarter century, since the 1998-2000 Yankees; and yes, Justin Verlander has left town; and yes, now Jose Altuve has a fractured thumb. But no AL team has won more games over the last six seasons, and maybe you remember that Houston’s pitching was so absurdly deep last October that they could barely find room for outstanding pitchers such as Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia to even get on the mound. Remember: 99% of their innings came from pitchers with an ERA under 4.00, and while Verlander is irreplaceable, there’s now more room for rookie sensation Hunter Brown, who is drawing a whole lot of comparisons to, well, Justin Verlander. (Plus: Don’t sleep on Bryan Abreu, the best reliever you don’t know.)

So sure, they’ll pitch, and their big offseason lineup addition was to upgrade first base from the disappointing Yuli Gurriel (84 OPS+) to Jose Abreu (133 OPS+), which is actually a pretty huge deal. Throw in the high hopes that there’s still room for shortstop Jeremy Peña to improve -- postseason heroics aside, a .289 OBP last year wasn’t strong -- and really, the only concern here right now aside from a few weeks without Altuve and some minor pitching depth questions is Yordan Alvarez’s hand, which has hindered him all spring. We acknowledge this and say: The Astros are always good. They will continue to be good.

The Braves … have won five consecutive division titles, so even though the Phillies went to the World Series and the Mets own the headlines, it’s still Atlanta’s division until it’s not. (Both of those clubs are dealing with injuries to major stars, too.) FanGraphs still projects Atlanta as the class of the East, and it’s not hard to see why: For all the talk about replacing Dansby Swanson, realize the Braves also expect to get full seasons out of Ronald Acuña Jr., Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, Ozzie Albies and new catcher Sean Murphy. It’s not like Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Max Fried or Kyle Wright went anywhere, right? They did win 101 games last year, after all. They could be just as good. They could even be better.

The Mets … spent a whole lot of money on a whole lot of players, because winning 101 games yet going home after the first playoff round was not good enough. Maybe you’ve heard they have a pair of living legends, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, fronting their rotation, and they did a strong job of rebuilding a pitching staff that was overwhelmingly off to free agency. All of that, plus whatever contribution they get from a trio of young bats -- Brett Baty, Mark Vientos, and Francisco Álvarez -- should make them dangerous again.

That said, the failed dalliance with Carlos Correa made clear that the lineup, while quite good, still feels one power bat short. The idea of relying on a group of older starters is already running into trouble: José Quintana is likely to miss months, and the offseason good vibes have been shattered by Edwin Diaz’s knee injury and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Nimmo’s seemingly close call to his right leg. It’s not that the Mets aren’t good. They’re very good. It’s just that they’re already taking hits, and the level of talent in the NL East is sky-high … almost as high as expectations for this Mets team, which hasn’t made it past the Wild Card round since 2015.

The Padres … also spent a whole lot of money on a whole lot of players, culminating in a long-term extension for Manny Machado. Unlike the Mets, though, they came out on top in the 2022 Wild Card Series, and in Juan Soto, Josh Hader and Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego has three key players for a full season (or nearly 90 percent of it, in Tatis’ case) who were Padres for little or none of last year, marking big upgrades on players such as Eric Hosmer and Jurickson Profar. There’s this, too: While the Mets have to deal with the Braves and Phillies, the Padres have a longtime division rival in Los Angeles that finally seems somewhat vulnerable.

San Diego is projected to have the fourth-best run-scoring team, and the fifth-best run prevention team. Their infield has four starters who can handle shortstop, and it might be baseball’s best unit. Soto looks like he’s on a mission this spring. Fan excitement is so high that they had to stop selling season tickets weeks ago. And why not? This team hasn’t won the division since 2006, yet at the moment, they are projected to do exactly that.

The Phillies … went to the World Series and then added Trea Turner and Taijuan Walker, so, you know, that’s a pretty solid fall/winter right there. (You shouldn’t have needed Turner’s WBC heroics to remember he’s a superstar, but he is.) Much of last year’s World Series team returns, and there’s reasonable hope for a better season from Nick Castellanos, who disappointed in his Phillies debut. We saw the defense improve last year after some midseason moves, and you don’t get to the Series, add a superstar, and have expectations for anything less. So why does it seem as if people are sleeping on them a little?

Because they have two beasts in their division. Because Bryce Harper’s elbow will keep him out for a chunk of the season. Because Rhys Hoskins' knee injury may cost him the entire season. Because, even with a trio of highly-touted pitching prospects, there’s some depth questions given that Ranger Suárez and Andrew Painter are each working through arm questions. They earned a great deal of respect last year. Now they must back it up.

The Yankees … always have their sights set on a ring and nothing else, which means the 13-season drought since then is increasingly unacceptable to Yankee fans. This should be a season with good feelings, given that they avoided the disaster of losing Aaron Judge, added an ace-level starter in Carlos Rodón, and should see the debuts of highly-touted bats Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez sooner than later.

So why doesn’t it feel that way? Maybe it’s the way 2022 flamed out, with a 4-0 ALCS sweep at the hands of the Astros, or that Rodón and Harrison Bader are already down with injuries. But mostly, it’s because of the questions: about who plays left field, or shortstop, or fleshes out the rotation, or whether Josh Donaldson has much left to offer. Those are all very fair concerns to have. They shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is one of the five or six most talented rosters in the game -- just like every year.

Tier 2: Get a little deeper this time around

This group of three teams all made the playoffs last year, but none went deep, and none has won even a single ALCS/NLCS game -- not series, game -- since Toronto back in 2016. They should all be strong in 2023, but there’s a way to have a successful year that doesn’t end with a ring. Just progressing deeper into October will be a good season.

  • Blue Jays
  • Cardinals
  • Mariners

The Blue Jays … responded to last year’s monumental Wild Card collapse by shaking things up. Out went Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Ross Stripling. In came Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Erik Swanson and Chris Bassitt. Is the resulting roster actually better than the 2022 version, or just different? It’s unclear, though the outfield defense should be considerably stronger, and the reliable Bassitt should reinforce the rotation in advance of an expected second-half return by Hyun-jin Ryu.

Each of those moves, in its own way, made some sense, and the Toronto roster is deep, talented and dangerous, though the bullpen still feels an arm short. Yet ultimately, it feels like success here is largely based on which versions of their current players they get. Is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. the MVP contender we saw in 2021, or the pretty good hitter we saw in 2022? Do they get anything at all from José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi? Was Alejandro Kirk’s second-half slide just fatigue, or something more? The answers to those questions define how far this club can go.

The Cardinals … have lost in the Wild Card round in each of the last three seasons, actually, winning just one game. Still the favorites in the NL Central, that outcome won’t be acceptable for a fourth year in a row, though of course this is a year of transition in St. Louis -- it’s the first season since 2000 that neither Albert Pujols nor Yadier Molina will be sporting the birds on the bat. New catcher Willson Contreras might not be Molina’s equal behind the plate, but Molina’s defense and legend quieted the fact he hadn’t hit much in years, so Contreras should be a pretty massive upgrade in the lineup.

While the infield and defense should again be excellent, the biggest question is in the rotation, which is deeper than it’s been in a while, yet lacks a high-end firebreather type who you’d expect to start in Game 1 of a playoff game, unless Jack Flaherty can dial it back to 2019 again. It also remains to be seen how the outfield shakes out. Can Lars Nootbar maintain his 2022 gains? Can Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson rebound from down years? Was Carlson’s fourth-percentile hard-hit rate a fluke, or a sign of long-term trouble? What impact can Jordan Walker make? In a lot of ways the 2023 Cards are similar to the 2022 Cards, in that they should get to October, but it’s not clear what happens when they do.

The Mariners … finally broke the playoff streak. They even won a playoff round. Next up? Making it back to the ALCS for the first time in more than two decades. The strengths here are obvious, in that there’s not an observer alive who isn’t excited to see Julio Rodriguez’s follow-up season, and that a rotation that should have Luis Castillo for a full year (plus whatever gain George Kirby and Logan Gilbert get out of their new pitches) should be very, very good. (As should the bullpen. This might be the best pitching staff in the league.)

If there’s a question here, it’s the lineup, which scored the 18th-most runs last year and is projected around the same range again, in part because a middle infield of Kolten Wong and J.P. Crawford is fine, but not better than fine. There’s maybe a little too much of a need for Jarred Kelenic to finally figure it out here. But assuming Ty France looks more like the first-half All-Star and less like the second-half slumper, we think the bats will outperform those expectations, and Seattle will get back to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Tier 3: Look, they’re still the Dodgers

It hasn’t been a good offseason, but sleep on one of the best teams of all time at your own peril.

  • Dodgers

The Dodgers … won 111 games last year. They’re in the midst of a run of dominance that rivals history’s all-time greats. They’ve won the division nine of the last 10 years, and the one year they came in second, they still won 106 games. They’re the Dodgers, and yet the vibes right now, after a confusing and uninspiring offseason, are more than a little uncertain. Rather than importing superstars, L.A. focused on short-term deals for 30-something rebound candidates, including Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, Shelby Miller and David Peralta. They’re putting a great deal of faith into the idea that the player development machine can make that work, to say nothing of integrating young players such as Miguel Vargas and James Outman.

Given the track record here, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, to some extent. To count them out, to think that their success has only come from big payroll (adding Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, for example) ignores all the success stories (including Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Evan Phillips, Tyler Anderson, or, once upon a time, Justin Turner). But the feelings were off, and then Gavin Lux suffered a season-ending knee injury. For the first time in a decade, the Dodgers actually need to prove they’re the Dodgers.

Tier 4: Solid Contenders

Three of these four made the playoffs last year, and each of them should be solidly in the hunt again, though none are quite in the upper crust of rosters.

  • Brewers
  • Guardians
  • Rays
  • Twins

The Brewers … “are strong in pitching and may not hit,” which is pretty much cut-and-paste from every recent Milwaukee club. They’re projected to allow the eighth-fewest runs, yet score only the 16th-most. Is there anything different this time around? The top of the rotation should still be elite, and the bullpen still has Devin Williams -- though not Josh Hader -- and we’ll ask the same “What’s Christian Yelich’s deal?” questions we ask every year.

Quietly, though, there are some new faces in the lineup. Sneaking in to the Braves/A’s Sean Murphy deal to grab William Contreras was a minor heist, and there’s reason to think that Jesse Winker could be more like the 2021 Reds All-Star than the '22 Mariners bust. With a handful of young outfielders reaching the Majors or ready to do so soon -- Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Garrett Mitchell, and maybe even Jackson Chourio -- the next generation of Brewers bats is right about here. How quickly they acclimate will say a lot about how the 2023 Brewers look.

The Guardians … gained a number of new fans with their pitching-and-defense, put-it-in-play style of baseball. It worked, mostly, all the way up to 92 wins, even though they scored just the 15th-most runs and then managed just 17 in seven postseason games. (Nearly eight, considering one of those games went 15 innings.) For the most part, they’re rolling it back, aside from new 1B/DH Josh Bell, who has generally been either very good or very poor and rarely in between, which means this team should probably look a lot like it did last year -- which, depending on your point of view, may not be a bad thing. They’ll pitch great. They’ll make contact. They’ll play defense. We’ll ask questions about their limited power. They'll win more games than we expect.

That said, one possible boost comes from perennial MVP candidate José Ramírez, who struggled down the stretch after a thumb injury that required surgery. Now healthy, he should be even better. They enter 2023 as the likely favorites in the AL Central.

The Rays … have made it to the postseason for four consecutive years, believe it or not. Only the Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees have won more games since 2018. They’ll continue to prevent runs (2022’s fourth-lowest ERA, and 2023’s second-lowest projected runs allowed) with a group of pitchers you haven’t heard of, though they’re attempting more of a traditional rotation than they’ve had in years. (Keep an eye out for Jeffrey Springs’ new sweeper -- he has a 12/1 K/BB ratio this spring.)

What they didn’t do much of was improve their offense, which scored only the 22nd-most runs last year, and so any run-scoring boost has to come from the group that was already there. Which isn’t, to be fair, unreasonable, especially if Brandon Lowe’s return to health allows him to hit like he did from 2019-21, and Wander Franco, still only 22, takes the next step that most believe he still has. Mostly, the goal here is to get back to the playoffs, if only so that we all get to see Randy Arozarena, back in the playoffs.

The Twins … were heavily favored entering 2022, led the division for 41 more days than Cleveland , then fell apart under a wave of injuries and a lack of pitching depth and ended up finishing 14 games out. They should be better than that this year, though certainly by now we’re more “hoping” Byron Buxton stays healthy than “expecting” it, given his track record of rarely actually doing that. (He’s so good that even 100 games is MVP-caliber production.)

What the Twins did do this year, aside from snappy new uniforms, is to deepen and improve. In Pablo López, Tyler Mahle and the returning Kenta Maeda, to go with Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, the rotation is suddenly deep enough that Bailey Ober (who had a 3.21 ERA in 11 starts) may not even have a spot at first. In Christian Vázquez, the catching gets a big boost over Gary Sánchez. In Michael A. Taylor and Joey Gallo, the Twins have improved their outfield defense considerably, as well as giving Rocco Baldelli center field options if and when Buxton is unavailable. Nick Gordon's new approach might be a winner. Oh, and Carlos Correa left and signed with two other teams and then came back. Did you hear about that part, that Correa came back? Might have flown under the radar. Just like the Twins.

Tier 5: Now or Never?

These two teams have hopes to get into the playoffs this year, and talent enough to do it. But, for a few reasons, the clock is ticking.

  • Angels
  • White Sox

The Angels … have Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout and haven’t even finished above .500 in seven years. That’s all there is. This is the only topic that matters, because Ohtani is entering his final year before free agency and the opportunity to play for a winner will likely be a priority. To their credit, the front office prioritized adding depth and support, realizing that a stars-only approach just never works. There’s a version of this where Taylor Ward’s breakout persists, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh manage to stay healthy and productive, and a quietly solid rotation takes baseball’s biggest stars back to October. You saw what Patrick Sandoval did against Team Japan, right?

There’s also a version of this where little of that happens, and a bullpen projected to be baseball’s weakest can’t hold leads, and Ohtani departs having never once played in a postseason game. That’s the worst-case scenario. There’s no longer time to avoid it.

The White Sox … looked, back in 2020-21, like they were building a young core capable of competing for years to come. A .500, second-place finish in 2022 wasn’t exactly a disaster, but first-time manager Pedro Grifol enters a situation that’s suddenly full of questions. Can the offense thrive without José Abreu? Will Eloy Jiménez ever stay healthy? Did they really give five years to Andrew Benintendi? Is Oscar Colas ready to handle right field every day? Which version of Yoán Moncada will they get? (All of which pale, of course, in comparison to supporting Liam Hendriks as he battles lymphoma.)

But beyond all that, there’s a question about the window here. Lucas Giolito and Yasmani Grandal are entering the final years of their contracts. Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Hendriks have club options for 2024. The farm system isn’t a strength. If not now, when? The core is young enough that it’s not exactly 2023-or-never, but this might be the last ride for this particular group.

Tier 6: On the way up

This quartet of teams hasn’t had much success lately, and they might not get to the playoffs in 2023, either, but there’s finally reason to be optimistic about each one of them, now and for the future.

  • Cubs
  • D-backs
  • Orioles
  • Rangers

The Cubs … are now completely unrecognizable compared to the 2015-18 playoff teams -- and, they hope, compared to the team that was mostly a non-factor the last two seasons. They weren’t quiet this winter, adding Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart and Michael Fulmer, and there’s certainly reason to hope for more out of Seiya Suzuki and a number of young pitchers. (Plus, Edwin Rios and his swing change is a sneaky breakout candidate.) Last year, we wrote they were “quite far away from true playoff competition,” and while they’re certainly closer, they’re not quite there yet. Maybe Matt Mervis comes up and changes that; maybe Pete Crow-Armstrong sails through the system. But maybe this year is a step back toward .500, and 2024 sets higher hopes.

The D-backs … lost 110 games in 2021, then only 88 in 2022, so inasmuch as a 74-88 season can be a success, winning 22 more games than you did the year before is a massive step up. Is there another step here? There’s a great deal to like about the lineup, starting with youthful Corbin Carroll (he of the recent eight-year extension) and Gabriel Moreno (acquired from Toronto), incumbents Christian Walker and Ketel Marte, and newly added vets Lourdes Gurriel (traded with Moreno) and Evan Longoria. Throw in the intriguing Kyle Lewis and one of the better farm systems in the game, and you’ll want to watch when Arizona is hitting. The problem, however, is whether the pitching can keep pace.

The Orioles … had a breakout 2022 beyond all expectations. Then they didn’t do a whole lot this winter, and FanGraphs has them projected to be merely a 78-84 team. We’ll take the over on that, just because adding Grayson Rodriguez and Gunnar Henderson to Adley Rutschman and friends feels like the start of something extremely special. That said, the rotation still looks pretty thin (projected 29th), and it’s asking a lot for last year’s stunningly good bullpen to repeat, particularly with some early injuries. The O’s wouldn’t be the first team to take a big step forward and then need a minute to keep going; look no further than the 2016 Astros, who missed the playoffs after a surprising ALDS run in 2015.

The Rangers … have suffered six straight losing seasons. Last winter, they added Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray, and improved by eight wins. This winter, it was Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney, completely renovating their starting rotation. (In addition, of course, to manager Bruce Bochy.) There is no sugar-coating this: If the rotation stays healthy, they’ll contend, though it’s hard to see them as better than third in the AL West in any case. If they can’t stay healthy, it’ll be seven straight losing seasons. “Our year rides on our starters staying healthy” isn’t exactly a Texas-specific issue, but there’s also probably not a single team in the Majors that is more high-variance.

Tier 7: The direction isn’t terribly clear

These three teams all A) finished .500 or below last year, B) added some valuable pieces this winter, possibly enough to be in the playoff hunt this year, and yet C) just feel like they have tons of questions about where they will be both this season and three years from now.

  • Giants
  • Marlins
  • Red Sox

The Giants … simultaneously “were unable to sign high-profile free-agent targets Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa” and “had a quite productive winter, adding a number of quality players like Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Taylor Rogers.” Of course, Haniger is already injured, and so is Brandon Crawford. And Carlos Rodón is in New York and Brandon Belt is in Toronto and Evan Longoria is in Arizona, and suddenly, this is a very different team, one that should still be competitive, perhaps even for a Wild Card spot, but isn’t terribly young or with much star power. (Logan Webb and Camilo Doval might be the only notable pitchers under 30 years old.)

This really won’t be a bad team. It might even be a good one. It’s just not terribly likely that whenever the next great Giants team comes around, it’ll look much like this one does.

The Marlins … to their credit, did exactly what they said they’d do. They added some bats, particularly in the form of veterans who can make contact, such as Jean Segura and reigning AL batting average champ Luis Arráez. Last year’s fewest-runs-scored-in-the-NL group should be better, especially if Jazz Chisholm Jr. can stay healthy and popular breakout pick Bryan de la Cruz does exactly that. But it came with tradeoffs, including thinning the rotation by sending Pablo Lopez to Minnesota for Arraez and weakening the all-around defense with a series of moves. So while it will be a different Miami team, will it actually be a better one? Given the presence of the Mets, Braves and Phillies, it's hard to see anyone projecting them anywhere other than fourth, above Washington.

The Red Sox … signed Rafael Devers, imported Masataka Yoshida -- who has introduced himself to a ton of American fans in the WBC -- and a whole bunch of veterans (Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Corey Kluber, Adam Duvall). They also watched Xander Bogaerts head to San Diego -- after having seen Mookie Betts traded away for little return -- and then lost Trevor Story (elbow surgery) for much or all of the season, so, maybe Red Sox fans can be forgiven for feeling angsty coming off a last-place finish. They’ll be competitive, because there are too many good players here not to be, especially if Chris Sale can return to health. It’s just difficult to discern the direction here, because all of the additions aside from Yoshida are short-term deals, or to expect them to run with the top dogs of the division.

Tier 8: Glimpse the future now

These teams almost certainly aren’t contenders in 2023, but there’s still value to gain out of this season. Each club listed here either already has seen the core of its next good roster begin to arrive or could see that process begin soon.

  • Nationals
  • Pirates
  • Reds
  • Tigers
  • Royals

The Nationals … won a World Series just over three years ago, if you can believe that, but this roster is quite a bit different from the one that once employed Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner. (Plus, it seems less likely than ever that Stephen Strasburg makes it back.) They lost 107 games a year ago, and there’s not much reason to think the 2023 edition will be significantly stronger. But everyone wants to know if Joey Meneses’ breakout was for real, and some of the fruits of the farm system -- including CJ Abrams and MacKenzie Gore (Soto trade), and Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz (Scherzer/Turner) -- should be spending most or all of 2023 in D.C.

Throw in the No. 2 pick in the Draft, likely a high pick in the 2024 Draft, and a reinvigorated prospect pipeline, and maybe this year is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

The Pirates … might have Andrew McCutchen back, but coming off a pair of 100-loss seasons, this doesn’t look a whole lot like the Bucco crew he led to three straight playoff appearances from 2013-15. He probably won’t get them back there in 2023, either, but there’s reason to believe they’ve bottomed out, and it’s time to start moving back up. That starts with Oneil Cruz, as everyone watches to see if he can turn all-world tools into actual on-field production, but there’s also Ke’Bryan Hayes, under control through 2030, a much-improved farm system, and the hope that they’ll soon have a very envious catcher duo.

That could be the start of Pittsburgh’s next playoff team, and that team might also include Bryan Reynolds, just 28, who has played at an All-Star level in each of his three full seasons. Of course, Reynolds’ contract status -- more specifically, his lack of a long-term one -- hangs over the team. Getting him signed might be the most effective thing the Pirates can do in 2023 to ensure their long-term trajectory.

The Reds … lost 100 games last year for the first time in four decades, and that was with 33 starts of since-traded pitchers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. They’re unlikely to contend this season, and Joey Votto’s potential final year with the team is going to be a major story, but there’s something bigger happening here. The rotation is led by Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene (a popular breakout pick), and Graham Ashcraft -- none of them older than 26. Top position player prospects Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte should reach Cincinnati this year, potentially along with spring sensation Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who came from Minnesota in the Mahle deal. The future isn’t here, yet. You just might be able to see how it starts, though. You can celebrate Votto and also look ahead to the next good Reds team.

The Royals … are under new management. Longtime GM Dayton Moore is out, as is manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred. There’s hope that new voices can help reinvigorate a pitching staff that has been one of baseball’s weakest over the last half-decade, and there are a few arms working on new pitches this spring. It won’t likely be enough right away -- they’re projected to have the fifth-weakest run prevention -- but it’s a needed start to support a lineup that is suddenly interesting, given that young bats Vinnie Pasquantino, Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez all made their mark in 2022, alongside returning franchise legend Salvador Perez.

The Tigers … have some new leadership as well, along with a slightly rearranged home ballpark. What they don’t have, really, are new players, aside from adding some lineup depth in the Gregory Soto trade and bringing back longtime starter Matthew Boyd. What this means, at least as new GM Scott Harris works to rebuild the organization, is that the near-term future rests almost entirely in the hands of the group that, just a year ago, made this team seem like an up-and-comer. If second-year hitters Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene show improvement; if big-ticket free agent Javier Báez’s second year is better than his first; if pitching trio Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Casey Mize (recovering from Tommy John surgery) find a way to eventually be healthy and productive, you’re looking at the beginnings of the next Detroit playoff team right now. If they’re not? Then you’re not, and it's a long way back.

Tier 9: No such thing as a bad day at the ballpark

There will be brighter times ahead for these clubs. Those times are not likely to happen in 2023.

  • A's
  • Rockies

The A’s … lost 102 games, though it wasn’t exactly consistent, following up a 5-21 June with a 14-12 July. They’ve been doing the “three or four years up, three or four years down” thing for a while now, and this is squarely part of one of the down cycles, given all the trades they’ve made over the last few years. There’s no sugarcoating that they’re projected to score the fewest runs in the Majors with only moderately effective run prevention, but the upshot of all the trades is that the farm system is full of new players who should, at some point in the future, impact the A’s. The future just isn’t now. For 2023, keep an eye out for Esteury Ruiz, who arrived in the Sean Murphy trade after swiping 85 Minor League bases last year.

The Rockies … haven’t played even .470 ball since 2018, and suffered a likely season-ending shoulder injury to Brendan Rodgers early in the spring. With almost no pitching depth whatsoever, and now some concern about closer Daniel Bard off his WBC troubles, they have FanGraphs’ weakest projected winning percentage, and may find the first 100-loss season in franchise history. What stands out this season is a likely farewell tour for franchise legend Charlie Blackmon, and there are a few somewhat interesting young new names (Ezequiel Tovar, Elhuris Montero), all while the beauty of Coors Field remains indisputable. A healthy year -- and his long-awaited first Coors homer as a Rockie -- from Kris Bryant, moving to right field, would go a long way.