The offseason's most improved teams

February 18th, 2023

Who improved the most this offseason? It's a very different question than "who won the winter," which is largely, for lack of a better term, about vibes.

We’re not saying improved since the last time you saw them on the field. We’re saying improved since the 2022-23 offseason officially began, which is to say, after free agency opened, so after players were officially removed from their rosters. We’re going back in time to early November, before qualifying offers were even accepted. To that end, we’ll look at what FanGraphs had projected for each club in terms of wins above replacement (WAR), at that point in time, and compare that to what it looks like right now (well, as of Wednesday).

The reason for that, in our view, is clear. The Twins had Carlos Correa at shortstop in 2022, and they’ll have him at shortstop in 2023. They also had Byron Buxton in center in 2022, and they’ll have him back in center in '23. Those are absolutely definitely the same situations, right? Of course they aren’t. At the end of the season, Correa was removed from their roster, and they had to go through a lot -- a lot -- to get him back, in ways they did not with Buxton, who was always coming back. Correa was not-a-Twin for months before he was a-Twin-again. That matters.

Or, look at the high-spending Mets, who in several cases brought back players who had been there last year, rather than importing new ones. Is that somehow less valuable? Of course not. After all, it’s not like they’d be better off if they’d, say, added Cody Bellinger to play center rather than retaining Brandon Nimmo.

With that in mind, let's look at the teams that added at least +3 WAR to their 2023 projections since the start of the offseason in early November. It begins with the most expected team.

1) Rangers: +9.9 WAR

Clearly. Maybe you don’t know how many innings to expect from a talented-yet-oft-injured group of veteran import pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and Jake Odorizzi, but maybe you don’t remember that when the offseason began, the Rangers' rotation -- fronted, then, by Jon Gray and Dane Dunning -- ranked 28th. (We’re including Martin Pérez as an improvement, since he was a free agent at the time; he later ended up accepting the qualifying offer to come back. We're not counting new manager Bruce Bochy, though you can if you like.)

They’re now up to second, which only seems possible in the somewhat-unlikely scenario that all the new arms stay relatively healthy. That said, this lofty position unveils that this is all a little bit of a trick question: It’s pretty hard to add 10 wins in a single winter if you already had a lot of wins. The 68-94 Rangers are hoping they’ll find those wins in 2023. There’s still potentially room to improve, given that their left-field situation is considered baseball’s weakest and their bullpen is 27th.

2) Yankees: +8.4 WAR

They retained Aaron Judge. They didn’t lose Judge. Imagine if they’d lost Judge? This is exactly what we’re talking about, in the Correa example above. On the back of his baseball card, it will say “Yankees” each year of his career, but for nearly two months last winter, he was a free agent. There wasn’t a backup plan.

Oh, and they signed an ace in Carlos Rodón, brought back Anthony Rizzo, didn’t really lose anyone more noteworthy than Jameson Taillon or Andrew Benintendi, should get a full season of elite glove/good-enough bat in Harrison Bader and are projected to get more Anthony Volpe/Oswald Peraza at shortstop, and less Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Yankees fans might be a little angsty about the continued presence of Josh Donaldson, or that left field remains a question mark. But this was a good winter in the Bronx, if only because Judge is back.

3) Mets: +7.7 WAR

We’re three-for-three in “this makes sense,” so let’s bask in that, because the next two are going to leave you with questions. Because the Mets made so many seemingly one-for-one transactions -- Justin Verlander is the new deGrom, Kodai Senga is the new Chris Bassitt, etc -- it may seem like they stood in place. (There’s only so much room for a 101-win team to improve, right?)

But remember, when the offseason began, they weren’t that 101-win team. Aside from Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco, essentially their entire rotation was off to free agency, and so much of their bullpen was on expiring contracts that even after retaining Edwin Díaz, at one point, the relievers looked like, well, this.

So sure, they brought back guys who had already been there in Nimmo and Adam Ottavino. They also added quite a bit more than they had at the start of the winter. Even if this lineup still feels one power bat short -- which they tried to get in Correa, of course -- it was still a productive use of an offseason.

4) Giants: +7.2 WAR

Now we get to the fun part, because the San Francisco offseason is mostly defined by “trying and failing to sign Judge” and “briefly succeeding, and then ultimately failing, to sign Correa.” It’s here where improving the roster and having a disappointing winter can sometimes be the same thing. But if you can get past all the stars they didn’t bring in, it’s worth realizing all the solid mid-level players they did manage to acquire.

For example: They built an entirely new outfield, adding Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto while retaining free agent Joc Pederson. They reinforced their rotation with Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea. Taylor Rogers is quietly a big bullpen upgrade to a group that was, when the offseason began, ranked 27th. It’s still a group that’s short a star or three, but don’t overlook the improvements they did make.

5) [tie] Red Sox: +6.1 WAR

OK, hear us out on this one. You think Giants fans are disappointed with their team's offseason? Allow us to introduce you to Red Sox fans, and for good reason, as the team is likely to be picked fourth or fifth in the East in just about every preseason projection.

The way to think about this, though, is that when the offseason began, big names such as Eovaldi, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Michael Wacha were already off the roster. (Should they have acted long in advance to sign Bogaerts to a long-term contract? Probably. But they didn’t, so here we are.) Their response was to go add a whole bunch of guys, like Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Corey Kluber, Adam Duvall, Richard Bleier and Adalberto Mondesi, plus making a bigger splash for Masataka Yoshida.

Aside from Yoshida, these are not long-term plays. There are considerable questions about the direction of this roster. You also don’t sign more than a half-dozen new players and not get something out of them, either.

5) [tie] Angels: +6.1 WAR

We just went through this situation in great depth, so we’ll direct you there. The short version is that the Angels quite clearly have had superstars for years and have gotten nowhere, torpedoed by the inability of the rest of the roster to provide support. So, while names such as Tyler Anderson, Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, and Carlos Estévez may not be selling season tickets on name value alone, the competent baseballing they should add could be a boon to getting Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani back into playoff contention.

7) Dodgers: +4.5 WAR

Sort of like the Red Sox, right? They lost a star shortstop, and mostly tried to patch with guys, including Noah Syndergaard, David Peralta, Miguel Rojas and Martinez. It's the opposite of exciting, especially compared with what we usually expect from this club. Some of this also comes in the rotation, where the Dodgers now as compared to November are expecting more from Dustin May and Syndergaard, and less from Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove.

It's entirely about accumulated small additions, instead of any notably major adds. While there's value in seeing what a very good farm system can add -- some of those players have more projected playing time now than before, also -- consider us markedly skeptical here.

8) Twins: +3.5 WAR

Obviously, they got Correa, when for a great deal of the winter, it seemed like Kyle Farmer might be their starting shortstop. Really, it was worse than that to start, because Farmer hadn’t been acquired yet, and Royce Lewis is still working back from a knee injury, so the only certainty for weeks was that 2023’s starting shortstop was not on the roster.

That they don’t rate more highly on the list is mostly because their big trade (Luis Arraez for Pablo López and prospects) is something of a wash, projection-wise, and because it was a relatively quiet winter before Correa’s shocking return. Adding Joey Gallo is a hugely risky rebound bet, and signing Christian Vázquez to catch was nice enough, but nothing aside from Correa was all that earth-shattering here.

9) Padres: +3.3 WAR

Just ninth, you’re wondering, after all they did? A big part of that is because they were already looking very good, ranking as the second-best projected roster when the postseason began -- and a lot of the expected 2023 movement was baked in before A.J. Preller even got started. They’ll get full seasons of Juan Soto and Josh Hader, who were acquired last summer, and they’ll get something out of Fernando Tatis Jr., who did not play in 2022.

So there’s that, but there’s also the fact that aside from the one big add (Bogaerts), the rest of their winter was about smaller, complementary moves (Matt Carpenter, Nelson Cruz, Seth Lugo, Wacha).

10) Phillies: +3.2 WAR

This already accounted for the fact that Bryce Harper was going to miss much of 2023, as that’s long been known, and this is mostly about the addition of Trea Turner, who helps reshuffle the infield. (Back in November, the team had the 28th-rated second base and 16th-rated shortstop spots; that’s now 22nd and tied for first, respectively.)

Taijuan Walker and Gregory Soto were the other notable adds, but a big question here is in center field, which is projected as one of baseball’s weakest spots. We’ll admit that Brandon Marsh comes with plenty of questions and there’s not a strong backup plan here, but we’re a bit more optimistic on his bat than that. If top prospect Andrew Painter outdoes his relatively moderate projections, this number will look far too low; on the other hand, he only turns 20 in April.

11) [tie] Blue Jays/Cubs: +3.1 WAR

A pair of teams in very different situations. The Blue Jays made a lot of noise, shipping out Teoscar Hernández, Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. while adding Kevin Kiermaier, Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt, Erik Swanson and Chris Bassitt; they’re different, to be sure, but it’s not totally certain they’re much better, making this relatively modest improvement feel just about right.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are trying to get back into contention. They made their big splash by adding Dansby Swanson, along with a few other signings, such as Jameson Taillon, Trey Mancini and a bounceback bet on Bellinger. Their defense, like Toronto’s, should be improved.

Every other team was in the tight range of having added less than three projected wins to having lost less than two projected wins, which, for most of them, doesn't noticeably change their 2023 postseason outlook.