Way-too-Early Predictions for the 2023 MLB Playoffs and World Series

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 6, 2022

Way-too-Early Predictions for the 2023 MLB Playoffs and World Series

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    Houston's Ryan Pressly
    AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

    Dusty Baker finally got his long-awaited ring as the Houston Astros secured their second World Series title in six years, suffering just two postseason losses at the end of an outstanding regular season.

    Well done, Houston.

    Now, can you become the first back-to-back champion in more than two decades?

    An awful lot will change before Major League Baseball's 2023 Opening Day.

    Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of free agents will find new homes, trades will go down, offseason injuries will occur, guys will retire and top prospects will "graduate" to become top Rookie of the Year candidates.

    But given what we know about rosters (and what we think teams might try to do this offseason), here are some way, way, way too early projections for next season's standings and postseason bracket.

    For transparency's sake, last year's way-too-early predictions were equal parts respectable and disastrous.

    On the respectable front was:

    • Dodgers leading the majors in wins
    • Dodgers, Padres, Cardinals, Phillies, Astros, Yankees and Rays making the postseason
    • Astros, Phillies and Yankees reaching ALCS/NLCS

    On the disastrous front was:

    • Mets and Braves going a combined 158-166
    • Orioles posting worst record in the majors
    • And, most laughable of all: the Oakland A's winning 91 games and making the playoffs

    Cut me a little slack on that last one, though. That was in November, and it wasn't until March and April that the A's traded Chris Bassitt, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Manaea while trying to spend as little money as possible. They won 86 games in 2021. I swear it made sense at the time!

    I humbly submit the following to Freezing Cold Takes.

American League East

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    Boston's Xander Bogaerts
    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: What will the Red Sox do this offseason?

    Sure, "Will the New York Yankees be able to re-sign Aaron Judge?" is the bigger question and will set off a domino effect across the entire sport. (If they don't get him, who does? And where do the Yankees then spend that money?)

    As far as the projected AL East standings are concerned, though, the Yankees figure to remain a top contender with or without Judge, and it's Boston's offseason plans that serve as the largest variable in the equation.

    Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto don't have a whole lot to worry about. Between the three, the biggest free agents are Corey Kluber, Ross Stripling and Anthony Bass (club option), none of whom is irreplaceable.

    We'd like to see the Orioles spend some money to build on their best season in a while, which GM Mike Elias told reporters he'll do. And we'll probably see the Blue Jays do something to try to overtake the Yankees. But any sort of wholesale change for any of those three teams is unlikely.

    The Red Sox, however, are a great big question mark.

    They finished last in the AL East with a 78-84 record, and we'll find out within the next few days whether their litany of options (player options for Xander Bogaerts and Eric Hosmer; club option for James Paxton; mutual option for Tommy Pham) will be exercised or declined.

    If they all get declined, they would enter the second week of November with Trevor Story, Enrique Hernández, Matt Barnes and Chris Sale (who told the team he'll exercise his player option for 2023, per the Boston Globe's Alex Speier) as the only players on the roster with a 2023 salary north of $1.2 million. (Rafael Devers will eventually be much higher than that, but we don't yet know his salary for his final year of arbitration eligibility.)

    Would Boston spend aggressively in this star-studded free-agency cycle to try to get back on top of the division?

    The last time the Red Sox went 78-84 (in 2015), they traded for Craig Kimbrel, signed David Price to that $217 million contract and improved by 15 games to win the division. But that was a case of a team bringing back pretty much all of its top contributors and just needing to plug a few holes to fix the sinking ship.

    It's a much different situation this time, and another year in the AL East basement could be headed their way.

    Projected AL East Standings
    1. New York Yankees (96-66)
    2. Toronto Blue Jays (93-69) (wild card)
    3. Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)
    4. Baltimore Orioles (81-81)
    5. Boston Red Sox (72-90)

American League Central

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    Minnesota's Sonny Gray
    Ron Schwane/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: Where do the Twins spend money?

    Minnesota made big waves last offseason with its signing of Carlos Correa to a one-year, $35.1 million deal with player options in the same amount for both 2023 and 2024.

    But we've already learned he will opt out in pursuit of a longer-term deal. Now, the Twins need to make decisions on the four players with eight-figure options for 2023: club options on Miguel Sanó ($14.25 million), Sonny Gray ($12.7 million) and Dylan Bundy ($11 million) and a mutual option with Chris Archer ($10 million).

    In all likelihood, they will keep Gray but pay $2.75 million to buy out Sanó, $1 million to buy out Bundy and $750,000 to buy out Archer. That's a savings of $30.75 million, plus the $35.1 million no longer earmarked for Correa.

    So where does that money go?

    Does this smaller market franchise more or less pocket it and hope for the best, or does it spend it on a couple of biggish free agents to improve a team that returns basically every important player (except Correa) after spending the majority of the first two-thirds of the season alone in first place in the AL Central?

    If the Twinkies go out and spend that $66 million on, I don't know, Dansby Swanson, José Abreu and a good-not-great starting pitcher (Taijuan Walker maybe?), they'll be a serious factor in the division. If not, they'll be expected to finish closer to the Royals and Tigers than to the Guardians and White Sox.

    Chicago should bounce back, though, right?

    Hopefully we've all learned our lesson and don't declare the White Sox to be the AL Central champions before the season. However, they simply have to be healthier in 2023 and ideally won't have two of MLB's worst return-on-investment contracts like they did this year in those of Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal.

    Aside from Abreu and Johnny Cueto, they return intact and should be much-improved.

    It won't be enough to overtake the Guardians, though, who should have a very quiet offseason with only Austin Hedges and Bryan Shaw hitting free agency. We might see them get a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and/or sign Amed Rosario to a long-term deal, but they'll be back and looking a lot like the team that won this division by 11 games.

    Projected AL Central Standings
    1. Cleveland Guardians (91-71)
    2. Chicago White Sox (89-73) (wild card)
    3. Minnesota Twins (78-84)
    4. Detroit Tigers (64-98)
    5. Kansas City Royals (60-102)

American League West

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    Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: What to make of the Los Angeles Angels?

    Will the franchise be sold?

    Will they trade Shohei Ohtani or finally figure out how to sign him to a long-term deal?

    Can they afford to do literally anything in free agency, with Ohtani, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon all on the books for at least $30 million in 2023?

    And will Rendon play in 60 or more games for the Angels for the first time in his fourth season with the franchise?

    So much is up in the air for the team that is tied with Detroit for MLB's longest postseason drought.

    If Trout and Rendon stay healthy for a change, if they keep Ohtani for another MVP-caliber season, if Taylor Ward has anything close to a repeat of his breakout year and if young starting pitchers Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and José Suarez remain better than serviceable, Los Angeles could be one of the best teams in the AL.

    At any rate, the Angels looked like a World Series contender one quarter of the way through the 2022 campaign. But who knows? That's a lot of "ifs" for a team that has had a bad habit of underperforming in recent years.

    A strong runner-up for biggest unknown is how much more the Texas Rangers plan to spend this offseason.

    Even with last year's huge splashes for Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, they're just 17th in the majors in 2023 payroll. And they would emerge as a serious threat to at least make the postseason with, say, Jacob deGrom (should he opt out) as the new ace of a rotation that got ugly in a hurry after Martín Pérez and Jon Gray.

    While those wild cards are fun to speculate about, it's still likely to be Houston and Seattle up top. (And Oakland at the way, way bottom.)

    The Mariners finally got a taste of that sweet, sweet postseason action for the first time since 2001, and with largely expendable players atop their list of most noteworthy free agents (Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier and Mitch Haniger), another season with at least 90 wins should be forthcoming.

    And while Houston's dynastic run atop this division will eventually end, it shouldn't happen in 2023.

    Projected AL West Standings
    1. Houston Astros (94-68)
    2. Seattle Mariners (88-74) (wild card)
    3. Texas Rangers (83-79)
    4. Los Angeles Angels (78-84)
    5. Oakland Athletics (52-110)

National League East

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    New York's Jacob deGrom
    Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: What exactly will the Mets look like on Opening Day?

    Per Spotrac's free-agency tracker, 127 players are either free agents or could become free agents if an option is declined who either made at least $3.5 million in 2022 or have a 2023 option for at least $3.5 million. (Yes, it's inconsistent that they use the same column to identify either the 2022 salary for unrestricted free agents or what the player would make in 2023 if the option is exercised, but it's the data we've got.)

    So, 127 players across 30 teams...that averages out to about 4.2 per team, right?

    Well, the Mets have 12 of them: Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Edwin Díaz, Trevor May, Brandon Nimmo, Taijuan Walker, Adam Ottavino, Tyler Naquin, Seth Lugo, Trevor Williams and Mychal Givens. Per Baseball Reference, those 12 players were worth a combined 20.9 wins above replacement.

    The only other team in double figures is the Dodgers with 10 such players.

    We know that team owner Steve Cohen will spend money to build a roster that will be expected to make the postseason, but how much of that money will be spent on keeping deGrom and Díaz, and how much of it will be spent on trying to bring in guys such as Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón?

    Outside Queens, Atlanta is in good shape for another 101-win season, Washington may well be headed for at least another 107 losses and maybe Miami could make things interesting with a few aggressive offseason trades.

    But the big wild card will be the Phillies trying to get back to the World Series for the second consecutive year.

    While there hasn't been a repeat champion since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, we have at least seen a handful of teams reach the Fall Classic in back-to-back years. The Astros just did it in 2021-22, the Dodgers did it in 2017-18, the Royals did it in 2014-15 and the Phillies pulled it off back in 2008-09.

    And with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola (assuming the Phillies exercise their $16 million club option, which they absolutely will), Ranger Suárez and basically the entire lineup except for possibly Jean Segura (club option) back in 2023, they could pull it off.

    Projected NL East Standings
    1. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
    2. Atlanta Braves (94-68) (wild card)
    3. New York Mets (91-71) (wild card)
    4. Miami Marlins (65-97)
    5. Washington Nationals (57-105)

National League Central

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    Chicago's Seiya Suzuki
    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: How aggressive will the Chicago Cubs be?

    The NL Central looks like a two-horse race in 2023 for a second straight year.

    St. Louis is well-positioned to finish top-two in the division for a fifth consecutive season. And while Milwaukee would probably benefit in the long run from trading a Corbin Burnes or a Brandon Woodruff this offseason, it should at least contend for a playoff spot in a division where both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh figure to be dead weight yet again.

    But Chicago could buy its way into that conversation, if it so chooses.

    The Cubs expedited their rebuild in July 2021 by selling off anything and everything they could. And by not trading either Willson Contreras or Ian Happ at this year's deadline, they either signaled that they're going to be buyers this offseason or that they simply didn't enjoy the final two months of the 2021 campaign and wanted to at least have some fan favorites down the stretch this year.

    Most likely, it's the former, and they're going to make a couple of big moves this offseason to potentially go from 14 games under .500 one year to the playoffs the next.

    They only have four contracts on the books beyond next season: a $21 million player option for Marcus Stroman for 2024, a $6 million club option for Yan Gomes for 2024 and both Seiya Suzuki and David Bote signed through 2026 (with club opt-outs available on Bote after 2024 and 2025). And that means they are very much in the market for at least one of those 10-year, $300 million types of contracts that have been all the rage in recent years.

    Could they get Aaron Judge?

    Could they get Trea Turner?

    Shoot, could they get both?

    For now, we're not going overboard with our expectations for the Cubs. But if they go buck wild in free agency and emerge as a trendy dark-horse World Series pick six to eight weeks from now, we won't pretend to be surprised.

    Projected NL Central Standings
    1. St. Louis Cardinals (98-64)
    2. Milwaukee Brewers (87-75)
    3. Chicago Cubs (82-80)
    4. Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93)
    5. Cincinnati Reds (60-102)

National League West

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    Arizona's Daulton Varsho
    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Biggest Unknown: What is Arizona's offseason budget?

    The Los Angeles Dodgers should be very good once again.

    The San Diego Padres probably aren't going away with a returning nucleus of Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, Manny Machado, Juan Soto and, eventually, Fernando Tatis Jr.

    And the Colorado Rockies might set an MLB record for most money spent on a 100-loss season.

    But could the Diamondbacks be the breakout team of 2023?

    All 16 of their team leaders in Baseball Reference WAR will return next season, three of whom (Corbin Carroll, Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson) were highly touted prospects who didn't get called up until late in the season. Even if they do jack squat in free agency, the expectation will be that the Diamondbacks improve by at least a few wins.

    If they get back to spending like they did in 2018-19, though, maybe they'll vault back into the playoff picture.

    To be clear, the Diamondbacks weren't aggressive spenders in that timeframe. But they did at least have a league-average payroll ($163.3 million in 2022), as opposed to coming in well below that threshold in each of the past two years.

    They're not a realistic candidate in the Aaron Judge or Jacob deGrom sweepstakes, but they could loosen the purse strings a bit for a Josh Bell, a Brandon Drury and a bullpen arm and take a big step forward.

    Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants have emerged as a legitimate candidate to sign Judge, which would send shock waves through the NL West projections. It wouldn't vault the G-Men up to the favorite to win the division by any means, but it might be enough to get them ahead of the Padres for a projected wild-card spot, depending on what else they manage to accomplish in free agency.

    Projected NL West Standings
    1. Los Angeles Dodgers (102-60)
    2. San Diego Padres (93-69) (wild card)
    3. Arizona Diamondbacks (86-76)
    4. San Francisco Giants (81-81)
    5. Colorado Rockies (63-99)

Projecting the Postseason

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    Los Angeles Dodgers' Freddie Freeman
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Wild Card Series

    NL1: No. 3 Philadelphia Phillies over No. 6 New York Mets
    NL2: No. 4 Atlanta Braves over No. 5 San Diego Padres

    AL1: No. 6 Seattle Mariners over No. 3 Cleveland Guardians
    AL2: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays over No. 5 Chicago White Sox

    Division Series

    NL1: No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers over No. 4 Atlanta Braves
    NL2: No. 3 Philadelphia Phillies over No. 2 St. Louis Cardinals

    AL1: No. 1 New York Yankees over No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays
    AL2: No. 2 Houston Astros over No. 6 Seattle Mariners

    Championship Series

    NL: No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers over No. 3 Philadelphia Phillies
    AL: No. 1 New York Yankees over No. 2 Houston Astros

    World Series

    Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Yankees

    Salary info via Spotrac.