The 2023 Hope Meter for MLB's Tanking and Rebuilding Clubs

Zachary D. RymerJanuary 19, 2023

The 2023 Hope Meter for MLB's Tanking and Rebuilding Clubs

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    Is there any hope for the Reds in 2023?
    Is there any hope for the Reds in 2023?Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Depending on your favorite Major League Baseball team's outlook for the 2023 season, the fast-approaching start of spring training might have you thinking either "Oh boy!" or "Oh no..."

    But just how hopeless is it for the clubs pertaining to the latter?

    We've sought to calibrate the hope meter for the tanking and rebuilding teams—of which we count 10, though the list is certainly disputable—in MLB as the start of the '23 campaign draws near. This meant viewing them through glass-half-empty and glass-half-full perspectives, with as much weight given to the latter as possible.

    We put the hope meter on a scale of one to five. The low end is meant to signify that fans are likely in for a toxic stew of unwatchability and despair, whereas the high end denotes something like the Baltimore Orioles' 2022 season: a fun, borderline Cinderella story.

    We'll start with some honorable mentions, and then tackle the 10 teams that made the cut in descending order of their records from last season.

Honorable Mentions

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 08: Jacob deGrom #48 and General Manager Chris Young of the Texas Rangers reacts at an introductory press conference at Globe Life Field on December 8, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Bailey Orr/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)
    Bailey Orr/Texas Rangers/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles

    The Orioles lost more games than any other team between 2018 and 2021. And while they did improve to 83-79 in 2022, their modest $23 million investment in free agency isn't exactly conducive to them taking the next step in a loaded American League East.

    And yet, the O's nonetheless do seem to have turned the corner from rebuilder to contender. They can at least chase a wild-card spot in 2023, especially if Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson make good on their eye-popping projections.

    MLB @MLB

    The <a href="https://twitter.com/Orioles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Orioles</a>' young phenoms are primed for big seasons. 💪 <a href="https://t.co/0gN214oVh6">pic.twitter.com/0gN214oVh6</a>


    Chicago Cubs

    The Cubs chartered a whole new course in 2021 when they traded away what was left of the core of their 2016 World Series winner, thus setting the stage for 91 losses that year and 88 last season.

    However, you have to hand it to the Cubs for spending over $420 million in free agency over the last two winters. And also for going 39-31 in the second half of 2022. Given the general weakness of the National League Central, they're not to be underestimated.


    Los Angeles Angels

    Though the Angels are riding a streak of seven straight losing seasons, they haven't so much been rebuilding as trying and failing to contend. That's life when you lack depth around your superstars, even ones as good as Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.

    As such, general manager Perry Minasian has had the right idea in focusing his efforts on depth pieces throughout the winter. The result is a team that actually looks decent on paper and that may well finally contend if the stars align just right.


    Texas Rangers

    The Rangers have generally enjoyed a miserable existence since their last playoff berth in 2016, racking up 497 losses against just 373 wins. Jon Daniels finally paid the price when the team removed him from his post as GM last August.

    Similar to the Cubs, however, the Rangers haven't been acting like a rebuilder of late. They've spent nearly $825 million in free agency over the last two years, including $244 million this winter on three new hurlers for what looks like a playoff-caliber rotation.

Boston Red Sox

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    Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers, left, celebrates with Triston Casas after Casas hit a two-run home run against the New York Yankee during the second inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
    AP Photo/Steven Senne

    2022 Record: 78-84

    2023 WAR Projection: 38.4 (18th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    This offseason was supposed to get the Red Sox back on track after they went from nearly making the World Series in 2021 to finishing last in the American League East in 2022. But if anything, they've set themselves back.

    They simply haven't added enough to paper over the losses of Xander Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez. And especially knowing that his elbow troubles and corresponding throwing issues were no great secret, they should have been better prepared for Trevor Story's elbow surgery. Because they weren't, they basically don't have a shortstop right now.


    Glass Half-Full

    As face-saving measures go, the Red Sox did well in signing Rafael Devers to a club-record $331 million extension. He's an excellent piece to build around just based on his slugging talents, never mind the fact that he's still only 26 years old.

    Across the diamond from Devers is a major breakout candidate in Triston Casas, and right-hander Brayan Bello is still another on the mound. And in shortstop Marcelo Mayer, Boston has an elite prospect who could fill the aforementioned hole as soon as 2024.

    As for the team's halfway-decent WAR projection, well, who knows? If Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Justin Turner can turn back the clock while Masataka Yoshida lives up to the Red Sox's bullish projections for his power, this team might at least salvage a .500 record in 2023.

    Hope Meter: 5

    Contention ETA: 2024

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 05: Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Corbin Carroll (7) celebrates his home run during a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks on October 5, 2022, at American Family Field, in Milwaukee, WI. (Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    2022 Record: 74-88

    2023 WAR Projection: 33.1 (24th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    Even though 2022 was a substantial improvement on the 110-loss disaster that the Diamondbacks endured in 2021, GM Mike Hazen summed it up well with this comment: "Congratulations, we stunk less than we did last year."

    Two things figure to hold the Snakes down yet again in 2023, beginning with a frankly bad pitching staff that projects for only 9.2 WAR. The other is the top-heaviness of the NL West, which Arizona knows about all too well from going 5-14 against both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres last year.


    Glass Half-Full

    Have you gotten a load of this Corbin Carroll guy? All he did last year was rack up 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases in the minors, followed by a 32-game big league debut that saw him post an .830 OPS with the best sprint speed of any player.

    MLB @MLB

    .<a href="https://twitter.com/corbin_carroll?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@corbin_carroll</a> is ZOOMING! 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/90QuzLclaN">pic.twitter.com/90QuzLclaN</a>

    Between Carroll, fellow incumbents Christian Walker, Ketel Marte and Jake McCarthy and newcomers Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Evan Longoria and Gabriel Moreno—who was a top-10 prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays this time last year—the '23 D-backs should offer a fun and dynamic offense if nothing else.

    Arizona fans should also be getting excited about Jordan Lawlar. He's coming into 2023 as our No. 3 overall prospect, and he might even get his own Carroll-like cup of coffee with Arizona come September.

    Hope Meter: 3

    Contention ETA: 2024

Miami Marlins

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    ST LOUIS, MO - JUNE 29: Sandy Alcantara #22 and Jacob Stallings #58 of the Miami Marlins celebrate after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 at Busch Stadium on June 29, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
    Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 69-93

    2023 WAR Projection: 36.5 (20th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    The Marlins ranked dead-last in the National League in runs for 2022, so adding impact hitters around the multitalented Jazz Chisholm Jr. was surely their foremost priority for the offseason. That they've thus far added only Jean Segura is a...well, what's a stronger word than "catastrophe?"

    Even more so than the Diamondbacks in the NL West, the Marlins also have their work cut out in surviving the NL East. Both Atlanta and the New York Mets won 101 games last year, while the Philadelphia Phillies went to the World Series.


    Glass Half-Full

    To be sure, the door isn't yet closed on the Marlins adding the impact hitter they need. Frankly, it'll be a surprise if they don't flip right-hander Pablo López for a bat at this point.

    And even sans López, the Marlins would still have the potential to be a run-prevention powerhouse this season. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcántara, Jesús Luzardo and Edward Cabrera have tons of nasty stuff between them, and newcomer Johnny Cueto is still an effective hurler even as he nears his 37th birthday on Feb. 15.

    Further, it may not be long until Eury Pérez is seen in Miami. Really all you need to know about him is that he's a 6'8", 220-pound right-hander with a fastball that averages 98 mph.

    Hope Meter: 4

    Contention ETA: 2024

Colorado Rockies

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    DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 16: Pitcher Jake Bird #59, catcher Brian Serven #6 and Kris Bryant #23 of the Colorado Rockies celebrate their win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Coors Field on July 16, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 68-94

    2023 WAR Projection: 25.6 (30th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    Remember when the Rockies made back-to-back postseasons in 2017 and 2018? Those were good times, but ever since there's been a whole lot of losses and seemingly nothing but bad decisions.

    These include trading Nolan Arenado for peanuts, not trading neither Trevor Story nor Jon Gray, signing a clearly diminished Kris Bryant for $182 million and a whole bunch of just plain weird contract extensions. It's as if whoever is writing the plan here has shaky hands and is using an Etch A Sketch.


    Glass Half-Full

    Sorry, Rockies fans. There's only so much we can sugarcoat a team that's coming off a 94-loss 2022 season and may well be the worst in the league this year if that WAR projection pans out. The strength of the NL West sure won't help matters either.

    All the same, let's not rule out a healthy Bryant reemerging as an effective middle-of-the-order hitter. Or Brendan Rodgers adding a Silver Slugger to go with his Gold Glove. Or Germán Márquez reversing a pattern of diminishing returns from the last two seasons.

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    German Marquez, Filthy Breaking Balls. 😷 <a href="https://t.co/743KNHxGoR">pic.twitter.com/743KNHxGoR</a>

    Further, Sam Dykstra of MLB.com ranked the Rockies' farm system as the one that improved the most throughout 2022. The big prize is outfielder Zac Veen, who couldn't be positioned for his major league debut at a better time. The newly installed larger bases are his ticket to show off the skills that saw him go 55-for-64 in stolen bases in the minors last year.

    Hope Meter: 1

    Contention ETA: 2025

Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene (31) is congratulated by Spencer Torkelson (20) after scoring off a sacrifice fly by Harold Castro during the first inning of a baseball game in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
    AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

    2022 Record: 66-96

    2023 WAR Projection: 30.0 (26th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    The Tigers' 2022 offense was a disaster, finishing last in MLB in home runs and runs. That wasn't the fault of any one player, but it was especially painful to watch 2020 No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson get overwhelmed as he hit just .203 with eight home runs in 110 games.

    The setbacks were also very real on the pitching side of things, where Casey Mize (Tommy John surgery) and Tarik Skubal (flexor tendon surgery) became just the latest prominent hurlers to get bit hard by the injury bug. As a result, new president of baseball operations Scott Harris effectively inherited a failed rebuild from fired GM Al Avila.


    Glass Half-Full

    If nothing else, the Tigers don't have the same problem as the Red Sox in the AL East, the Marlins in the NL East nor the Diamondbacks and Rockies in the NL West. The AL Central is the worst division in baseball.

    It's also hard to imagine the offense being as hopeless as it was last year, and not just because the fences at Comerica Park are finally coming in. Both Torkelson and especially Riley Greene have breakout potential, while Javier Báez and Austin Meadows are bounceback candidates.

    Also, Wilmer Flores should be on radars by now. Not to be confused with the San Francisco Giants infielder, he's a 21-year-old right-hander with a dandy curveball, and he could appear in The Show this year after advancing to Double-A in 2022.

    Hope Meter: 2

    Contention ETA: 2025

Kansas City Royals

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 10: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates after scoring the first run against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
    Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 65-97

    2023 WAR Projection: 30.7 (25th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    The Royals didn't start their own rebuild until a year after the Tigers began theirs in 2017, but the pace hasn't been any less glacial. You know, just in case anyone was still wondering why the Royals sacked Dayton Moore last September.

    Making matters even worse for the Royals is that we had their farm system ranked at No. 25 in MLB at the outset of the winter, compared to No. 13 for Detroit. And whereas the Tigers might force the issue with big payrolls, that's historically not Kansas City's thing.


    Glass Half-Full

    Of course, prospect pipelines do tend to be emptier after a team graduates guys like Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Brady Singer to the majors in short order.

    All four of those guys showed star potential last season, and none more so than Witt. He was cold out of the gate, but he eventually tallied 20 home runs and 26 stolen bases over his final 130 games. If he can start making better swing decisions, his upside is that of an MVP, never mind an All-Star.

    Kansas City Royals @Royals

    Bobby Witt Jr. becomes the 5th first-year player in MLB history to record a 20/20 season!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TogetherRoyal?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TogetherRoyal</a> <a href="https://t.co/x46zlt8ihe">pic.twitter.com/x46zlt8ihe</a>

    The other guy Kansas City can dream big on this year is Drew Waters. He was a reclamation project when the Royals acquired him from Atlanta last year. After he posted a .940 OPS for Triple-A Omaha and an .803 OPS for the Royals, he sure seems reclaimed.

    Hope Meter: 3

    Contention ETA: 2025

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 02: Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates high fives with Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 after the final out in a 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers during the game at PNC Park on July 2, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
    Justin Berl/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 62-100

    2023 WAR Projection: 35.1 (23rd in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    Well, let's see here. The Pirates' 335 losses since 2019 are the most of any team in MLB, and the guy who's done more than anyone to help them win games wants out. And in all likelihood, Bryan Reynolds will get his wish at some point.

    As for the division that surrounds the Pirates, the NL Central isn't great but also isn't as soft as its American League counterpart. The Bucs may be able to win a second straight season series against the Cincinnati Reds, but probably not the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers or Chicago Cubs.


    Glass Half-Full

    The left side of Pittsburgh's infield, at least, has the potential to be elite in 2023. Ke'Bryan Hayes led the majors in defensive runs saved last year, while Oneil Cruz is an athletic marvel who seemed to find a comfort zone offensively in posting an .884 OPS last September.

    The Bucs also have capable hurlers in the right spots. Atop the rotation, Roansy Contreras is a hard thrower who can get batters to swing at his pitches. In the closer's role, David Bednar is quietly one of the great relievers in MLB right now.

    Meanwhile, the Pirates are sitting on the best farm system of any team we've discussed so far. Endy Rodriguez's promotion is nigh, while Henry Davis and Termarr Johnson should follow in 2024 and 2025. Their arrivals can only grease the wheels on the Pittsburgh hype train.

    Hope Meter: 3

    Contention ETA: 2025

Cincinnati Reds

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    Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, talks with starting pitcher Hunter Greene before Greene is taken out during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    2022 Record: 62-100

    WAR Projection for 2023: 27.5 (29th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    The Reds made the playoffs in 2020 and were in contention once again amid an 83-79 showing in 2021. But then they decided to trade, oh, basically everyone. Sonny Gray? Jesse Winker? Eugenio Suárez? Luis Castillo? Tyler Mahle? Brandon Drury? All gone now.

    Got a problem with all this? Well, too bad, says Reds president Phil Castellini. According to him, fans basically have no choice but to keep rooting for the team. Yet they must also have sympathy for the owners, who benevolently treat their $1.2 billion asset as if it's a non-profit.


    Glass Half-Full

    Mercifully, all the payroll-shedding trades the Reds have made over the last year haven't been totally for naught. Their farm system was also on MLB.com's most improved list for 2022, though its best talent was already in place beforehand.

    That's 21-year-old infielder Elly De La Cruz, who showed off his legit five-tool potential in hitting .304 with 28 home runs and 47 stolen bases in the minors last year. He's a candidate to join the Reds sometime this summer.

    Cincinnati Reds @Reds

    Reds No. 2 prospect Elly De La Cruz celebrated being named to the Futures Game yesterday by blasting three home runs in Dayton's doubleheader. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RedsMiLB?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RedsMiLB</a><br><br>(🎥 <a href="https://twitter.com/DragonsBaseball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DragonsBaseball</a>) <a href="https://t.co/6ZZ97BVCpI">pic.twitter.com/6ZZ97BVCpI</a>

    In the meantime, let's not gloss over that Tyler Stephenson and 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India will already be anchoring the lineup by the time De La Cruz arrives. Or that young hurlers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are coming into 2023 with some helium after combining for a 1.82 ERA last September.

    Hope Meter: 2

    Contention ETA: 2025

Oakland Athletics

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    OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 04: Shea Langeliers #23 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates with Seth Brown #15 after drawing a walk with bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth inning to win the game against the Los Angeles Angels at RingCentral Coliseum on October 04, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 60-102

    2023 WAR Projection: 29.2 (27th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    As ugly as the Reds' 2022 fire sale was, the Athletics somehow did them one better by shipping off Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy. But while you'd think that Oakland's farm system would have dramatically improved in the process, it's really just OK.

    And the thought of the team buying talent any time soon is...dubious, at best. These are the A's, after all, and they seem perfectly willing to not even be watchable until their stadium situation is resolved. Alas, that whole thing seems allergic to any kind of forward momentum.


    Glass Half-Full

    This, frankly, is another hard-to-sugarcoat situation. But lest anyone think the A's don't have anyone worth tuning in for, dare we point the spotlight at Paul Blackburn, Seth Brown and Shea Langeliers.

    Blackburn is a breaking-baller who made the AL All-Star squad last year. Brown has clubbed 45 home runs over the last two years. And between his power, speed and throwing strength, Langeliers comes off as a low-rent J.T. Realmuto.

    Oakland A's @Athletics

    Shea Langeliers.<br>That's the tweet. <a href="https://t.co/D8Zhzuv330">pic.twitter.com/D8Zhzuv330</a>

    Tyler Soderstrom is still another talented catcher standing by in Oakland's system. There's also Ken Waldichuk, who whiffed 137 batters in 95 innings last year. The A's also got a major sleeper via the Murphy trade in Esteury Ruiz. He hit 332/.447/.526 last season, mostly at the Triple-A level.

    Hope Meter: 1

    Contention ETA: 2026

Washington Nationals

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    ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 21: Joey Meneses #45 reacts with CJ Abrams #5 and Victor Robles #16 of the Washington Nationals after a two run home run during the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on September 21, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    2022 Record: 55-107

    2023 WAR Projection: 28.1 (28th in MLB)


    Glass Half-Empty

    Do people still say, "Life comes at you fast?" If so, well, that's the story of the last several years for the Nationals. They've gone from World Series champions in 2019 to the losingest team in Major League Baseball since the start of the 2021 season.

    Things wouldn't look so bleak if Juan Soto was still in town, but he's gone. As if that wasn't enough to rankle Nats fans, there's also what's going on behind the scenes. The team has been on sale for a while now, and there have been times when the finish line seemed in sight. More recently, though, things seem to have stalled.


    Glass Half-Full

    If the whole idea of trading off not just Soto but also fellow veterans Max Scherzer and Trea Turner was to shift the focus from the present to the future, then it's already fair to say the Nats have done well.

    Those trades brought back a handful of players who are already positoned as pillars for Washington's next contenders, including Keibert Ruiz and CJ Abrams in the lineup and Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore in the rotation. The club's two best prospects, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, also arrived in the organization via those deals.

    Between those guys, fellow top prospect Cade Cavalli and intriguing late-bloomers such as Joey Meneses and Kyle Finnegan, the Nationals might actually put on a good show for prospective buyers in 2023.

    Hope Meter: 2

    Contention Timeline: 2025


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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