A New Year's Resolution for Every MLB Team in 2022
Welcome to 2022, wherein the world of Major League Baseball has been frozen in amber since the league went into a lockout on Dec. 1, 2021. All anyone can really do is look forward with a little optimism.
So, how about some New Year's resolutions?
In lieu of doing one for every MLB player—a project of that magnitude probably couldn't be completed before 2023—we've made one for each of the league's 30 clubs. The height of the bar varied from team to team, but generally the idea was to suggest how they might better themselves in the new year.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Give the Fans Something to Cheer For
Last year saw the Orioles lose 100-plus games for the third time in four years, so it suffices to say they're trying their fans' patience. If the team is going to throw them a bone, a good start would be not trading cornerstones Cedric Mullins, John Means and Trey Mancini. Subsequent good steps would include calling up top prospects Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez as soon as possible.
Boston Red Sox: Act Like a Big-Market Contender
After blowing away expectations to win 92 games and advance to the ALCS in 2021, the Red Sox weren't exactly keeping the good vibes going before the lockout. To wit, the $14 million deal they did with Enrique Hernandez last winter is still chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom's biggest free-agent splash. He has the resources to do better, particularly for the sake of the team's wobbly looking bullpen.
New York Yankees: Change It Up
We could kvetch about how the Yankees have yet to fill their needs for a shortstop, a left-handed hitter and starting pitching. But, really, what the team needs most is to change its status quo. The Yankees have been reliant on the three true outcomes to a fault in recent years, especially to the extent that they've lacked athleticism. Just sayin': Shortstops Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are still out there.
Tampa Bay Rays: Go Easy on the Bullpen
It's not easy to find faults with the methods that have turned the Rays into a powerhouse over the last two years, yet it doesn't seem feasible for them to keep taxing their bullpen for so many innings. Indeed, their pen looked gassed in the one and only playoff series they played in last year. But at least they seem to know this, as their signing of Corey Kluber added a potentially significant innings-eater to their rotation.
Toronto Blue Jays: Find the Right Role for Nate Pearson
"Intimidating" is a good word for the roster the Blue Jays have lined up for 2022, but you can still look at their rotation and bullpen and wonder if either has enough. This is where Pearson could come in. The former top prospect is in no man's land after a couple of injury-marred seasons, yet he's still only 25. If not used in a starting role, his triple-digit heat could make him a Josh Hader-tier relief ace.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Prove It
Even though the White Sox won 93 games and captured the AL Central title in 2021, they were never quite the juggernaut that they resembled on paper. You could fairly blame that on the trouble they had with the injury bug, but it was also hard to ignore how they were rendered mortal by other good teams. That's a score they'll have to settle in 2022 if they expect to make it to the World Series.
Cleveland Guardians: Make Some Kind of Effort
The team in Cleveland may have a new name, but the change unfortunately hasn't begotten a new attitude. In the face of the league's lowest projected payroll, cheapness still reigns in the land of the Guardians. A team with such an exciting pitching staff and a superstar as good as Jose Ramirez deserves better, so here's hoping that the organization opens its checkbook for some much-needed upgrades on the other side of the lockout.
Detroit Tigers: Do Right by Spencer Torkelson
The Tigers are only about a year-and-a-half removed from taking Torkelson with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, yet he's already on the doorstep of the majors following a minor league season in which he had a .935 OPS and 30 home runs. Assuming he has a good spring, the Tigers should throw service-time considerations to the wind and go for it with the 22-year-old as their everyday first baseman.
Kansas City Royals: Do Right by Bobby Witt Jr.
Because the Royals aren't as far along in their rebuild as the Tigers, you might argue that they don't need to be too hasty with Witt. And yet, they might already be out of excuses not to put him on the major league roster. The 21-year-old is our No. 1 prospect after tearing up the minors to the tune of a .936 OPS, 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 2021, so he should also get the Torkelson treatment this spring.
Minnesota Twins: Add Some Pitching and Go Get 'Em
Even after a shockingly bad 2021 season, the Twins didn't want to rebuild. To this end, signing Byron Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million extension was perhaps the ultimate show of good faith. Now they just need to build on it, specifically by adding arms to a pitching staff that ranked last in the AL in rWAR in 2021. If they do, they wouldn't be kidding themselves if they think they can contend this year.
American League West
Houston Astros: Do It for Dusty
The Astros obviously aren't the most sympathetic franchise, yet there's no denying it was a bummer to watch manager Dusty Baker come up short of a World Series title yet again in 2021. The 72-year-old's cause is one worth rooting for, and the Astros should be all-in on realizing it. We say "should be" and not "are," of course, because of those Correa-sized shoes at shortstop that need filling.
Los Angeles Angels: Keep Mike Trout Healthy
More broadly, the Angels should be looking for their first winning season since 2015. But as much as anything, that'll come down to keeping the best player in baseball healthy. That's been an issue for Trout in recent years, and especially in 2021 as he played in only 36 games because of a calf injury. Even if it means less action in center field, the Angels must do everything in their power to revitalize his durability in 2022.
Oakland Athletics: At Least Get Good Returns
The A's have been on a nice run in recent years, but they're at that point in their "cycle" when they have to listen to trade offers on their top stars for the sake of cutting back payroll. Notably, that group includes Matt Olson and Matt Chapman and hurlers Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea. If there is indeed no avoiding this, the least the A's can do is get huge hauls of talent in any trades.
Seattle Mariners: Don't Rely on 'Fun Differential'
Fresh off a 90-win season, the Mariners rightfully decided it was time for a splash when they signed reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to a five-year deal. Yet the M's still face a tall order in unseating the Astros in the AL West, particularly knowing that "fun differential" isn't guaranteed to work for them again in 2022. Another splash or two would be a good idea.
Texas Rangers: Don't Just Try to Look Like a Contender
Speaking of splashes, the Rangers have already spent $560 million as part of an effort to vault themselves back into contention after a 102-loss season in 2021. But as admirable as this effort is, it still doesn't look like enough. So whether it's through additional signings on the other side of the lockout or through in-season trades, the pressure is on the Rangers to keep pushing the envelope.
National League East
Atlanta: Don't Let Freddie Freeman Get Away
It was only a few months ago that Atlanta was riding the ultimate high after winning its first World Series since 1995. At the time, it also seemed like a no-brainer that Freeman wouldn't depart as a free agent. But now? Less so, reportedly because Atlanta doesn't want to do a six-year deal with the 2020 NL MVP, per MLB Network's Jon Heyman. If the club actually sticks to that and he does leave, well, the phrase "gut punch" won't quite cut it.
Miami Marlins: No Half-Measures
Even after losing 95 games in 2021, the Marlins looked like a sleeper contender for 2022 even before they inked Avisail Garcia. After all, have you seen their starting rotation? It's legit. All the more reason they should resist subtracting from it for the sake of adding an impact bat via the trade market. At least not while perfectly good options Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber are still available in free agency.
New York Mets: Take Good Care of Those Arms
After the Mets lost 85 games last year, all it took was a $255 million spending spree for them to position themselves as a favorite for the World Series in 2022. Yet their tremendously talented roster is also tremendously volatile, and nowhere more so than in their rotation. Keeping Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Co. healthy must be a priority, even if it means skipping or pushing back the occasional start.
Philadelphia Phillies: Stop Letting Wins Slip Away
This is where we could talk about how the Phillies must balance out their extraordinarily top-heavy offense, but nothing has dogged the team more over the last two seasons than its bullpen. Out of all 30 teams, Philly has blown more saves and posted the second-worst ERA in late and close situations. Which is to say, signing Corey Knebel likely isn't the magic bullet the Phillies are hoping for.
Washington Nationals: Pick a Direction
After a 97-loss season in which he traded Scherzer, Schwarber and Trea Turner, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo insisted he was pursuing not a rebuild but a "reboot." But if that's supposed to mean rebuilding without tanking, then Rizzo's general lack of activity on the offseason market ought to raise alarms. It'll take more than Cesar Hernandez for the Nationals to field an even vaguely competitive team in 2022.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Don't Just Tease a Return to Contention
If nothing else, an offseason haul that includes hurlers Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley has made the Cubs more interesting. But as for whether they're a contender, it's hard to go with a definitive "yes." Like the Rangers, it really depends on what they do next. If they don't immediately make a big splash on, say, Correa, they might be an in-season trade or two away from making a push for the playoffs.
Cincinnati Reds: Be Realistic
In addition to Miley, the Reds have parted with Tucker Barnhart and Michael Lorenzen. Castellanos is also sure to be gone if the Reds stick to their line about needing to be realistic about their "resources." They're thus shaping up to be a diminished version of a team that only won 83 games in 2021, so still further realism is needed—specifically, regarding the availability of top arms Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle.
Milwaukee Brewers: Fix Christian Yelich
As much as the Brewers could stand to add an impact bat, the best thing they can do for 2022 is get Yelich back on track. He's gone from being an MVP-caliber player in 2018 and 2019 to, well, not that since 2020. The Brewers should be rooting for the designated hitter to permanently go universal in the next collective bargaining agreement, as the position could only help keep his troublesome back healthy.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Extend Someone
The Pirates are sort of like the Orioles, except for the fact that the latter has won a division title more recently than 1992. The Pirates have a long way to go before they can hope to snap that drought, so the most positive thing they can do in the meantime is make a down payment of sorts in the form of an extension for one of their core stars. Namely, Bryan Reynolds or Ke'Bryan Hayes.
St. Louis Cardinals: Trust Those Top Prospects
Out of the five teams in the NL Central, the Cardinals are beginning 2022 with the fewest obvious flaws. Yet two that stand out are a general lack of left-handed power and a shortage of depth for a rotation littered with age- and injury-related questions. This is where top prospects Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore could play important roles if the Cardinals extend them the proper trust.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Keep the Leash Short
Arizona GM Mike Hazen spoke in October about not wanting to be "unrealistic" after a 110-loss season. Yet some optimism must have taken root after that, as there's really no other way to explain the team's deal with Mark Melancon. The leash must nonetheless be short on the 2022 season, as any early signs of trouble will almost certainly be the real deal. If they come, Ketel Marte is just one player who should be on the trading block.
Colorado Rockies: A New Organizational Philosophy Would Be Nice
It's not just you, Trevor Story. The Rockies have always had a confounding way of doing things, and never more so than now. They had every excuse to shake things up after Jeff Bridich stepped down as GM last April but instead settled for more of the same by promoting Bill Schmidt from within. If you're a Rockies fan, you can only hope that he'll have a change of heart after he said he doesn't want to change things.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Now Is No Time to Get Cheap
The Dodgers were recently stuck with a $32.7 million luxury-tax bill, so they have at least one excuse to scale back their payroll in 2022. But that's really their only excuse to do so, and the ones to the contrary include filling their outstanding needs. With Scherzer and Corey Seager already gone as free agents, at the top of that list are an ace and a left-handed slugger.
San Diego Padres: Play Nice
Leading the majors in injured list days is one reason the Padres fell short of expectations in 2021. Yet as demonstrated by Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., there was also the collapse of their clubhouse culture. Replacing Jayce Tingler with Bob Melvin in the manager's chair is a fix for that in theory, but it'll only pan out that way in reality if Machado, Tatis and everyone else buys into his leadership.
San Francisco Giants: Keep Up the Surprises
Sans Buster Posey, Kevin Gausman and, for the moment, Kris Bryant, it's hard to look at the Giants and see the same kind of world-beating team that won 107 games in 2021. Yet there's also a nagging suspicion that they have more surprises in store, a la secret ace Logan Webb or the magical coaching techniques that rejuvenated their aging offense last year. So, count them out at your own peril.