MLB Power Rankings: Who's No. 1 as season approaches?

Monday, January 23, 2023

We're about halfway through winter and the top free agents have signed, meaning it's time to look ahead toward the start of the 2023 season.

Where does every team stand heading into spring training? Despite not being at the center of this year's free agency, are the reigning World Series champions atop our rankings? Did the Mets' and Padres' offseason acquisitions help push them to the No. 1 spot? And where do Aaron Judge and the Yankees sit?

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of last year's performances and what we've seen this offseason. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and Buster Olney to weigh in with the biggest question for all 30 teams.

Ranking all 30 teams following free agency frenzy

1. Houston Astros

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:2

The Astros remain a solid member of baseball's upper crust, but after a winter in which a number of recognizable and aging players departed only to be replaced by a small group of free agents who are just as old, you wonder if this offseason will come back to haunt the champs. The pitching depth, even with the loss of Justin Verlander, is tremendous. And the cornerstones of the lineup are elite. But you wonder if a James Click front office would have been engaged in a much different approach in rechanneling the payroll space opened up by the exits of Verlander, Yuli Gurriel and others. The initial forecasts see a slight step back for the Astros, though they remain in the thick of the World Series race. The forecasts might well be wrong but the thing is, it's been a while since there have been these kinds of questions about the Astros. -- Doolittle

2. Atlanta Braves

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:4

While the Mets spent the offseason flashing their wallet, the Braves aim for a sixth straight National League East title. The biggest move was acquiring catcher Sean Murphy from the A's and, as the Braves do better than any other club, immediately signing him to a six-year extension to give them a long-term answer behind the plate. He's a strong two-way performer and a big defensive upgrade over Travis d'Arnaud (who is still with the team) and William Contreras (who went to the Brewers in the three-way trade for Murphy). They lost Dansby Swanson in free agency but appear confident that Orlando Arcia and/or Vaughn Grissom can replace him at shortstop. -- Schoenfield

3. New York Yankees

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:5

They won baseball's best division -- the American League East -- with relative ease, re-signed reigning AL MVP Judgeto a huge contract and landed one of the best free agent starting pitchers in Carlos Rodon -- and yet the Yankees were one of the most scrutinized teams in the offseason. Welcome to life in the big city.

It is unusual that a team with an enormous payroll faces a major question in a key spot, but as spring training nears, it's unclearwho will be the Yankees' shortstop in 2023. Maybe it'll be Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who faded defensively and was benched in the midst of the postseason. However, the Yankees would love for one of their top prospects, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza, to win the job in camp or early in the regular season. -- Olney

4. New York Mets

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:3

It's been a whirlwind offseason for the Mets, from signing Verlander to not signing Jacob deGrom to signing and not signing Carlos Correa. Even without Correa, repeating last year's 101 wins is in play -- especially if Verlander can give them 30 starts compared to the 11 deGrom gave. They should get more offense from catcher with the additions of Omar Narvaez and rookie Francisco Alvarez and the bullpen added Brooks Raley and David Robertson on top of re-signing Edwin Diaz and Adam Ottavino. The Mets will own the highest payroll in history and will rely heavily on the 40-year Verlander and 38-year-old Max Scherzer, but it's World Series or bust for the 2023 Mets. -- Schoenfield

5. San Diego Padres

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:10

Shortstop was the last position the Padres needed to address this winter and yet it's the one they splurged on, committing $280 million to Xander Bogaerts. Top to bottom, the Padres might be the most talented team in the sport. But how is it all going to work?

Fernando Tatis Jr., coming off a lost 2022 that began with a wrist injury and ended with a PED-related suspension, will suddenly have to adjust to the outfield on a full-time basis.Ha-seong Kim, a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop last season, will probably move to second base, with Jake Cronenworth shifting over to first. These are not insignificant transitions -- but they are also first-class problems. After Tatis serves the remaining 20 games of his suspension, he'll join a top half of the lineup that will also boast Bogaerts, Manny Machado and Juan Soto. It's crazy just to type that. -- Gonzalez

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:1

The Dodgers' lineup has been deep, decorated and flat-out overwhelming in recent years. But now -- on paper, at least -- it feels relatively lacking, with Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger gone and not necessarily replaced. The Dodgers essentially swapped Justin Turner for J.D. Martinez, the latter of whom will absorb most of the playing time at designated hitter. But it looks like they will fill most of their remaining holes internally.

Center field and left field are a major question, and three of the infield spots -- second base, third base and shortstop -- will be filled by the foursome of Gavin Lux, Max Muncy, Miguel Vargas and the recently added Miguel Rojas. Will infield defense be a problem, particularly in a year with shift restrictions? And will their promising crop of young players be good enough to make up for major losses? -- Gonzalez

7. Toronto Blue Jays

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:7

The Rangers augmented their rotation this winter, the Mets revamped their bullpen and the Cubs improved their defense. But the Blue Jays may have made the most meaningful unit change with the way they added balance to a lineup that has been stacked with right-handed hitters in recent years.

Toronto added three experienced left-handed hitters -- trading for outfielder Daulton Varsho, who likely will hit in the middle of the batting order, and signing Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier. No team faced more unfavorable platoon matchups than the Blue Jays last year, as opposing managers stacked up right-handed pitching against Toronto's lineup, making life more difficult for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.,Bo Bichette, et al. The new lefties should help the Blue Jays' offense significantly, particularly if Belt and Kiermaier can stay healthy. -- Olney

8. Philadelphia Phillies

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:11

As good as the Phillies looked in October, they were a team that finished 14 games behind the Braves and Mets and barely made the playoffs by one win over the Brewers. Now, they will be without Bryce Harper for several months as he recovers from elbow surgery. Signing superstar shortstop Turner will help bridge that gap and they're gambling on veteran closer Craig Kimbrel and hard-throwing but wild lefty Gregory Soto to bring more bullpen depth. The key: The Phillies went 13-25 against the Braves and Mets last year. The new balanced schedule means they will play just 26 games against those two clubs instead of 38, but they will need to beat their rivals to improve on last year's 87-75 record. -- Schoenfield

9. Tampa Bay Rays

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:9

The Rays have one of the smallest margins for error in MLB, given their low payroll, so they will need their highest-paid players to perform. This is why they will need a big rebound from Wander Franco, in whom they made the most significant investment in franchise history. Franco played in just 83 games last year because of injuries, posting an OBP of .328 and scoring just 46 runs. This winter, Franco has been working on his flexibility, on getting leaner.

"He looks great," Rays manager Kevin Cash said recently. "If we can keep him healthy, I'm confident that we will see the player we all know he can be. He seems very motivated and excited to get going." -- Olney

10. Seattle Mariners

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:12

Mariners fans are frustrated with an offseason that has seen them make trades for right fielder Teoscar Hernandez and second baseman Kolten Wong and sign AJ Pollock as a platoon/bat depth piece for the outfield and DH, but lacking in a big, splashy move. The payroll does project to be a franchise record but only slightly higher than it was in the 2016 to 2018 era. It will also be interesting to see how the defense plays out: Shortstop J.P. Crawford and Wong are former Gold Glove winners but both had poor defensive metrics in 2022 and Hernandez, while athletic, is a below-average outfielder. On the bright side: We get to see Year 2 of Julio Rodriguez as the Mariners go for a second straight playoff appearance. -- Schoenfield

11. St. Louis Cardinals

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:6

The Cardinals gained significantly more offense behind the plate -- though they might have sacrificed nearly as much defense -- by replacing the retired Yadier Molina with free agent catcher Willson Contreras. With Contreras, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado anchoring the middle of the lineup, the Cardinals' offense looks solid heading into 2023. But it's their starting pitching that might determine whether they win a relatively weak NL Central for a second consecutive year. Adam Wainwright is 41, Jack Flaherty is now four years removed from his time as an ace and the fifth spot in the rotation is a question. The Cardinals could stand to add another starter -- and they might be able to use their outfield depth to access one via trade. -- Gonzalez

12. Cleveland Guardians

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:8

There isn't a whole lot to be wringing your hands about when it comes to the Guardians. Yeah, maybe they could have been a little more aggressive when it comes to filling out the handful of needs their young but already accomplished roster needed. They needed a first base/DH bat and Josh Bell fits the bill, but could they have made a bigger splash with a bigger investment? And at catcher, the Guardians were linked to the Murphy sweepstakes and ended up with Mike Zunino. Still, Cleveland has emerged as a clear-cut favorite to repeat in its division, and given that a roster so young should get better simply because that's what good young players tend to do, you'd have to dig deep to be worried about the Guardians. -- Doolittle

13. Milwaukee Brewers

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:13

Maybe Seattle simply wasn't a good fit for Jesse Winker. Maybe going from one of the sport's most hitter-friendly ballparks to one of the least played a factor. Whatever the reason, Winker struggled mightily offensively last season. He produced an .888 OPS through a 413-game sample while with the Reds from 2017 to 2021 -- punctuated by a .949 mark in the final year -- but contributed only a .688 OPS in his first and only year with the Mariners in 2022. That's a 200-point drop-off. Now the Brewers are hoping they can recapture his greatness. They parted with second baseman Wong in early December in order to buy low on Winker. And if Winker, 29, can get back on track, the Brewers might challenge for a division title. -- Gonzalez

14. Minnesota Twins

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:18

Can the Twins get on the right side of Eir? Allow us to explain: Among other things, Eir is the Norse goddess of healing. Minnesota has a lot of folks with Scandinavian ancestry, though we are awaiting the research on how many current day Minnesotans are active followers of Eir.

Anyway, the Twins have a number of impact performers who could help put the ballclub over the top in 2023 if only they can hit the outer range of their playing time forecasts. In other words, if Eir looks kindly upon this version of the Twins, it's a roster with a lot of possibility. This dynamic has marked the Twins in recent years and figures to be an ongoing organizational trait after the cyclonic offseason tete-a-tete with Correa. But it goes well beyond Correa, or even scintillating but fragile centerfielder Byron Buxton. It extends to Kenta Maeda, Chris Paddack, Royce LewisandAlex Kirilloff. The talent is exciting. Eir, are you paying attention? -- Doolittle

15. Chicago White Sox

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:16

Is there enough positive regression on the roster to merit optimism that Chicago can rebound from a disappointing 2022? We only ask because the White Sox's offseason mostly looks like treadmill exercise. They added some players and lost others and from a forecast standpoint, it kind of all washes out and leaves the White Sox where they started, with what looks like a .500-ish baseline. Most of the same issues with last year's roster remain even if some of the names have changed, not the least of which is the manager, now Pedro Grifol.

The biggest hope for a rebound is for those who underachieved in 2021 to snap back to their previous trajectory, perhaps with the new coaching staff guiding the way. The list of possible bounce-backs is long: Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal, among others. It can happen, but when a team takes a step back during a stretch of seasons in which it is supposed to be contending, a talent infusion isn't the worst idea. -- Doolittle

16. Los Angeles Angels

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:20

Despite a potential change in ownership, the Angels have acted aggressively this offseason, spending a combined $90 million or so on six new players (two of whom were acquired via trade). They weren't necessarily huge additions, but they helped the front office make major strides toward its primary goal of deepening the depth of the 40-man roster. Injuries have debilitated the Angels in recent years, more so than most teams. Their roster was too top-heavy -- but that is no longer the case.

Now the question is whether what's been done is enough, and whether they will finally field a team capable of getting Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani into the playoffs. The Angels are betting that those two, along with a healthy Anthony Rendon, an underrated starting rotation and a deeper position-player group will at least keep them relevant in September. -- Gonzalez

17. Texas Rangers

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:21

Will the system produce? Can the revamped front office build depth and a contention-worthy bullpen? Two expensive offseasons have the Rangers in the range of playoff contention, though they don't look like an elite squad just yet. But with the improvements in their rotation and last year's splurge for Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, among others, it is hard to envision Texas spending its way from an 83- to 85-win baseline to upper-level contention. Getting there will come down to finding players to contribute from roster spots 12 through 40, players who typically come from internal development, scouting and canny acquisitions. That assumes, of course, that the free agents prove worthy of the Rangers' investment. Even if they do, there is plenty of work left to be done. -- Doolittle

18. Baltimore Orioles

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:14

Shortly after the Orioles unloaded money at the trade deadline, rather than add to a team that was in the playoff hunt, the club's leadership suggested there would be a significant upgrade of the payroll in 2023. But Baltimore effectively bypassed the free agent market -- its only signings were veterans on one-year deals, most notably pitcher Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier. So if the Orioles are to improve upon their 83-win performance and make the playoffs this season, it will be because of the continued growth of their best young players. Adley Rutschman is already in the conversation for being the best catcher in baseball, and Gunnar Henderson is probably the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. -- Olney

19. Boston Red Sox

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:17

The Red Sox have reached a crossroads season that might lead them in one of two distinct directions. If they exceed expectations -- let's say they make the playoffs -- then this will buy time for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to improve the roster and organization. But if the team struggles -- Boston looks like the fourth- or fifth-best team in the division on paper -- the calls from the Red Sox fan base for significant change will grow louder and angrier. The front office bet heavily in the offseason that an improved bullpen will make a significant difference in 2023, with Kenley Jansen taking over as closer. The Red Sox ranked 27th in bullpen WAR last season, with Boston relievers posting a 4.59 ERA. -- Olney

20. Arizona Diamondbacks

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:19

They're in a tough division, of course, but Arizona's future nonetheless seems promising, with several talented young players -- Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo and Gabriel Moreno on the position-player side, along with Brandon Pfaadt, Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson on the pitching side -- who will be ready to contribute in 2023. The D-backs acquired some veteran pieces this offseason, adding Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kyle Lewis and Evan Longoria to a lineup that should be better. But their big question -- When can they legitimately contend? -- will be answered by the development of the aforementioned young players. -- Gonzalez

21. Chicago Cubs

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:22

The Cubs are sort of, kind of, half-heartedly making a push for bigger things in 2023. They signed Swanson for $177 million, hoping he can come close to replicating his career season he had with the Braves. Another 5.7-WAR season is optimistic, but Swanson and Nico Hoerner will at least give the Cubs elite middle infield defense and solid offense.

The additions of Bellinger, Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini are less inspiring. Bellinger provides good defense, but he hasn't hit the past two seasons, including .210/.265/.389 in 2022 with a strikeout rate 11% higher than his 2019 MVP season. Jameson Taillon is the big add to the pitching staff and with Justin Steele's breakout and Hayden Wesneski's late-season performance, there is a scenario where the rotation pitches the Cubs into the postseason in a weak division. -- Schoenfield

22. San Francisco Giants

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:15

The prevailing question surrounding the Giants seems obvious: Where, exactly, are they headed? They began this offseason in pursuit of a star, the type of player they can build their franchise around. But they missed out on Judge, couldn't agree with Correa and instead made moves along the margins once again, adding a couple of outfielders (Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto) and a trio of pitchers (Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and lefty reliever Taylor Rogers). The Giants don't seem anywhere near the Padres or the Dodgers at the moment, but they also have a mid-tier farm system. Just two years removed from a shocking 107-win season, they suddenly look like a team without clear direction. -- Gonzalez

23. Miami Marlins

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:23

Don Mattingly is gone after seven seasons and one playoff appearance in the shortened 2020 season, with Cardinals bench coach Skip Schumaker hired as the new manager. Indeed, the Marlins haven't finished over .500 in a full season since 2009 or made the playoffs since 2003. But, hey, their 93 losses were the fewest in a full season since 2017. So ... progress? Adding veterans Jean Segura and Johnny Cueto hardly moves the needle, but there is hope for a dominant rotation with full seasons from Jesus Luzardo and Edward Cabrera and a bounce-back from Trevor Rogers alongside Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. Fellow starter Pablo Lopez appears to be on the trade block for an outfield bat. -- Schoenfield

24. Pittsburgh Pirates

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:28

Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Santana would be a great pair for the middle of the lineup -- in 2013. A decade later, former NL MVP McCutchen returns to Pittsburgh at age 36 while 37-year-old Santana gives the club a 1B/DH option along with Ji-Man Choi. Oh, they also signed Rich Hill, who turns 43 in March. Sentiment notwithstanding, does any of this excite you? I guess it's something. Perhaps some "how to do things the right way" insight from the wise veterans will rub off on some of the younger players, and it's worth noting that McCutchen, Santana and Choi are all disciplined hitters. Pay attention, Oneil Cruz. -- Schoenfield

25. Kansas City Royals

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:25

What exactly is the plan for the rotation? The Royals signed a pair of veterans in free agency this year. One, righty Jordan Lyles, has a composite ERA+ of 89 over the past five seasons. The other, lefty Ryan Yarbrough, is at 94. For those not familiar, ERA+ is an indexed, park-adjusted version of ERA housed at in which 100 represents league average. League average, in theory, translates to 81-81 if all of your players are at that level. If they are below that level, then you aren't really winning games, or at least not enough to contend or earn the interest of your fan base.

Both of the new pitchers are over 30 and their performances are well-established. They can eat innings but what really would be the point if the innings consist of a large quantity of below-average production? -- Doolittle

26. Colorado Rockies

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:24

The Rockies play half their games in the sport's most favorable hitting environment and yet their team OPS has been exactly league average -- .721 -- since the start of the 2020 season. Kris Bryant, signed to a seven-year, $182 million contract last March that surprised a lot of people, was brought in to help fix that. He contributed an .851 OPS in his first season, but a troublesome back and a bout with plantar fasciitis limited him to 42 games. He's 31 now, and the question is whether Bryant can stay healthy enough to play like a perennial All-Star in Colorado. This franchise can't really move forward if Bryant doesn't perform to the level of his contract. -- Gonzalez

27. Detroit Tigers

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:27

The Tigers finally decided to change the dimensions of Comerica Park, pulling in the fence in center field and lowering the height of the barrier in places. In doing so, they finally succumbed to years and years of whining from various power hitters who have come through Detroit over the years. This move has been a long time coming, so it's not a knee-jerk reaction to the 2023 season -- the considerations to make the changes are about the long run. But since we're looking at next season, you wonder if the short-term effects could be ugly or, at the very least, work against the home team. The combination of factors behind this concern: Detroit's starting staff is light on strikeouts and potentially heavy on long flies and is paired with a lineup that isn't likely to rank high in homers, no matter where they play. -- Doolittle

28. Oakland Athletics

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:29

Since the start of last season, the A's have unloaded Frankie Montas, Elvis Andrus and Murphy, completing the mass roster -- and now, it's unclear when the franchise will be competitively relevant again. Their big move this offseason was the signing of utility men Aledmys Diaz and Jace Peterson to two-year contracts. The highest-paid player on the Oakland roster is reliever Trevor May, who will make $7 million in 2023 -- or about what Verlander and Scherzer will each make in April. The AL West figures to be one of baseball's most competitive divisions, with the Rangers and Angels earnestly working to upgrade their rosters enough to challenge the Astros and Mariners. All of those teams will feast on the Athletics in 2023. -- Olney

29. Washington Nationals

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:30

Were the Nationals terrible in 2022? Yes. Will they be bad in 2023? Almost certainly. The Nationals added some depth pieces in Dominic Smith, Jeimer Candelario and Corey Dickerson, guys who have produced in the past but not in 2022. The season, however, is about the development of the young players they hope turn into a core to build around: CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, Cade Cavalli, MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray. -- Schoenfield

30. Cincinnati Reds

Final 2022 regular-season ranking:26

How different will the Reds look from Opening Day to the end of the season? This very much looks like another transitional season for the Reds, who carry one of the worst 2023 forecasts as we head toward the backstretch of the hot stove part of the calendar. But that's not to say that the looming season won't provide things to look forward to for the Cincinnati faithful.

There is a young 1-2-3 rotation of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft. There is a plethora of exciting middle infielders, from Jose Barrero to Elly De La Cruz and others. The Reds aren't likely to be good this season but they might well have some key components of the next Cincinnati team that will be good. How many of those players will be in place by the end of the coming season? -- Doolittle

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