MLB Opening Day: 30 things fans need to know after an action-packed winter
If you haven't been paying attention, here's what you missed during the MLB offseason.
The MLB offseason was, in short, hectic. One team dropped nearly $500 million to get better, one player signed with three different teams, and one Hall of Fame manager came out of retirement to coach a fourth-place team.
If you already knew everything we're talking about above, nice work. You're a dedicated baseball follower. You probably keep score when you go to the ballpark.
But if you have no idea who signed where or why games seem to be moving much faster, we get it. Life gets busy, and it's hard to keep up with a sport during its offseason. Besides, can you really be in baseball mode as your fantasy football team is fighting for a playoff spot in late December?
If you're one of the individuals above, we aren't here to shame you; we're here to educate you. Below, you'll find 30 major offseason developments and stories that will shape the landscape of the 2023 MLB season.
It all starts with that popular team in New York. (No, not that one.)
The Mets signed everyone
New York Mets owner Steve Cohen really wants to win. Cohen went on a nearly unprecedented spending spree in the offseason, signing basically every available player on the market. Is that exaggeration? You be the judge. Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Díaz were brought back, Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and José Quintana were signed to shore up the team’s rotation, Adam Ottavino and David Robertson will help in the pen, and Omar Narváez will assist behind the plate. All told, the Mets spent close to $500 million to improve a team that won 101 games last season.
The Mets did not re-sign Jacob deGrom
Former Met Jacob deGrom was the one who got away, signing a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers. When healthy, deGrom is far and away the best pitcher in baseball. Since 2018, he has a 2.05 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP in 102 starts. The past two years, however, he has made just 26 starts due to various injuries and has a 1.90 ERA in that period. DeGrom had yet another injury scare in spring training, but he seems good to go for the start of the season.
The pitch clock is here, and games are faster
If you’re the type to turn on a baseball game in the background and occasionally check in on it while you get chores done around the house, you might want to rethink that strategy this year. MLB instituted a number of new rule changes, and the pitch clock is arguably the biggest one. Pitchers will have 15 seconds between each pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds between each pitch with men on base. Batters need to be set and in the box with eight seconds left on the clock.
If a pitcher fails to begin his motion by the time the clock expires, he will be charged with an automatic ball. If a batter isn’t set by the eight-second mark, he will be charged with an automatic strike. From this, the league saw immediate results in spring training. Game length decreased by 23 minutes in the first week of spring games. Previously, spring games lasted roughly three hours, but this season, they’ve been much closer to 2.5 hours.
Oh, and there are other rule changes
In addition to that, MLB announced that the league will introduce wider bases, limit pickoff attempts and ban the shift. Pitchers can throw to bases three times during a plate appearance. If the third attempt fails, that runner will automatically advance a base.
All these changes were made with the intent of making games more exciting, and as with the pitch clock, the changes brought immediate results in spring training. Stolen base attempts in spring jumped from 1.6 to 2.4 per game, and BABIP on ground balls was up from .235 to .258. That could lead to more steals and more hits in 2023.
Carlos Correa signed with 3 teams this offseason (and ended up back in Minnesota)
Even if you kept up with the MLB offseason, you might be confused about the whole Carlos Correa situation. Correa signed with the San Francisco Giants in December, but the deal was voided after Correa failed his physical. The Mets — big surprise — then jumped at the chance and inked Correa just days later. But that physical also came back with issues, leading Correa to return to the Minnesota Twins on a $200 million deal. Correa’s leg, which he injured in the minors in 2014, was apparently the issue. The Twins felt good enough about it that Correa’s deal doesn’t contain an option until 2029.
Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson also changed teams
Correa had the most eventful free agency, but he was far from the only big-name shortstop to change teams. Trea Turner inked an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, Xander Bogaerts joined the San Diego Padres on an 11-year, $280 million contract, and Dansby Swanson signed with the Chicago Cubs for $177 million over seven years. Turner and Bogaerts hope they can be the missing pieces for two teams with World Series aspirations in 2023. Swanson is hoping to lead a revamped Cubs team back to the playoffs.
Aaron Judge is back with the Yankees after betting on himself
Aaron Judge placed a massive bet on himself prior to the 2022 MLB season — and won. Judge famously turned down an extension worth more than $200 million in spring training. The Yankees took the odd step of calling a media conference to announce that no deal was reached, which led to speculation that Judge would leave the team after another solid year. If Judge was upset about the whole situation, he took out his anger on the baseballs, mashing 62 home runs en route to an MVP season. He wound up sticking with the Yankees, and it cost them significantly more. Judge will make $360 million over the next nine years in New York.
Shohei Ohtani is going to be a free agent
Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who improved in every way last season but somehow didn’t win the MVP award, is likely to hit the free-agent market at the end of the 2023 season. And if the Angels fail to get off to a strong start, it’s possible that Ohtani will be traded at the deadline. If that happens, he should be the most sought-after trade target the league has seen in years. Ohtani has never been fairly compensated since coming to MLB as a 23-year-old. We’re about to see just how much the league values a player who can hit and pitch at an elite level.
Cutch is back in Pittsburgh
In what will be his 15th MLB season, Andrew McCutchen is going home. McCutchen, now 36, signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason. He has not said anything about retirement, so it’s unclear if this is his final ride in MLB, but if it is, McCutchen will get a chance to delight fans who loved him early in his career.
Back in the day, McCutchen was a superstar on some awful Pirates teams. He then led the team to the playoffs in three straight seasons and was named the National League MVP in 2013. McCutchen has yet to win a ring, and it’s possible a midseason trade could happen if he performs well in the first half of the season.
Carlos Rodón and Frankie Montas are already hurt
The 2023 MLB season hasn’t even started, yet the Yankees are already devastated by injuries. Offseason signing Carlos Rodón will open the year on the injured list due to a forearm strain. Last year’s trade-deadline acquisition, Frankie Montas, underwent shoulder surgery in February and won’t be available to start the regular season. Reliever Lou Trivino will miss time due to an elbow issue, and outfielder Harrison Bader is expected to be out due to an oblique injury. The Yankees are still projected to compete in a tough American League East, but their task just got harder, especially if those players deal with setbacks in their recovery.
Boston can keep a homegrown star after all
Turns out, the Boston Red Sox are capable of retaining a homegrown star. After losing Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, the team stopped the bleeding and signed third baseman Rafael Devers to an 11-year, $331 million extension. The team didn’t stop there. It also signed star Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million deal. Yoshida comes to MLB after walking 80 times and striking out just 41 times in 119 games with the Orix Buffaloes, and projection systems think very highly of him. After finishing last in the American League East in 2022, Boston is hoping that duo can help turn things around in 2023.
There’s a balanced schedule
Teams in awful divisions — cough American League Central cough — will no longer have such inflated win totals due to their poor schedules. MLB is introducing a balanced schedule in 2023, meaning every team will play all 29 other teams for at least one series annually. The decision helps the league in two ways. First, it evens out the wild-card playing field. Teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays won’t be punished as much for playing in a tough division. Second, it allows MLB to market its stars a little better. Fans will pay money to see Shohei Ohtani or Max Scherzer in person. Making sure players get to every city should help grow the game.
Diamondbacks prospect Corbin Carroll signed a record-breaking deal
Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Corbin Carroll performed well in 115 plate appearances as a rookie, hitting .260/.330/.500 with four home runs, and that was enough to convince the D-backs to hand him a record-setting eight-year, $111 million deal. It is the largest contract handed to a player with fewer than 100 days of service time. Carroll is regarded quite well by the prospect community. He ranks second on Baseball America’s and Major League Baseball’s top-100 prospect list. He ranks sixth on Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 list. If Carroll builds on last year’s success, the Diamondbacks will have locked up a superstar player at a bargain cost. On top of that, D-backs fans have a young, exciting star they know will be around many years from now.
The White Sox are trying to rebound after a disappointing year
The Chicago White Sox will enter 2023 with major questions in the outfield and at second base, which is not a recycled line from the past 20 seasons of White Sox previews. The Sox went into 2022 with massive exceptions and left the year a major disappointment. Then the team’s offseason was spotty. Andrew Benintendi was brought in on a $75 million deal to shore up one corner outfield slot. The team also brought in pitcher Mike Clevinger, who was the subject of a domestic-violence investigation shortly after he was signed. Clevinger will not be punished by MLB. If this team is going to get back to contention, it will need a strong showing from rookie outfielder Oscar Colas, who has performed well in spring training. It will also need new manager Pedro Grifol to prove he’s the answer. As long as Grifol doesn’t walk batters with 1-2 counts, he’ll be an upgrade for White Sox fans.
The A’s continue to tear it all down
On Weezer’s masterpiece second album, "Pinkerton," Rivers Cuomo sings, “This is beginning to hurt. This is beginning to be serious.” Oakland Athletics fans can’t help but relate after the team once again traded one of its best players to get younger and cheaper. Sean Murphy was shipped to Atlanta for, you guessed it, prospects. The A’s will mostly likely be awful in 2023. The team is running one of the lowest payrolls in the sport and actively looking to leave Oakland for Las Vegas … or whatever other city will take it.
A’s fans deserve better than this, and it’s a shame that current ownership seems determined to sabotage the major-league roster until the team leaves. Cuomo’s next line, “It used to be a game, now it’s a crying shame,” feels pretty appropriate here.
Miguel Cabrera is probably going to retire
It feels like the last ride for Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Things could change, but Cabrera said in November that he planned to finish his contract with the Tigers and then retire. Cabrera, who will be 40 shortly after the 2023 season begins, doesn’t have much more to accomplish on the field. He crossed the 500 home run mark in 2021 and notched 3,000 career hits in 2022. He’ll almost certainly be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame the first year he’s eligible.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is back from suspension and will play in the outfield
Last season was pretty bad for San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. He started the season on the injured list after breaking his wrist in a motorcycle crash. He ended it by being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs in August. Tatis still needs to serve a portion of his 80-game suspension at the start of the 2023 season, but he's expected back in April. Once he returns, he’ll be playing a new position. With Bogaerts signed to man shortstop, Tatis is converting to the outfield. His bat is good enough to play anywhere, so as long as he stays on the field, he should return to an All-Star level.
The Cardinals replaced Yadier Molina with Willson Contreras
When longtime St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright takes the mound this season, he’ll have a new batterymate. Yadier Molina retired after the 2022 season after spending 19 years in St. Louis. The Cardinals replaced Molina with former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who should add to an already terrifying Cardinals offense. The Contreras addition also adds to the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. Contreras will get a shot to see his old team fairly early in the season, as the Cardinals travel to Chicago for a series with the Cubs on May 8.
The American League Central could see a tough fight at the top
The AL Central might be better in 2023, but the division still runs through the Cleveland Guardians … barely. The Guardians are projected to win the division, per Baseball Prospectus, but the margin is as tight as possible, with Cleveland projected to win 87.9 games and Minnesota slated for 87.8 wins. Cleveland essentially sat out the past offseason and returns the core that led the team to a 92-win season last year. Both the Twins and White Sox should be better after making a few meaningful offseason signings, but Cleveland deserves credit for always finding a way to win despite a shoestring budget. Can the Guardians do it again, or is this the year the team’s lack of spending finally pushes it out of the playoffs?
The Mets lost Edwin Díaz in the World Baseball Classic
When the Mets open the regular season March 30, they will do so without one of their most important players. Closer Edwin Díaz sustained a knee injury while celebrating a win by team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. The injury spurred conversation about whether teams would allow players to take part in the event in the future, but record-breaking ratings seem to suggest that the WBC is here to stay. The Mets have both Adam Ottavino and David Robertson to pick up the slack in the bullpen and should remain World Series contenders even with Díaz sidelined for most, if not all, of the 2023 regular season.
Braves enter 2023 with one major question
The Braves are, unsurprisingly, expected to be a strong team in 2023. The team’s best players — Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and Matt Olson — are still here and should strike fear into the hearts of opposing lineups. Add Sean Murphy, encouraging second-year outfielder Michael Harris II and the steady Ozzie Albies, and the team’s lineup looks excellent on paper … with one caveat.
The Braves will open the season with Orlando Arcia at shortstop. It’s believed that he’ll serve as a stopgap option while second-year player Vaughn Grissom works on his defense in the minors. Grissom should be up soon, and while projection systems believe he’s due for some regression, the Braves don’t need him to be a star. If he can replicate last season’s success, an already excellent Braves lineup could be the best in baseball.
Orioles look improved in a tough American League East
After a comprehensive teardown, the Baltimore Orioles look exciting again. Catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson had encouraging debuts last season and will look to build on those numbers in 2023. That pair should eventually be joined by pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, whom many consider the top pitching prospect in the minors. Outfield prospect Colton Cowser could also be up at some point this season. Combine those players with Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and popular breakout candidate Kyle Bradish, and the Orioles are laying a promising foundation. Whether that’s enough for them to compete in a crowded AL East is unclear, but Baltimore is on the rise again.
Liam Hendriks is dealing with non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks will not be available at the start of the 2023 regular season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the offseason. Hendriks has been around the team during camp and is an “inspiration” to teammates. The White Sox have not put a timetable on Hendriks’ return. If he is able to take the mound in 2023, it will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the season. Hendriks is among the most charitable players in the game and was the White Sox’s Roberto Clemente nominee last season. Teams and players all around the league want Hendriks back on the mound as soon as possible.
Bigger than baseball.
We are with you, Liam. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/g1535G7BBZ
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) January 9, 2023
The Padres could overtake the Dodgers in the National League West
After a decade-plus of domination by the Dodgers, the San Diego Padres might win the National League West for the first time since 2006. Baseball Prospectus still believes the Dodgers hold an edge — but barely. The addition of Xander Bogaerts, combined with a full season of Juan Soto, could give San Diego the strength it needs to finally surpass the Dodgers at the top of the division. Of course, the Padres don’t have to win the NL West to go all the way. The team showed that last year, knocking the Dodgers out of the playoffs in the NLDS. Now they have to prove they have what it takes to make it to the World Series.
The Blue Jays are looking for a better sequel
Prior to the 2022 season, Toronto Blue Jays superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr. promised fans the best was yet to come. “Last year was the trailer,” Guerrero said last spring training. “What you are going to see this year is the movie.” Well, the movie didn’t live up to box office expectations. Yes, the Jays played well, but the team was bounced from the playoffs early, thanks to the Seattle Mariners. This season can go one of two ways for Toronto. It can either deliver its unassailable “The Empire Strikes Back” or flop hard with its version of “Son of the Mask.”
The Mariners want to start a new playoff streak
The Seattle Mariners broke their 21-year playoff drought last season and are now looking to start a new, more positive playoff streak. For once, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto remained relatively quiet in the winter. The team traded for outfielder Teoscar Hernández but will mostly return the same cast of characters as last season. And that’s not the worst strategy. Julio Rodríguez looks like a star, and Luis Castillo is a capable ace. If the team experiences any improvement from young players such as Logan Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic, who is once again tearing it up in spring training, the Mariners should reach the postseason for the second straight year.
Bruce Bochy is back
Former San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s legacy is secure. After leading the Giants to three World Series titles, Bochy is already a lock for the Hall of Fame, but at 67, he came out of retirement to manage the Texas Rangers. Bochy talked up the team’s future, saying it was the right situation for him to return. The Rangers went 68-94 last season and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, but the team has been willing to spend money lately. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien were the major hauls two winters ago, and Jacob deGrom joined this offseason. Now it’s up to Bochy to prove he can make the other pieces fit and create another winner in a new location.
Roki Sasaki is one of the best pitchers in baseball
Japanese pitcher Roki Sasaki is really good. The 21-year-old proved as much in the World Baseball Classic, in which he displayed a 102 mph fastball with late movement and a diving splitter that moves like a slider. During his brief appearances, Sasaki showed he could be one of the most dominant starters in MLB. Problem is, he’s likely not coming until 2027. MLB limits the amount teams can spend on international prospects under the age of 25, so if Sasaki wanted to come to the majors sooner and his team agreed, his contract would be just under $6 million, whereas if Sasaki hit the free-agent market right now, he would easily make more than $100 million.
A lot can change in four years, especially for pitchers. But if Sasaki keeps up this pace, the entire baseball world will be counting down to 2027. There’s also the chance Sasaki decides he wants to be posted — a la Shohei Ohtani — or MLB alters the rule so that Sasaki can come over earlier. Either way, he wants to play in MLB. The fact that it’s beneficial for him to wait until 2027 to make that a reality is an indictment of the league’s current international signing rules.
Bryce Harper will miss the start of the season
Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper won’t be ready for the start of the regular season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Tommy John is less of an issue for position players, but it still could limit Harper’s ability to play the field once he returns. The good news is it sounds like that return could happen sooner than expected. Harper reportedly won’t be placed on the 60-day injured list … for now, at least. The move opens the door for him to join the team before the end of May. When healthy, Harper is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in the game. Getting him back and on the field in time for the playoffs could go a long way toward the Phillies winning it all in 2023.
Astros look to repeat as World Series champs with José Abreu
The 2022 Houston Astros were the perfectly constructed team. The offense ranked sixth in the league in wRC+ — an advanced stat that measures offense — and second in ERA. The pitching will take a hit in 2023 after Verlander left for the Mets, but the offense could be even better after José Abreu joined the club. Abreu remains an excellent hitter despite his age (36) and is the rare slugger who can pop close to 30 home runs while hitting .300. He’s a major upgrade over Yuri Gurriel, who hit just .242 for Houston last season. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Astros are going to be a really strong team in 2023, especially once Jose Altuve returns from a broken thumb.