MLB’s most disappointing teams in 2022, what it means for the future
MLB increased the number of teams in the playoffs, but somehow the competition for playoff spots dwindled.
More was not more joyful. It was boring. A dozen clubs will take part in the playoffs, and with two weeks to go, some positioning questions remain. More importantly: will the Braves or the Mets win the NL East? But the only mystery about entering the playoffs was whether the Brewers could overtake the Phillies or the Padres for the NL’s final wildcard spot. And even that wasn’t much of a mystery — Fangraphs only gave Milwaukee a 21.2 percent shot going into the weekend.
It could have been worse. MLB wanted to expand to seven teams making the playoffs in each league, which was rejected by the Players Association. Only seven teams are above .500 in the entire NL. In the AL, only eight teams are above .500, so a seventh-place finish would have gone to the Orioles and White Sox.
These teams illustrate how similar seasons can generate diverse narratives. Baltimore, hinting at the discord around a rising young core, had one of the majors’ most successful seasons. The White Sox are the most disappointing team. There are competitors, but no organization has done less with more, and Chicago did it in a weak AL Central that the Guardians are going to win because the other four teams underperformed their expectations so much. It has already cost baseball department top officials Al Avila (Tigers) and Dayon Moore (Royals) their jobs.
You can’t have this lack of competition for playoff spots without massive disappointment. So here is a top five, with thoughts on their future:
Chicago won a weak AL Central last year because it had stars in an otherwise lukewarm division. But even then, there were internal murmurs of dissatisfaction with manager Tony La Russa and the belief that Chicago had talent, but was not cohesive as a team. This year, the organization’s lack of depth (talent and courage) was revealed by injuries. They were dismal defensively and fundamentally.
La Russa has been out since August 31 with health issues and – as he turns 78 in two weeks – it’s hard to believe he’ll be back. Then again, it was hard to believe he was ever hired after 10 years away from an MLB dugout. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is loyal. So will Kenny Williams and/or Rick Hahn meet the fate of Avila and Moore? Will the White Sox feel compelled to trade a core player like Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert to deepen and diversify the overall product?
Team roller coaster. Over the past 11 seasons, Boston has won four AL East titles (the most of any team in the division) and two championships, but is on course to finish last for the fifth time. What makes this year so problematic is that some years you lose but set the firmament for the future, while the reverse is true for the 2022 Red Sox. None of the three players acquired from the Mookie Betts trade n represented a lot. Xander Bogaerts felt insulted by a spring extension offer and could very well leave in free agency. Top prospect Triston Casas came on and looked mostly outplayed in a small sample. Trevor Story was signed for six years at $140 million and was meh. Three key starting pitchers (Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha) will be free agents, and nothing close to a No. 1 or 2 starter (probably not even a No. 3) is in place.
They could try to extend Rafael Devers before his walk year, but Boston’s moderate offers to date reflect that they see him as a third baseman who will soon find himself at first base or DH. The Red Sox should have a lot of money to spend this offseason and will have to do it well to stay in the top division, made better by the emergence of the Orioles.
Nobody saw a repeat of 107 wins coming. But mid 80s or better and contention was expected. The magic of tinkering with good, but not top-notch, pieces to create a bigger package, however, did not materialize in 2022. They lost their most important player, Buster Posey, to retirement and, ladies and gentlemen , Joey Bart is not Buster Posey. The positional core was old, challenged defensively and unable to compensate on offense. Alex Cobb and Carlos Rodon were good starting pitching signings, Anthony Desclafani and Alex Wood weren’t (and now Rodon is likely to retire).
You know who this is bad news for? The Yankees. The Giants have the money to play for heavyweight and are considered the top contenders to take Aaron Judge away from New York. This year, San Francisco has been screaming to stop trying to puzzle over everything and go get a superstar — or two.
Minnesota followed the AL Central titles in 2019-20 with two unsatisfactory seasons. They spent 92 days in the top spot this year, holding the spot until September 4. But the Twins still didn’t get their throw — their bullpen in particular was destructive. This year. And what about their two best everyday players? Carlos Correa has signed a three-year contract, but with escape hatches after this season and next, and he’s likely heading to free agency. Byron Buxton signed a seven-year, $100 million extension and had what has become a familiar season — scintillating when he plays, but just hurt too often.
Meanwhile, top prospect Royce Lewis is transforming into the Twins’ Trey Lance – brimming with talent, but wasting too much development time. He didn’t play in 2020-21 due to the pandemic and then a torn ACL, but in a major league cameo this season he looked fine – before tearing his ACL again.
There are attractive young players such as Luis Arraez, Jhoan Duran and Joe Ryan, but not enough – certainly not unless Buxton and Lewis can stay healthy and the Twins manage to reapply Correa’s money elsewhere.
There was competition for fifth place with the Marlins, Royals and Tigers, all of whom were under the illusions of making moves forward this year. But neither of those teams started with the singular advantage of having a human who hit 34 homers and pitched to a 2.34 ERA as a starter. But angels are adept at wasting greatness. They pretty much wasted Mike Trout’s bounty. So being challenged to get even 70 wins with Shohei Ohtani is no shock.
The difference is that Trout extended his contract for the duration of his career. Ohtani looks like she doesn’t want to hang out with a loser. If the Mariners and Phillies finalize playoff berths, the Angels and Tigers, who have missed the playoffs since 2014, will become the owners of the longest playoff droughts.
Angels owner Arte Moreno is looking to sell away from his impetuous imperial rule. He or the next owner will likely have to trade Ohtani, who can be a free agent after the 2023 season. Trout is now 31 and has missed chunks of the past two seasons through injury. Hope to surround Trout with Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh has evaporated: Marsh has already been traded and Adell is proving to be struggling with fitness after three major league seasons.
Whoever takes command will start with $73.5 million owed annually to Trout and Anthony Rendon through their late 30s, no ace or No. 2 starter, no shortstop and likely no Ohtani. Good luck.