Aside from a few tight wild card races, we’ve been in what’s known as “garbage time” during the MLB regular season. There have been teams that have had nothing to play for aside from calling up young prospects to the majors to get in some at-bats or throw some innings to change their sights to 2024 and beyond, and the ESPN+ matchup of two mathematically-eliminated teams doesn’t exactly mean anything to the viewer apart from the die-hards of that particular fanbase or the prospect-heads.
With that being said, in 2023, 7 teams that finished the previous season with a record of .500 or below (Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, Diamondbacks) have either already clinched a postseason berth or are still in contention for a Wild Card spot. The turnaround can come quicker than you expect! Turn that frown upside down, Kansas City Royals fans! (Sorry, that was a low blow. At least you all have Patrick Mahomes and great barbecue.)
There can be progress made during these garbage time games that allows fan bases to talk themselves into 2024 and the future. Even if these games are “meaningless,” there can be some silver linings that provide sparks of optimism into organizations injecting themselves with a healthy dose of the most-addictive drug, HOPium, if you will.
During this irrelevant garbage time, let’s take a look at who’s given themselves some reason for optimism going forward in spite of a lost year. These are the Silver Linings Power Rankings of the teams that have played a plethora of garbage time baseball.
- Oakland/Las Vegas Athletics
There’s not much to say here. They lost their franchise and have the most embarrassing ownership group in the four professional sports, and the villains accomplished their goal of fielding the worst-possible rosters to get the worst record in the majors. At the very least, Brent Rooker was an All-Star and rather than trade him, Oakland kept him to hit 29 towering homers. He’ll look great in that Las Vegas uniform when they inevitably change one of the best color combinations in sports to that shiny metallic gold on the hockey team with their move to Vegas.
- Los Angeles Angels
Congratulations, Angels! You did it! You made the baseball world hate an ownership group possibly even more than the one in Oakland!
If you’re an Angels fan, you’ve already purchased some sort of other organization’s ballcap by now, right? Ohtani has already cleaned out his locker approaching free agency, Anthony Rendon is claiming to have a broken foot to not play games for the team, and Mike Trout is being probed by everyone to PLEASE go the NBA diva route and finally request a trade.
Angels fans should also request a trade. Another season of missing the postseason after going “all-in” at the deadline is inexcusable at this point, and a full teardown to build around Logan O’Hoppe where we just forget they exist for a while is necessary.
- Colorado Rockies
Well, the Rockies have the worst run-differential in the majors and failed to meet Owner Dick Monfort’s lofty preseason expectations when he said “I think we can play .500 ball.”
At least Kris Bryant is actually playing games now following his injury-riddled start after signing the major deal there in free agency. The silver lining for Rockies fans is just that they always get to see a “Pac-12 after dark” college football score in baseball with all the crazy runs scored at Coors Field, a beautiful ballpark to just spend an evening. That’s the unfortunate expectations Monfort probably approaches every season with, hence their lack of success.
- Kansas City Royals
The Royals only silver lining is that Bobby Witt Jr. seems to have fixed his swing approach at the plate and finally looks like the bonafide star that he was believed to be when they drafted him 2nd overall in 2019. He’s the first player to have 20 homers and 30 steals in his first two seasons, and at just 23, he’s the man you want to build around.
The problem is quite literally everything else. The Royals have teetered with a record worse than the A’s at certain points during the season, and they have the 29th-ranked farm system in baseball. In other words, there’s not a lot of talent coming through the pipeline that matches Witt’s timeline.
They’ll at least get Pasquantino back from injury next season and have the plans for a new ballpark in 2028, and maybe that allows them to make some minor free agency acquisitions if they decide to open their wallets a la the Texas Rangers to get butts in seats.
- Chicago White Sox
It’s tough to have any faith in an organization that willingly decided to bring back Tony La Russa back in any capacity whatsoever just because he’s friends with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
Hey, at least all of those Luis Robert Jr. bombs with that sort of bat speed has looked INCREDIBLE this year! They may have been incompetent in every other area, but the one that has MVP potential going forward was still deemed untradeable. That’s something!
- Cleveland Guardians
The Guardians have simply been a bummer this year; they’ve essentially owned the AL Central for the past several years as one of the only franchises with the consistency enough to win on a basis, but this year, it just wasn’t there. Many of their trades have only resulted in bats being successful elsewhere, and the failure to create offense or the long ball has been the tale of the tape despite being a pitching development factory. A large part of their success was manager Terry Francona, and this would appear to be his last year. The hire they make and some sort of hitting coach that they can bring in to provide Jose Ramirez with some offensive support is going to be the determining factor of their future.
The silver lining is that the offense can’t possibly be worse next season, right? Only 117 home runs is pitiful. The upside is that they could potentially replicate a formula comparable to the Diamondbacks or Marlins, playing pitching bean ball with balls in play, and have on-base kings such as Steven Kwan or getting a more-productive season out of Gimenez will translate the slugging of Ramirez into runs.
- Detroit Tigers
While this year was essentially nothing but a Miguel Cabrera fart in the wind farewell tour as a whole, the Tiger youth that we all talked ourselves into the past couple of years is finally starting to come into form. Spencer Torkelson was the first overall pick that beared the brunt of much criticism, underperforming from the start of his career, but his slugging has come into form this second half; he also has now entered the pantheon of top-tier home run pimpers as his balls FLY off the bat. They had one bad losing streak in which Riley Greene, Matt Vierling, Kerry Carpenter, and Eduardo Rodriguez were all injured in June, but aside from that stretch, they played .500 ball. In a terrible AL Central, that could have easily kept them in the race for the majority of the season.
They’re above .500 since the All-Star break, they have a World Series-winning manager and a new incoming GM, and the 5th-youngest roster in baseball. While Javier Baez will permanently be the most-memed strikeout batter given his contract in all-likelihood, the turnaround for the Tigers might not be too far off.
- St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were a preseason NL Central favorite that essentially just had their “year from Hell” where everything went wrong from the get-go. It started with Oliver Marmol dividing the locker room by questioning Tyler O’Neill’s effort on a game in April, Adam Wainwright who, while he’s a Hall of Famer who reached the 200 win mark this month, decided to come back for one more year too many with an ERA as high as outer space, there was weird Willson Contreras drama where it was rumored he didn’t compute with the pitching staff as a catcher after his signing, and they’ve been one of the worst teams in the NL from end-to-end.
Now, Cardinals fans will loathe that they’ve already announced that Marmol will be returning next season where many believed he was out of there, but maybe running it back and having a soft rebuild is all it takes to get back in the NL Central picture. They decided against trading Arenado and Goldschmidt for a reason, and that’s always going to allow them to play competitive baseball. There’s never been an era where the “classiest organization in baseball” hasn’t been able to bounce back; another year of prospects Masynn Winn and Jordan Walker will allow them to pump in some youth, and this off-season with the departures of Flaherty and Wainwright will allow them to focus on their seemingly permanent weakness: the pitching staff.
- New York Mets
The Mets season of spending was a disaster, but they at least had the capacity to look themselves in the mirror and admit it. Scherzer, Verlander, Canha, and Tommy Pham are all out the door. They reportedly fielded offers on the face of the team, Home Run Derby King, Polar Bear Pete Alonso.
Turns out, fielding the oldest roster in baseball and getting dinged with regression and injuries all season plays a major part in going from a 100-win season to missing the postseason entirely despite World Series expectations. Scherzer leaked that they’re reportedly even targeting to compete in “2025 or 2026.”
While admitting that may leave Mets fans even more pessimistic of their “curse,” playing the long game rather than having a spending spree every year might signal more patience. The Senga signing has paid off in dividends in his debut season, the Beaty-Alvarez-Vientos trio of 25-and-under prospects they covet have shown bright spots, particularly in Alvarez looking like an every day catcher, and having Cohen with the largest wallet in sports history in a major market is always going to put them in the running for a marquee free agent every offseason.
Essentially, if you’re the Mets, you’re a blank canvas! And Alonso and Lindor may be staying together after all!
- Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are ending their year with a GM search as Chaim Bloom’s run has finally run out of time. Some may label him as the man who had to trade Mookie Betts for a bag of beans against his own will and signed Trevor Story rather than re-upping Xander Bogaerts, some may label him as a man that’s a victim of an ownership with a salty hand when it comes to opening up the checkbook.
Nevertheless, the desire for some sort of significant change is a sign of growth to look in the mirror and move forward if they can nail the hire. The Sox weren’t expected to amount to much at all this year, but battled thick and thin for a wild card spot through the AL East until mid-September. Masataka Yoshida looks like a bargain signing this offseason and can be the next fan favorite, leading the team in batting average! Triston Casas has been an on-base machine! They managed to get veteran production out of Justin Turner and Adam Duvall!
Alex Cora is one of the few managers in baseball that matters in that it genuinely feels like he still can make decisions in the game that makes it feel like you’re in the fight; the Red Sox first task is to nail the GM hire and find some pitching that knows how to not make Fenway feel like a little league park where the ball flies out and skyrockets the starters’ ERA, every starter having one above 4 this year, but the continuous development of their young bats and smart minor signings can have the Red Sox feeling good in a follow-up to a disaster year going forward.
- New York Yankees
Will Boone be gone? Will Cashman be gone? Will Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Rodon, and Frankie Montas be able to be on the field together despite their injuries? Jasson Dominguez lived up to his Martian nickname in the one week he was active before injuring his UCL; what will he be like when he returns next season?
The Yankees are full of questions, much to the delight of New York media outlets, but at the end of the day, you’re optimism comes in that you’re the Yankees and you have Aaron Judge locked up for nearly the next decade. Before his toe injury, they weren’t fielding an offense that was statistically worse than the A’s for a month that knocked them out of playoff contention. In his return, they’ve had the 2nd-best record in the AL for the month of September to fight back to avoid a sub-.500 season.
The allure of the pinstripes and being able to play alongside Judge will always play in terms of attracting free agents, especially in a year where Gerrit Cole may finally get his Cy Young, but a reset with some better health, the development of Dominguez and potentially a shakeup within the higher-ups could be all it takes for 2024 and beyond.
- Washington Nationals
The Nationals’ future looks seemingly bright for the first time since ripping apart the miracle 2019 World Series roster. They’ve fully-committed to the new era of the stripped down roster of prospects via trades of Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and now the official retirement of Steven Strasburg.
While it was another year of finishing 5th at the bottom of the loaded NL East, the young core might actually be up to something as they showed some fight throughout the year, especially during garbage time Logan Thomas could have easily been traded as an All-Star outfielder this year, but they decided to hold onto him as he finished top-20
in slugging. CJ Abrams, the 22 year-old prize pick from the Padres that was the former 6th overall pick, has had a resurgent second half and looks to finally be coming into his own; in July, he posted an .891 OPS and has an .867 in September.
The Nats had a 27-15 record from July 8th to August 26th and have decided to run it back with Davey Martinez and GM Mike Rizzo. They want to build something, and as of now, they have the youth in the 5th-youngest roster in the majors, it’s just a matter of hoping that some of those guys, potentially Abrams, Josiah Gray, or Mack
enzie Gore can bud into the marquee names they developed previously a la Soto, Harper, and Turner.
- Pittsburgh Pirates
We already saw what a dominant Pirates team looked like when they were firing on all cylinders- that’s because they were the best team in the majors in April! (You know, before the massive collapse where they were revealed as what they were- a team expected to finish at the bottom of the division as they walked the plank.)
However, there’s so many narratives going for the Bucco’s that they can easily talk themselves into being the NL Orioles after losing for a decade. O’Neil Cruz, their freakazoid shortstop prospect built comparably to fellow NL Central phenom Elly De La Cruz, will be returning from a freak injury next year. Henry Davis is their top catching and outfield prospect that they’ve called up this year; while his .208 batting average hasn’t been there, he’s got some plenty of power, becoming the first player to homer twice in a game off of Ohtani, and has a similar “Adley” leadership ferocity with every hit that can unite a clubhouse as he celebrates on the base paths. They’ll also likely be getting #1 overall pitching prospect, starting pitcher Paul Skenes out of LSU, taking him as a more ready-made prospect with the intention to win now. Maybe Ke’Bryan Hayes can finally stay on the field as well, battling off the injury bug and batting .350 in the final month of the season.
They’re the youngest roster in the majors. They’ve got their manager locked up along with a veteran leader in the clubhouse in Bryan Reynolds who has the wherewithal to fire back at a rival manager David Ross in the press. The Pirates need to nail this future going forward with this core and get PNC rocking again for the first time since the prime McCutchen years.