The unfortunate realization that we’re now in free agency hibernation is hitting many of the baseball die-hards salivating at the idea of pitchers and catchers reporting again the week after the Super Bowl in February. Unfortunately, we’ve had the shuffling of manager hiring and firings, likely a flurry of free agent signings for a month, and then a slumber until that fateful day.
To not only recap the previous season but also give us some expectations for the off-season, let’s evaluate where every organization is at following their year in terms of happiness, expectations, and hopes going forward. These are your Baseball Winter Hibernation Tiers.
Champions Tier- Texas Rangers
When you hoist the trophy for the first time in franchise history, you earn the right to be on your own pedestal ahead of everyone else. The Rangers will be back as contenders again next year long as they keep their core, possibly bring back Jordan Montgomery in free agency, and will now get a year of Max Scherzer, patiently await Jacob deGrom to come back from Tommy John, and have the dazzling possibility of calling up top prospect Wyatt Langford from the draft. The grace period of winning a first championship is unlike anything for a franchise and fan base in sports, but they’ll remain competitive as well with Creed still blaring as they open the season in their championship gold jerseys on opening day in 2024.
The Arnold Schwarzenegger “I’ll be back” Tier- Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays
These are the teams that just came up short, but are confident enough to accept that they’re likely going to be able to run it back with that same core and feel confident about it.
The Braves set historic offensive records while also having Spencer Strider lead the league in strikeouts; they fell to the Phillies, but will still be a favorite with their core locked up. The Astros now have a new titan foe in the division with the Rangers lifting the trophy, they no longer have Dusty Baker, and Altuve will be one year older, but until last season, there was not a team in baseball that you would bet against due to your faith in the organization.
The Phillies are reportedly listening to offers on Castellanos and now will be without Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola will be an impending free agent, but with a full season of healthy Bryce at first and an SEC-like environment, there was no one scarier despite their meltdown.
Now without Wander Franco, are the Rays going to continue their habit of having an analytics-based approach to roster construction that makes for a scary regular season team only to flame out in a postseason? We shall see, but I wouldn’t bet against it!
The Paul Rudd “Look at Us!” We Exceeded Expectations Tier- Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins
There is absolutely no better feeling as a fan than overachieving and riding that high, talking yourself out of misery and building that hope for the future due to such an unexpected delight.
The Diamondbacks went from a young, 100+ loss team looking up to the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres in the division to making the World Series! Now you’re talking yourself into being buyers this offseason with Corbin Carroll coming back with a year under his belt.
The Orioles were THE story of the regular season with a decade of misery, egregious tanking, and no expectations to now having a lively young roster with a bird bath in Camden, the best record in the AL, and a future of endless possibilities!
The Marlins, despite being a franchise with one of the worst reputations in terms of top-down leadership and just let go of GM Kim Ng who built a roster that went to the postseason, ultimately can still be satisfied with where they’re at in terms of their initial goals of this year with a first-year manager, a Cy Young-winner in the rotation, and Eury Perez hopefully no longer on an innings limit as the youngest promising starter next season.
The Reds went from their hometown fans threatening to leave when they were calling for the ownership to sell the team due to their incompetence and neglect to spend to falling just short of the postseason, being THE reason to watch baseball for a month when they called up the Xenomorph Elly De La Cruz, and now having a lineup of rookies that could contend in the NL Central if they decide to spend in the now post-Votto era.
The Twins won a postseason series after winning the division! The curse is lifted! The nightmare is over (until they face a Yankee team in the postseason).
The Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror” Identity Crisis Tier- Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Guardians
These are all a plethora of teams that have either recently been contenders and now face an identity crisis, are in large markets and will have fans with pitchforks and torches outside the stadium if they don’t start winning soon, or spent big to win yet it still isn’t working. The “where do we go from here” element is looming large.
The Mariners and Blue Jays both had expectations with the young rosters they invested in to make deep postseason runs; Seattle fell short of the postseason entirely and the Blue Jays lasted a mere two losses in the Wild Card round. With young stars locked up on both rosters with the expectation to win now in their prime, what’s going to change? Is it more spending or a clean house in the front office?
The Padres and Mets are in their own category in this tier in that they both spent an ungodly amount
of money and assets in free agency and ended up being completely unlucky or embarrassing on and off the field and now will have new managers; the Mets have already changed their window to “2025 or 26” and have Pete Alonso trade rumors swirling, and the Padres have a looming free agent in Juan Soto that they gave up the family farm for. Windows close fast to say the least.
The Brewers and Guardians have historically been the “small market” franchises that somehow grit out winning their division in a well-run way that will now have two new managers; they’re going through an adjustment period and will have to decide whether or not to be buyers or sellers.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox will never be happy. The Yankees won’t rest until Cashman and Boone are fired and Judge has a lineup of surrounding talent and Cole has a reliable pitching staff and they get to ring 28! Not much to ask! Boston just wants a re-do on the Mookie Betts trade and to spend again to bring back the energy of the 2018 team, but is now still in midway rebuild mode finding their footing. This is supposed to be Titletown, loozah!
The Mean Girls “Get in Loser, We’re Going Shopping” Tier- Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants
The big market big spenders that are in just about every single free agent rumor thus far that has fans gloriously (and prematurely) photoshopping pictures of Shohei Ohtani in their duds.
The Dodgers are the largest market and will always be a contender with their resources and coaching despite a down year with a now injured Kershaw and a “terrible human” problem in Urias; their lack of spending last season felt like it had to do with saving up for the Ohtani sweepstakes.
The Cubs just poached Craig Counsell a market-setting deal for a MANAGER after melting down and missing the postseason; if that doesn’t scream “we’re now going to turn things around and do whatever it takes to pump resources into this team,” nothing does. It also helps the rumor mill with Seiya Suzuki idolizing Shohei in his recruitment.
The Giants barely missed on Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa last season and are desperate to create an identity with a boring 2023 season that missed the playoffs and now a new manager after firing Gabe Kapler; there’s angst in the Bay Area with a large wallet that feels like it now needs to be the solution.
The Joker Putting on Clown Face Paint in the Mirror “Here We Go Again” Tier- Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels, Washington Nationals
The bottom of the barrel that was bad last year and will probably continue to be bad this year without significant spending that will likely not happen if you’re a fan that’s become accustomed to the masochism that is sports fandom.
Some outliers may be the Pirates calling up their young core next year after a red-hot May and early June, or if the Tigers can start putting their spending to good use, but other than those possibilities, the group has accumulated no trust going forward and are hoping to be in next year’s Paul Rudd Tier and prove us all wrong.
The “The Hangover” Tier- Las Vegas A’s(?)
The A’s, if they decide to continue with the name, are officially moving to Vegas after next season. There are going to be some unholy acts, boycotts, and protests that take place if they still end up playing one final season at the Oakland Coliseum in their misery.