The 2023 Major League Baseball regular season is fast approaching. Spring training games are fun in their own way, though the novelty wears off quickly and I think we're all eager for meaningful MLB baseball. Justin Verlander in New York, Jacob deGrom in Texas, Trea Turner in Philadelphia, Xander Bogaerts in San Diego...there are a lot of faces in new places this season.
As always, each MLB team will face a different amount of pressure in 2023. Pressure is unquantifiable but you know it when you see it, and you definitely know it when you feel it. Some teams feel pressure to win. Others feel pressure to simply make progress and get out of the rebuilding phase. And other teams feel a different kind of pressure entirely.
With the 2023 season on the horizon, let's rank the 30 MLB teams based on the amount of pressure they feel to win this year's World Series.
30. Washington Nationals
29. Oakland Athletics
28. Cincinnati Reds
27. Kansas City Royals
26. Colorado Rockies
25. Pittsburgh Pirates
24. Detroit Tigers
23. Miami Marlins
These teams are in the rankings because we have to count to 30. Expectations are very low this season (except maybe inside the walls of Colorado's front office) and no one realistically expects a World Series run from these clubs. For them, a successful season involves taking steps toward contention, mostly by integrating young players into the lineup. Pressure to win the World Series? Nah, not at all. Pressure to make progress? Definitely.
22. Arizona Diamondbacks
21. Baltimore Orioles
Three teams improved by at least 20 wins from 2021 to 2022 and the D-Backs and O's are two of them (the third ranks No. 1 in these rankings). These are two up-and-coming clubs with a lot of young talent that, unfortunately for them, are stuck in divisions with several big spenders, making the path to contention difficult. I would have liked to see these two teams do more this offseason, particularly the Orioles, but they're heading in the right direction. If all goes according to plan, these teams will move up these rankings next year.
20. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are in a tier of their own. They get graded on a curve -- the Rays don't have to do much more than show up and spell their name correctly to be hailed as geniuses -- and are touted as a consistent winner even though the two most successful seasons in franchise history ended with a World Series loss. At some point Tampa has to win a title. I don't think the Rays feel much pressure to do it right now, but they should. The "look how smart we are!" act only lasts so long when the trophy case is empty.
19. Chicago Cubs
18. Chicago White Sox
It kinda of feels like the two Chicago teams are heading in opposite directions, no? The White Sox were AL Central favorites going into last season, then they fluttered to an 81-81 record. They followed that up with an underwhelming offseason. The Cubs went 74-88 last year, but they won 40 of their final 71 games, and they had a very active offseason. I don't think you can sign Dansby Swanson to a seven-year contract and not feel some pressure to win. As for the White Sox, they traded peak Chris Sale as part of the rebuild to get to where they are now, and the results have been a bit underwhelming. If anything, they should be higher.
17. Minnesota Twins
16. Milwaukee Brewers
15. Cleveland Guardians
We're now into the teams with legitimate pressure to win the 2023 World Series. In Minnesota's case, they just invested heavily in Carlos Correa and his questionable ankle, and so much of their core (Correa, Byron Buxton, Pablo López, Jorge Polanco, etc.) is right in that peak age range (28-31). The division is winnable, and we can't forget the Twins have an 18-game postseason losing streak. This is Year 7 of the Derek Falvey front office and it's fair to wonder whether his seat is getting a lot hot. Falvey & Co. were expected to have at least ended the postseason losing streak by now.
The Brewers traded Josh Hader last year and Willy Adames, Corbin Burnes, and Brandon Woodruff are all only two years away from free agency. Unless owner Mark Attanasio pushes payroll to a point it has never been, there's no way Milwaukee can keep everyone. Similarly, Shane Bieber is two years away from free agency with the Guardians, and José Ramírez is now in his 30s. The best chance for the Brewers and Guardians to win the World Series is with all those players on their roster and in their primes. How much longer will that be the case? The clock is ticking.
14. Texas Rangers
Give the Rangers credit, they are trying hard to get back into contention. They committed $500 million to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last offseason, then this offseason they brought in Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney to fortify the rotation. They're trying, which is more than you can say for a few teams in the league. Anyway, you don't spend this much money in free agency and not expect to win, so yeah, there's pressure on Texas. DeGrom turns 35 this summer and he will be the best pitcher in baseball (when healthy) only so much longer.
13. Houston Astros
It was difficult to place the Astros. On one hand, they just won the World Series, so it stands to reason there is less pressure to win a title this year. They've earned a grace period. On the other hand, Houston still has a prime-aged core built to win right now, and I'm sure the front office wants to validate the dynasty talk that is a bit too premature. There's no reason to think the Astros won't be among the best teams in baseball this summer, and when you're this good, you should be thinking title. Last year's championship does take a little pressure off though.
12. San Francisco Giants
Yeesh, what a terrible offseason for the Giants. They were rejected by Aaron Judge and they had Carlos Correa, agreed to a contract, scheduled a press conference, then flunked his physical. The end result is an 81-81 team that took a lot of smaller bites in the offseason (Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Ross Stripling, etc.). Attendance has dropped by roughly a million fans in the last six years. In that ballpark? It's unfathomable. The Giants certainly aren't in World Series or bust territory, but there's no doubt the pressure is beginning to ratchet up.
11. Seattle Mariners
At long last, the postseason drought is over. The Mariners reached the playoffs last year for the first time since Ichiro's rookie season, and their offseason was sensible more than flashy. Julio Rodríguez has arrived, Luis Castillo is here to stay, and the supporting cast is quite strong. Strong enough to take down the Astros in the AL West? Eh, I'm not sure about that. It's strong enough that Seattle should enter the season with the World Series as a goal though. Winning unexpectedly, which the Mariners kinda sorta did last season, is the easy part. Winning when you're expected to win is more challenging.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have had the talent to win the AL East the last two years, yet the whole has been less than the sum of the parts. In an effort to break through, they overhauled their lineup this winter and brought in several much-needed lefty bats (Brandon Belt and Daulton Varsho, most notably), and also overhauled Rogers Centre itself. With homegrown stars Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Alek Manoah firmly entrenched as core players, and some recent postseason disappointment leaving a bad taste in their mouths, there's pressure on this group to win. It's no longer about building for the future.
9. Boston Red Sox
Ben Cherington was fired in Year 4 of his tenure as GM. Dave Dombrowski was fired in Year 4 of his tenure as president of baseball operations. Chaim Bloom is now entering Year 4 of his tenure at the head of the team's baseball operations, and he doesn't have a World Series ring to hang his hat on like Cherington and Dombrowski. Perhaps the pressure is on Bloom more than the Red Sox, though I see them as one and the same. Red Sox Nation is deeply unhappy and there's really only one way to get back in the good graces of a fan base this dedicated, and that involves a duck boat parade in November.
8. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were a difficult team to place. Franchise icons Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols retired after last season, and Adam Wainwright will retire after this season, plus MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are in their 30s. It would seem St. Louis has pressure to win this year, and they do, but they also have so much young talent that their window figures to stay open another few years. Still, their best chance to win is right now, with Arenado and Goldschmidt performing like stars and others like Miles Mikolas and Jordan Montgomery still under team control. The Cardinals want to get Wainwright another ring and Arenado and Goldschmidt their first rings. Another division title and early postseason exit would be wholly unsatisfying.
7. Atlanta Braves
As a recent World Series champion with just about its entire core locked up long-term and affordably, the case can be made the Braves should be down these rankings a bit. Their window isn't closing anytime soon, you know? That's a very dangerous way to look at things though. Just ask the 2017-20 Cubs. Complacency is the enemy of progress and it only gets more difficult to win a championship with each passing year. Even with a core as good and as young as Atlanta's, the best opportunity to win will always be the current year. There's a legitimate opportunity for a dynasty here, but that opportunity can disappear sooner than you expect.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
It's a weird time for the Dodgers. They took a step back in the offseason and look more vulnerable now than they have at any point in the last 10 years, yet they remain good enough to contend for a postseason berth if not the NL West title. Incorporating young players like Miguel Vargas, Bobby Miller, and possibly Michael Busch into the roster is a priority in 2022. The Gavin Lux injury is a major blow, however. It seems the Dodgers are willing to take a step back this year to set themselves up better for 2023 and beyond. That said, Julio Urías is coming up on free agency, Clayton Kershaw is going year-to-year at this point in his career, and Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are in their primes. As long as that is the case, there's pressure to win this year.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
This one is pretty straightforward. The Phillies went to the World Series last year, lost in six games, and then handed Trea Turner an 11-year contract in hopes of getting over the hump this year. Philadelphia has sunk a lot of money into its roster and so many core players (Turner, Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Zack Wheeler) either are in their 30s now or will be by the end of the season. You don't go to the World Series with that core, add Turner, and then not expect to feel immense pressure to win the World Series. The Phillies are well aware of it and embrace it.
4. Los Angeles Angels
This ranking has as much to do with the pressure to win the World Series as it does the pressure to retain Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani has made it crystal clear he wants to play for a contender and there's no better way to prove you are a contender than winning the World Series. The Angels have the sport's longest postseason drought, so just getting into the tournament would be welcome, but I'm not sure that will be enough to retain the two-way superstar. And truth be told, it may be impossible to retain him. He might be heading elsewhere as a free agent no matter what the Angels do this season. The Halos have Ohtani now though, and of course they have the great Mike Trout. There's a lot of pressure on this club to win. Returning to the postseason would be a nice accomplishment, but it's small beans in the grand scheme of things.
3. New York Yankees
Aaron Judge has a brand new nine-year contract, Gerrit Cole and prized free agent addition Carlos Rodón are in their primes, and simply put, we're talking about the Yankees. There's always tremendous pressure to win the World Series. They've done it just once in the last 22 years and ownership is seemingly trying to distance itself from George Steinbrenner's World Series or bust mantra, but it still exists among the fan base. Cole, Judge, and Rodon (and Giancarlo Stanton) are all in their 30s now. This core only has so many peak years remaining. Bottom line, the Yankees didn't give Judge that contract without designs on winning a title. There's real pressure on this group to win the World Series and soon.
2. San Diego Padres
The Padres have shown "small market" is a mindset. At $275 million, San Diego has the third-highest competitive balance tax payroll in the sport, and the roster is loaded with superstars. Xander Bogaerts has a new 11-year contract. Manny Machado has a new 11-year extension. Fernando Tatis Jr. is coming back from his injuries and performance-enhancing drug suspension. Oh, and they have Juan Soto, who might be the best player of 'em all. Owner Peter Seidler deserves all the credit in the world for spending extravagantly in an effort to win the franchise's first ever World Series. Is this sustainable long-term? No, probably not, but why would you worry about sustainability when the present is so fun? With the spending comes pressure, that's the nature of the beast, and after getting to the NLCS last season, the pressure's on the Padres to get over the hump this year.
1. New York Mets
We needn't overthink this. The Mets have the highest payroll in baseball history by a mile -- they're on the hook for approximately $475 million between payroll and competitive balance tax in 2023 -- and with that payroll comes the expectation of a World Series championship. Winning 105 games, capturing the NL East title, and losing the NLCS in seven hard-fought games will not qualify as a successful season. Owner Steve Cohen wants a championship and spent accordingly. Now it's on the players, the coaching staff, and the front office to deliver it.