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8 major storylines in baseball for 2023

It’s January, which to most people means it’s time to start working on their New Year’s resolutions. For me, and baseball fans everywhere, January means something a little different. It means next month, baseball will be back.

Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training in a little more than a month for all 30 big league clubs. We will watch videos of pitchers throwing their first bullpen sessions of the spring and our ears will be graced with the pop of a catcher’s mitt. We will also be able to watch clips of batting practice and will hear the crack of the bat echo across a baseball field.


With a new season approaching, now is an appropriate time to look at what baseball fans should keep an eye on this season.

In 2022, we saw great moments. Aaron Judge broke the American League single-season home run record, the Houston Astros won the World Series, Albert Pujols became the fourth player to reach the 700 home run mark, and much more took place. For a more extended look at 2022, you can view the top moments from the year here.

As the focus now shifts to 2023, here is a list of what fans should be watching as the year progresses.


Rule Changes

A new year means new rules for Major League Baseball. The three rule changes being made in 2023 are the implementation of a pitch clock, a ban on defensive shifts, and bigger bases.

How these new rules will affect the game is still unknown, so it will interesting to see how players and teams adjust to them.

Pitch Clock:

Having a pitch clock is supposed to help speed up the game with the hopes of reducing how long the traditional 9-inning game takes.

Under this new rule, there are a number of minor penalties for not adhering to the timer for both the pitcher and batter. If the pitcher takes too long between pitches, a ball will be called. If the hitter isn’t ready to hit within the time limit, a strike will be called.

This is how the new pitch clock will work:

  • There will be a 30-second timer between batters.
  • During an at-bat, a pitcher will have 15 seconds between pitches to start their motion toward the plate, and 20 seconds with a runner, or runners, on base.
  • Pitchers are limited to a total of 2 disengagements (pickoff attempts or step-offs) per plate appearance.

There are additional details to the rule, but that is the main framework of the new pitch clock.

Defensive Alignment:

The banning of defensive shifts taking place in 2023 means we will no longer see three infielders on one side of second base against pull hitters. The reasoning behind this rule is to see more balls in play become base hits.

The new rule will work as follows:

  • A team’s defensive alignment must include two infielders in the infield on both sides of second base at all times.
  • Teams are not allowed to move infielders from one side of second base to the other between at-bats. For example, a shortstop is not allowed to switch positions with the second baseman for the duration of one hitter and then move back to the shortstop position after the at-bat.
  • Outfielders are allowed to be brought into the infield, but a team may not have more than three outfielders at a time.

Bases:

Bigger bases are also coming this year. Instead of being 15 inches square, bases will now be 18 inches square. The reason behind this rule change is simple. Major League Baseball hopes to see a reduction in the number of collisions between runners and fielders, especially at first base. There is also hope that there could be an increase in stolen base attempts.

These new rules should change the game in a positive way. Game times should decrease, the batting average on balls in play could increase, players should be safer, and we might see more action on the base paths.

It will be interesting to watch how these new rules affect baseball in 2023.


World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic is back and it should provide plenty of entertainment. There will be a large number of big leaguers participating in the WBC this year.

Rosters haven’t been made official, but there have already been a number of big leaguers to commit to playing for Team USA. The defending champions will have a roster that consists of Mike Trout, Trea Turner, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, and many more.

Superstar two-way player Shohei Ohtani will play for Team Japan. The current plan is for him to pitch and hit.

The tournament will begin on March 8th and run through March 21st as 20 teams compete to win it all.

There will be four locations that will host games during the WBC:

  • Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan
  • The Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan
  • Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona
  • LoanDepot Park in Miami, Florida.

The championship game is scheduled to take place at LoanDepot Park.

FOX Bet Sportsbook has released their odds for the World Baseball Classic and has Team USA as the current favorite.

The last World Baseball Classic took place in 2017. The 2021 tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will surely be a fun event to watch as the world’s best players, and teams, compete against each other.


The Mets

At the time of this writing, Carlos Correa is not officially a member of the New York Mets. On December 24th, Ken Rosenthal reported the Mets had concerns over Correa’s physical.

Prior to this news, it was reported Correa had agreed to a 12-year, $315 million contract with the Mets after his agreement with the San Francisco Giants fell through due to medical concerns the Giants had regarding Correa’s physical.

It is likely Correa and the Mets do eventually make his signing official. The previously agreed to contract will likely be restructured to include specific language that protects the Mets if Correa’s health precludes him from playing for an extended period of time over the course of the deal.

With no news to report regarding the contract for Correa, we are still under the assumption the deal will be worth $315 million. That would bring New York’s spending this offseason to above $800 million. Currently, they have a projected payroll of $384 million for the 2023 season.

The Mets did not have the finish to 2022 they had hoped for. They were unable to hold off the Braves in the divisional standings and were eliminated by the Padres in the Wild Card Series.

Steve Cohen, the Mets’ owner, flexed his financial muscles this offseason with his eyes on bringing a championship to Queens. It will not be easy, though. A number of teams have improved their rosters this offseason, especially in the National League.

All eyes will be on the New York Mets this year, and anything short of winning the World Series is likely to be labeled a disappointment.


Aaron Judge

Coming off one the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen, Aaron Judge will look to lead to New York Yankees to a World Series title in 2023.

The Yankees’ new captain signed a 9-year, $360 million contract in December to remain a member of the team that drafted him.

In 2022, Aaron Judge broke Roger Maris‘ long-standing single-season home run record in the American League with 62 home runs. Alongside his impressive home run total, Judge led the majors in bWAR (10.6), on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.686), runs (133), total bases (391), extra-base hits (90), and OPS+ (211). He was tied with Pete Alonso for the lead in RBIs (131).

How Judge performs this year will be watched closely. He is going to be the best player the Yankees have. When he is performing at his best, so are the Yankees.

Judge will be looking to be the first player since 2013 to win back-to-back MVP Awards. Miguel Cabrera won the award in the A.L. in 2012 and 2013.

It is more likely than not that Aaron Judge will never have the type of season he had in 2022 ever again. As the baseball world looks to see if Judge can live up to the legacy of the other captains in Yankees’ history, it will interesting to see if he can prove he’s worth the $40 million a year the front office spent on him.


Shohei Ohtani’s Contract

If it weren’t for Aaron Judge’s historic year, Shohei Ohtani would have been the American League’s MVP in 2022. As a hitter, he posted a .273/.356/.519 slash line with 34 home runs and a 145 OPS+. On the mound, Ohtani pitched 166.0 innings, with a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 28 starts.

It is clear that Ohtani is the most talented player in baseball right now. Not only is he one of the game’s best hitters, but he is also one of the game’s best pitchers. Since we have never seen a player like him, there is no real way to evaluate his value.

The Angels agreed to terms with Ohtani back in October on a 1-year, $30 million contract for 2023. He is scheduled to become a free agent after the season. It is safe to say he is worth more than $30 million a year.

In late August, it was reported current Angels’ owner Arte Moreno was looking at possibly selling the team, which could hand over the responsibilities of what to do about Ohtani’s future to new ownership.

There have been discussions about Los Angeles possibly trading Ohtani, but the Angels want to win with both him and Mike Trout on their roster. Also, since Ohtani is a one-of-a-kind player, there is no real outline of what a possible trade for the Japanese-born superstar would look like. The price for trading for Ohtani could be too steep for any front office to meet.

When it comes to a new contract for Ohtani, the overall total and annual average value could be record-breaking. Currently, the largest contract in the history of Major League Baseball belongs to his teammate, Mike Trout.

The total value of Trout’s current 12-year contract is $426.5 million.

Ohtani will be 29 entering 2024. A 12-year deal for Ohtani would make sense as it would bring him to the age of 41.

This winter, Aaron Judge signed a deal that would bring him into his age-40 season. Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts also signed contracts that would bring them into their early 40s.

If Ohtani wanted to sign a deal for more than Trout, and more than the $40 million a year Aaron Judge received, a 12-year, $500 million contract would do the trick. That contract would have an annual average value of $41.67 million.

Not only will baseball fans be keeping a close eye on the future of Shohei Ohtani, but the sports world will be watching as well. He could be in line to sign one of the largest contracts ever given to a professional athlete.


Manny Machado’s Decision

Staying on the topic of contracts, Manny Machado has a big decision to make after the 2023 season. There is an opt-out clause in his current contract after this year.

Prior to the 2019 season, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Padres look to be one of the National League’s best teams this year and beyond.

Fernando Tatis Jr., who signed a 14-year, $340 million contract before the 2021 season, will be back this year after suffering an injury and being suspended for PED usage last year. Xander Bogaerts just signed a lengthy 12-year contract to join the Padres. They also have Juan Soto under club control through the end of the 2024 season.

With Tatis Jr. and Bogaerts in San Diego for the long haul, the Padres are already set up for the possible departure of their All-Star third baseman.

After 2023, there are 5 years and $150 million remaining on Machado’s contract. He will be 31 next off-season. With how the market shaped up this winter for infielders entering their early 30s, Machado could easily get more than $150 million on the free agent market.

Trea Turner, who is 29, signed an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Phillies. Machado’s new teammate Xander Bogaerts, 30, signed a 12-year, $280 million contract.

Machado put together a great campaign in 2022 as he finished second in N.L. MVP voting. The 6-time All-Star hit .298/.366/.531 with 32 home runs and a 159 OPS+. His 6.8 bWAR was 4th in the N.L.

It is obvious that if Machado were to opt out, he could be looking at signing another $300 million contract. He could also look at signing an extension with the Padres.

Either way, baseball fans should keep their eyes on how Machado performs this year. He could be the second-best available free agent next winter behind Shohei Ohtani.


Playoff Droughts

In 2022, we saw baseball’s two longest playoff droughts come to an end. The Phillies ended their 11-year postseason drought and the Mariners made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

These are the current longest playoff droughts entering 2023:

  • Los Angeles Angels, 8 years
  • Detroit Tigers, 8 years
  • Pittsburgh Pirates, 7 years
  • Kansas City Royals, 7 years
  • Baltimore Orioles, 6 years
  • Texas Rangers, 6 years
  • Arizona Diamondbacks, 5 years

The Tigers, Pirates, and Royals are all in the middle of rebuilds, so they are likely to extend their droughts this year.

The Angels have been trying to win with their two superstars, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, for the last few years.

The Orioles were very close to making the postseason in 2022 as they finished 3.0 games behind the Rays for the final Wild Card spot in the American League.

The Rangers have made headlines the last two offseasons with the additions of Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jacob deGrom.

The Diamondbacks have a good young core of players, especially in the outfield. Arizona also has a good one-two punch at the top of their rotation in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.

With the recent expansion of the playoffs, it is slightly easier to make the postseason. Fans should watch the standings throughout the year to see if there are any teams that will end their extended absence from postseason play.


Offense

One final thing to watch in 2023 is the offense. In a year where Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs and broke the A.L.’s single-season home run record, offense as a whole was down in 2022.

The average runs per game in 2022 (4.28) was the lowest since 2015. Home runs, total bases, and slugging percentage were also down when compared to previous seasons.

The average for home runs per game (1.07) was the lowest since 2015. League average slugging percentage (.395) and total bases (13.28) per game were the lowest since 2014.

In an attempt to ensure all baseballs used in games were the same, Major League Baseball instituted a rule last year that all ballparks store game balls in a humidor prior to being used. In the first year of this new rule, which is a small sample size, offense was down.

Over the years, Major League Baseball has been accused of altering baseballs between seasons without letting teams and players know. They have always been adamant that they have not changed the baseballs from year to year.

Studies have been done on this topic in recent years. The results of these studies have shown that baseballs have been different from year to year. With less offense around the league, Major League Baseball could decide to change their baseballs once again in 2023.

Offense could also change this year due to the banning of certain defensive shifts. Teams will only be allowed to have two infielders on either side of second base and will not be allowed to have more than three outfielders in the outfield.

How this affects offense is yet to be seen. It will likely increase the total amount of hits per game.

Teams, players, and fans everywhere should keep an eye on offensive production as the 2023 season progresses.


Now that the calendar has flipped to 2023, there is a multitude of things for baseball fans to watch this season.

There are new rules. The World Baseball Classic is back. Steve Cohen is paying a lot of money for the Mets’ roster. Aaron Judge is looking to lead the Yankees to the promised land. Shohei Ohtani could sign a massive contract. Manny Machado could opt out of his contract. Playoff droughts could end. After a down year, what does offense look like in 2023?

It’s a new year, and there’s a lot to be excited about.

Baseball is almost back.


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Featured Photo: Twitter / @Yankees

Bailey Digh

As a life long baseball fan, I enjoy not only watching and writing about my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, but also like writing about the game as a whole.

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