As the 2021 Mets, Cardinals and Padres can all tell you, making a big offseason move doesn’t guarantee you the top spot in the division standings.
But that won't stop fans from clamoring for awe-inspiring acquisitions or teams from looking for ways to meaningfully improve in the upcoming winter. The Hot Stove might seem far away at the moment, but it won’t be long before we’re connecting dots and spreading rumors again.
The pact we'll all be tracking is the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires after this season. But once the 2021-22 offseason gets going in earnest, these are six clubs -- one from each division -- capable of making a splash.
Some are obvious, and some -- in the spirit of the always surprising Hot Stove -- are wild cards.
AL East: Blue Jays
In the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox are always capable of doing something significant (subject to their tolerance of the luxury-tax threshold). The Rays are always capable of shaking up the winter due to their willingness to shake up their squad. And one of these years, the Orioles will deem themselves ready to turn the corner.
But the Blue Jays are in an interesting situation only amplified by the in-season addition of José Berríos, who is a free agent after 2022. Their roster is going to get a lot more expensive in a hurry beginning in 2023, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and others reach salary arbitration. In the meantime, though, Toronto projects to have a 2022 payroll of about $120 million, still well south of the '17 peak of around $163 million, per Cot's Contracts.
The Blue Jays' 2021 season has been frustrating, in no small part because of the difficulty of keeping George Springer on the field. Perhaps, as a result, Toronto will shy away from a similarly big-ticket acquisition this winter. But this club is awfully close to being capable of winning the loaded East. And whether it's re-signing Robbie Ray after his late-season leap into the AL Cy Young conversation or delving elsewhere into the pitching market, the Jays should have the means and motivation to do something bold.
NL East: Marlins
There will be no shortage of intrigue in the NL East as its clubs navigate the aftermath of a strange 2021 in which none of them performed to internal expectations. Big questions loom. Will the Braves do much beyond re-signing Freddie Freeman? Will the Mets shy away from a splash given how poorly the Francisco Lindor era has begun? Are the Nationals ready to dive back into aggressive acquisitions so soon after dismantling the 2021 club? Do the Phillies have the financial flexibility to address their concerns?
Against this backdrop, the Marlins are sneaky interesting. No, they're probably not ready to vie for the East title. But they do have the seeds of a competitive club. They've methodically assembled a load of young, cost-controlled starting pitching (Edward Cabrera, the No. 30 prospect in the game per MLB Pipeline, debuted last week), and that could give them the capability to make impact additions elsewhere on the roster.