This year's MLB playoff format will include the largest field ever for a full season, with 12 of the 30 teams (40%) retaining title hopes. For the other 60%, the start of the 2022 postseason means the start of the offseason.
For these 18 clubs, the focus is now on 2023 and beyond. And as they chart a course that they hope will get them into the top 40%, it begins with one key question. It's one of many to be asked, of course, but all journeys must begin with the choosing of a direction.
Here is the key question each non-playoff team will be -- or at least should be -- asking in the days to come. (Note: Our initial list has 15 teams on it; we'll add more as they are officially eliminated.)
Arizona Diamondbacks: How close are we?
Maybe Arizona needs another season as a proof of concept, but under new pitching coach Brent Strom, the formerly pitching-deprived Diamondbacks seem to have miraculously become a potential run-prevention juggernaut. They aren't there yet, to be sure, but the development of Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen into an elite one-two rotation punch is a great foundation on which to build. The team defense was outstanding as well. How much of all this was real, and how much was a blip? If it was real, the Diamondbacks would appear to be one or two big hitters away from making a run at a wild-card spot next season. We'll get a solid indication of how Arizona views its run-prevention gains by the way it approaches this winter on the hitting side.
Boston Red Sox: Is our long-term future going to include Devers, Bogaerts, both or neither?
Boston GM Chaim Bloom has already said the Red Sox are ready to spend big, claiming that now they have the minor league depth to make that kind of strategy plausible. The thinking is the Red Sox can take on some big contracts now, while filling the gaps on the roster with talented young players who won't eat up a lot of payroll. But the key question is whether or not that means starting that spending spree by keeping their current franchise cornerstones in place. Xander Bogaerts is almost certainly going to opt out and hit free agency. The Red Sox could re-sign him, but they'll have to pay what the market bears. The contingency is in place, as Boston will have Trevor Story back, but he's coming off a couple of so-so seasons. Rafael Devers is headed toward a walk season in 2023 unless an extension can be inked, and if it can't, then the trade rumors will start flying. The Red Sox should have money to spend this winter, but in order to know where to focus that spending, Boston will have reach some kind of resolutions for Bogaerts and Devers.
Chicago Cubs: We say we're ready to spend, but is there enough of a youthful foundation to make that pay off?
In some ways, the Cubs have already signaled that they think the answer to the above question is yes. But what is that future core? And how many prospects can they count on in the short term to fill the gaps if the Cubs really do amp up the payroll? Well, while the Cubs are an economic giant that can spend big to fill roster gaps, perhaps the biggest reason to hope for a quick turnaround is not necessarily a group of players but a systems upgrade. The Cubs have spent much of this season touting their improved developmental processes on the pitching side, as evidenced by the rise of young starters such as Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski. If the Cubs think they are ready to replicate those successes going forward, then the strategy becomes clear: Go big this winter on free agent bats.
Chicago White Sox: How can we improve our depth?
The top-of-the-roster talent on the South Side remains excellent. That's true even though the production and availability of a lot of the players we count among those impact talents fell short in 2022. At this point, Chicago has little choice but to bank on rebound seasons from Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Lucas Giolito, et al. Some of them need to play better. Some of them need to be more durable. Some need to do both. If that doesn't happen collectively, then the depth question will hardly matter. Even if the bounce-backs happen, the White Sox will need to figure out how to create better depth in support of that top tier of talent, especially as the minor league system does not seem poised to solve this problem internally.