None of the top eight MLB teams in terms of 2023 payroll are in the World Series this year, though the Texas Rangers still rank ninth - you can never entirely escape a high-payroll team this time of year.
But the Arizona Diamondbacks, who defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies on their way to the World Series, rank 21st in payroll.
And even as teams are slugging their way to the World Series these days, which presents its own set of issues for the Cleveland Guardians, seeing a team like the Diamondbacks make it gives the Guardians plenty of reasons to believe they can do the same thing next year.
A Look at the 2023 Diamondbacks and How They Made the World Series
The Diamondbacks had a team ERA of 4.48, good for 20th in MLB. Offensively, Arizona hit .250 (the same as Cleveland) with a collective wRC+ of 97. They weren't exactly a power-packed offense, either, hitting just 166 home runs for the year. That ranked 22nd in baseball - and was still 42 more than Cleveland.
The fact is, the Diamondbacks are simply putting it all together at the exact right time. They were under .500 as late as August 12 and lost their final four games of the regular season, sneaking into the postseason as the final wild-card team, just a game ahead of the Chicago Cubs. Oh yeah, and the Diamondbacks finished with a -15 run differential. But once the playoffs came, they just... clicked.
It's about as improbable run as you'll ever see in baseball's playoff format. But Arizona provides something of a blueprint for the Guardians this offseason if they want to turn things around quickly. For starters, outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is a free agent this offseason and is a prime Cleveland target. Gurriel, 30, is the perfect veteran bat for the Guardians lineup; Arizona peppered just enough of them throughout the roster.
But the Diamondbacks also have an exciting young core, anchored by NL Rookie of the Year candidate Corbin Carroll (23), Gabriel Moreno (23), and Geraldo Perdomo (24), with guys like Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Dominic Fletcher figuring to play bigger roles moving forward.
And Arizona has that perfect infusion of veteran talent to buoy the team. Gurriel has been mentioned already, but Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, and Tommy Pham - along with plenty of vets on the pitching staff, including 35-year-old Merrill Kelly and 33-year-old closer Paul Sewald - provide the perfect balance.
Heading into next year, Cleveland certainly seems to have the edge in terms of pitching, but the Guardians should no doubt take a page out of Arizona's book when it comes to constructing the lineup. They need to find multiple veteran bats, much like they tried to do with Josh Bell and Mike Zunino this year - but they're going to need far, far better results.
The Guardians will have another infusion of young talent in 2024, but it'll be the acquisition of multiple veterans - for both the lineup and pitching staff - that will propel this team. If it doesn't work out, well, it'll come at very little cost. But the payoff could be another October to remember.