When my first official MLB power rankings are posted just before the 2020 season starts, it’ll begin my eighth consecutive year of working on them throughout a full baseball season.
I normally start with my first post coming just days before the season starts. However, early this month MLB.com posted its initial look at the upcoming season and I thought to myself, why not now?
So here are my offseason rankings. The rankings come after many of the 30 teams have completed their heaviest lifting. Sure, plenty more additions are left to come. But below you’ll get a glimpse into my rankings as I see them in late January. Instead of doing a short blurb on all 30 teams — like I will do in my first official power rankings — I have instead decided to give you a glimpse of my preliminary power rankings and most improved teams (in bold).
- New York Yankees
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Minnesota Twins
- Atlanta Braves
- Houston Astros
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Washington Nationals
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Cincinnati Reds
- New York Mets
- Chicago White Sox
- Oakland Athletics
- Cleveland Indians
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Texas Rangers
- Boston Red Sox
- Chicago Cubs
- Los Angeles Angels
- San Diego Padres
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Miami Marlins
- Seattle Mariners
- Kansas City Royals
- Colorado Rockies
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- San Francisco Giants
- Detroit Tigers
- Baltimore Orioles
Let’s start by talking about the reigning World Series champion Nationals. They failed to make my most improved teams list but not based on the loss of Anthony Rendon. No, GM Mike Rizzo pivoted quickly after the loss of Rendon and the likelihood that he had lost out on Josh Donaldson to play the hot corner. He added Asdrubal Cabrera — mostly a third baseman in 2018 and 2019 — as well as Starlin Castro and Eric Thames to bolster manager Dave Martinez’s options and depth.
Rather, the reason the Nats are not among the most improved teams has more to do with my cynicism and worry about whether ace right-hander Max Scherer will be ready to be Max Scherer and shoulder the 200-plus innings they’ll need from him. If he is able to do so, the Nats stand an excellent chance to be right there in the thick of things all summer and fall.
There are a few other teams that get honorable mention for my most improved list, like the Mets, Phillies and Marlins. But they’ll have to show more before I go out on a limb for them. Here are my most improved teams:
No. 1 New York Yankees (103-59 last year)
They were pretty darned good last season, and now they add two starting pitchers to the rotation. Gerrit Cole is finally a Yankee, and he figures to add length, stability and luster to a group that was lacking in all three areas for large chunks of the 2019 season. Luis Severino is back in full after throwing just 12 big-league innings last year. He went 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 191 innings in 2018.
And let’s not forget James Paxton, in his first year in pinstripes, had a bit of a bumpy and injured ride last year (15-6, 3.92 ERA). But let’s not for a minute forget that in Paxton’s last seven starts, spanning 37.1 innings, the team went 7-0 and Paxton 6-0. His ERA was 1.69 and his WHIP a scintillating 0.83.
That’s some big three, and it’s something the 2019 Yankees never had in place.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
The Rays had a mighty impressive big three when they showed up for spring training in 2019. They had picked up Charlie Morton as a free agent to lend a veteran presence to a burgeoning rotation with young star hurlers Tyler Glasnow and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
But Glasnow and Snell combined to toss just 167.1 innings during the 2019 season. When Glasnow left the mound injured against the Yankees May 10, had six wins and a 1.86 ERA. Glasnow threw just 12.1 regular-season innings the rest of the year in a September comeback. Snell, who went 21-5 in 180 IP in 2018, threw just 107 innings and limped to a 6-8 record in 2019.
With Morton, Glasnow and Snell lined up and healthy, the Rays could be a formidable bunch to handle in 2020 — and not just on the mound. Young hitters such as Willy Adams, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows are all capable of improving, and the addition at some point of stud prospect Wander Franco will help as well. The Rays also added free-agent infielder and Japanese star Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and power-hitting oufielder Hunter Renfroe to the lineup.
No. 3 Minnesota Twins (101-61)
This is a team that hit 307 home runs in 2019, a single-season record. Add to that new third baseman Josh Donaldson (37 home runs and 94 RBIs) and factor in Miguel Sano, who’ll move to first base after slugging 34 homers in just 469 at-bats last year. So Donaldson and Sano are quite capable of both hitting 40-plus homers in 2020, which will more than make up for the subtractions of Jonathan Schoop (23) and C.J. Cron (25).
But where Donaldson and a healthy Sano help is in overall run production potential. Schoop (.304 OBP in 2019) and Cron (.311) weren’t guys who got on base. Donaldson (.379) and Sano (.346) are much more frequent visitors to the base paths.
Where the Twins need help is in the starting rotation. They return Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, and the club did sign two starting pitching depth pieces in free agents Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. They’ll also get Michael Pineda back on a new contract, but Pineda will have to miss about 40 more games based on his 60-game suspension that was handed down in early September 2019 for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Hill’s story is a bit different, as he comes back from a new less severe version of Tommy John surgery, known as “primary and revision surgery.” He is due back in June. The Twins will maul some bad teams, but how they fill out the rotation until Pineda and Hill are fully back is problematic.
No. 9 Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77)
The D-Backs just made a terrific deal with the Pirates for Starling Marte, who they’ll plug into center field. That’ll allow new superstar Ketel Marte to move to second base. Starling Marte joins catcher Stephen Vogt and outfielder Kole Calhoun, both of whom all add a little veteran savvy to the roster, as additions to the lineup.
The pitching staff has made one whopper of a free agent signing: Madison Bumgarner, the legendary lefty from division rival San Francisco. Bumgarner takes the rotation up a significant notch. He joins the team’s young duo from a year ago, Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver. Merrill Kelly, Mike Leake and Robbie Ray round out a solid rotation.
GM Mike Hazen has done a very solid job of adding to an already decent roster, especially at a time when the Dodgers mostly sat tight. Not hard to see the D-Backs winning in the mid-90s and stealing the division from the Dodgers.
No. 10 Cincinnati Reds (75-87)
As manager David Bell starts his second season, team president Dick Williams and GM Nick Krall have done a nice job positioning the Reds to be a very dangerous team to not just make the playoffs but one very capable of sneaking past the Brewers and Cubs and taking dead aim at the Cardinals, who won the NL Central last year.
Before we take on the significant add-ons this offseason, let’s not forget the trade the Reds pulled off with the Indians and Padres at the deadline late last July, the one that brought them pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer joins the trio of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Anthony DeSclafani, who combined to start 94 games for the Reds last year. Wade Miley, who had a great season with the Astros until a bad roll in September, figures to be a solid No. 5 guy at the end of the rotation.
This offseason, the Reds have added Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos, both of whom got four years and $64 million. Moustakas will nail down second, and Castellanos will hit wherever he can be hidden. Also added to the mix is the Reds’ first-ever Japanese signing, outfielder Shogo Akiyama. Let’s not forget the Reds also get a full year of rookie sensation Aristides Aquino.
There is so much talent on this squad that the fallout after signing Castellanos could include the Reds looking to shop outfielder Nick Senzel, their best prospect the past two years.
No. 12 Chicago White Sox (72-89)
We’ve heard for years what a great manager Rich Renteria would make. Well, he made it only through one season with the Cubs (73-89 in 2014). After a two-year hiatus from managing, he was hired to manage the White Sox for GM Rick Hahn. To date, Renteria’s record for the Sox is just 201-284.
So with all the money the club has been allowed to spend, the bull’s-eye will be squarely on Renteria’s back to get the club heading in the right direction — at a minimum getting over .500.
After signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a big four-year, $73 million contract, the Sox then worked out a three-year, $50 million deal with veteran first baseman Jose Abreu. But that was simply Hahn’s opening salvo. He followed those two big deals by adding outfielder Nomar Mazara, whom he picked up via a trade with Texas. Hahn then added longtime slugger Edwin Encarnacion (one year, $12 million) and veteran lefties Dallas Keuchel (three years, $55 million) and Gio Gonzalez (one year, $5 million).
The question here will be if there is enough starting pitching. The answer is probably not, because two key pitchers are coming back from Tommy John surgery: Michael Kopech (acquired in the Chris Sale trade) and Carlos Rodon. Kopech might be back sometime in June, and Rodon might not be back until after the All-Star break.
Will Keuchel, Gonzalez, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez be enough early on? If Giolito is the real deal, the answer could be in the affirmative.