Is baseball on the horizon? If all goes as planned, which is a major if, the Nationals will host the Yankees on July 23rd, and from there, the goal is to have an exhilarating 60-game season. This won’t be a normal season by any means, but as the great Al Michaels once said, “fantasyland is where baseball comes from anyways”.
Today, I’ll be handing out win total projections for each team, which come directly from my self-created model. For more information about how this model was created, I recommend getting introduced to Value Above Average (VOA), and how it can be used to project team win totals. In a 60-game season, there will be randomness, and that’s without mentioning the likely health difficulties both from COVID-19 and from the long layoff. Therefore, rather than going in depth with every division, we’ll group the entire American League together, and will follow that up with projections for the National League, as well as award and playoff predictions.
#1: New York Yankees
Had the pandemic not delayed the start of the season, then the Yankees’ hold on the AL East would’ve been in jeopardy; Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton, and Aaron Hicks would’ve been among the players that would’ve missed the first month+ of the season. Yet, here we are at the end of the July, and outside of Aroldis Chapman (positive for COVID-19), health is no longer a major concern. Offensively, a lot of their production is reliant on their ability to hit for power, but as long as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are able to anchor a deep lineup, I have no doubts that they’ll continue to be a force to be reckoned with; they’ll be able to combat some of the potential regression from their over-achievers last season.
Although this may be controversial, the Yankees will complement their powerful offense with the true strength of their team- their pitching. Gerrit Cole is the clear ace of the pitching staff, and he should be considered a front runner to win the AL Cy Young award. However, he’s far from the only reliable arm they have in the rotation. Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka project to solid pieces, and behind them, JA Happ, Jonathan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga all offer levels of intrigue, and the same can be said of their abundance pitching prospects. Nevertheless, they really only need the top-three pitchers to live up to expectations, considering how dominant their bullpen should be. Even if Chapman isn’t ready for the beginning of the season, there is plenty of depth behind him, and with that depth, I wouldn’t be shocked if they utilize their bullpen heavily (openers, bullpen games) to overcome the uncertainty surrounding the back-end of their rotation.
The Yankees aren’t a super nimble team, so they won’t provide much when it comes to defense or base running. However, they don’t need to. They’re going to hit a lot of home runs and are going to strike out a lot of hitters, and when you’re doing that, you’re going to win a lot of games. This is a deep roster filled with depth and star talent, and even if they succumb to the randomness of this 60-game season, they’re in position to be a powerhouse in 2021- getting back frontline starter Luis Severino next season is isn’t discussed enough.
#2: Tampa Bay Rays
With a deep roster filled with platoon options, the Rays are going to leverage every possible advantage they can. This is precisely what a small-market team should be doing, and in a full season, they may have been able to take down the injured Yankees. Alas, New York is now fully healthy, so it’s likely that Tampa Bay remains “little brother” for another season.
When discussing the Rays, it all starts with their pitching. The trio of Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow in their rotation rivals almost any other trio, but they also have the luxury of having other above-average starting pitchers, such as Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, and Brendan McKay. In a season in which teams may be forced to “piggyback” starters, Tampa is well-suited from that regard, especially with their bullpen. They currently have seven pitchers projected to pitch meaningful innings for them with a FIP below 4.00, and they have a perfect blend of lefties and righties to mix and match an opposing team’s lineup. Add in the extra boost their run-prevention efforts will get from their excellent defense, and it’s clear they’re very capable of limiting any offense.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, I’m not sure they have enough offensive thump to win this division. Sure, leveraging what you can from employing several platoons is nice, but even with that extra-level of production, Austin Meadows may be the only position player they can count on to be an above-average offensive producer; considering he just tested positive for COVID-19, that’s a major concern. Trading Tommy Pham made sense for long-term implications, but his presence at the top of their lineup will definitely be missed.
Versatility, depth, and platoons- the Rays know how to win within the margins better than any team in the sport, which is why they’re able to win 90+ games consistently in an ultra-competitive position. In a short season, there’s a legitimate chance they can sneak their way to the top of this division, especially with six games against the Marlins (Yankees have six games versus the Mets). Nevertheless, I’m not sure they have enough star talent to compete with New York, which, unfortunately, wouldn’t be a new development for them.
#3: Boston Red Sox
After winning the World Series in 2018, the Red Sox fell into the same trap that most teams who accomplish that feat succumb to- they decided to “bring the band back together”, and sat on their laurels. The result was a missed playoff appearance in 2019, and with Chaim Bloom taking over as Chief Baseball Officer, he moved quickly to improve their long-term health- he traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers. As a result, Boston projects to be an average team this season.
Whereas the Yankees and Rays have one-dimensional lineups when it comes to offense and defense, the Red Sox project to rank in the top ten in both areas. Ironically, their top-three position players (Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and JD Martinez) all aren’t known for their defense, but each project to be strong offensively. Then, there’s a collection of “solid players” who are balanced offensively and defensively (Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Verdugo, Christian Vazquez), and if any of them over-achieve expectations, then Boston could possibly challenge for a spot as a top-five offense. At the same time, though, the right side of their infield doesn’t look pretty on paper, which correlates the idea that this is a top-heavy roster.
With Chris Sale undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox aren’t going to be able to supplement their offense with strong pitching. Although many claim the team doesn’t have an adequate bullpen, they actually have some strong options, headlined by Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Josh Taylor. However, outside of Eduardo Rodriguez, the rotation is a major issue. Nathan Eovaldi barely pitched last season, and he’ll be their #2 starting pitcher. Plus, while I believe in the possibility of a Martin Perez breakout season, he’s far from a sure thing to produce, and the same can be said about Ryan Weber, Matt Hall, Collin McHugh, and Zack Godley. If a couple of those pitchers can catch on, then Boston may be able to have a capable pitching staff, but I have my doubts.
As previously constructed, the Red Sox were way too reliant on a few star players, and Bloom has taken a step in the right direction, adding a lot of depth. However, there is only so much he can accomplish in one offseason, and, as a result, this appears to be an organization caught in the middle. Moving forward, I’m confident Bloom can lead them to prominence, but despite the upside of their position player-core, a .500 season appears to be a reasonable expectation for them this season.
#4: Toronto Blue Jays
Let the kids play! That’s what the Blue Jays intended to do this season, and with an exciting young infield core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette, they were, and still are, one of the most exciting teams. Will that translate to wins? Not enough to make the playoffs, but I expect a noticeable improvement from their .414 winning percentage in 2019.
Although most projections believe Bichette will have the best season of the three youngsters (shall we call them the three musketeers?), it’s the other two that garner much more optimism for me. Biggio’s plate discipline gives him an extremely high floor, and I believe there is more power to tap into. The same is true for Guerrero Jr., who performed fine in his rookie season after a slow start, especially if he can drastically decrease his ground-ball rate. Besides those three, Danny Jansen is clearly the other young player for them to build around as an all-around catcher, while Travis Shaw and Randal Grichuk will be looking to bounce back from poor 2019 campaigns. I have some concerns about the lineup’s plate discipline and reliability, yet they definitely shouldn’t be as poor offensively as they were a year ago.
Speaking of their issues last season, the Blue Jays were forced to shuffle through pitchers constantly, and the results weren’t pretty. However, they’ve completely re-constructed their pitching staff, so they should be better in 2020. I wasn’t a fan of any of their acquisitions (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson), but they should represent an upgrade from their rotation a year ago, while Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton, and prospect Anthony Kay are lottery tickets with some untapped potential. The elephant in the room is Nate Pearson, who is my top-ranked pitching prospect with incredible strikeout ability. Yet, it’s unclear if he’ll pitch for the big-league team this season, nor is it clear what the layoff will do for a pitcher who hasn’t yet been asked to pitch a substantial amount of innings. As for the bullpen, Ken Giles will close games for them, and that’s about all that we know- they have a lot of unknown commodities that they’re hoping can be on the right side of the spectrum when it comes to the volatility of relievers.
By next season, I could see the Blue Jays competing for a playoff spot. That’s all dependent on their young players developing, however, so they’re certainly a tea, that is affected more than others in a short season. Better plate discipline and impact pitching will be needed for them to prosper, though, in a short season, I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible that the upside of their young players outweighs their lack of depth.
#5: Baltimore Orioles
Believe it or not, but the Orioles actually didn’t have the worst record in the MLB, or even the AL last season. This season, though, my money is on them securing the #1 overall pick; they rank last in offense and pitching.
It’s unclear what looks to be less brutal on paper for Baltimore- their offense or their pitching. Let’s start with the lineup, which doesn’t contain one player that is projected to be worth a positive amount of offensive runs, which is far from ideal. At the very least, young players like Austin Hays, Ryan Moutcastle, and Chance Sisco will have an opportunity to play, but none project as bug-league regulars, while Hanser Alberto, Jose Iglesias, Rio Ruiz, DJ Stewart, Anthony Santander, and Renato Nunez are all very limited players. Is this the year Chris Davis turns it around? We already know the answer to that question, but one can hope, right?
Not only do the Orioles not have one hitter projected to be a positive offensive producer, but all their pitchers are expected to have FIPs over 5.00. Regression for John Means could be harsh considering his 3.60 ERA didn’t match up at all with his 5.48 xFIP, and he’s the best pitcher they have. This is not a pitching staff that’s going to miss many bats, which is a problem in a very powerful division. At least, that’s the case with the rotation, as the bullpen is far from hopeless. Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey, Tanner Scott, and Paul Fry may be the best four players on their team, so, on the rare occasion that they have a lead, they should be able to keep it.
Baltimore’s front office, led by Mike Elias, clearly did not build this roster to win games in 2020, but, rather, to position themselves for a high draft pick, following the Astros model. In a few years, the hope has to be that Adley Rutschman will be leading a contender catching Grayson Rodriguez and a Vanderbilt pitcher. As far as this season is concerned, however, they may be the team least affected by a shortened season.
#1: Minnesota Twins
If you like home runs, I’d recommend watching the Twins- they hit plenty of them. While the “bomba squad” is known for their slugging ability, they’re far from a one-dimensional team, and in a full season, I believe they would’ve won over 100 games.
The Twins broke the record for the most home runs in a season last year, yet, it doesn’t feel like the offense reached its potential. After all, Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano all missed some time due to injuries, while Luis Arraez and Mitch Garver will receive much more playing time this season. Therefore, they may improve naturally, and that’s before compensating for them adding Josh Donaldson. The 34-year-old third baseman is coming off of a sensational season with the Braves, improves the team’s defense dramatically, and adds another potent force to their lineup. There are no easy outs when it comes to this lineup.
Meanwhile, Minnesota quietly has also built a strong pitching staff. Sure, they may not have the high-end “ace” to draw headlines, but they have 9+ starting pitchers who are more than capable of holding their own. A breakout year from Jose Berrios, or a retention of success from Jake Odorizzi or Homer Bailey (second half) would be huge, but it’s their acquisitions of Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill that have me optimistic of this staff. Plus, Michael Pineda, Luis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak, and Devin Smeltzer all add valuable depth.
They’re also deep with arms in their bullpen, especially if players like Matt Wisler, Thorpe, and Cody Stashak maximize on their potential. They have a nice blend of strikeout-inducing over-the-top arms (Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May) and soft-contact inducers (Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard); plus, whoever doesn’t make their rotation can be used to pitch meaningful innings as well.
Although they were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS last season, the Twins had a very successful season, and I expect their progress to continue into 2020. Not only are they the leading candidate to lead the league in home runs, but they have a very underrated pitching staff when it comes to depth, and also have the position player quantity to handle the quirkiness of this season. Add in the fact that they have the easiest schedule in the majors, and it should surprise nobody if they were to get the top seed in the AL.
#2: Cleveland Indians
They may have not made the playoffs, but the Indians had one of the most quiet 93-win seasons I’ve ever seen last year, and after they didn’t look to upgrade their roster this past offseason, they remain a very under-the-radar team heading into this season. Although they have some tremendous flaws, they’re strong enough in certain areas to compete for a playoff spot.
Cleveland, similarly to the Rays, are a small-market organization that needs to win within the margins, and they’ve done so by trying to maximize their run prevention. Even after trading Corey Kluber, their rotation features a fantastic trio of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco, while Aaron Civale and Logan Allen are a pair of intriguing young arms to keep an eye on. Obviously, the loss of Kluber is noticeable, but he barely pitched last year anyways, so perhaps that has been overblown. Furthermore, they have a very fascinating bullpen with a lot of upside. Oliver Perez, Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber, James Hoyt, and Hunter Wood are all decent 4.00 FIP pitchers, and even though they’ll be without young reliever Emmanuel Clase, the duo of James Karinchak and Brad Hand should put manager Terry Francona at ease late in games. It also doesn’t hurt that they project to have the best defense, further boosting their run-prevention skills.
When it comes to the Indians offense, there are far more question marks. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are both elite MVP candidates, and as long as those two make up the left side of their infield, they’ll always be in a strong position. Furthermore, Carlos Santana, Franmil Reyes, and Jordan Luplow (platoon) all offer various levels of offensive skill sets, so the lineup isn’t completely thin. Yet, all three of those players are certainly limited, and that’s even more true for players like Roberto Perez, Cesar Hernandez, and their entire outfield. I’m never a fan of top-heavy lineups, but, unfortunately, that’s exactly what Cleveland has.
I applaud the Indians for trying to find every little advantage to win, but as currently constructed, they’re essentially the Rays, but with less depth. Lindor, Ramirez, and the front of the rotation gives this team a high floor, yet I still question their ability to score enough runs to overthrow the Twins.
#3: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were everyone’s darling this offseason, as they made several splash moves to try to compete. I’m not as high on this team as some are, but with a very weak schedule, they’re in position to compete for a wildcard spot.
Undoubtedly, the strength of this team is their lineup. The addition of Yasmani Grandal, the game’s best catcher, was arguably the best-value signing of this offseason, and he’ll provide this team with the plate discipline and veteran reliability that they previously lacked- designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion will help with that as well. After that, Chicago will be relying on the continued development of youngsters Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, as well as strong rookie debuts from Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert. In general, this is a free-swinging roster with a lot of high-variance athletes, so although the “upside” with them is tremendous, there is also a reasonable probability that their flaws get the best of them.
Lucas Giolito emerged as a potential ace for the White Sox last season, but the rest of the rotation isn’t as exciting. Veterans Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez will eat innings for them, but are 4.40-4.70 FIP pitchers at this point of their careers, and the same can be said about Reynaldo Lopez. After young flamethrower Michael Kopech opted out of this season, Chicago needs prospect Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon (coming back from Tommy John surgery) to establish themselves as quality starters, though it’s clear Giolito is the only pitcher right now that projects to be an above-average option for them. That also holds true when looking at their current bullpen, where soft-contact-inducing lefty Aaron Bummer is the only reliever projected for a FIP under 4.00. In short, the White Sox have a lot of options on their pitching staff, yet they’re lacking stability.
The White Sox may have the widest range of outcomes of any team in baseball. If some of their young players reach expectations, then they could easily compete for the playoffs. If not, it could be another long season for them, though Grandal and Encarnacion drastically elevate their floor.
#4: Detroit Tigers
With an abysmal 47-114 record last season, the Tigers were borderline unwatchable last season. On the bright side, that season landed them Spencer Torkelson, and after making some moves to try to be more competitive this season, I expect them to win more than half the games they won in 162 games in 2019.
Detroit’s rotation certainly isn’t exciting, but it’s far from poor on paper. Matthew Boyd is unlikely to reach his full potential until he lands with a more progressive organization that will alter his pitch usage, but he’ll strike a lot of batters out. Meanwhile, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer, and Daniel Norris are all middle-of-the-rotation arms with various levels of upside, and the same can be said for the team’s pitching prospects, should they make their debuts this season. Heck, they even have a potential trade-chip in reliever Joe Jimenez, though having one high-end reliever doesn’t move the needle much more a sub-.500 team. By no means do the Tigers have a strong pitching staff. However, their rotation actually has three-to-four steady pitchers, while Jimenez gives them some sort of stability should they have a late lead.
The Tigers failed to have one hitter post a league-average 100 weighted-runs-created-plus (wrc+), and there’s a chance that they “accomplish” that feat for a second straight season. The greatest challenger for that would be CJ Cron, though his on-base skills are several limited. That’s the case with a lot of Detroit’s starting position players (Niko Goodrum, Cameron Maybin, Jeimer Candelario, and Jonathan Schoop), which is precisely why they should have a bottom-five offense. At the very least, though, they shouldn’t have the WORST offense.
Although they feature a below-average lineup and pitching staff, it appears that the Tigers made enough acquisitions to potentially not finish last in the AL Central. That’s not exactly an accomplishment, but this could be a nice opportunity for them to integrate some of their young pitchers into the mix, and if that happens, their run prevention may be adequate. At the end of the day, when you win 47 games in a 162-game season, the only place you can go is up, right?
#5: Kansas City Royals
The Royals won the 2015 World Series with tremendous athletes and strong defense, and since then, they’ve been trying to replicate that formula. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in the modern MLB, and, as a result, they’re likely to secure a top-five pick for a third straight year.
As mentioned, Kansas City’s lineup is filled with defensive-minded athletic position players, but that’s not exactly a good thing. Whit Merrifield’s value declines as a center fielder, while Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Nicky Lopez all aren’t very exciting starting players. At the very least, they have one powerful slugger in Jorge Soler, who is the exact opposite of a typical Royals player- they’ll need him to avoid regression from his tremendous 2019 campaign. Speaking of power, new trade acquisition Franchy Cordero has a lot of it, but he’s unlikely to have an on-base percentage over .300, and I’m not betting on this organization to maximize on his raw talent.
I hinted at the fact that the Royals have struggled with player development, and that’s even more obvious when dissecting their pitching staff. Their fascination for sinker-ballers completely goes against the elevated launch angles of their opponents, which is why pitchers like Brad Keller and Jakob Junis have struggled. Should they start using their sliders more, then they could be effective middle-of-the-rotations starters, but that won’t happen in Kansas City. Besides those two, Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery are two serviceable #5 starters, and it’ll be interesting if one of the team’s top pitching prospects, Brady Singer, gets a chance to stick in their rotation. As for their bullpen, Scott Barlow is a top-20 reliever in the making, while Ian Kennedy had a career revitalization last year. Outside of those two, however, the pickings are very slim. That is, unless Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal pitch like it’s 2014 all over again.
The Royals are going to try to win with sinker-ballers, defense, and base-running, which may have worked in the 1980s. However, that’s not the way to win in 2020, which is why I’m not only pessimistic about this team right now, but also in the future. Until they change their principles, it’s going to be difficult for them to keep up with more progressive organizations in their division (Twins, Indians), which is a shame- they have a beautiful ballpark and have demonstrated tremendous leadership during this pandemic.
#1: Houston Astros
Had this been a normal season, all eyes would have been on the fallout from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Now, that storyline will be reserved for another day, perhaps one that involves fans at games, but as far as the team’s winning aspirations have concerned, nothing has changed- this is still a dominant roster.
For the Astros, it all starts with their offense, which is downright terrifying. Alex Bregman has emerged as the face of this organization, and behind him, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Yordan Alvarez are all premier players at their respective positions. Now, Alvarez’ status is is question, as he is still on the COVID-injury risk, but even without him, this is a fantastic lineup. That’s especially true if young outfielder Kyle Tucker can make good on his prospect pedigree, which would not only be a boost from them this season, but in the future as well- they’re in desperate need for young, cost-controlled impact players.
The loss of Gerrit Cole stings, yet it’s clear that the Astros still have a tremendous pitching staff. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke may be on the wrong side of 35, but the former is still arguably the best pitcher in baseball, while the latter is still a very quality #2 starter. Plus, Lance McCullers Jr. will be back after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Jose Urquidy (assuming he’s ready), Josh James, and Forrest Whitley are all intriguing young arms. Additionally, Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly will be able to close out games for them, and the amount of young depth they have in the bullpen is fantastic. Teams are going to have to get creative in a short season, which will cater right to this team’s strengths.
Fans will be rooting against them all year, but it’s clear that the Astros are going to be a force to be reckoned with this certain. The uncertainty regarding Alvarez and Urquidy is slightly concerning, though I believe they have enough depth to combat that, while their high-end talent is off the charts. Currently, my model has them projected to be the #1 seed in the AL, so it’s clear that public perception is underrating them due to their previous actions.
#2: Oakland Athletics
Coming off back-to-back 97-win seasons that ended in a wildcard loss, the A’s are hoping to win the AL West over the Astros. While I’m not sure that’ll happen, they’re certainly one of the best teams in the MLB, especially in a short season.
It’s clear that this is Oakland’s window to win a championship; Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, and Matt Olson are quite the portion core to build around, but they’re starting to get more expensive. Besides them, Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha are two above-average outfielders, while bounce-back seasons from designated hitter Khris Davis and outfielder Stephen Piscotty could push this team over the top. Second base is a concern, but this lineup is filled with impactful hitters and plus defenders.
In a full season, the stamina of the rotation may have become an issue for the A’s. Now, though, young lefties Jesus Luzardo and AJ Puk could be the driving forces for a potentially dynamic pitching staff. Those two will be complemented by Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea, and although Mike Fiers is likely to be an unproductive pitcher, his ability to eat innings is useful for a very young rotation. It also helps that Oakland won’t be asking a lot from their rotation- the bullpen is very deep. Liam Hendricks is the obvious headliner, but Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, Lou Trivino, and JB Wendelken are all the type of intriguing relievers that any team would want in their bullpen, especially in a short season.
Offense, defense, pitching; the A’s have it all. They unfortunately have the misfortune of being stuck in a division with the Astros, but as long as they get into the postseason, they’ll compete for a World Series championship. I’m bullish about the potential of their pitching staff, and in a short season, why can’t they usurp Houston? This team will always be competitive, but, for the common fan, it’d be nice to see this core of players get over the hump before it’s too late.
#3: Los Angeles Angels
Is this the year the Angels get Mike Trout back to the playoffs? One can only hope, and after signing Anthony Rendon, this is as strong of a roster as the front office has built recently. Will it be enough? Let’s take a closer look.
We’ll get to the team’s weaknesses in a moment, but the Angels have a loaded lineup, both offensively and defensively. Obviously, it all starts with Trout and Rendon, yet even beyond them, it’s not a completely barren group. Andrelton Simmons is still a solid shortstop, Jason Castro is one of the better catchers in baseball, and they have other players who could be decent producers. The wildcards are Shohei Ohtani and Jo Adell; Ohtani will go back to being a two-way player with strong offensive production, and Adell is a high-variance prospect. In the end, this team will only go as far as their two stars take them, though there are plenty of X-factors that could vault them intone playoffs with strong performances.
Here is where things get more tricky for the Angels- their pitching staff is suspect, to say the least. It isn’t as talent-deficient as the media makes it out to be, especially if trade acquisition Dylan Bundy performs better in a change of scenery, but having Julio Teheran as your projected opening day starter is far from ideal. Ironically, he’s probably their worst pitcher; Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning are overlooked options for them, and Ohtani’s return to pitching is very important for their success. Now, they could still use more depth, and having to use a six-man rotation isn’t great, but I could see a scenario where their rotation is at least average. The same goes for the bullpen, as they have a lot of relievers who have intriguing K-BB ratios.
With an improved pitching staff, as well as the additions of Rendon and Castro, this may very well be the best team that Mike Trout has ever played for. My model still believes they’ll come up short, due to a brutal schedule that involves playing the Dodgers six times, but, for the first time in a while, I’m optimistic about this organization’s direction moving forward.
#4: Texas Rangers
Similarly to the Angels, as the Astros and A’s see their competitive windows start to slightly dwindle, the Rangers are hoping to take the next step forward in their rebuilding process. That meant making multiple interesting acquisitions to try to win more games this season, though after missing out on Anthony Rendon, they’re far too one-dimensional to be considered a true playoff contender.
Texas is putting all their chips into their rotation, which should probably rank as a top-five group. The signings of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor have worked out fantastically for them, and that likely inspired them to try a few more buy-low signings- Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles make up the back of their rotation. Gibson, in particular, is a candidate to alter his pitch usage, and even as it is, is an above-average starter; Lyles seemed to figure things out with the Brewers last season, so he’s also someone who shouldn’t be overlooked. The main headliner of their offseason, however, was them trading for Corey Kluber. When healthy, the 34-year-old is still a top-ten starting pitcher, though after he missed most of 2019 with multiple injuries, he’s somewhat of a wildcard heading into this season. Hopefully, those five pitchers can eat up a lot innings for them, as the bullpen is in a precarious situation. Jose Leclerc, Rafael Montero, and Brett Martin are reliable options for them, but outside of them, they’re lacking in depth, which is especially an issue in a shortened season.
Plus, while the Rangers have made noticeable efforts to improve their rotation, they won’t be scoring many runs this season. Joey Gallo is a serious MVP candidate in any given season with his plate discipline and exceptional power, but he’s about the only sure thing in their lineup to be at least a league-average hitter. Of the rest, Willie Calhoun, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, and Robinson Chirinos are their best bets to accomplish that feat, and I wouldn’t want to discredit utility player Nick Solak and corner infielder Todd Frazier. Whether it’s with defense or plate discipline, this is not the type of lineup that a team trying to contend should be relying on, which is precisely why they’re likely to come up short in their efforts.
The Rangers went about their offseason completely differently than the Angels, looking to try to build through their pitching. However, with a poor defense, those run-prevention objectives likely won’t be met, and in the modern MLB, it’s very difficult to win without a bottom-five offense. With a deep farm system, their time could be soon but that time is not now.
#5: Seattle Mariners
While the top four teams in this division all have winning aspirations, the Mariners are clearly focused on 2022 and beyond. Considering how poor their collection of young talent was, I commend general manager Jerry Dipoto for the job he’s done improving this organization’s future in such a short period of time. As for this season, they’re going to have to go through their growing pains.
To me, Seattle’s pitching staff is what makes them interesting this season. After signing him to an extension, they’re hoping for better results for Marco Gonzales, and the same can be said about Yusei Kikuchi, Kendall Graveman, and Taijuan Walker. Meanwhile, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn need to show that they’re more than just prospects, and this may be their chance to prove that they don’t need to move to the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, the Mariners have loaded up on strikeout-inducing relievers. Matt Magill and Austin Adams are both very underrated options, and you could do a lot worse than Yoshihisa Hirano, Brandon Brennan, Dan Altavilla, and Carl Edwards Jr. If there’s a strength with this team, it’s their pitching staff; it’ll likely be a bottom-five unit, yet it certainly has a wide range of outcomes.
Kyle Seager and Daniel Vogelbach are two lefty sluggers that will slot in the middle of their order, but outside of them, the Mariners will likely struggle to score many runs. They’re hoping that catcher Tom Murphy’s impressive 2019 campaign wasn’t a fluke, but there isn’t any reason to believe it isn’t, while Mallex Smith, Evan White, Kyle Lewis, and Shed Long don’t project as future pieces for them, at least in my eyes. If there is one player who can flip the switch in their development, it’s JP Crawford, though, despite his pitch-selection skills, his lack of pure-hitting ability and non-existent power has hurt him tremendously.
With the hardest schedule in baseball, the Mariners are going to have a tough time winning games in 2020. For the most part, all of these projections seem to not differentiate the top and bottom teams enough, but it takes 80 games for the talented teams to separate from the pack, so perhaps 25 wins is still a legitimate possibility. Either way, I’m expecting them to compete for a top-three pick, which would be another huge boost for their farm system, which is certainly on the rise.