30. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates just lost 100 or more games for the third time since 2001. Yes, we know there is some sort of rebuild in place, but bringing in the likes of Roberto Perez and Jose Quintana won’t expedite the process. With one-time key cogs in Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings no longer part of the plan, the hill is still mighty high for the Pirates to trudge. Now, Bryan Reynolds (.302 batting average, 24 home runs, 90 RBIs in 2021) and Ke’Bryan Hayes are talented enough to make opponents weary. Though neither can help a pitching staff which ranked 28th in team ERA (5.08) last season.
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29. Arizona Diamondbacks
Despite 2021’s dismal 110 losses and just 20 wins on the road, there is actually reason to believe the Diamondbacks will be noticeably improved this season. Now, we’re not talking winning-record good, but more consistently competitive. Why? For starters, versatile rookie Pavin Smith, infielder Josh Rojas and Daulton Varsho each clubbed 11 home runs in 2021. There is obvious work to be done on the mound, but the signing of Mark Melancon, and his 2021-leading 39 saves, is rather intriguing.
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28. Washington Nationals
At least the Nationals have Juan Soto. An MVP candidate in 2021, when he batted .313 with 29 and 95 RBIs, Soto is trending toward superstardom. However, at the moment, he’s all the Nationals really have when it comes to a consistent presence of success. Unfortunately, he’s not Superman, and can’t win games by himself. Just ask Mike Trout (or Shohei Ohtani) how much one player can contribute to winning. Washington might not reach 97 losses again this coming season, but it won’t be consistently competitive, either.
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27. Baltimore Orioles
The AL East is just too tough for the Orioles to be a serious factor. But amid a 110-loss 2021 season – third time in four years of at least 108 defeats – Baltimore showed signs of promise. Or at least, they’ve shown to have some players who make this club worth watching. At the top of the list is All-Star Cedric Mullins who belted 30 home runs and stole 30 bases. Of course, no offseason moves are likely to improve a pitching staff that posted a Major League Baseball-worst 5.84 ERA.
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26. Colorado Rockies
The biggest plotline involving the Rockies is where star shortstop Trevor Story will land. We’re all but certain it won’t be back in Colorado. Which means the Rockies seem destined for a fourth straight losing season. It’s not totally certain what Colorado’s rebuild will look like, but hitting the 70-win mark might be a tall order if the club doesn’t make even some marginally solid offseason moves. Despite having a couple of talented pieces, this roster isn’t ready to contend.
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25. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City won 74 games in 2021, which is progress after failing to reach 60 in 2018 and ’19. Can the Royals be even better in 2022? Maybe not. Only because a pitching staff that ranked in the bottom half of the majors with a 4.64 ERA in 2021 is likely to lose long-time stalwart Danny Duffy and is plenty inconsistent. That said, stars Salvador Perez (48 homers, 121 RBIs) and Whit Merrifield are as good as it gets. Nicky Lopez brings back his slick glove at short and recently-converted 3B Adalberto Mondesi finished last year strong. Also, is this the year prized prospect Bobby Witt Jr. gets his major-league shot.
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24. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2012 and ’13. But, they finished 12-20 down the stretch and played themselves out of a wild-card spot. Jesse Winker (.305 BA, 24 homers, 72 RBIs) and Jonathan India (21 homers, 69 RBIs) are the offensive building blocks for the future, but Nick Castellanos more than likely will not be back. Tyler Mahle (13-6, 3.75 ERA) is certainly one to watch when it comes to the next great arm in the NL, but beyond him, Cincinnati’s pitching staff has its questions. Especially if you believe the trade rumors surrounding Luis Castillo are true.
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23. Minnesota Twins
As we’ll see, the AL Central, as a collective, is starting to improve. However, the Twins might not be part of that resurgence. Following two straight postseason appearances, Minnesota won 73 games in 2021. A step back was expected, but it might take a little longer for there to be any giant ones taken forward. Perhaps most puzzling about the current state of the Twins is their decision to give talented, but oft-injured, outfielder Byron Buxton a seven-year, $100-million deal.
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22. Texas Rangers
No doubt, the Rangers were the talk of the pre-lockout free-agent surge. They gave shortstop Corey Seager $325 million over 10 years and fellow infielder Marcus Semien a seven-year contract worth $175. Not to mention, Texas signed veteran outfielder Kole Calhoun and starter Jon Gray. Yet, they play in a division where there is a clear favorite and two other teams expected to still be better than them. Regardless, all eyes will be on the Rangers, and if these huge payouts will pay immediate dividends. $500 million to lock up the best middle infield in baseball? There are worse ways to spend money…
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21. Cleveland Guardians
It’s hard to tell where the newly named Guardians are headed. Are they really rebuilding? Or are they still in limbo when it comes to deciding on a full-blown tear-it-down-build-it-back-up plan? Regardless, Jose Ramirez (36 homers, 103 RBIs) remains one of baseball’s best. 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber enters the season healthy following an injury-plagued ’21 campaign. And, fans should keep an eye on starter Triston McKenzie (5-9, 4.95 ERA), who had his moments in 2021, despite a rough start and overall poor record.
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20. Oakland Athletics
One of the more intriguing teams in Major League Baseball. The A’s won 86 games in 2021, but failed to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. Now, they appear to be sellers – all the while still searching for a new manager. One-year rental Starling Marte bolted for New York. Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman all could be gone in short order. Oakland should be able to receive a nice young-talent return to do what Billy Beane and Co. have done best – turn it into effective major-league performers while saving plenty of cash. Oh yeah, the A’s still need a new stadium.
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19. Chicago Cubs
A dynasty never materialized on the North Side. With the core of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo gone, the Cubs remain in somewhat of an identity crisis. There’s plenty of reason to rebuild, but the money is there to contend. Especially after signing Marcus Stroman (10-13, 3.02 ERA, 158 strikeouts) to a three-year, $71 million deal. Meanwhile, Patrick Wisdom (28 homers, 61 RBIs) and Frank Schwindel (.342, 14 homers, 40 RBIs in 56 games) were 2021 surprises, but aren’t guys to seriously build a team around.
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18. Detroit Tigers
A 77-85 finish in 2021 was good enough for the Tigers to finish third in the AL Central. The belief is that Detroit will be even better in ’22. And, the signing of electrifying shortstop Javier Baez likely won’t hurt. Perhaps more important was bringing LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA) on board. It’s going to be tough for the Tigers to make the playoffs and certainly tougher to win the division, but with these two acquisitions and some budding young talent, this is a club worth watching.
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17. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels came up short in the Max Scherzer pursuit, but obviously have Mike Trout and reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani (9-2, 3.18 ERA, 156 strikeouts; 46 home runs and 100 RBIs). However, that’s still not enough (apparently) to consistently compete in the AL West. It will be interesting to see what Los Angeles does post-lockout, in terms of adding players. The money is obviously there, though that’s always been the case. LA has never shied away from paying the big bucks, but it hasn’t let to much success in recent years. The Angels haven’t reached the postseason since 2014.
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16. Miami Marlins
Miami was a playoff team in 2020, then managed just 67 wins last season. Miami auctioned off several key players during last year’s trade deadline. The team has spent the offseason trying to piece together a major league club. Picking up free-agent catcher Jacob Stallings (17 homers, 85 RBIs over 249 career games) and veteran outfielder Avisail Garcia should be popular moves. The key for the Marlins, though, could be whether its starters can be more serviceable. Not a single Miami pitcher won 10 games and only three made 20 or more starts in 2021. How much will the team get out of the exciting 23-year-old Sixto Sanchez who missed all of last season?
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15. Philadelphia Phillies
The good news for the Phillies: They’re coming off their second winning season in three years. The bad: Philadelphia still hasn’t reached the postseason since 2011. Sure, Bryce Harper won his second NL MVP after batting .309 with 35 home runs and 84 RBIs, but the Phillies are still as frustrating as can be to their fans. A couple of minor free-agent moves (reliever Corey Knebel and utility man Johan Camargo) pre-lockout, won’t do anything to excite that fan base, either. Another consistent bat next to Harper in the lineup would do wonders.
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14. San Diego Padres
In 2021, the Padres were the sexy pick to win it all. They were 49-33 on June 1, then went 30-50 the rest of the way to end perhaps the most disappointing season in franchise history. Now, any club with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado – combined 70 home runs and 203 RBIs – should be competitive. But, if Yu Darvish (8-11, 4.22 ERA) can rebound and Blake Snell (7-6, 4.20 ERA) stay healthy, then maybe the Padres will live up to expectations they’ve set for themselves. Of course, that’s still a big if, even with Bob Melvin as manager.
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13. San Francisco Giants
With an MLB-best 107 victories, the Giants were the biggest surprise of the 2021 regular season. Yet, San Francisco lost to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers in five games. It would be unfair to think the Giants will be as good in 2020. Especially with Buster Posey retired and Kevin Gausman gone. However, there is still enough talent to once again challenge for the NL West title. The Giants rely on their depth and versatility. The front office will find a way to fill in the gaps despite losing a future Hall of Fame catcher and a Cy Young candidate.
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12. Toronto Blue Jays
Yes, the Blue Jays are expected to be in the mix for an AL East title. But, the losses of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray are a big deal. Young boppers like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.311 BA, 48 homers, 111 RBIs), Bo Bichette (.298 BA, 29 homers, 102 RBIs) and Teoscar Hernandez (32 homers, 116 RBIs) comprise one of the majors’ most potent lineups, but will it all be enough to handle the strong pitching in the division. Signing Kevin Gausman (finished sixth in Cy Young voting) certainly helps ease the loss of Ray.
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11. Seattle Mariners
Somewhat surprising is that the Mariners are not getting much serious offseason love from MLB analysts and pundits. Seattle was a rather pleasant story in 2021, winning 90 games and finishing second in the AL West. Then, the Mariners went out and got AL Cy Young Award-winner Robbie Ray (13-7, 2.84 ERA) and All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier. The future is certainly bright in Seattle, especially since a wild-card spot could come out of the AL West.
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10. Los Angeles Dodgers
Has the Dodgers’ window for another World Series title officially closed? Let’s not go there just yet. Sure, Corey Seager and Max Scherzer are gone, but those moves were expected. Aging Clayton Kershaw is 15 wins shy of 200, but will he achieve it in Dodger blue? There’s obviously still enough offensive talent (Betts, Turner, Muncy) for Los Angeles to remain a favorite in the NL West. It also helps that we’re not sold on San Francisco and San Diego, at the moment.
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9. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee won 95 games to take the NL Central in 2021. The Brewers did it with a pitching staff that topped the majors in strikeouts (1,618) and ranked third in ERA (3.50). Corbin Burnes (11-5, 2.43 ERA, 234 strikeouts) is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Adrian Houser and Freddy Peralta also won 10 games and Brandon Woodruff posted a 2.56 ERA with a career-high 211 strikeouts. The losses of Avisail Garcia and Eduardo Escobar are a serious hit to an already shallow lineup. And, we’re not sure what kind of season Christian Yelich is headed for after batting .248 with nine homers in 117 games from 2021.
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8. New York Yankees
The Yankees did nothing pre-lockout, and fans are rattled. That said, it’s not like New York was in a hurry to make a splash when it came to adding players. Whether Anthony Rizzo returns is a big question surrounding the club, but not earth-shattering either way. At the moment, Gerrit Cole (16-8, 3.23 ERA), as much as Yankee fans want to rag on him, Aaron Judge (39 home runs, 98 RBIs) and Giancarlo Stanton (35 homers, 97 RBIs) will keep them in World Series contention – if healthy. Health is always a concern with this group.
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7. Boston Red Sox
We can pretty much interchange the Yankees and Red Sox at this point. Boston is gambling a bit by bringing in Michael Wacha and James Paxton, but there’s not much money on the line. Chris Sale (5-1, 3.16 ERA) pitched well enough in his 2021 return to believe he will be the staff ace. It doesn’t seem like Kyle Schwarber will be back, but Xander Bogaerts (.295 BA) and Rafael Devers (38 homers, 113 RBIs) lead a talented offense that continues to overachieve. Last season’s run to the ALCS should motivate for 2022.
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6. St. Louis Cardinals
A 19-3 finish got the Cardinals into the playoffs, and set the stage for a potential NL Central title in 2022. Offensively, St. Louis is more than Paul Goldschmidt (31 homers, 99 RBIs) and Nolan Arenado (34 homers, 105 RBIs). There’s plenty of young, talented hitters on the roster – especially in the outfield comprised of Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. On the mound, Jack Flaherty (9-2, 3.22 ERA) has Cy Young-potential. Meanwhile, the addition of Steven Matz (14-7, 3.82 ERA) bolsters a staff that is good enough to compete for an NL pennant.
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5. Chicago White Sox
Once again, the White Sox are getting a lot of preseason love. No doubt, this is a talented young group with the likes of Luis Robert (.338 BA), Tim Anderson (.309) and Eloy Jimenez. However, the offense was inconsistent in 2021 and the bullpen faltered while Chicago went 50-44 over the final 94 games. The team was only moderately competitive while being eliminated in four by Houston during the postseason. But, with Michael Kopech’s expected move to a rotation that includes 2021 Cy Young contender Lance Lynn (11-6, 2.69 ERA) and Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA), and the addition of reliver Kendall Graveman, the White Sox remain the class of the AL Central.
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4. Tampa Bay Rays
The story of the Rays’ pre-lockout offseason was Wander Franco’s 11-year, $182-million contract. That was a huge moment for the franchise, and building block for the team’s bright future. For the time being, the reigning AL East champions have a young offensive core (Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows) that continues to shine. Plus, a pitching staff that only cares about getting outs, and not self-promotion. Oh yeah, Kevin Cash might be the best manager in baseball.
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3. New York Mets
Honestly, we’re doing our best not to once again buy into the preseason hype surrounding the Mets. Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha are all in the mix. Joining the likes of Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso (37 homers, 94 RBIs) and Jacob deGrom (7-2, 1.08 ERA, 146 strikeouts in 15 starts). Who wouldn’t think New York is destined for greatness in 2022? Plenty. These are the Mets, after all. They’ve had one winning season in the last five and last made the postseason in 2016. We need to see it to believe it.
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2. Atlanta Braves
This ranking is determinant on whether the Braves bring back Freddie Freeman (.300 BA, 31 homers, 83 RBIs). The smart move would be yes. Which would certainly leave the reigning world champions a favorite to repeat. However, the return of Ronald Acuna Jr. from a knee injury will obviously provide a boost either way. Max Fried (14-7, 3.04 ERA) is among the best in the game and Ian Anderson (9-5, 3.58 ERA) is not too far behind. If there’s one team to keep an eye on post-lockout and before Opening Day, it’s Atlanta.
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1. Houston Astros
The Carlos Correa saga remains in full force, but there is enough talent on the Astros’ roster for them to contend for a second straight AL pennant without the star shortstop. Most of the rest of the major players return from a 2021 squad that led the majors in batting (.267), on-base percentage (.339) and was third in slugging (.444). The return of Justin Verlander to a stellar young rotation led by Lance McCullers Jr. (13-5, 3.16 ERA) is a bonus. Did we mention the Astros also have plenty of money to spend when they see fit?
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