The celebration has barely begun for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the 2020 World Series after a 32-year wait. However, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the 2021 season, which will hopefully be a full 162-game campaign.
Granted, no team’s roster is anywhere close to complete right now. There are a ton of free agents out there, especially with so many top players seeing their options for next season declined. There are also bound to be some blockbuster trades this winter. Nevertheless, we thought we’d take our first look at all 30 MLB teams heading into the 2021 season with our first official power rankings.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates won just 19 games in 2020, the fewest in baseball, so they have a long way to go in 2021. While Pittsburgh has some promising young players, virtually everyone on their roster had a disappointing season outside of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. The Pirates should get more out of Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco in 2021 despite poor campaigns from both this year. However, the pitching staff is a disaster, even with Jameson Taillon set to return from Tommy John surgery next year.
The Pirates won't be big spenders this winter, so expectations will be low next season.
29. Texas Rangers
The one thing the Rangers know for sure is that they have a wonderful new ballpark. However, barring another neutral-site World Series, Arlington won’t be hosting the Fall Classic anytime soon. You can all but stick a fork in veterans like Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus, who are still taking up roster spots but aren’t producing much. Texas didn’t get much from Joey Gallo this year, nor did any young players establish themselves. Pitching-wise, things are a mess once you get past Lance Lynn, as the trade for Corey Kluber blew up in their face. The Rangers are quite limited in young, building blocks, so there is a lot of work to do.
28. Detroit Tigers
Detroit’s record didn’t show it this past season, but things are starting to slowly turn around for the Tigers. They have a proven manager in A.J. Hinch and found a few more young players who look like they could be long-term answers. If young pitchers like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal can take a step forward while Michael Fulmer gets healthy and returns to his Rookie of the Year form, the Tigers have the making of a solid rotation.
They are still a looong way from playoff contention, but the Tigers should be able to avoid being the worst team in the American League next year, which is progress after winning only one more game than the Rangers in 2020.
27. San Francisco Giants
Despite finishing below .500, the Giants were in a playoff race this year. The question is whether or not veterans like Brandon Belt, Alex Dickerson and Donovan Solano can match their production from 2020. With Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco has a budding star. But it’s mostly veterans around him whose best days could be behind them.
The Giants also have to rebuild their pitching staff after veterans like Kevin Gausman and Trevor Cahill will hit free agency. In short, a lot needs to go right for the Giants to replicate being an average team in 2021.
26. Kansas Royals
The Royals are slowly getting their act together, as they should have three or four solid starting pitchers at the start of 2021. However, they didn’t get enough production from their younger players in 2020 to think that they’ll be ready to take a big step forward next year. Veteran catcher Salvador Perez turned out to be the team’s best hitter. Even Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler underperformed a little. Although the pitching staff is starting to round into form, Kansas City’s lineup is missing impact players, even if Perez, Merrifield, and Soler all have career years in 2021, which seems unlikely.
This is a rebuilding team that’s still in the phase where they’re just trying to avoid finishing last in their division.
25. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners quietly made some significant strides in 2020 with young players like Dylan Moore and Kyle Lewis emerging as key cogs for the future. On the pitching side, the likes of Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn look like long-term answers behind Marco Gonzales, who was brilliant in 2020. However, the Mariners still have a long way to go and benefited from an easy schedule this past season.
Don’t look for Seattle to make a ton of progress in 2021 because there are still a lot of holes on the roster with no obvious answer at the moment.
24. Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona’s core looks a lot different now than it did before the season. Both David Peralta and Eduardo Escobar sputtered, as did Ketel Marte, who was expected to be a big asset in 2020. There are some holes in their lineup that the Diamondbacks will need to fill this winter. The starting rotation also looks a lot different after Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver had terrible campaigns. With Zac Gallen, Alex Young and Caleb Smith, they have some arms to build around, but if they don’t get more out of their investment in Bumgarner, it’s hard to see the Diamondbacks putting together a competitive team next season.
23. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles finished .500 in 2020, which was a huge step forward for a team that looked like they might be the worst team in baseball before the season. For a minute, they were even in the playoff hunt. It looks like Baltimore could have a nice core of young hitters moving forward with the likes of Ryan Mountcastle, Renato Nunez, Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino. If Trey Mancini can return in 2021 after a bout with cancer, the Baltimore lineup could be in great shape.
The caveat is that the pitching staff is lagging behind, although John Means improved late in the year and Alex Cobb was solid if unspectacular. The 2020 season was a nice start, but the pitching staff still requires a lot of work.
22. Boston Red Sox
The 2020 season was a nightmare for the Red Sox, and there are plenty of lingering questions, especially if the club isn’t interested in spending money in free agency. In fairness, they still have a good trio to build around with Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo. But J.D. Martinez took a step back in 2020 and takes up a lot of the payroll. There is also no certainty surrounding the health of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez in 2021, creating questions about the starting rotation.
In other words, there aren’t a lot of reasons why the Red Sox should feel confident in 2021 going any better than 2020.
21. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are likely going to live and die with their pitching in 2021, although with Dakota Hudson having Tommy John surgery and Adam Wainwright a free agent, there are some spots on the back end that need to be filled. St. Louis didn’t get much offensive production in 2020 outside of Paul Goldschmidt, as their young outfielders fell flat. Unless they can bring in some reinforcements, it’s hard to see them rising above .500 next year, especially if it's just Jack Flaherty and Kwang Hyun Kim carrying the rotation.
20. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers weren’t particularly good in 2020, although they found a way to slip into the postseason. Presumably, Christian Yelich will be able to bounce back next season. But there isn’t a lot of help in the lineup behind him, especially with the team prepared to move on from longtime slugger Ryan Braun.
The silver lining is that Milwaukee’s rotation has a couple of top-flight pitchers in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. The bullpen is also in good shape as long as they hold onto Josh Hader. However, Milwaukee’s lineup could be offensively challenged in 2021, which could make it tough for the Brew Crew to rise above mediocrity.
19. Colorado Rockies
Things started off promising enough for the Rockies in 2020. However, they didn’t give the trio of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story enough support. Even those guys ended up having disappointing years, especially Arenado. It’s possible that the Rockies break it all down and start from scratch. However, Colorado’s reputation still resembles the one that got them to the postseason in 2018. If that group of pitchers can perform up to their potential, the Rockies have enough to at least be a .500 team in 2021.
18. Philadelphia Phillies
With J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius on the open market, the Phillies have two big holes to fill. The emergence of Alec Bohm should help Philly’s lineup depth behind Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. But the Phillies are lacking difference-makers beyond that trio. Meanwhile, the back-end of the rotation needs some work. If Zach Eflin can build off of his 2020 performance, he gives the Phillies a third reliable starter behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. However, the Phillies are worse on paper right now than they were during a disappointing 2020 season, so they have some work to do in the offseason.
17. Los Angeles Angels
Nothing the Angels do seems to work. They have Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, but the team around them simply isn’t good enough. Once again, the L.A. rotation will have to be rebuilt, although Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney give the Halos a solid foundation. That trio should be an upgrade from the starting position the Angels have had in recent years. The hope is that Shohei Ohtani can get back on track, but that’s far from a guarantee.
Ohtani is also an X-factor offensively, as is youngster Jo Adell. The Angels would like to get more out of Justin Upton and also have to rework their middle infield with Andrelton Simmons now a free agent. Of course, the upside remains high with Trout and Rendon in the middle of the lineup.
16. Miami Marlins
Miami’s shocking run to the playoffs this year is a sign of things to come, right? That’s not exactly a given because the Marlins aren’t likely to spend much money this winter in order to improve. That being said, the Marlins have a nice combination of speed and professional hitters, even if they’re a little lacking in star power. The rotation also looks outstanding moving forward with Sixto Sanchez and Sandy Alcantara leading the way. Whether they can improve upon their success in 2020 remains to be seen. But the Marlins are at least an average team that should at least be playing meaningful games next September.
15. Washington Nationals
Clearly, the Nats didn’t do a good job of defending their championship. However, if the trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin is healthy, Washington will have a pitching staff that can keep the team relevant.
The Nationals also have two stars in Trea Turner and Juan Soto to carry the offense. Beyond those five players, there is a world of questions, and that’s if the pitchers — we're looking at you, Strasburg — can stay healthy. Even if they don’t spend big on the best free agents available, the Nats have a lot of work to do to fill the holes on their roster.
14. Toronto Blue Jays
Even without the benefit of a home field in 2020, the Blue Jays took a considerable step forward. The core of the roster will remain in place in 2021, from budding stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to surprising veterans like Teoscar Hernandez. The key will be young pitchers like Nate Pearson and Trent Thornton, among many others, being able to establish themselves as reliable major leaguers. Toronto has Hyun-Jin Ryu to lead the rotation, but it’ll be up to the club’s young arms to decide if the Blue Jays are a fringe playoff team or a genuine contender.
13. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had far too many players underperform in 2020, causing them to miss out on a golden opportunity to do some damage in October. With Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, the top of the Cincinnati rotation looks good, especially with Tyler Mahle in the mix as well. But they’re likely to lose Trevor Bauer in free agency, leaving a big hole to fill.
Offensively, the Reds lineup has all of the pieces to be a strong offensive team. The Reds just need their veterans to live up to their track records. There will also be far more pressure on the offense to perform in 2021, which is why they have promise but a lot to prove next season.
12. Cleveland Indians
Right now, we almost have to assume that Cleveland is going to trade Francisco Lindor. That will further weaken an offense that struggled to score runs in 2020. There’s still a little pop in the lineup, but the Indians are lacking lineup depth with or without Lindor. Fortunately, Cleveland’s rotation is still in great shape. They had the best pitcher in baseball in Shane Bieber in 2020 and should have no problem filling out the rest of their rotation in 2021.
Despite all of the question marks about Lindor’s future and Cleveland’s lineup, the Indians have the kind of starting rotation that should make them a playoff contender next year.
11. Houston Astros
The Astros deserve a world of credit for pushing the Rays to seven games in the ALCS. However, the roster looks different heading into the winter with George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick hitting the free-agent market. Keep in mind that Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel all underperformed in 2020.
There also figures to be a youth movement in the Houston rotation, although the Astros got strong performances from a few younger pitchers this past season. The bottom line is that the Astros need to have a productive offseason if they hope to remain contenders in the American League next season.
10. New York Mets
The Mets are in surprisingly good shape for a team that was under .500 and missed the playoffs. The lineup should stay more or less the same in 2021 after Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith had outstanding campaigns in 2020. The Mets will also expect Pete Alonso to bounce back and Robinson Cano to keep producing.
Oddly enough, New York’s problem is the starting rotation where they have few answers outside of Jacob deGrom. On paper, there are several big holes in the rotation, but with a new owner, there is optimism that the Mets will spend this winter and address those needs.
9. Oakland Athletics
Oakland got over the hump in 2020 by winning the AL West. But the path to repeating that success in 2021 is not easy. Key players like Marcus Semien, Robbie Grossman, Liam Hendriks and others are hitting the free-agent market. The A’s typically aren’t big spenders, so they may need to get creative.
Fortunately for the A’s, they have a young rotation that has a chance to keep them competitive. However, they’ll need to get more out of veteran hitters like Matt Olson and Khris Davis unless they can add offensive reinforcements this winter.
8. Chicago Cubs
This could be the last chance the Cubs have to chase a championship before several stars hit the free-agent market and they consider a rebuilding period. With Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish, the top of the starting rotation looks strong, although there are some vacancies in the back end of the rotation that will need to be filled. Meanwhile, most of Chicago’s lineup remains intact. Unfortunately, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber had poor seasons in 2020. But with free agency approaching, those players should be poised to bounce back in 2021, which could make the Cubs dangerous if they can fill out the back end of their starting rotation.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
Despite coming up a little short in the World Series this year, the Rays aren’t going anywhere. Tampa’s bullpen is still as deep as any in baseball and will remain the strength of the team. The Rays are also set to bring back most of the same lineup. Granted, they weren’t the most explosive offensive team in 2020, but the Rays will get a full season out of Randy Arozarena.
They will also hope to get more out of Austin Meadows and Brett Phillips. Tampa’s biggest loss could be Charlie Morton, who had his option for 2021 declined. However, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow give the Rays two frontline starters to help complement their deep bullpen.
6. New York Yankees
It’ll surely be an interesting winter in the Bronx. On paper, the Yankees don’t have a lot of glaring weaknesses, but losing to the Rays in the ALDS won’t sit well, so they’ll be looking to make a splash. The starting rotation figures to be the biggest question mark, as there are multiple vacancies unless the Yankees feel content going with youngsters Deivi Garcia and Michael King. Also, DJ LeMahieu is a free agent, so the Yankees will have to re-sign him or find a way to replace him if they want to be American League favorites next year.
5. Minnesota Twins
The Twins held off two strong competitors to win the AL Central this year and repeating as division champs in 2021 won’t be easy. However, Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda lead what should be a strong starting rotation, even with Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi becoming free agents.
Offensively, the Twins should have plenty of firepower despite a down season in 2020. If they don’t re-sign Nelson Cruz, there will be a huge hole in the middle of the order that the Twins may need to fill internally by getting more out of their stars who underperformed this year. Nevertheless, Minnesota’s roster remains one of the best in baseball.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Braves had three chances to close out the NLCS and reach the World Series this fall, and they could be even better next year. Young pitchers Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright started to establish themselves late in the season. Next year, they’ll join Max Fried and Mike Soroka in one of the best rotations in baseball.
On offense, they’ll need to re-sign or replace Marcell Ozuna. But Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, and Atlanta’s other key hitters are all back. Atlanta’s biggest problem is the bullpen, which will need reinforcements because several key players are free agents. But the rotation and offense should make the Braves serious contenders in 2021.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made big waves in 2020, and they could be ready to take another big step forward next year with Tony La Russa at the helm. All of Chicago’s heavy hitters are back and the White Sox may be able to get even more out of young hitters like Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada.
The White Sox also have the makings of a top-flight rotation with Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito leading the way and youngsters Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning also developing. They’ll be an interesting team to watch in the offseason because they don’t need much but if they make one or two key additions, the White Sox could be something special in 2021.
2. San Diego Padres
The Padres made big moves in 2020 and fell slightly short. However, they’ll have most of their team coming back and could be a serious challenger in 2021. The rotation trio of Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies remains intact, and the San Diego rotation could be even better if Chris Paddack returns to his 2019 form.
The Padres are in even better shape on offense with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado leading the way. The Padres also got strong contributions from Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham. They also have Mitch Moreland, Austin Nola and Tommy Pham, so they look loaded heading into next year.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Sorry folks, but the reigning champion Dodgers will be the team to beat in 2021. With the emergence of Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin this year, the Los Angeles rotation is going to be incredible next year with Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw still pitching at the top of the rotation. In fairness, the bullpen is good but not great, but that didn’t stop the Dodgers this season.
More importantly, the L.A. lineup is still loaded with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. Even with a few players hitting the free-agent market, the Dodgers have the farm system, depth, and money to fill whatever needs they have and put themselves in a position to repeat as world champions.
Photo: Getty Images