With the 2017 Major League Baseball season in the books, we now wait through the cold winter until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. To kick off the offseason, which hopefully brings several blockbuster moves, we have put together a Way-Too-Early Power Rankings for 2018.
1. Houston Astros
The Astros were able to secure their first World Series title in franchise history in 2017 and will be looking to repeat in 2018. Nearly the entire roster is returning next season, except for Carlos Beltran, who just retired. The cornerstones to their franchise, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Jose Altuve, are only 23, 23, 27, and 28, respectively. Their pitching rotation proved it could handle some of the MLB’s best offenses, shutting down the Yankees in the ALCS when it mattered most and locking down the Dodgers’ offense in the World Series, except for a wild Game 5. The Astros are the favorites to win the World Series again and no one should be surprised if they do manage to repeat. Houston has built itself the foundation to a baseball dynasty which appears to have the potential to be as dominant as the ’90s/early-2000s Yankees.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Pretty much all the important pieces from their World Series run will be back for 2018. The team is well equipped at every position and has ridiculous depth off the bench. Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Chris Taylor are only 23, 22, and 27, so the offensive core could get even better, a scary thought for National League pitchers. If the team doesn’t bring back World Series flop Yu Darvish, look for the front office to make a move for a top starter.
3. New York Yankees
The Yankees surprised everyone in 2017, not only by making the playoffs, but by being one win away from the World Series. They were supposed to still be developing their young talent, yet they outperformed everyone’s expectations. AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez both secured Silver Slugger Awards. Didi Gregorius, heir to Jeter’s throne, had the best season of his young career, and Clint Frazier showed flashes of promise in his short stint in the Bigs. Despite the firing of manager Joe Girardi, the Baby Bombers will be one of the best teams in the MLB in 2018. Look for the Yankees to challenge the Houston Astros for king of the AL, and don’t be surprised if the Yankees reach the World Series.
4. Cleveland Indians
Cleveland finished the 2017 regular season as favorites to face the Dodgers in the World Series, especially after their historic win streak. However, they had the misfortune of playing the red-hot Yankees in the ALDS. Super stars Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez will continue to provide offensive fire power in 2018, while perennial Cy Young contender Corey Kluber shows no signs of slowing down either. The Indians will be one of the best teams in baseball next year and will prepare for another hopeful World Series run.
5. Washington Nationals
Despite their playoff struggles, the Nationals still have a ridiculously deep roster. The three headed beast of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez can matchup with anyone, and the lineup is still stacked with Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, and many more. The bullpen was their greatest weakness, but they added several great pitchers at the deadline and could improve for 2018. Also, this could be the Nationals’ last chance with Harper on board, so they could make some moves this winter to capitalize on this season.
6. Boston Red Sox
Boston won the AL East for the second consecutive season, but lost in the ALDS to the Astros, prompting the firing of manager John Ferrell. Boston’s young core is only getting better and their pitching rotation is one of the best in MLB. They are poised for a breakout season and are in a good position to make a deep post-season run. The Red Sox biggest challenge this season will be beating out the equally talented and young Yankees for first place in the AL East.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
Though the D-Backs did not win their division, they were arguably the second best team in the National League last year. The lineup, with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, AJ Pollock, and David Peralta, is as stacked as it gets. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray headline a filthy rotation that will continue to dominate in 2018. Besides Archie Bradley, the bullpen is mediocre, and they will need to add a few pieces if they want to make a deep run in 2018.
8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels underwhelmed yet again this season, missing the playoffs and finishing with an 80-82 record. Their lineup is stacked with talent, including arguably the best player in the league in Mike Trout, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, and defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. Last season, Simmons surprisingly provided the offensive production he never quite gave to the Braves. In order for Los Angeles to be serious contenders in 2018, they will need to add a big name pitcher. Expect LA to put up more of a fight for first place in the AL West this season and to be a sure lock for at least a Wild Card birth.
9. Chicago Cubs
In their quest to repeat, the Cubs fell short of the World Series in 2017. Their pitching staff could not reproduce their 2016 success, and Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis could be on the way out. But their lineup still has Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Albert Almora Jr, and their bullpen should be solid. Expect the Cubs to be back in the playoffs this year, one way or another.
10. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have arguably the best lineup in their division. Names like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ LeMahieu are a pitcher’s worst nightmare. A young and talented rotation featuring Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, and German Marquez should improve, even in the altitude of Coors Field. The relief corps had a rough 2017, so a couple moves to improve there would be optimal for Colorado.
11. St. Louis Cardinals
A late hot streak in 2017 brought the Cards close to the playoffs, but it was not enough. If 2017 was just a blip in the careers of Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty, the lineup could once again be one of the best in the league. Overall, their roster has a lot of talent but also several uncharacteristically poor years in 2017. Carlos Martinez should build upon his 217 strikeouts from last year with his electric fastball. The Cardinals have also been known to make big trades, so they could get some help in the bullpen, which is their weakest link.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew surprised a lot of people in 2017, finishing just one game from a playoff spot. Their young trio of Zach Davis, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson is only going to get better, and their offense will get stronger with the developments of Orlando Arcia and Domingo Santana. If the front office picks up an offensive piece this winter, look for the Brewers to make a strong push for a playoff spot.
13. Minnesota Twins
Minnesota was one of the biggest surprises of 2017. They made the playoffs just one year after suffering 100+ losses and are the first team in history to achieve such a feat. The Twins will look to continue this success in 2018, led by young studs Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton and outstanding veterans Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier. Minnesota will attempt to secure first place in the AL Central from Cleveland, but will likely end up securing another Wild Card birth.
14. New York Mets
Hopefully for the Mets, 2017 was an outlier for their potentially amazing pitching staff. If Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey can find a way to return to form, they could have one of the best rotations in the league. The departure of Jay Bruce, Addison Reed, and Neil Walker will leave some big holes on the team, but GM Sandy Alderson could add a few big pieces this offseason.
15. Seattle Mariners
Seattle continues to let down its fans by contending for a Wild Card spot and then inevitably falling apart. Expect 2018 to be no different. On paper they still have a solid lineup, led by Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Jean Segura. Felix Hernandez continues to pump out ace-like numbers. Seattle will battle with the Angels for second place in the AL West and once again have a chance to secure a Wild Card slot.
16. San Francisco Giants
2017 was a strange season in San Francisco. A Madison Bumgarner dirt bike accident and an awful bullpen propelled them to 98 losses, but they still look like a contending team on paper. Buster Posey should continue to rake, and Bumgarner and other rotation pieces like Johnny Cueto could have bounce back seasons. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if the Giants make a splash this winter to bolster their roster.
17. Toronto Blue Jays
Just one year after making the ALCS, the Blue Jays finished 4th in the AL East and were 10 games under .500. Josh Donaldson had another good year, as did Justin Smoak and Kevin Pillar. Toronto’s biggest problem was the lack of a reliable pitching rotation behind ace Marcus Stroman. It is also likely the Jays will attempt to trade Donaldson, who is 33 and in the final year of his contract, in exchange for younger prospects. Even with Donaldson, Toronto is in a race for third place in the AL East and possibly the second Wild Card spot if they outperform expectations.
18. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa finished third in the AL East last season, going 80-82. Evan Longoria had another solid season, leading the team with 81 RBI Kevin Kiermaier emerged as a stellar defensive outfielder and legitimate hitter, and pitcher Chris Archer had good year, striking out 249 opposing batters. The biggest weakness for the Rays is playing in the same conference as the Yankees and Red Sox. Expect Tampa to compete with Toronto for third place in the AL East again in 2018.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates contended for the NL Central for a decent portion of 2017, but fell off a cliff in August and September. A renaissance season from former MVP Andrew McCutchen could continue into 2018 if the Pirates hold onto their star. Starling Marte and Josh Harrison also provide solid bats in the lineup, but the offense is lackluster besides them. A young rotation including Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could improve, but the Pirates will likely be at home again next October
20. Kansas City Royals
The Royals had a disappointing season. They finished with an 80-82 record and 3rd in the AL Central, despite their big three of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas all hitting above .300. This does not bode well for the 2018 Royals, who are likely to lose at least one, if not all three to free agency. If Kansas City can’t retain any of their core players during free agency it will be a long season for Royals fans.
21. Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore underperformed again relative to the amount of talent on their roster. They were last in the strong AL East with a 75-87 record. Their shortcomings as a team can be largely attributed to their weak pitching rotation and lack of a dominant ace. Kevin Gausman, the Orioles’ number one pitcher, had a 4.68 ERA. Despite the Orioles’ lackluster season, their offense performed well, especially stars Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado had somewhat of down year, only hitting .259, but he did post 33 home runs. The true bright spot of their season was rookie Trey Mancini, who led the team in batting average and on base percentage. Baltimore’s success in 2018 depends on the continued development of their young hitters and strengthening their pitching rotation. Unless they make major additions to their pitching staff, the Orioles will finish last in the AL East again.
22. Texas Rangers
The Rangers had a disappointing 2017, finishing with a losing record and 4th in the AL West. The fan-favorite duo of Adrian Beltre and Andrus Elvis had another productive year, despite Beltre only playing in 94 games. Young slugger Joey Gallo also showed some promise, hitting for 41 home runs, but will need to cut down on his strikeouts to make a more balanced contribution to the team in 2018. The Rangers also lost ace Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, decimating their pitching rotation. Look for the Rangers to add a few key pieces to their rotation for the 2018 season and expect them to have a slightly better year than they did in 2017.
23. Oakland Athletics
Oakland went 75-87 last year and finished in last place in the AL West. The A’s did their annual purging of stars to acquire young talent, this year trading away Sonny Gray to the Yankees. Despite their lackluster season and the loss of their ace, the A’s young hitters performed well and showed decent promise for the 2018 season. If their prospects continue to develop and outperform expectations, Oakland has a chance to be competitive in 2018.
24. Miami Marlins
When you look at the Marlins roster, it can be confusing to understand why they never contend. Their lineup boasts the star power of Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Justin Bour, Christian Yelich, and of course, Giancarlo Stanton. But like their NL East counterparts, the pitching is not good enough to boost the team to the playoffs. And if new ownership follows through and ships out Stanton, others could be on their way as well. In the near future, it might be getting a lot worse in South Beach.
25. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are coming off a last place finish in the NL East, but the arrival of rookie Rhys Hoskins has brought plenty of excitement. Odubel Herrera turned in another solid season, and if Maikel Franco makes some adjustments, he can return to his 2015 form. But besides their up-and-coming ace Aaron Nola, their rotation and bullpen will continue to give them problems. They could make some moves for pitching help this winter, though.
26. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have been abysmal for a few years, and not much is going to change in 2018. A full season from Freddie Freeman could save them from a last place finish, but Dansby Swanson’s disappointing 2017 season could be a sign that he isn’t all that the Braves were hoping. On top of that, a dismal pitching staff is their greatest weakness.
27. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox finished well under .500 in 2017 and were 4th in the AL Central. They traded away star Todd Frazier to the Yankees in return for young prospects. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia had great seasons, both hitting over .300. Look for Abreu and Garcia to have another good year at the plate in 2018 and for possible improvements from young prospects like Yoan Moncada. Nonetheless, 2018 is another rebuilding year for the White Sox who will almost certainly miss the playoffs and compete with the Tigers for last place in the AL Central.
28. Cincinnati Reds
Three straight years in last place should have Reds fans frustrated, and the situation doesn’t look to improve much in 2018. The likely departure of Zack Cozart will leave a gaping hole in the lineup and infield, and there is a slight possibility that Joey Votto is moved. There’s not much to look forward to besides the arrival of some solid prospects. The emergence of 24 year old starting pitcher Luis Castillo might be the lone bright spot throughout yet another year in the NL Central cellar.
29. San Diego Padres
A down year for Wil Myers made the Padres almost unwatchable in 2017. Their offense has potential but is weak right now. Even in the pitcher-friendly PetCo Park, their pitching staff, besides trade chip Brad Hand, is mediocre at best. If Myers gets back on track and outfielder José Pirela continues his solid hitting, maybe Padres fans will have something to talk about, but odds are that the Padres are looking to sell again next summer.
30. Detroit Tigers
An absolutely dismal 2017 season for the Tigers led to Brad Ausmus’ firing and the team trading away perennial ace Justin Verlander. The Tigers are poised to have another terrible season in 2018, unless they make some big offseason moves. Currently their roster lacks any real talent, or even mediocrity, aside from an aging Miguel Cabrera. Detroit will try to draft well and stock up their farm system as they are officially in the rebuilding phase.
Photo: Alex Gallardo/AP