Other than “The Rays, the Diamondbacks, and the Cardinals are undefeated” and “The Yankees, the Giants, and the Cubs are winless,” we don’t know anything about the 2017 season right now. In fact, it’ll be at least another six weeks or so before the early-season small-sample noise starts to quiet down enough for us to draw any real conclusions about the course this year will take. But guess what: Power rankings are fun, so let’s do some power rankings.
1. Chicago Cubs
They were clearly the best team in baseball last year, and most of that squad returns. Right off the bat, they’re probably in the neighborhood of eight games better than their nearest NL Central competitors, so they’ve got a lot of breathing room in case of another catastrophic injury, like Kyle Schwarber’s last year, or a puzzling slump, like Jason Heyward’s shocking .230/.306/.325 line in 2016.
Between their bench, Triple-A players like third baseman Jeimer Candelario, and the positional flexibility of Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, and Ben Zobrist, the Cubs can afford to lose almost anyone and keep on chugging. The only place where that might not be the case is shortstop: Addison Russell’s one of the best defenders in the game, and Báez, for all his impressive tagging, might be a little overextended at short. Otherwise, this team is going to bore us with how good it is.
2. Boston Red Sox
Over the past 18 months, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s paid dearly in prospects in order to acquire Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, and Drew Pomeranz. The day might come when Boston misses Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Manuel Margot, and Anderson Espinoza, but that day is still a couple of years off. Xander Bogaerts is already one of the best shortstops in the league, and I’d take Boston’s outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Andrew Benintendi over anyone else’s. Starters Steven Wright and Rick Porcello might not replicate their 2016 seasons, but with Sale and David Price (when he comes back from his elbow strain) in the rotation, they won’t need to.
3. Washington Nationals
This team won 95 games in 2016. Now take the over on Bryce Harper’s disappointing 116 OPS+, and add in a full season of Trea Turner and move him to shortstop, because offseason acquisition Adam Eaton represents an enormous upgrade over last year, when Dusty Baker got so desperate for a competent center fielder that he played Turner out of position.
Right now, there isn’t really a reason to expect much turnover from last year’s 10 playoff teams to this year’s. Many of last year’s contenders kept their cores together, then went out and made a big move to get even better. Either the 2017 pennant race is going to be predictable, or a bunch of GMs are going to get fired.
4. Cleveland Indians
I love watching this team. I don’t have to sell you on Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnación, or Andrew Miller, but even the weird things about Cleveland are fun: Terry Francona’s bullpen usage, Trevor Bauer’s hobbies, Brandon Guyer’s ability to get hit by pitches. Adding Encarnación and getting Michael Brantley back healthy for most of the year will help. If there’s one worry, it’s their starting pitching depth: Even after starting rookie junkballer Ryan Merritt in the ALCS, Cleveland still hasn’t found a Plan B if one of their top five starters goes down with a serious injury, and that problem got even worse when Cody Anderson opted to get Tommy John surgery last month.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
PECOTA, the Baseball Prospectus projection system, thinks the Dodgers will be the best team in baseball at 97–65. I’d take that number with a grain of salt, because PECOTA also thinks Yasmani Grandal will be the second-best player in the National League. Grandal’s 121 OPS+ last year was excellent for a catcher, but that projection is likely the result of Grandal’s pitch framing, which factors into the calculus of WARP, but not other calculations of WAR. Grandal is a very good catcher, and probably underrated as a whole, but he’s not a win and a half better than the Mighty Giancarlo Stanton.
Of course, the Dodgers did win 91 games last year despite just about everyone on the team missing time through injury. With Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and even Kenta Maeda (remember those concerns about his elbow going into 2016?) in the rotation, the Dodgers will probably have to scramble to cobble together a pitching staff at some point, but the end goal is just to have as many of those guys healthy as possible come the postseason.
6. Houston Astros
Those questions about pitcher durability also apply to Houston, a team that built a wall of exciting young hitters, then papered over the cracks with veterans this offseason. This season hinges on the Astros’ young rotation: Can Lance McCullers stay healthy? How good can 24-year-old command-and-control guy Joe Musgrove be? Will Houston get anything out of rookies David Paulino and Francis Martes this year? With José Altuve and Carlos Correa leading the way, the bats are going to be good, but the Astros will go as far as their pitchers take them.
7. New York Mets
Nobody has a better track record of developing young pitchers over the past five years. Even after jettisoning Jon Niese and Bartolo Colón, the Mets go seven deep in quality homegrown starters, including four guys (Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz) who could get Cy Young votes without surprising anyone. The trick is keeping them all healthy. Sure enough, as Harvey returns from thoracic outlet syndrome, Matz’s elbow is barking again, which opens a spot in the rotation for Zack Wheeler, who’s thrown one professional inning in the past two seasons.
If the Mets can keep four or five of these guys on the mound at a time — it doesn’t matter that much which four or five — they’ll at least make the wild card and probably make the Nationals nervous in the NL East race.
8. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are a trendy pick to flop because they outperformed their run differential by 13 games last year, and they lost All-Star center fielder Ian Desmond, who took a five-year deal to play first base in Colorado. To that I’d say the Rangers won 95 games despite getting only half a season of Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, giving 370 plate appearances to Prince Fielder even though he was hitting like a backup catcher, and getting essentially nothing from Nomar Mazara, Shin-Soo Choo, Jurickson Profar, and Joey Gallo. There’s a lot of upside here.
Now, there is also absolutely nothing in this rotation behind Darvish and Cole Hamels, unless you’re convinced this is the season Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner stay healthy, in which case, I admire your optimism. Hamels, Darvish, and pray for … wow, that’s a tough name to rhyme with.
9. San Francisco Giants
Most of the news about the Giants’ rotation in recent years has been either about Madison Bumgarner’s home runs and playoff exploits or about veterans — Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy — collapsing at the end of their careers. But all of those guys except Cain are gone, and with the three pitchers behind Bumgarner — Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore, and Jeff Samardzija — San Francisco can hold its own against any other rotation in the National League. The position players … well, Buster Posey is still the best catcher in baseball, but this team’s going to struggle to score runs at times.
10. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners feel like an up-and-coming club, but they’re sneaky old. Kyle Seager turns 30 in November, and James Paxton is closer in age to Félix Hernández than Syndergaard. They’ve got that veteran core in place already, with no real prospects to speak of coming through the pipeline. PECOTA has the Mariners at 86–76, and 86 wins will usually leave you short of a playoff spot, but close enough that a couple of bounces could end baseball’s longest playoff drought.
11. Toronto Blue Jays
It’s the same club as last year, except they’ve downgraded from Encarnación and Michael Saunders to Kendrys Morales and Ezequiel Carrera. If Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki both play a full season together, Toronto will likely return to the postseason, but that hasn’t happened yet.
12. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Nine average position players, with an average bench and average pitchers, will win 81 games. Swap one of those players for Mike Trout and that becomes an 88- or 89-win team. Last year, the Angels couldn’t even get to .500, but the offseason additions of Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, and Luis Valbuena (when he returns from a hamstring strain next month) put this team within spitting distance of “mediocre, plus Mike Trout.” If Garrett Richards has successfully cheated Tommy John surgery and lasts 200 above-average innings, they’ll be even better than that.
13. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team is Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, Yasmany Tomás, and 22 guys who can’t realistically get any worse than they were in 2016. Just getting A.J. Pollock back from a broken elbow might be the biggest non–Chris Sale move of the offseason, and every single starting pitcher on the team ought to be better in 2017 than the year before. Nothing’s for certain, but after last season’s 69-win campaign, I don’t think there’s a team in baseball better-poised to improve by 15 or more games.
14. St. Louis Cardinals
Alex Reyes is hurt, Adam Wainwright is old, Kolten Wong is upset, Matt Carpenter’s playing out of position at first base, the Cubs are unbeatable, and yet … the National League has five playoff spots and only five teams I feel good about. If one or more of those five teams suffers a bad injury, or the manager loses the clubhouse, or a bullpen collapses, the wild-card race gets blown wide-open. The Cardinals, with their deep lineup and Carlos Martínez–led starting rotation, will be well positioned to swoop in.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
I like the rotation a lot, particularly with a healthy Alex Cobb, but I have no idea what to make of this set of position players — Kevin Kiermaier, Evan Longoria, and a bunch of trade throw-ins and reclamation projects — so into the middle the Rays go.
16. Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m not saying the Pirates’ window of contention is closing, but even if it were, there’s plenty of good young talent that could open it right back up. Pittsburgh will give three of BP’s top 25 prospects — outfielder Austin Meadows, pitcher Tyler Glasnow, and first baseman Josh Bell — their first significant big league action this year, and with Starling Marté, Gregory Polanco, and Jameson Taillon still all under team control at least through 2021, it wouldn’t take Pittsburgh long to reload.
17. Baltimore Orioles
This ranking is a concession to the Orioles having made the playoffs three times in the past five years without ever looking all that good at any point during that run. Baltimore’s rotation is really bad, and 40 percent of it — Chris Tillman and Wade Miley — starts the season on the DL. Good thing the bullpen’s so good, though Buck Showalter’s got only two seasons to find Zach Britton’s phone number before Manny Machado hits free agency and we find out how good he looks in a Phillies uniform.
18. Colorado Rockies
Even with Ian Desmond on the shelf for a month with a broken hand, Colorado has assembled a really nice group of position players, including an infield of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu, and Desmond that’s quietly become one of the National League’s best. Plus, with Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson, they now have two pretty good starting pitchers. Colorado’s first winning season since 2010 wouldn’t be remotely surprising.
19. New York Yankees
Apologies to the Yankees fans who wanted good news after this Lakers season and the Cowboys’ early playoff exit, but we’re maybe one more season from Brian Cashman’s first real rebuild taking shape.
Greg Bird, Gary Sánchez, and Aaron Judge are already in the big league lineup, and one of the best farm systems in baseball is about to start pumping up big league talent. In addition to the players they got back for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last summer — Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres — the Yankees have consistently drafted polished college pitchers and taught them to throw harder than they had before. Suddenly, innings eaters like James Kaprielian are touching 99 miles an hour, and fringe guys like Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery look like real contributors. The big question over the next two seasons is whether those developmental gains translate to the big leagues and hold up over a 162-game season.
20. Detroit Tigers
Two really good starting pitchers, a handful of really good hitters, lots of question marks at the back of the rotation, and not a lot of defense outside of José Iglesias. We may have seen the last gasp of an impressive decade-long run by Detroit, but maybe Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have another pennant race in them. Either way, this feels like the outer limit of teams with a shot at the playoffs. If any of these final 10 teams makes a run at the wild card, there will be a Sports Illustrated cover story about it.
21. Minnesota Twins
The key to watching the Twins this year will be to watch as many of their offensive half-innings as possible — Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Brian Dozier, and Byron Buxton are a lot of fun — and absolutely none of their defensive half-innings. Buxton’s got Gold Glove potential in center field, but you can catch his highlights online; you don’t want to risk seeing any more of these pitchers than you have to.
22. Miami Marlins
The Marlins haven’t finished over .500 since 2009. Their owner makes Frank McCourt look like Billy Heywood, and their farm system has ventured into “worse than the Angels” territory. Christian Yelich, the Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Ichiro, and the Dinger Machine deserve better.
23. Kansas City Royals
The Royals didn’t quite hit the hard reset button this offseason, but they lost their best hitter (Kendrys Morales) and best relief pitcher (Wade Davis) from a team that finished .500 last year. And while the baseball implications of Yordano Ventura’s tragic death are ultimately trivial, he’s an enormous loss in the rotation. I don’t think the Royals have that low of a floor, but if they’re going to get from 81 wins back up to the 88 or so it takes to get into the wild-card hunt, I don’t know where those extra seven wins are going to come from.
24. Milwaukee Brewers
Having liquidated every veteran but Ryan Braun and Matt Garza, the Brewers are currently in the “we’ll try anything” stage of their rebuild, which means they’re going to field a lot of fun, high-variance position players: Eric Thames, Keon Broxton, Jonathan Villar, Domingo Santana, and Orlando Arcia, who could become the best player on the next good Brewers team. Villar’s power-speed combination alone makes them worth watching, but it’s not enough to make them good right now.
25. Chicago White Sox
The next three teams are all pretty bad now, but in a fun way, and should get a lot better over the next two or three seasons. I’m extremely high, relatively speaking, on Chicago’s chances in 2017, but it’s still a team full of rookies.
26. Philadelphia Phillies
If Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez stay healthy, Maikel Franco shakes off his sophomore slump, and rookies J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro come up early enough, this team could be really exciting — at least on days when Clay Buchholz isn’t pitching. Check back in 2018.
27. Atlanta Braves
Dansby Swanson is a potential franchise shortstop whose hairdo is impervious to sun, sweat, and hats. I hope Bartolo Colón pitches until he’s 50. But even though the Braves’ future looks bright, 2017 is going to be kind of ugly. That’s fine, because in anticipation of not being very good, Braves ownership has moved the team to a new ballpark in the middle of the woods, with no place to park and no public-transit access, so nobody’s going to see it.
28. San Diego Padres
Christian Bethancourt’s two-way act should be pretty cool, but apart from that, how you feel about the Padres depends on how invested you are in Manny Margot’s continued development. I really hope Pitch gets renewed.
29. Oakland A’s
Oakland has finessed a talented young pitching staff and a team full of cast-offs into a contender before, but since a brutal end to 2014 — a second-half collapse followed by a gut-wrenching wild-card loss and the departures of Jon Lester and Josh Donaldson — they’ve looked a little lost organizationally. Moneyball was a long time ago.
30. Cincinnati Reds
There’s a reason everyone in the Ohio River Watershed is pissed about Joey Votto’s RBI totals. You can’t drive anyone in if there’s nobody on base.