So it feels like we sort of, kind of, maybe might be a little bit closer to baseball starting?
That’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be right now, but with that shred of optimism I thought I’d take a stab at power ranking both leagues.
We don’t even know if the leagues as we know them would exist in 2020 — in fact, I’d suspect not — but we have a pretty good idea there’ll be a universal DH and hopefully somewhere in the vicinity of 65 games.
Here are the NL Power Rankings
Anyway, here’s what I think we’re looking at in terms of how the teams stack up at present:
1. New York Yankees
For as much ballyhoo as the Gerrit Cole signing deservedly gets, the rotation behind him is only pretty good. James Paxton appears to be fully healthy and is good when that’s true, but he and Masahiro Tanaka — while very solid — won’t make anyone forget about Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke last season.
But it’s still a very good trio with J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery and maybe eventually Domingo German in the mix as well — and a dang good bullpen behind that.
They’ll score runs in bunches, prevent them just as well and that’s before seeing what Aaron Hicks and Miguel Andujar can provide.
These guys are really good.
2. Houston Astros
I’m still not sure what to do with the Astros in light of everything that went on this winter, but they’re the defending AL Champions and still star-studded at pretty much every level.
I have a question or two about the back end of their rotation, but you could easily make a case for Astros-Yankees at Nos. 1-2 in that order and I wouldn’t fight.
3. Minnesota Twins
One thing going for the Twins is their depth. With everyone healthy, Homer Bailey is probably on the outside looking in on a rotation spot — and he was pretty good last year.
Their fifth and sixth bullpen arms are Tyler Clippard and Zack Littell, the former a veteran of 816 big-league innings with a 3.14 ERA and the latter is coming off allowing one earned run from Aug. 1 on (0.48 ERA in 18.2 IP).
On offense, they’re coming off hitting the most home runs in the history of baseball, with a player like Marwin Gonzalez not even guaranteed an every-day role. He anchors a bench that features a versatile everyman in Ehire Adrianza, a grizzled veteran OBP machine and clubhouse delight in Alex Avila behind the plate and Jake Cave, who through about a full season-worth of games has hit .262/.329/.466 and done pretty much all that’s asked of him.
Add in Josh Donaldson to last year’s nuttiness on offense and this is another very, very serious pennant contender.
4. Oakland Athletics
You could easily make a case for Oakland at No. 3. What they lack in the upside of the Twins offensively, they more than make up for with high-octane arms in both the rotation and bullpen.
Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are all extremely intriguing from the rotation, and Liam Hendriks fronts a sizzling bullpen that not only brings the heat but has veteran guile in Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria.
Offensively, they’ll piece it together around Matt Olson, Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman behind Ramon Laureano, with nary a black hole in the lineup to speak of.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
I call them Oakland East and the A’s vice-versa, but the reality is they do a lot of the same things together on a pretty limited budget. Blake Snell-Tyler Glasnow-Charlie Morton is right up there among the best rotation trios in the game, and the Rays are long on youthful excitement (Willy Adames, Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe) as well as other hitters who are intriguing in their own right (Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Yandy Diaz).
I’d say there’s a very clear divide between the top-five teams in the AL and the next three or four.
6. Los Angeles Angels
They added a superstar in Anthony Rendon to join the best player in the game, and keep in mind they still will be welcoming one of the best prospects in baseball to the bigs in the near-ish future in Jo Adell as well as hopefully getting even more production out of Shohei Ohtani. Andrelton Simmons is one of the most underrated players in baseball and an absolute wizard defensively.
Not many teams have this much high-end talent.
There are certainly some warts, sure. I like their chances of getting outs late in games if Keynan Middleton can come all the way back, but the rotation is going to be a real struggle. Tommy La Stella has to show he’s more than a flash in the pan. Albert Pujols has to ward off Father Time for another season.
But I like what they did bringing in Jason Castro to prop up their rotation, and I think they have a chance to be as good as Oakland or Houston since it’ll be a truncated season, but over the long haul I think they’re a half-step or so behind those two — but still a damn good team.
7. Cleveland Indians
I really struggled with Nos. 6-8. Cleveland will absolutely steamroll opponents at the top of their rotation, but it’s markedly weaker with Trevor Bauer in Cincinnati. It’ll be hard to know for sure how much Carlos Carrasco is willing to risk his health to play this season if he’s a higher-risk candidate for contracting COVID-19. Right now it’s just hard to say.
The bullpen for the Indians is merely fine, and the offense has enough chain-movers to keep them relevant in the AL Central. But I think they’re just a bit lacking across the board to where they can’t quite get the boost above the Angels, who have more top-end talent if not as much depth.
8. Boston Red Sox
It’s not really a bad team, and maybe one that would have won like 84-85 games in a full season, but they have some serious questions.
Like…how to prevent runs if Martin Perez is the No. 3 starter. The bullpen is short on proven commodities as well.
The offense will score some runs, but it’s not the Sox of yore, either. Jose Peraza is going to get some run at second base. Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley Jr. are no guarantees to be much more than average.
There’s not as much star power here as the Angels — though J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts is a terrific core — and there isn’t as much pitching as Cleveland.
9. Chicago White Sox
As I’m writing this I’m honestly toying with putting Chicago over Boston. I won’t — for now — but I’m having serious trepidation here.
My conviction the whole winter is that no team has more room for variance in their 2020 potential. I think the White Sox have a fairly decent bullpen and rotation, and I really like what their offense is capable of.
But I do have some questions.
- How will the learning curve be for guys like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal?
- Who is going to get on base?
- What happens if Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez pitch more like Nos. 4-5 starters instead of 2-3s?
- Do they have enough late-inning oomph in their bullpen?
They addressed some of these this offseason, and I really like Yasmani Grandal is going to be the best signing of the winter, but I still don’t think they’re quite ready for prime time — yet.
10. Texas Rangers
Honestly I just low-key like their rotation. Corey Kluber, Mike Minor and Lance Lynn is a surprisingly good power trio, and Kyle Gibson should fare better in front of the Texas infield than he did last year in Minnesota. Jordan Lyles is plenty interesting, too.
The bullpen isn’t terribly exciting past Jose Leclerc, and the offense has a lot of guys who could or should be good behind Joey Gallo. But it’s still way too many questions marks on offense. Can Rougned Odor become even Eddie Rosario at the plate? How will guys like Nick Solak and Willie Calhoun fare early in their careers? Can Danny Santana come close to his 2019 production?
In a full season, I’d probably have them winning like 83 games. Good, but probably not in the thick of it come October — or even September, I think.
11. Toronto Blue Jays
I love the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing but I still have too many question marks about their pitching staff behind him and Ken Giles. The offense is going to absolutely mash now and for a very long time, but it’s an unbalanced team for sure.
I’d guess like 79 wins in a full season.
12. Kansas City Royals
Here again is a very clear divide between team No. 11 and 12. I think the rotation could be interesting for the Royals — I like Jakob Junis and Brad Keller more than most — and they seem to have enough quirky guys in the bullpen to make it kind of interesting late.
Beyond that, I think they have just enough hitting to be the best of the bottom tier.
13. Detroit Tigers
I like Matthew Boyd and I’m higher on Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris than most, but the rest of the roster is a weird amalgamation of spare parts. Ivan Nova should be a No. 5 starter on a fringe contender, but outside of that it’s a bunch of low-OBP guys — some of whom can hit the ball a long way.
14. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners should absolutely be better than the Tigers, but if they aren’t it’s because they’re just. so. young. They have exciting young potential at just about every position, and if Yusei Kikuchi can have a better sophomore campaign they have some intrigue at the top of their rotation as well.
But they also have Matt Magill closing, and he’s like a year removed from the Twins DFA’ing him.
15. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have a few nice pieces in place, but just not nearly enough of them right now. Rebuilds are painful. They’re in the thick of one right now.