Four weeks from now, pitchers and catchers will report to their respective spring training homes in Arizona and Florida, which means there is no better time for some preseason power rankings.
A frozen winter — both literally and figuratively for baseball fans on the East Coast — filled with little activity, the likes of which we have not seen in a long time, has me longing for Cactus League action.
But fear not fellow baseball fanatics. The crack of the bat, the fresh-cut grass, and the sweet smell of peanuts and crackerjacks will soon soothe your dispirited soul.
Even though very few of the top free agents have signed and numerous trade possibilities involving star bats and arms still could happen, it is time to size up the MLB landscape.
In the first part of my rankings, I will size up the present and, more importantly, the future outlook for the bottom 10 teams.
Come back next week for a discussion surrounding the middle of the pack, teams ranked No. 20 to No. 11. The final part of the series will examine the top 10 and size up legitimate World Series contenders.
30. Detroit Tigers
General manager Al Avila traded Martinez, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila at the trade deadline and Verlander and Upton at the other trade deadline. So far this offseason, Avila traded Ian Kinsler to the Los Angeles Angels and Nicholas Castellanos could be next.
But their rotation, headed up by 2016 American League Rookie of the Year and 2017 All-Star Michael Fulmer, has the chance to be decent with a mix of promising young pitchers, a bounce back season from Jordan Zimmerman, and the addition of Mike Fiers.
If there is one reason to watch the Tigers in 2018 it is Miguel Cabrera. Expect him to bounce back from a career-worst season at the plate. Plus, who knows how much longer we will get to watch one of the century’s greatest hitters.
29. Miami Marlins
After finishing 10 games out of a Wild Card spot in 2017, new Marlins owner Derek Jeter has decided to tear down the team and, along the way, turn his franchise into the laughingstock of baseball.
Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, and Starlin Castro, the latter of whom was acquired in the Stanton trade, all want out of Miami, and I do not see a scenario in which the Marlins could convince any of them to suffer through a rebuild.
Things likely will get worse before they get better in South Beach.
28. Kansas City Royals
All good things must come to an end.
The Royals won the AL Pennant in 2014 and the World Series in 2015.
But three members of that core — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain — are likely to sign with other teams. Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, along with Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Hammel, and Ian Kennedy, will provide a solid veteran presence.
But Kansas City only won 80 games with that group of players last season and finished five games out of a playoff spot. Now, Royals fans will have to likely endure a long and painful rebuild.
27. Pittsburgh Pirates
Three years ago, the Pirates won 98 games and finished with the second best record in baseball.
Fans have petitioned for owner Bob Nutting to sell the team, and the criticism the franchise has taken is eerily similar to the heat Derek Jeter has taken in Miami.
To make matters worse, Josh Harrison wants out and the Pirates did not get quality returns for either McCutchen or Cole, which could have turned an average farm system into a top-10 group with hope for the future.
26. San Diego Padres
The Padres arguably overachieved last season. How they won 71 games is quite remarkable.
The future is bright for the Friars. They have one of the best farm systems filled with prospects who are ready to contribute soon — including pitcher MacKenzie Gore and shortstops Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr.
25. Chicago White Sox
Rick Hahn has done a lot of nice things with the White Sox. Trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton last winter netted Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito. He then traded Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson for more top 100 prospects, including Eloy Jimenez and Blake Rutherford.
As a result, the White Sox have built one of the best farm systems that also includes pitchers Michael Kopech and Carson Fulmer. It is all about the future in Chicago, but they are much further along in the rebuilding process than some of the other teams we’ve been discussing. In addition to watching the young kids progress at the big league level, it will be a treat to watch the All-Star duo of Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia.
The future is bright on the South Side.
24. Baltimore Orioles
You are probably wondering why I have the Orioles ranked lower than the Braves and Reds.
On paper, Baltimore has the better major league roster with a farm system that is on the rise. But this ranking is indicative of the limbo position they are in. I have no idea what they are doing.
Instead of recognizing they probably can’t compete in the AL East, general manager Dan Duquette decided to not trade pending free agents Manny Machado, Zach Britton (who is injured), Brad Brach, and Adam Jones in favor of trying to contend this season with a starting rotation that was one of the worst in the majors last season.
Duquette probably will just sign free agent starters right before spring training and hope that is enough. This is a case of a team not realizing their competitive window has closed.
23. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are headed for another losing season in 2018, but the future is bright in Cincinnati.
Offense was not the issue. They got productive seasons out of Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall, and Joey Votto turned an in MVP-type season. But Zack Cozart departed for the Los Angeles Angels, and Billy Hamilton and closer Raisel Iglesias are on the trading block.
The most important thing for Cincinnati this season is to see two young pitchers, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson, make significant strides at the major league level. Pair that with a top-10 farm system that includes Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, and Hunter Greene, and the future is bright for baseball’s oldest franchise.
22. Atlanta Braves
The Braves were a fringe playoff contender after going 42-45 in the first half, but a 30-45 second half showed they probably are still a year or two away from contending.
That being said, this team is going to be fun to watch in 2018. With the majors’ number one farm system, and a mix of exciting veterans (Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte) and young players (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, and Dansby Swanson), they are clearly a team on the rise. Their rotation is top heavy but look for the bottom half to blossom.
This team can only go up from here.
21. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are ready to contend as early as next season. This offseason, general manager Matt Klentak signed free agent Carlos Santana and many expect the front office to aggressively pursue members of the historic 2018-19 free agent class.
Santana will complement Rhys Hoskins and Cesar Hernandez in the lineup. Philadelphia also added Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek to beef up the bullpen. But if this team is going to make noise this season, Maikel Franco has to play better. Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and Vince Velasquez also need to have bounce-back seasons.
If not this year, expect the Phillies to contend for a playoff spot as early as the 2019 season.