I've been doing the Official Power Rankings for Major League Baseball here on CBS Sports since spring training of 2012. It's a pleasure, some of the time, to interact with, well, some of you. Loyal readers who have been around for a long time are familiar with my pre-spring version of the rankings, in that I usually spend a good portion of time up here explaining that, yes, last year's champion is the defending champion but also is not entitled to start the spring in the No. 1 spot. We've had a few years (I believe two in the 2021 Dodgers and 2017 Cubs) where the champion did start at No. 1, but it wasn't based on some weird notion that the champs have to be dethroned on the field.
Generally, though, our No. 1 in the first version of the power rankings isn't the defending champion and it's a very simple reason: It's a new year and we're judging how the team looks for the new year, not what happened last year.
All that said, this time around, I think there's a chance the Astros retain the top spot.
The most obvious negative for the team is that ace Justin Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, is gone. In the regular season, he started 28 games with the Astros and won 20 of those. They will obviously miss him. How could any team not miss a player the caliber of Verlander once he leaves?
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They also weren't that reliant on him. The Astros were 86-48 when Verlander didn't start, which is a 162-game pace of 104 wins. That is to say, they were one of the best teams in baseball when he didn't pitch. Still, there's a residual, indirect impact of aces. Think of those 175 innings that weren't replacement-level pitchers. Think of how confident the team feels with an ace taking the mound, how much less stress there is on the offense, defense and bullpen. It really does add up.
The Astros' rotation now, though, looks just fine.
Framber Valdez is a frontline starter and right in the middle of his prime. He worked more than 200 innings last season and can be counted on that kind of workload again. Cristian Javier is soon turning 26 years old and ready to throw in the vicinity of 175 innings. He's a fine No. 2 with his high level of talent -- which we saw on display in his World Series start that resulted in a no-hitter. Lance McCullers only started eight games last season, coming off injury, so having him back for the full season also helps mitigate the Verlander loss.
That's the top three and it's a very nice group. Luis Garcia was 15-8 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.13 WHIP last season. José Urquidy was 13-8 with a 3.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Those are the back-end starters. They'd be mid-rotation options on many teams. Top pitching prospect Hunter Brown provides organizational depth.
It might sound silly, but it's true: The Astros didn't need to retain Verlander.
The bullpen is still loaded. The offense looks to have a full season of Michael Brantley and added José Abreu. We have a better idea of what they can expect from Jeremy Peña, who was the rookie replacement for Carlos Correa last season.
I mean: Damn.
Are they better?
Maybe. Maybe not. Entering spring training, they are worthy of keeping the top spot.
|I'll take Yordan Alvarez finishing with a better season than Aaron Judge in 2023.||--||32-23|
|It's their time. I said a few weeks ago the Dodgers are still the "team to beat" in the NL West and they are. The gambling odds have the Dodgers as the favorites. The Padres are the pick, though. They'll be better.||1||25-30|
|I'm calling my (his?) shot. Ronald Acuña Jr. wins 2023 NL MVP.||2||33-23|
|It's impossible for the Yankees to be "underrated." It's just the nature of franchise. I will say don't sleep on their talent. It's a very strong team. The less we see of Josh Donaldson, however, the better.||2||34-24|
|That rotation is both fearsome and worrisome. If they have everyone healthy and firing come playoff time, however, they could ride those arms to a World Series title.||2||29-27|
|They still have Mookie and Freddie (and Will!) but the bottom portion of that lineup has potential to be pretty bad.||2||34-23|
|A touch more well-rounded this time around and they were talented enough for a deep playoff run last year. It's far from the only question, but a big one: Can they fix José Berríos?||2||29-27|
|I honestly don't think they are this good, but the past several years have taught me to avoid under-estimating them.||4||40-18|
|It's an interesting task to rank them. On one hand, they were only an 87-win team last season, finishing third place in their division and only making the playoffs via the six seed by one game. Arguably their best player might miss around half the season, too. On the other hand, they are definitely better, personnel-wise, and have several areas where they could expect internal improvement. I'm intrigued.||7||25-30|
|I love this pitching staff. A full year with Luis Castillo, another year under the belt for Logan Gilbert and George Kirby and Robbie Ray is capable of more. Oh, and that bullpen is 🔥.||2||29-27|
|The rotation is loaded with landmines. How will newcomer Willson Contreras deal with them while attempting to fill the shoes of a Cardinals legend?||--||25-32|
|That rotation is glorious and the offense has enough potential for the Brewers to take the NL Central again. Definitely don't count them out. Sneaking in that Sean Murphy trade between the Braves and A's to get William Contreras could prove a coup.||1||29-26|
|I really thought they'd salary dump Shane Bieber in the offseason. Kudos to the front office for keeping him. I'm not sure they'll repeat as division champs, but I can guarantee I won't be enough of a dolt to pick them last again.||3||25-30|
|Weird offseason. It'll be especially weird to see them without Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in the lineup. Good on them for locking up Rafael Devers long-term, though. And hey, Chris Sale should have plenty left in the tank.||2||28-27|
|Things could obviously go wrong, but the 100th percentile outcome here is winning the World Series. Let's just say they find a way to make the playoffs and then Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Jon Gray are throwing at their top level. They'd be tough. Again, though, there are plenty of ways this could fall off the rails.||9||35-20|
|I love that they were able to swoop in and retain Carlos Correa, but is the rotation a house of cards? There's certainly potential for a good year there, but how it holds up determines their success this season.||4||29-27|
|It's an annual tradition to rank them too high. This could end up being low, though. For real! The offense is deeper, especially if Anthony Rendon can stay on the field.||--||30-27|
|It was a total bummer to miss out on Aaron Judge and then whatever we're going to call what happened with Carlos Correa. They're left hoping Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger can stay healthy for full seasons. If so, the offense is a lot more dynamic this time.||3||28-28|
|Maybe not having Tony La Russa is worth a few wins and there's certainly upside, just not much organizational depth. On a very serious note: Liam Hendriks is one of the truly great men in the game and I'd like to send him the best of wishes, vibes, thoughts and prayers. Go get 'em, Liam.||--||23-35|
|That was a half measure of an offseason by the front office exec most famous for being Theo Epstein's No. 2. They will be better, though.||2||24-31|
|They followed up the most exciting Orioles season in nearly a decade with a total dud of an offseason. We'll find out in time if it was the right move, but consider this a "first" guess that they should have been a lot more aggressive. A backslide is coming, even if it's temporary before a big breakthrough.||7||35-21|
|There's been a lot of reporting out there that basically adds up to the Marlins desperately trying to get free agent bats to take their money and being refused. They ended up having to trade Pablo Lopez to get Luis Arraez. I'm excited to see Jazz Chisholm in center (I'm always excited to see Jazz), but it looks like the offense still just isn't good enough.||--||29-27|
|The offense has potential to be pretty fun (look at that team speed!) and even pretty good, but I'm not buying the rotation (aside from Zac Gallen, who is a legit Cy Young candidate) and the bullpen is probably still terrible.||2||33-23|
|Can Bobby Witt be a stat-sheet stuffer like Mookie Betts? That's a high bar, but when Betts was 22 and played a full season, he had 42 doubles, eight triples, 18 homers, 77 RBI, 92 runs and 21 steals. Witt last year at age 22: 31 doubles, six triples, 20 homers, 80 RBI, 82 runs and 30 steals. Even a lesser version of Mookie is amazing.||2||17-39|
|They are likely to be terrible, but it would be a good bet to say the following bigish-name players will be better (or even much better): Javier Baez, Spencer Torkelson, Austin Meadows and Eduardo Rodriguez||2||26-28|
|Not a good team, but a pair of young, potential aces in Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo make this team worth watching. Well, worth watching forty percent of the time, at least.||2||26-29|
|ALL HAIL THE RETURN OF ANDREW MCCUTCHEN!||--||28-27|
|Another terrible year, but we're still within the time period -- after the 2019 World Series -- that Nats fans can't complain, right?||1||24-32|
|Other than shortened seasons, last year's 698 runs was the fewest the Rockies have ever scored in a season. A fully functional Kris Bryant will help, but otherwise they aren't better. The pitching is brutal, too. There's a chance this is the worst team in baseball. HOWEVER ...||4||24-33|
|Rachel Phelps' boys retain the final spot until they show signs of trying.||--||12-46|