In about three weeks' time, on April 1, Major League Baseball will kick off the 2021 regular season. While spring is supposed to be all about hope and rebirth, let's face the facts: hard pragmatism awaits an unhealthy chunk of the league's fan bases. For the teams those fans adore, this season isn't about winning a championship or even competing for a playoff spot; it's simply the inevitable bridge between yesterday and tomorrow, where better times may await.
With that in mind, we wanted to dedicate space to the rebuilding teams. Specifically, we wanted to pass judgement by ranking them based on the perceived brightness of their future -- meaning, in so many words, how good they look on paper for the next couple of years. In order to do so, we established three parameters for inclusion:
- Team didn't make the playoffs in 2020;
- Team didn't sign or trade for an elite player over the winter;
- Teams projected by SportsLine's model of have a losing 2021.
Those guidelines identified nine teams who can reasonably be defined as rebuilding. Is this an oversimplification for what is, at its core, a nebulous concept? Perhaps, but that's the beauty of the language; what one executive refuses to label as "rebuilding" another might refer to as "retooling," "trusting the process," or "sticking to our plan."
In other words, dear reader, recognize that you have the divine ability to create your own reality with your thoughts and your acts. Now, please manifest the attention span necessary to scroll through this article to completion.
Projected 2021 wins: 77
Justification: Last season was the first time the Diamondbacks had suffered a losing record since 2016, or before Mike Hazen became general manager. Despite doing a fair amount of winning, the Diamondbacks have been able to assemble and maintain a high-quality farm system. There's plausible impact (Kristian Robinson, Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll); there's depth (Geraldo Perdomo, Bryce Jarvis, Blake Walston); and there's even a number of ready or near-ready types (Daulton Varsho, Corbin Martin, Pavin Smith). Factor in how the Diamondbacks have some high-grade big-league players, such as Zac Gallen and Ketel Marte, and they should bounce back quickly.
Projected 2021 wins: 73
Justification: The Mariners appear closer than not to ending the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports. In addition to the game's two best outfield prospects (Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez), Seattle's farm system includes a slew of potential mid-rotation starters (Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock, George Kirby) and a number of interesting down-list types (Noelvi Marte, Taylor Trammell, Cal Raleigh). Add in some of the youngsters who have already graduated (Kyle Lewis, Justus Sheffield, Evan White) and some natural advantages (decent-sized market; great stadium; minimal long-term expenditures), and the Mariners ought to be able to flip the switch as soon as 2022, provided they can avoid tripping over themselves along the way.
Projected 2021 wins: 76
Justification: Farhan Zaidi deserves a lot of credit. He inherited an expensive, aging roster that appeared to be heading south -- and not by choice. Zaidi opted against going all scorched earth, and has instead plucked some meaningful contributors (ahem, Mike Yastrzemski) while fielding a soft contender. The farm system isn't half bad, either. Marco Luciano has star upside, while Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and Patrick Bailey should become contributors. The Giants have shown pitching development chops at the big-league level, and have made a few runs at star-level players the past few winters. That would seem to bode well for their future as they clear additional budget space.
Projected 2021 wins: 76
Justification: The Royals seem to operate differently than most teams, as Dayton Moore isn't a day trader masquerading as a baseball executive. Anyway, Moore has been using a lot of draft capital on pitching the past few summers. As a result, he has even more young arms coming to join Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Brad Keller in the big-league rotation, including Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar. The Royals aren't without some intriguing hitters, either: Bobby Witt Jr. has star potential at shortstop, and outfielder Erick Pena could take a big step forward. The Royals seem to be a step or two back of some of their divisional foes, but if their young pitching hits the ground running then there's a chance they sneak up on teams later this year.
Projected 2021 wins: 59
Justification: You'd think a team who has picked No. 1 overall in two of the past three drafts would have the makings of a rosy future, and yet here are the Tigers. First baseman Spencer Torkelson should ascend to the middle of Detroit's lineup in a quick order, and outfielder Riley Greene should join him there someday. The catch here is that their top three starting prospects (Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal) each had miserable 2020 seasons because of underperformance and/or injury. There's a chance each gets back on track this year, which in turn would give the Tigers a handful of premium young talent. That group is vital to Detroit's future, because the farm system isn't as deep as one might expect and ownership hasn't shown a willingness to spend.
Projected 2021 wins: 63
Justification: The Rangers are a bit like the Royals in the sense that they consistently make moves to improve their roster, even if it doesn't put them in contention. This winter, that meant trading for Nate Lowe, signing David Dahl, and bringing in approximately a jillion veteran arms as non-roster invitees. What matters more to the Rangers' future is the development of Leody Taveras (who can go get it in center), Josh Jung, Dane Dunning, Sam Huff, and others. The Rangers will likely add a blue chipper with the No. 2 pick this July, giving their farm system some much-needed impact.
Projected 2021 wins: 65
Justification: In catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, the Orioles have the second-best prospect in baseball. Baltimore has a few other interesting top prospects, too, such as right-hander Grayson Rodriguez and outfielder Heston Kjerstad. There's not a ton on the big-league roster to get excited about beyond Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander, however, and management seems perfectly content with that. This isn't a pure farm system ranking, hence them placing here instead of a little higher.
Projected 2021 wins: 59
Justification: The Pirates are similar to the Orioles in that they have a dreadful big-league roster (Ke'Bryan Hayes excepted); a front office that is prioritizing the long-term picture and ignoring the present; and a farm system that probably won't produce much help this year. The Pirates do have a number of exciting prospects coming through the system, at least, including Liover Peguero, Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Tahnaj Thomas, Nick Gonzalez, and, evidently, Oneil Cruz. (Plus whomever they draft No. 1 in July, be it Jack Leiter or somebody else.) There's upside here, it's just going to take a lot of development luck and skill to achieve the idyllic outcome.
Projected wins: 60
Justification: Where to start? The Rockies just traded one of the best players in franchise history without getting back an obvious stud; they're likely to lose another homegrown star, Trevor Story, before the year is out; and they don't have a particularly good farm system (though Zac Veen is promising). Heck, even if the Rockies did have a load of young talent, it would be worth questioning why so many of their recent graduates (be it Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson, Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia …) have had trouble finding their footing in the majors. Is it bad luck, bad development, or some combination thereof? Whatever it is, it makes for a bleak situation.