The calendar has flipped to 2021 and the only thing you can say about Major League Baseball's competitive landscape is that it looks an awful lot like it did in 2020. The Padres gave the hot stove a much-needed jolt with their 24-hour spending spree last week (Yu Darvish, Ha-Seong Kim, Blake Snell). Otherwise things have been very quiet. , including only one of the top 14.
Spring training is scheduled to begin in six weeks, though there's a chance it will be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.. History tells us the two sides continue their bickering publicly over the next few weeks. Hopefully hot stove action provides a nice distraction from the labor war.
Now that we're in a new year, let's take a look at the American League's competitive landscape. It's important to note this is only a snapshot in time, because rosters will change between now and spring training, whenever that is. We're going to tackle the American League now and the National League next week (teams are listed alphabetically within each tier).
|Are the White Sox the best team in the American League? Possibly! It's a little hard to say right now because there are still so many moves to come (also, there's no sense in pretending we know what the league will look like come September and October), but I think Chicago has the strongest roster on paper at this very moment. Their lineup is fierce and the rotation top three (Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn) is about as good as any in the league. The ChiSox could use a left fielder (or a DH, if they're willing to live with Eloy Jimenez's defense in left) and bullpen help (like every other team). Otherwise I think this is the best roster in the league right now. They're the one Junior Circuit club without an obvious, significant weakness. |
|Pretty good chance 2021 is the final year for these Astros as we know them. Michael Brantley and George Springer are free agents this offseason and Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, Yuli Gurriel, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Verlander (who will miss 2021 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery) will become free agents next offseason. This core's days are numbered. In the short-term, the Astros must do something about their outfield. Maybe they can bring Brantley back, but the Springer ship seems to have sailed, and internal options like Myles Straw and Chas McCormick won't move the needle. Houston's rotation is sneaky good even without Verlander (Greinke, McCullers, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, Framber Valdez), though veteran bullpen help should be on the shopping list. The outfield alongside Kyle Tucker is in need of an upgrade before the season.|
|The Blue Jays are loaded with young talent and yet they have so many obvious roster needs. They need an outfielder or a DH (ideally a true center fielder who pushes Randal Grichuk to right and Teoscar Hernandez to DH), an infielder (ideally a third baseman but a shortstop would work too), a reliever or three, and another starting pitcher. They're one of the few teams capable (or willing) to spend this offseason and it's easy to see them as a potential landing spot for so many top players. George Springer in center, Trevor Bauer in the rotation, J.T. Realmuto behind the plate, Francisco Lindor on the infield, Liam Hendriks or (and?) Brad Hand in the bullpen, so on and so forth. The bones of a contending roster are in place. Now Toronto must improve the roster around the core to have the best shot at winning in 2021. |
|So far this offseason the Twins have made one notable MLB addition (Hansel Robles) while sending their best righty hitter (Nelson Cruz), best lefty hitter (Eddie Rosario), third best starter (Jake Odorizzi), and top two setup men (Trevor May and Matt Wisler) into free agency. Good thing spring training is at least six weeks away, huh? Top prospect Alex Kirilloff is a dynamic hitter and ready to step into the lineup, ideally to replace Rosario rather than Cruz. Minnesota has Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer currently penciled in as the team's No. 4 and No. 5 starters and I suppose the Twins could live what that, but a team that fancies itself a World Series contender should do better. A starter and a bat to replace Cruz/Rosario remain obvious needs early in 2021. The rest of the lineup and the top of the rotation (Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios) is good enough to make noise in October, . |
|GM Brian Cashman has made it no secret the Yankees are waiting for the DJ LeMahieu situation to resolve before moving on to other business. That puts them at risk of missing out on other opportunities in the interim, though this offseason has moved so slowly that the patience may serve them well. The Yankees need to re-sign or replace LeMahieu, then figure out how to bolster the rotation behind Gerrit Cole. Luis Severino isn't due back from Tommy John surgery at midseason, leaving Jordan Montgomery as the team's most reliable starter behind Cole. The Yankees shouldn't leave three rotation spots to some combination of Deivi Garcia, Domingo German, Michael King, and Clarke Schmidt come Opening Day. New York badly needs rotation help in addition to retaining LeMahieu (or replacing him). |
|The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Athletics are trimming payroll and that "free agents, at the moment, appear out of the question." Yikes! Oakland could lose 10 players to free agency this offseason, including their starting shortstop (Marcus Semien), two starting pitchers (Mike Fiers and Mike Minor), and three late-inning relievers (Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit , Joakim Soria). The A's made two Rule 5 Draft selections (Dany Jimenez and Ka'ai Tom) and have otherwise been quiet this winter. At minimum, they need to add one middle infielder and one reliever between now and Opening Day. Manager Bob Melvin would surely welcome another starting pitcher, bench help, and more relievers though. If the A's are really strapped for cash, it may force them to move someone like Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea so they can reallocate their salaries and address multiple needs. Oakland has put up a .600-ish winning percentage each of the last three years and the A's always seem to find a way to cobble together a contending roster. That said, the reality of their financial situation tells us their ability to add is limited. |
|All you need to know about Cleveland's financial situation is they put Brad Hand on waivers in an effort to avoid his $1 million buyout before declining his $10 million club option. Their only 40-man roster additions so far this offseason are a waiver claim (Jordan Humphreys) and a Rule 5 Draft pick (Trevor Stephan), and it is all but guaranteed they will trade Francisco Lindor prior to the start of the season. They could move Carlos Carrasco as well seeing how this offseason is their last chance to trade him before he picks up 10-and-5 full no-trade protection soon after Opening Day. Cleveland has plenty of pitching. You can always have more, but they're good on the mound. Offensively though, they need to replace the departed Carlos Santana, put together a viable major-league outfield, and then replace Lindor once he's traded. I have no idea how they're going to do all that adequately without upping payroll considerably, and there's basically zero chance that happens.|
|I know we're conditioned to give the Rays the benefit of the doubt at all times, but reader, I assure you replacing Charlie Morton and Blake Snell with Michael Wacha is actually bad. Despite parting with Morton and Snell, the Rays remain a contender because they are so deep organizationally and because they have demonstrated the ability to do more with less. They turn otherwise forgettable pickups into key contributors on the regular. Also, I don't think the Rays are done this offseason by any means (they need one more starting pitcher at the very least), though it's hard to imagine them adding significantly to payroll given *gestures at everything*; and that limits their upside to come degree. That's why they're in this tier with the A's and Cleveland rather than one tier up with the Astros, Blue Jays, Twins, and Yankees. |
|Is 2021 the year the Angels get Mike Trout back to the postseason? Gosh, I sure hope so. They did not win a single postseason game during his 20s (Trout turns 30 in August) and that is just preposterous. It makes me anxious and angry that they've wasted the prime of one of the greatest players ever. Anyway, the Halos have lots of talent on the position player side with Trout, David Fletcher, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, , and newcomer Jose Iglesias. The problem is Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney are the No. 1 and 2 starters when they fit better as the No. 2 and 3, maybe even the No. 3 and 4. Shohei Ohtani returning to the mound would help the cause a great deal, though his injury issues make it impossible to count on him. The Angels need pitching and a lot of it (starters and relievers) to get Trout back to October. There is a lot of talent on this roster already. There are also major deficiencies holding them back. |
|I'm old enough to remember when the Red Sox had to trade Mookie Betts because otherwise they wouldn't be able to afford pitching like, uh, Matt Andriese? In all seriousness, Boston was never going to spend big on arms in the short-term because that's not how chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom operates, and because trading Betts was never about reallocating his salary. It was about cutting costs. Eduardo Rodriguez is coming back from a COVID-19-related heart ailment and Chris Sale is expected back from Tommy John surgery at midseason, leaving Nathan Eovaldi as the team's most reliable MLB starter. That's not good. The lineup is stacked (Xander Bogaerts Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, etc.), but the rotation is far below what is necessary to contend, and the bullpen isn't all that good either. Truth be told, one offseason may not be enough time to get the Red Sox's pitching up to snuff. They are that thin at the moment. |
|Things are starting to look up for the Mariners. Kyle Lewis deservedly took home Rookie of the Year honors, J.P. Crawford and Evan White are legitimate Gold Glovers, Justus Sheffield looks like a viable MLB starter, and Mitch Haniger is expected back from his various injuries on Opening Day. Squint your eyes and you see the makings of the next contending Mariners team. That said, the gap between Seattle and a postseason berth remains significant. Crawford and especially White didn't exactly wow at the plate, Sheffield's home run rate was unsustainably low (0.33 HR/9!), and tippy-top prospects Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez aren't quite MLB ready. The Mariners are still a year away, at least. Maybe two. They're moving in the right direction but, realistically, there's almost nothing that can be done this winter to make this team a legitimate contender next year barring multiple best case scenario breakouts. |
|The Orioles have made three waiver claims (Ashton Goudeau, Yolmer Sanchez, Chris Shaw) and two Rule 5 Draft picks (Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells) this offseason, and that figures to be the extent of their efforts to improve. Maybe they'll add a journeyman innings eater a la Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone last year, but Baltimore is in no rush to get better. They're years away from contention in the rugged AL East and their very best prospects (DL Hall, Heston Kjerstad, Grayson Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman) are unlikely to make an impact in 2021, largely because the O's figure to manipulate their service time and ensure they don't rack up a ton of playing time. I like some of the young arms they broke in this past season (Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, specifically), though this rebuild still has a long way to go.|
|Give the Rangers credit, they have acted decisively and committed to a youth movement this offseason after years of trying to straddle the line between rebuilding and contending. Lance Lynn and Rafael Montero have been traded away (Joey Gallo could be next) while younger players like Kohei Arihara, David Dahl, Dane Dunning, and Nate Lowe have been brought in. Texas is also planning to move Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor, their longtime double play combination, . The Rangers have needs up and down the roster (catcher, third base, rotation, bullpen, etc.) and could be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft. At least now they've picked a direction. Any offseason moves from here on out figure to be low-cost fliers and players who could be flipped for a prospect at the deadline. |
|What does it say about the current state of baseball that the Royals were the offseason's most active team prior to San Diego's 24-hour spree last week? Not a good thing, I don't think, and I have the utmost respect for Kansas City. They've been a model organization through the pandemic (no furloughs, committed early to paying minor leaguers all season, etc.) and they've made an effort to improve this offseason by re-signing Greg Holland and signing Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, and Michael Taylor. Are those moves enough to put the Royals in position to contend in 2021? Oh goodness no, but they're making an effort, and that's more than can be said for many teams. The Royals have done most of their offseason heavy lifting and only figure to tweak the roster from here on out. |
|The Tigers hired a new manager (A.J. Hinch), signed a starting pitcher (Jose Urena), and made a Rule 5 Draft pick (Akil Baddoo), and they very well might be done adding this offseason. There's enough young position player talent (Willi Castro, Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes, etc.) and enough young arms (Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal) to justify standing pat. A veteran catcher to help guide those young arms would make sense, though Detroit tried that last year with Austin Romine, and it didn't really work out. If the Tigers have a big move in them between now and spring training, it figures to be a Matthew Boyd or Michael Fulmer trade. Their value is way down at the moment though, so hanging on to them and hoping they bounce back in 2021 is the smart way to go. Detroit's rebuild is advancing slowly, and they're more likely to contend for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft than a postseason spot next year.|