With the sun setting on Tampa Bay and Tom Brady hoisting his 7th Super Bowl trophy, one thing becomes apparent, the baseball season is right around the corner. By the end of this month, all 30 teams will report to their respective Spring Training sites in Florida and Arizona, and the race to win the Commissioner’s Trophy will begin anew.
29 teams will be chasing the Dodgers who start the 2021 season with something they haven’t had in over 30 years, a bullseye on their backs.
Heavy is the head who wears the crown, but even with a Championship in tow, LA was not one to rest on their laurels. Other than the Dodgers, who else made the moves that will put them in contention? Who did enough to make themselves into title contenders, and who still needs work?
Let’s take a look at the five teams that did enough to make themselves into forces to be reckoned with and have a shot at being the last team standing.
Washington Nationals – They added slugging 1st baseman Josh Bell via trade from the Pirates, signed Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Brad Hand. On the surface these seems like moves that should put the Nat’s in a great spot.
But this is a team that is still searching to replace Anthony Rendon, and Bell and Schwarber are not those players. Both have power to spare, but there are too many holes in Schwarber’s swing, and Bell has had one amazing half season, but little else.
Hand is a great addition to the bullpen, and Lester should eat some innings. But with Max Scherzer turning 37 before this season, and Stephen Strausburg coming off yet another injury, too many question marks abound in possibly baseball’s deepest division.
St Louis Cardinals – I debated whether they should be moved into the Top 5 or just given an honorable mention, and well, you can see where they landed. Yes, they are in a division where nobody else seems to want to win, and they did make the huge addition of getting Nolan Arrenado for a song, but other than that, what have they done?
Retained Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright? Those are two that should have been a given. Arrenado is a tremendous addition in a lineup that has almost no thump, but it just isn’t enough, The Cards have Gold Glove winners on the corners now but lost the game’s best defensive 2nd baseman when they released Kolton Wong, and questions abound with the rest of the lineup. On the bump, they have a true ace in Jack Flaherty, but after that it is a little thin.
In any other division the Cards would have a battle to make the playoffs, in the NL Central, it’s probably enough.
New York Yankees – It seems hard to believe that the Yanks are only in the “honorable mention” category, especially with the line-up that they feature. The problem is, the Yanks have as many questions marks as any team in the game. With the departures of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton JA Happ, they had to replace 60% of their rotation. Yes, they still have Gerrit Cole, who is as much of a sure thing as there is in the game, but after that, yikes.
They signed Corey Kluber, and while he does have two Cy Young’s, he pitched a total of 67 innings over the last two seasons due to injury, traded for Jameson Taillon who has only 37 innings in that same time period and is coming off Tommy John surgery. Luis Severino who will not be back till mid-season at best, and then a selection of young and unproven guys. So while when healthy this line-up may be the scariest in the game, they are rarely all healthy and the staff has too many question marks to move them higher on this list.
Chicago White Sox – This was probably the toughest decision to leave them out of the Top 5, but there is just something about the team at the five spot (don’t want any spoilers out there), that I couldn’t replace with the boys from the South side.
The addition of Lance Lynn to the rotation and Liam Hendricks to the bullpen are the perfect additions to this team, and Adam Eaton’s glove will help lockdown the outfield defense. Already loaded on offense, the Chi-Sox now have the rotation to match. If Michael Kopech can come all the way back fully healthy, then I will gladly admit I was wrong about how tough the Sox will be to beat.
All of the honorable mention teams should be able to battle for a playoff spot, but these are the Top 5 teams that should not only make the playoffs, but have a chance to win it all:
5) Toronto Blue Jays – The Jays went into the off-season big game hunting, and they bagged a doozy in George Springer. Not only did they acquire a great defensive player, but a guy who loves the spotlight of the post-season. Springer is the kind of player who can teach these young Jays how to win when the lights are at their very brightest.
If they stopped on the offensive side with just Springer, they would have been formidable, but
then they went and added Marcus Semien too. While 2020 was a down year for the slugging shortstop, it is nothing to be too concerned with as it was one of the strangest years in history. But his addition not only gives them a stud at shortstop, but they can now move Biggio over to 3rd base, put Vlad Jr. at DH and all of a sudden, the defense is solid.
I may be in the minority here, but I think the Jays offense is now as good if not better than that of the Yankees. With Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel in the OF, and an infield of Rowdy Tellez, Bo Bichette, Semien and Biggio is downright scary.
On the bump, the Jays are almost as good. They have a true ace in Hyun Jin Ryu, and behind him Robby Ray, Steven Matz, Tanner Roark and Tyler Chatwood are solid if not spectacular. Rookie Nate Pearson got a taste of the big’s last year and may have the best arm of any of the Jays.
The bullpen may be without Ken Giles as their closer, but they added Kirby Yates, the NL saves leader of 2019, and a solid compliment of arms from both sides to go with him. It’s a solid group of guys that give them the edge in this division.
I have the Jays winning the AL East and believe it or not, I believe they are the best team in the AL. They have far fewer question marks than the Yankees and have better depth than the White Sox. Sure, injuries may derail this squad, but seeing them play deep into October would not be a surprise at all.
4) New York Mets – Hard to believe that it’s New York’s “other” team that is this high on the list but believe it. With new owner Steve Cohen willing to flex his financial might, and President of Baseball Op’s Sandy Alderson utilizing his baseball restraint, the Mets have had a great off-season. Yes, they missed out on Springer and Trevor Bauer, but they also did not overspend on anyone and leave them backed into a corner.
In an off-season packed with big name trades, the Mets got the best end of the biggest name by landing not only the game’s best shortstop in Francisco Lindor, but do not sleep on Carlos Carrasco being a part of that deal as well.
Carrasco, if he remains healthy, gives the Mets a solid number 2 behind the best pitcher in the game Jacob deGrom. With Marcus Stroman back after taking a year off due to Covid concerns, and youngster David Peterson locking down the 3 and 4 spots the rotation is one of the best in the game.
Former Padre Joey Lucchesi is the number 5 guy for now, but at some point this season, Noah Syndergaard will return and only fortify the rotation.
Trevor May and Aaron Loup were added to a bullpen that features Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, all setting up closer Edwin Diaz. These arms are all live, and now with a defined role for Lugo, the Mets have a bullpen that is possibly the best in the division.
Missing out on Springer was the biggest downer of the winter for the Mets, as Brandon Nimmo should not be the starting centerfielder for a World Champion. As of this writing, that who is penciled in to play the position, but talks are ongoing with former Red Sox Jackie Bradley Jr., and his addition will make a world of difference.
Adding James McCann behind the plate will only help this pitching staff, as he is one of the better receivers in the game, and with a solid bat too.
Lindor will be his usual stellar self at short, allowing Jeff McNeil to play 2nd and J.D. Davis 3rd
(unless they pull off a deal for Kris Bryant or sign Justin Turner, both of which are possibilities.). If there was one team that hopes somehow the union and MLB can strike a last-minute deal to have the DH in the NL, it’s the Mets.
Two of their biggest offensive weapons, Dom Smith and Pete Alonzo, are both 1st basemen by trade. But short of an agreement, the Mets will live with the horrible D from Smith in left to get that bat in the lineup. Michael Conforto will lock down right field, giving the Mets one of the best lineups they have had this century.
Battling for the top spot in the NL East is not out of the question, the only thing standing in their way is the team at number 3.
3) Atlanta Braves – This was a team that was just a pitch or two from being the in the World Series last season, and all they have done this off-season is made themselves better. Big Game Charlie Morton has been added to the rotation, which will also be getting back Mike Soroka after he missed almost all of 2020 with an Achilles injury.
With another year under the belts of Max Fried and Ian Anderson, the Braves rotation is eerily reminiscent of the Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux years.
The bullpen may be the one area that the Braves have a few issues. With Darrin O’Day, Marc Melancon and Shane Greene all leaving via free agency, the depth that they have been able to rely on, just isn’t there. AJ Minter, Chris Martin and Will Smith are still very solid in their roles, but I think they still need one or two arms to solidify the pen and make a real run at the Dodgers.
Offensively speaking, they are stacked with Freddie Freeman fresh off his MVP award, Marcell Ozuna re-signed for four years, and Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies only getting better. Right now, Austin Riley is penciled in to play 3rd base, but the Braves are also in on Justin Turner, which would be a huge swing if they can steal him from L.A.
Dansby Swanson and Christian Pache are defensive stalwarts who add some pop offensively too. In the words of the immortal Ric Flair, if you want to be the man, you got to beat the man. So until the Mets prove they can beat the Braves, and the Braves prove they can beat the Dodgers, Atlanta will be in sort of baseball purgatory. Let’s see if 2021 is the year they can take the next step.
2) San Diego Padres – Speaking of taking the next step, the Padres appear ready to take that step and move ever closer to the 8-time West Division champion Dodgers. 2020 saw the Padres make the post-season for the first time since 2006. They were able to vanquish the Cardinals in three games before falling to the Dodgers in the divisional round.
GM A.J. Preller knew his team was good but had to be better if they wanted to make it even further along, especially in the rotation, which is where he got to work this off-season. In the same weekend, Preller and the Padres added both Blake Snell from the Rays and Yu Darvish from the Cubs for a relatively small cost. Then he reached out to the Pirates to secure the services of Joe Musgrove.
Also remember, they added Mike Clevinger from the Indians at the trade deadline in 2020, but he will miss the entire 2021 campaign as he recovers from surgery. With Dilson Lamet and Chris Paddack to round out the starters, the Padres can go into every series knowing that they have a good chance to win the series, or even sweep.
Like the Braves, the Padres one weakness may be in the bullpen, where the closer as it sits right now is Drew Pomeranz. He is a guy that to my mind, is better suited to a set-up role rather than closing games out, but they may not have any other choice. There are some live arms in the pen, but none that can strike fear into an opponent the way a guy like Familia or Yates could.
Offensively speaking, the Padres are downright scary. Fernando Tatis has already shown what a stud he is, and he is still getting better. Joining him on the left side of the infield is Manny Machado, who like Tatis is a beast. Jake Cronenworth, who had a tremendous rookie year and Eric Hosmer lock down the right side.
In the outfield, Wil Myers looked like he was reborn last year, and if he can prove it was no fluke, the Friars have a weapon from the 6th or 7th hole in the line-up. Trent Grisham and the newly re-signed Jurickson Profar round out what is a dangerous if not underrated outfield.
After going through what seemed like an endless run of Catchers, the Pads seemed to have settled on Austin Nola, whom they acquired from the Mariners at the deadline last year.
Tommy Pham will fill the role as 4th outfielder and top bench guy, which is a luxury few teams can have. They also took a flier on former KBO star Ha-Seong Kim, who was a 30-20 guy in Korea and can play either infield position.
Going into the month of February, the Padres had to feel really good about the closing the gap between them and the Dodgers, that is until …
1) Los Angeles Dodgers – What can you say about the team that is not only defending champs, but also has deep pockets and a Top 10 farm system? You can say that once again they are the favorites to not only win their 9th straight division title, their 4th NL Pennant in 5 years, but to be the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back-to-back titles.
When the Padres, Mets and Braves all made their moves this off-season, the Dodgers sat back and just bided their time. After all, even with all those moves, they were still the favorites. But then, like a cobra, they struck and landed the biggest fish in the free agent pitching pool, Trevor Bauer.
The addition of Bauer means the Dodgers rotation may be one of the best the game has ever seen.
I mean, David Price, 5-time all-star and former Cy Young winner, is slotted to be the #5 starter, behind Walker Bueller, Clayton Kershaw, Bauer and Julio Urias. In case injury should happen to strike, they have 100 mph throwing Dustin May and Tony Gonslin and his wicked slider waiting in the wings.
Their bullpen may have lost former mainstay Pedro Baez, but they added Corey Knebel and Brandon Morrow, and return Joe Kelly, Adam Kolarek, Kenly Jansen, Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol.
That my friends is a pen that is LOADED.
The line-up right now is still missing Justin Turner, but the Dodgers are the favorites to bring him back. Of course, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Max Muncy anchor the
line-up, which will allow Wil Smith and rookie Gavin Lux a chance to find their footing as a part of this team. AJ Pollock, Edwin Rios and Chris Taylor will allow manager Dave Roberts to give his stars a rest without the team missing a beat. Yes, Bauer makes more money alone in 2021 than 3 teams (Pirates, Indians and Orioles), and the Dodgers already have the highest payroll in the sport, but with their TV contract and the popularity of the team, they can basically print money.
The worst part for every other team, is the Dodgers farm system is totally loaded as well. With names like Keibert Ruiz, Mitchell White and Josiah Gray, they have the wherewithal to make any deal they deem necessary. For example, if Turner ends up signing elsewhere, the Dodgers could call the Reds and offer May, Ruiz and Lux for Luis Castillo and Eugenio Suarez, and all of a sudden, the rotation gets even better and they add another bat capable of 40 bombs from the hot corner.
Obviously, in a 162-game season, anything can happen, but this Dodgers team is not only loaded, but so very deep too. The loss of Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson in free agency does hurt that depth a little bit, but not so much as to make them worry. This team is in position to dominate the sport for the foreseeable future.
So, there you have it, the five teams with the best chance to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season. If the playoffs do expand to 12 or 14 teams, obviously it allows a few other teams, like the Phillies and Twins a chance to get to the dance and see what happens. But until then, it is a Dodgers world and we all just kind of live in it.