It’s December 31st. The calendar is about to flip over to a new year, a time to reflect on the year that was and the year to come. The MLB lockout has also almost reached the one-month mark, giving us all plenty of time to think about the directions of our favourite baseball teams. So, without further ado, here’s a quick, or not-so-quick, overview of where each team is on the competitive spectrum heading into 2022.
In It To Win It
These teams won’t require a ton of explanation. They’ve been competing in recent years and figure to continue on that path. However, as we saw with the Nationals in 2021, teams have the potential to fall out of this section fast.
Angels: The Angels have been trying to win ever since Mike Trout’s debut in 2012, but without much success. Their only playoff appearance in that time was in 2014. Their last season with a winning percentage above .500 was 2015. Before the lockout, they signed four arms, bringing back Raisel Iglesias, as well as adding Aaron Loup, Michael Lorenzen and Noah Syndergaard.
Blue Jays: The young core has arrived and the Blue Jays are in it. They made the expanded postseason in 2020 and came just shy in 2021, somehow missing the playoffs in a 91-win season. They’ve already spent some money on Kevin Gausman and Yimi Garcia this offseason, with more spending reportedly to come after the lockout.
Braves: Four straight years atop the NL East and the reigning World Series champs.
Brewers: Four straight trips to the postseason, including a 2021 that saw them win 95 games and top the NL Central. The retooling of the Cubs and Reds only helps them.
Cardinals: They’ve made the playoffs the past three years and haven’t finished below .500 since 2007. Before the lockout, they spent big to add Steven Matz to their rotation. Just like the Brewers, they’re helped by the retooling of the Cubs and Reds.
Dodgers: One of only two teams to cross the luxury tax barrier in 2021, there’s no question the Dodgers are going for it. They won the NL West eight straight years from 2013 to 2020, winning the World Series at the end of that run. In 2021, they had to settle for a Wild Card spot, thanks to the Giants, but that still made for a ninth straight postseason appearance.
Giants: After four straight losing seasons, the Giants stunned everyone by winning 107 games in 2021. Four-fifths of their starting rotation reached free agency after the season, but they’ve already re-signed Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood, as well as adding Alex Cobb, in order to reload for 2022.
Guardians: Cleveland finished above .500 for eight straight seasons from 2013 to 2020, making the playoffs five times and the World Series once. In 2021, they dropped down to 80-82, largely due to a rash of injuries to their starting rotation. With better health, they should be back over the line in 2022. They also should have some money to spend after the lockout, as their payroll is sitting below $50MM, which is low even for them.
Mets: The Mets were in the hunt for much of 2021 but stumbled down the stretch. Since then, they’ve been spending money like crazy to try and assure better results in 2022, including signing Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar.
Padres: The Padres were one of just two teams to go over the luxury tax line in 2021, along with the Dodgers. Like the Mets, they were in the playoff hunt for most of the year but stumbled down the stretch. Pitching health was a huge factor in their demise, but the return of Mike Clevinger should help them have better depth in 2022. They also added Luis Garcia, Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez to the staff before the lockout. (That last deal is still not official but apparently not in jeopardy.)
Phillies: After a long rebuild, the Phillies signalled they were ready to return to competing when they handed out a mega contract to Bryce Harper prior to the 2019 season. Since then, however, it’s been three years of treading around .500, going 81-81, 28-32 and 82-80 over the most recent campaigns. They’ve been relatively quiet so far this offseason, with their biggest pre-lockout move being the signing of Corey Knebel.
Rays: Four straight seasons above .500 and three straight postseason appearances, including a 100-win campaign in a stacked AL East in 2021. They just gave a huge extension to Wander Franco, sending a signal that they’re firmly in win-now mode for the foreseeable future.
Red Sox: The shortened 2020 campaign was bad for Boston, but they’ve won at least 84 games in the past five full seasons. In 2021, they won 92 games and made it to the ALCS. Before the lockout, they swapped Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a couple of prospects, as well as signing James Paxton, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill.
White Sox: Despite a history that goes back over a century, the White Sox made the postseason two years in a row for the first time in 2020 and 2021. Although the teams below them are making some gains, they’re still clear favorites in the AL Central.
Yankees: Although they haven’t won the World Series since 2009, which might seem like an eternity to their fans, the Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992.
These teams have definitely been rebuilding recently but seem like they’ve had enough and are ready to make a jump. They still have to prove it, as nothing is guaranteed in baseball. But the trajectory looks good.
Marlins: The Marlins somehow made the expanded playoffs in the shortened 2020 campaign, but the last time they finished above .500 in a full season was 2009. There’s no questioning it’s been a miserable stretch for the franchise. However, things are starting to look up. They’ve assembled such a bevy of talented young starting pitchers that they’ve already started using it to upgrade other parts of the roster. The first such move was sending Zach Thompson to Pittsburgh in order to acquire catcher Jacob Stallings, and similar moves could follow. They’ve also added Joey Wendle in a trade and opened the pocketbooks to bring in Avisail Garcia. It won’t be an easy climb, given that they’re looking up at the reigning World Series champs and big spenders like the Mets and Phillies, but they’re clearly ready to start getting more aggressive.
Rangers: The Rangers just finished their fifth straight losing season and second straight with a winning percentage below .400. Their 102 losses in 2021 was more than everyone else except for the Orioles and Diamondbacks. However, since then, they have completely flipped the script, spending over half a billion dollars to sign Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun. They still face stiff competition as they are sharing a division with the Astros, Mariners and Angels, but it’s clear they’ve decided they’re done rebuilding.
Royals: 2021 didn’t go according to plan for the Royals, as they finished 74-88 for a fifth-consecutive losing season. They had attempted to come out of their rebuild by adding players like Mike Minor, Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi to their young core. Unfortunately, several players underperformed and kept the team from pushing forward as far as they hoped. But they’re loaded with young pitchers who still have room to grow, and they should see top prospects Bobby Witt Jr. and Nick Pratto make their debuts in 2022.
Tigers: It was a fifth-straight losing season for the Tigers, but there were some signs of hope in 2021. After a miserable 8-19 start in April, they went 69-66 the rest of the way. Just like the Rangers, the Tigers clearly decided that was enough rebuilding and that it was time to spend. Prior to the lockout, they put cash on the barrel for Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez, signaling that they’re making their move.
These teams are sort of in-between one option or another for now. After the lockout, things have the potential to move in different directions, with some teams perhaps forced to settle for a mushy middle-ground of not committing firmly to either path.
Athletics: It’s been four straight winning seasons for Oakland, but all signs are pointing towards a step back in 2022. The club let manager Bob Melvin depart for San Diego, seemingly content to get his salary off the books. Then general manager David Forst addressed the issue in November, admitting that they’re willing to field offers for any player on the roster. Although they haven’t hit the rebuild button just yet, it seems likely that the post-lockout era will see them quickly deal away some of their players that are approaching free agency, such as Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman or Frankie Montas. It might not be a lengthy rebuild, as the club has never had more than three consecutive losing seasons in the Billy Beane era. Still, it seems like the tide is pushing against them for now.
Cubs: After spending the past year trading away most of their World Series-winning core, it seemed like the Cubs were diving headfirst into the rebuild zone. However, this offseason has seen them make some surprising additions, as they claimed Wade Miley off waivers and then signed Marcus Stroman, Clint Frazier and Yan Gomes. They’ve definitely weakened themselves with their recent selloff, but they also don’t seem interested in fully bottoming out either.
Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks have one of the cloudier crystal balls in the league. After three straight winning seasons, from 2017 to 2019, they went 25-35 in 2020. But given the small sample size of that season, it was reasonable enough to expect a decent campaign in 2021. Unfortunately, just about everything went wrong and they went 52-110, tied with the Orioles for the worst record in baseball. Was this just a terrible, fluky nightmare or their true talent level? General manager Mike Hazen doesn’t think they need a full rebuild to get back on track, but they’re still in a tough spot, as the division features the Giants and Dodgers, who each won over 100 games in 2021, as well as a strong Padres team that underperformed and could easily be very good in 2022. So far, the DBacks have been fairly quiet this offseason, with their signing of Mark Melancon being their most noteworthy move. Their post-lockout plan is one of the most difficult to predict at the moment.
Reds: After a lengthy rebuild that saw the Reds post a losing record for six straight seasons from 2014 to 2019, they emerged as competitors in 2020, going 31-29 in the shortened season and qualifying for the expanded playoffs. In 2021, they hung around the Wild Card race all year but eventually came up short, finishing 83-79, a winning record but seven games shy of the postseason. Since then, the tea leaves have been ominous for Cincy fans. First, Tucker Barnhart was traded to Detroit. Then, general manager Nick Krall discussed the trade, saying “going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.” That was followed by Wade Miley being put on waivers despite a great season in 2021 and a modest $10M option for 2022. He will now be a division rival, as he was quickly snatched up by the Cubs. Since then, there has been a series of rumors detailing how almost every other team in the league wants to acquire Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle or Sonny Gray. Although they remain with the Reds for now, it seems the club is going to try and walk a fine line wherein they shed some payroll but stay competitive. It’s hard to subtract from an 83-win team and see them improve, but it seems like that’s what they’re going to try.
Rockies: Perhaps the most confounding team in the league, it’s really tough to figure out what to make of the Rockies. 2021 was their third straight losing season, which should have motivated them to at least make some future-focused moves. Instead, the trade deadline passed without them trading Trevor Story or Jon Gray. After the season, Story received a qualifying offer but Gray did not. The Rangers have since signed Gray, meaning the Rockies have lost him for nothing. Story seems destined to sign elsewhere, which will at least net them an extra draft pick. But we’re looking at a 74-win team has just lost two of its best players and shares a division with strong teams like the Giants, Dodgers and Padres. If they have a plan to return to postseason contention, it’s not apparent from the outside at the moment.
Twins: Minnesota made the playoffs three out of four years, qualifying for the postseason in 2017, 2019 and 2020, winning the AL Central in those latter two seasons. But just about everything went wrong in 2021, with the club finishing in the basement of the division with a record of 73-89. Owner Jim Pohlad has made it clear that they are not going into a rebuild, which they backed up by finally agreeing to an extension with Byron Buxton. However, what’s keeping them in the twilight zone is their rotation. They traded away Jose Berrios, lost Kenta Maeda to Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda to free agency. The frenzied free agent market for starting pitching prior to the lockout essentially passed them by. They did sign Dylan Bundy, but he lost his rotation spot for the Angels in 2021 and finished the season with an ERA over 6.00. It’s hard to view your team as a competitor if that’s your ace. There are still some options available after the lockout, but there are lots of holes to be filled there. With the White Sox the clear division favorites and the Guardians, Tigers and Royals all in position to take steps forward in 2022, the Twins will have a difficult time papering over their flaws in the short window between the end of the lockout and the start of the season.
In The Tank
These teams are all focused on the future, with their respective 2022 seasons primarily dedicated to giving playing time to young, unproven players, or perhaps signing veterans to short-term deals with the aim of flipping them for prospects later.
Nationals: The Nationals stand out as an example of how quickly a team can swing from competing to rebuilding. On July 1st, 2021, the club was 40-39, 2 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East, a game and a half ahead of the Braves. They had won the World Series just a year and a half prior, in their eighth consecutive winning season. But after a disastrous stretch in July, they pulled the ripcord and went into full firesale mode, trading away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson and Jon Lester. They figure to spend at least a year in the wilderness, giving playing time to younger players to see whether they can be part of the next winning club or not. However, with superstar Juan Soto just three years from free agency, they don’t want this reboot to take too long. Soto’s agent Scott Boras has said he won’t consider an extension until the team proves to him it’s committed to winning.
Orioles: There’s no sugarcoating this one. The Orioles have had a losing record in five straight seasons. In each of the last three full seasons, they lost at least 108 games. They lost 110 games in 2021, tied with the Diamondbacks for the worst in baseball. They are definitely tanking and likely will be for some time. They do have some exciting prospects on the way, headlined by Adley Rutschman, the consensus top prospect in the game. Their system is considered the second best in the league by Baseball America’s Organization Talent Rankings. However, they share a division with four teams that won at least 91 games in 2021. It’s going to take some time for the Orioles to even get mediocre, let alone competitive.
Pirates: The Pirates haven’t won a division title since 1992. After that, they endured a 20-year postseason drought, before qualifying for the Wild Card game in three straight years from 2013 to 2015. They’ve missed the playoffs in the six seasons since. They went 82-79 in 2018 but have had three straight miserable seasons, going 69-93, 19-41 and 61-101 from 2019 to 2021. It’s all about the future now, with the most recent move being Jacob Stallings getting traded to Miami for youngsters. Like the Orioles, the farm system is well regarded, coming in fourth on Baseball America’s rankings. The development of those prospects will determine when they can get out of the basement. General manager Ben Cherington has proven himself adept at this type of rebuild before, but the Pirates have less resources than his previous clubs, the Red Sox and Blue Jays.