MLB Power Rankings: Who Is the New No. 1 as MLB Opens in Tokyo?
League-wide rankings are a specialty of the MLB featured columnists here at Bleacher Report.
I have evaluated all 30 clubs on their batting, fielding and pitching. All known injuries and player transactions since the World Series were taken into consideration.
Understand that nobody can accurately predict the standings. By October, midseason and even next week, peculiar events will shift the balance of power.
Rest assured that another B/R writer will be ready with an update.
No. 30: Houston Astros
There aren't many established hitters on the Houston Astros.
Jose Altuve and Jordan Schafer are one-dimensional speedsters. J.D. Martinez and Brett Wallace were very productive...in the minor leagues.
Who besides Carlos Lee can deliver timely extra-base hits? Jack Cust?!
The pitching staff is largely untested.
Wandy Rodriguez—the lone remnant from the 2005 pennant-winning team—could possibly be traded this summer to acquire additional prospects.
Houston has a need for setup men in front of closer Brett Myers.
No. 29: Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs let Carlos Pena—their only batter with a shred of plate discipline—return to the Tampa Bay Rays instead of re-signing him.
Big mistake. His successor will be Bryan LaHair, a late bloomer who has walked once during spring-training exhibitions.
Starlin Castro will continue to approach his sky-high ceiling, but his improvement could be negated by the decline of outfielders Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano.
Chicago's position players cannot be trusted with their gloves.
If Jeff Samardzija enters the starting rotation, then at least there will be more strikeouts and less total chances for the fielders.
The bullpen is thin without Sean Marshall. Carlos Marmol's rough spring doesn't make him a likely candidate to bounce back from an inconsistent 2011.
No. 28: Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics lost their two most productive batters—Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham—to free agency during the offseason. Even with them, the 2011 lineup was just 12th in the American League in runs scored!
Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes has proved he's a great athlete, but too strikeout-prone.
The once-intimidating Manny Ramirez is now a sub-par designated hitter entering the season at age 40.
Runs won't be scored without big contributions from Josh Reddick and Jemile Weeks.
General Manager Billy Beane gutted the A's of their three best pitchers: Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. That leaves the club with Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy and a lot of question marks.
The bullpen is suspect, too. Closer Grant Balfour has saved only 10 MLB games since breaking into the majors in 2001.
No. 27: New York Mets
The new, smaller dimensions at Citi Field won't add wins, but we'll be reminded that the New York Mets aren't completely helpless with their bats.
Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will fortify the heart of the order, and Jason Bay should rediscover his power stroke.
However, New York will get practically zero production from the catcher and shortstop positions.
David Wright is still a smooth defender at third base. The rehabilitated Johan Santana also has a Gold Glove on his mantle.
The Mets need innings out of Santana, who didn't pitch in an MLB game last season. Any performance akin to his AL Cy Young days would be a plus, though that isn't realistic.
There's a big drop-off in the rotation after No. 2 R.A. Dickey.
This team is seriously lacking relief depth. However, they have signed a consistent strike-thrower in Jon Rauch.
No. 26: Baltimore Orioles
Brian Roberts is the most valuable player on the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, there is still no timetable for his return from a nagging concussion.
The O's lack offensive superstars, though J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters are all solid contributors.
Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds are wild cards. They exhibit light-tower power in the rare instances they make contact.
When it comes to defense, utility man Wilson Betemit is the ultimate liability. Have a laugh.
On the other hand, Jones has sprinter speed, while Markakis possesses an awesome throwing arm.
The pitching staff has several unknowns.
Will Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz rebound from disappointing campaigns? When could Zach Britton be healthy? Can Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada succeed in the U.S.?
I'll remain skeptical until proven otherwise.
No. 25: San Diego Padres
Cameron Maybin ignites the San Diego Padres in every way possible. It figures that he recently negotiated a contract extension.
In any case, he should steal 40 bases again and continue covering ground in center field.
The Padres acquired Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds after parting with Mat Latos. He has the tools of a perennial All-Star.
Kyle Blanks and Carlos Quentin will mash home runs in 2012...when they get healthy. Neither will be ready for Opening Day.
Edinson Volquez was imported in the same deal, but the former 17-game winner has never learned how to attack the strike zone.
San Diego has an unusual defensive alignment with aging middle infielders (Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson) and youth every place else.
Overall, it's a team well suited for cavernous PETCO Park.
Cory Luebke is poised for a breakout season as a 27-year-old. Also, I like Joe Thatcher and Huston Street anchoring the bullpen. And don't forget about Josh Spence, who will strengthen the pitching staff when recalled later this summer.
No. 24: Minnesota Twins
Ryan Doumit is a great compliment to Joe Mauer. Doumit can adequately replace him in the lineup on certain days, or the two could play in concert at catcher and designated hitter.
Ben Revere and Denard Span put pressure on opposing defenses with their speed.
Moreover, they have sufficient range in the outfield to make up for Josh Willingham's limited range.
Francisco Liriano is having a spectacular spring training, though the Twins are still waiting on him to dominate when it matters—like he did in 2006.
Scott Baker is hustling to get stretched out for the regular season. His preparation was halted by tendinitis earlier in March.
Lefty setup man Glen Perkins will seek to duplicate his 2011 success. He's even more valuable to the team now that longtime closer Joe Nathan has moved on to the Texas Rangers.
No. 23: Seattle Mariners
It seems appropriate that the Seattle Mariners are kicking things off from Japan in what might be Ichiro Suzuki's final year as their franchise player. He's a national icon over there.
But don't shift your attention away from Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero. They are actually the focal points of Seattle's offense.
Lineup depth is a major issue, with Franklin Gutierrez rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle and Chone Figgins coming off a miserable season.
The Mariners traded away a respectable No. 2 starter in Doug Fister at the last non-waiver trade deadline.
Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are the only 2012 rotation members who spent all of 2011 in the big leagues.
The relievers leading up to Brandon League are inexperienced, too—not to mention that League himself has a lot to learn about pitching the ninth inning.
No. 22: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates were surprisingly active this winter.
Clint Barmes and Casey McGehee were added to log innings at shortstop and first base, respectively. It wasn't long ago that both had different primary positions.
The front office is taking a chance on former Pirate and 2008 NL All-Star Nate McClouth after he was unsuccessful with the Atlanta Braves, especially in 2010 and 2011.
The oft-injured Erik Bedard and unpopular A.J. Burnett are also new to the team.
The latter is currently recovering from breaking his face, but he'll be available for the bulk of the season.
Joel Hanrahan is an underrated, elite MLB closer.
This club could quietly evolve into a run-scoring machine if Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata "figure it all out" like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker have.
No. 21: Kansas City Royals
Last season's Kansas City Royals won with a pesky offense. They had a slew of aggressive batters who never wasted appetizing strikes or gave up on pitches that were off the plate.
Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and the rest should be equally annoying in 2012.
Center fielder Melky Cabrera was dealt to the San Francisco Giants, but his replacement might be even better.
With a 1.453 OPS, Lorenzo Cain has arguably been the most impressive player in the Cactus League this spring.
Starting pitching is the chief concern for KC.
Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar can't rely on swing-and-miss stuff. Meanwhile, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino and Jonathan Sanchez regularly struggle with pitch economy.
Kansas City is already facing adversity. So far in camp, Salvador Perez (knee) and Joakim Soria (elbow) have been lost for extended periods of time.
No. 20: Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies worked tirelessly this offseason to revamp their mediocre pitching staff.
Of their numerous starting-pitching candidates, only Jhoulys Chacin was with the team for Opening Day 2011!
Jeremy Guthrie, Drew Pomeranz and the ageless Jamie Moyer will be challenged to limit the damage that opposing batters typically do in the thin atmosphere of Coors Field.
The front office decided to move the lineup in an older direction.
All-around superstars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki now follow Marco Scutaro (36) in the batting order. Michael Cuddyer (33) and Ramon Hernandez (36) will provide protection behind them.
After excelling as the closer by default last season, Rafael Betancourt has officially retained that responsibility for 2012.
No. 19: Cleveland Indians
They should have known better, but the Cleveland Indians re-signed beloved center fielder Grady Sizemore early in the offseason. An incentive-laden deal seemed fair for both sides.
But Sizemore is sidelined indefinitely after lower-back surgery.
The club owes him $5 million regardless of whether or not he ever takes the field again.
In general, though, optimism is ubiquitous around camp.
The consensus is that Michael Brantley will fill the vacancy in center, Shin-Soo Choo can rebound from a poor season, and Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis form an enviable middle infield.
The Indians will overcome Shelley Duncan's goofiness to form a tight defense. However, that won't matter unless Ubaldo Jimenez throws strikes.
They need more from the former Colorado Rockies ace, and hopefully something from veteran Derek Lowe. He'll be replacing "Fausto Carmona" in the starting rotation.
No. 18: Chicago White Sox
I'll begin with this: Adam Dunn will improve on his .159 batting average. Some predictions are bold, but I'm just stating the obvious.
Dunn and teammate Alex Rios were epic fails for the Sox in 2011. They are simply too talented to underachieve like that again.
Jake Peavy is in a different situation.
He didn't have the ability to overpower batters last season. Maybe he does feel "awesome," but you cannot trust a starting pitcher coming off three straight injury-riddled campaigns.
The rest of the rotation is stable.
Then again, does stretching out Chris Sale leave the bullpen too vulnerable?
No. 17: Los Angeles Dodgers
Two players—Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw—co-led the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers to a sparkling 25-10 record after Aug. 21.
What will be different this season?
Right fielder Andre Ethier should be back in All-Star form (if his spring-training success carries into April).
At the same time, catcher A.J. Ellis is unlikely to match the 16 home runs Rod Barajas slugged for L.A. He has not hit for power at any professional level.
Mark Ellis (no relation) and Juan Uribe are also easy landing spots for opposing pitchers.
A full season of Dee Gordon could mean 50 stolen bases, while Kenley Jansen has the potential to convert his filthy strikeout ability into 40-plus saves.
Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang were quiet yet important additions to the roster. Both repeat their deliveries effortlessly. They will rarely beat themselves with walks.
The pending ownership change should give general manager Ned Colletti an influx of spending money. Los Angeles could ride a midsummer acquisition to the playoffs (a la Manny Ramirez, 2008).
No. 16: Toronto Blue Jays
Once considered a potential landing spot for Prince Fielder, the Toronto Blue Jays ultimately left their lineup alone.
Right fielder Jose Bautista makes the carousel go round. J.P. Arencibia, Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie are all more dangerous than most batters at their respective positions, too.
A healthy competition in left field between Travis Snider, Eric Thames and Rajai Davis will bring out the best play in each of them.
Overall, Toronto's lineup is as powerful as any in the major leagues.
Fire-baller Brandon Morrow is preparing for his best season yet. He even has the talent to supplant Ricky Romero as team ace.
The Blue Jays, however, fell just short of winning the negotiating rights to Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. He would have solidified their shallow starting rotation.
Francisco Cordero and Sergio Santos are slight upgrades over departed free agents Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco as late-inning relievers.
No. 15: San Francisco Giants
Nearly every club mentioned up to this point has had question marks in the starting rotation, but the San Francisco Giants are well-settled in that department.
Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are the best MLB threesome outside of Philadelphia's city limits. Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito complete the quintet.
Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are the key cogs in the offense, which is seeking to rebound from general mediocrity. Don't overlook Brandon Belt, either. His production this spring suggests that a grand sophomore season is on the horizon.
San Francisco upgraded with rangy outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. They are perfectly niched for AT&T Park.
Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson comprise a dominant duo that rarely relinquishes small leads.
No. 14: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals didn't tamper with their talented lineup this offseason. That means this is the same team that shoots itself in the foot with batters who must learn to be more patient at the plate.
Ryan Zimmerman is staying in D.C. for a while under his new six-year contract extension.
Jayson Werth has consented to shift to center field if and when top prospect Bryce Harper makes his regular-season debut.
After starring in 2011, Michael Morse is currently limited by a lat injury. But, he is expected to make a full recovery by mid-April.
The Nats surrendered several desirable pitching prospects to woo Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics. They also anted up $11 million for Edwin Jackson's services.
Management is so comfortable with its starters that John Lannan—who opened the 2010 season as the rotation's No. 1—is being aggressively shopped.
Since becoming the Nationals in 2005, this franchise has never tallied more wins than losses. Then, along came 2012.
No. 13: St. Louis Cardinals
That's right, I'm not sold on the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. They weren't a trendy World Series pick last spring, either. So relax.
Albert Pujols is gone.
Carlos Beltran now claims his spot in the lineup, but doesn't threaten opponents with comparable power. Pujols is even the better base-stealer at this point!
Rafael Furcal isn't a prototypical top-of-the-order guy anymore. The offense will sputter unless rookie manager Mike Matheny adjusts quickly.
The Cardinals' defense will have issues with balls put in play. Aside from backstop Yadier Molina, the starting position players don't field well.
I love Adam Wainwright, though.
Co-ace Chris Carpenter will miss time with a nerve issue and the team's relievers lack MLB experience. But, one year removed from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright looks like the stud he used to be.
No. 12: Miami Marlins
Over the past six months, the Miami Marlins have been the most active MLB franchise. It hasn't even been close.
It began with the trade that brought Ozzie Guillen from the American League to be the new skipper.
Next came the name and logo changes. Fans have jumped onto the bandwagon after what was originally a lukewarm reception.
The Marlins probably doubled their likelihood of making the 2012 postseason by diving head-first into the flurry of free agents. When the ink settled, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes had agreed to terms.
The slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton has renamed himself "Giancarlo," Hanley Ramirez is now a third baseman, and everybody is confident that Carlos Zambrano will keep his emotions in check.
I don't know whether Ramirez, Reyes or Josh Johnson is Miami's most important player. Just focus on the fact that they are all 100 percent healthy as Opening Day nears.
No. 11: Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds are now certain that they have an irreplaceable player in Joey Votto. He finished sixth in NL MVP voting after a "down" year!
Opposing pitchers don't look forward to facing Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips or Drew Stubbs, either.
Highly touted catching prospect Devin Mesoraco can push this lineup to an elite level if he adjusts quickly to MLB pitching.
Using surplus minor-league players, general manager Walt Jocketty executed trades for Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. Both are pitchers who can succeed in Great American Ballpark despite its cramped dimensions.
That was the good news.
Meanwhile, Ryan Madson's tenure with Cincy has essentially ended before Opening Day. The would-be closer is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching elbow.
The loss of depth will not deter Aroldis Chapman from transitioning into a starting role.
His spring-training numbers show promise, but let's see him locate his slider in a real game.
No. 10: Atlanta Braves
In stark contrast to the Miami Marlins, the Atlanta Braves kept to themselves during the offseason.
They subtracted Derek Lowe from the roster, but otherwise, there are a lot of familiar faces in camp.
Lifetime Brave Chipper Jones announced that 2012 will be his final season. Even in decline, he is the team's primary third baseman.
The depth of the starting rotation will be tested immediately, with Tim Hudson (back) aiming to be ready towards the end of April.
Tommy Hanson—who has always had All-Star potential—is being challenged to overcome a preseason car accident and progress his career.
Similarly, Jason Heyward has a world of talent, but not much to show for it through two seasons. Keep in mind that he's only 22 years old.
No. 9: Boston Red Sox
With new manager Bobby Valentine and first-year general manager Ben Cherington, the Boston Red Sox are trying to distance themselves from last September's abrupt collapse.
The lineup has gotten younger, as J.D. Drew and Marco Scutaro are playing elsewhere (or in Drew's case, not playing).
Jason Varitek retired, which leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starting catcher. He aspires to do well despite his lengthy surname.
Eyes will be glued to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. He stunned the public by besting Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz with his team-leading 32 home runs, and finishing second in AL MVP voting.
John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are still recovering from Tommy John surgeries.
A handful of players will get opportunities to hold down the fourth- and fifth-starter roles while they mend.
No. 8: Milwaukee Brewers
Minus Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers are still contenders.
However, they might be slow out of the gate.
Mat Gamel is new to the batting order and has played just 22 MLB games since 2010. Corey Hart injured himself in spring training and will be placed on the disabled list.
There shouldn't be any excuses from the pitching staff.
Yovani Gallardo and Zach Greinke are the best one-two punch in the National League Central. Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford worked wonderfully together to close out Brewers wins a season ago.
Should we be concerned about Ryan Braun, who is mired in a hideous spring slump?
No, the reigning NL MVP will be as unstoppable as ever, though expect him to see fewer hittable pitches without Prince's protection.
No. 7: Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays didn't slash payroll again this winter (there really wasn't much to slash).
Instead, they professed their love for No. 1 prospect Matt Moore with a generous contract extension.
Also, the front office brought back former Ray Carlos Pena on a one-year deal. He will outperform his predecessor, Casey Kotchman, in the home run and walks categories, but struggle, as always, to maintain a respectable batting average. Defense is pretty much a toss-up (both are excellent).
Manager Joe Maddon won't get much offense out of the catcher and shortstop positions regardless of whom he starts. Run-scoring could be inconsistent.
Fernando Rodney has joined the relief corps, though neither he, Kyle Farnsworth nor Joel Peralta are completely competent.
This team separates itself from the pack with its starting pitching.
Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields comprise a foursome of hurlers that is head and shoulders above what other AL East clubs have lined up.
No. 6: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks have few, if any, weaknesses heading into 2012.
One—you could argue—is a lack of batters with great contact ability. Ryan Roberts, Justin Upton and Chris Young, for example, are locks to whiff at least 100 times apiece.
Stephen Drew's situation is unfortunate. He continues to deal with an ankle injury suffered last July and has yet to compete in Cactus League games.
Frankly, any other criticism would be nitpicking.
The D-Backs have good depth in the outfield and the starting rotation. Jason Kubel and Trevor Cahill, respectively, are the new players that created those surpluses.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is one of few regulars that will enter the regular season with the "unproven" label.
No. 5: Philadelphia Phillies
If the Philadelphia Phillies of 2011 were unbalanced, then the 2012 team is the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
Ryan Howard (Achilles) and Chase Utley (knees) will miss significant time early in the season. Raul Ibanez is now a New York Yankee.
How will the Phillies hit home runs?
That's easy; they won't.
The 41-year-old Jim Thome doesn't have the durability to play first base regularly. John Mayberry and Hunter Pence will be saddled with the responsibility of replacing the lost production.
Yet Philadelphia's pitching should be excellent enough to carry them to another division title. I won't predict 100-plus victories, though.
Jonathan Papelbon has filled the closer's role vacated by Ryan Madson, and Vance Worley is starting instead of Roy Oswalt. Both represent slight upgrades.
There's no reason to panic so long as Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are still around.
No. 4: Detroit Tigers
Last year's race for first place in the AL Central was decided with several weeks remaining in September. Expect the Detroit Tigers to have a similar stranglehold over that division again.
The lineup has shed Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez in favor of Prince Fielder.
How any opponent plans to pass through the batting order unscathed even once—much less four times over the course of a ballgame—is beyond me.
Austin Jackson needs to address the holes in his swing in order to hold down the leadoff spot.
Catcher Alex Avila will hopefully move on from his embarrassing 3-for-41 playoff performance and duplicate his solid 2011 regular-season stats.
Doug Fister and Justin Verlander can log plenty of innings with enviable strike-throwing ability.
Still, manager Jim Leyland won't be able to avoid his bullpen every night.
Be warned that Jose Valverde is due for a regression this summer. Al Alburquerque could be a valuable reinforcement, but he likely won't return until midseason.
No. 3: New York Yankees
Aside from Raul Ibanez, every New York Yankees position player on the 25-man roster is a holdover from 2011. Don't minimize the importance of continuity.
Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson were terrific a year ago, while corner infielders Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira aspire to rebound from less-than-stellar seasons.
This team has more speed than the Yankees traditionally have, thanks to Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez. Gardner is also an extraordinary left fielder.
Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is back as closer, but the bullpen has thinned out elsewhere.
Luis Ayala (2.09 ERA) is with the Baltimore Orioles, and Joba Chamberlain won't be available for the foreseeable future.
Wholesale changes were made to the starting rotation.
Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda are debuting in pinstripes. Andy Pettitte is coming out of retirement.
They represent obvious improvements over A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon.
No. 2: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim dominated December's MLB Winter Meetings.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto added Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson—arguably the top available free agents—in a matter of hours!
In Kendrys Morales, the Angels have a former AL MVP candidate who is still in his twenties. He was absent all of 2011, but is finally back in playing shape.
Mark Trumbo has shifted to third base. His three errors in 15 total chances this spring are evidence that he hasn't mastered the position yet.
However, most 2012 Halos—namely Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and Pujols—are polished fielders. Mike Trout is no exception, and he'll be flaunting his defensive prowess before long.
Wilson won't be pressured to carry the starting rotation as he became accustomed to doing last season. Dan Haren and Jered Weaver are actually ahead of him in the pecking order.
A group of veteran relievers defer to All-Star closer Jordan Walden in the ninth inning.
Don't forget that skipper Mike Scioscia is the best in the business. This team will not wilt in the face of adversity.
No. 1: Texas Rangers
The two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers are the new No. 1. It's hard to make the case for any other club.
They have the ideal blend of youth and experience.
Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are among the best all-around players at their respective positions.
The defense has no holes; the lineup, no automatic outs.
Although the Rangers lack a tenured, MLB ace, they have Yu Darvish. He pitches with the confidence of a rotation leader from having belittled Japanese professionals.
More importantly, Texas has a great depth of starting pitching. Injuries to even two of their top five wouldn't be the end of the world.
Joe Nathan is struggling in spring training, but any talk of him having nothing left in tank is premature.
Ultimately, I chose this team for the No. 1 honor because I cannot envision a doomsday scenario that would prevent them from returning to October.