Now or Never: 2017 MLB Postseason Urgency Rankings for Every Contender

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2017

Now or Never: 2017 MLB Postseason Urgency Rankings for Every Contender

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The ultimate goal for all 30 MLB teams is simple—win the World Series.

    Each team enters the season with a different sense of urgency relative to that goal.

    For a rebuilding team, it's all about player development and talent acquisition, as immediate win-loss record takes a backseat to potential future success.

    In the case of those teams, even a surprise push for a winning record can be considered a successful season.

    However, for other teams with loftier short-term goals, sometimes anything short of a World Series title is a disappointment.

    Ahead, we've taken a closer look at the 12 teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot and ranked them based on the level of urgency they have to win the World Series title this season.

    Teams were ranked based on preseason expectations, recent success and various roster factors, including notable upcoming free agents and key aging players.

12. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw
    Orlando Arcia and Travis ShawJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 69.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: 2B Neil Walker, SP Matt Garza, RP Anthony Swarzak
    • 2019: RP Carlos Torres, RP Jared Hughes
    • 2020: C Stephen Vogt, RP Jeremy Jeffress

           

    Outlook

    For the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers, a battle to avoid the NL Central cellar appeared more likely than a legitimate postseason push.

    After all, this was still a team in the midst of a full-scale rebuild, having spent the past few seasons shipping out established veteran talent in an effort to bolster the farm system.

    A modest improvement over last season's 89-loss finish seemed possible, but a return to contention was still a few years down the road.

    Instead, the starting rotation exceeded expectations behind breakout seasons from Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, and the offense has made plenty of noise behind the unheralded trio of Eric Thames, Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana.

    Sure, a playoff appearance this year would be great.

    However, the front office made the right decision not mortgaging future assets for a premature run this season. Sustained success is still the destination; this year's performance was just a pleasant surprise along the way.

11. Minnesota Twins

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    Jose Berrios
    Jose BerriosJim Mone/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 74.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: SP Hector Santiago, RP Matt Belisle, SP Bartolo Colon
    • 2019: 2B Brian Dozier, 1B Joe Mauer, IF Eduardo Escobar, RP Glen Perkins
    • 2020: SP Ervin Santana, SP Kyle Gibson, C Jason Castro, SP Phil Hughes

           

    Outlook

    Speaking of exceeding expectations, let's talk about the Minnesota Twins.

    After they followed up a surprising winning record in 2015 with a disastrous 103-loss campaign last season, little was expected of the Twinkies in 2017 beyond a battle with the Chicago White Sox to avoid the AL Central cellar.

    And on paper, this still doesn't look like a team that should be in the hunt for a wild-card spot.

    The lineup is young and lacking in established star power, yet the Twins rank eighth in the majors with 4.97 runs per game.

    The starting rotation has been vastly improved over the group that posted a MLB-worst 5.39 ERA a year ago, but it's still far from a strength (4.74 ERA, 18th in MLB), and beyond Ervin Santana and rising star Jose Berrios, it's been a crapshoot for much of the season.

    Then there's the patchwork bullpen, which lost All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler when he was traded at the deadline and has since turned things over to offseason scrapheap signing Matt Belisle.

    Really, there's no reason they should be seven games over .500 and planted in the No. 2 wild-card spot, yet here we are.

    With several young pieces in place at the MLB level and the No. 14 farm system in B/R's latest rankings, the future is bright.

    Anything they accomplish in 2017 is gravy.

10. Los Angeles Angels

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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutAlex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 79.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: LF Justin Upton (opt-out), 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Yunel Escobar, RP Bud Norris, RP Yusmeiro Petit, SP Jesse Chavez, OF Ben Revere
    • 2019: SP Garrett Richards, SP Ricky Nolasco, C Martin Maldonado, RP Huston Street
    • 2020: 3B Luis Valbuena

           

    Outlook

    It's an inescapable narrative for the Los Angeles Angels at this point.

    A quick Google search of "wasting Mike Trout" returns a staggering number of think pieces from all corners of the MLB media landscape asking if—and in many instances flat-out declaring—the Angels are squandering the best player on the planet.

    Whether that's a fair assessment doesn't matter for the sake of this discussion.

    What does is the fact there's obvious pressure on the team to make a legitimate title push between now and the 2020 season when Trout will enter the final year of his contract.

    Did anyone expect this Angels team to be a serious contender, though?

    Their projected win total heading into the season was 76.5fourth among AL West teams and 11th among all AL clubs—and a relatively quiet offseason headlined by mid-level additions didn't give the impression of a team that was pushing its chips in.

    The Angels still have the time and the financial resources to take a more aggressive approach in the years to come.

    That narrative isn't going anywhere, but this wasn't a make-or-break season for the franchise, and even if it misses the playoffs, it has exceeded expectations.

9. New York Yankees

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    Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez
    Aaron Judge and Gary SanchezDuane Burleson/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 82.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: SP Masahiro Tanaka (opt-out), SP CC Sabathia, SP Jaime Garcia, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, SP Michael Pineda
    • 2019: LF Brett Gardner, 1B/3B Chase Headley, RP David Robertson, RP Adam Warren
    • 2020: SP Sonny Gray, RP Dellin Betances, SS Didi Gregorius, OF Aaron Hicks, C Austin Romine

           

    Outlook

    The New York Yankees will never be a franchise that opts for a full-scale rebuild.

    However, all signs pointed to a few years of at least "retooling" as they looked to infuse the MLB roster with some young, controllable talent while also keeping the payroll uncluttered for the vaunted 2018-19 free-agent class.

    That plan is still in place; they just happened to be quite a bit better than expected in 2017.

    Their strong start to the season was enough to make them buyers at the trade deadline, and they did move some prospects—most notably 2016 first-round pick Blake Rutherford—but the focus is still squarely on the future, and the farm system is still stacked.

    Credit the emergence of rookie slugger Aaron Judge and budding ace Luis Severino for helping the team exceed expectations, and the front office did well to fill in the gaps on the trade market without deviating from the long-term plan.

    Even if they weren't expected to be playoff-bound heading into the year, expectations tend to explode in a major market like New York, so what the pundits were saying in February doesn't mean much now.

    Still, any well-informed fan knows this season has already been a rousing success for the Yankees.

8. Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 80.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: RF Carlos Gonzalez, C Jonathan Lucroy, 1B Mark Reynolds, RP Greg Holland (mutual option), SP Tyler Chatwood, RP Jake McGee, RP Pat Neshek
    • 2019: CF Charlie Blackmon, 2B D.J. LeMahieu, RP Adam Ottavino
    • 2020: 3B Nolan Arenado, OF Gerardo Parra

           

    Outlook

    The Colorado Rockies haven't made the playoffs since 2009, haven't even posted a winning record since 2010 and went 75-87 last season.

    However, they were still a popular pick to be a dark-horse contender after a busy offseason that included the additions of Ian Desmond, Greg Holland and Mike Dunn to what appeared to be a team on the rise.

    There's no question they have a solid young core in place, especially on the pitching side of things where a number of rookies have made a significant impact this season, but there are some major decisions awaiting the front office in the next few years.

    Notably, Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu will be free agents following the 2018 season, and Nolan Arenado hits the open market after 2019.

    The team has potential replacements for all three guys in prospects Raimel Tapia, Brendan Rodgers and Ryan McMahon, but we're talking about potentially losing three of the best players on the roster.

    That makes the team's window for contention with the current group a bit more pressing.

    Proving their place as a potential title contender would also significantly improve their standing on the free-agent market, where the top players often make it a point to steer clear of the Coors Field effect.

    There's still plenty of room for improvement from the in-house talent, but an even more aggressive and successful venture into free agency could push them over the top.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Zack Greinke
    Zack GreinkeRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 77.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: RF J.D. Martinez, C Chris Iannetta, RP Fernando Rodney, RP David Hernandez
    • 2019: CF A.J. Pollock, SP Patrick Corbin, RP Randall Delgado, C Jeff Mathis
    • 2020: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, IF Chris Owings, SP Shelby Miller

           

    Outlook

    There wasn't a more disappointing team in 2016 than the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    They spent $206.5 million to add Zack Greinke in free agency and flipped top prospect Dansby Swanson and controllable center fielder Ender Inciarte to acquire Shelby Miller, only to lose 93 games.

    That allowed them to fly under the radar a bit heading into this season, but they're not taking anyone by surprise anymore.

    Greinke has returned to ace form after a disappointing debut, while the young trio of Robbie Ray, Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker has helped make the rotation a legitimate strength.

    Meanwhile, deadline addition J.D. Martinez has joined NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt to form a dynamic one-two punch at the heart of one of the better offenses in the NL.

    There are a lot of controllable pieces on the roster, including all four of those starting pitchers mentioned above, but it's still tough to ignore the fact that Goldschmidt is a free agent following the 2019 season.

    One player doesn't make a team, but there's little question he's the best player on the roster and his potential departure would be a major blow.

    That gives them a three-year window—counting this postseason—to make a serious run at a title.

    Enough to land them comfortably in the middle of these rankings.

6. Chicago Cubs

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    Jake Arrieta
    Jake ArrietaJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 95.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: SP Jake Arrieta, RP Wade Davis, SP John Lackey, OF Jon Jay, C Alex Avila, RP Brian Duensing, RP Koji Uehara
    • 2019: RP Hector Rondon, RP Justin Wilson
    • 2020: 2B Ben Zobrist, RP Pedro Strop, RP Justin Grimm

           

    Outlook

    Few teams are better positioned for long-term success than the Chicago Cubs, and we've seen time and again how difficult it is to repeat as World Series champions.

    But you try telling that to a fanbase that finally got a taste after 108 years.

    The front office did well hedging the potential departure of Jake Arrieta in free agency by acquiring Jose Quintana in a deadline blockbuster with the crosstown White Sox.

    Still, John Lackey is also headed for free agency, and Jon Lester will turn 34 in the offseason, so the starting staff remains a long-term question mark.

    The point being, it would be nice to win now while Arrieta is still around, Lester is still on the fringe of his prime, and there's still a bit more certainty surrounding the rotation.

    But is this team facing the same sense of urgency to win it all that it was at this time a year ago?

    Not even close.

5. Houston Astros

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    Dallas Keuchel
    Dallas KeuchelCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 89.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: DH Carlos Beltran, OF Cameron Maybin, RP Luke Gregerson, RP Tyler Clippard, RP Francisco Liriano
    • 2019: SP Dallas Keuchel, SP Charlie Morton, UT Marwin Gonzalez, DH Evan Gattis, RP Tony Sipp
    • 2020: 2B Jose Altuve, SP Collin McHugh, C Brian McCann, SP Mike Fiers, RP Will Harris

           

    Outlook

    If there's one team that rivals the Chicago Cubs in terms of young, controllable talent, it's the Houston Astros.

    However, unlike the Cubs, the Astros have yet to win anything with this group of players, so that's enough to earn them a higher spot in the rankings.

    The front office will also be under pressure to extend Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve, who will reach free agency following the 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively.

    If they hadn't acquired Justin Verlander last month, they would have come in even higher in these rankings.

    After a long offseason of kicking tires on the starting pitching market and then a quiet trade deadline that angered some on the roster, there would have been no shortage of second-guessing if they came up short without making a play for a top-tier starter.

    Still, expectations have been steadily climbing for this group over the past few seasons, and it's time for them to prove something in October.

4. Boston Red Sox

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    Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts
    Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie BettsSteve Nesius/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 92.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: 1B Mitch Moreland, 3B Eduardo Nunez, RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, OF Rajai Davis, RP Fernando Abad
    • 2019: RP Craig Kimbrel, SP Drew Pomeranz, RP Joe Kelly, RP Robbie Ross Jr.
    • 2020: SP Chris Sale, SS Xander Bogaerts, SP Rick Porcello, UT Brock Holt, DH Hanley Ramirez, RP Tyler Thornburg

           

    Outlook

    After making the playoffs just twice in the past seven years and getting swept out of the Division Series by the Cleveland Indians a year ago, the Boston Red Sox went all-in at the winter meetings.

    Chris Sale was acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Chicago White Sox that cost the team uber-prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech as part of a four-player package.

    That immediately made them heavy favorites to repeat as AL East champions and perhaps co-favorites with the Indians to represent the American League in the World Series.

    Things haven't gone exactly as planned—David Price has been hurt, Rick Porcello has regressed a ton, and shaky situations in the bullpen and at third base required attention—but they're still in position to win the division.

    The expectations for this club stretched beyond simply returning to the postseason, though.

    They may be well-positioned for future success with a good, young core and with the financial flexibility to make a splash in free agency as well.

    However, the lack of recent success and last year's early exit from the playoffs is enough to earn them a spot inside the top five in these rankings.

3. Cleveland Indians

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    Corey Kluber
    Corey KluberCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 92.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: 1B Carlos Santana, RF Jay Bruce, RP Bryan Shaw, RP Joe Smith, OF Austin Jackson
    • 2019: RP Andrew Miller, RP Cody Allen, LF Michael Brantley, RF Lonnie Chisenhall, SP Josh Tomlin, RP Boone Logan, RP Zach McAllister
    • 2020: OF Brandon Guyer, RP Dan Otero

           

    Outlook

    Nothing like a 22-game winning streak to pour gasoline on the expectation fire.

    Simply put, anything short of a World Series title this season will be a disappointment for the Cleveland Indians.

    After reaching the Fall Classic a year ago and coming up just short in a thrilling seven-game series, there are no more moral victories to be won from modest postseason success.

    The front office made a statement when it waved goodbye to productive veteran Mike Napoli in favor of signing prolific slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal—a new record free-agent signing for the organization.

    The only reason this team doesn't rank higher is the fact its window of contention is not in significant danger of slamming shut anytime soon.

    Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and up-and-comers like Bradley Zimmer, Francisco Mejia, Mike Clevinger and Yandy Diaz are all under control through at least 2020.

    They don't need to win a title this year for the sake of roster turnover, but they do if they want to call the 2017 season a success.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Yu Darvish
    Yu DarvishMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 93.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: SP Yu Darvish, OF Curtis Granderson, RP Tony Watson, 2B Chase Utley, OF Andre Ethier
    • 2019: C Yasmani Grandal, RF Yasiel Puig, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP Brandon McCarthy
    • 2020: SP Alex Wood, SP Rich Hill, RP Josh Fields, RP Luis Avilan, RP Tony Cingrani

           

    Outlook

    Did they peak too early?

    Should Justin Verlander have been the top deadline target instead of Yu Darvish?

    Why wasn't J.D. Martinez a priority, especially considering they eventually acquired Curtis Granderson?

    There will be a cornucopia of second-guessing if the Los Angeles Dodgers are not hoisting the World Series trophy at season's end, and the fanbase has every right to ask those questions.

    At some point, having the highest payroll in baseball has to add up to more than just division titles.

    After looking like a juggernaut for most of the year, the Dodgers have gone 5-18 since Aug. 25, the worst record in baseball during that span.

    Maybe they're coasting—they've already clinched a playoff spot and still have a 9.5-game lead in the NL West—but it's not always easy to flip that switch back on in October.

    There's no room for excuses with this team, it's World Series or bust.

1. Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper
    Bryce HarperMark Tenally/Associated Press

    Projected 2017 Win Total: 90.5

          

    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    • 2018: RP Brandon Kintzler, RP Oliver Perez, RP Matt Albers, IF Stephen Drew, C Jose Lobaton
    • 2019: RF Bryce Harper, 2B Daniel Murphy, SP Gio Gonzalez, RP Ryan Madson, RP Shawn Kelley, 1B Adam Lind
    • 2020: 3B Anthony Rendon, SP Tanner Roark

           

    Outlook

    It's almost a foregone conclusion that Bryce Harper will be taking his talents elsewhere following the 2018 season.

    That same offseason, the Washington Nationals also stand to lose Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez, two players who have been vital to the club's recent success in their own right.

    Sure, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are signed long-term and Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner and Adam Eaton will be around beyond 2018, but that offseason represents a clear closing of the window for this franchise.

    That's the reason people were so baffled by the front office opting against adding a proven closer during the offseason. If this group really has a two-year window and the Nats were willing to give up a huge prospect package for Eaton, why not keep dealing and go all-in?

    Picking up Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler at the deadline eventually helped stabilize that issue, and at this point, there's no a clear hole on the roster.

    That's provided Harper returns for the postseason. He hasn't played since Aug. 12 after suffering a left calf strain.

    They'll still have next season, but no current contender's window is closing faster than the Nationals', making them an easy choice for the No. 1 spot.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Monday's games. All projected win totals courtesy of OddsShark.