How All 30 MLB Teams Rank as Potential Free-Agent Destinations This Winter

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2017

How All 30 MLB Teams Rank as Potential Free-Agent Destinations This Winter

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    In the coming months, a gaggle of MLB free agents will decide what laundry to wear next season. Some will pick from multiple suitors; others will settle for what they can get. 

    While we wait for the hot stove to crackle, here's a handy guide ranking all 30 teams on their appeal as free-agent destinations. In compiling these rankings, we considered four factors and graded each on a scale of 1-10:

    • Atmosphere: This includes the ballpark, the city, the strength and enthusiasm of the fanbase, and other factors, such as the history and pedigree of the franchise.
    • Payroll: Teams that spend more are obviously better equipped to hand out lucrative contracts, but we weighed payroll flexibility as well.
    • Can they win now? A chance to go to the postseason is near the top of most free agents' wish lists. Not everyone will sign with a title contender, but a winning culture counts for a lot.
    • Can they win later? For players inking multiyear deals, a sense that the club is positioned to win into the future matters as much or more.

    In the case of a tie, we used the "win later" score to determine the ranking.

No. 30: Oakland Athletics

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    Yes, there is a coalition of loyal fans who proudly fly the green and gold. For the second consecutive year, however, the Oakland A's drew the second-fewest fans in baseball to their eyesore of a football/baseball combo park, per ESPN.com. Even when they win, interest is muted. When they're in the midst of a rebuild, as they are now, they scarcely rate as the Bay Area's other baseball team.

    Score: 1

       

    Payroll

    Executive Billy Beane began the process of selling off pieces at the 2017 trade deadline, so it's highly unlikely the A's—who ranked next-to-last in payroll, per Spotrac—are going to add any needle-moving contracts. 

    Score: 1

       

    Can they win now?

    Beane will jettison his tradable assets this winter and, if he has any left, next summer, with an eye on further restocking the farm. Another last-place finish is a near-foregone conclusion.

    Score: 2

       

    Can they win later?

    Finally, some good news. After shipping out pieces such as right-hander Sonny Gray, the A's now have a farm system that Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 8 in the game. Oakland has shown the ability to contend with a tight budget and homegrown talent before, so there's at least a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

    Score: 6

       

    Total score: 10

No. 29: Miami Marlins

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    Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    Despite Giancarlo Stanton's so-close chase for 60 homers and their big, glitzy ballpark, the Miami Marlins drew the third-fewest fans in baseball. Miami gets excited when the Fish compete for a title. When they float below .500? Not so much.

    Score: 2

         

    Payroll

    The Marlins' new owners, led by Derek Jeter, are reportedly planning to slash payroll to as low as $55 million, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, especially if they can move Stanton's massive contract. That doesn't bode well for any potential free agents with their hearts set on South Beach. Then again, these are the Marlins, so you never know.

    Score: 2

        

    Can they win now?

    There's talent on the roster, including one of the game's best outfields in Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. But with the emphasis on shedding money and possibly shipping out their best player, the Marlins may be hard-pressed to match last season's 77-85 finish.

    Score: 4

        

    Can they win later?

    The answer to this depends on your faith in the new ownership group to rebuild a weak farm system, make savvy trades from the big-league roster and change the culture of dysfunction that ruled under former owner Jeffrey Loria. Despite Jeter's winning pedigree and the hope that comes with a change of leadership, it's a giant question mark.

    Score: 3

         

    Total score: 11

No. 28: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    To put it bluntly, Tropicana Field is the ugliest park in the game, and it's not especially close. It's not a coincidence the Rays tied for the fifth-best record in the Junior Circuit but drew the fewest fans in either league.

    Score: 1

        

    Payroll

    The Rays had MLB's fourth-lowest payroll in 2017 and aren't in the habit of handing out big contracts. They'll spend where they need to plug holes but generally hold back until later in the winter, when the second- and third-tier free agents can be had at bargain prices.

    Score: 3

         

    Can they win now?

    Tampa Bay finished 80-82 last season and could again hang around the fringe of the wild-card chase. More likely, with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees ascendant atop the division, they'll replenish the farm system by trading chips such as ace Chris Archer.

    Score: 4

        

    Can they win later?

    The Rays have been a small-market success story over the past decade and, as mentioned, could further boost a farm system Reuter already ranked No. 6 in baseball. Keeping up with the Yanks and Red Sox will be tough, but there is cause for cautious optimism.

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 14

No. 27: Los Angeles Angels

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have always been Southern California's team, and that's doubly true after the Dodgers charged to Game 7 of the World Series. Still, the Los Angeles Angels managed baseball's seventh-highest attendance and have carved out a niche for themselves in Anaheim. 

    Score: 5

        

    Payroll

    With Albert Pujols' albatross contract weighing down the books and the ink drying on the five-year, $106 million extension they handed Justin Upton, it's hard to believe the Halos will be big spenders for the rest of the winter. Then again, the Upton deal does signal they're unequivocally looking to win now.

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win now?

    The Angels made a valiant playoff push in 2017. They still employ the game's best player in Mike Trout. There are questions, including in the starting rotation, but in an era when 85 wins can get you to October, why not?

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win later?

    Here's where the picture gets less rosy. That Pujols contract will keep impacting the budget through 2021, when the Angels will pay the aging slugger $30 million in his age-41 season. Add the game's worst farm system and you've got red flags fluttering in the future.

    Score: 2

        

    Total score: 15

No. 26: Detroit Tigers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    Detroit is a great working-class baseball city, and the Tigers have recently enjoyed extended success. Those days are over for now, however, and the overdue has kicked into gear. There will be pain—and diminished attendance—ahead.

    Score: 4

        

    Payroll

    Detroit started shedding salary by shipping out veterans at the 2017 deadline, including right-hander Justin Verlander. Next up: making tough decisions on remaining expensive pieces, including franchise icon Miguel Cabrera. The bottom line: The Tigers and executive Al Avila aren't cutting any huge checks. 

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win now?

    The Tigers hoped for one more season of contention in 2017 and didn't get it. Now, after winning 64 gamestheir fewest since 2003they may be in for an extended stretch of losing.

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win later?

    The Tigers' once-moribund farm system took a big leap forward in 2017, and if Avila keeps sloughing off dollars and adding prospects, the future will only get brighter. 

    Score: 5

        

    Total score: 15

No. 25: Kansas City Royals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Kansas City Royals stirred up their dormant fanbase by winning a pennant in 2014 and the World Series in 2015. Missing the postseason for two straight seasons has dampened enthusiasm, however, and the Royals ranked No. 17 in attendance in 2017. That said, with the taste of winning fresh, K.C. fans will be ready to hop back on the wagon.

    Score: 5

         

    Payroll

    A number of key players are hitting free agency—including center fielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmerwhich means the Royals and general manager Dayton Moore technically have money to spend. Kansas City isn't a big market, but the club's payroll ranked No. 13 in the game, meaning it could be in on some marquee names. 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    Again, there's a recent winning culture in skipper Ned Yost's dugout, and the Royals won 80 games last season. That said, with so much talent potentially leaving, Kanas City's window might be slamming shut.

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win later?

    The Royals punted on a chance to deal pieces such as Cain and Hosmer at the 2017 and restock the game's No. 29 farm system. They may regret it down the road.

    Score: 2

        

    Total score: 16

No. 24: Cincinnati Reds

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Cincinnati Reds are one of baseball's oldest franchises. They play in a nice facility. Rebuilds hurt, however, and the Reds drew the second-fewest fans in the NL, ahead of only Miami. If and when they return to winning, however, you can bet the Cincinnati faithful will return.

    Score: 5

         

    Payroll

    The Reds' payroll ranked 24th in baseball last year. Franchise player Joey Votto is set to make $25 million annually through 2023, but Cincinnati won't be shelling big money to anyone new in 2018.

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win now?

    The Reds' goal for next season will be to continue the rebuild and try to avoid last place. Catching the Chicago Cubs for NL Central supremacy or even sniffing the wild card isn't remotely realistic.

    Score: 2

       

    Can they win later?

    Cincinnati has the game's No. 10-ranked farm system, highlighted by 18-year-old superstar-in-the-making Hunter Greene. Patience is order of the day with both Greene and the Reds.

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 16

No. 23: San Diego Padres

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    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Padres don't have a deep, rich history nor are they a trendy current favorite. Still, they drew more fans in 2017 than three playoff teams (the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians). And it's tough to beat the weather in San Diego.

    Score: 5

        

    Payroll

    The Padres had MLB's third-lowest payroll in 2017. Don't expect any offseason splashes akin to general manager A.J. Preller's ill-fated 2014-15 trade/spending spree.

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win now?

    San Diego avoided the NL West cellar last season thanks to the San Francisco Giants' collapse, but their chances of competing with the Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies in 2018 are essentially nil.

    Score: 2

        

    Can they win later?

    The Friars have graduated young talent to the big leagues and have the No. 4 farm system, highlighted by some exciting pitching prospects, including left-hander MacKenzie Gore. In another couple of years, San Diego could again be a factor, provided Preller resist the urge to sell off his chips once again.

    Score: 7

        

    Total score: 17

No. 22: Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Seattle Mariners finished a disappointing 78-84 this season and missed the playoffs for the 16th consecutive year. No surprise, then, that they finished 19th in attendance. Tough to blame Pacific Northwest fans for tossing up their hands. 

    Score: 5

        

    Payroll

    The Mariners ranked 12th in payroll in 2017 but lack the financial flexibility going forward to make a big move. Instead, look for general manager Jerry Dipoto to tinker with the roster and make trades, as is his tendency.

    Score: 4

         

    Can they win now?

    The M's have enough talent to compete for a wild-card berth, especially if they have a healthier starting rotation. A legitimate title run is a stretch, but just playing past Game 162 would be a coup.

    Score: 5

         

    Can they win later?

    Again, the M's don't have a ton of near-term payroll space and their farm system checks in at No. 22 without any top prospects knocking on the MLB door. 

    Score: 3

        

    Total score: 17

No. 21: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    Philadelphia is a tough town. The fans are passionate, no question, but also notorious for letting players and the team hear their displeasure when things don't go well. The Phils lost 96 games and may be a couple of years away from sniffing contention. Any player who signs on now will need a thick skin.

    Score: 4

        

    Payroll

    As Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice reported, the Phils are sticking to their "carefully calculated long-term plan" and "will most likely not be bringing Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish through that door this winter." They've got money to spend in theory, but a quick return to the bloated payrolls of the recent past isn't happening. 

    Score: 3

         

    Can they win now?

    Philadelphia could certainly improve on last season's win total (it'd be tough to get much worse) if they sort out the rotation and youngsters such as infielder J.P. Crawford come into their own. A playoff push is probably not in the cards—sorry, boo-birds.

    Score: 3

         

    Can they win later?

    As for that carefully calibrated plan, it's so far helped the Phillies stockpile the game's No. 7 farm system. Add tons of payroll flexibility down the road, and Philadelphia could swell with cheers again in the not-too-distant future. 

    Score: 7

         

    Total score: 17

No. 20: Chicago White Sox

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The White Sox could be one of the most electric young teams in either league in the coming years, but for now, they're a full-scale rebuilding squad playing in the North Side shadow of the Cubs. No shock they ranked No. 27 in attendance. 

    Score: 4

        

    Payroll

    Chicago outspent only the Rays and Athletics in 2017 and should have a tight belt again in 2018 as it keeps spots open for its bevy of emerging stars. An ancillary veteran or two could be brought on board, but any large, multiyear deals will probably have to wait.

    Score: 3

         

    Can they win now?

    Not yet. Of course, it's possible a baby-faced roster of touted prospects could all mature at once, but more likely Chicago will be a factor in 2019, 2020 and beyond. 

    Score: 2

        

    Can they win later?

    You betcha. Nothing is guaranteed, obviously, but burgeoning blue chips such as infielder Yoan Moncada and flame-throwing Michael Kopech make the Sox one of the most exciting teams of tomorrow.

    Score: 9

        

    Total score: 18

No. 19: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    After qualifying for the postseason for three straight years from 2013 to 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates missed the dance in each of the last two seasons. Concurrently, they sank to 25th in baseball in attendance. PNC Park is one of the more underappreciated yards in the game; these days, it's all too often quiet.

    Score: 5

          

    Payroll

    The Pirates ranked 25th in payroll in 2017 and have never been known for handing out big contracts. Most of the chatter this winter should center on outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who will once again be the subject of trade scuttlebutt after Pittsburgh exercised his $14.75 million option.

    Score: 3

         

    Can they win now?

    The Pirates have enough offensive weapons and emerging pitching talent to sneak back into the wild-card picture. After failing to reach 80 wins twice in a row, however, they run the risk of sinking from the picture.

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win later?

    Youngsters such as Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow lost their prospect status in 2017, knocking Pittsburgh's system to No. 19. There's still nascent talent in the minor leagues and on the big-league roster, though, and the Pirates could add to it if they find a suitor for McCutchen. 

    Score: 6

         

    Total score: 19

No. 18: San Francisco Giants

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Giants' NL-record 530-game sellout streak ended in 2017 as the club stumbled to 64-98 finish. Still, AT&T Park is one of the best venues in the game and the San Francisco fans have a lot of residual goodwill from the franchise's recent run of three titles in five years.

    Score: 8

        

    Payroll

    The Giants had the sixth-highest payroll in baseball in 2017 and have been rumored to be in on the Marlins' Stanton, suggesting they aren't averse to taking on more coin. That said, they've got more payroll commitments for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons than any other team. Locking up big-time free agents is going to mean either shedding other contracts or expanding the budget.

    Score: 5

         

    Can they win now?

    If Madison Bumgarner stays off his dirt bike, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore rebound in the rotation, closer Mark Melancon returns to form after an injury-marred first season by the Bay, and the Giants add some power to a punchless lineup, the answer is "probably." That's a lot of ifs, but management has indicated it has no plans to tear down the roster.

    Score: 4

         

    Can they win later?

    With the game's No. 26 farm system and all those future monetary commitments, San Francisco is in a tough spot. For now, they seem determined to ride out the Buster Posey/Bumgarner window and let the future unfold as it does.

    Score: 3

        

    Total score: 20

No. 17: New York Mets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    New York is a Yankees town even when the Mets are doing well. When the Mets are coming off a 92-loss season? Fuhgetaboutit. Still, the Big Apple is the Big Apple, and the team from Queens managed to average more than 30,000 fans per game despite a lackluster, injury-marred campaign. 

    Score: 6

         

    Payroll

    The Mets don't spend like the Yankees, either. They ranked 14th in payroll in 2017 and could be looking to slash that figure this winter, per Mike Puma of the New York Post. Translation: Don't expect any of this winter's top free agents to don the blue and orange. 

    Score: 4

        

    Can they win now?

    If they get healthy, yes. A full season from injured ace Noah Syndergaard is a must, but the rest of the battered roster needs to stay on the field as well. The Mets can also hope for a breakout season from young shortstop Amed Rosario, who showed flashes during a rookie audition.

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win later?

    The Mets have the game's 20th-ranked farm system and most of their top prospects haven't advanced past Single-A. Rosario and first baseman Dominic Smith are high-upside youngsters, however, and Syndergaard is still only 25. There's uncertainty at Citi Field, but all is not lost going forward.

    Score: 5

        

    Total score: 20

No. 16: Texas Rangers

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    After winning two straight AL West titles, the Texas Rangers have ceded Lone Star State supremacy to the champion Houston Astros. For a franchise that has yet to win a title of its own, that had to sting. Arlington fans are faithful, however, and the Rangers still outdrew the 'Stros during the regular season.

    Score: 6

         

    Payroll

    The Rangers had the game's eighth-highest payroll in 2017 and figure to spend this winter to get back into the playoff picture. Even after dealing Yu Darvish to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, general manager Jon Daniels has made it clear a rebuild is not in the offing. "We expect to win," Daniels said, per MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. "We are always going to have that mindset." 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    Texas snuck into the wild-card race even after shipping Darvish out. They finished 78-84, but an immediate return to contention is possible if the club can add pitching.

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win later?

    The Rangers replenished a depleted farm with the Darvish trade, acquiring power-hitting second baseman Willie Calhoun. It's still only the No. 21 system in baseball, however; hence Daniels' emphasis on a win-now mentality.

    Score: 4

        

    Total score: 22

No. 15: Baltimore Orioles

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The Orioles finished dead-last in the AL East and drew fewer fans than any Junior Circuit team other than Chicago, Oakland and Tampa Bay. The O's made the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and the Baltimore fanbase could undoubtedly be reignited with another "even year" run.

    Score: 5

        

    Payroll

    Baltimore ranked ninth in payroll in 2017 and will have some room to spend this winter. Whether they spread it around or toss it at a top-shelf target, the Orioles figure to be hot-stove players.

    Score: 7

        

    Can they win now?

    If they make the right additions in free agency, particularly on the pitching side, the O's could flutter into the wild-card picture. It's more difficult to imagine them hanging with the Red Sox and Yankees at the top of the division. 

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win later?

    A formerly bottom-tier farm system rose to No. 15 in Reuter's latest ranking, a good sign going forward. The biggest future question mark for the Orioles, however, is whether they can possibly hope to keep franchise third baseman Manny Machado, who is set to hit free agency after the 2018 season (spoiler alert: probably not).

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 23

No. 14: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    Despite a fourth-place finish, the Toronto Blue Jays drew the fifth-most fans in the game in 2017. Simply put, they are baseball north of the border.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    The Jays checked in with the game's fourth-highest payroll in 2017. They'll be shedding veteran outfielder Jose Bautista's contract, but a number of players—including third baseman Josh Donaldson and right-hander Marcus Stroman—should get significant raises in arbitration. Toronto could surprise, but any megapayouts appear unlikely. 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    A bounce-back is possible, particularly with better health from Donaldson and others. As with Baltimore, it's possible Toronto could be a wild-card factor. Also like the O's, they don't appear equipped to hang with New York and Boston. 

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win later?

    The Blue Jays system isn't stacked with MLB-ready talent, but there are several prospects in the pipeline who could have an impact in 2019 and beyond. That includes second-generation big league hopefuls Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, each of whom teased big things in their first full pro seasons.

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 24

No. 13: Minnesota Twins

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    After a 103-loss season in 2016, the Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world and grabbed the AL's second wild card. They still finished No. 21 in attendance and will never compete with the big-market bullies for attention and eyeballs. That said, there's buzz around the team again.

    Score: 6

        

    Payroll

    The Twins define "small market," though they did rank a respectable No. 19 in payroll last season. They're unlikely to net any of the biggest free-agent fish, but management won't be afraid to bolster this rising young roster.

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win now?

    Skeptics will point to the Twins' ho-hum plus-21 run differential, the lowest of any 2017 playoff team. Fair enough. Results are results, though, and Minnesota will be looking to build on them in 2018.

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win later?

    In addition to the young talent on the roster, the Twins have the game's No. 14-ranked farm system and a handful of top prospects who could see big league action in 2018. 

    Score: 7

        

    Total score: 24

No. 12: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Atmosphere

    In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Milwaukee Brewers gave the Cubs a run for their money in the NL Central and finished 10th in attendance after ranking 16th in 2016. Milwaukee will never be New York or L.A., but it's a solid baseball town thirsty for a winner.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    The Brewers resisted the urge to trade top prospects at the deadline—and for good reason. With MLB's smallest payroll, their path to contention is through drafting and development, not splashy free-agent signings. 

    Score: 3

        

    Can they win now?

    They just proved the answer is "yes." Now, like Minnesota, they'll try to continue their ascent and prove 2017 was no fluke.

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win later?

    The Brew Crew boast baseball No. 5 farm system, headlined by outfielder Lewis Brinson, a five-tool talent who got his first taste of The Show in 2017. The rebuild blossomed ahead of schedule, but there's a lot more talent coming down the pike.

    Score: 8

        

    Total score: 24

No. 11: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The Arizona Diamondbacks rebounded from a dismal 2016 to claim the NL's top wild-card spot and advance to the division series in 2017, yet finished 20th in attendance. There are loyal Snakes fans, to be sure, and Arizona can be an attractive destination for some players who own homes there. It's possible, though, it'll always be more of a spring training town.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    With right-hander Zack Greinke's hefty salary and 14 players set to hit salary arbitration, the Diamondbacks may not have room in their 20th-ranked payroll for any major signings. That includes bringing back free-agent outfielder J.D. Martinez, who injected serious pop into the lineup after coming over from Detroit at the deadline.

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win now?

    Even without Martinez, the D-backs have a solid lineup fronted by MVP-caliber first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and a strong rotation led by Greinke. Even if they slip a bit from their 93-win 2017 finish, they'll be squarely in the postseason picture.

    Score: 8

        

    Can they win later?

    Arizona is working to improve a farm system that checks in at No. 24 in the game. General manager Mike Hazen and his front office appear committed to building a sustainable winner after picking up the pieces from the disastrous Dave Stewart era.

    Score: 5

        

    Total score: 25

No. 10: Colorado Rockies

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    Atmosphere

    The Rockies' return to the postseason got Coors Field jumping again, as Colorado finished eighth in attendance and even made that stupid purple dinosaur mascot seem semi-tolerable. The Rox do have a conundrum when it comes to attracting free agents: Hitters love the Mile High air, but top pitchers may balk.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    Colorado was 17th in payroll in 2017, but it should have some money to spend this winter with Carlos Gonzalez's contract coming off the books. After tasting the playoffs but getting bumped in the Wild Card Game, management will need to stay active to remain relevant in the top-heavy NL West. 

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win now?

    Clearly, yes, though they'll have to address some holes in the bullpen and add a bat or two. Again, the West is simply too competitive to stand pat.

    Score: 7

        

    Can they win later?

    The Rockies have the No. 19 system in the game, headlined by infielder Brendan Rodgers. A lot of Colorado's young pitching talent graduated to the big leagues, which dinged their prospect ranking but bodes well for the future.

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 25

No. 9: Atlanta Braves

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Atlanta Braves moved into a shiny new stadium in 2017 and lost 90 games. As a result, despite the allure of that fresh-ballpark smell, they finished 13th in attendance. Of course, there is a legion of Braves fans who fondly recall the club's ludicrously long stretch of winning from the 90s and early 2000s, and they will be ready to return if and when the Braves' fertile farm bears fruit.

    Score: 6

        

    Payroll

    The Braves are building from the minors, but even with MLB's No. 18 payroll, they will have money to spend this winter if they choose, especially if they can find a taker for even a portion of the $19 million they owe outfielder Matt Kemp in 2018 and 2019.

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    Atlanta is probably another year away from serious contention. The NL East is a soft division, however, after the defending champion Nationals. A second-place finish and fringe wild-card bid aren't entirely out of the question.

    Score: 4

        

    Can they win later?

    This is where it gets good. Infielder and top prospect Ozzie Albies made the jump to the majors, joining fellow rookie Dansby Swanson, and the Braves system still rates as the best in the game, narrowly edging the White Sox's. Ronald Acuna, a 19-year-old outfielder, is likewise banging on the big league door and 20-year-old lefty Kolby Allard could be close behind. 

    Score: 9

        

    Total score: 25

No. 8: Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The Indians posted the best record in the American League and won a second straight AL Central title, yet finished No. 22 in attendance. Still, there's an undeniable attraction to helping the Tribe break baseball's longest active championship droughtnot to mention playing for a proven winner.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    Last December, the Indians gave slugger Edwin Encarnacion a contract worth $65 million guaranteed, the largest in franchise history. In an era when nine-figure deals are commonplace, that tells you all you need to know about Cleveland's spending habits. They ranked 18th in payroll in 2017; that number might inch upward, but it won't approach "gaudy." 

    Score: 4

        

    Can they win now?

    They can and they will. The Indians could lose some key pieces to free agency, including first baseman Carlos Santana. The core that has made them one of the AL's top teams is intact, however, and they're the odds-on favorites in the muddled Central.

    Score: 10

        

    Can they win later?

    Like many contending clubs, the Indians have thinned their farm system via promotions and trades. There remains talent, however, including potential franchise catcher Francisco Mejia. 

    Score: 5

        

    Total score: 26

No. 7: St. Louis Cardinals

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    St. Louis Cardinals fans are known for being some of the most knowledgeable and fair-minded in the game. The Cards, despite missing the postseason, are perennial contenders and ranked second only to the Dodgers in attendance. St. Louis isn't a coastal metropolis, but it's one of America's great baseball cities. 

    Score: 9

        

    Payroll

    The Cardinals ranked 16th in payroll in 2017 and rank among the top 10 in terms of money committed for 2018 and 2019. That doesn't mean they'll be inactive this winter, but don't count on any "Brink's truck" expenditures.  

    Score: 5

        

    Can they win now?

    The Cardinals hung around the wild-card race in 2017 and could do the same in 2018, particularly if budding ace Alex Reyes successfully returns from Tommy John surgery. Challenging the archrival Cubs will prove more difficult. 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win later?

    St. Louis has the No. 11 system in the game as well as a rich history of developing players and effectively plugging them in at the highest level. Eventually the Cardinals could hit an extended losing skid, but it's tough to imagine. 

    Score: 7

        

    Total score: 27

No. 6: Washington Nationals

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The Washington Nationals ran away with their second consecutive NL East flag and finished 11th in attendance. They once again failed to advance past the division series, however, and fired manager Dusty Baker. The mood in the nation's capital is pensive heading into 2018—and that's just on the baseball side.

    Score: 6

        

    Payroll

    The Nationals don't have many glaring holes to fill this winter, so while they could make a bold move to challenge for NL supremacy, they don't need to break what could already be the biggest budget in franchise history. 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    They can, and they'd better. The Bryce Harper window is closing fast.

    Score: 10

        

    Can they win later?

    With speedy outfielder Victor Robles leading the way, the Nationals have the game's No. 12 farm system. Again, though, so much hinges on Harper, who is poised to bolt for a ludicrous free-agent payday after 2018.

    Score: 6

        

    Total score: 28

No. 5: Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    Satiated by a trio of titles, Red Sox Nation is no longer a rabid, intimidating monolith. Oh, sure, the Boston media will chew you up and spit you out if you don't perform, but the chance to play at Fenway Park in front of passionate crowds for a historic club that's won back-to-back division titles would pique any free agent's interest.

    Score: 7

        

    Payroll

    The Red Sox ranked third in payroll in 2017. They've got a lot of money tied up in recent signings such as left-hander David Price, and their young core will get exponentially more expensive as the years go by. Executive Dave Dombrowski will spend money, however, and the Sox will (mostly) let him.

    Score: 7

        

    Can they win now?

    Boston needs to add some pop after finishing last in the AL in home runs and could use some help in the starting rotation. Even if they stood pat, however, they'd be a factor in the 2018 playoff race.

    Score: 9

        

    Can they win later?

    True to his Dealin' Dave nickname, Dombrowski has depleted a once-robust farm system that now ranks No. 23 in baseball. That said, with outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Deversamong othersclimbing toward their primes, Boston's winning window is open wide.

    Score: 7

        

    Total score: 30

No. 4: Chicago Cubs

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    The Cubs buried the billy goat in 2016 and brought catharsis to millions of long-suffering fans. Anything less than a repeat was going to feel like a letdown. At the same time, this is an exciting young team that once again advanced to the National League Championship Series and plays in an iconic ballpark in a large, enthusiastic market.

    Score: 9

        

    Payroll

    The Cubs were 10th in payroll in 2017 and have money coming off the books. They also will owe increasingly large sums to their cadre of young stars as they enter salary arbitration and approach free agency. Chicago will open the purse strings as needed, but it can't spend without thinking.

    Score: 7

        

    Can they win now?

    Chicago has work to do this winter with starters Jake Arrieta and John Lackey and closer Wade Davis all hitting the market. The club has depth, versatility and a clear win-now mandate, however, and is the odds-on favorite to remain atop the NL Central.

    Score: 9

        

    Can they win later?

    The farm system that executive Theo Epstein painstakingly built has been reduced to rubble by trades and promotions. Much of that talent is on the 25-man roster and contributing, however, with guys like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez not yet in their prime.

    Score: 8

        

    Total score: 33

No. 3: Houston Astros

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    The Houston Astros won their first World Series for a city that was ravaged by a natural disaster but rose strong. It's impossible to conjure a more fertile atmosphere for good vibes, even minus a storied franchise history. 

    Score: 8

        

    Payroll

    Once regarded as the tight-spending "Lastros," Houston ranked 15th in MLB payroll in 2017. With the taste of champagne fresh in their mouths, it's possible management will open the purse strings to sign a marquee free agent, though the 'Stros need to make sure they can pay their emerging core of young studs as they get more expensive. 

    Score: 6

        

    Can they win now?

    All the key pieces that won the title for Houston will be back. Repeating as champions is hard (ask the Cubbies), but the Astros will get an opportunity come October.

    Score: 10

         

    Can they win later?

    Even with all the nascent talent on the MLB roster, the Astros have enough percolating in the minors to rate as the No. 13 farm system. They won't have to spend like the Yanks or Dodgers to be a top contender for the foreseeable future.

    Score: 9

        

    Total score: 33

No. 2: New York Yankees

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Atmosphere

    Say what you will about the new Yankee Stadium not carrying the cache of the House That Ruth Built. It's still baseball in pinstripes in the Bronx for one of the most famous sports franchises in human history. If you can make it here...

    Score: 10

        

    Payroll

    The Yankees have slipped from their perch as baseball's biggest spenders. They're no longer the club that will automatically shell out the most money to get whomever they want. They can still sling dinero, however, and have dough coming off the books. Whether they'll spend it or save it for the mythical 2018-19 free-agent class remains to be seen.

    Score: 8

        

    Can they win now?

    New York got within a game of the World Series. The 2017 season was an unqualified success for this alleged "rebuild." Next year will be fun to watch, even if there are questions at the back end of the rotation and the possibility of young hitters taking a step back.

    Score: 9

        

    Can they win later?

    Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez highlight the youngsters already crushing at the MLB level, and there's ample talent waiting in the wings. Add the possibility of big-time free-agent pickups and you've got a new dynasty in the offing.

    Score: 10

        

    Total score: 37

No. 1: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Atmosphere

    Yes, for the 29th straight year the Dodgers did not win the World Series. They won their first pennant since '88, though, and advanced to Game 7 of one of the best Fall Classics in recent memory. L.A. fans get a bum rap for leaving early to beat the traffic and tossing beach balls on the field, but they also packed Dodger Stadium in MLB-leading numbers.

    Score: 9

        

    Payroll

    The Dodgers have baseball's biggest budget. While the luxury tax may prevent them from simply signing every available free agent, they go after what they want and usually get it.

    Score: 9

        

    Can they win now?

    Key pieces of the 2017 roster will be back, and you can bet executive Andrew Friedman and company will capably plug what holes there are. The Dodgers have competition from Arizona and Colorado out West, but they're the class of the NL until further notice.

    Score: 10

        

    Can they win later?

    Los Angeles can spend, but it can also dip into a farm system that's still No. 9 in the game despite trades, promotions and a long stretch of winning, which generally means lower draft picks and less incoming talent. It could be a long, long while until Los Angeles posts a sub-.500 record.

    Score: 10

        

    Total score: 38

         

    All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted; payroll figures courtesy of Spotrac; farm system rankings via Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter.