The Key Steps MLB's 10 Worst Teams Must Take to Turn Things Around

Zachary D. RymerJuly 3, 2022

The Key Steps MLB's 10 Worst Teams Must Take to Turn Things Around

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    The Washington Post

    Nothing lasts forever, which is good news for the worst teams in Major League Baseball. With the right steps, they can reach a point where wins start coming more frequently than losses.

    As for what these right steps are, we have takes.

    We've highlighted five things that each of the 10 worst teams in MLB right now must do to move toward a brighter future. Our focus was split between the near-term, with the draft and trade deadlines looming, and the not-so-near-term, where matters of prospect development, financial investments and potential leadership changes reside.

    We'll count down from the team with the 10th-worst record to the worst of the worst.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Record: 35-43

    Step 1: Nail That No. 2 Pick

    This is the highest pick the Diamondbacks have had since they took Dansby Swanson at No. 1 in 2015, which...well, we all know how that went. They'll have a shot at Jackson Holliday if they can't get Druw Jones and vice versa. With 2021 first-round pick Jordan Lawlar positioned as the team's shortstop of the future, though, Jones is arguably their ideal pick.


    Step 2: Cash in at the Trade Deadline

    Arizona GM Mike Hazen has said that he won't necessarily make trades to bolster the team's already strong farm system at the deadline. But while that stance might preclude him from cashing in, say, Zac Gallen, it shouldn't stop him from selling high on Joe Mantiply or trying to offload Madison Bumgarner's contract amid the veteran's rebound year.


    Step 3: Promote Corbin Carroll ASAP

    Could the Diamondbacks take a page from Atlanta and Michael Harris II and promote Carroll directly from Double-A to the majors? Not according to assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye, per Alex Weiner of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (h/t RotoWire). But given that the 21-year-old has a 1.073 OPS, 16 home runs, 11 triples and 20 stolen bases, he should get his shot at Triple-A sooner rather than later, putting him on the doorstep of The Show.

    MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline

    Stop us if you heard this before ... 🛑<br><br>Top <a href="https://twitter.com/Dbacks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Dbacks</a> prospect Corbin Carroll motors around the bases for his league-leading eighth triple for the <a href="https://twitter.com/sodpoodles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@sodpoodles</a>. <a href="https://t.co/NtQw0F412y">pic.twitter.com/NtQw0F412y</a>


    Step 4: Lock Up Zac Gallen

    Rather than trade Gallen, the Snakes should be interested in extending the right-hander for the long haul. He's put a difficult 2021 season behind him to post a 3.32 ERA through 14 outings this year, and he's still only 26. With his first trip through arbitration looming next year, now's a good time for Hazen to solidify him as a cost-controlled anchor for the rotation.


    Step 5: Make a Splash After 2023

    Arizona's payroll is well south of its $131.6 million peak in 2018, but the books really stand to get light after 2023. That's when ownership should open the ol' checkbook. A Luis Castillo or a Lucas Giolito would make for a nice co-ace for Gallen, while Rafael Devers or Matt Chapman would look good on the left side of the infield next to Lawlar.

9. Baltimore Orioles

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Record: 35-44

    Step 1: Nail That No. 1 Pick

    The Orioles are set to have the No. 1 pick for the second time in the last four years, and there's some thinking (including by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com) that they could opt for hard-hitting prep infielder Termarr Johnson. But that would mean passing on Jones and Holliday, both of whom are mighty difficult to pass up.


    Step 2: Hold One Last Trade-Deadline Fire Sale

    Back in March, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Orioles were "unlikely" to move controllable outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. But they surely will be sellers at the deadline, with sluggers Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander among their top wares. They could also conceivably sell high on breakout closer Jorge Lopez.


    Step 3: Get Grayson Rodriguez Healthy

    Rodriguez was a man on a mission through 11 starts for Triple-A Norfolk, racking up a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts and only 14 walks to further solidify his reputation as the league's best pitching prospect. But then he sustained a lat strain that's bad enough to potentially sideline him for the rest of the year. If so, the last thing the O's want to do is to rush his recovery.


    Step 4: Promote Gunnar Henderson ASAP

    It's not all bad news on the position player prospect front, especially where Henderson is concerned. He's played in 69 games at Double-A and Triple-A and lit things up with a 1.009 OPS, 13 homers and 15 steals. Though he's still just 21, and this is only his second full professional season, Baltimore should consider giving him a late call-up for OTJ training.

    Norfolk Tides @NorfolkTides

    HE'S DONE IT!!!!!!!!! <a href="https://twitter.com/G_Henderson2?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@G_Henderson2</a> has hit for the cycle with a double!!! <br><br>He's the first Tide to do so since Timo Pérez on June 9, 2000!<br><br>😲👏👏<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RisingTide?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RisingTide</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BirdLand?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BirdLand</a> <a href="https://t.co/gf5cDe6UKM">pic.twitter.com/gf5cDe6UKM</a>


    Step 5: Invest in Starting Pitching and Extend Adley Rutschman

    We grant that the Angelos family hasn't signaled a willingness to spend and that there's some infighting going on. Yet general manager Mike Elias has done his job in getting the team's rebuild near the finish line. It's time to spend, specifically on starting pitchers this winter and, eventually, a long-term extension for ascendant backstop Adley Rutschman.

8. Colorado Rockies

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    Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Record: 34-44

    Step 1: Nail That No. 10 Pick

    Per B/R's Joel Reuter, the Rockies have one of MLB's 10 worst farm systems in addition to one of its 10 worst records, so they can't afford to miss on what will be their third-straight pick in the top 10. They're on the hunt for college hitters, according to Callis and Mayo. Brooks Lee probably won't fall to them, but Kevin Parada, Jacob Berry or Jace Jung might.


    Step 2: Be Realistic at the Trade Deadline

    The other problem the Rockies have right now is that they just don't have a whole lot to cash in on the summer trade market. Attractive rentals like Chad Kuhl and Daniel Bard will be worth a pretty penny, but they'll probably only have a shot at prettier pennies if they dangle controllable players. Just sayin': They can't turn away teams interested in C.J. Cron.


    Step 3: Find a New Position for Kris Bryant

    Colorado's $182 million pact with Bryant was a head-scratcher even at the time he signed it, and the deal's reputation has further suffered as he's missed all but 22 games with a back injury. One way the Rockies might keep him healthy and productive going forward is getting him out of the outfield and back into the infield, where he traditionally hits better anyway.


    Step 4: Promote Zac Veen ASAP

    On the topic of the Rockies' recent top-10 picks, it sure looks like they scored on Veen with the No. 9 pick in 2020. He's at High-A with a .375 OBP, 32 steals in 33 tries and 10 home runs, though the latter number undersells his power potential. He's not likely to appear in the majors this year, but the sooner the Rox can promote him in 2023, the better.

    MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline

    A perfect 🔟<br><br>Top <a href="https://twitter.com/Rockies?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Rockies</a> prospect Zac Veen swats his 10th homer of the season for the <a href="https://twitter.com/spokaneindians?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@spokaneindians</a>. <a href="https://t.co/fnLXWRQ2Fu">pic.twitter.com/fnLXWRQ2Fu</a>


    Step 5: Plug That Hole in Center Field

    With Benny Montgomery likely not ready for the majors until 2025, the Rockies need a short-term answer for a center field spot that has accounted for only 2.8 fWAR over the last four seasons. On their radar should be Harrison Bader, who will be a free agent after 2023. The Gold Glover's tremendous range would be an asset in Coors Field's gigantic outfield.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Icon Sportswire

    Record: 32-46

    Step 1: Nail That No. 4 Pick

    Save for Ke'Bryan Hayes, it's shocking how many of the Pirates' recent first-rounders either never did or still aren't becoming stars in Pittsburgh. The No. 4 pick in this year's draft is their latest chance to turn that tide. They're linked to college hitters, per Callis, with the best of the best being Lee. The Cal Poly shortstop is a switch-hitter with a plus hit tool.


    Step 2: *Don't* Trade Bryan Reynolds and David Bednar

    Rival teams will be drooling over Reynolds and Bednar ahead of the deadline, but they should stay put. The club's already excellent farm system is beginning to make an impact on the major league roster, so it's conceivable that the return to contention will happen before Reynolds (2025) and Bednar (2026) reach the end of their club control.


    Step 3: Figure Out Oneil Cruz's Position

    Between the power in his bat and the bolts of electricity in his arm, Cruz is an exciting player. And even at 6'7", 220 pounds, he's also legit shortstop material. Yet lest they create a middle-infield logjam with Cruz, Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero, the Pirates would be justified in moving Cruz. To wit, he has the goods to be an all-world right fielder.

    MLB @MLB

    Oneil Cruz over everything! 😱 <a href="https://t.co/ApwgaEFUnX">pic.twitter.com/ApwgaEFUnX</a>


    Step 4: Finish Henry Davis' Development

    Davis is another talented young player whose long-term position is also worth questioning. If he sticks at catcher and remains a force offensively, he'll have more than justified Pittsburgh's choice to use the No. 1 pick on him in 2021. Concerns about his defensive skillset are common, though, so he might work better as a corner infielder.


    Step 5: Extend Bryan Reynolds

    The Pirates reportedly made Reynolds long-term extension offers prior to last season, but to no avail. His value has only grown since then, perhaps to a point where the Pirates might not be able to afford him. But, hey, if the Rays can find the money for Wander Franco, maybe there's a non-zero chance of Pirates owner Bob Nutting digging deeper for Reynolds.

6. Chicago Cubs

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    Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

    Record: 32-46

    Step 1: Nail that No. 7 Pick

    The Cubs are back in the top-10 of the draft for the first time since they selected Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ between 2011 and 2015. Callis and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN both have high school third baseman Cam Collier as the club's preferred choice at No. 7 this year, and it's conceivable he'll be available for him there.


    Step 2: Hold Another Trade-Deadline Fire Sale

    Whatever fire sale the Cubs hold this summer won't be as gutwrenching as the one that took place last July, but it still needs to be substantial if the team wants to push its rebuild further. Rentals like Willson Contreras and David Robertson have to go, and it's a good time to sell high on Happ even though his club control runs through 2023.


    Step 3: Get Brennen Davis' Development on Track

    Setting aside what's happening in the majors, the Cubs' season has further been marred by what's befallen the team's best prospect. Davis is questionable for the remainder of the year after undergoing back surgery in early June. In addition to a strong recovery, the Cubs must also hope that the injury proves to be the source of the ugly .584 OPS that Davis had in 22 games with Triple-A Iowa.


    Step 4: Part Ways with Jason Heyward

    Back in the here and now, manager David Ross has had an overly loyal attitude toward Heyward of late. But whereas Ross' job seems safe, the front office will soon need to do something about Heyward. He hasn't been playable over the last two years, so eating his $22 million salary for 2023 for the sake of opening a roster spot should be in the cards.


    Step 5: Make a Big Free-Agent Splash

    It's to the Cubs' credit that they spent big on Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki this past winter, but the truly big signing that fans were pining for never came. Perhaps it will come this winter in the form of one of the market's top shortstops—or, even better, after 2023. That's when Shohei Ohtani, for whom the Cubs were a finalist in 2017, will become available.

5. Detroit Tigers

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Record: 30-46

    Step 1: Cut Losses at the Trade Deadline

    As if the major league club wasn't depressing enough, the Tigers don't even have a top-10 pick in this year's draft. We're thus going to skip right past that event to the trade deadline, where Detroit will at least have a chance to cut its losses by cashing in what trade chips it has—namely, the rental trio of Michael Pineda, Robbie Grossman and Michael Fulmer.


    Step 2: Get Spencer Torkelson Back on Track

    The No. 1 pick in 2020 had a tremendous season in the minors in 2021 and earned a spot on the Tigers Opening Day roster for 2022. But a .193/.285/.289 slash line doesn't cut it anywhere, least of all at first base. At this point, a trip back to the minors sounds better than continuing to let the rookie flounder in the majors.


    Step 3: Promote Kerry Carpenter ASAP

    As far as who should be coming up from the minors in the near future, The Show is the next logical step in Carpenter's meteoric rise. A 19th-round pick in 2019, he started the year on fire with a 1.005 OPS and 22 home runs in 63 games for Double-A Erie. And so it goes for him and Triple-A Toledo, where he's already 9-for-19 with a home run in six games.

    Detroit Tigers Player Development @RoadtoDetroit

    Kerry Carpenter was called up from Erie to Toledo this weekend.<br><br>He wasted no time hitting a dinger. <a href="https://t.co/kMwHqlUxUG">pic.twitter.com/kMwHqlUxUG</a>


    Step 4: Fire Al Avila

    We've thus far resisted calling for the firings of any executives, in part because those who start rebuilds should get a chance to finish them. Avila is different. The general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations started Detroit's rebuild in 2017, so it's quite the referendum on the job he's done that the major league team is still in disrepair and the farm system is diminished. Frankly, he's missed his shot.


    Step 5: Make a Splash After 2023

    The $217 million that Avila spent on Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez already resembles a sunk cost, so further spending should be on hold until the big club makes some progress. If that happens next year, great. Miguel Cabrera will be off the books after 2023, and the likes of Ohtani, Devers and more will be out there.

4. Kansas City Royals

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Record: 28-48

    Step 1: Nail That No. 9 Pick

    The Royals will be picking in the top 10 of the draft for the fourth year in a row, yet they'll be up against a hit-or-miss track record with the No. 9 pick. Callis wrote in his latest mock that the "consensus" is that Kansas City will be the first team to draft a pitcher. If so, hard-throwing prep right-hander Brock Porter is the ideal selection.


    Step 2: Hold a Trade-Deadline Fire Sale

    The Royals have already made one notable trade, moving Carlos Santana to the Seattle Mariners to clear the way for top prospect Vinnie Pasquantino. Rentals like Andrew Benintendi and Zack Greinke are up next for offloading, and utility man Whit Merrifield and closer Scott Barlow may be potential trade chips as well.


    Step 3: Clear the Way for MJ Melendez

    If anything, the Royals took too long to move Santana to make room for Pasquantino. They'll face a similar conundrum with Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez whenever the former recovers from thumb surgery. Though Perez is signed through 2025 with a club option for 2026, the Royals would be better off trading him than keeping him to share time with Melendez.


    Step 4: Fire Dayton Moore

    Moore built teams that went to the World Series in 2014 and 2015, so this is arguably a step too far. Yet it's ultimately on Moore that the franchise is in one of its worst ruts right now. His refusal to trade guys like Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Merrifield and Perez is part of the reason that a rebuild that's been ongoing for several years still has no end in sight.


    Step 5: Lock Up Bobby Witt Jr.

    Regardless of who's running the front office, extending Witt needs to be a top priority for the Royals. The rookie has shaken off a slow start to post an .835 OPS with 10 homers and seven steals since May 13. Though he won't be eligible for arbitration until after 2024, the Royals should already be thinking about making him the franchise's first $100 million player.

3. Washington Nationals

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Record: 29-51

    Step 1: Nail That No. 5 Pick

    The Nationals are set to pick in the top five for the first time since they landed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper at No. 1 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Unless Jones of Holliday falls, they won't get the No. 1 talent in this year's draft at No. 5. Yet McDaniel says that Berry, a switch-hitting slugger at LSU, is "gaining momentum" as a fit for the Nats.


    Step 2: Cash in at the Trade Deadline

    Will the Nationals trade Juan Soto before the Aug. 2 deadline? It's doubtful, to say the least. Washington GM Mike Rizzo is more so thinking about trading players on expiring deals, which notably means Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell. He should also dangle Tanner Rainey, who's harnessed his stuff to become an effective closer.


    Step 3: Lock Up Juan Soto

    Rather than a trade, the Nats might be more likely to sign Soto to a long-term deal. Per ESPN's Enrique Rojas, he claimed in February to have rejected a 13-year, $350 million offer. Hector Gomez of Z101 Digital then reported a staggering update to those numbers:

    Héctor Gómez @hgomez27

    SOURCE: Talks are intensifying between the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nationals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Nationals</a> and Juan Soto regarding a second offer from the team to the star for a 13-years, $425 million extension, which will increase the initial $350 million offer by $75 million.<a href="https://twitter.com/z101digital?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@z101digital</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ZDeportes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZDeportes</a>

    This would be the largest deal in major league history, which is befitting of a 23-year-old who already has a .424 OBP, 113 home runs and a World Series ring on his resume.


    Step 4: Sell the Team

    According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, Soto is likely to stick around at least for the short term because the Lerners "don't want to do anything to hinder a potential sale" of the franchise. He also reported that such a sale is likely to fetch a price north of $2 billion. Whatever the case, it will be a transformative moment for the franchise.


    Step 5: Clean House

    And this is why. Whenever a franchise comes under new ownership, big changes tend to follow swiftly. So it will presumably go with the Nationals, specifically to the extent that GM Mike Rizzo will be ousted to clear the way for a new head of baseball operations to oversee a rebuild that's still very much in its early stages.

2. Cincinnati Reds

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Record: 26-51

    Step 1: Hold a Trade-Deadline Fire Sale

    Like the Tigers, the Reds (No. 18) don't even have a high draft pick to salvage something from this season. Their best hope of doing so is with the trade deadline. They're sure to move reborn rental Brandon Drury, and aces Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle should also be there for the taking. After a slow start, the latter has a 2.58 ERA over his last seven outings.


    Step 2: Solve the Riddle of Hunter Greene's Fastball

    Greene's pitching has provided occasional glimpses at a brighter future for Reds fans, but he's yet to find a groove, pitching to a 5.72 ERA with 20 home runs allowed in 74 innings. The big riddle is why his fastball, which regularly touches 100 mph, is one of the league's most ineffective pitches. For both the short and long term, answering this riddle is a priority.


    Step 3: Get Andrew Abbott Back on Track

    If Abbott's name doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because he went undrafted in 2020 and was only a second-rounder in 2021. He nonetheless flashed potential in allowing only two earned runs in 27 innings at High-A before getting the call to Double-A, where he's been hit hard to a 5.62 ERA through nine starts. Time to find out where that potential went.


    Step 4: Finish Elly De La Cruz's Development

    In lighter prospect news, De La Cruz is having a heck of a season for High-A Dayton. He boasts a .916 OPS, 15 homers and 25 steals, all of which speak to his huge offensive ceiling. He also has 88 strikeouts against 21 walks over 280 plate appearances, so the Reds can't rest on their laurels and just hope that he learns better zone discipline.

    MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline

    Pretty in pink (batting gloves)!<br><br>Top <a href="https://twitter.com/Reds?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Reds</a> position prospect Elly De La Cruz cranks his 15th of the season for <a href="https://twitter.com/DragonsBaseball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DragonsBaseball</a>.<br><br>The offense continues: <a href="https://t.co/aKtGFgWBY3">https://t.co/aKtGFgWBY3</a> <a href="https://t.co/muG1ohhZgy">pic.twitter.com/muG1ohhZgy</a>


    Step 5: Make a Splash After 2023

    There isn't much left on the Reds' books after they aligned their payroll to their resources over the winter. Assuming they decline options on Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas in 2024, the post-2023 market should be the club's time to spend again. As they're another team that needs an answer in center field, they could look into Bader or even Cody Bellinger.

1. Oakland Athletics

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    Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

    Record: 26-54

    Step 1: Cash in at the Trade Deadline

    At No. 19, the A's are another lousy team with a relatively low draft pick. It's a good thing for their farm system, then, that they have lots to shop on the summer market. Frankie Montas is the big piece, but there's also outfielder Ramon Laureano and potentially breakout right-hander Paul Blackburn and even catcher Sean Murphy.


    Step 2: Solve the Shea Langeliers/Tyler Soderstrom Dilemma

    As for why Oakland would trade Murphy when he has club control through 2025, well, this is why. Langeliers and Soderstrom are two of the best catching prospects in the minors, though only one can supplant Murphy as the big club's catcher of the future. Since Langeliers is known as the better defender, first base might be the better fit for the hard-hitting Soderstrom.


    Step 3: Get Cristian Pache Hitting

    In addition to Langeliers, Pache was the other big piece the A's got from Atlanta in the Matt Olson trade. His defense in center field has been as advertised, but so has his bat in the sense that it's thus far yielded a .427 OPS in 68 games. That's not good enough for everyday duty, though the rookie's batted ball metrics allow for optimism going forward.


    Step 4: Finish Zack Gelof's Development

    Gelof is the other promising piece in what's otherwise a middling farm system. He's done nothing but hit since the A's took him in the second round last year, including with a .316 average and .372 OBP at Double-A Midland this year. All he needs to do now is recover from a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder and further develop his power.


    Step 5: Break Ground on a New Stadium

    Remaining at RingCentral Coliseum ceased to be a viable long-term option for the A's well before fans stopped showing up this year. Fortunately, the franchise has options. The A's got the go-ahead to further develop their plans for a ballpark complex at the Port of Oakland. And if those plans fall through, there's always Las Vegas.

    Either way, a new stadium is the A's ticket to a future that doesn't evolve developing star players only to farm them out to richer clubs when their salaries climb too high.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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