The Best- and Worst-Constructed MLB Rosters to Handle Shortened 2020 Season
Because of the coronavirus, the only thing that's certain about the 2020 Major League Baseball season is it won't be 162 games long.
Instead, the league is likely ticketed for the shortest season in its history. Yet the campaign will still be a grind, as MLB will probably cut down off days and play scheduled doubleheaders to salvage as many games as possible.
If a shorter yet more intense slate is in the offing, depth figures to take on extra importance. The more good players a team has, the more it should be able to keep everyone fresh and weather injuries. Youth could also help, as reduced off days might necessitate frequent breaks for veterans.
So which clubs are—and aren't—built for a season like this? Setting aside teams that are bad to begin with—e.g., the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers—let's take a look at one of each for every division.
American League East
Best: Tampa Bay Rays
Though the star-laden New York Yankees will rightfully begin 2020 as the favorite in the American League East, the Tampa Bay Rays are more than a match for them when it comes to depth.
The Rays led the AL with a 3.65 ERA last season even despite arm injuries to aces Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow and only half a season from super-reliever Nick Anderson. All three are good to go for 2020, and the rest of the Rays' staff is otherwise so deep that there isn't even room for Trevor Richards and Jalen Beeks, much less top prospects Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell.
And while the Rays likely won't be an offensive powerhouse, the hot-stove additions of Hunter Renfroe, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Manuel Margot, Jose Martinez and prospect Randy Arozarena will give manager Kevin Cash a practically endless array of lineup options.
Worst: Boston Red Sox
Granted, it was just last week that we singled out the Boston Red Sox as a team that stood to benefit from the 2020 season's delayed start.
However, that was assuming ace Chris Sale would recover from an elbow injury in time for Opening Day. The Red Sox subsequently announced he would undergo Tommy John surgery, which will sideline him into 2021.
Boston's rotation is down to one good starter (Eduardo Rodriguez), two unreliable starters (Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez) and two question marks. Factor in how the Red Sox are returning basically the same bullpen that frequently let them down in 2019, and they're set to ask a lot of a pitching staff that's only equipped to handle a little.
American League Central
Best: Minnesota Twins
Given that the Minnesota Twins ran away with the AL Central last season by hitting a record 307 home runs and winning 101 games, picking them might seem like a layup.
The Twins nonetheless deserve their credit, in part because they figure to be an even deeper offensive team in 2020. Their signing of Josh Donaldson not only added another elite slugger to their lineup, but it also pushed Miguel Sano to first base and Marwin Gonzalez into a super-utility role that suits him well.
Moreover, the Twins outfitted what was previously a thin staff with Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard. As a result, they have arms aplenty.
Worst: Chicago White Sox
Though the Cleveland Indians have depth issues both in their lineup and pitching staff, it's to their advantage that the latter should have healthy versions of Mike Clevinger (knee) and Carlos Carrasco (elbow) by the time Opening Day arrives.
For their part, the Chicago White Sox are stronger than they've looked in years after loading up on talent during the winter. They should be a contender if everything goes according to plan.
However, well-traveled 30-somethings Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Alex Colome, Steve Cishek and Kelvin Herrera will likely have their durability tested. If they falter, the White Sox will be asking much from a young core that isn't yet battle-hardened.
American League West
Best: Houston Astros
There's a strong case to be made here for the Oakland Athletics, who are built on a well-balanced offense and a pitching staff that's loaded with intriguing arms.
But if nothing else, the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that ace Justin Verlander (groin surgery) and slugger Yordan Alvarez (knee soreness) should be healthy by the time the 2020 season begins. In addition to Alvarez, the Astros still have all the other key players from last year's MLB-best offense.
Even with Verlander, there's less certainty in Houston's pitching staff following the departures of Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley and Will Harris. But it helps that the Astros have four major league-ready pitching prospects to call on, and that Josh James, Brad Peacock and Framber Valdez can wear multiple hats.
Worst: Texas Rangers
In general, the Texas Rangers are probably the fourth-best team in the AL West after the Astros, A's and Los Angeles Angels. Moreover, their roster comes with a razor-thin margin for error.
The Rangers offense won't rival those of the Astros, Twins and New York Yankees even in the best of times. And if the intense grind gets to 30-somethings Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Todd Frazier and Robinson Chirinos, the Rangers' lack of hitting depth will be exposed.
Also on the topic of 30-somethings, that's four-fifths—Mike Minor, Corey Kluber, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson—of Texas' starting rotation. Apart from 22-year-old left-hander Kolby Allard, what the Rangers have in reserve for their rotation doesn't inspire a ton of confidence.
National League East
Best: Atlanta Braves
Whether the Atlanta Braves are the best team in the National League East is debatable, but the nature of their roster almost makes it seem like they've been preparing for a season like this.
Though the Braves will miss Donaldson, the additions of Marcell Ozuna and Travis d'Arnaud will allow Nick Markakis and Tyler Flowers to come off the bench in 2020. They'll also have Austin Riley and super-prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters waiting in the wings. Coupled with the extra time that Freddie Freeman has to rest his ailing elbow, Atlanta's offense will be in good shape come Opening Day.
Assuming Cole Hamels recovers from his shoulder injury, the Braves will also begin 2020 with a full assortment of capable starters and Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint in reserve. After signing Will Smith and Chris Martin, they also have a deeper bullpen than they did in 2019.
Worst: Philadelphia Phillies
Not unlike the Rangers, the Philadelphia Phillies stand out by default because they're likely only the fourth-best team in their division.
But there are other concerns, including the sheer volatility of their pitching staff. Club ace Aaron Nola is solid, but the Phillies will be in trouble if Zack Wheeler struggles to escape mediocrity and if Jake Arrieta continues to break down.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are coming off a season in which they were merely average on offense. They'll do better in 2020 if stars like Bryce Harper and Jean Segura live up to their track records. If not, the Phillies likely don't have the depth to cover for them.
National League Central
Best: Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds were arguably the team to beat in the NL Central before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. They still are.
The Reds are well-suited for a shortened season on offense. By signing Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama, they strengthened their everyday lineup and pushed Nick Senzel, Phillip Ervin and Aristides Aquino into backup roles.
Though the Reds don't have as much depth in their pitching, they're better off after adding Wade Miley to their rotation and Pedro Strop to their bullpen. And in Tyler Mahle, they have at least one guy who can make spot starts.
Worst: Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs don't have to worry about how their offense will hold up in a shortened season. It's built around a core of stars, and David Bote, Albert Almora Jr., Steven Souza Jr. and top prospect Nico Hoerner are good guys to have in reserve.
The Cubs ought to be more worried about their rotation. Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood are all in their 30s, and the Cubs otherwise don't have much in terms of spare starters.
Their bullpen is another headache waiting to happen. It wasn't particularly good in 2019, and it'll only be better in 2020 if Craig Kimbrel and Jeremy Jeffress reclaim their lost All-Star forms.
National League West
Best: Los Angeles Dodgers
Even in the face of a shortened season, there still isn't much question that the Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team in the National League.
The Dodgers were the best offensive club in the NL last season, and they have an everyday lineup anchored by MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. They also have five part-timers—Austin Barnes, Matt Beaty, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and A.J. Pollock—who could start for quite a few other teams.
On the mound, the quintet of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias and Alex Wood comprise maybe the NL's best rotation. The Dodgers can also use Ross Stripling, Jimmy Nelson and top prospect Dustin May as starters. Meanwhile, their bullpen is deeper following the addition of 2018 All-Star Blake Treinen.
Worst: Colorado Rockies
Perhaps this is cheating, given that the Colorado Rockies are only an ostensible contender for 2020 after losing 91 games last year.
Whatever the case, there will be questions in their rotation even if Kyle Freeland reestablishes himself after a disastrous 2019. And unless Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw live up to their contracts, the Rockies bullpen won't be able to cover for any deficiencies on the part of the club's starters.
This is to say that the Rockies might have to hit their way through 2020. To this end, it's not a good look that they're short on depth underneath an everyday lineup that has only three trustworthy hitters: Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon.