MLB Tank Ratings: Determining How Likely Your Team Is to Punt on 2021 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2021

MLB Tank Ratings: Determining How Likely Your Team Is to Punt on 2021 Season

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    What if the Pirates haven't even gone full-tank yet?
    What if the Pirates haven't even gone full-tank yet?Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The idea for every team going into any Major League Baseball season is to win as many games as possible.

    Or at least, it should be. In reality, tanking has been a thing in baseball in recent seasons and surely will be once again this year in the wake of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

    How likely is your team to go into tank mode in 2021? We endeavored to answer this question by rating each team's tank potential on a scale of one to five, with one being highly unlikely and five being very likely.

    We largely focused on teams' contention outlook for the coming season but also on which players they might look to trade if things indeed go south. In essence, we weighed both the probability and potential expediency that each team could have of punting on the 2021 season.

    We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles

    Following a 25-35 showing in 2020, this season will see the Orioles try to take another step out of a rebuilding phase that began in earnest in 2018. The odds of them actually contending for a playoff spot, however, are slim.

    Granted, at this point the O's have few veterans they might cash in on the summer trade market. Yet they might go that route with veteran starter Alex Cobb or slugger Trey Mancini, the latter of whom should rebuild his trade value after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020.

    Tank Rating: 5


    Boston Red Sox

    The Red Sox were actually worse than the Orioles in 2020, going 24-36 to finish in last place in the AL East. But this year, they can hope for a turnaround by way of bounce-back seasons from J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi and injury comebacks on the part of aces Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale.

    Yet it's not a given that this hope will be realized. If it doesn't, Boston could seek to clear payroll and add much-needed prospects through trades of Martinez, Rodriguez (who's a free agent after 2021) and potentially even Xander Bogaerts.

    Tank Rating: 4


    New York Yankees

    Sans second baseman DJ LeMahieu and starters Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton, the Yankees currently have some major holes in their roster because of free agency. In context of last year's 33-27 record, their World Series chances thus seem less than ironclad.

    Their chances of winning the AL East are a different story, however, and there's also the underlying reality that the Yankees just don't tank ever. Even if things go awry for them in 2021, the most they might do is deal reliever Adam Ottavino, who's on an expiring contract.

    Tank Rating: 1


    Tampa Bay Rays

    Though they won an AL-best 40 games and went to the World Series last year, the Rays have already pivoted toward something resembling a rebuild. Notably, they traded 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres in December.

    The Rays still look like a decent team for now, yet there's no ignoring that center fielder Kevin Kiermaier has also appeared in trade rumors. If he isn't moved this winter, Tampa Bay could potentially move him and guys like outfielder Manuel Margot and right-hander Tyler Glasnow on the summer market.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Toronto Blue Jays

    After exploding out of a rebuilding phase with a 32-38 record last season, the Blue Jays might be favorites to win the AL East by the time this offseason is over. To wit, it's surely only a matter of time before they put their considerable resources to use on the free-agent and trade markets. 

    Still, there's at least a possibility of a collective sophomore slump in Toronto this season. If it happens, the Jays could rent out hurlers Robbie Ray and Tanner Roark and perhaps trade some of the more extraneous members of their offense. That means you, Randal Grichuk.

    Tank Rating: 2

American League Central

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox

    The Chicago White Sox were scary enough as they rode their powerful lineup and co-aces Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel to a 35-25 record in 2020. Now, the former is deeper after the addition of Adam Eaton while the latter has three aces by way of a trade for Lance Lynn. Not content to stop there, Chicago also upgraded its bullpen by signing ace closer Liam Hendriks on Monday.

    At least as things stand now, the White Sox might be the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series. Their tank chances are accordingly low, and Lynn (who's a pending free agent) might be the only casualty on the summer trade market even if things blow up on Chicago.

    Tank Rating: 1



    Cleveland also went 35-25 last season, but it was in spite of a woeful offense and therefore pretty much all thanks to a stellar pitching staff led by AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber. 

    Well, now said offense is without star shortstop Francisco Lindor and said staff is without ace right-hander Carlos Carrasco and closer Brad Hand. Cleveland's contention chances are all the worse for it, so it wouldn't be surprising if the club eventually deals 2020 AL MVP runner-up Jose Ramirez this summer.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Detroit Tigers

    Though they eventually crumbled and finished in last place, the Tigers were actually in the hunt for a playoff spot as late as the first of September last year. In 2021, it's possible that a youth movement led by young hurlers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will allow the club to actually get over the hump.

    This is, however, a long shot. Though the Tigers should make some progress this season, their most likely path involves them eventually furthering bolstering their future outlook through trades of hurlers Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer, each of whom is running out of club control.

    Tank Rating: 5


    Kansas City Royals

    Even as they've racked up losses in recent seasons, the Royals have generally refused to dive headlong into a rebuild by trading what precious stars they've had. Now they seem to mean business for 2021 after picking up Mike Minor, Carlos Santana and others in free agency.

    Still, these additions might not be enough to thrust Kansas City into contention after last year's 26-34 effort. And with Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler among those ticketed for free agency after 2021, the Royals might at least consider renting out some players this summer.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Minnesota Twins

    Though they've won back-to-back AL Central titles, the Twins look that much weaker while guys like Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario are afloat on the free-agent waters. It's as if they're more interested in saving money than in winning a third straight division title in 2021.

    Or maybe they simply realize that the only team in the AL Central worth fearing right now is the White Sox. They're also not under that much pressure to get it done this year, as veteran righty Michael Pineda is the only member of their core not under control past 2021.

    Tank Rating: 2

American League West

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Houston Astros

    Despite a losing effort in the regular season, the Astros went to their fourth straight AL Championship Series in 2020. But that was with George Springer and Michael Brantley, who are now free agents. Otherwise, the Astros will be without Justin Verlander as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in 2021.

    If the thin ice beneath Houston's feet cracks—which is possible, if not altogether likely—it could deal pending free agents like Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. on the summer market. Yuli Gurriel and Ryan Pressly, who have options for 2022, could also be on the chopping block.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Los Angeles Angels

    Sure, the Angels endured a fifth straight losing season in 2020. But they're going into 2021 with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon at the heart of a dangerous offense, plus a rotation with four solid starters and a bullpen headed by newcomer closer Raisel Iglesias.

    This could be enough for the Angels to contend for the AL West crown while the division is in a weakened state. But if another losing campaign begins to materialize, the team won't have much choice but to deal post-2021 free agents such as Iglesias, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Oakland Athletics

    The A's have made the playoffs in each of the last three years, but the promise of another postseason berth of 2021 is far from certain while they have a Marcus Semien-sized hole in their lineup and a Hendriks-sized hole in their bullpen.

    If this year forces the A's to pivot to the long game, they'll invariably move pending free agents like Mark Canha and (if possible) Khris Davis. Because both are starting to get expensive via arbitration, the A's might even entertain offers for corner infield stars Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Seattle Mariners

    The Mariners have only been rebuilding for a couple of years now, yet they might already be ready to return to contention in 2021. After all, they achieved a decent 27-33 record in 2020 even though their youth movement didn't get any contributions from uber-prospect Jarred Kelenic.

    At least on paper, though, the Mariners are probably the fourth-best team in the AL West after Houston, Los Angeles and Oakland. If that remains the case throughout 2021, look for the Mariners to try to add additional young talent through trades of Kyle Seager (whose contract is expiring) and Mitch Haniger.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Texas Rangers

    The Rangers went an AL-worst 22-38 last season, and their prospects for 2021 look that much dimmer following their trade of Lynn to the White Sox. Indeed, the only real question for their '21 season is which of their incumbents will be on the move come the summer.

    The biggest name on that front is slugger Joey Gallo, whose club control is up after 2022. The Rangers could also seek takers for infielders Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor, plus veteran hurlers Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles and closer Jose Leclerc.

    Tank Rating: 5 

National League East

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press


    Atlanta has won the NL East crown in each of the last three seasons, and it has the goods to make it four in a row this year. There's plenty to like about its Freddie Freeman- and Ronald Acuna Jr.-led offense, not to mention a rotation that got deeper with the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

    Yet there's no ignoring the absence of free-agent slugger Marcell Ozuna. The NL East also looks even deeper than it was last season. If such things result in a misstep for Atlanta in 2021, pending free agents like Morton, Smyly, Travis d'Arnaud and maybe even Freeman will be trade targets for other clubs.

    Tank Rating: 2


    Miami Marlins

    Last year saw the Marlins go 31-29 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The effort was largely driven by young hurlers like Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and top prospect Sixto Sanchez. In 2021, Jazz Chisholm and others could likewise bring a youth movement to Miami's offense.

    The catch, though, is that it took a lot of luck for the Marlins to win so many games last year. The depth of the NL East won't make it easy for them to repeat that feat in 2021. Ultimately, they could move pending free agents Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar, who's controlled through 2022.

    Tank Rating: 4


    New York Mets

    The Mets only went 26-34 in 2020, but that already feels like ancient history. After adding James McCann, Trevor May and especially Lindor and Carrasco, the Mets look like a genuine threat to not only win the NL East, but perhaps the World Series in 2021.

    Yet the rest of the division won't make it easy on the Mets, particularly if any key injuries expose their depth issues. Should the worst happen, they could corner the summer rental market by listening to offers for Lindor, Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia.

    Tank Rating: 2


    Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies recently hired Dave Dombrowski to run their front office, which isn't something a club does if it has rebuilding in mind. Indeed, his first priorities are re-signing or replacing star catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius.

    But until that happens, the Phillies figure to be an also-ran once again in 2021. With little to offer in the way of rentals, their trade deadline priorities might more so concern clearing payroll. To this end, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and maybe even Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper could be available.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Washington Nationals

    The Nationals defied the odds every step of the way in 2019, ultimately winning their first World Series title. Now they seem intent on defying the odds again after taking a step back to 26-34 in 2020, as their offseason dealings have thus far netted sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber.

    But while Washington is undeniably better, whether it's good enough to beat Atlanta or New York for the NL East title is debatable. If a contention run fails to materialize, it could shop Bell, Schwarber and even three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, whose seven-year deal will finally expire in 2021.

    Tank Rating: 3

National League Central

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs

    Though they made the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons in 2020, the Cubs were swept in the first round and are now rebuilding. Gone is mastermind executive Theo Epstein, as well as core players such as Schwarber (non-tendered) and Yu Darvish (traded).

    Given the sorry state of the division, the Cubs might still win the NL Central title in 2021. But if it begins to fall out of reach, they could push on with their rebuild through deals of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, who are controlled through 2021, and Willson Contreras, who's controlled through 2022.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Cincinnati Reds

    Regarding the aforementioned sorry state, the Reds haven't exactly improved since going 31-29 in 2020. Trevor Bauer, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, is presumably a goner via free agency. The Reds have also already traded Iglesias, and aces Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are also reportedly available.

    Even if the Reds retain those two, their contention chances will hinge on an offense that posted an MLB-low .212 average last year. Such volatility could eventually put Gray and Castillo back on the market, and the Reds might even look for takers for sluggers Eugenio Suarez, Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Milwaukee Brewers

    The Brewers made the playoffs last year, yet it was by way of a 29-31 season in which very little went right. And while they claim to want offensive upgrades on the corners of the infield, the club has thus far left its roster alone.

    Despite this, it doesn't seem likely that the Brewers will blow it up this season. They could move ace closer Josh Hader if their contention chances deteriorate, but they otherwise have just one true rental (Manny Pina) and no truly problematic contracts. Certainly, Christian Yelich isn't going anywhere.

    Tank Rating: 2


    Pittsburgh Pirates

    After going an MLB-worst 19-41 in 2020, the only question concerning the Pirates at the outset of this winter is how many incumbents they would trade. Yet things have been oddly quiet on this front, as only Bell has exited via trade.

    Mind you, this shouldn't indicate that the Pirates are delusional about their chances in 2021. It's more likely that the trade market is just too cold for further action, in which case they might wait until the summer to deal starters Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon, utility man Adam Frazier and others.

    Tank Rating: 5


    St. Louis Cardinals

    Like the Cubs, Reds and Brewers, the Cardinals also made the playoffs in 2020. Yet their weaknesses were plenty evident along the way, and now they look even weaker after ushering Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Brad Miller and Kolten Wong into free agency.

    Again, the weakness of the NL Central should preclude anyone from ruling the Cardinals out of contention. But they'll be walking a fine line, and any slip could be their excuse to cut additional payroll. Among those who could hit the block are Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Dexter Fowler and Andrew Miller.

    Tank Rating: 4

National League West

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    The Diamondbacks went into last season as a dark-horse contender, but they never really got off the ground en route to a last-place finish. Along the way, they took a step toward rebuilding through trades of Marte and Archie Bradley.

    Even if the Snakes rebound this year, the two massive roadblocks in between them and the NL West title could convince them to put more chips on future seasons. In that case, they might cash in not only Eduardo Escobar and Kole Calhoun, but maybe even Ketel Marte and (if possible) Madison Bumgarmer.

    Tank Rating: 4


    Colorado Rockies

    Though the Rockies finished ahead of Arizona in 2020, they're no better off heading into 2021. They have a lot of holes in their roster, and the state of their payroll—which isn't projected to be much lower in 2021 than it was in 2020—effectively precludes them from doing anything about it.

    As it is, superstar infielders Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are already trade candidates. If they haven't already, Charlie Blackmon, German Marquez and Jon Gray could also find their way to the block in the coming months. The prospect of a tear-it-all-down rebuild in Denver is thus very real.

    Tank Rating: 5


    Los Angeles Dodgers

    In the event that the Dodgers fall out of the race in 2021, the club's front office could seek to cut its losses through deals of key free-agents-to-be like Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.

    But, uh, don't count on it. The Dodgers are eight-time defending NL West champs and the reigning World Series champions. What's more, having to play only 78 games to win the latter should put them at less risk of a hangover in 2021. Whatever deals they make this year will surely be of the adding variety.

    Tank Rating: 1


    San Diego Padres

    The Padres were unable to overcome the Dodgers in 2020, but they at least mounted a legitimate charge in finishing with a 37-23 record. Now, they're arguably even better than the Dodgers after adding Snell, Darvish and Korean star Ha-Seong Kim.

    Because they also boast one of baseball's best farm systems, the Padres thus have all manner of depth with which to pursue a World Series run this year. Factoring in how Tommy Pham is their only pending free agent, they thus look as much like an anti-tanker as the Dodgers.

    Tank Rating: 1


    San Francisco Giants

    The Giants were the third-best team in the NL West in 2020, and they might be again in 2021. They're certainly not without flaws, but among their strengths is an offense that placed itself among the best the franchise has ever had last season.

    But between Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey, San Francisco's offense is also loaded with expensive veterans who are nearing the end of their contracts. Ditto for hurlers Johnny Cueto and Kevin Gausman, who could also be trade bait if a contention run doesn't materialize in 2021.

    Tank Rating: 3


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.


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