Ranking 2020 Non-Playoff Teams Most Likely to Reach 2021 MLB PostseasonMarch 10, 2021
Ranking 2020 Non-Playoff Teams Most Likely to Reach 2021 MLB Postseason
An unprecedented 16 teams were included in the expanded MLB postseason field last year, but that still left 14 clubs on the outside looking in when the playoffs began.
Those are the teams we're going to focus on here.
While some, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, were in the early stages of rebuilding, others, like the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies, entered the season fully expecting to be a postseason factor.
And then there's the New York Mets, a franchise that had new life breathed into it when billionaire Steve Cohen officially purchased the team in October.
So how do the postseason chances of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs in 2020 rank? Let's find out.
14. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be bad, and there's a real chance they could be historically bad.
They were last in the majors in runs scored (219) and OPS (.641) last season. They responded by trading away slugger Josh Bell. And while a full season of rising star Ke'Bryan Hayes will help, the offense lacks punch from top to bottom.
Meanwhile, the team's two best starters—Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon—were shipped off to contenders, as well, leaving left-hander Steven Brault with his 4.68 career ERA and 90 ERA+ primed to add "Opening Day starter" to his resume.
Only twice in MLB history has a team lost 120 games in a season.
This could be the third.
13. Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies are not the second-worst team in baseball based on the level of talent on their roster.
German Marquez is an underrated ace, and the rotation is capable of exceeding expectations behind him if Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela pitch up to their potential and stay healthy.
Offensively, losing Nolan Arenado is a blow, but they still have a dynamic talent at shortstop in Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon can fill up a box score.
They're not a good team, but they have some solid pieces.
The reason they rank No. 13 is that they reside in the National League West, where they have zero chance of overtaking the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres for one of the top two spots in the division standings. That gives them a steep uphill battle to claim the No. 2 wild-card spot over a long list of better-stocked contenders in the NL East and NL Central.
Hopefully, Rockies fans savored those postseason appearances in 2017 and 2018 because it could be a while before they're playing in October again.
12. Baltimore Orioles
With a collection of prospects that checked in at No. 12 in B/R's latest farm system rankings, headlined by future face of the franchise Adley Rutschman and high-ceiling pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, the Baltimore Orioles are building toward something good.
However, in the context of erecting a building, they are roughly at the filing-for-permits-to-break-ground portion of the project.
Ryan Mountcastle gave fans an exciting glimpse of the future with a stellar debut in 2020, and there will be a steady stream of subsequent debuts in the coming years.
An 11-7 start last season hinted at the O's perhaps being ready to make a move up the American League East standings a bit sooner than expected, but they are still multiple years removed from being a legitimate threat to contend for a postseason berth.
Avoiding the division cellar would be a win in 2021.
11. Detroit Tigers
The youth movement kicked into full swing for the Detroit Tigers last season.
Top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal gained valuable experience in the starting rotation, Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes both got their feet wet against MLB pitching, and Willi Castro exceeded expectations to potentially establish himself as a long-term building block.
Meanwhile, the front office once again took an opportunistic approach to free agency, scooping up Renato Nunez, Nomar Mazara, Wilson Ramos, Jose Urena, Julio Teheran and Derek Holland on low-cost deals that could prove fruitful.
This team is headed in the right direction, and it will have significant money to spend once it decides it's time to make a push up the standings.
For now, the Tigers will continue to wait on the development of their top-tier young talent while jockeying for position with the Kansas City Royals at the bottom of the AL Central.
10. Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers waved a 6'5", 250-pound white flag at the beginning of December when they traded ace Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox.
Just a year after taking an aggressive approach to restocking the starting rotation in hopes of making a postseason run, they have seemingly pivoted to retooling mode.
A path has been cleared for the young duo of Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to handle middle infield duties, and young players like Leody Taveras, Sam Huff and Dane Dunning could all see significant action on the big league roster.
It's hard to call it a full-blown rebuild until they pull the trigger on trading slugger Joey Gallo, who is undeniably the most valuable trade chip on the roster, but they are clearly taking a step backward in 2021.
The path to the postseason in the AL West is a bit less crowded than in the other five divisions. Otherwise, they would rank a few spots lower on this list based solely on talent.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
There was no headline-grabbing free-agency move to sign Madison Bumgarner or blockbuster trade to acquire Starling Marte for the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason.
After a disappointing 25-35 finish last season, they appear content to tread water for the time being while they wait on a farm system that checked in at No. 10 in our latest update.
Zac Gallen is a budding star on the mound, and they could have some potentially valuable trade chips in Eduardo Escobar and David Peralta when the deadline rolls around this summer.
They are just a year removed from an 85-77 finish, and the roster is largely unchanged from the team that made a strong second-half push and convinced them to take an aggressive approach last offseason.
File them under the dark-horse category for now. But much like the Colorado Rockies, they face a steeper battle than most in an NL West division that features arguably the two most complete teams in all of baseball in the Dodgers and Padres.
8. San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are going to be major players on the free-agent market next offseason with significant roster turnover forthcoming and nearly $100 million in payroll coming off the books in the process.
That financial flexibility, coupled with a farm system that claimed the No. 6 spot in B/R's most recent rankings, makes the future extremely bright in San Francisco.
As for the present, they are putting a lot of eggs in the bounce-back-pitcher basket with Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Aaron Sanchez, Nick Tropeano, Scott Kazmir and Shun Yamaguchi all added to the mix on short-term deals.
That approach has paid significant dividends recently with Drew Pomeranz turning into a valuable trade chip and Kevin Gausman pitching well enough to earn a qualifying offer.
It's a risky approach to building a staff, though. Even if everything breaks right, this team is still a distant third in the NL West and fighting on the fringes of wild-card contention.
One more year, Giants fans.
7. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals quietly made some nice additions to a promising young roster.
Carlos Santana will add some welcome run production and a veteran voice in the clubhouse, Andrew Benintendi and Michael Taylor both have untapped potential in the outfield, Mike Minor is a much better pitcher than what we saw in 2020, and Hanser Alberto could wind up being the best minor league signing of the winter.
In order to take a step forward, they will need young starters Brady Singer and Kris Bubic to build off the experience they gained last year and help solidify the starting rotation. Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar could join them in the big leagues to further bolster the staff.
They're undoubtedly a dark horse, but a lineup of Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler, Santana, Benintendi, Hunter Dozier, Taylor and Alberto could sneak up on teams.
At the very least, the first winning record since 2015 seems more attainable than in years past.
6. Seattle Mariners
In many ways, I view the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals on equal footing in the AL landscape.
Both teams have young talent rising through the ranks, some nice pieces in place, questions on the pitching staff and a chance to surprise if a few things break right.
The M's get the higher spot in these rankings simply because they have one fewer clear-cut contender ahead of them in the AL West than the Royals have blocking their path in the AL Central.
Top prospect Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, Taylor Trammell and Cal Raleigh should all be knocking on the door by the All-Star break, and it's not out of the question to think Julio Rodriguez could play his way into the picture with a hot start in the minors.
Add that collection of young talent to guys like Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Marco Gonzales and J.P. Crawford, who are already in place on the MLB roster, and it's easy to see the pieces starting to come together in Seattle.
A postseason drought that stretches back to 2001 continues to hang over this franchise. The end is in sight, but it might not be over quite yet.
5. Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox will go as far as the pitching allows.
Even after trading Mookie Betts last year, they still have a loaded offense with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo leading the way and Bobby Dalbec looking like a bona fide AL Rookie of the Year candidate. And don't sleep on outfielder Hunter Renfroe as the bargain signing of the winter.
They added Garrett Richards to the rotation in free agency and brought back Martin Perez, but they will be without ace Chris Sale to begin the year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and Eduardo Rodriguez has plenty to prove after his 2020 season was lost to COVID-19.
Can someone from the likes of Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and Connor Seabold shoulder some of the load? Which Nathan Eovaldi will show up in 2021? Did they do enough to overhaul a bullpen that ranked 27th in the majors with a 5.79 ERA last year?
The answers to those questions will determine how far they can climb the standings after last year's last-place finish.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies did well to retain J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius in free agency, and their lineup looks stout from top to bottom, with Alec Bohm destined for stardom after a runner-up finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
They also took steps to solidify a bullpen that was one of the worst in recent MLB history last year, struggling to a 7.06 ERA with 13 blown saves in 24 opportunities.
Proven late-inning relievers Archie Bradley, Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson signed in free agency, while hard-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays. Those additions alone could be worth a handful of wins relative to last year.
Still, it's fair to question whether they did enough to bridge the gap to the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, or even to keep pace with the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, who both made significant additions to talented rosters.
The Phillies are one of the toughest teams to nail down.
An NL wild-card berth or a last-place finish in the NL East seem equally likely.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels settled for signing Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey to address the starting rotation ahead of 2019, and it didn't work.
They settled for adding Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran a year ago, and while Bundy turned out to be one of the best pickups of the offseason, the rotation was once again a weakness.
After whiffing on Trevor Bauer, they had to settle for middle-of-the-rotation arms this winter, swinging a deal to acquire Alex Cobb from the Baltimore Orioles and signing Jose Quintana to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Will that be enough?
On paper, adding Cobb and Quintana to a staff that already includes Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning and Shohei Ohtani in some capacity would seem to give the Angels the best starting rotation they've had in years, but they are still lacking a bona fide ace.
If anyone is going to crash the postseason party in the AL West, they are the most likely candidate.
2. Washington Nationals
Juan Soto hit .351/.490/.695 last season to win the NL batting title and finish fifth in NL MVP voting.
Trea Turner hit .335/.394/.588 and led the NL with 78 hits on his way to a seventh-place finish in NL MVP balloting.
Despite those two stellar offensive seasons, the Washington Nationals still hit just .264/.336/.433, and finding better protection for those two standouts was the No. 1 priority heading into the offseason.
They did just that by acquiring Josh Bell in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and signing slugger Kyle Schwarber to a one-year, $10 million contract that includes a mutual option for 2022.
Those additions, coupled with a healthy Stephen Strasburg rejoining Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin at the top of the rotation, dramatically improve the outlook of a team that went from World Series champions to a sub-.500 record last year.
Don't overlook this team as a title contender, especially if young guys like Victor Robles, 23, and Carter Kieboom, 23, evolve offensively.
1. New York Mets
No team improved more this offseason than the New York Mets.
Francisco Lindor can be the same type of franchise-altering addition that Mookie Betts was for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, but he wasn't the only notable pickup for new owner Steve Cohen in his quest to build a contender.
James McCann will finally bring some stability at catcher, which should prove beneficial to a pitching staff that the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, will front. He's joined by a healthy Marcus Stroman and newcomers Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker and Joey Lucchesi, with 2020 rookie standout David Peterson also battling for a spot.
Even the bench is better with versatile speedster Jonathan Villar and two-way outfielder Kevin Pillar providing high-quality depth.
Until they prove themselves on the field, they'll still look up at the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
That said, it would be a huge disappointment if this team failed to make the postseason. And with the pitching staff the Mets have assembled and Noah Syndergaard also expected to be back from Tommy John rehab midsummer, they could make serious noise in October.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.