Projecting the 5 Worst MLB Teams Next Season
Rebuilds are difficult, they seem to stretch on forever and they are never fun for fans. The payoff can be worthwhile though, if front offices build their teams the right way. The Houston Astros famously made tanking a tactic, and they tanked to the top, winning the 2017 World Series. The Astros have remained one of the better teams ever since.
Even the big-spending New York Yankees aren't immune to down seasons and rebuilding periods. The Baby Bombers helped reignite the Yankees after a four-year span in which New York made the playoffs only once, losing the AL Wild Card Game to the Astros in 2015. Two years later they were in the ALCS with a homegrown core and supplementary players that were acquired because of a loaded farm system that was stocked during those down years from 2013-2016.
Looking ahead to next season, we can probably predict a few teams that will be toward the bottom of the standings. Sure, there will be a few surprisingly bad teams because there always are, but these five teams likely won't be at the top and shouldn’t be given the timeline of their rebuilds, their contracts past this season and the state of their farm systems.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The club has a lot of money tied up in Madison Bumgarner, who has been largely underwhelming since signing his free-agent megadeal in the winter of 2020.
The World Series-winning ace will turn 33 next season, so it's tough for the D-Backs to know what kind of production they'll be able to get from him. Tyler Gilbert, who threw a no-hitter in his first Major League start, could turn out to be a nice piece to build a rotation around, but Arizona doesn't have a ton of top pitching prospects at the higher levels of the organization.
The lineup has also been underwhelming this season with the minus-171 run differential being the second-worst in the National League. Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed will still be around next season, but unless the club undergoes a significant roster makeover, you can slot them in for another underwhelming season.
There is reason for optimism in upcoming years since B/R's Joel Reuter ranks the Arizona farm system as the sixth-best in baseball. But the impact players are still developing. The top five prospects are 21 or younger and only one, outfielder Alek Thomas, is playing in Triple-A.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
The end is also nearing with the Pirates. And when it does finally end, this team is going to be fun to watch. But they're at least another year or two away from reaching the playoffs. And that's fine, because Pittsburgh can take another year to develop some potentially elite talent and acquire a little more of it.
Much of the top talent in the Pirates' system is playing in High-A or Double-A right now, so next year will be a big development year. Reuter ranked the Pittsburgh system at No. 5 before the trade deadline and Baseball America ranked it No. 4 after, which is a big improvement from it's No. 18 ranking when general manager Ben Cherington took over in 2019.
Only two players are under contract in 2022 with several others due for raises in arbitration. So like the Orioles, the Pirates have some room to get creative and improve their roster in the short- and long-term. They can take payroll dumps with prospects. They can sign some free agents. They can bring in some veteran leaders that will set the tone of the clubhouse. Unlike the O's, they don't have to worry about paying Chris Davis either, so signing a marquee pitcher to a long-term deal to have around once these players start graduating to the major leagues could be feasible as well.
Right-hander Roansy Contreras, acquired in the Jameson Taillon deal last winter, and infielder Oneil Cruz and Nick Gonzalez could all be in the big leagues at some point next season, so some offseason building block moves might not be a bad idea.
Give it time. Player development can't be rushed. Next year won’t be the Pirates' year, but don't count them out for 2023.
3. Texas Rangers
It's an uphill battle in the AL West for a rebuilding team. The Los Angeles Angels will undoubtedly make some moves to try and get better. The Seattle Mariners are on the upswing with one of the top farm systems in baseball and an inspired team that will benefit from competitive games in this Wild Card race. The Astros might not be as formidable as they've been in recent years next season, but they'll still have a good chunk of their current core with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers, Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker. Even if they end up in the middle of the pack in the AL, it might still be tough for the Rangers to get their footing in a tough division.
After the trade deadline, president of baseball operations John Daniels said 2023 might be a "reasonable" timeline for getting back to the playoffs in his post-deadline press conference, so 2022 will likely be another evaluation and rebuilding year. To get back to the postseason in two years, the Rangers are going to have to be able to develop pitching in order to get back to the top, which is something they've struggled to do in recent seasons. They drafted Jack Leiter out of Vanderbilt and acquired a right-handed pitching prospect Spencer Howard in a deadline trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and right-hander Glenn Otto in a trade with the Yankees.
Trading Joey Gallo, Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy netted the Rangers some good talent, so the end is near, but not so near that Texas can see the finish line just yet.
2. Baltimore Orioles
After Chris Davis retired earlier in August, the Orioles don’t have a single player under contract next season. Payroll will be low, so the club could try and convince some free agents to play in Baltimore in the hopes that top prospects Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and Jahmai Jones will be in the major leagues. Or, they could acquire some larger salaries from contending teams in exchange for more prospects.
The O’s dealt a couple of veterans at the trade deadline, but they hung on to first baseman Trey Mancini, who is in his third arbitration year, and John Means, since he still has three years of team control. They didn't bring in any game-changing prospects last month, but this system has a lot of talent at the higher levels already.
Now the O’s have to develop that talent to take the next step in this rebuild. Substantial improvements to the major league club will happen soon, but probably not by next season.
1. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are the only team on this list that can't really be considered a rebuilding team because that would mean the club was making moves with an eye toward improvement. Instead, Colorado ownership seems content with remaining cellar-dwellers.
Former general manager Jeff Bridich got a pretty mediocre prospect package from the St. Louis Cardinals in return for third baseman Nolan Arenado shortly before the season started. Third baseman Elehuris Montero has an .897 OPS in Double-A and might get the call up to the big leagues in September, but one good prospect out of a package of five players won't improve the Rockies outlook alone.
Furthermore, the Rockies made minimal moves at the trade deadline. The team opted to hang on to shortstop Trevor Story and take the supplemental draft pick it will receive next year since he's probably going to walk as a free agent. Interim general manager Bill Schmidt said it was a win-win to hang on to Story for the rest of the season, but the Rockies haven't been doing much winning this year and could get worse next year.
Their farm system sits toward the bottom of the league, they have few marquee players outside of starting pitcher German Marquez, and outfielder Charlie Blackmon's best years might be behind him.
The front office isn't doing the team any favors. The fans and the players deserve better, but unless ownership suddenly decides to spend money, then the situation is unlikely to change by next season.