Predicting When Every Non-Playoff Team Will Reach the MLB Postseason Again

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2021

Predicting When Every Non-Playoff Team Will Reach the MLB Postseason Again

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    Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

    After implementing an expanded postseason field for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the MLB playoffs returned to a 10-team format in 2021.

    That means 20 teams were on the outside looking in when the regular season ended, and each of those teams is facing a different set of obstacles in breaking through to join that group of World Series contenders.

    With that in mind, we've taken a closer look at the 20 teams that failed to clinch a postseason berth this year and given our best guess as to when they will in fact reach the playoffs again.

    Current roster strength, prospect outlook and financial flexibility all factored into predicting how quickly each team could right the ship.

AL East

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    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: 2026

    Beyond left-hander John Means, the current Orioles pitching staff is a total teardown after the team ranked last in the majors with a 5.84 ERA in 2021.

    The eventual arrival of top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall will help, but it takes time to build a viable staff, and the Orioles are not the most attractive free-agent destination right now as the cellar-dweller in an ultra-competitive AL East.

    It's going to get better, but getting over the postseason hump won't be easy.

           

    Toronto Blue Jays: 2022

    With 91 wins and a plus-183 run differential that ranked fifth-best in baseball, the Blue Jays were without a doubt the best team that failed to make the playoffs in 2021.

    The offensive core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is controllable for multiple seasons, and there are more potential impact bats on the way with catcher Gabriel Moreno and infielders Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez fronting the farm system.

    The question is pitching, especially with AL Cy Young front-runner Robbie Ray headed for free agency. If they can find a way to lock him up long-term alongside Alek Manoah, Hyun Jin Ryu and Jose Berrios the rotation will be in good shape.

AL Central

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    Shane Bieber
    Shane BieberDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Cleveland Guardians: 2024

    A team rebranding won't change the fact that the Cleveland front office is among the most tight-fisted in baseball, and third baseman Jose Ramirez could be the next superstar out the door if they can't come to terms on another team-friendly extension.

    Luckily, they have one of the best player development teams in baseball, especially on the pitching side, where they continue to churn out impact arms. There's enough rising talent in the minors to believe this team can stay relevant on the strength of homegrown players, but they're still in the process of building back up right now.

         

    Detroit Tigers: 2023

    A 77-win season represented a step forward for a Tigers team that went 47-114 in 2019 and finished in the AL Central cellar again in 2020.

    Young pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal look like long-term rotation pieces, while it's only a matter of time before Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are hitting in the middle of the lineup.

    The big X-factor with this team is financial flexibility, and after playing in the wading pool the last few years in free agency, Detroit looks poised to dive into the deep end this winter. An AJ Hinch-Carlos Correa reunion would be a clear sign they're ready to climb the standings.

         

    Kansas City Royals: 2025

    The Royals' young pitchers have taken their licks the past two seasons, but they've gained valuable experience in the process, and there is no shortage of in-house rotation options to build around.

    Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is the future face of the franchise, and he was not alone in tearing up the minor leagues as first baseman Nick Pratto, catcher MJ Melendez and second baseman Michael Massey all had huge seasons at the plate.

    Assembling a winner with in-house talent and fringe free-agent signings is tough, but they've done it before.

            

    Minnesota Twins: 2027

    Was 2021 a simple bump in the road or the beginning of the end for the Twins' current core?

    The decision to trade Jose Berrios at the deadline would seem to indicate they are open to the idea of retooling the roster, and that could take some time with a top-heavy farm system and a questionable long-term pitching outlook.

    If they blow it up this winter and trade guys like Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Taylor Rogers, Max Kepler and others, it could pave the way for a lengthy rebuild. While the Tigers and Royals move in the other direction, the Twins' stock is falling.

AL West

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    Jarred Kelenic
    Jarred KelenicSteph Chambers/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Angels: 2028

    Until the Angels assemble a legitimate starting rotation, it's hard to view them as anything but also-rans, even with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on the roster.

    To this point, the front office has shown zero ability to do that, whiffing on top free-agent targets and settling for cobbled-together staffs made up of back-of-the-rotation starters.

    There is some hope that young arms like Jose Suarez, Patrick Sandoval, Chris Rodriguez and Reid Detmers can build on their 2021 performance, but this team desperately needs a splashy outside addition to anchor the staff.

            

    Oakland Athletics: 2025

    After three straight postseason appearances, the Athletics finished third in the AL West and six games back in the wild-card standings in 2021. The Oakland front office has done more with less than almost any team in baseball for years, but the window for this current group might be slamming shut as the Seattle Mariners rise to relevance.

    With Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison and several other veterans ticketed for free agency this winter, there are holes to fill in the roster and the ever-present financial limitations that the team has to navigate.

    It's tough to bet against this team, regardless of what the roster looks like on paper, but the A's could be taking a step back.

         

    Seattle Mariners: 2022

    Will 2022 be the year the Mariners finally snap their postseason drought?

    A young team on the rise that exceeded expectations by reaching 90 wins for the first time since 2003, the Mariners went 42-29 after the All-Star break and will enter 2022 as a popular dark-horse pick to contend in the AL West.

    Top prospects Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock could all debut next year, and Jarred Kelenic quietly posted an .854 OPS with seven home runs and 20 RBI from Sept. 1 onward. The future is bright, and 2021 is only the start for this group.

         

    Texas Rangers: 2027

    The Rangers have had a tough time developing pitching over the years, and their ability to buck that trend will be a major factor in how quickly they can return to contention.

    Jack Leiter and Cole Winn both have the potential to be frontline starters, and young MLB starters Dane Dunning, Spencer Howard and Kolby Allard have long-term potential, but there is a lot of work to do in building out the future staff.

    After trading Joey Gallo at the deadline, it's clear this team is gearing up for a full-blown rebuild in the coming years, and it might not see contention again for some time.

NL East

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    Juan Soto
    Juan SotoG Fiume/Getty Images

    Miami Marlins: 2024

    With Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers fronting a starting staff that could also include Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Jesus Luzardo, Elieser Hernandez, and top prospects Max Meyer and Jake Eder in the coming years, the Marlins have an enviable stable of young pitching.

    The issue is offense, and they ranked 29th in the majors with just 3.85 runs per game in 2021.

    Jazz Chisholm Jr. has star potential, and young outfielders Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz both impressed down the stretch, but the lineup remains a work in progress. With their pitching, a quick-contention turnaround should be possible.

            

    New York Mets: 2023

    It's easy to envision Mets owner Steve Cohen pouring money into the team until he fields a winner, so expect another busy offseason. The first big decision will be what to do with Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard, who are both free agents this winter.

    The Mets have a handful of elite prospects in Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio, the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom and offensive players in Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso capable of star-level production. That's a strong foundation to build around, even if 2021 was a massive disappointment.

    If they re-sign Javier Baez, address the starting rotation behind deGrom and maybe add one more impact bat, there's no reason they can't give the Atlanta Braves a run for their money in the NL East and at the very least contend for a wild-card spot in 2022.

            

    Philadelphia Phillies: 2022

    With Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, Jean Segura, Ranger Suarez and Rhys Hoskins all controllable through at least the 2023 season, the Phillies have the core talent in place to be a contender.

    Stabilizing the bullpen and shoring up the back of the starting rotation will be a priority this winter, and if they can do that, they have as good a chance as any team in the NL East of ending Atlanta's run of division titles at four.

    With a thin farm system and a lot of money on the books, they are in win-now mode, and that should make for an aggressive approach to free agency.

           

    Washington Nationals: 2026

    In a span of two years, Juan Soto went from the young gun on a World Series-winning Nationals team to essentially the last man standing after a massive trade deadline fire sale.

    Starters Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are still around, and with the money they're owed, they won't be going anywhere anytime soon, but the rest of the Nationals roster figures to be in flux for the next few years as they focus on the future.

    There's not much in the way of impact talent in the farm system, though Cade Cavalli could be the future ace of the staff. It's likely going to be a lengthy rebuild, and with free agency looming after the 2024 season, before long they'll have to convince Soto to stick around.

NL Central

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    Bryan Reynolds
    Bryan ReynoldsLachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: 2025

    The 2021 trade deadline became an inevitability for the Cubs when they were unable to come to terms on an extension with any of their core hitters, but it doesn't mean another multiyear rebuild is forthcoming.

    As a major-market team with considerable payroll space following a year of wheeling and dealing, the Cubs have the resources to be major players on this year's free-agent market, and team president Jed Hoyer has already indicated the team plans to be "really active" this offseason.

    Pitching is the glaring need with a farm system that is thin on arms and a staff that logged an NL-worst 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break. A quick turnaround is possible.

          

    Cincinnati Reds: 2024

    The Reds spent much of 2021 squarely in the NL wild-card hunt before a 12-18 record over their final 30 games torpedoed their postseason hopes.

    With Luis Castillo, Jesse Winker and Tyler Mahle all headed for free agency after the 2023 season, the next couple of years will be important in establishing the team's future path. Extending any or all of those guys is a possibility, while Nick Castellanos' opt-out decision this winter will also impact the short-term outlook.

    The Reds have some good young talent on the cusp of making a big league impact, led by pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo and shortstop Jose Barrero. That mix of established talent and rising prospects should help keep them relevant.

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates: 2030

    Consider 2030 a generic prediction for a team that has no end in sight to its current rebuild.

    Those three straight postseason appearances between 2013 and 215 are but a distant memory for a team that lost 101 games with a minus-224 run differential in 2021 while trading All-Star Adam Frazier, de-facto ace Tyler Anderson and standout reliever Richard Rodriguez.

    It seems inevitable that Bryan Reynolds will ultimately join the long list of players dealt by a franchise that is not willing to spend what it takes to be a sustainable contender. The NL Central cellar is theirs for the foreseeable future, even with a budding star in Ke'Bryan Hayes and some quality young talent in Oneil Cruz, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis rising through the minor league ranks.

NL West

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    Yu Darvish
    Yu DarvishIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 2026

    The D-backs went from 69-93 in 2016 to 93-69 and a wild-card berth the following year, so they are no stranger to quick turnarounds.

    Zac Gallen still has ace upside, young hitters like Pavin Smith, Josh Rojas, Carson Kelly and Daulton Varsho have the potential to be long-term pieces, and the farm system is deep with outfielders Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll poised to debut in the near future.

    All of that said, bridging the gap to the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in the NL West won't be easy, and they could be battling for fourth place for the next few seasons.

         

    Colorado Rockies: 2030

    There is no team in baseball more devoid of anything remotely resembling a long-term plan than the Rockies.

    After mismanaging homegrown superstar Nolan Arenado to the point that he demanded a trade and was moved for pennies on the dollar, they inexplicably failed to find a market for All-Star shortstop Trevor Story this past summer ahead of his imminent departure in free agency.

    The ownership group doesn't seem to care about fielding a contender, and in a top-heavy NL West, that makes it almost impossible to see this team being relevant for the foreseeable future. The 2030 prediction is a placeholder, but it could just as easily be 2040 unless sweeping changes are made at the top.

         

    San Diego Padres: 2022

    In terms of on-paper talent, the Padres had no business missing the postseason this year.

    They were ultimately betrayed by an oft-injured and underperforming pitching staff, and when things started to go south in September, the clubhouse fell apart and Jayce Tingler paid the price. This offseason's managerial decision will be a big one for a young team with loads of potential but lacking a unified voice.

    Expect them to go hard after starting pitching this winter, especially if they can find a way to offload the four years and $60 million left on Eric Hosmer's contract. This team is too young and too talented not to be a factor in the NL West for years to come, and if A.J. Preller can pull the right strings this winter, the playoffs are well within reach.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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