Way-too-early 2020 Power Rankings: Can Nationals stay on top?

The Washington Nationals are 2019 World Series champions. But given the uncertainty of potential free agents Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, are they the early 2020 favorites heading into the offseason? The Los Angeles Dodgers had a disappointing end to this campaign, but will 2020 finally be the season they end their long title drought? And what about the Houston Astros, who fell just short in losing Game 7 to the Nats?

The Los Angeles Angels have added Joe Maddon. Could a big free-agent move or two rocket them up the rankings?

With plenty of big names on the market, there should be a lot of movement between now and the next rankings before the season starts on March 26.

For now, this is how things shape up as we enter the offseason.

Complete coverage of the 2019 postseason

2019 record: 106-56
2020 World Series odds: 5-1 (Caesars)

The biggest issue for the Dodgers may be maintaining motivation throughout the regular season after a disappointing early exit in the postseason — staying focused for 162 games just to get back to the tournament they have fallen short in during this run of seven consecutive division titles. Luckily, they’ll have an infusion of young blood to keep things energized: Gavin Lux, Will Smith and Alex Verdugo should become full-time regulars. The rotation may lose Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill, which only leaves Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Ross Stripling as options.

Under Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers have been reluctant to spend big in free agency, but I wonder if this is the offseason they switch gears. Gerrit Cole is from Southern California, and if there’s ever a free agent for the Dodgers to go after, it’s him. Another option is Anthony Rendon, who would be a fit since he may willingly take a four-year contract rather than the long-term ones the Dodgers are reluctant to give. Justin Turner has one year left on his contract, and you could have an infield of Rendon, Corey Seager, Lux and Max Muncy, with Turner filling in at first, second or third. They could even move Lux to shortstop and trade Seager.

2019 record: 107-55
2020 World Series odds: 4-1

The main reason to rank the Dodgers over the Astros is that Cole probably goes elsewhere. Would the Astros have traded for Zack Greinke if they thought they could fit Cole on the payroll? Probably not. They have some big arbitration raises coming, including George Springer, Carlos Correa and Roberto Osuna. They’ll have Justin Verlander and Greinke to front the rotation, but they’re a year older and coming off a long playoff run, plus Wade Miley joins Cole in free agency. Still, the core of one of the best offenses of all time returns, plus Lance McCullers Jr. should be ready to return after missing 2019 with Tommy John surgery. Jose Urquidy, Josh James and prospect Forrest Whitley are also rotation options. Zack Wheeler could be Cole 2.0 and a guy the Astros pursue in free agency, a lower-cost version of Cole with similar upside given the Astros’ history of applying analytics to make pitchers better.

2019 record: 103-59
2020 World Series odds: 5-1

They won 103 games — oh, and Luis Severino made just three starts, Giancarlo Stanton played just 18 games and Miguel Andujar played just 12 games. Still, after going an entire decade without reaching the World Series for the first time since the 1910s, the Yankees face a fascinating offseason. Do they stay the course with an obviously talented roster, or does another year without a title create more pressure to make a big move? With the emergence of Gio Urshela, Andujar could move to first base or become valuable trade bait. Given the rotations that carried the Astros and Nationals into the World Series, the Yankees may want to add another arm, but the Steinbrenner sons haven’t spent quite as lavishly as the old man once did (relative to the league). Could they use Cole? Of course they could. Every team could, but the Yankees are one of the few that can afford him. On the free-agent front, Aroldis Chapman may opt out and Didi Gregorius may be allowed to leave, with Gleyber Torres moving full time to shortstop.

2019 record: 97-65
2020 World Series odds: 10-1

The season ended with a bitter early exit to the Cardinals, but the core of the team remains young and talented — especially the wonderfully entertaining Ronald Acuna Jr., who hit 41 home runs in his age-21 season and led the NL with 127 runs and 37 stolen bases. The bullpen had issues the first half, but trade acquisitions Shane Greene and Mark Melancon are under control for 2020. They will have to replace free agent Josh Donaldson, who proved to be a coup on a one-year, $23 million deal. Austin Riley is the logical fit if Donaldson leaves, but after a hot start, major league pitchers exposed Riley’s lack of strike zone control.

Mike Soroka and Max Fried will lead the rotation and Mike Foltynewicz looked much better down the stretch, so they can hope for something closer to his 2018 season than his ragged 2019. Julio Teheran and Nick Markakis have reasonable club options and Christian Pache is a dynamic center fielder who could push his way into playing time. There is a lot to like here. Do they go after one free-agent starter to replace Dallas Keuchel? Maybe not Cole, but Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner or Ryu would be a nice veteran fit.

2019 record: 96-66
2020 World Series odds: 30-1

How can you not love the Rays? Tampa Bay is still the Ford Pinto racing against the Ferraris of the AL East, but starting with 2016 they’ve improved from 68 to 80 to 90 to 96 wins. Now imagine 2020 with healthier seasons from Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow alongside Charlie Morton. Everybody is back from the best bullpen in the game (note that trade acquisition Nick Anderson had 41 strikeouts and two walks in his 21⅔ innings with the Rays). There’s so much pitching depth here that the Rays will project as a strong playoff contender even if they don’t upgrade a midpack offense. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia are the two free agents they might look to re-sign.

2019 record: 84-78
2020 World Series odds: 10-1

They just hired Chaim Bloom away from the Rays to run baseball operations, and the immediate question he’ll face is whether to trade Mookie Betts in his final season before free agency. The likely answer: Forget about it. I get that the farm system is barren and you’re always looking for an infusion of young talent and Betts could bring some good prospects in return. J.D. Martinez also has an opt-out clause on the remaining three years of his contract (three years, $66 million). Still, this is a loaded roster that is capable of doing big things in 2020 if they keep one of the best all-around players in the game and Martinez stays. Obviously, a lot will ride on the health of the very expensive rotation. Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi made just 59 starts and went a combined 15-17 with a 4.69 ERA. If those three are, indeed, damaged goods, Martinez walks and Betts is traded, this ranking could look a little silly.

2019 record: 97-65
2020 World Series odds: 30-1

Do you have a good reason to doubt the A’s? They’ve had back-to-back 97-win seasons and have most everybody under team control. Matt Chapman is a star with his all-world defense and plus bat, Marcus Semien became a star in 2019 with an absolute monster 8.1-WAR season (and 83 extra-base hits!), and Matt Olson would have slugged 40 home runs if not for an early-season hand injury.

Here’s the really good news, however: They won’t have to undergo their annual scramble to fill the rotation. They’ll have Sean Manaea (1.21 ERA in five late-season starts) for the whole season. They’ll get Frankie Montas back from his PED suspension (he had a 2.63 ERA in 16 starts). Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk project as impact rookies. Factor in Mike Fiers and Chris Bassitt, and this could be one of the best rotations in the majors.

2019 record: 93-69
2020 World Series odds: 14-1

It’s hard to rank them any higher given the big unknowns heading into the offseason: Anthony Rendon is a free agent and Stephen Strasburg can opt out of the final four years of his contract — four years at $100 million (including a $45 million salary in 2023). Given that he led the NL in innings in 2019 and had an outstanding postseason, Strasburg could certainly get more than four years for $100 million on the open market. Several of the key role players also are free agents, including Howie Kendrick, Daniel Hudson, Asdrubal Cabrera and Brian Dozier, while Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton have team options that should be picked up. If Rendon and Strasburg leave, it should lead to a busy winter in D.C. The nice luxury: Juan Soto is here to carry the offense, thank you very much.

2019 record: 86-76
2020 World Series odds: 22-1

This is a leap of faith for a couple of reasons. The Mets don’t have a manager yet, although either Eduardo Perez or Carlos Beltran would be a terrific choice. It’s hard to trust the front office after last offseason’s missteps (and bad luck). You wonder where the Mets are in analytics, given they clearly haven’t gotten the most out of Noah Syndergaard (or Wheeler). But they have Jacob deGrom. They have Polar Bear Pete Alonso. They won 86 games with a bad bullpen. They’ll need to replace Wheeler if they don’t re-sign him, they need to find a closer or have Edwin Diaz bounce back, they need a healthy Brandon Nimmo, and they’ll need Robinson Cano to … well, they’re stuck with Cano.

2019 record: 91-71
2020 World Series odds: 20-1

The Cardinals bring almost everyone back from their NL Central championship team. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent, and I assume they’ll re-sign Adam Wainwright. Jack Flaherty is a good starting point for any rotation, and the bullpen is deep (despite some hiccups in the postseason). The main problem: The offense was mediocre, as Matt Carpenter had a bad year and Paul Goldschmidt was good, but not great. Heck, Tommy Edman led the team in slugging percentage. It’s actually a bit of a surprise that hitting coach Jeff Albert, who came over from the Astros organization, kept his job given their 10th-place finish in the NL in runs. The rotation also had excellent health in 2019 with four starters making 31-plus starts. As always, the Cards rely on solid 40-man roster depth, but there are some age issues here, setting up a possible big fall.

2019 record: 101-61
2020 World Series odds: 30-1

The Twins hit a million home runs and scored a million-something runs, but they also cleaned up on a weak AL Central. They slugged .531 against losing teams and .443 against winning teams. Most teams have a big difference there, but that was larger than average (they were 32-37 against teams above .500). The biggest concern, however, isn’t the offense but the starting rotation: Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda are all free agents, while Martin Perez has a $7 million club option and pitched poorly in the second half. Those four started 114 games. They’ll need to sign somebody for the rotation, but they need to go beyond some of the second-tier signings and go after a Wheeler, Ryu or Strasburg to give Jose Berrios a little more help. There are still a lot of wins to be had in this division, but the Twins shouldn’t go into the offseason expecting the offense to be so good again.

2019 record: 84-78
2020 World Series odds: 14-1

The picture that 2019 was a complete disaster isn’t exactly accurate. The Cubs had a run differential of plus-97, almost the same as St. Louis (plus-102) and much better than Milwaukee (plus-3). And that includes the — yes, disastrous — nine-game losing streak at the end of September that sealed their fate. Still, they finished second in the NL home runs, fifth in runs and fourth in fewest runs allowed, so a strong foundation still exists as David Ross replaces Joe Maddon in the dugout. That could be a good thing. The general feeling is that Maddon didn’t lay the hammer down as much as needed, while Ross will do that. But there will also be a learning curve for the new manager, as he’s more old-school than analytical — although recent skippers such as Alex Cora and Aaron Boone did just fine in their first seasons.

Will the Cubs blow things up? That seems unlikely. Of their core position players, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are the oldest, and they will be entering their age-30 seasons. This remains a lineup that should be at its peak. It’s a different story with the starting pitchers, although all five starters made at least 27 starts in 2019. Cole Hamels is a free agent and Yu Darvish has an opt-out clause that he’s unlikely to exercise. The bullpen will need some shuffling, although it may have to live or die with closer Craig Kimbrel. There is money to spend in free agency. The Cubs will look to bring back Nicholas Castellanos — which could lead to their trading Kyle Schwarber so they don’t have two below-average defenders in the outfield corners. They have to figure out if Albert Almora Jr. is a bench player or a starting center fielder. Bottom line: It’s going to be a busy winter at Wrigley.

2019 record: 70-92
2020 World Series odds: 50-1

Time to take a leap of faith with one of 2019’s below-.500 clubs. After a promising start — 17-13 at the end of April — the Padres played .500 for a couple of months and then fell apart, going 8-16 in July and 7-20 in September. That finish led to manager Andy Green getting the ax in favor of Rangers coach Jayce Tingler, a former colleague of GM A.J. Preller and an individual with a background in player development. Believing in the Padres is a leap of faith in their young talent — not just a full season from super-stud Fernando Tatis Jr., but guys such as Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia and Dinelson Lamet (who returned from Tommy John surgery and fanned 105 in 73 innings). They need to hit better — they were last in the NL with a .238 batting average and 13th with a .308 OBP — and they need to add a veteran starter to the rotation (Garrett Richards might help there). Oh, and a better season from Manny Machado (3.1 WAR) is a must.

2019 record: 81-81
2020 World Series odds: 16-1

Gabe Kapler took the fall for the Phillies’ eighth straight non-playoff and non-winning season — only the Mariners, Marlins, Padres and White Sox have a longer playoff droughts — but the players need to take the blame as well. The Phillies were built around their stars, but compare them to the Braves, winners of the NL East. The top five players on the Braves produced 26.5 WAR. The top five players on the Phillies produced 17.8 WAR. That’s not the entire gap between the two teams, but it’s a large chunk of it. Simply put, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins & Co. have to do better in 2020. The bullpen did suffer a rash of injuries and the front office will have to rebuild there — Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent are free agents and Pat Neshek‘s option won’t be picked up. The most intriguing offseason move, however, will be whether they go after Rendon or Donaldson to play third base.

2019 record: 93-69
2020 World Series odds: 14-1

The Indians already announced they’ll pick up Corey Kluber‘s $17.5 million option, but the potential dark cloud hanging over the franchise: Will it trade Francisco Lindor? He has two years until free agency and is worth a lot more now than he will be in a year. The rotation should still be stellar with Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Kluber (if he’s healthy after making just seven starts with a 5.80 ERA in 2019), plus Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale. Of course, they benefited from a weak division, going 48-28 against the AL Central and 45-41 against everyone else. The outfield is still a concern after ranking 23rd in the majors in OPS. Yasiel Puig is a free agent and Franmil Reyes is probably the DH. If you knew for sure that Lindor was going to anchor the lineup, you’d move Cleveland up a few spots.

2019 record: 89-73
2020 World Series odds: 18-1

The Brewers are not a young team. They don’t have a stellar rotation. They won 89 games, but exceeded their Pythagorean record by eight wins. Yasmani Grandal will likely opt out and test free agency after a big season. Mike Moustakas has a mutual option for $11 million. The farm system isn’t strong, at least at the upper levels. There are a lot of things pointing to a fall here. Except they have Christian Yelich. They have Keston Hiura, who stormed through the league in his 84-game debut. They have Josh Hader. They have Brandon Woodruff, ready for a big season in 2020. They have Craig Counsell, maybe the best manager in the game. If any team will exceed expectations, it’s the Brewers.

2019 record: 72-90
2020 World Series odds: 75-1

Does Joe Maddon come to the Angels without a promise from owner Arte Moreno that every effort will be made to upgrade the roster? Probably not. All signs point to the Angels spending big this offseason. They’re down to two years remaining on the Albert Pujols contract. Zack Cozart and Andrelton Simmons enter the final seasons of their deals. So the Halos have their commitments to Mike Trout and Justin Upton, and beyond them some financial flexibility down the road. So, there’s no doubt they will be all over the Cole sweepstakes. Heck, dream big, Angels fans: How about Cole and Strasburg? Also worth noting: The Angels went 17-36 the final two months, reeling from a run of injuries and possibly the aftereffects of Tyler Skaggs’ death. More turmoil may come this offseason with fallout from the Skaggs investigation. But if the Angels add a couple of front-line starters to the best player in baseball and super-prospect Jo Adell, their fortunes might change.

2019 record: 85-77
2020 World Series odds: 60-1

The Diamondbacks were a nice surprise in 2019, winning 85 games after trading Paul Goldschmidt and losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock as free agents. Ketel Marte (6.9 WAR) had a huge season and Eduardo Escobar drove in 118 runs. Nick Ahmed should win his second straight Gold Glove and is no longer an automatic out. They traded away Zack Greinke, so that’s a big hole to fill. Maybe Robbie Ray finally harnesses his stuff and pitches like an ace. Taijuan Walker will be returning from Tommy John surgery and Luke Weaver made just 12 starts last year but pitched well (2.94 ERA) before an elbow injury wiped out most of his second half. Zac Gallen, acquired from the Marlins at the trade deadline last year, was impressive in eight starts (53 K’s in 43⅔ innings). If the rotation can rise up, the Diamondbacks could once again be a sleeper team.

2019 record: 75-87
2020 World Series odds: 40-1

There’s the possibility of a terrific rotation here with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani and Kevin Gausman. A wise old baseball man once said, “With five good starters, a lot of great things can happen.” OK, I made up that quote, but the Reds are banking on that rotation — plus their closer not losing 12 games again — because this offense is Eugenio Suarez and pray. Joey Votto’s power is gone; his OBP fell to a career-low .357. They’ll need a lot more from Nick Senzel in his sophomore season and hope that Aristides Aquino (.576 slugging percentage in 56 games) is the real deal and not merely a three-week flash of bash. Shortstop Jose Iglesias is a free agent. Free agent Didi Gregorius could be an offensive upgrade there.

2019 record: 72-89
2020 World Series odds: 75-1

1. Sign two outfielders. White Sox outfielders hit .252/.303/.385 with 52 home runs — and that includes Eloy Jimenez‘s stats. 2. Sign a DH. White Sox DHs hit .208/.285/.362 with 17 home runs. 3. Re-sign Jose Abreu. 4. Hope Michael Kopech comes back strong from Tommy John surgery and that Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease make big leaps forward. 5. You haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. You haven’t finished above third place since 2012. Sign a big free agent. None of this lame half-hearted effort like last season when you pretended to go after Manny Machado.

2019 record: 78-84
2020 World Series odds: 150-1

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