The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions. But are they the early favorites heading into next season?
The initial 2018 Power Rankings look a lot like the final 2017 standings for an obvious reason: These are good teams! Just compare the depth of the rosters of the playoff teams to that of the non-playoff teams. There's a reason the Dodgers, Indians and Astros won 100 games. Those teams are loaded, and their rosters remain almost entirely intact for next season.
Of course, the best eight teams of 2017 probably won't be the best eight teams of 2018. Maybe one of them will turn into the Giants. They were seventh in these rankings last year and, um, weren't the seventh-best team in 2017.
For now, however, this is how things shape up as we enter the offseason.
2017 record: 101-61
If you watched the Astros win the World Series, you know why they will be scary: Jose Altuve and George Springer will be 28, Alex Bregman 24 and Carlos Correa 23. Altuve will probably win the 2017 MVP, and Correa might be the 2018 MVP favorite. The Astros will have Justin Verlander for an entire season and as much starting rotation depth as any team, especially given the strong seasons of Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton. The bullpen was a disaster in the playoffs but was OK in the regular season (not that Jeff Luhnow won't look to make an addition or two). On top of that, outfielders Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker are going to push for playing time. I'd hate to be an AL West general manager trying to figure out how to beat this team. Winning again won't be easy, but they open as the favorites.
2017 record: 104-58
Why not No. 1? Sure, you know Andrew Friedman & Co. have the resources to make a big splash. Maybe they trade for a certain power-hitting outfielder coming off a 59-homer season. Maybe they sign Shohei Otani. Or maybe the new additions will be prospects Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo. The Dodgers had a few surprises -- Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Alex Wood -- and those guys will have to prove themselves again. The bullpen will have to be rebuilt with Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson free agents. But the organization depth is there for another 100-win season.
2017 record: 102-60
I might actually bet on the Indians to win the most games in 2018, given the weak state of the AL Central. They have everybody back except Carlos Santana and trade acquisition Jay Bruce, but the rotation that was one of the best in major league history -- it led the majors in both strikeout rate and lowest walk rate -- returns in its entirety. The Indians can scrape the free-agent market for a cost-effective first baseman/DH to replace Santana, and if Jason Kipnis bounces back, the offense -- third in the AL in runs in 2017 -- should be exceptional once again.
2017 record: 97-65
Dusty Baker is gone, but everybody important is back. You start with the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, who ranked second and third in the NL in ERA and first and fourth in strikeout rate. Or maybe you start with Bryce Harper, who was perhaps on his way to a second MVP Award before his August knee injury. Or maybe you start with Anthony Rendon, who hit .301/.403/.533. Don't forget Adam Eaton will be back after missing almost all of 2017. New manager Dave Martinez has as much talent as anyone. In Harper's final season before free agency, will this be the year the Nationals finally break through?
2017 record: 91-71
Reaching Game 7 of the ALCS is just the start for this group of players. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino will likely be joined by Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier as the Yankees continue to build around a young core of players. Everybody in the bullpen is still under contract, though they'll probably look to trade Dellin Betances. CC Sabathia is a free agent, but maybe he'll return on a one-year deal ... as the Yankees save up for the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado free-agent class after 2018. Not returning is Joe Girardi. For all his faults, Girardi was at least a reliable, consistent manager, and it's hard to say he didn't get the most out of the young guys, so there was some risk in letting him go.
2017 record: 93-69
A second straight division title wasn't enough to save John Farrell's job, as rookie manager Alex Cora was brought in to help fix the toxic aroma in the clubhouse. His first step will be to plead with management to find a power-hitting first baseman after the Red Sox finished last in the AL in home runs, although a full season from future stud Rafael Devers will help in the power department. If Rick Porcello can find a happy medium between his 2016 Cy Young season and his 17-loss 2017 season, and if David Price can stay healthy, the rotation should be one of the best in the majors.
2017 record: 93-69
Of the final eight teams, the Diamondbacks would be the popular pick for the one most likely to miss the playoffs, but there's a lot to like here. I'm totally buying the breakout seasons of Robbie Ray (2.89 ERA, fourth among all MLB starters in strikeout rate) and Zack Godley (3.37 ERA), which helped give Arizona one of the best rotation in the majors, with ace Zack Greinke leading the way. A key will be re-signing J.D. Martinez, who raised holy terror for opposing pitchers while swatting 29 home runs in 62 games. Archie Bradley is probably ready to take over as closer from Fernando Rodney, but finding another set-up guy would help.
8. Chicago Cubs
2017 record: 92-70
Look, they should be good again, and maybe even better. That young foundation of position players remains, but while Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were great in 2017, Addison Russell and Javier Baez didn't improve, and Kyle Schwarber has to do better than a .211 average and .315 OBP, given his subpar defense. The Cubs will have to replace free agents Jake Arrieta and John Lackey in the rotation, and given Jon Lester's age and inconsistent 2017, there is potential for a rotation collapse. Most likely, the Cubs will have to trade Russell, Baez or Ian Happ for some pitching help.
2017 record: 83-79
A lot actually went right for the Cardinals in 2017: Tommy Pham had a breakout season, Paul DeJong came up, hit 25 home runs and played a decent shortstop, Jose Martinez ripped out a .897 OPS, Trevor Rosenthal regained his mojo, and they still finished 83-79. That's acceptable for some teams, but it was the Cardinals' worst record since 2007. You wonder if a manager change is in order, but Mike Matheny seems to have a lifetime contract. Maybe management makes a big splash, trying to swing a deal for a big-hitting third baseman (Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado) or sign Mike Moustakas.
2017 Record: 80-82
It helps to start with Mike Trout, who won't win the MVP Award but is still the best player in the game. It helps that Andrelton Simmons had a solid season at the plate to go with his spectacular defense. Albert Pujols, despite 101 RBIs, is an out machine at this point in his career, which is why the Angels desperately need Justin Upton to not exercise is opt-out clause -- or to re-sign him if he does. The pitching staff likely overachieved in 2017, so GM Billy Eppler should bring in a starter or two. There probably isn't a ton of upside here, but they're a safe bet to finish around .500 because of Trout.
11. Tampa Bay Rays
2017 record: 80-82
Thanks to 38 home runs from Logan Morrison and 30 from Steven Souza Jr., the Rays mashed a franchise-record 228 home runs -- nearly double the 117 they hit in 2014. But they have to improve their situational hitting, as they ranked 14th in the AL in runs scored because they were last in the majors with a .227 average and .359 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position (worse than all NL teams). There's big upside in the rotation aside from Chris Archer, as Blake Snell (4.04 ERA) and Jacob Faria (3.43) showcased top-of-the-rotation ability, plus top prospect Brent Honeywell is just about ready. They'll have to replace longtime pitching coach Jim Hickey, who left to rejoin Joe Maddon with the Cubs.
2017 record: 86-76
The big question for the Brewers: Now that they got to this level, how do they get to the next one? Given that they aren't paying anyone except Ryan Braun, there's room to bring on some salary, but the reluctance to swing a deal for Jose Quintana last summer makes you wonder if that will happen (it didn't help that some of the club's top prospects, such as Corey Ray and Isan Diaz, struggled, reducing their trade value). Remember that Jimmy Nelson, who had a huge season, will miss a significant portion of the season after shoulder surgery.
2017 record: 75-87
It was a disappointing season for the Pirates, and they probably played above their talent to win 75 games. Starling Marte had the PED suspension and played just 77 games (and didn't hit as well when he returned), and Gregory Polanco was a huge letdown with a .251 average and just 11 home runs. They ended up with Andrew McCutchen back in center, where he remains a defensive liability. If Marte and Polanco bounce back and Josh Bell continues to improve, the offense could be pretty good (though Jung Ho Kang's visa issues remain, and there's no guarantee he'll be back). The biggest key, however, is better results from Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon and maybe a second-half call-up for Mitch Keller.
2017 record: 75-87
Here's your deep sleeper for 2017. The anonymous A's were 36-37 in the second half and playing even in run differential. Two rookies who should make bigger impacts in their first full seasons: Matt Olson, who slugged .651 in 189 at-bats, and Matt Chapman, who plays a Nolan Arenado-esque third base and has 25-homer power. The Athletics need a center fielder, and the rotation depth is shaky, but this is a young team that should continue to improve.
15. Colorado Rockies
2017 record: 87-75
The Rockies got some unlikely performances from some unheralded rookies, and even if there is some regression in order, they have rotation depth for the first time in franchise history, especially if Jon Gray can give 30 starts at an ace-like level and Jeff Hoffman reaches his prospect pedigree. The offense is actually the bigger problem: It's bad outside of Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. The Rockies will probably let Carlos Gonzalez walk as a free agent after a bad season, but that means committing to Ian Desmond as an outfielder. How about a Giancarlo Stanton trade?
2017 record: 76-86
The offense was terrible, finishing last in the AL in runs. They'll be parting ways with Jose Bautista and should think about an alternative to the ineffective and injury-prone Troy Tulowitzki. Josh Donaldson remains an MVP candidate, and it's unlikely they will trade him. If the offense improves, the rotation could make the Blue Jays competitive, at least if they can get more than eight starts from 2016 ERA champ Aaron Sanchez.
17. New York Mets
2017 record: 70-92
Do I have confidence that ownership will hire the right manager (they hired Mickey Callaway) and allow Sandy Alderson to make the right moves? Absolutely not. Do I have confidence that ownership will fix the problems with the training staff? Nope. Do I believe that Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are ready to become contributors? I do not. I'm going with the 2017 season being one of those seasons in which the bad stuff starts happening and everything just snowballs. Improvement starts with a healthy Noah Syndergaard and a better bullpen ... and a parting of the ways with Matt Harvey.
18. Texas Rangers
2017 record: 78-84
It was an odd season for the Rangers. On the bright side, Joey Gallo hit 41 bombs that traveled an estimated 4 miles or so, Elvis Andrus hit 20 home runs, and Adrian Beltre continued to defy time with another great season (though he played just 97 games). On the negative, Rougned Odor took a big step backward, and the pitching staff ranked last in the majors in strikeout rate. Jon Daniels will have to address that latter problem to get the Rangers back in the playoffs; note that the top eight teams in strikeout rate were the eight teams playing in the Division Series. Maybe that means re-signing Yu Darvish -- and bringing in Shohei Otani to join him.
19. Minnesota Twins
2017 record: 85-77
I think they were a little bit of a fluke. I feel bad saying that. I like the Twins. Love that airport. Still remember Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett as mainstays on my Pursue the Pennant team. I'll even buy into much of that offensive production the final two months, when the Twins led the majors in runs scored. Byron Buxton playing center field was as lovely as the sound of a child's laughter. Still, the rotation and bullpen give me jitters, with a strikeout rate that ranked 19th in the majors.
20. Miami Marlins
2017 record: 77-85
Welcome to the Derek Jeter era of Marlins baseball. What is the plan? Nobody knows! The argument that the Marlins can't trade Giancarlo Stanton because they'll lose the fan base seems like a nonstarter: The Marlins have finished last in the National League in attendance five years running. I wouldn't let that dictate a baseball decision. Realistically, Stanton's contract means it will be difficult to trade him anyway. So they're left with Stanton coming off a 59-homer season, Marcell Ozuna coming off a monster .312/.376/.548 season ... and let's stop there before we have to discuss the rotation.
21. Seattle Mariners
2017 record: 78-84
As a Mariners fan, I'd like to convince myself that the Mariners will be better than this, given my Pacific Northwest roots and that this is the franchise with the longest playoff drought. Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, however, will be another year older, Kyle Seager oddly hit worse as everyone else in the league hit better, and it's time for Mariners fans to admit that Felix Hernandez is a back-end starter at this point in his career -- if he can even stay healthy. Yes, the rotation was riddled with injuries, but there's not much room in the payroll to solidify that area. Only the Giants received fewer home runs from their outfielders, and the M's need a center fielder to replace Jarrod Dyson. Hmm, Chris Taylor would look pretty good there.
2017 record: 64-98
On the one hand, they're the most obvious bounce-back team for 2018. On the other hand, they were legitimately awful in 2017. Injuries weren't really an excuse, and the issues that arose -- especially the bad defense and lack of power in the outfield -- were entirely predictably. The Giants' front office clearly had a terrible 2016-17 offseason. Obviously, they need Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija to pitch better. Improved defense will help. Good luck, however, finding an entirely new outfield in one offseason. (And, no, they shouldn't count on Hunter Pence and Denard Span for 2018.)
23. Atlanta Braves
2017 record: 72-90
For some reason, just because they were moving into a new ballpark, Braves management tried to convince the fans they were sleeper playoff contenders. They weren't. And they won't be in 2018. Freddie Freeman is a legit superstar, Ender Inciarte is underrated, and Ozzie Albies looks like a future stud, but they're still stuck with Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis (combined WAR of minus-0.6), and Dansby Swanson has to rebuild his value after a miserable season. The biggest issue, however, is that they're still waiting on all these young pitchers. Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara could put it all together, but it still seems like the Braves are a couple years away.
2017 record: 67-95
Rick Hahn has assembled an interesting group of young players and prospects, but there are still a lot of holes here. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia carried the offense while Yoan Moncada showed promise, but with a strikeout rate that indicated he's still a work in progress. Otherwise, there isn't much here. The White Sox somehow gave 300 at-bats to a guy who hit .166 (Adam Engel), and Tim Anderson struck out 162 times while drawing just 13 walks. Hahn will have to rebuild the bullpen after trading David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak midseason and hope guys such as Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito can help in the rotation.
25. Cincinnati Reds
2017 record: 68-94
Think of everything that went right for the Reds in 2017: Joey Votto had an MVP-caliber season, Zack Cozart had a .933 OPS, Scooter Gennett hit 27 home runs, Eugenio Suarez had a breakout campaign, Tucker Barnhart developed into a Gold Glove-caliber catcher, and even Scott Schebler smacked 30 home runs. They still lost 94 games. Note that none of the players just listed was a pitcher.
2107 record: 75-87
The team fell apart in September, going 7-21 to finish with their worst record since 2011. You never want to bet against Buck Showalter, but it's hard to see this team competing with the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East, which means Manny Machado and Zach Britton will likely be traded before they hit free agency after the 2018 season -- if not this winter, then certainly during the season when the front office realizes the team isn't very good.
2017 record: 66-96
I can't wait to see what Rhys Hoskins can do over a full season and Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford should be fun to watch as they get a chance to play, though all three will likely display some growing pains. The rotation needs a lot of help after Aaron Nola -- Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff failed to improve on their 2016 breakout seasons, and neither pitched in September. At some point, the Phillies will spend some money in free agency, but they'll probably wait for the blockbuster 2018 free-agent class.
28. San Diego Padres
2017 record: 71-91
The Padres were a respectable 33-41 in the second half, as Andy Green got a lot out of the talent on hand, but their run differential was still poor, and there isn't really any star power here. Manuel Margot might turn into a nice all-around player, but questions remain about Hunter Renfroe (.284 OBP) and Austin Hedges (.262 OBP). The farm system has some upside, but most of the top prospects were in the lower minors.
2017 record: 80-82
It was an amazing run for the Eric Hosmer-Mike Moustakas-Lorenzo Cain group, with a 2015 World Series flag that will fly forever, but all three are free agents, and all three will probably end up signing with a new team. Even with Hosmer and Moustakas having their best seasons, the Royals weren't very good in 2017, winning 80 games and getting outscored by 89 runs. Without a new pipeline of talent to replace the free agents, it's going to be a long rebuilding process, and that's one reason Dayton Moore could leave to take over the Braves (so far, the Braves have been denied permission to talk to him).
30. Detroit Tigers
2017 record: 64-98
They lost 98 games with a team that had Justin Upton and Justin Verlander on the roster for most of the season and J.D. Martinez for 57 games. Without those three in September, they went an abysmal 6-24 while getting outscored by 90 runs. That's a shocking three runs per game, even though two of the six wins were by scores of 13-2 and 12-0. Even a bounce-back from Miguel Cabrera won't be enough to save this team from 100 losses.