2018 goals for all 30 teams: From getting to the World Series ... to just getting someone to care

Winning isn't everything -- and that applies to nearly every MLB team this year. We define a successful season for each club, based on, well, reality. Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Only one team will win the World Series, but many more teams will still be able to call this season successful.

Last fall, we ranked the success of all 30 teams' seasons based on each team's realistic hopes, strategies, trajectory, highs and lows, and so on. This season, we'll try to predict what a successful season would look like for each team. We believe success should be defined broadly, so there are many paths each team might ultimately take, and some we're surely not imagining. If Miguel Sano hits 74 home runs and Byron Buxton has a 57-game hitting streak, the Twins' season would be fun, historic, memorable and, yes, successful, even if Minnesota wins only 68 or 70 games.

So here we go. The number in parentheses is the team's odds to win the 2018 World Series at MGM Resorts' sportsbook as of March 19.

Accomplish the following:

  • Win World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers (5-1)
Houston Astros (6-1)
Chicago Cubs (6-1)

There's not much standing between the Dodgers and the next five NL West crowns -- and five more shots at winning it all -- so a failure to win the World Series this year wouldn't be a permanent failure. But until they do win one, the Dodgers represent a staggering investment in unconsummated greatness.

The Dodgers won't have the league's highest payroll this year, but they have been by far the most expensive team of late, outspending the Astros and Cubs combined over the previous half-decade. They have also been baseball's best team, winning more games than any other club, and they've had the best pitcher of the generation starting two games in every postseason series. That's not a bad way to live! But it makes everything short of the ultimate goal a failure, especially because they have the sport's 11th-longest World Series drought, an entire generation's worth of not winning it all.

The stakes are much lower for the Astros and Cubs, who've won the past two titles. Once a team has won a World Series, not much moves the needle for a while. The Astros and Cubs are playing for two things: to build up their dynasty claim, which probably requires three titles in a short time; or to stay relevant, which is to say, to avoid disaster, keep a 90-win outlook, keep their season-ticket sales strong and justify their long rebuilds with long competitive windows. If they don't collapse this season -- see the 2017 Giants, the 2014 Braves, the 2014 Red Sox and the 2012 Phillies for what that would look like -- then no damage done and not what you'd call a failure. But if they don't win the World Series, it'll be standing still and probably not what you'd call a success.

The teams below this level will be deemed successful if they win the World Series OR ...

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Reach the World Series

  • Win 100 games

  • Reach the National League Championship Series

  • Sign Bryce Harper to an extension

Washington Nationals (6-1)

Few storylines in baseball have been as compelling, dynamic and promising for as long as the overlapping Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper storylines. Strasburg was perhaps the most hyped amateur pitching prospect of all time. Harper, from his midteens, was perhaps the most hyped hitting prospect of all time. Then they were teammates! Wow! In the years since, each has been, at times, among the most dominant baseball players in the world. Harper had, in 2015, the best offensive season since Barry Bonds; Strasburg had, in 2017, a 0.70 ERA in the second half, including his two postseason starts.

As a story, this has been perfectly paced and plotted, through obstacles and separations and payoffs withheld, a story both of predictability (the young prodigies grow into mature heroes) and unpredictability (the Nats, with these two historic forces, with the second-best record in baseball over half a decade, have failed to win a single postseason series). One assumes a story like this is moving toward a huge payoff. But Harper (along with Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez) is about to hit free agency. This could be the final act of the Strasburg/Harper story. A World Series victory is the finish you're counting on. An appearance in it is the bare minimum. A "to be continued" -- i.e., Harper signing an extension -- would be tedious but still promising.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Reach the American League Championship Series

  • Reach the AL Division Series

  • Break the all-time team home run record

New York Yankees (7-2)

The Yankees are the Vegas favorites, but they're young, they're already ahead of schedule, they'll have and be a ton of fun, they'll be able to spend a lot of money next winter and they're probably entering a five-year period during which they'll win 500 games and (more than likely) at least one title. They have a lot of goals this season -- incorporate Gleyber Torres into the mix, keep their pitchers healthy, get along well with new manager Aaron Boone, get either Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton (or both) to 62 home runs and win the World Series -- but as long as they don't move backward it's hard to see this not being an incredibly fun season.

Accomplish two of the following:

Boston Red Sox (10-1)

Last year, the Red Sox entered the season as World Series favorites, saw their offense collapse, fired their manager and lost in the ALDS. We still concluded it was a successful season, but barely. This year, they're consensus underdogs in their division, so reaching the same stage -- either by beating the Yankees in the AL East or winning the wild-card game -- would be a worthy enough goal, even if they are spending more than any other team this year. If they can do it without Hanley Ramirez's 2019 option vesting, with Price pitching well enough to opt out of or be worth the rest of his contract, and with Devers or Benintendi getting MVP votes, they'd be in position to go toe-to-toe with the Yankees in 2019.

Accomplish three of the following:

  • Reach the ALDS

  • Draw 2 million fans

  • Avoid any catastrophic injuries

  • Francisco Mejia has a top-two ROY finish

Cleveland Indians (8-1)

Cleveland was arguably the best team in baseball last season, and it has been the best team in the AL over the past five. It got bounced from the ALDS in 2017 after blowing a 2-0 lead and now has the longest World Series drought in baseball. So maybe expectations are as high there as they are for the Dodgers or Nationals. But Cleveland is one of the toughest markets to compete in -- only the Rays have drawn fewer fans in the past half decade -- and the Indians' current run of five good seasons and a few promising ones to come is a huge achievement. The core is almost entirely under team control beyond this season, and the Indians probably won't be pushed too hard by a division rival until 2020. A division title, a strong rookie season from top prospect Mejia and another attendance boost (last year the Indians drew 2 million fans for the first time in a decade) would keep the momentum going and the window wide open.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Make the playoffs

  • Win 90-plus games

  • Trade away $30 million or so in 2019 contract obligations

  • End up with a top-10 farm system after the trade deadline

San Francisco Giants (15-1)
New York Mets (15-1)
Kansas City Royals (100-1)

The Giants were the NL's second-oldest team in 2017, and they lost the most games. They got older this offseason. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if the roster is actually good, and credit the front office for being bold enough to believe that. But it means they almost certainly won't be better in 2019 than they will be in 2018. Which then means that if they miss the playoffs in 2018, it might be a long time before we take the Giants seriously. So the plan depends on them actually being good or having a strong exit strategy if they're not. (To be clear, hitting the second two bullet points might narrowly count as successful, but the first two bullets are the real goal.)

The Mets are similar -- good not long ago, very bad last year, got older this winter, bottom-five farm system -- but with two distinctions that probably cancel each other out: The Mets' major leaguers are on the younger side, so they will still have something to build a future around no matter what happens this year; but the front office hasn't won three rings in the past eight years, so it has a lot less leeway to say "whoopsie."

The Royals -- well, the Royals don't really seem like they should be in this group, do they? The PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus see them as the worst team in baseball, or at least tied with the Marlins at 65 wins. But the Royals also don't look like a rebuilding team: They're old, they're around the league-average payroll, their farm system is one of the worst in baseball and their lineup looks like a team that's trying to win now -- just not trying very well. Which is all to say that while they're properly in this group, they're ... not likely to have what we'd call a successful season.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Make the playoffs

  • Alex Reyes pitches like a star

  • Devil magic turns random 28-year-old into MVP candidate

St. Louis Cardinals (12-1)

The stakes aren't as high and the recent failures aren't as ominous for the Cardinals as they are for the Giants and Mets. They missed the playoffs last year, and we still concluded it was a successful season, with three surprising breakouts in the lineup, competitive baseball deep into September and 3.4 million fans in the stands. But if they miss the postseason in 2018, it would be for the third year in a row, the longest drought for St. Louis since the late 1990s. It could happen and they could still claim a productive season -- if a healthy Alex Reyes wins the Rookie of the Year award, if Miles Mikolas is as good in the National League as he was in Japan last season and if Kolten Wong suddenly hits 27 homers. But at this point, the Cardinals are like a hedge fund that consistently outperforms the market. What might seem like a good year to a kitchen-table investor wouldn't to them.

Accomplish one of the following:

  • Make the playoffs

  • Win 90 games

Arizona Diamondbacks (30-1)
Seattle Mariners (25-1)

To be honest, I'm not sure 90 wins without a playoff spot would do it for the Mariners, who have the longest postseason drought in baseball and haven't played past Game 162 since 2001. Their front office is led by a GM, Jerry Dipoto, who has a fantastic reputation but only one playoff appearance among three seasons in Anaheim and two in Seattle. His handpicked manager, Scott Servais, was hired without any dugout experience (he was Dipoto's assistant GM with the Angels) and hasn't reached October. The Mariners have the worst farm system in baseball by a pretty good margin. If they don't win this year, you might very well start hearing talk of wobbly chairs in that front office.

The Diamondbacks' front office is quite secure, job-wise, after an unexpectedly strong season and postseason appearance last year. Anything less than the playoffs will be moving backward, though, especially because, unlike the Mariners, the Diamondbacks project to be a playoff team right now. Windows don't stay open forever: They have a bad farm system, their second-best position player (A.J. Pollock) will be a free agent next winter and their success has been built on the world's most fragile resource, healthy starting pitchers. Their chances are probably better this year than next.

Make the division series or accomplish two of the following:

  • Win 85 or more games

  • Play meaningful games in the final week of the season

  • Get at least one star performance from somebody 24 or younger

Minnesota Twins (20-1)
Colorado Rockies (20-1)
Milwaukee Brewers (25-1)
Los Angeles Angels (18-1)
Texas Rangers (40-1)

The Twins, Rockies and Brewers have a lot in common: All are young, on upward trajectories and coming off more successful seasons than most of us expected last year. All have graduated prospects from previously standout farm systems, and all have at least one young major leaguer (e.g., the Brewers' Orlando Arcia, the Rockies' David Dahl and the Twins' Byron Buxton, among others) who could bloom into an offensive superstar this year. All spent money or traded prospects to build up their major league rosters this offseason, acting more or less like contenders. None, though, is a sure thing the way the Cubs and Astros were coming out of their rebuilds. The Twins and Rockies could both lose their 2017 WAR leaders (Brian Dozier and Charlie Blackmon) to free agency next winter. The Brewers' WAR leader last year, Jimmy Nelson, just had shoulder surgery.

Which is to say nobody really knows what this year, or this era, will offer any of them. Just look at the Rangers, who were in a similar position last spring and dropped down to 78 wins. These teams' competitive windows are simultaneously just opening and inherently uncertain. None of these teams needs to win the World Series this year to be successful, but each must look like a team that still could.

The Angels have little in common with the rest of the teams in this group. That said, this seems like a good set of success markers for a club that hasn't won a playoff game this decade but could carry a lot of hope into next season if Shohei Ohtani turns out to be as fun/good as his press clippings have promised.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Sneak into the playoffs

  • Best player has a massive season

  • Lose fast enough to have a hugely profitable sell-off

Toronto Blue Jays (50-1)
Tampa Bay Rays (75-1)
Baltimore Orioles (80-1)

We're into the group of teams for which success will most likely be strangely defined and hard to predict. If Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez throw 380 innings with a combined ERA below 3.00, it's probably a successful season in Toronto. If Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy do something like that, it's probably a successful season in Baltimore. If Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon both stay healthy for the Rays -- well, OK, scrap that.

But all three teams are teetering between bad enough to trade and good enough to try, and no matter which way the season tips, success will depend on each team's star: Manny Machado, a pending Orioles free agent; Josh Donaldson, a pending Blue Jays free agent; and Chris Archer, who has been on the trade market long enough to seem stale.

Donaldson could win the MVP award. Machado could win the MVP award. Archer could win the Cy Young Award. In which case each could push an overachieving team into the playoffs. But more likely, each could bring a package of prospects back in a franchise-revitalizing July trade. Either way.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Make the playoffs

  • Get at least two star performances from young hitters or the new manager

  • Add another very good player under club control at the trade deadline

Philadelphia Phillies (75-1)

Of all the teams that have been rebuilding over the past couple of years, the Phillies look like the surest bet to follow the Astros and Cubs to the World Series. They've graduated young prospects into semi-stardom (Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola), they've got one of the top five farm systems in baseball, they've got tons of payroll flexibility and they've begun adding very good veterans. They were the youngest team in the league last year, and they weren't even that bad. The Cubs and Astros won 73 and 70 games, respectively, in 2014; they won 97 and 86 in 2015, each making the playoffs and blowing past their projections. It's not outlandish.

The Phillies project to be around a .500 team this season. Like the Cubs and Astros, they could jump ahead of schedule and compete this year, especially after adding Jake Arrieta late in the winter. If they don't, they probably just have to make sure nothing breaks, and they'll head into next season as the trendy pick -- especially if the Nationals take big losses in the offseason.

Accomplish two of the following:

  • Win 83-plus games, play meaningful contests in the final 10 days of the season

  • Have an identifiable "core four" by the end of the year

  • Get unexpectedly big returns at the trade deadline

Oakland A's (125-1)
Pittsburgh Pirates (125-1)

Both teams' odds took hits over the offseason (the A's started at 80-1, Pirates at 75-1), but neither team is hopelessly bad: The PECOTA projection system, for instance, has the A's winning 76 games (ahead of the Rangers) and the Pirates winning 78 (same as the Rockies). Last year's Twins and Diamondbacks were each projected to win 78 and they each made the playoffs. And both teams have at least a handful of guys who have either been stars in the recent past (Starling Marte), looked like they were maybe turning into stars in the recent past (Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon) or played like stars for extended periods in the recent past (Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, maybe kind of Sean Manaea and Josh Bell). You have to squint to see four great players on either of these teams, but you don't have to squint so hard that your eyes hurt.

Or they'll be bad -- each team has, after all, traded away its ace pitcher in the past nine months. It's not likely either team will be really good or really bad, which makes it not likely either team's season will look productive in retrospect, but it's possible.

Accomplish two of the following

  • Win 82 games, play meaningful contests in the final two weeks of the season

  • Have one of the NL's top five offenses

  • Find three starters with league-average ERAs to throw a combined 500 innings

Cincinnati Reds (125-1)

The Reds had the fifth- or sixth-best offense in the NL last year, with breakouts from Scott Schebler (30 homers), Scooter Gennett (27) and Eugenio Suarez (26). They had the worst pitching staff. No pitcher topped 125 innings, and of the 14 who threw at least 50 innings only three were better than average. Given another year of uncompetitive baseball to audition pitchers, pick up other teams' discarded scraps, be patient with young arms and develop prospects, it's not unrealistic that they will find three decent, reliable starters to build around. At which point they'll just have to hope the 2017 offense wasn't a collective fluke.

Accomplish four of the following:

  • 28-year-old former prospect signed to minor league deal hits 26 homers

  • Top draft pick from June 2017 torches High-A, becomes top-20 prospect

  • Top draft pick in June 2018 torches rookie ball, becomes top-20 prospect

  • Live arm picked up in forgotten deal two years ago adds a bunch of velocity, becomes very good setup reliever

  • Manager fired midseason, team catches fire, plays above .500 after that

  • Make playoffs, shock whole world

  • First baseman wins the Home Run Derby (dad pitching to him)

  • Veteran signed to eat innings unexpectedly has winning record on July 31 and is traded

  • Somebody young does something good, everybody agrees you Won That Trade

  • Top rookie finishes second in ROY voting, signs below-market five-year extension with three club options

Atlanta Braves (150-1)
Chicago White Sox (40-1)
San Diego Padres (150-1)

The nice thing about being young, having no burden of expectations and not really caring about right now is having about a million different places for success to bloom. None of these three teams has needs so defined or immediate as to be limiting; if three players break out and they're all second basemen, hey, whatever, there's time to figure out the playing time later. Heck, "success" might be another team's left fielder getting hurt, forcing it to overpay in trade for yours. The Braves could call this season successful with a Dansby Swanson rebound, Brandon McCarthy staying healthy until the trade deadline, Ozzie Albies being one of the five Final Vote All-Star selections and half a dozen prospects moving steadily toward maturity. The Padres could call this season successful with a reassuringly strong Eric Hosmer campaign, one fewer walk per nine from Dinelson Lamet, Brad Hand dominating until the trade deadline and half a dozen prospects moving steadily toward maturity. The White Sox could call this season successful with 80 walks from Yoan Moncada, a 94 mph average fastball from Lucas Giolito, James Shields pitching well until the trade deadline and half a dozen prospects moving steadily toward maturity. Or any of a hundred other possibilities.

The bad thing about being young, having no burden of expectations and not really caring about right now is that none of these successes means anything you readily can hold in your hands.

Accomplish one of the following:

  • Have at least one player a young fan can love

  • I guess make the playoffs?

Detroit Tigers (100-1)
Miami Marlins (300-1)

Everything the Tigers and Marlins do this year will be sad, the product ugly, the philosophy underneath it uncomfortably crass. Lots of things will happen that will nudge up their chances of being good in 2020 or 2021, but the rewards are so far off -- not even "wait 'til next year" -- and uncertain that it'll be hard to be emotionally moved by them. A Tigers fan will tune in to the first pitch of the season, see it delivered by a pitcher coming off a 6.08 ERA, and rightly wonder about the wisdom of dedicating 486 hours to watching what happens to this team next. Neither the Marlins nor Tigers will likely emerge from this season with anything we're likely to call "success." But the very least they must do, the bar that every team that takes up one of the 30 spots in a space-limited league must clear, is to give the fans somebody to love.

Tough start. But the season is long.