Lately, we’ve seen several teams such as the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago Cubs complete extreme rebuilds to win it all. Due to the way the system is currently constructed, losing (and losing big) rewards teams with high draft picks and more money to spend on talent. With the success of these teams, others have begun to follow the blueprint to lose a ton now to win a bunch in the future. Out of all the teams likely out of the 2018 playoff picture, let’s explore which ones might be the first to complete their rebuild and add a World Series title to their trophy case.
Going for it
Before we explore who is out of the race, we must establish who is going for it in 2018. We can safely count all the playoff teams from last year as contenders next year: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Twins, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. Based on the moves of the Angels, Brewers, Cardinals, and Giants this off-season, I would consider them amongst the groups actively trying to get a playoff spot next year. I will also consider the Mets and Mariners amongst this group as well, as even though right now they seem on the outside of the picture, it’s not impossible to see either team sneaking into a wild card spot.
Somewhere in the middle
There are a few teams that probably aren’t good enough to find their way to the post-season, but aren’t completely rebuilding. The Texas Rangers are a team that probably should be rebuilding, but as long as they have Adrian Beltre, they can’t. They have some interesting young pieces in Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara having already established everyday roles in the majors, their middle infield is still on the right side of 30, and Baseball America (BA) ranked two of their prospects amongst the Top 100 in the game. They are closer to completing their rebuild than most other teams I will consider, so I will exclude them from the conversation.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in a similar position. They are more just waiting for their top prospects to graduate than they are rebuilding. At the big league level they have ace pitcher Marcus Stroman, young closer Roberto Osuna, and promising righty Aaron Sanchez, who is looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2017. Add in two of BA’s top ten prospects, and four of the top 100, the Blue Jays are in an enviable position. Ownership has shown a willingness to spend in the past, and they seem primed to become a third AL East juggernaut within the next two to three years.
Finally, I would consider the Orioles in this category as well. Even though they should pretty obviously rebuild, they seem like they will take one last run with Manny Machado and….Andrew Cashner? They have a ton of money committed in a redundant roster and have a weak farm system, but for now seem stuck in the middle. Regardless, fast forward a year, and the Orioles will be considered a rebuilding team.
So after narrowing the list, we are left with the following as obvious rebuilding teams: the Rays, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, A’s, Marlins, Braves, Phillies, Reds, Pirates, and Padres. Out of these teams, we rank the following as the most likely to win the World Series first:
1.) Atlanta Braves
The Braves have done a masterful job of acquiring talent, and much of it is just about ready to graduate to the big leagues. Atlanta boasts the top prospect in the game, outfielder Ronald Acuna, as well as seven additional BA top 100 prospects. Of those other seven prospects, six of them are pitchers. At the big league level, they have established core pieces Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, and Sean Newcomb in place. Acuna is likely to become a regular before the end of 2018, and infielders Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Johan Camargo will also have a chance to solidify big league spots this season.
Armed with a new ballpark, a winning tradition, money coming off the books, and talent oozing from every direction, the Braves are in the best position of all rebuilding clubs. They are stacked with young pitching, the most valuable commodity in the game, and will be involved in every big name that becomes available on the trade market in the near future. They also figure to be interested in big names during next year’s loaded free agent class.
If everything goes as planned, the Braves could realistically hope for their World Series window to begin to open in 2019. With any luck it will remain wide for a good part of the next decade. That is especially true if they can land some marquee free agents or major trade targets to fill out the roster. Worst-case scenario for contention is likely 2020, but winning is right around the corner for Braves fans.
2.) Chicago White Sox
No team has acquired more talent in the last 12-18 months than the Chicago White Sox. Following a series of trades, including blockbusters involving Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have accelerated their timeline considerably. They boast five of the top 100 prospects according to BA, two of which are amongst the top 10-15 in baseball.
At the big league level, they have pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer looking to force their way into the team’s long-term plans. LHP Carlos Rodon has ace potential if he could ever find a way to stay on the mound. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia remain on the roster, and could be used at the deadline to net further prospects. Infielder Tim Anderson took a step back last year, but still remains an interesting long-term piece.
The biggest factor in all of this is second baseman Yoan Moncada. I feel like prospect fatigue has begun to set in with Moncada, as we have been hearing his name for years and haven’t seen instant stardom in the majors. Maybe Moncada won’t reach the Robinson Cano projections set on him as a teenager, but he is just now establishing himself in the majors, and his power, speed, and defense skill set could have us talking about him as one of the top 25 players in the game a year from now.
I considered ranking the Sox as low as fifth, but settled on second because their path to a division title is the easiest going forward amongst the remaining teams on the list. The Indians remain a powerhouse for now, but their window may only last another couple years. The Twins will challenge the White Sox for next-in-line, but the Sox boast enviable minor league depth, potential on the big league roster, and still tradeable assets that could make them a serious contender by 2020 if they hit big on their top guys.
3.) Cincinnati Reds
I wanted to rank the Reds higher than this, but their path to a playoff spot goes through the Cubs, Brewers, and even the Cardinals going forward, and that is not going to be easy. However, I remain bullish on the Reds and believe they are closer than people realize.
I am fully aboard the “Luis Castillo is becoming an ace” train, and believe he could reach that point this year. If he does, he gives the Reds the clear top of the rotation starter that the other teams above them on this list can’t match at this time. 2017 #2 overall pick Hunter Greene could settle into the second spot in the rotation in the next few years. Anthony DeScalfani missed all of 2017, but showed promise before his injury. Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan have some potential, though their ultimate role may land in the bullpen. Raisel Iglesias showed promise as the Reds long-term closer.
On the offensive side, Joey Votto is still ridiculously good and many feel he may age better than most players. Tucker Barnhart just won his first gold glove and gives the Reds a solid backstop. Eugenio Suarez is one of the most underrated players in baseball, and the Reds could either to build around him or deal for him substantial return. Infielder Nick Senzel is one of the top 10 prospects in the game, and should make the majors before long. Outfielder Taylor Trammell is probably not far behind.
It depends on how fast Greene, Senzel, and Trammell reach the majors, but the Reds should be looking at 2020 to begin to get into the conversation for a playoff spot. 2021 looks more likely for a serious World Series run, but if they can develop their pitchers, an early arrival could end up surprising many. I would love to see the Reds solidify their pitching staff in the meantime, and possibly take advantage of free agent pitchers with dropping contract demands.
4.) San Diego Padres
Perhaps the Padres should be ranked higher. However, their big league roster is more of a mess than anyone on this list, and for that reason I have them ranked fourth. They possess more top 100 prospects (six) than the White Sox and Reds (each with five), four of which ranked in the top 35 in all of baseball, according to BA. Needless to say, they have as much, if not more, high potential talent than any rebuilding squad.
Infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. was a brilliant get in the James Shields trade a few years ago, and ranks amongst the best prospects in the game. Cal Quantrill and MacKenzie Gore have top of the rotation arsenals, and Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon should be rotation pieces long-term as well. San Diego has been aggressive in the Rule 5 draft in recent years, and has added interesting pieces in RHP Luis Perdomo and C Luis Torrens, among other players, in the process.
In the majors, the Padres just signed Eric Hosmer, which probably moved them further away from contention than closer (joking, kind of). Wil Myers is a redundant fit with Hosmer, and the Padres probably hope to re-establish his value this year to swap him out next winter. All-Star closer Brad Hand just signed an extension, and will likely be around for the next contending Padres club. Catcher Austin Hedges bat finally began to catch up last year. Outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are still finding their way into regular roles. The club essentially paid $13 million for Bryan Mitchell earlier this winter, so they surely hope he will earn rotation spot this spring.
Bottom line, the Padres have some interesting pieces in the majors, but nothing compared to the teams ranked above them on this list. They do, however, boast some of the highest collection of big-potential prospects in the minors, and impressive depth to back those top guys up. Ideally, they would hope to begin to compete in 2020, but 2021-2022 might be the real beginning of their window. The Dodgers loom as a powerhouse, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants are competitive right now as well. However, high-end talent can make rebuilding teams come together fast, and the Padres now have $144 million reasons to believe they’re closer than people think.
5.) Philadelphia Phillies
While ranked last on this list now, I believe the Phillies could easily jump to the top of this list in the next year. Their ability to spend trumps those above them on this list, and they have just $42.4 million in committed money for 2019 (pre-arbitration). That number drops to $28.93 million in 2020, and $10.85 million in 2021 (this will go up if they reach an agreement with Jake Arrieta). They are a sleeping giant.
The Phillies have more than just deep pockets. Like the White Sox and Reds, they also have five of the top 100 prospects, according to BA. J.P. Crawford is probably the best of the bunch depending whose opinion you ask, and he reached the majors last year. Second baseman Scott Kingery is knocking on the door as well, and will be ready for his first extended look this year. Pitchers Sixto Sanchez, Franklyn Kilome, and Adonis Medina are a little bit further down the latter.
The Phillies have Odubel Herrera, who they got in the Rule 5 draft, as their everyday center fielder. Rhys Hoskins had a historic big league debut, and will play left field to make room for new first baseman Carlos Santana. Cesar Hernandez has established himself as a regular, but seems more like future trade bait right now. Maikel Franco will get one more chance to prove himself as a part of the Phillies future. Outfielders Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr had impressive seasons in 2017, and will have a chance to further impress the coaching staff this upcoming season. The fightin’s also have one of the best young pitchers in the game in Aaron Nola, and have several other young arms behind him with potential.
Overall, the Phillies have one of the better systems in the game, and have several established or interesting pieces in the majors. They will likely use next season to whittle through the infielders and outfielders they want to keep beyond 2018. The ones they deem expendable will likely be flipped for better fits for the roster in the near future. With little future obligations, the Phillies will likely be involved in all the big names in next years loaded free agent class. Combine their financial might, prospect depth, and emerging young players, and the Phillies could easily find themselves competing in 2019 if they can find the right pieces. If not, a 2020-2021 window would likely be the worst-case scenario, but the Phillies have the highest variability in both directions of anyone on this list.