Dodgers at No. 30?! Ranking every MLB team by how much it has improved

Sports

If we think of the lockout that has mostly shut down baseball’s offseason as a holiday break, it’s not so bad, right?

For a couple of weeks at the end of November and into the first day of December, the transaction wire was buzzing. Then: Nothing. The upside is that with 40-man rosters in hibernation, it gives us plenty of opportunity to pick apart what’s happened so far and suggest what needs to happen when baseball’s machinery starts rolling again. It’s like handing out mid-term grades.

For today’s stock watch, we’re handing out those grades based on one criterion: How much has each team’s chances to win a pennant in 2022 changed since the offseason began? Using this criterion makes for some wild-looking rankings, but it’s good to mix things up once in a while.

The teams that fare the best are the aggressors. Teams that do the worst are the contending teams that have mostly sat on their hands thus far during the offseason. When a team adds a good player, it adds to their pennant chances, but those chances must come out of someone else’s bucket. Thus, a good team (like the Dodgers) that hasn’t done much is going to see their chances erode.

Above all else, remember that these are but mid-term snapshots, not the last word on the offseason. For every team, when the lockout ends, there is time to fix what is broken, but also to break what has been fixed.


Midterm grade: A
Beginning pennants: 472 (out of 10,000 simulations run Nov. 4) | Current pennants: 1,778 (out of 10,000 simulations run Dec. 2)
Change: 1,306 pennants | Wins baseline: 94.3

What’s changed: The Mets have won the offseason so far by throwing around big money in free agency, adding Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte to their position group. Also: New York created a Hall of Fame one-two rotation punch by signing Max Scherzer to pair with Jacob deGrom. In doing all this, the Mets’ pennant chances have increased more than 3 1/2 times.

What’s left to do: The Mets need to add pitching depth, as there is a lot of injury history in the projected rotation. New York also needs to figure out what role, if any, 39-year-old Robinson Cano will play in 2022 when he returns from a PED suspension.


Midterm grade: A
Beginning pennants: 888 | Current pennants: 1,191
Change: 303 | Wins baseline: 91.7

What’s changed: The Blue Jays’ initial glimpse did not include Kevin Gausman in their rotation. Now it does. The Jays also added a key bullpen arm in Yimi Garcia.

What’s left to do: It’s really all gravy from here. Like every team, Toronto needs to add pitching depth, particularly in the rotation. Some might see a closer as a need, though I like Jordan Romano in that role just fine. Mostly Toronto can just keep probing the top of the remaining free-agent list for that one additional splash that could put them over the top in the tough AL East.


Midterm grade: A
Beginning pennants: 2,308 | Current pennants: 2,531
Change: 223 | Wins baseline: 96.9

What’s changed: The Astros’ have signed high-leverage reliever Hector Neris, but this grade is mostly based on signing Justin Verlander to return to the rotation after a brief stay on the free-agent rolls. That deal was mysteriously in limbo until Monday, when it was finally approved by MLB. Because Verlander was on Houston’s injured list during its run to the World Series in 2021, it’s hard to think of this as an outside acquisition. In effect, it is, and it’s one of the most impactful ones of the offseason so far — if Verlander even approaches his pre-injury level of productivity.

What’s left to do: Address the shortstop position. While bringing back Carlos Correa currently looks like a longshot, something needs to be done. That’s true even if the Astros believe prospect Jeremy Pena is ready to hold down the everyday role at that position. They need some veteran coverage in case that doesn’t work out.


Midterm grade: B+
Beginning pennants: 238 | Current pennants: 350
Change: 112 | Wins baseline: 84.3

What’s changed: Angels have added to their pitching staff, signing starters Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen, along with relievers Aaron Loup and Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias, of course, was one of the Angels’ own free agents but his return is huge as he was easily the top reliever on the market.

What’s left to do: Add more pitching. More than they think they need. The Angels have made strides but that wins baseline is still middling.


Midterm grade: B+
Beginning pennants: 1,363 | Current pennants: 1,472
Change: 109 | Wins baseline: 93.7

What’s changed: Not much, really. Keep in mind that the initial simulations were based on rosters after players on expiring deals hit free agency, so the Braves’ roster was already missing Freddie Freeman, Jorge Soler, et al. They signed Kirby Yates, who isn’t likely to help the Braves until later in the 2022 season, or even 2023 if his recovery from surgery lags. They signed a quality second catcher in Manny Pina. Still, it’s been mostly wheel-spinning for the champs. They gained pennant chances because they enjoyed a small uptick in the betting markets. The most likely explanation for that is that it now appears the door is open for Marcell Ozuna to play a full season in 2022, whereas that was still in doubt at the end of the World Series.

What’s left to do: They need to re-sign Freeman, first and foremost. As for Ozuna, do the Braves want to bring him back? If not, can they find a taker for him?


Midterm grade: B-
Beginning pennants: 256 | Current pennants: 330
Change: 74 | Wins baseline: 83.8

What’s changed: St. Louis added starter Steven Matz, who adds some certainty to the rotation. The Cardinals also brought back free-agent reliever T.J. McFarland. That’s enough to boost St. Louis’ chances in a division in which the bar for success isn’t that high.

What’s left to do: The Cardinals could really position themselves in their battle with the Brewers in the NL Central by upgrading at shortstop and by adding one more impact starting pitcher. The former could be accomplished by a splashy free-agent signing, while the latter might have to come via trade.


Midterm grade: C+
Beginning pennants: 420 | Current pennants: 468
Change: 48 | Wins baseline: 86.1

What’s changed: There are a few teams, like the Rays, Giants and Brewers, who might get a bump if we made some kind of adjustment based on persistent organizational overachievement. The Rays have a deep well of young talent in their system and so have been more active traders than most teams to create roster flexibility. They did sign veteran starter Corey Kluber and reliever Brooks Raley.

What’s left to do: The Rays don’t necessarily need to trade franchise stalwart Kevin Kiermaier, but with a number contending teams needing help in center field, this might be the right offseason to do so. Beyond that, the Rays could look for a DH type with a power bat to fill the role occupied by Nelson Cruz during the stretch run of the 2021 season. Or maybe they just bring back Cruz.


Midterm grade: C+
Beginning pennants: 22 | Current pennants: 51
Change: 29 | Wins baseline: 74.9

What’s changed: Everyone knows the Mariners have all sorts of red flags for regression based on their record last year in close games and how far they outstripped their expected record based on run differential. That’s reflected in their wins baseline. They have more than doubled their pennant chances by adding Adam Frazier via trade and signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray.

What’s left to do: If the Mariners are serious about near-term contention, they need to be aggressive in the pursuit of another impact bat. They could accommodate one pretty much at any position, including DH. The range of possibilities should include a high-end signing like Kris Bryant, or a more short-term candidate like Cruz. And more starting pitching.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 0 | Current pennants: 20
Change: 20 | Wins baseline: 73.7

What’s changed: We now begin our slog through teams that have added enough to improve their chances but haven’t quite reached the tipping point where they look like right-now contenders on paper. The Rangers have spent a ton of money, adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Kole Calhoun and Jon Gray. In doing so, they’ve upgraded the three-word description of their 2022 outlook from “absolutely no chance” to “you never know.” Still, these signings are long-term plays.

What’s left to do: The Rangers right now have one of the bleakest-looking bullpen depth charts in the majors. Texas didn’t spend all this money to set itself up for a string of dispiriting late-inning losses. The Rangers need to get on that.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 2 | Current pennants: 14
Change: 12 | Wins baseline: 73.0

What’s changed: Teams whose end-of-season records weren’t really great indicators of their going-forward projection include the Tigers, with the Giants and Mariners also fitting that broad description. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Detroit has been aggressive, adding shortstop Javier Baez and starter Eduardo Rodriguez. It’s a start.

What’s left to do: The Tigers’ biggest chance for quick progress is tied directly to the development of their young players. With that in mind, they need to target role players who can serve as stopgap performers while cementing the roster as the prospects arrive and mature. Continuing to build bullpen depth in support of the talented young rotation would be a great place to start in that quest.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 20 | Current pennants: 30
Change: 10 | Wins baseline: 74.5

What’s changed: The Marlins have targeted position player upgrades thus far. They signed free agent Avisail Garcia to a four-year deal via free agency. They traded for underrated Joey Wendle to hold down a utility role. And they changed starting catchers, acquiring Gold Glover Jacob Stallings from Pittsburgh and dealing away Jorge Alfaro.

What’s left to do: When the lockout ends, we should know if the NL will be adopting the designated hitter, as expected. And when that happens, Miami needs to pounce on a power bat, either for that new role or to play first base and bump Jesus Aguilar to DH. The Marlins also need to collect relievers who can support a dynamic mix of young starting pitchers who, as a group, represent the Marlins’ best chances for a breakout in 2022.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 21 | Current pennants: 29
Change: 8 | Wins baseline: 73.1

What’s changed: The Royals signed reliever Taylor Clarke and that’s all.

What’s left to do: Not much. The Royals’ 2022 season will be about maximizing the development of their youngest big leaguers and those poised to join them from within. As with the Tigers and Marlins, the Royals need to add to their bullpen mix to strengthen the support for their young rotation. A veteran starter to join the mix would be worth exploring as well.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 10 | Current pennants: 16
Change: 6 | Wins baseline: 76.4

What’s changed: San Francisco has improved its win baseline since the start of the offseason, but the projection systems and the betting markets still see the Giants as middle-of-the-pack despite their franchise record 107 wins last season. They added three starting pitchers to multiyear deals (Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani) and also brought back long-time first baseman Brandon Belt.

What’s left to do: The Giants look like a club that really needs one or two bats for the middle of the order. But perhaps their model disagrees, and last year, San Francisco demonstrated that its model is a heck of a lot better than mine.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 47 | Current pennants: 50
Change: 3 | Wins baseline: 76.0

What’s changed: The Twins figured to improve on paper even with very little roster change simply from statistical regression after so many down seasons among their players in 2021. That’s reflected in a wins baseline that is more middle-of-the-pack than cellar-dwelling. Minnesota added free-agent starter Dylan Bundy to a rotation mix that was previously mostly devoid of big-league track record.

What’s left to do: Add more veteran starting pitchers. A bunch of them.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 1 | Current pennants: 3
Change: 2 | Wins baseline: 66.0

What’s changed: The Pirates have targeted veteran role players who can provide some present-term roster integrity and, possibly, some midseason trade value. Free-agent catcher Roberto Perez will take over the starting job after Pittsburgh traded Stallings. Jose Quintana adds experience to the pitching staff. And Yoshi Tsutsugo is a needed corner position bat.

What’s left to do: More of the same.


Midterm grade: C
Beginning pennants: 2 | Current pennants: 2
Change: 0 | Wins baseline: 66.1

What’s changed: The Diamondbacks signed veteran closer Mark Melancon, one of the more surprising developments of the early offseason. They also acquired outfielder Jordan Luplow in a trade with Tampa Bay.

What’s left to do: If Arizona fancies itself as a candidate to return to relevancy after a 110-loss collapse in 2021, it’ll need to add power to a lineup that as of now doesn’t have much. If a longer-term patch job seems to be in order, then the Diamondbacks have to sift through suitors for Ketel Marte, one of the more alluring trade candidates in the majors.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 2 | Current pennants: 1
Change: -1 | Wins baseline: 65.2

What’s changed: Beyond some contract machinations with their own players, the Rockies have stood pat since the offseason began.

What’s left to do: Pick a direction? The Rockies’ offensive outlook is dire — well beyond the scope of contention. But are they trying to fix that for a near-term push? Is the focus on building a new foundation? Right now, it’s hard to tell.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 4 | Current pennants: 0
Change: -4 | Wins baseline: 64.8

What’s changed: The simulator thought the Orioles had a non-zero chance at a pennant when the offseason began, then self-corrected in the latest run of probabilities. The Orioles signed pitcher Jordan Lyles and infielder Rougned Odor, both of whom they might be able to trade at midseason if they put up some numbers.

What’s left to do: The Orioles picked their direction a long time ago and there is no point in not seeing it through. This means continuing to deal present value for future value until a foundation of internally developed talent starts to firm up at the big-league level. Thus, Baltimore can explore trading quality veterans like John Means and Cedric Mullins.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 8 | Current pennants: 3
Change: -5 | Wins baseline: 69.0

What’s changed: Nothing the Cubs have done thus far has really made a dent in what looks like an uninspired outlook for 2022. They’ve added Wade Miley and Marcus Stroman to the rotation and signed veteran catcher Yan Gomes to help out starter Willson Contreras behind the plate. That is, unless Gomes was signed to clear the way for dealing Contreras.

What’s left to do: Signings like Stroman, at the very least, secure a roster spot for multiple seasons, if you think of it as a one-down-25-to-go proposition. The Cubs can continue to look for multi-season veterans in the market and other targeted signings. The problem is that Chicago traded away its foundation and its moves right now look a lot more like mortar than bricks.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 81 | Current pennants: 71
Change: -10 | Wins baseline: 76.5

What’s changed: Fringe stuff. Cleveland declined a club option on catcher Roberto Perez, making him a free agent, and it gets less exciting from there.

What’s left to do: Let’s face it, the Guardians aren’t going to do anything drastic. The pitching remains solid with the upside of much better than that. Cleveland would benefit from another veteran hitter or two, preferably with good on-base profiles.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 28 | Current pennants: 13
Change: -15 | Wins baseline: 71.5

What’s changed: At the mid-term, you have teams that grade well because they’ve been aggressive in free agency. And you have teams spinning their wheels because they reside in the middle and haven’t done anything to change that. And you have contenders who have thus far not done much and so have lost ground relative to contenders who have added to their rosters. What we haven’t had yet this offseason is a team that has launched into a full-on rebuild by trading away good players for players who might be good someday. The Athletics seem to be the most likely team to take that route, but so far, it’s been more a rumored thing than an actual development. Oakland has mostly been waiting around, save for a trade for Rays pitcher Brent Honeywell Jr., a former top prospect whose career has been sidetracked by injury.

What’s left to do: The degree to which tanking becomes an alluring strategy is largely dependent on the collective bargaining agreement, and since we don’t have one of those, it’s hard to suggest what Oakland needs to do. Maybe it’ll turn out that hanging onto young established players like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman will be the way to go.


Midterm grade: C-
Beginning pennants: 22 | Current pennants: 5
Change: -17 | Wins baseline: 71.4

What’s changed: The Nationals have signed Alcides Escobar to an extension and Cesar Hernandez to a one-year free-agent contract. That’s the projected starting middle infield, at present, for the 2022 Nationals. Who could have predicted that a year ago?

What’s left to do: The Nationals need a couple of options for the back end of their rotation. Another high-leverage reliever or three would help a club that is looking to avoid a long-term rebuild which might alienate franchise cornerstone Juan Soto.


Midterm grade: D
Beginning pennants: 139 | Current pennants: 81
Change: -58 | Wins baseline: 77.8

What’s changed: The Reds lost Nick Castellanos since the original run of simulations, as he opted out of his contract to become a free agent. (After then receiving and rejecting a qualifying offer.) Cincinnati also traded catcher Tucker Barnhart to Detroit. They haven’t done much to replace that lost value as of yet.

What’s left to do: The Reds are another team reportedly looking to streamline payroll, but losing Castellanos may accomplish that goal by itself. The pitching is still good, and the Reds could use a shortstop and center fielder to solidify the defense in support of the mound men.


Midterm grade: D-
Beginning pennants: 2,813 | Current pennants: 2,725
Change: -88 | Wins baseline: 97.7

What’s changed: With the Yankees, we begin the tour of strong teams that have lost ground so far in the offseason but can make it up quickly once they switch into acquisition mode. Fans of all these teams have already gotten antsy, with New York followers leading the way. Most of what the Yankees have done so far is to clear roster space.

What’s left to do: The Yankees need to add to their starting rotation. A splash at shortstop would help assuage their impatient fan base. And they have to mix things up at catcher, right?


Midterm grade: D-
Beginning pennants: 335 | Current pennants: 242
Change: -93 | Wins baseline: 83.7

What’s changed: The Phillies’ primary acquisition thus far is reliever Corey Knebel. The loss in pennant chances has less to do with Philly’s inactivity than it does with the aggression of the Mets in the same division.

What’s left to do: Lots, but the Phillies still have a contention-worthy foundation. The Phillies need a center fielder and, ideally, a defensive upgrade at shortstop. A left fielder would help as well, especially if the DH is added to the NL, as Philly needs more depth in general. Finally, the Phillies need to add significantly to their pitching depth.


Midterm grade: F
Beginning pennants: 1,126 | Current pennants: 981
Change: -145 | Wins baseline: 93.1

What’s changed: In Luis Garcia, Nick Martinez and Robert Suarez, the Padres have made three out-of-the-box additions to the pitching staff. But they also lost Melancon, who declined a player option, and traded away Frazier to Seattle.

What’s left to do: Given better health, the Padres are poised to be the team everyone thought they’d be last season. But the back of the bullpen needs to be upgraded.


Midterm grade: F
Beginning pennants: 647 | Current pennants: 384
Change: -263 | Wins baseline: 85.1

What’s changed: Boston has mostly made moves on the margins so far, declining club options on pitcher Martin Perez and Garrett Richards, and trading Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee for old friend Jackie Bradley Jr.

What’s left to do: Assuming the Red Sox don’t re-sign Kyle Schwarber, they could really use another impact bat. More starting pitching depth is a must. And a high-leverage reliever or two is needed.


Midterm grade: F
Beginning pennants: 2,481 | Current pennants: 2,103
Change: -378 | Wins baseline: 94.8

What’s changed: The way the projection systems see it, since the last run of simulations, the White Sox have chosen Leury Garcia over Cesar Hernandez to start at second base. That’s an on-paper loser, though neither answer is really the right one. The White Sox signed Kendall Graveman to help in the bullpen.

What’s left to do: The key number for the White Sox is the wins projection, because it puts them far out in front of everyone else in their division. Still, as strong as Chicago looks, the White Sox are well positioned to upgrade at two spots: second base and right field.


Midterm grade: F
Beginning pennants: 1,395 | Current pennants: 1,005
Change: -390 | Wins baseline: 90.3

What’s changed: The Brewers could staff an independent league with all the players who they’ve signed to minor-league contracts. They traded Bradley Jr. for Renfroe, presumably to account for the loss of Avisail Garcia.

What’s left to do: The Brewers look like the favorite in the NL Central as constituted. They have an elite pitching staff and strong team defense to support it. However, if the NL adds the DH, Milwaukee could improve its outlook considerably with an impact hitter who wouldn’t affect the fielding projection. Nelson Cruz and Nick Castellanos are the type of hitters who would fit.


Midterm grade: F
Beginning pennants: 4,849 | Current pennants: 4,051
Change: -798 | Wins baseline: 104.7

What’s changed: Perhaps the best excuse for using this methodology for ordering teams in this stock watch is that for once, we get to list the Dodgers in last place rather than first. And, to be sure, it hasn’t been a banner offseason so far. On the positive side, Chris Taylor was brought back into the fold, while Daniel Hudson and Andrew Heaney agreed to one-year deals to join the pitching staff. But it’s hard not to think about the Dodgers’ offseason without the first thought being that Scherzer and Seager signed elsewhere.

What’s left to do: The story for the Dodgers is usually that they can lay in wait to target the handful of players who are actually good enough to upgrade their roster. And they’ll do that again. But this time around, the Dodgers do have a real need to add to their rotation, whether or not they end up bringing back Clayton Kershaw. Of course, you may have noticed that a lot of teams need rotation help, and there is only so much starting pitching to go around. So when the lockout ends, L.A. better move fast.