2019 MLB Season Preview
We're rolling out our MLB preview content this week as we gear up for the 2019 season. Below, you can find our team-by-team preview capsules.
- 2019 MLB bold predictions
- Brodie Van Wagenen's path to the Mets front office
- Eight GM prospects to remember
- Top 20 Rookies
- Are the Twins this year's sleeper team?
- Top 100 Prospects
- MLB milestone watch
- Joey Votto Is Mr. OBP
2019 Team-by-Team Previews
*Click each team to go directly to that team's 2019 outlook. Capsules below are written by national writer Kyle Glaser and sorted by division and projected finish.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Strengths: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner all return in an elite outfield group, with Jacoby Ellsbury and onetime top prospect Clint Frazier also available if they can prove they’re past their injuries. The rotation received a boost with the trade for James Paxton and re-signing of J.A. Happ, and an elite bullpen became even better after Zack Britton re-signed and Adam Ottavino came aboard.
Team Weaknesses: At first base, Greg Bird continues to struggle to stay healthy and Luke Voit needs to prove last season wasn’t a fluke. At third base, Miguel Andujar needs to improve his defense. Even so, the Yankees’ weaknesses are stronger than nearly any other team’s.
What They Did About It: The Yankees improved their overall infield depth with the signings of Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu. In addition to helping the middle infield until Didi Gregorius returns, Tulowitzki and LeMahieu are capable of playing third base as well, allowing Andujar to shift to first base if Voit and Bird struggle.
Final Outlook: The Yankees took a 100-win team and made it stronger and deeper. The franchise’s first World Series appearance since 2009 is in play.
BOSTON RED SOX
Team Strengths: The homegrown outfield of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. remains arguably baseball’s best, while mashing designated hitter J.D. Martinez and every member of October’s starting rotation return as well.
Team Weaknesses: The Red Sox’s bullpen needed help from the starters to get through the postseason, and now setup man Joe Kelly and closer Craig Kimbrel departed as free agents. Homegrown relief successes Ryan Pressly, Alex Wilson and Jose Alvarez were all traded away early in their careers, limiting their in-house options.
What They Did About It: The Red Sox relied exclusively on minor signings to try improve their relief corps. Ryan Weber, Erasmo Ramirez and Carson Smith signed minor league deals, and Colten Brewer was acquired in a trade with the Padres. Jenrry Mejia, who was reinstated from his lifetime ban last summer and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, was to signed a minor league deal as well.
Final Outlook: The Red Sox’s bullpen has a lot of questions marks, but with mostly every major contributor to the lineup and starting rotation back, the defending champions should return to the postseason.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Strengths: While the "opener” earned headlines, the Rays' outfield was actually their strongest position group. Tampa Bay had the sixth-best outfield in MLB, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above-average, with Tommy Pham and a healthy Kevin Kiermaier making much of the impact. While Mallex Smith is gone, Austin Meadows should step in and drastically improve right field, the one weak link in the Rays’ outfield a year ago.
Team Weaknesses: The Rays finished 27th in the majors in home runs, then let leading home run hitter C.J. Cron go and traded second-leading returning home run hitter Jake Bauers. Developing power has long been a problem for the Rays' organization. Their last homegrown player to hit more than 20 home runs in a season was Evan Longoria, who was drafted in 2006.
What They Did About It: The Rays will rely on full seasons from Pham, Meadows and Willy Adames to supply power, while offseason acquisition Mike Zunino is coming off back-to-back 20-home run seasons and Avisail Garcia hit 19 a year ago. Rising prospect Nate Lowe has a clear path to either the first base or DH jobs, currently occupied by Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, and possesses the thump to give the Rays their first homegrown 20-home run hitter since Longoria.
Final Outlook: The Rays again have the pitching depth to replicate their success with the "opener.” Even so, Pham, Meadows and the rest need to live up to their offensive potential for 90 wins to happen again.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Strengths: Toronto finished fifth in the majors in home runs last season. While much of that power came with low averages and middling on-base percentages, those should improve with Danny Jansen taking over at catcher, the looming ascension of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and subtracting Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte.
Team Weaknesses: The Blue Jays had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball last year (4.85). The primary culprit was the starting rotation, which posted a 5.14 ERA as Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez struggled with injuries, J.A. Happ was traded and Marco Estrada declined. While the Blue Jays developed pitching well in the early part of the decade, the well has dried up. The Blue Jays selected a pitcher with their first-round pick in four straight drafts from 2013-16. None of the four are in the majors or rank among Toronto’s top 10 prospects.
What They Did About It: The Jays brought in declining veterans Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard to round out the rotation. There is depth beyond the starting five with Sean Reid-Foley and prospect acquisition Trent Thornton, but neither projects to be overly impactful in the rotation.
Final Outlook: The Blue Jays should have a solid offense, especially once Guerrero Jr. comes up, but the lack of arms means third place is likely their best-case scenario.
Team Strengths: The O’s bullpen has respectable arms in Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier and Paul Fry. Prospects Zach Pop and Cody Carroll, acquired in the Manny Machado and Zack Britton trades, respectively, have shown promise in relief as well.
Team Weaknesses: Orioles' starters had the worst ERA in the majors last year (5.48), and their offense wasn’t much better, finishing 27th in runs scored. There are some position players in the upper minors who can help, with top prospects Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays all having conquered Double-A, but the starting rotation will receive little from the farm.
What They Did About It: The Orioles didn’t sign a single free agent to a major league deal this offseason, instead opting to let their young players see more time. Chance Sisco, Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins will have the chance to prove they should be a part of the Orioles’ future, while Diaz, Hays and Mountcastle should get their shots at some point.
Final Outlook: The Orioles are in year one of a long rebuild. Avoiding 100 losses and seeing their young players take steps forward would represent a successful season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Team Strengths: Cleveland built the American League’s best rotation by acquiring Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger as prospects, and now there are homegrown arms to supplement them. Shane Bieber has ably stepped in with Danny Salazar addled by injuries, and No. 1 prospect Triston McKenzie may debut in 2019.
Team Weaknesses: Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer have not developed as hoped, leaving the Indians perilously short in the outfield. The group is now even lighter after Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall departed in free agency. A bullpen that had the majors’ fifth-worst ERA was also depleted by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen leaving.
What They Did About It: The Indians replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso at designated hitter and first base, respectively, with Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers, but that didn’t address the team’s primary shortcomings. Jordan Luplow and Daniel Johnson were their only outfield additions, and Nick Wittgren was their lone bullpen addition not on a minor league deal.
Final Outlook: The Indians are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, especially if Francisco Lindor’s calf injury lingers. Still, the overall weakness of the AL Central still makes them the favorite for a fourth straight division title.
Team Strengths: Even with the struggles of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, the Twins finished 13th in the majors in runs scored last year. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jake Cave led an underrated outfield, while Jorge Polanco continued to grow into a solid-hitting shortstop. The Twins added Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop in free agency, fixing a righthanded power shortage, as well as versatile utilityman Marwin Gonzalez.
Team Weaknesses: The Twins drafted and signed 21 pitchers in the top three rounds from 2008-15 and have just two starters to show for it. While Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are staples in the rotation, the struggles to develop further depth has left the Twins short of arms and contributed to a 4.50 ERA last season, 22nd in the majors.
What They Did About It: The Twins largely stayed in-house to address their pitching shortage. Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves and Kohl Stewart all made the debuts last year and have a chance to play larger roles this season. Michael Pineda, who signed last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, will make his Twins debut this year as well.
Final Outlook: Added power and greater pitching depth have the Twins in better position to compete than a year ago. Whether Sano and Buxton can find their 2017 form will go a long way toward determining if they challenge the Indians.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Strengths: The White Sox have an above-average bullpen for the first time in years, aided by the acquisition of Alex Colome and free agent signing of Kelvin Herrera. Combined with holdovers Juan Minaya, Jace Fry and Aaron Bummer, the White Sox stand to see major improvement from their relief corps.
Team Weaknesses: White Sox starters posted a 5.07 ERA last year (26th in MLB) and the offense scored 656 runs (24th), a dual presence at the bottom of baseball that resulted in the franchise’s first 100-loss season since 1970. Key players acquired in trades, namely Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, haven’t performed, while a run of subpar drafts this decade continues to haunt the club.
What They Did About It: The White Sox traded for Ivan Nova to help the pitching staff and Yonder Alonso to help the offense, and they also signed Jon Jay. The real help will come from the farm system when outfielder Eloy Jimenez and possibly righthander Dylan Cease arrive from the minors.
Final Outlook: The White Sox’s signings and looming farm system graduations give them a chance to take a step forward, but their margin for error is thin to avoid another 90-loss season.
Team Strengths: The Tigers boast the most starting pitching depth in the division outside of the Indians. Matt Boyd and Jordan Zimmermann hovered around league average last year, and Michael Fulmer is one of the American League’s best when healthy. Tyson Ross is coming off a bounceback year when he showed he can still be a fine starter. The No. 5 spot is unsettled, but having four average or better starters sets Detroit apart.
Team Weaknesses: Underrated standout Nicholas Castellanos was Detroit’s only above-average hitter a year ago, although Niko Goodrum and Christin Stewart showed promise late in the season. With that lack of offensive talent, the Tigers scored the fifth-fewest runs in MLB and had the fourth-lowest OPS.
What They Did About It: The Tigers have embraced a rebuild, so few moves were made. Miguel Cabrera was in the midst of a bounceback season last year before a ruptured biceps tendon ended his season, so his return could buoy the offense somewhat. Still, even if that happens and Stewart and Goodrum show they are for real, there will be a lot of holes in the Tigers lineup.
Final Outlook: The Tigers starting pitching makes a step forward possible after consecutive 64-98 seasons, but another top-10 draft pick appears likely in 2020.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Strengths: Whit Merrifield is one of baseball’s best second basemen and Adalberto Mondesi began to flash his potential at shortstop last season, giving the Royals two cornerstones to build around up the middle. Jorge Soler and Ryan O’Hearn provide promising power.
Team Weaknesses: After justifiably trading many of their top young pitching prospects in pursuit of a World Series (Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed), the Royals are understandably short of arms. They had the second-worst ERA in baseball last year, with both the rotation (4.89) and bullpen (5.04) responsible.
What They Did About It: Rather than address their pitching staff, the Royals acquired light-hitting, versatile types like Billy Hamilton and Chris Owings. Their pitching additions consisted of Homer Bailey and Michael Ynoa on minor league deals and Brad Boxberger and Kyle Zimmer on one-year major league deals.
Final Outlook: The Royals needed to rally to avoid 110 losses last year and are in a similar position this year. With the shape of their pitching staff, a second-straight top-five draft pick likely awaits in 2020.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Team Strengths: The Astros are second to none when it comes to homegrown position players, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer leading an offense that finished sixth in the majors in runs last year. They added Michael Brantley in free agency and have more bats on the way in prospects Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez.
Team Weaknesses: The Astros’ track record of developing homegrown pitching is shaky, and they won’t receive a boost from successes Dallas Keuchel (free agency) or Lance McCullers Jr. (Tommy John surgery) this year. They’ve been able to paper over that shortcoming with trades (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole), but the back of Houston’s rotation will be thin if none of prospects Josh James, Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin or J.B. Bukauskas can reverse the club’s track record of developing starters.
What They Did About It: The Astros signed Wade Miley to give their rotation some more depth after losing Keuchel and Charlie Morton in free agency. Still, one of the aforementioned prospects is going to have to step up if the Astros are to lead the majors in ERA, as they did last year.
Final Outlook: The Astros’ offensive firepower and top of the rotation should be enough to secure a third straight division title. How much their young pitchers chip in will determine how far they go in the postseason.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Strengths: With Mike Trout as the backbone flanked by Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton, the Angels had the fourth-best outfield in MLB last year as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average. That unit has a chance to get even more of a boost with the potential callup of top prospect Jo Adell, the next in line of great Angels homegrown outfielders that began with Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Garrett Anderson and Darin Erstad in the 1990s.
Team Weaknesses: The Angels were long one of the top organizations at drafting and developing pitchers, but they traded away most of their recent draft hits (Patrick Corbin, Sean Newcomb, Mike Clevinger) as prospects. With their remaining starters perpetually injured and their depth lacking due to such trades, the Angels finished 19th in ERA (4.15) last season.
What They Did About It: The Angels signed Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to bolster the back of their rotation, but more importantly the homegrown pitching pipeline is flowing again. Jaime Barria debuted last year and led the Angels in wins (10) and ERA (3.41) as a rookie, and Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez are poised to rise to Anaheim this year.
Final Outlook: With more depth than any time in recent memory, the Angels are in position to snap their skid of three consecutive losing seasons in Brad Ausmus’ first year as manager.
Team Strengths: The A’s have a long history of homegrown power hitters, from Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire to Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada to Matt Chapman and Matt Olson today. With Chapman, Olson and astute trade acquisitions Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty all back, the A’s return most of the lineup that finished third in home runs and fourth in runs scored last year. A relief corps that finished third in bullpen ERA is largely back as well.
Team Weaknesses: Injuries eviscerated the A’s starting rotation last year to the point that 13 different pitchers made at least five starts. They finished 17th in starter’s ERA (4.17) and will be without top starter Sean Manaea (shoulder) and midseason saviors Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson (free agency).
What They Did About It: The A’s re-signed Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson and brought in Marco Estrada in free agency to bolster the staff. Beyond them, the team will rely on pitchers it acquired as prospects—Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, Paul Blackburn— to step up. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo is waiting in the wings if they falter.
Final Outlook: The strength of Oakland’s offense and bullpen should keep the A’s competitive, but a lot is going to have to break right with their young starters to approach 97 wins again.
Team Strengths: The Mariners boast a formidable outfield with Mitch Haniger in right, speedy trade acquisition Mallex Smith in center and Domingo Santana, who had 30 home runs and an .875 OPS the last time he played every day, in left. The group should be an improvement over last year’s unit, which ranked a respectable 11th in MLB as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average.
Team Weaknesses: After Jerry Dipoto traded 55 prospects in his first three years as general manager, depth has long been non-existent for both the pitching staff and the infield. Ryon Healy at first base and Kyle Seager at third base ranked in the bottom two at their positions in OPS last season, while Dee Gordon, Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake have all declined as they've moved into their 30s.
What They Did About It: With no depth to call upon, Dipoto reversed course and embarked on a rebuild, trading James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Jean Segura primarily for prospects. Pitchers Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn and infielders J.P. Crawford and Shed Long may play in the majors this year, and the signing of Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi further bolsters the rotation.
Final outlook: The Mariners are in year one of a rebuild and won’t approach last year’s 89-73 record. If Sheffield, Crawford and the other young acquisitions prove ready sooner rather than later, they may have enough to avoid 90 losses.
Team Strengths: The Rangers have a strong core of international talent, which helped them finish 14th in the majors in runs scored last year. Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara and Elvis Andrus have struggled with consistency, but they’ve shown standout ability at their best.
Team Weaknesses: The Rangers drafted and signed 22 pitchers in the top five rounds from 2009-15. None has produced more than 1.0 career WAR. That longstanding failure to draft and develop arms has left the Rangers repeatedly short of pitching, and the result is a team that finished 28th in ERA last season.
What They Did About It: The Rangers signed a declining Lance Lynn and rounded out their rotation with two Tommy John recipients who haven’t pitched in over a year (Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly) and Shelby Miller, who has a 6.35 ERA the last three seasons wrapped around Tommy John surgery.
Final outlook: With a middle-of-the-pack offense, a bottom-tier pitching staff and little help on the way, new manager Chris Woodward will be challenged to avoid the franchise’s second-straight 90-plus loss season.
Marlins Find An Unlikely Keeper In Garrett Cooper
Garrett Cooper was on the verge of playing in Japan in 2017. Now, he finds himself as a key component to the rebuild in Miami.
Team Strengths: The Nationals’ rotation was already one of MLB’s best and improved further with the signings of Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson and the full return of Joe Ross from Tommy John surgery. The left side of the diamond is exceptional, with Anthony Rendon at third base, Trea Turner at shortstop and Juan Soto in left field.
Team Weaknesses: The Nationals have excelled at developing corner players, but up-the-middle positions have long needed to be filled by free agents or trades. The Nationals had the worst second base play in MLB and fourth-worst catching last year as measured Baseball Reference’s runs above average, and Michael Taylor’s struggles in center field contributed to the Nats’ outfield ranking in the bottom half of baseball despite the presence of Soto and Bryce Harper.
What They Did About It: The Nationals upgraded their problem areas, acquiring Yan Gomes and signing Kurt Suzuki to take care of the catching duties and signing Brian Dozier to take over for Wilmer Difo at second base. Center field, meanwhile, has been turned over to top prospect Victor Robles.
Final Outlook: The Nationals filled their holes and maintained or upgraded their strengths. With that, the Nats should be in the thick of the division title hunt.
Team Strengths: The Braves finished top-10 in both ERA and runs scored last season and appear even better on both sides. An offense that has stars in both the outfield (Ronald Acuna) and infield (Freddie Freeman) received a boost from Josh Donaldson. The starting staff runs eight deep with Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson all reaching the majors last year and capable of assuming larger roles behind Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran.
Team Weaknesses: The bullpen finished 17th in ERA last year (4.15) and showed its leaks in the playoffs. In all, Atlanta blew 20 saves and converted just two-thirds of its save chances.
What They Did About It: The Braves didn’t add any relievers in free agency but stand to get contributions from Darren O’Day, who didn’t pitch last year after being acquired in the Kevin Gausman trade. Perhaps more important, the group of young starters are all viable options in the bullpen as well.
Final Outlook: The Braves’ pitching depth sets it apart from the rest of the the division, and their balanced lineup should provide plenty of run support. The division will be brutally tough, but the Braves have the talent to defend their NL East crown.
Team Strengths: In the context of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies actually boast one of the better pitching staffs in baseball. Led by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta in the rotation and Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen, the Phillies had the third-best staff in MLB as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average. That group was further enhanced by the signing of reliever David Robertson and the acquisition of catcher J.T. Realmuto, whose athleticism and experience will further aid the staff.
Team Weaknesses: The Phillies were a mess defensively last year, largely because of players playing out of position. With those players struggling to learn new positions, both the team defense cratered and the individual players’ offense suffered to the point the Phillies ranked 22nd in the majors in runs despite their hitter-friendly park.
What They Did About It: The Phillies traded for a true shortstop in Jean Segura and shipped out Carlos Santana to open up first base for Rhys Hoskins, substantially upgrading both the infield and outfield defense in one move. Andrew McCutchen signed to take over in left field, another significant upgrade.
Final Outlook: The additions of Realmuto, Segura and Robertson had the Phillies in position to snap their streak of six straight losing seasons, and then they added Bryce Harper. Health and improved decision-making from management will determine if all the additions equal a postseason berth.
NEW YORK METS
Team Strengths: The Mets return their formidable rotation with Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz all coming back from the unit that finished sixth in starter’s ERA a year ago. The Mets’ homegrown outfield of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares has a chance to be a strength as well.
Team Weaknesses: The Mets struggled to develop infielders this decade and had little to turn to once David Wright, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy aged out or moved on. While they’ve excelled at developing starting pitchers, there have been few reliable relievers outside of Jeurys Familia. It came to a head last year as the Mets posted MLB’s third-worst bullpen ERA.
What They Did About It: New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen addressed the Mets’ problems head-on, acquiring Edwin Diaz and re-signing Familia for the bullpen and adding Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie and J.D. Davis to the infield, not to mention Wilson Ramos at catcher. Further improvement from Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil can further put the Mets’ infield development problems to bed, and mashing first baseman Pete Alonso awaits in the minors.
Final Outlook: The Mets have the talent to win the division. How healthy their talented but injury-prone rotation remains will determine if they actually do.
Team Strengths: Everything is relative for a team that has traded two MVPs, two other All-Stars and baseball’s best catcher in just over a calendar year. Starlin Castro was one of the top 10 second basemen in MLB last year and Brian Anderson proved he’s a keeper. That’s about it.
Team Weaknesses: Just about everything. The Marlins finished last in runs scored and 25th in ERA, with the worst bullpen ERA (5.34) in the game.
What They Did About It: In addition to trading J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins traded their best reliever in Kyle Barraclough and surprisingly designated Derek Dietrich for assignment. Spots are now open across the diamond for their acquired prospects to get acclimated to the majors and prove they belong. Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Nick Neidert and Zac Gallen all have shots to pitch in the rotation, Isan Diaz should get his first callup in the infield and Monte Harrison is primed to join the outfield mix.
Final Outlook: The Marlins avoided 100 losses last year. With the division getting better around them as they got worse, it will be tough to avoid the century mark again this year.
Team Strengths: The Cubs’ infield remains arguably the best in baseball, with Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and David Bote representing the six-deep group and Ian Happ able to play in the dirt too. With that infield leading the way, the Cubs finished in the top 10 in MLB in runs (9th), batting average (4th) and OPS (10th) last season. The pitching staff took heat, but the Cubs actually finished top 10 in ERA for both starters and relievers.
Team Weaknesses: The outfield is full of famous names, but they aren’t actually that productive. Albert Almora Jr. and Jason Heyward have been average or below hitters the last three seasons, while Kyle Schwarber’s bounceback year was good but not exceptional. As such, the Cubs' outfield finished a middling 16th in runs above average last year, as measured by Baseball-Reference.
What They Did About It: Daniel Descalso, another infielder, was the only position player free agent the Cubs signed. There’s no outfield help coming from a bottom-tier farm system, either.
Final Outlook: The Cubs largely stood by as the rest of the division got stronger. Still, there’s too much talent present to not win 90-plus games and make the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
Team Strengths: Reigning MVP Christian Yelich, all-star Lorenzo Cain and former MVP Ryan Braun are all back in the National League’s best outfield, as is key reserve Eric Thames. The relief corps that posted the fifth-best bullpen ERA is largely back too, led by Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.
Team Weaknesses: The Brewers have struggled to develop homegrown infielders or frontline starters, and it shows. The production they received from second base and shortstop last year was bottom 10 in MLB, while their lack of reliable starters forced them to use their bullpen to the extreme in the postseason.
What They Did About It: Mike Moustakas re-signed to help their infield depth. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, who primarily pitched out of the bullpen last year, are primed to rise to the rotation and end the Brewers’ drought of homegrown arms outside of Jimmy Nelson, who is also due back after he missed all of 2018 recovering from shoulder surgery.
Final Outlook: The Brewers brought back all their key pieces and added catcher Yasmani Grandal on top of it. The division got tougher around them, but they should remain in the playoff picture.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Strengths: Infielders Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong, all homegrown, are among the best at their positions, and now the Cardinals have added Paul Goldschmidt. They also return every key starter from the rotation that finished fifth in ERA a year ago and can add top prospect Alex Reyes.
Team Weaknesses: The bullpen was a disaster through the trade deadline, but an midseason rebuild saw homegrown arms Dakota Hudson, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber salvage the relief corps. The Cardinals made the most errors in the majors last season, the latest chapter in their longstanding defensive shortcomings.
What They Did About It: The Cardinals signed Andrew Miller to be their closer, giving them a formidable end-of-game combination with flamethrowing setup man Jordan Hicks. As for the defense, adding Goldschmidt at first base and getting full seasons from Harrison Bader and possibly Tyler O’Neill in the outfield make for a substantial upgrade.
Final Outlook: With Goldschmidt and a cavalcade of major league-ready young arms in tow, the Cardinals have few weaknesses and are in prime position to snap their three-year playoff drought.
Team Strengths: The Reds boast one of MLB’s best infields with All-Stars Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto manning the bases and Jose Peraza becoming one the better-hitting shortstops around. A previously underperforming outfield now looks like a strength, with Yasiel Puig, Scott Schebler, Matt Kemp and Jesse Winker providing above-average offense and top prospect Nick Senzel attempting a shift to the outfield as well.
Team Weaknesses: Draftees Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett and prospect trade acquisitions Luis Castillo, Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani, and Keury Mella have ranged from below-average to downright flops as starting pitchers. As such, the Reds ranked 25th, 29th, 25th and 26th in starter’s ERA the last four seasons.
Final Outlook: The Reds took a strong offense and made it better and took a bad pitching staff and made it better. They are in strong position to snap their streak of four straight 90-plus loss seasons.
Team Strengths: Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz quietly made up the second-best catching unit in MLB last year, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average. The outfield of Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson ranked eighth.
Team Weaknesses: As strong as the outfield and catching were, they couldn’t make up for how poorly the infield performed. The Pirates ranked in the bottom half of the majors at every infield position, sinking the offense and undoing all the positives from the rest of the team, including a solid pitching staff.
What They Did About It: The Pirates gave Adam Frazier a more permanent role by making him the everyday second baseman. They acquired Erik Gonzalez in a trade with the Indians to shore up shortstop, and top prospects Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman are ready to step in if someone falters.
Final Outlook: The Pirates aren’t terrible and might even contend in a weaker division, but they are behind their peers in the NL Central and will have to fight to avoid last place.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Strengths: The Dodgers led the NL in runs last year despite injuries afflicting them from the jump. The losses of Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are notable, but through productive drafts (Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson) and bargain-bin finds (Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy), the Dodgers have enough to cover it. Add in the free agency addition of A.J. Pollock and top prospects Keibert Ruiz, Alex Verdugo, Gavin Lux and Will Smith all finishing last year in Double-A or above, and the Dodgers have plenty of bats in-house.
Team Weaknesses: The Dodgers led the NL in ERA last year, but that was mostly due to their starting staff. Even though it posted a solid ERA during the season, the Dodgers' bullpen faltered badly down the stretch and imploded completely in the World Series.
What They Did About It: The Dodgers signed Joe Kelly, but beyond that they’ll rely on prospects to improve their relief corps. Caleb Ferguson and Dennis Santana are two homegrown reinforcements who debuted last year, and Tony Gonsolin, Mitchell White and Yadier Alvarez are all candidates to follow.
Final outlook: The Dodgers have the star-power and depth to win a seventh consecutive division title. Getting back to the World Series a third straight year will require their young arms quickly acclimating to pressure situations in relief.
Team Strengths: The Rockies had the second-best starting rotation in MLB last year, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average. Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela are all homegrown and German Marquez was acquired in A-ball, giving the Rockies a track record of developing starting pitching few organizations can match. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story represent the organization’s strength developing infielders.
Team Weaknesses: The Rockies had the fourth-least productive outfield in baseball, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average, and the second-worst production at first base. Aging veterans Carlos Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond received a combined 1,401 at-bats, while Ryan McMahon, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia were left to languish in part-time roles or in Triple-A.
What They Did About It: Gonzalez and Parra were allowed to leave in free agency, opening up more playing time for Dahl and Tapia, while McMahon and prospect Garrett Hampson will split time at second base after DJ LeMahieu left as a free agent. Desmond is now the starting center fielder after Daniel Murphy signed to play first base, but on the whole the Rockies opened up more at-bats for their young talent.
Final Outlook: The Rockies came within a one-game tiebreaker of winning the division last year. Their young players are an upgrade over the departed veterans, giving Colorado a strong chance at its third straight postseason berth.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Strengths: The Padres have talent and numbers in the outfield, with Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski representing the franchise’s best homegrown position unit in some time. Manuel Margot and Wil Myers have disappointed at times since coming over in trades, but both have flashed the talent of being above-average contributors. With top prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias set to take over the middle infield and the record-breaking free-agent signee Manny Machado, the Padres suddenly have a promising offensive core.
Team Weaknesses: The Padres ranked 27th in starter’s ERA last year (5.09), an amazing feat considering they played their home games at Petco Park and another 19 games at Dodger Stadium and Oracle Park. It’s the product of years of failed pitching development and poor in-house evaluations that sent Corey Kluber, Joe Ross, Max Fried and Matt Andriese away as prospects and failed to see Miles Mikolas as a starter.
What They Did About It: The Padres are going to lean on their No. 1-ranked farm system to provide the starting pitching they need. Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer and Jacob Nix debuted last year, and Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Chris Paddack should represent the next wave this year. The possible return of Dinelson Lamet from Tommy John surgery during the season will help too.
Final outlook: The Padres are further ahead in their rebuild than the Giants and D-backs. With Machado on board, a group of talented pitchers primed to ascend and touted prospects Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and Francisco Mejia set to give the offense a boost, the Padres have a chance to finish better than fourth for the first time in five years.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Strengths: The Giants remain set at catcher and first base, with Buster Posey and Brandon Belt doing most of the work for the only positions San Francisco finished among the top 10 in Baseball-Reference’s runs above-average metric. They have depth with Aramis Garcia capable of playing both and Austin Slater able to play first in addition to the outfield.
Team Weaknesses: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Evan Longoria have declined into below-average players, while the organization’s failure to develop even a single starting outfielder this decade continues to handicap the offense. With that, the Giants finished second-to-last in runs scored last season.
What They Did About It: The Giants are going with an all-homegrown outfield of Slater, Steven Duggar and Chris Shaw in the hopes the trio can end the franchise’s outfield development blues. Otherwise they are banking on a return to form from their infielders, and hoping Jeff Samardzija and free agent signee Drew Pomeranz come back from injury-riddled seasons to make the rotation viable.
Final outlook: The Giants are changing gears under new GM Farhan Zaidi and understand a multi-year rebuild is ahead. They could finish as high as third place if their veterans bounce back, but recent history suggests that’s unlikely.
Team Strengths: The D-backs return most of the pitching staff that finished fourth in ERA last year. The loss of Patrick Corbin in free agency hurts, but the D-backs kept Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, get Taijuan Walker back from Tommy John surgery during the year, added Luke Weaver via trade and stand to benefit from the looming ascension of top pitching prospect Jon Duplantier.
Team Weaknesses: The D-backs finished 19th in runs scored last season, then traded franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt and lost A.J. Pollock in free agency. It continued a long, dispiriting run of developing impact homegrown position players only to lose them, following Justin Upton, Adam Eaton, Carlos Gonzalez, Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Mark Reynolds.
What They Did About It: The D-backs signed only two free agent position players—Wilmer Flores and Caleb Joseph—and will try to cover the loss of Goldschmidt and Pollock with position converts. Seven of the D-backs’ top eight position prospects have yet to play above Class A, so internal reinforcements won’t be coming on a large scale for at least another year.
Final outlook: The pitching staff may keep the D-backs afloat for a bit, but a subpar offense appears likely doom the club to its first losing season in three years.