Ranking contenders' urgency from most title starved to least

October 3rd, 2022

Winning is awesome, and losing stinks. That will always be true, and that’s why every team that enters October is intent on winning the World Series.

But some wins carry more emotional weight than others, while some losses leave longer-lasting wounds than others. And so, each year at this time, we crunch the numbers to come up with our super-scientific World Series Urgency Index.

We factor in things like past postseason pains, pending free agents, payroll obligations and prospect potency to sort the remaining contenders on a relative scale, to determine how badly they need a crown -- 10 being the most urgent situation, 1 being the most relaxed.

Note: We are including all teams still mathematically alive for the postseason, which is 13 in total at the moment, even though only 12 will ultimately qualify for the playoffs.

1) Mets
Urgency Index: 12, or how many times the Mets have changed managers since they last won it all

Yeah, we’re just gonna break the scale from the start.

Whatever the Mets need, "Uncle" Steve Cohen will probably pick up the tab. But in their current construction, they are heavily reliant on one 38-year-old ace nearing 3,000 career innings in and another 34-year-old ace with a recent history of elbow and shoulder issues -- and looming free agency -- in . The Mets’ elite closer, , is also about to be a free agent, capable of breaking the bullpen bank. The more expensive this big-league roster becomes, the more important it will be for the Mets to produce cost-controlled talent in-house (both for direct help and trades), and right now their farm system rates as solid but perhaps a bit top-heavy. Things can get a little unwieldy if the Mets aren’t careful.

Then there’s the Buck Showalter factor. Sure, the manager is in the first of a three-year deal, but he’s also 66 years old and has taken five previous teams to the playoffs without winning the big one. And speaking of winning the big one, the Mets, as you know, haven’t done that since 1986. With Keith Hernandez’s jersey retired this year, they’ve pretty much milked that title for all it is worth. We are overdue for a coronation in Queens.

2) (tie) Astros
Urgency Index: 11, or how many times Dusty Baker has been to the playoffs without winning it all

Apparently, the Astros are never going away. After all, if you can handle the departures of elite talents like Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa, George Springer and sustained injury absences from the likes of and  in recent years and keep racking up the AL pennants, what’s going to stop you?

That said, they’ve now fallen short in two of the last three Fall Classics, and many baseball fans will continue to give the side-eye to their 2017 triumph. Above all else, this ranking is about Baker. In terms of wins and playoff appearances, he is the most accomplished skipper ever to have not hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Do it for Dusty, Houston. Do it for Dusty.

2) (tie) Padres
Urgency Index
: 11, or how many prospects the Padres dealt in their latest Trade Deadline frenzy

In recent years, the Padres have done all the things we want teams to do, from the franchise-shifting free-agent foray with , the jaw-dropping trade for (amid so many other splashy swaps in recent years), the mega-extension with what had seemed a franchise cornerstone in , etc. To date, all San Diego -- a city without a World Series title -- has to show for this admirable effort is a single postseason series victory (in front of zero fans) in 2020, immediately followed by a sweep at the hands of the rival Dodgers. Last year’s club fell apart in the home stretch, and this year’s squad has not yet met the outsized expectations placed upon it after the Soto swap, which further depleted the farm system.

With Soto under control for two more years, ' contract coming off the books, Tatis hopefully mounting some sort of mea culpa comeback tour in 2023 and  already extended, it’s not as if the Friars look like they’re about to fall off the face of the earth. But they do need to show a sense of urgency here.

2) (tie) Phillies
Urgency Index: 11, or how many years since Philly last reached October

If the Phillies can phinish the job in these coming days and nail down their first postseason appearance since 2011, that alone would be worthy of a Broad Street parade. It has not only been a long wait for such a moment, but also a ton of money spent on rosters that never meshed.

This year has not been without its own series of trials and tribulations. But the expanded postseason format is forgiving and allows Philadelphians to dream on the possibility of and pitching them deep into October. It might be too much to ask of this roster, particularly with simply not looking like himself since his return from a broken thumb (and still limited to DH duties because of a lingering elbow issue).

But while the Phillies don’t figure to be favorites any step of the way, they should be feeling a sense of urgency, given that their farm system is not particularly well-regarded and the majority of their impact players (Harper, Wheeler, Nola, , , , ) will be 30-plus in 2023. Plus, it does not appear the NL East is going to get any easier to conquer in the coming years.

5) Yankees
Urgency Index: 10, for the Yankees’ 10th postseason appearance since they last won it all in 2009

If the Yankees fall on their faces again this October, will it lead to major change? Not if Aaron Boone’s current contract is honored and pending free-agent executive Brian Cashman is extended, as has been speculated. But the biggest unknown with regard to the Yanks measures in at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds. 's unresolved contract status looms large in the Bronx and on this list. He is the current face of this storied franchise, and his departure would have gargantuan ripple effects.

So … probably best to win one with Judge, just in case. The Yankees famously haven’t even gotten to the World Series since 2009. And while their run of 30 straight winning seasons insists they won’t totally retreat anytime soon, to say a team with this level of resources is due for a title is an understatement.

6) Brewers
Urgency Index: 9, because a postseason appearance this year would be the ninth in franchise history

We had the Brewers in the No. 1 spot on this list a year ago. A few clubs that weren’t involved in last year’s postseason, another Dusty heartbreak in 2021 and the aforementioned Judge issue in the Bronx have nudged the Brew Crew down a bit this year.

But nothing has materially changed with Milwaukee. The Brewers remain tied with the Padres as the oldest franchises without a World Series title to their names. They began the process of repositioning their roster with this summer’s trade, but they remain a small-market team oriented around pitching, which, as we know too well, can be a precarious commodity.

First, they need to get in. Then, they need to get it done.

7) Cardinals
Urgency Index: 8, for Albert Pujols’ eighth and final postseason with St. Louis

The last run for and -- and what at the very least has to be one of the last runs for  -- adds to the urgency facing this Cardinals club.

Plus, who knows if 35-year-old MVP favorite will ever be playing quite at this level again? And though this is not really expected to happen, what if  opts out and departs? Even for a club that constantly churns out impact talent from its system and constantly contends, there has to be a proper appreciation for the present here.

8) Blue Jays
Urgency Index: 6, or how many years since the Jays last advanced past a Wild Card round

Toronto is somewhat comparable to the Padres in that significant expenditures and a seemingly championship-caliber core of players hasn’t amounted to much yet. The Blue Jays were favorites among many to win the AL East this year, and it got away from them quickly. That won’t matter if  and Co. own the moment in October.

If the Jays fall flat, they can take comfort in knowing their core isn’t going anywhere for a while. And having an entire country supporting you in a major market has its revenue privileges. But with  entering his mid-30s, the farm system thinned by trades and Canadians clamoring for their first World Series since the early 1990s, a deep run would sure be welcomed.

9) Mariners
Urgency Index: 5, for the franchise’s fifth postseason appearance

Honestly, while a World Series run would obviously be tremendous and long overdue (the Mariners are the only franchise to have never reached the Series stage), just getting to October for the first time in a generation already qualifies as a monumental achievement, given all the second-half slides these fans have endured.

With just getting going and already locked up for the majority of his career and with , , and all capable of providing rotation stability for the foreseeable future, the Mariners have the look of a team at the beginning of a sustained run of contention.

That said, graduations and trades -- especially the Castillo trade -- have affected the farm system. And when you’re in the playoffs for the first time since J-Rod was a baby, you clearly want to capitalize.

10) Rays
Urgency Index: 4, or how many times they’ve reached October in the Kevin Cash era

All you really need to know about the Rays is that they have been slotted in the top 10 of MLB Pipeline’s farm system rankings for a record 12 consecutive years, and this is the sixth time in those 12 years that they are headed to the postseason. That is a really difficult trick to pull off for any franchise, let alone one with the revenue challenges the Rays face, relative to their AL East peers.

So it’s hard to place the Rays all that high on this list, even when you account for the sense of urgency that all small-market clubs must have in an October opportunity. Tomorrow is promised to no one, but for now there is not much reason to think Tampa Bay won’t continue to pester its way to the postseason on a fairly regular basis.

11) Dodgers
Urgency Index: 3, or how many NL pennants they’ve won under Andrew Friedman/Dave Roberts

The Dodgers are an exaggerated version of the Rays. They don’t just regularly reach October; they are in the dance for the 10th straight year, on the heels of their ninth NL West title in that span. They don’t just have a strong farm system; they have one of the absolute strongest, ranked second by MLB Pipeline, with seven Top 100 prospects. Oh, and unlike the Rays, they have loads and loads and loads of financial capital that allows them to simply swallow mistakes and be opportunistic in the market.

So while the Dodgers would like to be remembered as something other than a great regular-season team by winning their second World Series in three years (and, of course, first in a full season since 1988) and send  off on a high note (in case he really does leave or retire at year’s end), no one would look at an earlier exit as the end of an era in L.A. The Dodgers are built to last.

12) Guardians
Urgency Index: 2, or how many years since Cleveland’s last playoff appearance (that’s a quick “rebuild”)

The nickname is new, but the longest active championship drought in MLB is not. It dates back to 1948. Cleveland defeated the Boston Braves just a few weeks before Dewey didn’t defeat Truman. The Braves have since moved (twice), the Indians name has been retired, and newspaper headlines don’t carry the weight they once did. Cleveland baseball is long, long overdue for a Truman-like upset.

But look, nothing was expected of the youngest team in MLB this year. And while we’re not crowning them for 2023 and beyond, the AL Central could be the Guardians’ for the taking for a while, given the strength of their farm system (ranked third by MLB Pipeline), their relatively clean contractual commitments and the state of the other squads in that division.

We don’t know how much longer Terry Francona will want to manage, but his club appears to be at the very start of a new window to win. It is playing with house money this year.

13) Braves
Urgency Index: 0, or the shape of that ring the Braves earned in 2021

We had the Braves at No. 2 last year, and they heeded the call! That drops them all the way to the bottom now. The Braves have also locked up , II, , and to manageable extensions, so they figure to be around for a while.

And hey, if the Braves don’t go back-to-back, at least they won’t have to try to top those astonishing World Series rings they designed for the 2021 title-winners.