“I still think the Braves are better,” wrote Will Leitch one year ago in our 2021 World Series draft, speaking about the NL East race against the Mets. “I actually think they might be better by a lot.”
Good call, Will. Now, can he do it again? As we've done before each of the past two seasons, MLB.com's Mike Petriello and Will Leitch get together to draft each of the 30 teams to answer one clear question: Who are you taking to win the 2022 World Series? This is not, "Who is best positioned for the next half-decade," it is not, "Who is most likely to take a step forward this year," it is simply about getting that ring, seven months from now.
Will had the honor of choosing first each of the past two years, so Mike receives the first pick this time around, and you might not be surprised with how this draft begins ...
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Petriello: Yes, the Dodgers at No. 1. You are shocked. I'm picking the chalk just like Will did last year, when you appropriately said, “There’s no reason to get cute here,” and it really is the same thing for 2022, isn’t it? It’s easy to point out that they didn’t win the World Series or even their own division last season, but also, they did win 106 games, despite an endless run of pitching injuries, and also Cody Bellinger valiantly trying to play through his own run of aches and pains – to poor effect – when he should have just shut it down. (If you really want to get into it, no team won more games – regular season + postseason combined – than the 112 the Dodgers took home.) Oh: And now they have Freddie Freeman. He's one of four MVPs on this roster.
That’s not to say there are no concerns, because there are always concerns, probably starting with a rotation that seems an arm short and a bullpen that didn’t do a whole lot to replace Kenley Jansen (though watching Brusdar Graterol break out a cutter of his own last October, when he allowed only four of the 33 hitters he faced to reach base, made us think he's a ready-made replacement).
2. Chicago White Sox
Leitch: Taking the Dodgers with the top overall pick is easy and painless, and I know, because that’s why I picked them last year and why I would have picked them again this year, had the first pick been mine. No. 2 is a lot harder. I tried to consider several factors here: Talent, obviously, particularly in the top end of the rotation; recent track record of success; experience in the postseason.
But the main reason I’m taking the White Sox next is because I’m not sure anyone as good as the White Sox – perhaps even the Dodgers – has a clearer path to a No. 1 seed in the newly expanded lollapalooza that is our baseball postseason. The Twins are obviously better with Carlos Correa and Sonny Gray, but they still seem a good five or six games behind the White Sox at best. There are a lot of wins on the board here, particularly with a team like the White Sox, which is built, Tony La Russa-style, for the long haul of the regular season.
The White Sox, I’d argue, are just as good a bet for the top seed in the American League as the Dodgers (a better team, overall) are in the National League. And the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are, particularly in a draft like this, more important than ever. There’s not much in the farm system to help them out by the Trade Deadline, but, especially if they can get a full year out of Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez, they’re probably going to be up by eight or nine games by then anyway. There are a lot of imperfect options with my No. 2 pick. But this seems the safest bet.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Petriello: I think there’s a great deal of merit in what you just did there, picking not only a strong team but one with a clear path to the playoffs. I respect it so much that I’m going to do the absolute opposite thing here, picking baseball’s It Team – even if the incredible offseason they just had is probably not as shiny as it seemed – despite the fact that the Blue Jays play in a division with three other strong competitors.
But I’m doing it anyway, because: Wow. Wow at what I think Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, and George Springer can do, especially if Springer can stay healthy. Wow at a rotation that gave 101 starts to Trent Thornton, Aaron Sanchez, Jacob Waguespack, Clay Buchholz, Wilmer Font and Clayton Richard as recently as 2019, but is now rolling out José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi, with Nate Pearson in reserve. Wow at newcomer Matt Chapman perhaps single-handedly fixing the leaky infield defense; wow at a bullpen that, if maybe not a strength, is considerably better than last year’s tire fire.
And, of course: Wow at a full season in Canada for the first time in three years. When I said their winter maybe wasn’t quite as great as it seemed, that’s only because it’s hard to talk about the players coming in without remembering how great Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray were last year, and they’re not there anymore. But when you can lose stars like that, and it hardly seems to matter to anyone, you know you’ve got something special.
4. Houston Astros
Leitch: Look, I’m not exactly ready to jump on the, “Hey, Jeremy Peña's gonna make people forget who Carlos Correa ever was!” spin we’re seeing already. Correa is a legit loss, particularly because it sort of looks like, at the contract he got from the Twins, he could have stayed in Houston after all. But the Astros were the model organization – for better or worse! – at roster construction for a full half-decade for a reason: They have so much talent that they can lose someone like Correa and still be stacked.
The cool thing about the Astros is that now the talent seems most stacked in the rotation. Those young pitchers who used to be the other guys in the rotation have stepped up and become regulars with even more room to grow; the most dangerous place in a fantasy draft room is between me and Luis Garcia. And now that Justin Verlander is back, and throwing like they put flubber in his arm, the Astros' rotation looks like the best in this division by a wide margin.
5. Atlanta Braves
Petriello: I am hesitant to take the Braves this high for two pretty important reasons. First, no team has won back-to-back titles in more than two decades, since the 1998-2000 Yankees. Second, they weren’t actually a great team in 2021, winning only 88 games and taking home a title largely because a few veteran outfielders had the best six weeks of their entire lives. Franchise legend Freddie Freeman plays for the Dodgers now, shocking everyone who never thought he'd leave. Oh, and Ronald Acuña Jr. is still working his way back from a serious knee injury. I’m definitely overrating the effects of that shiny, shiny, ring.
And yet: There’s so much still to like here, isn’t there? Replacing Freeman with Matt Olson isn’t much of a downgrade, if it’s even one at all. One of the better bullpens in baseball added Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh as the newest members of the “Night Shift.” One of these years Mike Soroka will come back. I buy into Austin Riley having become a star; I buy into Ian Anderson and Max Fried having become stars. Plus, while the NL East is always competitive, I have as many or more questions about the Mets. Surely, neither one of us will go right ahead and pick New Yor– … ah.
6. New York Mets
Leitch: I always, always pick the Mets too high in this draft. I had them fifth two years ago and fourth – fourth! – last year. But this time I mean it, Mike. This time I mean it.
I’m trying to think where I should start my case here … oh, wait, I have an idea: How about the fact that they have Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer atop the rotation? Seems like a good place! Sure, they’re both well into their 30s and there have been injury issues and all of the things that happen because throwing a baseball is incredibly exciting to watch but also perhaps is not the most natural movement our bodies make. But they’re also the two best pitchers in baseball, and now they’re together, and that right there makes the Mets favorites in the NL East and – perhaps more importantly – the most fascinating, potentially historic team in baseball this year.
There’s a rhyme and reason to this lineup, though. I loved the additions of Mark Canha, Starling Marte and Chris Bassitt, not just because they help but because they feel so surgical: They feel like exactly what the Mets needed, where they needed it. That’s what you want your front office to do, right? To see where the problem spots are and go find the people who will fix them. They’re not perfect, but they’ve shown they won’t sit idly by or hope their problems get solved by science or magic.
7. New York Yankees
Petriello: Speaking of teams we pick too highly who inevitably let us down: The New York Yankees. This team is in a real weird spot, because fans are understandably and not incorrectly disappointed by a winter that saw them have the ability to get any one of a number of excellent free agent shortstops, or star left-handed first basemen Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson, and come away with … none of them. That’s not intended to be disrespectful to Josh Donaldson or Isiah Kiner-Falefa, of course, or even Anthony Rizzo. It’s just not the same thing as Correa or Freeman, is it?
But at the same time, all the bad vibes around here tend to obscure the fact that this is still a really good team that just won 92 games and still has Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, a returning Luis Severino and a really good bullpen. Even Donaldson, for all his recent injuries, took 543 plate appearances last year and put up a 127 OPS+.
The Yankees underwhelmed this winter, without question. This is not the team it could have or should have been. It’s still a really good baseball team.
8. Tampa Bay Rays
Leitch: As usual, we’re talking more about other American League East teams than we are the Rays – I do this constantly myself. Well no longer. I give. Uncle. I’m no longer going to be the, “I don’t know how the Rays do it, but they’ve pulled it off and fooled me again!” guy. I’m going to be the, “Yeah, told ya!” guy. (I look forward to repeating this process with the Giants in a few years.)
I feel pretty positive about my confidence in the Rays – I think they’re winning this terrific division – partly because I trust them to find that Rays special sauce (that combination of platooning, flexibility, a never-ending lava flow of young pitching and Raymond) and mostly because now – for the first time since, uh, young Evan Longoria maybe? – they have a bona fide superstar to build around. Wander Franco looks to be the real deal in every possible way, and while, yes, he’s only 21 years old (and just barely at that), he has the feel of one of those special players who plays like he's been in the Majors since he was in grade school.
9. Milwaukee Brewers
Petriello: I feel a little uncomfortable ranking a team with questionable-at-best offense in the top 10, but maybe that tells you just how strongly I feel about the quality of this club’s pitching. I mean, they had the same “great pitching, weak hitting” concerns entering last season, and in a division that was stronger than it looks now, they still won 95 games. So: Has anything changed?
Well, we feel a little stronger about Corbin Burnes, to start, since a year ago at this time he was following up a nightmarish 2019 with a very good but somewhat-limited 2020, and now he’s the reigning Cy Young winner. We think people are still sleeping on how good Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are. We see that they’re projected to have the second-best run prevention in baseball and think: Yes, that sounds right.
But the offense still doesn’t know what Christian Yelich will provide, or Lorenzo Cain, and that remains an issue. I like that they’ll have a full season of Willy Adames, who was so good for them after being acquired in-season last year; I like adding Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Renfroe as complementary pieces. I just wish there was one more bat here I felt good about. Just one. Maybe it will be Rowdy Tellez.
10. San Diego Padres
Leitch: You know the mistake we all made last year when Ronald Acuña Jr. went down in July and everybody went, “Well, I guess the Braves are done!” (It turned out the Braves were not done.) I’m getting a similar vibe in the wake of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s (very unfortunate) wrist injury that could leave him out until mid-to-late-June. That obviously hurts the Padres, but I’m not sure it kills them. They’re not catching the Dodgers. But they’ll still be in the thick of everything by the time he comes back.
My argument here: There is absolutely no way everything goes wrong for them this year like it did last year. (Though Tatis’ injury is a data point for the opposition here.) The rotation outside Joe Musgrove never did quite kick into gear last year, and by the end of the season, my fourth-grade industrial arts teacher was starting games for them. Yu Darvish and Blake Snell might not be the Cy Young favorites we were marking them as last year, but they’re a terrific 2-3 in a rotation, and don’t forget their Mike Clevinger trade from 2020; after missing a year with Tommy John surgery, he’s back this year too.
There’s enough here to tread water until Tatis comes back, and more than enough for a playoff spot.
11. Philadelphia Phillies
Petriello: I … guess? The season has not even started yet and I’m already tired of writing words about how weak this team’s defense is going to be, except, good lord, this team’s defense is going to be A Problem. And every single time a late-inning lead is lost because a makeable play is not made, it’s going to lead to dozens of think pieces about fundamentals. Let’s not overlook that concern. But let’s not also let it overshadow the other truth here, which is that this team is going to mash some baseballs.
Right? They already had the reigning MVP in Bryce Harper, and the underrated Rhys Hoskins, and now they have Certified Baseball Mashing Men Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber around them, plus one of the best hitting catchers in the game in J.T. Realmuto, all playing in a park engineered to be extremely welcoming to hitters. I’d also add that the quality of their rotation gets overlooked sometimes, because Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are a high-quality 1-2 (assuming Wheeler's shoulder concern is a minor one), and I’m extremely interested to see how Ranger Suárez follows up last summer’s out-of-nowhere 1.36 ERA. You can see a team that combines massive power and very good top-end starting making it all the way to October.
12. San Francisco Giants
Leitch: Do you get it yet? Mike, you’re one of the smartest humans about baseball I know, and you (and just about every other smart baseball person I know) spent most of last year going, “Well, when the Giants inevitably fall off, let’s at least credit them for having a solid season no one saw coming,” and then, uh, October got here and they just never stopped and then you looked up and what they won how many games?
I’m a reasonable person, and I know how time and space work. The Giants are mostly rolling out the same team they had last year, minus Buster Posey, Kevin Gausman and those two months of Kris Bryant. All those players who were old last year are older this year. (Like everyone on Earth but me. I’m the same age.) Math, physics, biology, science, all those subjects I should have paid more attention to in school but didn’t, they all point toward the Giants being worse this year. And they surely will be worse. But even a drop of 17 wins – which would be the worst year-to-year drop for this franchise in 25 years – would put them at 90 wins and comfortably in the playoffs. We were all completely wrong about them last year. Why should we have any sense that we’d be right about them this time?
13. St. Louis Cardinals
Petriello: Sorry, Will. I couldn’t help it. Is it mean of me to jump in ahead of you and steal the Cardinals Reunion Tour bit from you, noted Cardinals fan? Perhaps. Did I do it anyway? Well, yeah.
I get that everyone is focusing on Albert Pujols rejoining Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for one last ride like it’s 2006 again up in here, but it’s not; it’s 2022, and for all the fun nostalgia we’ll get – along with what I can only assume will be 162 different pregame ceremonies and honorariums, to the point of tedium – Pujols will have just about nothing to do with whether the Cardinals find on-field success this year. It’s going to come down almost entirely to the somewhat-thin pitching, which has both Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes down with shoulder issues, and now absolutely requires 41-year-old Wainwright to throw 180-200 innings, lest the team’s ace be, like, Steven Matz.
That – plus a general lack of faith on my part in a Paul DeJong rebound – should all be enough for me to rank them lower, but the corner infield duo is so good. The young outfield trio could be absolutely elite. The defense all over the field already is. I don’t think I trust this team at all. I’m also pretty sure 60% of the division they play in won’t be seen on this list for another dozen picks.
14. Boston Red Sox
Leitch: Thank you for doing that. You have saved me from myself. You should know that the professional baseball writer who is typing these words right now believes Pujols is going to put on a Cardinals uniform and hit .332 with 40 homers just because the jersey fits so well. Frankly, I’m up for them signing Jim Edmonds too. Let’s go for it.
The Trevor Story signing felt weird for a few reasons, not just because Xander Bogaerts is already here (though perhaps eyeing that opt-out, just in case) but because the Red Sox felt more than a Trevor Story away in this division. But it undeniably makes them better, and they’re already pretty good. They’re just not up to the quality of the rest of this division, even if Chris Sale comes back sooner than everyone’s worried about.
It demands the larger question about the Red Sox: What is the plan here? There’s plenty of talent, but it’s hardly overwhelming, and they’re in a division of highly motivated titans. The Red Sox look built to comfortably win the National League Central. But barring a Godzilla attack that dramatically realigns the tectonic plates of North America, they’re not in the National League Central. I’m not sure the direction here. I’m not sure they know either.
15. Seattle Mariners
Petriello: I feel like Mariners fans are furious that a team that won 90 games, has a very good nearly ready young core, and added the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Robbie Ray isn’t getting enough respect. I also feel like when you’re still rocking North America’s longest playoff drought in any of the major men’s professional sports, there’s a little bit of, It’s not possible to underrate you until you actually do something.
There’s also the question of how much the 90 wins actually matter, given last year’s endlessly discussed “fun differential,” which was a cute way to cover up the fact that the Mariners scored 51 fewer runs than their opponents did. So we have a 90-win team that scored like a 76-win team and is projected to be an 80-win team, and what do you even do with that?
But none of that means you should overlook the fact that Seattle actually is going to be very good, very soon, because adding Jesse Winker and Ray to go along with “Mitch Haniger and all those exciting kids and a quietly very good bullpen” is a really nice winter, as far as winters go. It’s just that we’re drafting 2022 World Series teams, not 2023-25 winners, when I’m sure I will have them higher.
16. Minnesota Twins
Leitch: Last year didn’t end up being quite as much of a disaster as it looked like it would be at the beginning of the season – they finished over .500 after the Trade Deadline, if that means anything – but was the exact opposite of what the Twins wanted, and were expecting. They could have blown it up. Teams have blown it up for less. So I have to credit the Twins for not just rolling it back out there, but making big upgrades, really striving and trying to put the best team out there they can. In the offseason anyway, we now have some proof that the Twins can in fact eat the Yankees’ lunch.
It still doesn’t look like nearly enough. Having Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton together is exciting and they are surely worth 10 wins by themselves (and maybe more if Buxton is healthy all year, as if that’s ever going to happen), but neither of them can pitch. Sonny Gray and Dylan Bundy will help, but there are still huge holes on this staff, and I don’t see how they’re going to fill them.
You do have to wonder what happens next for the Twins. The Tigers and Royals aren’t there yet, but they’re coming, and arguably better positioned over the next half-decade than the Twins are. The Twins are in the middle: Not young and up-and-coming and stacked with veterans that are good … but not as good as the White Sox. I love what they did this offseason. This is what teams should do! But I’m not sure it’s going to work.
17. Los Angeles Angels
Petriello: I think this, for me, is just about the end of the group of “teams I think can actually win this year if things go super right,” and that’s only because a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani (plus, you know, Anthony Rendon, Jared Walsh and Noah Syndergaard) should always have a chance. It’s just that while we’re always talking about how Trout hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2014, there really is a larger problem here. It’s that the Angels haven’t even finished at .500 since 2015. That’s six consecutive years of losing baseball, with Trout, which seems impossible. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that 2015 was the final year they were officially “the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” Maybe, also, it is.
This winter, to his credit, GM Perry Minasian did go out and find as much pitching as he could. He retained Raisel Iglesias, one of the better late-inning relievers in the game. He added Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen and Aaron Loup and Archie Bradley and Ryan Tepera, and those are all Names You Know with some track record of success. Throw in the fact that 25-year-old starter Patrick Sandoval was off to a really good start last year before he was injured, and that the sport’s rules have changed specifically to service Ohtani and Ohtani only, and maybe this is the year things finally come together.
18. Miami Marlins
Leitch: Every team in the NL East has serious collapse potential. The Mets could lose their dominant starters; the Phillies could dissolve into ash every time an opposing hitter hits a ball in the gap; the Braves could run out of pitchers, outfielders or both. So if you’re going to squint to find a random contender from this clear fall-off (as you correctly note), how about the Marlins? Isn’t this exactly the sort of rotation that every team in baseball wants? Five electric starters under the age of 30? With an ace in Sandy Alcantara? (Who, boy, the Cardinals would love to have back right now.) When you’re starting with a staff like this one, you’ve got a reasonably high floor right there.
The problem, as it always is in Miami, is the offense. They’ve addressed it, somewhat, by bringing in Jorge Soler, Joey Wendle and Avisaíl García, but this team sure looks like it’s going to lose a lot of games 4-2 in which they only hit two solo homers.
19. Detroit Tigers
Petriello: Pretty much a coin flip for me between AL Central rivals Detroit and Cleveland here, and I’m quite happy to go with “young, exciting team on the way up” over “team with good pitching that never seemed to realize the Hot Stove began.” Detroit is a popular breakout team for a lot of reasons, including but not limited to adding Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez and soon debuting Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene to a team that was three games over .500 from May 1 on in 2021.
There are, needless to say, lots of things to like here; it’s probably more exciting to be a Tigers fan right now than it’s been since Scherzer and Verlander were fronting the rotation nearly a decade ago. So why am I not higher on them here? It’s something like what I wrote about the Mariners, in that I think they will be very good in the years to come, it’s just not that clear to me it’s going to all come together in 2022. I need to see Torkelson and Greene face their first Major League pitch. I need to see what Akil Baddoo’s second year looks like. I need to see what version of Báez they’re getting.
20. Cleveland Guardians
Leitch: I just talked about the Marlins, and how little they’ve been able to do to help out an excellent starting rotation. If that didn’t seem new to them, it definitely won’t seem new here. The Guardians have a preternatural ability to find, cultivate and develop pitching talent, and even though I’m impressed by their rotation, I’m still pretty certain there’s some dude I’ve never even heard of who will end up being their ace by the end of the year. It’s so hard to keep a pitching pipeline like this going, and Cleveland always seems to.
That’s the only thing they do, though. It is surprising – particularly with a new team name and new opportunities for branding – how little Cleveland added to the Major League roster. Add to that the uncertainty involving José Ramírez and whether or not he will stay -- and if he ends up being traded -- and there’s the real possibility the bottom falls out here.
21. Texas Rangers
Petriello: The Rangers aren’t going to win the World Series this year, but hey, it's fair to assume that none of the teams in the back third of this draft are. Still, there are other ways to make a year a successful one short of winning a ring, and I think Texas has done that. It says a lot about how far away they were coming from that you could spend hundreds and hundreds of millions on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray (plus much smaller moves for Mitch Garver, Brad Miller, Kole Calhoun, Matt Carpenter, Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards) and the outcome is that the team is still probably a year or two away.
If this year’s club wins, say, 75 games, it will still be a losing season. But it’ll be a step in the right direction, too. It’ll be 15 games better than last year. It’ll be something to build upon for a potential contending team in the years to come, especially when Jack Leiter and friends are ready. That, alone, is a huge step up.
22. Chicago Cubs
Leitch: Put it this way: Every other consensus third-place team has long since been taken. If you’re going to be middling and in a transitional period, this is a good division in which to do it. To me, the big question for the Cubs, after they traded away (almost) all the big stars of their World Series team, is how long this fallow period will be. Last time, when Theo Epstein and company were building that roster, they were under .500 for five straight seasons before their breakthrough 2015 season and ultimately that 2016 championship. I’m not sure Cubs fans will tolerate five years this time, and I’m not sure they should.
That appears to inform the Cubs’ thinking. They still are hitting reset, but they’ve made sure to bring in some pieces that could be part of the next good Cubs team. Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman are going to be extremely popular among the Wrigleyville faithful, and not only will they make this year’s team better, they’ll make the 2023 team better too. The Cubs will spend the next couple of years figuring out what pieces are sticking around, and there are some good options: It wouldn’t shock me to see Ian Happ get back to the player he was a couple of years ago, just for starters. (And Nick Madrigal looks perfect here.)
23. Kansas City Royals
Petriello: “Not this year, but on the right path, and maybe soon,” a thing I seem to keep drafting here for like four teams in a row. I, like everyone else, am extremely excited to see Bobby Witt Jr., debut, and I know that MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto may not be far behind. And what if Kyle Isbel breaks out? What if Adalberto Mondesi stays healthy? What if Sal Perez mashes another 48 homers? What if Zack Greinke dials it all back to 2009?
OK, that’s probably not all going to happen, but some of it might. The issue here is one that’s somewhat similar to those Tigers vibes above, which is that I like a lot of what’s happening in the lineup, yet I have a ton of questions about how – or if – the young pitching is going to step up. Last year, they rolled out a group of five starters 26-and-under in Brady Singer, Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Carlos Hernandez, and collectively that quintet pitched to a 4.82 ERA. They can get better, of course. But they kind of have to.
24. Washington Nationals
Leitch: They have Juan Soto! They have Juan Soto! We’ve spent the last decade saying, “Well, the Angels are starting out with the best player in baseball, so if they can just put a .500 roster around him, they’re in the playoffs,” so why can’t we say the same thing about Soto, who is almost as good? The issue, obviously, is that this isn’t a .500 roster, not even particularly close to one. (Guys, I think it’s possible Maikel Franco is just never going to break out.) The Nationals have the type of roster that would compel most teams to just do a total clear out, building for the future and selling off all spare parts. But the Nationals have Juan Soto, which obliges them to at least nod at trying. Which is why Nelson Cruz is here. (For now.)
The real question here, the only one that matters, is whether or not they can sign Soto to an extension. They have three seasons to pull it off, counting this one. And that’s the problem: This one counts. You have still-getting-better Juan Soto, and you’re going to waste him with this roster. If the Nationals don’t figure it out quickly, they’re going to do it again next year, and maybe the one after. And then he will be gone.
25. Colorado Rockies
Petriello: OK, let’s do this. When the Rockies shockingly signed Kris Bryant, and the entire baseball world quickly did a collective I’m sorry, what? face, the backlash to that backlash was quick, which is that you can’t complain that the team didn’t do enough to improve (as was true the last two winters) and then, when the team goes out and spends big to sign a star, also complain that they then did that.
Which is correct, and fair. But the issue there is not that the Rockies should have just kept the money between the couch cushions; certainly it’s far better for Colorado fans to see Bryant in purple than the team to have stood pat. It’s that if that money was available, then maybe there were better ways to spend it to improve a thin roster than to pay $182 million to a 30-year outfielder already showing signs of decline, especially after sending away Nolan Arenado, and not retaining Trevor Story or Jon Gray (or trading either when they had the chance). As a strategy, it’s confusing to say the least. We also think the focus on Bryant somewhat obscures the fact that Gray wasn’t replaced, and so while the rotation continues to be a strength, it is not deep at all, certainly not deep enough to withstand even one single injury.
Anyway, we should appreciate the Rockies. In a baseball world where groupthink is rampant and too many teams think the exact same way, they extremely do not, and I love them for it. We should all love them for it.
26. Cincinnati Reds
Leitch: It, obviously, has been a discouraging offseason for Reds fans after a frustrating couple of years. 2020 was supposed to be the year for this team, it was the year they were building toward, the year they were going to electrify this fanbase with a full season of a terrific team. It turned out that 2020 had some unexpected curveballs. And the Reds, unfortunately, never recovered. And now we are here.
Long-term, if the ownership group expands on what the Reds are now trying to build, there’s reason for hope here. Their trades brought back some real prospect bounty, if anyone wants to wait that long. But this year will be rough, and it will feel worse than it is, because of what could have been. The good news is that as bad as this team will be, it will be enjoyable to watch, at least from a personality aspect. They have Joey Votto! They have Tommy Pham! They have Jonathan India! Hey, Mooooooose!
27. Pittsburgh Pirates
Petriello: The 2022 Pirates are not without their charms. Bryan Reynolds is a legit star center fielder who could man the position for any number of contending teams; Ke’Bryan Hayes, when healthy, can stand with any third baseman in the game defensively; absolutely everyone wants to see what 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz can actually be, whenever it is that he arrives to stay in the Majors; Mitch Keller’s much-ballyhooed velocity increase is something worth watching. It’s not too difficult to see a good Pirates team in 2025 and look back and say, oh yeah, I saw that starting in 2022.
But if there is a good 2025 Pirates team, it’s not going to have a rotation of Keller, José Quintana, JT Brubaker, Wil Crowe, Zach Thompson, as this year’s likely will start with. It’s not going to have Yoshi Tsutsugo and Ben Gamel combining for more than 1,000 plate appearances, as this year’s team is projected to. It’s been nearly a decade since the last Pittsburgh playoff win, coming back in the 2013 NLDS. It’s hard to see the playoffs having expanded enough for that streak to end this year.
28. Oakland A’s
Leitch: I have a lot of faith in the A’s rebuild. Don’t you? How could you not? They have done this before, and they have come back successfully, and more quickly, than anyone had expected. There’s plenty of reason they’ll turn it around fast again this time too.
But “fast” doesn’t equal “2022,” particularly because it sure seems likely there are more trades coming. (Those two starting pitchers aren’t going to become less valuable or desired.) There’s still a stadium situation to figure out here, and a whole bunch that’s up in the air. When it all gets settled, I’ll be very excited to see what this franchise does with itself. But this year: It’s gonna be rough.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks
Petriello: There’s no correct or incorrect answer at this level, though we’d note that the Orioles and D-backs each had identical 52-110 records last year. The difference is whether you want to talk about the future (where the Orioles have a couple of extremely high-end prospects just about ready, yet little hope for 2022) or the present (where the D-backs have what is probably a better Major League team, a little, while also having a few high-end but slightly lesser prospects nearly ready in the outfield).
Now: It’s fair to say that the talent level here is higher than what they showed last season, when everything just completely fell apart, and we do still really like Ketel Marte (who just signed a five-year extension) and a few of their starting pitchers. It’s just that they didn’t do a whole lot this winter to prove that 110 losses wasn’t who they really are, and the projected 70-92 is both “better” and “still 92 losses.”
30. Baltimore Orioles
Leitch: Here’s a fun fact: This is our third year of doing these drafts, and this is actually the first time the Orioles have been picked last! That’s probably not the sort of progress Orioles fans are looking for, but if you’re looking for something forward-and-positive-looking, here’s a positive: If they’re picked last next year, something has gone terribly wrong.
That’s to say, the first, slow, lurching Orioles step toward respectability should be made this year. Adley Rutschman is coming, soon. Grayson Rodriguez is right with him. D.L. Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers … those Minor Leaguers you’ve been watching for years, they’re going to be here, they’re going to make it, you’re going to get to watch them. This should be one of the final times they’re in the bottom one or two slots here. At least you’d hope so.