One of the first rules of politics -- and business, and entertainment, and even sports -- is to minimize expectations. It’s better to surprise everyone watching you than disappoint them, right? But internally, those involved always have much more realistic, and often ambitious, expectations. They know what they can do … and should do.
With that in mind, let's try to figure out what those are for each team. What is the top-shelf expectation? Do they expect to win the World Series? To make the playoffs? Just to improve? Every team has its expectations. Here’s the best guess as to what they are.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Make the ALDS
Sure, their offseason moves seemed to think big, and they did make the playoffs last year, albeit the expanded variety. But it still seems a tad early to start imagining the World Series. Either winning the division or getting out of the Wild Card Game would be a huge step forward and perfectly satisfactory.
Orioles: Identify more pieces
The O's are fully in “figure out which guys are on the next Orioles playoff team and sell the rest off for parts” mode. But we’re two years into this now; it’s time to start deciding who’s going to be here to stay for a while.
Rays: Make the Wild Card Game
A return World Series trip is asking too much, but there’s still a lot of talent here. This is the magic of the Rays: Figuring out ways to overachieve.
Red Sox: Start to get some good vibes going
There’s a lot of bad mojo in Boston right now, a year after trading Mookie Betts and finishing in last place in the division. These are the Red Sox! They’ve started the next phase of the organization. They need to show some progress. Getting rebound performances from the likes of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, not to mention a breakout from Bobby Dalbec, would help.
Yankees: Win the World Series
It is, as it always is.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Cleveland: Justify a shift in the right direction
With as many skilled players as they have here, it’s not like they’re tanking. But it’s definitely a different vibe with Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco no longer around, both having been traded to the Mets. If they fall below .500 this year (something they haven’t done since 2012), there could be a dramatic shift in strategy.
Royals: Stay in contention into September
It has been a while since games in the fall in Kansas City mattered much. But there were investments made this offseason that point to a team that is already tired of losing.
Tigers: Establish more building blocks
The Tigers have bet on young pitching moving forward, and Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning could all be part of their next playoff rotation. Or maybe not. Identifying which ones can be counted on is the short- and long-term priority.
Twins: Win a dang playoff series
Seriously. Let’s start here. They haven’t done that since 2002, and haven’t won a playoff game since 2004, going 0-15 in their last six playoff trips.
White Sox: Win the division
You don’t hire Tony La Russa to build for the future. They want to take over this division right now.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Get Mike Trout a playoff win
At the very least, so people will stop asking him about it.
A’s: Repeat as division champs
This isn’t the strongest division, and even with some key pieces from last year gone, the A’s have every reason to believe they can do this again.
Astros: Win the division
The Astros took some real hits, particularly in the rotation and saying goodbye to George Springer, and it’s clear they’re moving on to a new period in their franchise history. But they can still win this division, and they’d sure love to remind people this was baseball’s model franchise not long ago.
Mariners: Show everyone they are the future of this division
It is widely suspected that the Mariners might be the next great team in the AL West. But the Kevin Mather incident hung a dark cloud on their offseason. They need to be the happy bright spot again.
Rangers: Figure out a direction
The Rangers have made some smart moves around the edges, but they still seem to be spinning their wheels. Whatever they do next, the expectation is that they figure it out.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Reach the World Series
It has been more than 20 years since the Braves reached the Fall Classic, and they were within one game last year. It is time.
Marlins: Stay out of last place
That sounds like low-hanging fruit, particularly for a team that reached the NLDS last year, but this division is going to be a lot tougher this year. They need to compete but not lose sight of the ongoing project here.
Mets: Win the division
Mets fans always want to win it all, but they need to break the Braves’ stranglehold on first place in the NL East first.
Phillies: Make the playoffs
They now have the second-longest playoff drought in the sport, which is a bit disappointing when you consider how much has been invested in this team.
Nationals: Reach the playoffs
This is a big lift, but when you have Juan Soto, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, you’re obligated to make the push.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Win the division
They’ve stealthily been gaining on the Cardinals, and if Christian Yelich is Christian Yelich again, they could be in striking distance.
Cardinals: Reach the NLCS
The Cardinals reached four straight NLCS from 2011-14 but have made just one since. Nolan Arenado is here to change that.
Cubs: Give their fans some sunshine … or at least a happy goodbye
The Cubs caught some flak for trading away Yu Darvish in what feels like a “rebuild” move, but they still have many members of that 2016 championship team on the roster. Is it one last ride, or the final sendoff?
Pirates: Find a piece other than Ke’Bryan Hayes
There’s one roster spot set for the next few years. Now, for the other 25 …
Reds: Get back to the playoffs
Last year was supposed to be the year, but the fates were against them. They need to hope the weakness of the division works in their favor.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Get above .500
The D-backs took a big step back last year, and they probably won’t contend in this division. But moving forward, they need to show something.
Dodgers: Win the World Series
Setting an all-time wins record would be a nice bonus too.
Giants: Stay in the Wild Card race
This division is brutal, but it’s going to be that way for a while. The trick here is to be the obvious next team up.
Padres: Finish one step ahead of the Dodgers
Whether it’s beating them in the NLDS or winning the division outright, or even further, if you end up ahead of the Dodgers, you’re going to be somewhere great.
Rockies: Reestablish credibility with the fanbase
This fanbase is reeling after the Nolan Arenado trade, and it appears that Trevor Story will be gone as a free agent next winter. They need to find something to get excited about for their future.