The offseason is only a week old, but in our fast-paced world, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to what’s next. Only one team ends a baseball season at the top of the heap, which means 29 other teams, absent parades and pep rallies, have already started looking toward 2022. And so have we.
As we relax, wind down and mix in a little holiday cheer with our offseason, here’s our first look at next year, in our final Power Rankings of 2021:
Power Rankings Top 5
They’re the World Series champs, and while recent history suggests we won’t have a repeat in 2022 (no team has won back-to-back titles since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000), the Braves earned the trophy, and therefore they get the top spot in our final Power Rankings of 2021. The Braves' young pitching gives Atlanta plenty of reasons to be optimistic for next season. But there is uncertainty surrounding their outfield -- they’re potentially losing everyone who they ended the season with to free agency (Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario) -- and, of course, Freddie Freeman is on the market as well. So there’s work to do.
The Dodgers have a slew of players who helped them reach the National League Championship Series who are now free agents, but with deep pockets, a solid farm system and a strong core returning, there’s little reason to believe they won’t be in the thick of a division race again. They’ve already taken one measure to boost their rotation, agreeing with lefty Andrew Heaney to a modest one-year deal. That won’t replace Max Scherzer, who is a free agent, or Clayton Kershaw, who wasn’t extended a qualifying offer, but it’s one small step. As is the case with every team this time of year, there’s more to do.
The Rays' first 100-win season in their history was marred by a surprisingly early exit in the postseason, but that ALDS loss to the Red Sox doesn’t take the shine off what looks to be a bright immediate future for baseball’s best small-market team. Even with the graduation of Wander Franco and others, their farm system is still a top-10 operation (6th, per MLB Pipeline), and they have plenty of prospects ready to audition to fill what few holes they have now that free agency is in full-gear. If there is a glaring need, it’s probably for an established, durable starting pitcher to stabilize the top of the rotation.
Like the Rays, the Brewers had high expectations after one of the best regular seasons in their history, but they fell short in the NLDS against the eventual world champs. Losing to the last team left standing is only a small consolation prize -- Milwaukee will need to fortify its offense in 2022 if it wants to progress further into October. That doesn’t just mean signing or trading for a hitter; they’ll also have to get a few of their own on track -- namely, Christian Yelich, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Keston Hiura. The pitching outlook is far sunnier, with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta -- one of the top trios in baseball -- all returning.
5. White Sox
The White Sox took a step forward when they coasted to a division title in ’21, but given the composition of their roster -- presumably, key players who were hurt for large chunks of last season will return healthy -- expectations will be even higher next year. They may look to improve at second base and right field, though Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn could factor into the outfield after strong rookie seasons. The Sox could lose Carlos Rodón to free agency, but with Michael Kopech set to move from the bullpen to the rotation, the starting staff seems to be in good shape.
The rest of the field of 30:
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn