Where every team starts the '21-22 offseason

November 5th, 2021

Congratulations to the Braves on their World Series win. Unfortunately, you'd like to think only about the championship, but it's already time to look forward to 2022. To that end, we'd like to say that Freddie Freeman is still part of Atlanta's roster, but, well, he isn’t. Nor is Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Chris Martin or Drew Smyly. The Braves' starting first baseman is currently Johan Camargo. Things change quickly.

That’s not how it will look on Opening Day 2022, of course, whether that’s Freeman returning or someone else. But right now, that’s where the roster stands. It’s the same thing for the Dodgers, who no longer employ Clayton Kershaw, Chris Taylor, Max Scherzer or Kenley Jansen. Brandon Belt isn’t with the Giants. Marcus Semien isn’t on the Blue Jays.

So even if the rosters right now, in the first week of November, hardly resemble what they’ll look like in the weeks or months to come, they are where each of the 30 teams has to start from. Atlanta may like to plan for Freeman to be its first baseman in 2022 -- and maybe he will be -- but right now, he isn’t. That’s the simple truth.

That all being the case -- that you can’t just look at the teams that ended 2021 and assume the same thing will repeat in '22 -- it’s a good point to look at the FanGraphs projections for 2022, based on updated depth charts that have free agents removed. In addition to all the free agents out there, Buster Posey has retired, Tucker Barnhart was traded from the Reds to the Tigers and everything else is updated as of how it looked at 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 4.

The 30 teams currently look like this:

Projections aren’t perfect predictions, and they aren’t intended to be. But that doesn’t mean there’s no signal here. We did this exercise a year ago, noting that DJ LeMahieu wasn’t with the Yankees and that the Rays had literally zero catching options and so on. A winter’s worth of moves then happened. Yet even then, setting aside the stunning surge of the Giants and collapse of the Twins, the good teams were at the top. The lesser teams weren’t.

Let’s reset with each club, 1-30, noting free agents and also teams' biggest needs. We’re mostly not listing “relief pitching” for anyone’s needs. Every team needs relief pitching.

1) Dodgers (51.2 WAR)

Biggest needs: Starting pitcher, center field

The 2021 Dodgers somehow managed to win 106 games, beat a 107-win team in the postseason and still end up with their season feeling like something of a disappointment, just in case you were wondering how high expectations had been set for this crew. It says a lot, also, that you can look at that star-studded list of free agents and realize that so much talent remains that this team still tops this list. For example: Even if Jansen leaves, Los Angeles can still slot Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol at the back end of the bullpen. It’s not a bad place to be.

That doesn’t mean the Dodgers are without needs, of course, primarily in the rotation, where Walker Buehler and Julio Urías are the only two starters who can be relied upon for 2022. Even if Kershaw returns, as most expect he will, he’ll be 34 in March and hasn’t pitched 180 innings in a season since '15. They’ll need to sign at least two starters, whether it’s returning arms or new ones.

You can probably assume that Trea Turner will take over at shortstop for Seager and that Gavin Lux will get another shot at second, but the larger question here is what to make of Cody Bellinger, who had a tough season, presumably at least in part to offseason shoulder surgery and in-season fractures to his leg and rib. Los Angeles may be willing to write off his 2021 as a fluke of bad health, but if it’s more than that -- and if do-it-all Taylor departs -- can it enter 2022 without a better Plan B in center field?

2) Yankees (51.2 WAR)

Biggest needs: Shortstop, first base

You don’t think the Yankees should be rated this high. We get it, and kind of agree, really. “A team that is less than the sum of its parts” seems like a very New York-specific issue right now.

Still, there are plenty of stars here, and let’s start by pointing out that the Yankees' pitching was actually better than most people gave it credit for, and aside from Kluber, who made only 16 starts, they really aren’t losing a single notable arm. That doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t think about additions, but it does mean that the team’s disappointing lineup and defense have to be the first places to start.

The most obvious spot to fill is shortstop, because Gleyber Torres is now a second baseman and Gio Urshela was more an adequate fill-in than a long-term solution. You might have heard there’s a few high-quality shortstops available this winter, so the timing works, and no, the presence of prospect Anthony Volpe should absolutely not prevent the Yankees from adding a star shortstop right now.

There’s also a question at first base, where you probably could get by with Luke Voit and LeMahieu, but it’s hard to see the Yankees actually taking that path. Really, a short-term reunion with Rizzo makes plenty of sense. There are also more than a few Yankees fans who would like to see the team move on from Gary Sánchez, but the problem there is that there really are no starting-quality free-agent catchers available. Time to get the “trade for Willson Contreras” rumors fired up, we guess.

3) Padres (46.4 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Jake Arrieta, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Pierce Johnson (club option), RHP Keone Kela (club option), OF Jake Marisnick (mutual option), RHP Mark Melancon (mutual option), OF Tommy Pham, RHP Craig Stammen (club option), RHP Vince Velasquez

Biggest needs: Pitching, left field, then more pitching, first base

New manager Bob Melvin and new pitching coach Ruben Niebla take over a team that underperformed its 2021 expectations, yet still has many of the stars that led to such lofty hopes. After all, for whatever shortcomings ex-manager Jayce Tingler may have had, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager was overcoming pitching injuries so severe that San Diego had to dig up Arrieta and Velasquez to make eight ineffective late-season starts.

Still, you can’t talk your way past finishing 79-83 after everyone expected you to push 100 wins, and while the talent base that’s pushing this third-ranked projection is obvious -- Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell and a returning Mike Clevinger form an envious core -- there are still more than a few questions past just pitching.

Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers and Austin Nola were all various levels of disappointing. How many of them are moved or revived in 2022 will go a long way toward possible San Diego success. So, too, might the prospect of San Francisco not winning 107 games again.

4) White Sox (44.8 WAR)

Free agents: OF Leury García, OF Billy Hamilton, 2B Cèsar Hernández (club option), RHP Craig Kimbrel (club option), LHP Carlos Rodón, RHP Ryan Tepera

Biggest needs: Second base, right field

The White Sox have what everyone wants, which is that they have plenty of good starting-rotation options, even if Rodón departs in free agency. They still have three-quarters of a very good infield -- second base being the obvious hole, given the trade of Nick Madrigal to the Cubs and the ineffectiveness of replacement Hernández -- the best reliever in the league in Liam Hendriks and an absolute superstar in the making in center fielder Luis Robert. We got through all that without mentioning Yasmani Grandal, Tim Anderson, José Abreu or Eloy Jiménez. They don’t even really have that many big free agency decisions.

There’s a considerable amount of talent here, and not that much to do to support it. They’ll look to improve second base. They’d be well served to find a better right fielder after previous experiments with Nomar Mazara and Adam Eaton failed to pan out. But the expectation here is that what you see is what you’ll get, and that’s going to be a pretty competitive baseball team.

5) Brewers (42.6 WAR)

Biggest needs: First base, a big outfield bat

You know the Milwaukee story by now, right? Truly elite, top-end pitching, up there with the absolute best in baseball … paired with a middling, inconsistent offense that didn’t stop it from winning 95 games, but did keep it out of the top tier of baseball’s most dominant clubs.

Part of that can be fixed externally, if the Brewers seek a first-base upgrade, or if García departs and a big bat corner outfielder is obtained. (This is a situation with Jorge Soler or Nick Castellanos written all over it, really.) Maybe Willy Adames’ hot half-season is the new normal. Maybe Luis Urías settles in as a quality starting third baseman following his hot second half. They are not without interesting offensive players.

But the biggest issues here are ones they might not be able to do much about, namely: Can they get anything at all out of the veteran outfield trio of Christian Yelich, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain, who combined to hit only .219/.309/.338 in 2021? And if not: Does anything else matter?

6) Astros (42.5 WAR)

Biggest needs: Shortstop, catcher, starting pitcher

Every time it feels like the Astros' window is closing -- such as the various departures of George Springer, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel or Gerrit Cole, or injuries to Lance McCullers Jr. or Verlander, or the entire managerial structure being forced out in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal -- they do things such as win 95 games and get to Game 6 of the World Series.

It feels like we’re at another one of those points, because Correa is likely to depart as a free agent, Greinke and Verlander are not likely to be back and even pitching coach Brent Strom has called it a day. Those are not small losses, and yet it undersells the talent that remains. They’ll have to replace Correa -- which might be an opportunity for well-regarded prospect Jeremy Peña or one of the big free agents -- and it’s unclear if they can live with Martín Maldonado’s lifeless bat for another full season behind the plate. A veteran starting pitcher would be welcome.

But all that being true, there’s still Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, breakout star Kyle Tucker, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez and a whole lot to build on from Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and José Urquidy. (Albeit with many questions about the health of McCullers.) The 2022 roster -- Correa aside -- might not look that different from the one that just went to the World Series.

7) Blue Jays (42.3 WAR)

Biggest needs: Third base, pitching depth

You might choose to be cynical and point out that the Blue Jays finished in fourth place in the AL East and missed the postseason. That said, they also won 91 games despite cycling through three home cities, and they won 25 of their final 35 games. They were the team no one wanted to have to face in October, and because much of it seems sustainable -- we’re looking at you, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s massive breakout season, as well as Alek Manoah’s impressive debut -- it was a successful year. The future seems bright.

It’s not, however, without questions, starting with the fact that Ray (who might win the AL Cy Young) and Semien (who probably finishes in the top three in AL MVP voting) are each free agents, and while you could see one returning, it’s hard to imagine both are back. Given Hyun Jin Ryu’s up-and-down season and the fact that he turns 35 in March, it’s probably more important to retain Ray, though full seasons of Manoah and midseason acquisition José Berríos will benefit the 2022 Blue Jays regardless.

If Semien departs, you can probably just return Cavan Biggio to second base, because his move to third never really took flight, and seek a third baseman. Toronto fans will want José Ramírez. Every team’s fans will want Ramírez. This might be a spot for Kyle Seager instead.

8) Mets (42.1 WAR)

Biggest needs: Executives, starting pitching, outfield, third base

It’s truly difficult to know where to start with the 2022 Mets without knowing who will manage the team or run baseball operations. Until all that is resolved, everything else is sort of just a giant shrug.

Still, the roster is what it is, and the needs here are clear. That starts in the rotation, where as surprising as this might sound, there’s not really one pitcher you feel good about right now. Stroman and Syndergaard are free agents; Jacob deGrom didn’t pitch after July 7 due to an arm injury; Taijuan Walker followed a fantastic first half (2.66 ERA) with a nightmarish second (7.13); Carlos Carrasco posted a 6.04 ERA in 12 starts; David Peterson (5.54 ERA) broke his foot while walking.

There’s plenty of talent there, just also plenty of questions. That’s true on the offensive side as well, where Francisco Lindor, James McCann, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil all need to show more than they just did -- as would Conforto, if he returns. Even if he does, help in the outfield is a requirement, and doubly so if he leaves. (A third baseman would help, too.)

Again, we don’t even know who’s in charge, but at the moment, the 2022 Mets look a lot like previous versions -- and also like the crosstown Yankees -- in that they have plenty of talented players who don’t always add up to a winning team.

9) Phillies (39.6 WAR)

Biggest needs: Center field, left field, shortstop, relief pitching, leadoff hitter, infield defense

There may not be a team in the Majors (this side of the Angels, anyway) that has a bigger gap between stars and depth, because in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, this team has stars. It’s everything else that’s the problem, whether it’s a disappointing year from Didi Gregrorius or the failures of players like Scott Kingery, Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley or Alec Bohm to progress, which is why large organizational changes were made last summer, before coaching changes came in October. (Starter Ranger Suárez looks like a notable exception, so far).

It’s difficult to think president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski won’t again try to fix the bullpen, and at least one outfielder (if not two) is an absolute must. It’s not clear that either Gregorius or Bohm will retain their starting jobs on the left side; it’s even less clear what will happen if they don’t. The Phillies have the core. Can they support them? This is not a new question.

10) Red Sox (38.1 WAR)

Free agents: SS/2B José Iglesias, DH J.D. Martinez (opt-out), RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP Martín Pérez (club option), RHP Garrett Richards (club option), RHP Hansel Robles, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, OF Danny Santana, OF Kyle Schwarber, 1B Travis Shaw, C Christian Vázquez (club option)

Biggest needs: Pitching, second base, first base, infield defense

If the Red Sox outperformed low expectations in 2021, well, know now that the expectations for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and his staff are no longer nearly so low. They may also be coming without a chunk of this year’s key contributors if, as expected, Schwarber, Martinez and Rodriguez all hit the market.

Perhaps they’ll retain one or more, but there are other issues here. As fantastic as Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts are at the plate, Boston’s infield defense was baseball’s weakest in 2021, raising the question of whether it’s time to move one or both to different positions. Christian Arroyo profiles far better as a bench player than a starting second baseman. Can Bobby Dalbec harness his extreme swing-and-miss ability well enough to get to his considerable power on a regular basis? If not, he might be trade bait with Triston Casas looming.

Like most teams, the Red Sox could use a boost in the bullpen, though it’s safe to say they could use a bigger infusion of relief arms than most other contending clubs -- and that’s especially true if Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock find themselves in the 2022 rotation.

11) Braves (37.9 WAR)

Free agents: SS Ehire Adrianza, RHP Jesse Chavez, 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Chris Martin, OF Joc Pederson (mutual option), RHP Tanner Roark, OF Eddie Rosario, OF Jorge Soler, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Josh Tomlin (club option), C Stephen Vogt

Biggest needs: First base, outfield

OK, so the World Series champs are No. 11 and you’re feeling disrespected, and maybe you should, but let’s at least remember why they’re here. It’s because right now, Freeman is not a member of the team, making the projected starting first baseman Johan Camargo. Three of the four midseason outfield acquisitions -- the ones who boosted the club to October glory -- are free agents. The Braves were three games under .500 at the Trade Deadline, remember, and so the August-through-October Braves, as great as they were, were also something of a moment in time.

None of which means the four-time defending NL East champs can’t or won’t be strong. Everyone expects Freeman will be back, it just has to happen, and the rest of the infield remains intact. Superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. should be recovered from his knee injury to play most, or all, of the 2022 season. Mike Soroka, who has barely pitched at all over the past two seasons due to Achilles tears, could possibly contribute next year.

But also, the 2022 pitching staff might feel the effects of a long, grueling postseason run, especially the “night shift” in the bullpen that handled a ton of work and generally pitched well above expectations. The Braves weren’t really the "best" team of '21, by most any view. They were the best team when it mattered. Flags fly forever and all, and they earned that. It just also feels a little like lightning in a bottle at exactly the right time, with questions yet to be answered for '22. We’d still take them to win a fifth straight division title right now, anyway.

12) Rays (37.5 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Chris Archer, DH Nelson Cruz, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Collin McHugh, RHP David Robertson, RHP Chaz Roe, RHP Michael Wacha, C Mike Zunino (club option)

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, catching

A World Series appearance in 2020, a 100-win season in ‘21 ... and a 12th-place projection in ‘22. It might just be that the projections don’t do a good enough job at understanding a roster that doesn’t generally have huge stars -- though Wander Franco is about to change that in a big way -- in favor of having a ton of players who do something well, especially on the mound.

So while there’s not an obvious hole on the roster (assuming Zunino’s option is picked up) you can at least understand why the projections are wary of a pitching staff that had three of its four arms who threw 100 innings do so with an ERA north of 5.00 (Ryan Yarbrough, Wacha, Josh Fleming) probably won’t get a single pitch from Tyler Glasnow, and will miss Nick Anderson for a chunk of another season. Not that there aren’t talented arms here -- Luis Patiño, Shane Baz, Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and friends are all extremely intriguing -- but you don’t really expect any of them to throw 150 innings next year.

That’s a lot of innings to fill. Of course, if anyone has shown they can do it, it’s the Rays and manager Kevin Cash. We’d be looking out for a surprise trade of someone you might not expect, like Kevin Kiermaier.

13) Twins (36.8 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Alex Colomé (mutual option), RHP Michael Pineda, SS Andrelton Simmons

Biggest needs: Pitching, pitching, shortstop, pitching

No team had a more disappointing 2021 than the Twins, and it’s not clear that it was a one-year fluke, given the trade of José Berríos to Toronto and the loss of Kenta Maeda to Tommy John surgery. You can at least point to the fact that the offense was pretty good, and hope that the bullpen can’t possibly be quite as much of a mess. But if they were this bad with Berríos and Maeda, what can they do without them?

Maybe Pineda returns, and there was a lot to like about rookies Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Even so, you’ll have to imagine they sign two or three veterans, as well as a shortstop, because Jorge Polanco became a star at second base and it’s unlikely Simmons will be welcomed back. But really, those aren’t the biggest questions of the winter. The thing to really watch is if they can trade Josh Donaldson, or want to sign or trade Byron Buxton or Mitch Garver. The 2022 Twins really can’t resemble the '21 version, and trades are the easiest way to ensure that they don’t.

14) Angels (36.6 WAR)

Biggest needs: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. (Also: shortstop.)

As a sport, as a society, as a species, we have all had enough of baseball seasons that end with Mike Trout (and now Shohei Ohtani) not in the national spotlight of the postseason. It’s not like GM Perry Minasian doesn’t know this, or how to fix it: “I think pitching is always going to be a priority,” Minasian said. “You can never have enough. We understand that the mound is a place where we’d like to significantly improve. Not just improve, but significantly improve.”

No kidding -- especially because two of the team’s three best pitchers (Cobb and Iglesias) are free agents. While young Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez each showed enough in 2021 to be penciled in alongside Ohtani in ‘22, Minasian probably has to import a half-dozen new arms this winter between the rotation and bullpen. It’s a tall order.

It’s worth noting, also, there are non-pitching needs, too, primarily at shortstop. But mostly, they need Trout to be healthy. They need Anthony Rendon to be healthy. They need David Fletcher to be much better than he was in 2021, or otherwise be moved to a reserve role. They need one or both of Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh to hold down everyday outfield spots. And again, they need pitching. So much pitching.

15) Cardinals (36.4 WAR)

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, shortstop, a lefty bat

The good news coming out of St. Louis in 2021 is that after a rocky first half, the young outfield of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson found their footing and should be a solid trio for '22. Paul Goldschmidt had his best season in years. Nolan Arenado’s debut in red was a successful one. None of that stopped them from making an unexpected managerial change, but the roster was going to have the same questions regardless of who was filling out the lineup card.

Like most teams, those questions revolve around rotation depth -- it feels like at some point Adam Wainwright won’t be able to keep this up, though he’s been proving everyone wrong for years -- but primarily, there’s badly a need for one more big bat, ideally in the middle infield, where neither Paul DeJong nor Tommy Edman impressed and Edmundo Sosa is a nice player who isn’t a roadblock. We imagine Cardinals fans are already sizing out their Corey Seager jerseys for holiday shopping.

16) A's (34.9 WAR)

Biggest needs: A manager, corner outfield, shortstop, pitching

That the A’s can look back on an 86-76 season and feel disappointment tells you how strong they'd been over the past three years, playing at a 97-win pace from 2018-20, though coming away from that stretch without a single postseason series victory.

That should be something to build upon, and yet, the A’s find themselves in a difficult situation. The unexpected departure of manager Bob Melvin means they’re without a skipper, but a lot of this offseason will revolve around what happens with the remainder of their core. Star corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman can be free agents after 2023, as can starter Frankie Montas. Fellow starters Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea and useful utilityman Chad Pinder can depart after '22, if not retained.

With Ramon Laureano suspended for the first month of next season, and Canha, Marte and a big chunk of the bullpen headed to free agency now, this does feel like an inflection point in the ongoing saga of the A’s. If Melvin were still around, you’d feel confident they’d try to build around the core. Without him, you start to wonder if trade season is open in the East Bay.

17) Reds (33.9 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Brad Brach, IF Asdrúbal Cabrera, OF Nick Castellanos, RHP Mychal Givens, RHP Michael Lorenzen, LHP Wade Miley (club option), LHP Justin Wilson (player/club option)

Biggest needs: Center field, pitching, shortstop

After six consecutive losing seasons, the 2020 and ’21 Reds looked like they’d be turning the corner back into contention, but it didn’t really work out that way. They were competitive, sure, at six games over .500 the past two seasons, but more than a little inconsistent -- it did not help that they repeatedly declined to acquire a shortstop -- and they started this winter early by trading Tucker Barnhart to Detroit while talking about payroll limitations.

Barnhart had been usurped by Tyler Stephenson as the starting catcher anyway, so that move isn’t as big a deal as it sounds, while Jesse Winker has established himself as a top-flight bat and Jonathan India might win NL Rookie of the Year. But can the Reds get another outstanding season from Joey Votto at 38? Can they hope for more from Mike Moustakas or Eugenio Suárez, who both disappointed in 2021? Who replaces Castellanos’ bat in the lineup? Can Jose Barrero be the shortstop? Where does the pitching depth come from behind a good top three? What about the bullpen?

This is a team with a tremendous number of questions, and no easy answers.

18) Royals (31.3 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Wade Davis, RHP Jesse Hahn, RHP Greg Holland, RHP Ervin Santana

Biggest needs: Veteran pitching, corner outfielders, aligning the infield

Flags do fly forever, but since the Royals won the World Series in 2015, only three teams have lost more games, as GM Dayton Moore continues to attempt to build the next good Kansas City team. That didn’t happen in '21, as the Royals lived up pretty closely to their below-.500 expectations, though it doesn’t mean progress wasn’t made, as the top four members of the vaunted 2018 Draft class -- Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic -- all saw considerable Major League time.

That doesn’t mean they were all effective, as they mostly were not, but it’s a first step toward building the core the Royals hope to win around. You’ll see the next step in 2022, when Bobby Witt Jr. and Nick Pratto are likely to arrive, though that also adds some questions about how shortstops Witt, Nicky Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi are deployed, a nice problem to have, anyway. For the short term, the larger questions are about an outfield that offered little in 2021, and about how much improvement you can get from the young starters. If they fail, the whole plan goes with them.

19) Guardians (30.9 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Blake Parker, C Roberto Pérez (club option), C Wilson Ramos, RHP Bryan Shaw

Biggest needs: Catcher, first base, corner outfield. It’s always bats.

The new-look Guardians will start their tenure with the same problem as their predecessors had for several years, which is a lack of thump in the lineup, particularly in the corner outfield, though the in-season trade for speedy Myles Straw should at least give them a starting center fielder and Franmil Reyes is fine at DH. This issue, really, has been going on longer than we can remember, which is part of why the usual embarrassment of riches on the mound has been squandered since their three-season reign atop the AL Central ended in 2018.

Even the pitching has a few more questions than you’d like, if only because Shane Bieber made 16 starts while missing three months with shoulder trouble. If he’s fine, they’ll be fine, because Emmanuel Clase, who came in the initially-unpopular Kluber deal, blossomed into a relief ace, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale still anchor the rotation and Cal Quantrill was quietly fantastic down the stretch, posting a 2.79 ERA in his final 20 starts.

All eyes, however, will be on what they do with superstar third baseman José Ramírez, who can be a free agent following 2022. We’ve already seen them move Francisco Lindor in advance of his final year. Will they take the same road here?

20) Mariners (28.7 WAR)

Free agents: LHP Tyler Anderson, RHP Matt Andriese (club option), LHP Sean Doolittle, LHP Yusei Kikuchi, LHP James Paxton, 3B Kyle Seager, RHP Joe Smith

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, second base

Seattle had by any measure a successful season, hanging around in the postseason hunt until the final weekend, even if the fun differential far outpaced the run differential. The front office clearly hopes to build on that success, with GM Jerry Dipoto saying, “We do have payroll flexibility, and we're going to use it to go out and make the team better,” at the end of the season. The Mariners have money to spend, and they’re expected to do so.

The question, though, is whether they’re starting from a base of 90 wins, or from one that got outscored by 51 runs and is projected to be the 20th-best team for 2022. What’s indisputable is that the offense was an issue, with the fifth-weakest slugging percentage in the Majors, and the expected departure of longtime third baseman Seager (35 homers) won’t help there. Ty France (1B/3B) and Abraham Toro (3B/2B) can fill two of the non-shortstop spots, likely at the corners, but a heavy-hitting infielder would be welcome. It’s difficult to think of a better landing spot for Marcus Semien than next to J.P. Crawford.

They could probably use a short-term veteran outfielder -- it seems a lot to expect Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez to be healthy and productive at the same time -- but really, that’s a minor need compared to starting-pitching depth. You can pencil in Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert into the 2022 rotation. That’s about it. Seattle could use an ace above Gonzales, and a depth starter or three.

21) Marlins (28.1 WAR)

Free agents: C Sandy León, 2B Joe Panik

Biggest needs: Catcher, multiple outfielders, as much hitting as you can find

Coming into the season, it was pretty clear that Miami’s weak offense would sink its talented young pitching, and that’s essentially what happened, as the Marlins hit the third-fewest homers, scored the second-fewest runs and lost 95 games. They still have talented young pitching, maybe even more than they just showed if Jesús Luzardo’s first full Miami season lives up to expectations and if Sixto Sánchez, who didn’t pitch in 2021, can return in ‘22. But what about those bats?

If you look at the depth chart, you can assume Jazz Chisholm and Miguel Rojas are their middle infielders. Jesús Sánchez probably gets a chance to run in right field, and Brian Anderson (3B/OF) and Jesús Aguilar (1B/DH) will slot in somewhere. Maybe you want to see what Bryan De La Cruz can do. Maybe Garrett Cooper, if healthy, is a bench bat.

But beyond that, the lineup is open for business. They don’t really have a catcher, because Jorge Alfaro is clearly not the answer. None of Lewis Brinson, Lewin Díaz, Magneuris Sierra or Monte Harrison have earned starting jobs (or potentially even roster spots) for 2022. Even Anderson has much to prove coming off of a tough season, marred by shoulder injuries. If the Marlins want to support those arms, GM Kim Ng is going to have to find a way to massively upgrade the lineup, which is exactly where we were a year ago.

22) Giants (27.4 WAR)

Free agents: LHP José Álvarez (club option), 1B Brandon Belt, 3B/OF Kris Bryant, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Johnny Cueto (club option), RHP Anthony DeSclafani, IF Wilmer Flores (club option), RHP Kevin Gausman, C Buster Posey, LHP José Quintana, 2B Donovan Solano, LHP Tony Watson, LHP Alex Wood

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, outfield, catcher

You’re so mad about this. The Giants won 107 games! How could they possibly be between the Marlins and Orioles here! There’s a whole lot of evidence that this is far too low, because the 2021 Giants massively outperformed their projections, and so perhaps the projections are simply too slow to catch up to what they’ve done.

That’s probably right, to a large extent. But it’s also not hard to see what’s happening here. As things stand today, the Giants have zero starting pitchers who have had a full, successful Major League season. That’s not disrespectful to breakout star Logan Webb (who is already projected to be one of 2022’s best), just a realization that he was sent down to the Minors as recently as July 10 of this past summer, and an acknowledgement that Cueto, Gausman, DeSclafani and Wood, who combined for 111 starts, are all free agents.

It’s a reflection, also, of the fact that Belt and Bryant are both free agents. It’s a nod to the truth that Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford are both 35 or older, and that it’s difficult to know how much stock to put into players with limited track records, such as Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr. And of course, we know that Buster Posey, who was arguably the best catcher in baseball in 2021, is retiring, leaving the position to the unproven Joey Bart.

The Giants know all that, of course. They’ve said that rebuilding the rotation is the “No. 1 priority,” and it’s likely that at least one of the free-agent starters returns, if not several. Most observers expect that Belt isn’t going anywhere. If any team has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s this one, after what they just pulled off, and they’re clearly better than this ranking shows. Yet, they’ve also considerably upped the expectations as well. There’s a lot of work to be done here.

23) Orioles (26.9 WAR)

Free agents: LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Matt Harvey

Biggest needs: Pitching, infield aside from first base, talent base

If you’re an Orioles fan and you’re pleased with a No. 23 ranking here, that’s perhaps a sign of growth and also an indication of just how poorly things have gone in Baltimore. Over the past four seasons, no team has lost more games, and it’s really not even close.

If you’re looking for bright spots, 2021 had some, namely that Cedric Mullins had an MVP-level season, that Ryan Mountcastle hit 33 homers, that Trey Mancini was not only healthy but decently productive, that John Means is a rotation keeper, that the top pitcher and the top position player in the Minors are Orioles. The outfield was generally pretty solid.

That’s all great, but also the team still lost 110 games, thanks mostly to one of the weakest pitching staffs of the past century. You can see the path back to relevance, maybe in a way you couldn’t have one, two or three years ago. It still just all feels so far away.

24) D-backs (26.2 WAR)

Free agents: OF Kole Calhoun, RHP Tyler Clippard, RHP Chris Devenski

Biggest needs: Pitching, third base, a bat with power, a general direction

The expectations for Arizona entering 2021 weren’t terribly high, but certainly no one expected a 110-loss debacle that put into question every aspect of the organization and its near-term plan.

“I'm also not going to be unrealistic about realizing that we’re a 52-win team,” said GM Mike Hazen after the season. “You might get tired of me saying that, but I'm going to keep saying it, because I want us all to remember where we are right now. It’s easily the worst place that I've ever sat -- and I'm responsible for it, so it's even more painful -- but I don't want to be back here again.”

There are young-ish names to like here -- Pavin Smith, Daulton Varsho, Zac Gallen and Josh Rojas had their moments in 2021 -- and Ketel Marte proved he’s a bonafide star, though in just half a season due to hamstring injuries. But really, there’s not a great reason to think Arizona can compete with San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in the NL West in 2022. So when can it? And how does it get there?

25) Nationals (23.9 WAR)

Biggest needs: Three-quarters of an infield, pitching

There’s probably nothing the Nationals could do to better ensure their future than to sign Juan Soto for as long as they possibly can. But on a more short-term basis, it’s been more than a decade since this team was coming off a season this poor, which means there are tons of questions to answer.

The eagle-eyed among you might note that we wrote “three-quarters of an infield” last year, too, before they traded for first baseman Josh Bell. He had a good year (124 OPS+ and 27 homers), and he’s still there, but Trea Turner is long gone, and neither Carter Kieboom nor Luis Garcia had particularly great 2021 seasons, though they are so young they’ll get plenty of opportunity again in ‘22, as will highly regarded catcher Keibert Ruiz, a prize of the Scherzer/Turner deal.

The bigger problem, perhaps, is in what had long been Washington’s strength -- the rotation. Scherzer has departed. Patrick Corbin just posted an ERA nearing 6.00. Stephen Strasburg has pitched 26 2/3 innings since the Nats won the World Series two years ago. Joe Ross is trying to recover from an elbow injury without surgery. Cade Cavalli will arrive, eventually, but for the moment, the 2022 Nationals are projected to have the NL’s weakest pitching staff. That’s a difficult starting point to overcome.

26) Cubs (23.8 WAR)

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, shortstop, a direction

The Great Teardown of the 2016 Cubs, or what was left of them, happened swiftly in the span of just a few days in July, leaving Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward as the only members of the active roster who helped break the curse more than five years ago. The '21 Cubs, meanwhile, had a .438 winning percentage, their worst since '12, and even that obscures the truth, because Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez helped win some of those games. After that trio was gone, the Cubs went 21-37.

All of which leaves the direction of the near-term Cubs more than a little uncertain, especially because pleasant infield surprises Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel are already entering their age-30 seasons -- and similar pleasant surprise Rafael Ortega turns 31 in May. Jed Hoyer has said pitching is his No. 1 priority, which makes sense, and Nick Madrigal, acquired in a trade for Craig Kimbrel, should be the second baseman for the next few seasons. Maybe a return for Báez is in the cards to handle short.

Yet for Hoyer and new GM Carter Hawkins, the most important moves they make this winter won’t be about the 2022 Cubs, who seem pretty far from contention. It’s about what they do with Contreras, who is a free agent after '22. It’s about what they do with Hendricks, who turns 32 in December and is a free agent after '23. It’s about figuring out what the core of the next good Cubs team looks like.

27) Rangers (23.4 WAR)

Free agents: IF Charlie Culberson, IF Brock Holt, RHP Jordan Lyles

Biggest needs: Everything. Every part of the roster.

Not our words, by the way. "We're going to be discussing players in every category, every position and every area of the market," said president of baseball operations Jon Daniels at the end of the season. “I think that we have needs everywhere,” GM Chris Young added.

The Rangers won’t be losing any prominent free agents this winter, which is nice on the surface, but also means they’re returning a roster that just lost 102 games. Even breakout sensation Adolis García, who hit 31 homers with strong defense, had a mere .286 OBP -- and hit .224/.271/.397 after the end of May. He’ll likely enter 2022 with a starting spot anyway, because the competition here is not strong.

They’re probably OK at catcher, where Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim were strong defenders and powerful Sam Huff is nearly ready. Josh Jung will take over at third at some point soon, you might want to give Nate Lowe another crack at first and Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Andy Ibáñez can contribute in some capacity. (While Kiner-Falefa played a very good shortstop, he’s also not going to stand in the way of a Trevor Story or Corey Seager, if the Rangers choose to go that route.)

But when you score the third-fewest runs and allow the seventh-most, then in general, as the franchise continues to move away from the Elvis Andrus/Rougned Odor/Joey Gallo years, the issue here is that the talent base is simply not strong enough. There have been big changes in the front office, and on the coaching staff. There will need to be on the roster as well -- and Texas has indicated a willingness to spend this winter to do so.

28) Rockies (22.7 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Jhoulys Chacín, OF Ian Desmond, RHP Jon Gray, IF/OF Chris Owings, SS Trevor Story

Biggest needs: Shortstop, center field, left field, just hitting

The Rockies were better than you might have thought in 2021, going 54-53 beginning on June 1, fueled in part by what was again a pretty good starting rotation, but also by their refusal to trade Story or Gray. That rotation will be weakened if Gray leaves, but the main problem -- as it’s been for a few seasons now -- is that the offense simply wasn’t good enough, ranking as baseball’s weakest on a park-adjusted basis. This is one spot where a potential DH addition might hurt, because they had a hard time finding eight bats, much less a ninth.

They did get a head start on the winter by keeping first baseman C.J. Cron off the market, which should help, but the all-but-certain loss of Story is not going to help the issues the offense already had. That’s especially true in the outfield, which was the weakest in the game, and they can’t count on a rebound from Blackmon, who turns 36 in July and is likely to exercise his 2022 and '23 player options.

Retaining Gray would validate the decision not to trade him. Yet if they do hope to improve in 2022, they’re going to have to find a new shortstop (we assume Brendan Rodgers will stay at second base), and at least one outfielder with a plus bat, maybe two. Can new GM Bill Schmidt pull that trick off?

29) Pirates (20.0 WAR)

Free agents: RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Chasen Shreve, 1B Yoshi Tsutsugo

Biggest needs: Starting pitching, corner outfield, first base

It might not seem so, after a 101-loss campaign that represented a fifth losing season in six years, but there are bright spots here. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and center fielder Bryan Reynolds are parts you can build around. Shortstop Oneil Cruz may or may not be ready for full-time duty in 2022, but he showed elite, top-end power skills in his first day in the Majors. Catcher Jacob Stalling is one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. The farm system has been rebuilt into one of baseball’s best.

The problem, at least for 2022, is everything else. The offense scored the fewest runs in baseball, in part because it hit the fewest home runs in baseball, which unsurprisingly came from having the weakest hard-hit rate. On the mound, the pitching staff allowed the third-highest ERA. The Pirates were one of only three teams to not have a single pitcher throw 80 or more MLB-average innings.

All of which is why the 2022 Pirates are projected to have the third-weakest hitting and the fifth-weakest pitching, and it’s hard to know how to fix that in one winter. You probably can’t. It’s possible that not one single member of the 2022 rotation has already earned a job. That doesn’t mean you won’t see JT Brubaker, Wil Crowe, Mitch Keller or whomever, because spots need to be filled, but there’s not really anyone who has grabbed hold of anything.

Which, really, is the other issue. Reynolds is fantastic. Hayes is fantastic. The farm system is quite good. But can the Minor League youth arrive in time to contribute before the, “Do we sign or trade Reynolds and Hayes?” thoughts really come into play? Can GM Ben Cherington find talent that isn’t already in the system?

We’re not quite at the inflection point where the post-Gerrit Cole/Andrew McCutchen/Starling Marte/Jameson Taillon rebuild can be deemed success or failure. We are, though, getting to where some forward progress needs to be seen.

30) Tigers (19.8 WAR)

Biggest needs: Shortstop and more starting pitching than you think

If you’re surprised to find the Tigers here, well, so are we, because after years in the wilderness, Detroit already has a bit of a feeling of being that team, in part because the touted young pitching all arrived while the offense had some unexpected highlights. The team as a whole was two games over .500 starting June 1, giving the Tigers their best seasonal winning percentage since the Verlander/Scherzer club of 2014. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are nearly here. They already traded for Tucker Barnhart. Just add Carlos Correa to manager A.J. Hinch's club, and go off. Right?

Perhaps, but it’s worth exploring why the projections are so down here, and it is largely about that young pitching. It’s reasonable to expect Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, all under 25, to improve from 2021. It’s also vital to point out that, for the most part, they were not quite as impressive as you’d hoped to have seen in '21 (4.42 combined ERA, 4.84 FIP). Manning arrived after allowing 29 runs in 32 1/3 Triple-A innings, and veterans Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull will both miss part or all of '22 after arm surgeries. There’s not much of a safety net here.

All of which means that we can point to the arrivals of Torkelson and Greene, and point to unexpected contributions from Akil Baddoo, Victor Reyes and Eric Haase, and respect Jeimer Candelario more than we have, and say that yes, this is a team going in the right direction, and yet it’s all going to come down to that pitching. Sure, add Correa or another shortstop. They should. But if this is all going to work, the Tigers need to find a starter or two and have one or two of those young arms make a big leap.