Psst. Can I tell you a secret? Those Opening Day roster decisions we've been following, fretting and forecasting? They probably don't matter.Opening Day, which is somehow this Thursday(!), is awesome and uplifting and all that. But it's ultimately just a snapshot at the start of a long, grinding and taxing
Psst. Can I tell you a secret? Those Opening Day roster decisions we've been following, fretting and forecasting? They probably don't matter.
Opening Day, which is somehow this Thursday(!), is awesome and uplifting and all that. But it's ultimately just a snapshot at the start of a long, grinding and taxing survival of the fittest and most flexible. Last year's World Series participants were examples of how an in-season acquisition (Justin Verlander to the Astros) or prospect promotion (Cody Bellinger with the Dodgers) can alter a team in a meaningful way.
• Top 10 lineups entering this season
What follows is not a list of the 10 "best teams on paper," but rather teams that stand out as particularly malleable. That means different things in different instances. Some of these clubs are clear World Series contenders who have the kind of organizational depth to handle a wave of injury adversity. Some others sprinkled in here are wild cards -- or maybe even Wild Cards -- who could take on a very different look as 2018 evolves and perhaps even sneak into contention ahead of schedule.
As if the Yankee Haters didn't have enough fuel for the ire with this behemoth of a ballclub adding a behemoth of a slugger in Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees' most dangerous trait might be their talented farm system (ranked No. 6 by MLB Pipeline) fronted by Gleyber Torres, Estevan Florial, Justus Sheffield and Miguel Andujar. The Yanks bought themselves a deep big league bench, but Torres and/or Andujar could be ready to serve as instant infield insurance. And the overall talent pool, combined with some financial wiggle room still separating the Yankees from the luxury-tax threshold, would allow the Yanks to be bidders on any midseason trade chip of their choosing (possibly in the rotation).
Beyond the flexibility of the Major League roster, where the Dodgers have established a trend of quick pitching hooks, 10-day disabled-list manipulation and versatile position players, there's the top-tier farm system that churned out each of the past two National League Rookie of the Year Award winners and still has more talent looming. Graduations and trades have thinned the herd a bit, but the Dodgers still rank 10th on MLB Pipeline's list because of the likes of Walker Buehler (who, along with a recovering Julio Urias, could impact the pitching staff before long) and Alex Verdugo. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers will be careful not to exceed the luxury-tax threshold this year, but we have every reason to believe they can handle injury or performance adversity.
Unlike other prospect-rich organizations like the Padres and White Sox, the Braves (who rank second on MLB Pipeline's list, with San Diego and the Sox sandwiched around them) are at a point in their rebuild where they've got a wave of players -- most prominently outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. -- ready to graduate to the big league level. What that means in real terms for 2018 remains to be seen. High ceiling and low floor here. But the sheer volume of young pitchers getting an opportunity makes for a fun and fungible situation, and this is another club with plenty of capital to make an impact acquisition should things break right.
The Phillies aren't listed here because they're equipped with enough big league-ready talent to handle the loss of an Aaron Nola, Jacob Arrieta, Carlos Santana or Rhys Hoskins. But the team that committed more money to free agents than any other this winter still has a payroll south of $100 million, and their books are still extremely manageable in 2019 and beyond. Combine that with the strength of the farm (ranked fifth by MLB Pipeline), and the Phils are in good shape to make a major midseason move, should they play themselves into contention (how about giving Manny Machado a taste of Philly before he hits free agency?). Scott Kingery is viewed as an X-factor who can inject instant upside on this club, and he's got the new contract to show for it.
The Brewers have some question marks going into the new season, both in the starting staff and at second base. But they also have the outfield surplus created by the Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich acquisitions, a still-solid system (even after the Yelich trade) and the financial flexibility that comes with a sub-$100 million payroll and a manageable payroll picture for 2019 and beyond. The front office stopped short of going all-in on the 2017 effort at the non-waiver Deadline, but with the ante upped in the offseason, it might be a different story if this group is in the hunt as they hope.
Can they hang with the Cubs on the field? We shall see. But at this point, they might be better-positioned to put together a compelling trade package for an impact player. The Cubs have had to raid their stash and deal the likes of Torres and Eloy Jimenez to impact the big league roster, while the Cardinals have a wealth of viable big league prospects -- especially outfielders -- that they could package should they make another run at Josh Donaldson or Chris Archer or somebody of that ilk. It will also be interesting to see what the Cards eventually get from young arms like Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes as the year progresses.
While the farm system has been thinned a bit by trades and graduations, affecting this ranking, one thing that makes the Astros so appealing (beyond that whole World Series ring thing) is the starting-pitching depth in which quality arms like Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh are dispatched to the bullpen. The farm has options like David Paulino and Francis Martes. So in-house replacements in that important area are not hard to come by here. It will also be interesting to see if the club's second-ranked prospect, Kyle Tucker, gets a shot at some point this summer.
The Twins aren't as stacked in the big league rotation as the Indians team they're trying to hunt down in the American League Central, but they do have a couple interesting depth pieces in prospects Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero. And at this point in the developmental curve, their farm system runs a tad deeper than that of the Tribe, too, which could aid them at the Trade Deadline.
Youngsters like David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon give Colorado strong position-player depth, and top prospect Brendan Rodgers, a middle infielder, is getting close to show time, too. The Rox's farm system took a little bit of a hit with the trades for Pat Neshek and Jonathan Lucroy last year, but this club is still well-positioned to swap for midseason solutions again. They're paying a pretty penny for their bullpen this year, and a franchise-record payroll of $136 million might not leave much financial flexibility. But at least they've bought themselves bullpen depth to begin with.
Throwing in one last total wild card here, because the Reds aren't even a sleeper pick at this point. But the Joey Votto-led offense did post middle-of-the-pack run production last year, and they are at the point in their rebuild where regarded prospects like starter Tyler Mahle and outfielder Jesse Winker have risen to regular roles. Top prospect Nick Senzel looks as though he'll be ready to make an impact this season, perhaps after the Super Two cutoff in June. Though Cincinnati always seems to get barraged by rotation injuries, it has assembled a cast of arms (Luis Castillo, Mahle, Amir Garrett, etc.) who at the very least qualify as interesting. And a deep system gives the Reds trade resources, on the very off chance they are one of this year's frisky ahead-of-schedule contenders.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.