Oh man, some of you are going to absolutely hate this list. Just know that from the start. I feel genuinely good about the first four spots, and then it quickly devolves into all sorts of ifs, ands and buts. There are a bundle of teams who could take a lot of different offensive directions this season. So it is with baseball. So it is with lists.
Here's mine (and as usual, we grade NL teams on a curve with the lack of a DH):
1. Red Sox
When you’ve got that, you’ve got something good. But of course, it doesn’t end there for the Sox. They have one of the most productive shortstops in the game in Xander Bogaerts, they have a 24-year-old Andrew Benintendi coming off an offensive breakout, they have a 22-year-old Rafael Devers possibly on the verge of a breakout, they have Jackie Bradley Jr. coming off a scorching second half after some swing adjustments, they have all the primary pieces of a lineup that generated one of the highest contact rates in the game (79.3 percent), they have bench depth and versatility.
You know, I’m starting to think they just might be good again.
Speaking of high-contact, the Astros were just ahead of the Sox last year (79.9 percent). Recognizing the need for balance, they went out and acquired a pull-no-punches, free-swinging thumper with ...
Ah, just kidding. They added Michael Brantley, owner of the highest individual contact rate (90.9) in the game last year.
So the strong got stronger. All the more so if they get full seasons out of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer after last year’s injury issues. Even if Alex Bregman doesn’t repeat his dynamic 31-homer, 51-double output of ’18, the Astros are loaded with potential American League MVP Award candidates. And right now there’s no room at the inn for outfielder Kyle Tucker, rated as the No. 8 prospect in the game per MLB Pipeline. If you want to rank them ahead of the Red Sox, I won’t fight you.
Remember when Giancarlo Stanton said he felt bad for the baseballs? It didn’t turn out quite the way the Yankees expected, with Stanton suffering a statistical regression in his first year in pinstripes and Aaron Judge getting hurt.
But I, for one, still feel bad for the baseballs. Both of those dudes are projected by Steamer to finish in the top 16 in MLB in weighted runs created plus – the catch-all offensive stat that adjusts for the league and ballpark context -- and that projection could be selling them short. The Yanks are, in my mind, a tick below the level of the Astros and Red Sox because of the uncertainty over what, exactly, Gary Sanchez’s “norm” will be and because there’s no telling if Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar will repeat their dramatic rookie years, if Aaron Hicks’ back issue will linger, if Luke Voit will turn into a pumpkin, if Troy Tulowitzki will turn back the clock, etc.
But there’s no shame in third place here.
“Stupid” money can lead to stupid run production. The Phillies project to have it with Bryce Harper (145 projected wRC+, per Steamer, or 45 percent better than league average), Andrew McCutchen (129), J.T. Realmuto (110) and Jean Segura (101) newly in the fold. Harper actually took the Phillies' offer because of the way Citizens Bank Park, one of the top home run parks for left-handed hitters, plays into his swing.
Nah, I’m just kidding again. He took the offer because it was $330 million. But the ballpark factor is cool, too. Given the added presence of Harper to the middle of the order, would it surprise anybody if Rhys Hoskins elevates his overall production this year -- especially on the heels of a 20-homer second half? And Maikel Franco could still turn his raw power into something interesting if he can get the ball off the ground more consistently.
By wRC+, the Dodgers and the Yankees were the two most productive offenses in MLB last year. The Dodgers have taken on a different outfield identity this year after the trade sending Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds and signing A.J. Pollock, who can be a truly dynamic offensive contributor in spurts, but who has played just 237 games over the previous three years with basically league average offensive contributions overall. The Dodgers will continue their mix-and-match mastery in multiple spots in the lineup, though it will be interesting to see if Cody Bellinger can play himself out of a platoon identity. And of course, a big key for the lineup is the return of Corey Seager, who is projected by Steamer to post production similar to that of Francisco Lindor (129 wRC+).
It’s putting an awful lot on the young Juan Soto to repeat his historic 19-year-old season and on the young Victor Robles to make everybody forget about Bryce Harper. But those are two uber-talented players in a league that keeps getting younger, so don’t put it past the Nats to not take a dramatic step back offensively in the first year of the post-Bryce era. Adam Eaton and Trea Turner should generate traffic atop the order, and Anthony Rendon has logged an OPS over .900 each of the last two seasons. To all that, the Nats added the power of Brian Dozier and catcher Yan Gomes on the heels of a productive offensive season (.266/.313/.449) at a time when catchers, at large, aren’t producing much.
Now that Christian Yelich has decided to be a modern-day Barry Bonds (well, in the second half of 2018, at the very least), a Brewers lineup that was already alluring has added depth and dimension. Yelich had 25 homers in the second half alone, to go with 10 steals. He’s a regression candidate, but he’s also a superstar.
Retaining Mike Moustakas (to play second base) sure is interesting from a defensive perspective, but we know what it should give the Brew Crew offensively -- a bunch of dingers, to go with the ones already provided by Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun. The Brewers added another key upgrade with the opportunistic one-year acquisition of Yasmani Grandal, who, postseason passed balls aside, was the second-most productive catcher in baseball last season, behind Realmuto. With good traffic coming from Lorenzo Cain in the leadoff spot, the Brewers will once again be in good position to again finish in the top 10 in team OPS.
The Nos. 2-4 spots will be Josh Donaldson (who, remember, had his bat speed and body back in those final 16 games with the Indians in 2018 and turned in a .920 OPS in that small sample), Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. That’s good enough to get you on this list.
There are questions about the way Ozzie Albies tailed off in the second half last year, about deviating from the “Acuna as leadoff man” move that worked so well in ’18, about Nick Markakis’ ability to repeat the first All-Star campaign of his career. Very real and very reasonable questions. But I love the offensive nucleus here.
I speculatively put the A’s 10th on this list a year ago, and they were the rare team to actually prove me right about something (thank you, A’s!). They had the same team-wide wRC+ mark as the Astros and Red Sox, which is pretty impressive. Of course, Jed Lowrie’s fantastic age-34 contributions (.267/.353/.448 slash) was a part of that, but Jurickson Profar finally began to deliver in Texas last year (.254/.335/.458) and he could be an impactful trade pickup in his age-26 season. If Matt Chapman, who is so good defensively, can extrapolate something like his second half (.309/.371/.591) over a full season, he’s an AL MVP Award candidate, and the A’s have additional power in perennial .247-average/40-homer guy Khris Davis and in Stephen Piscotty. Oakland already suffered an early blow with the loss of Matt Olson to a hand fracture, so that could dent their production in the first couple months of the season.
They had three legitimate All-Star infielders in 2018 in Joey Votto (131 wRC+), Eugenio Suarez (135) and Scooter Gennett (125). Even when Votto is “bad” (his phrasing, not mine), he’s pretty darned good, but don’t put it past him to have a season more closely resembling his elite 2017 than his merely great 2018.
The big mystery is what the Reds will get out of a financially motivated Yasiel Puig in a new setting that appears a perfect pair with his power. And whether converted center fielder Nick Senzel, whenever he arrives, comes as advertised at the plate.
Alas, Gennett is out eight to 12 weeks with a groin strain, which will be an early test of the Reds’ depth -- and of this ambitious ranking.
Honestly, you could almost make another Top 10 out of teams with reasonable arguments to be in the Top 10. In no particular order …
Mike Trout gives them a high floor, as always, and Shohei Ohtani as a full-time DH (for this year, anyway) gives them high intrigue. PECOTA projects them to post the third-highest run total in the AL, for what it’s worth.
As tends to be the case, they’re fascinating, having accurately bet on Tommy Pham’s hard-hit rate leading to better luck after a rough start in St. Louis last year and having placed a similar bet on the big-biceped-but-groundball-prone Yandy Diaz this year.
Their offense “broke” last year, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein put it, so they got demoted off this list. But it could very easily repair itself this year, especially with a healthy Kris Bryant.
Now with 100 percent more Paul Goldschmidt. That should work.
Now with 100 percent more Manny Machado. But it’s all about how the kids come into focus around him.
They restructured their lineup but maintain two of the most dynamic players in the sport in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez and profile to generate a good amount of traffic on the bases.
I’d be as excited about Pete Alonso as Robinson Cano, though I ultimately just don’t think they are a Top 10 offense.
They should have a ton of power. But so much still hinges on Byron Buxton and/or Miguel Sano turning potential into reality.
As usual, they’ll finish in the top 10 in runs. But when adjusted for park factors, their offense was actually in the bottom-third of MLB last year.