The first Power Rankings of the new year is always the most challenging. Predicting what teams will look like in April -- or even in February, when pitchers and catchers normally report -- can turn into a combination of playing whack-a-mole blindfolded. Even in normal times, momentum can swing with one free-agent signing or blockbuster trade that alters the entire look of a division.
Multiply that by 1,000, and that’s what we have now, as we move into (hooray!) 2021. Most key free agents are still waiting to sign. Teams are attempting to figure out their payroll with another uncertain season approaching. And everyone’s waiting for the Mets to make a move(s).
But even with the uncertainty, we can, with sound mind, assume a few things to be true: Compelling division races are everywhere. For the first time in a while, the National League West is not yet decided before the season starts. The NL East may feature five contenders. The NL Central is wide open with the Cubs’ recent moves. And the American League East includes a Blue Jays club ready to pounce, even more than it did in 2020.
Power Rankings Top 5:
The flurry of activity of the past week did not change how our voters view the Dodgers, who have been mostly idle, save for a couple of tweaks in the bullpen. The reigning World Series champs will enter 2021 the same way they ended ’20 -- as the presumed best team in the big leagues. They will likely lose some players to free agency, most notably Justin Turner and Kiké Hernández. Otherwise, the Dodgers are lined up nicely for ’21. They could use another starting pitcher, but if they don’t add one, it’s probably not going to cripple their season.
Whew. Where to begin? For those of you that have been otherwise occupied binge-watching "Schitt’s Creek," here’s a brief synopsis: A.J. Preller acquired two of the game’s most accomplished starting pitchers, signed a high-profile Korean infielder and reignited that “rock star GM” label that he earned after winning the 2015 offseason. Presumably, his moves this time around will play out more positively on the field. The only question that remains is whether the additions of Yu Darvish and Blake Snell give the Padres the best rotation in the Majors.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Yankees’ need for a starting pitcher is more pressing. Gerrit Cole sits alone at the top; beyond that, upgrades are warranted. A slow-moving offseason for the Yankees has been mostly about DJ LeMahieu and whether he’s going to re-sign or go elsewhere. What seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would return isn’t so clear as both sides plunge into the new year.
Atlanta's rotation is getting as much attention now as it did during the season, but for entirely different reasons. In 2020, it was more about what the starting staff lost to injuries and underperformance; now, it looks to be one of the best-assembled rotations in the Majors. Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly bring stability to a young staff loaded with budding stars in Max Fried and Ian Anderson. And if Mike Soroka is able to return to form after missing most of '20 with a freak right Achilles injury, look out.
The Twins barely edged out the White Sox for the last spot in our Top 5, a likely foreshadow of what should be a fabulous fight to the finish among these two clubs. For now, the edge goes to Minnesota, but the club has work to do. It needs starting pitchers after losing veterans Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill. The Twins have some developing relief arms coming up through the system, but the bullpen will be largely inexperienced, especially if they are moving forward without Trevor May (who signed with the Mets) and Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo, both free agents.
6. White Sox
9. Blue Jays
23. Red Sox
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn