Welcome to the Rotoworld MLB Power Rankings, a weekly feature that will run every Tuesday through the end of the 2018 regular season. I’m the new captain of this ship, taking over for Jesse Pantuosco. These rankings aren’t fantasy-driven in any way, though I will include nuggets of advice here and there in the writeups as the season rolls along. Who’s hot, who’s not, who to pick up, who to drop -- that sort of thing. For this edition, going up two days before Opening Day, I’ve kept it pretty straightforward with simple preseason outlooks for each club. Let’s get to it …
1. Houston Astros
They’re the defending World Series champions, and they could be even better this season. They’ll get a full year of Justin Verlander, they acquired Gerrit Cole via trade this winter, and young stars Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman look poised to take another leap forward. A shocking fact: Mike Fiers led the Astros in innings pitched during the 2017 regular season. He’s now barely hanging on with the rebuilding Tigers.
2. New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers paced all major league teams in home runs last summer and added 2017 MLB home run king Giancarlo Stanton to the mix this winter. Luis Severino has emerged as a true ace at age 24 and the Yankees have the best bullpen in the majors in an era where relief pitching has become increasingly important. Neil Walker (career 113 OPS+) projects as the No. 7 hitter in baseball’s most power-packed lineup. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are on the way.
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3. Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg: the best one-two punch in the game. If the Nationals can get full seasons from Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, and Bryce Harper, the top of the lineup will be an absolute nightmare for the opposition. Washington should run away with the NL East and grabbing the top playoff seed in the National League would put the team in position to win a postseason series for the first time in Nats and Expos franchise history.
4. Chicago Cubs
A fourth straight NLCS appearance seems doable, and that is no small feat. Since further expansion of the postseason began in 1995 -- from four teams to eight teams and then to 10 teams in 2012 -- only the Braves (1995-1999) and the arch-rival Cardinals (2011-2015) have pulled it off. Free agent newcomers Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood should make the Cubs’ rotation, front to back, the steadiest in the major leagues. And the position player group remains top-notch.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
The defending National League champs made no significant additions this offseason -- unless you count the return of Matt Kemp or the acquisition of lefty reliever Scott Alexander -- but the roster is deep and talented and free of a lot of the dead money that had ballooned the payroll above the luxury tax threshold. Clayton Kershaw will be on a mission to reclaim NL Cy Young honors and score another $200 million guarantee.
6. Cleveland Indians
Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco: the second-best one-two punch in the game. Francisco Lindor has quickly emerged as a superstar and Jose Ramirez is right there with him. Bryan Shaw will be missed, but the bullpen remains one of the deepest and most dominant, headed by Cody Allen and Andrew Miller. Yonder Alonso, the team’s biggest offseason get, should be a fine replacement at first base for Carlos Santana.
7. Boston Red Sox
After months of posturing, the offseason market’s most compatible couple finally made it a marriage in late February, as J.D. Martinez showed up at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida and signed a five-year, $110 million free agent contract with the Red Sox. He’ll give Boston’s lineup the middle-order thump it sorely lacked last season. This team can be a World Series contender if David Price is healthy and pitching to his pedigree.
8. St. Louis Cardinals
The trade for Marcell Ozuna should pay big dividends if Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Matt Carpenter get on base as frequently as they did last season. Adam Wainwright might be on his last legs, but Jack Flaherty looks MLB-ready, Luke Weaver is a breakout candidate, and Carlos Martinez is a step away from becoming an ace. Miles Mikolas put up a 2.18 ERA over three years (424 2/3 innings) in Japan before signing with St. Louis in December.
9. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee fell just short of a Wild Card spot last season, so the Brewers’ front office went on the attack this winter, acquiring Christian Yelich from the Marlins and signing Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million free agent deal. The lack of a front-line starter is an issue, but maybe Chase Anderson can become that guy or perhaps the Brewers will trade some of their outfield depth for a midseason rotation upgrade. Domingo Santana should be attractive to AL teams.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
J.D. Martinez is gone, but it was really the starting rotation that guided the Diamondbacks throughout their impressive run in 2017 and all of those fellas are back -- with a new humidor at Chase Field to aid the cause. Robbie Ray struck out 218 batters in 162 innings last season alongside a 2.89 ERA. Zack Greinke put up a 3.20 ERA and 215/45 K/BB ratio over 202 1/3 frames. Zack Godley: 3.37 ERA, 9.6 K/9. And even Taijuan Walker quietly had a career year.
11. Colorado Rockies
Nolan Arenado has averaged 40 home runs and 131 RBI per year over the last three years. Charlie Blackmon posted career-highs in OPS (1.000), homers (37), and RBI (104) last season while almost exclusively batting leadoff. Jon Gray, the 26-year-old ace of the Rockies’ rotation, registered a 2.44 ERA over his final 11 starts in 2017 -- five of them in the thin air of Coors Field. The other starters are a little suspect, but Colorado’s high-dollar bullpen will be called on to stop any bleeding.
12. Minnesota Twins
The Twins were last year’s biggest surprise team, advancing to the 2017 AL Wild Card Game after finishing 59-103 in 2016. And they made a bunch of smart upgrades this offseason, signing veteran closer Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $4.5 million contract in December, setup man Addison Reed to a two-year, $16.75 million deal in January, slugger Logan Morrison to a one-year, $6.5 million pact in February, and workhorse starter Lance Lynn for one year, $12 million on March 12. They also picked up Jake Odorizzi from the Rays.
13. Los Angeles Angels
The rotation still carries a lot of red flags, but maybe Shohei Ohtani can shake off his brutal spring and help change that. Given the relatively low price the Angels paid for the 23-year-old Japanese two-way star and the years of control they’ll have on him, Ohtani was the best signing in Major League Baseball this offseason. Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler are upgrades offensively and defensively, and the Angels did well to keep Justin Upton from opting out. Perhaps this is the year Mike Trout nets his first postseason victory.
14. New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard sat 99 mph in his first bullpen session of the spring and went on to post a 1.35 ERA and 23 strikeouts over 20 innings in the Grapefruit League. Thor will be on a mission to prove that he’s still one of the baddest dudes around after making only seven starts in 2017 because of a torn lat muscle. Jacob deGrom hit the 200-inning mark for the first time last year and finished with a career-high strikeout rate. The lineup added some pop with the addition of Todd Frazier and the return of Jay Bruce.
15. Seattle Mariners
Three-time MLB stolen base king Dee Gordon has been added to the top of what could be one of the deepest lineups in the major leagues. Edwin Diaz ranks among the best closers in the game at age 24. Mike Zunino, who just turned 27 years old, seems to be on the verge of becoming a star at fantasy baseball’s shallowest position. Unfortunately, it’s easy to envision the starting rotation falling apart, especially if James Paxton can’t stay healthy.
16. Toronto Blue Jays
After flirting with the idea of trading Josh Donaldson this winter, the Blue Jays decided to keep the band together for one more push -- a reward for the fans in Toronto who have driven the Rogers Centre attendance mark over three million in each of the last two seasons. The lineup has some power and the rotation could be decent, but it’s probably going to be Wild Card or bust for this team and even that will be a tall task.
17. Philadelphia Phillies
Philly made the brave jump from rebuilding mode into spending mode this offseason, inking veteran slugger Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract in December and veteran starter Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal in early March. This team is probably still a year away from being a true contender, but Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, and Scott Kingery are great young pieces. Look for the Phillies to spend even more money next winter.
18. Texas Rangers
The lineup is capable of fireworks, but poor starting pitching will likely hold the Rangers back in the deep American League West. Cole Hamels posted by far the lowest strikeout rate (6.4 K/9) of his career last season. Matt Moore had a 5.52 ERA (76 ERA+) in 174 1/3 innings with San Francisco. Doug Fister: 4.88 ERA in 90 1/3 innings with Boston. Mike Minor was great out of the bullpen for Kansas City, but his career ERA as a starter is in the 4.00s.
19. Tampa Bay Rays
It was a strange offseason for the Rays. They traded Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, and Brad Boxberger -- signs of an aggressive rebuild -- but elected to keep Chris Archer and Alex Colome and they added Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron, Denard Span, and Joey Wendle. The pitching should be pretty good -- young starters Blake Snell and Jake Faria are both breakout candidates -- but the offense will struggle to survive the purge.
20. Baltimore Orioles
At various points this winter, it looked like the Orioles might trade Manny Machado and launch into rebuilding mode, but they didn’t find an offer to their liking and will instead try to compete with the 25-year-old impending free agent superstar for at least the first couple months of the 2018 season. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner were solid rotation upgrades from the free agent market, but there’s a wobbling house of cards at Camden Yards.
21. San Francisco Giants
Madison Bumgarner is out 6-8 weeks with a fractured left pinkie and Jeff Samardzija is expected to miss most -- if not all -- of April with a right pectoral strain. Ty Blach, who had a 4.78 ERA and 73/43 K/BB ratio in 163 2/3 innings last season, will start on Opening Day against the rival Dodgers. The ghost of Johnny Cueto (4.52 ERA in 147 1/3 innings last year) will work the second game of that opening series at Dodger Stadium. Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria are not miracle-workers.
22. Atlanta Braves
If the Braves weren’t playing the service time game with Ronald Acuna -- baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect -- they might sit a little higher on these preseason power rankings. But alas. When he comes up in mid-to-late April, maybe they can begin their ascent. Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman look nice at the top of the lineup, but Dansby Swanson needs to be better and so does former ace Julio Teheran.
23. Oakland Athletics
The lineup could be sneaky-good, but the starting rotation -- usually the A’s calling card -- has too many question marks. Kendall Graveman, Oakland’s Opening Day starter, had a 4.19 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 70/32 K/BB ratio in 105 1/3 innings last season. Sean Manaea disappointed to a 4.37 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 158 2/3 frames. Daniel Gossett: 6.11 ERA, 1.61 WHIP. Rounding it out are Daniel Mengden and Andrew Triggs.
24. Pittsburgh Pirates
After two straight years of postseason-less baseball, the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole this winter as part of what the front office hopes will be a quick, rolling rebuild. Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte both look like strong bounceback candidates and the addition of Corey Dickerson gives Pittsburgh a very respectable starting outfield, but there are glaring weaknesses in many other corners of the roster.
25. Chicago White Sox
More patience will be required in 2018, but there is a small light at the end of the tunnel and it should grow larger by the end of the year. Lucas Giolito posted a 2.38 ERA and 0.949 WHIP over his first seven starts with the White Sox last season and he was lights-out this spring in the Cactus League. Yoan Moncada should only get better and better. Michael Kopech is coming, as are Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen, and eventually Luis Robert.
26. Kansas City Royals
The end of an era, though you might say it ended it a while ago. Mike Moustakas is back, but only because he got no love on the free agent market and had to settle for a one-year, $6.5 million deal. He figures to become trade bait by mid-June, along with a host of other Royals players. This organization badly needs an influx of prospects. They had just one prospect (Nick Pratto, No. 95) on Chris Crawford’s Top 100 in the Rotoworld Draft Guide.
27. Detroit Tigers
The rebuild shifts into overdrive. Miguel Cabrera is probably unmovable as an injury-prone 1B/DH due $184 million entering his age-35 season, but look for the Tigers to shop any player not named Nicholas Castellanos ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Jordan Zimmermann, who allowed a league-high 108 earned runs over 160 innings last year for a 6.08 ERA, will take the ball on Opening Day against the Pirates.
28. San Diego Padres
Petco Park can’t save this pitching staff. The only San Diego starters who produced an ERA under 4.67 last season (Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill) are now employed by other teams. Dinelson Lamet, the Padres’ most promising starting pitcher, is out until at least early May due to pain in his pitching elbow. The farm system is loaded, the outfield depth chart is crowded in a good way, and the Eric Hosmer contract showed a nice level of long-term commitment from ownership, but the Friars are at least a couple years away.
29. Cincinnati Reds
Three straight 90-plus-loss seasons, and it’s difficult to see the situation improving in 2018. Joey Votto is a future Hall of Famer, Luis Castillo is a nice-looking young starter, and the Eugenio Suarez extension should prove to be very team-friendly, but the holes on this roster are glacial crevasses. Homer Bailey -- 6.47 ERA over the last two seasons, 7.50 ERA in 18 innings this spring -- will start on Opening Day versus the Nationals.
30. Miami Marlins
This roster is as garish as the Home Run sculpture at Marlins Park, as lurid as the club’s orange uniforms. It appears Miami will start Jose Urena (4.71 career ERA), Caleb Smith (7.71 ERA in his first 18 2/3 major league innings last year with the Yankees), Odrisamer Despaigne (4.72 career ERA), and Chris O’Grady (1.55 WHIP over 33 innings last season) in their season-opening series against the Cubs. The first year of the Derek Jeter era will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.