Way-too-early 2022 MLB Power Rankings

ByDavid Schoenfield ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Atlanta Braves just won the 2021 World Series by eliminating the Houston Astros in six games -- but we're already looking ahead to next year.

Will Atlanta repeat as champions after an unexpected title run? Will the team to beat in all of baseball come from a stacked AL East? And can we count on the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants returning to the postseason next October?

Here's where all 30 teams stand for the 2022 MLB season -- based on what we know right now.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

2021 record: 100-62 (first in AL East)

They won 100 games in a division with three other 90-win teams. They scored more runs than the Blue Jays or Red Sox or White Sox. They'll have wonderful Wander Franco for a full season. They conjure up good relief pitchers out of dust. They're athletic and play great defense, especially in the outfield. They have some position player prospects ready to make an impact in Josh Lowe and Vidal Brujan. But the biggest reason they can win 100 games again: The starting pitching will be improved. The two starters with the most innings in 2021 (Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha) both had ERAs over 5.00. AND THEY STILL WON 100 GAMES.

With more innings from Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen and Shane Baz, the rotation will be young, electric and better. Watch out.

2. Chicago White Sox

2021 record: 93-69 (first in AL Central)

The season ended with a disappointing loss to the Astros in the ALDS, but 2021 felt like just the starting point of what could be a multiyear run of division titles. Yes, playing in the AL Central will help make that more feasible, but it's mostly about the roster of young stars -- many of whom missed significant time with injuries in 2021.

Let's see what Luis Robert -- .338/.378/.567 in 68 games -- can do over a full season. And Eloy Jimenez. Let's see how much better Andrew Vaughn will be in 2022. The bullpen is loaded with power arms. They will want to re-sign or replace free agent Carlos Rodon after his big season and they'll probably pick up Craig Kimbrel's option and then look to trade him, but the 2022 White Sox will be a heavy favorite to return to the postseason.

3. Houston Astros

2021 record: 95-67 (first in AL West)

This impressive run of success that began in 2015 should continue into next season, even though in recent years the club has lost Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander (to injury in 2020 and '21, and now he's a free agent), Charlie Morton and George Springer, and will now likely lose Carlos Correa and Zack Greinke.

Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley are all in their 30s, but remained productive in 2021 (Gurriel won the batting title and Altuve hit 31 homers and scored 117 runs). Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez should be the team's top sluggers moving forward, and prospect Jeremy Pena could replace Correa. The rotation should remain strong with Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia leading the way, and there should be money to spend in free agency (perhaps even re-signing Verlander).

4. Milwaukee Brewers

2021 record: 95-67 (first in NL Central)

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are a dominant trio, but the hitting woes in the NLDS highlighted the club's offensive shortcomings. While they were sixth in the NL in runs, they were 14th in batting average, ninth in OBP, 11th in slugging and 11th in OPS+. The good news is David Stearns will be around to help fix the lineup: The Brewers denied him permission to talk to the Mets about their president of baseball operations opening. Andy Haines was dismissed as hitting coach, but is it realistic to expect peak Christian Yelich again after he hit .248 with nine home runs? Still, there are worse places to start than with good pitching and defense.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

2021 record: 91-71 (fourth in AL East)

How can a fourth-place team that may lose the AL Cy Young winner (Robbie Ray) and a top-three MVP candidate (Marcus Semien) in free agency rank this high? Well, this is no ordinary fourth-place team, not with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez here to anchor the offense. Rookie Alek Manoah and trade acquisition Jose Berrios made 32 starts for the Jays in 2021; if they make 60 in 2022, that can help replace the innings if Ray leaves. Jordan Romano looks like an elite closer, so the Rays just need to improve around the edges like bullpen depth -- and remember the name of catcher Gabriel Moreno. It will be hard to repeat the success of last offseason (signing Springer, Ray and Semien), but team president Mark Shapiro said in his end-of-season video call, "The expectation will be we build a team capable of winning the World Series next year."

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

2021 record: 106-56 (second in NL West)

Not that their recent run of success is in any danger of collapse, but the Dodgers enter this offseason at their biggest crossroads in a decade, and the 2022 roster will undoubtedly look much different. Consider: (1) Clayton Kershaw is a free agent. (2) Corey Seager is a free agent. (3) Kenley Jansen is a free agent. (4) Chris Taylor is a free agent. (5) Max Scherzer is a free agent. (6) Trevor Bauer has almost certainly thrown his last pitch with the Dodgers. (7) Will Cody Bellinger hit again? (8) Did Justin Turner get old overnight? Now, don't feel too bad for the Dodgers: They're still loaded with frontline talent -- Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Will Smith, maybe Bellinger -- and they have the financial resources to plug holes. Still, it will be an interesting offseason after the failure to go back-to-back.

7. Atlanta Braves

2021 record: 88-73 (first in NL East)

Why are the reigning MLB champions here? The upside here is certainly better than 88 wins, especially with a full season from Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta can also expect more support in the lineup from 2021 breakout Austin Riley, and season-long consistency from the bullpen. In recent seasons, the Braves have had success with short-term contracts for free agents -- such as Charlie Morton, who they smartly signed to a two-year extension in September, keeping him from free agency, though his status for the start of 2022 is unclear after his World Series injury. Look for more of that approach. Marcell Ozuna was on administrative leave through the postseason, but his future needs to be resolved. The biggest question hovering over the offseason, however, is the most important one in a long time: Will Freddie Freeman be back?

8. Boston Red Sox

2021 record: 92-70 (tied for second in AL East)

The offense should be in fine shape with Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Bobby Dalbec (.955 OPS in the second half). The Red Sox will also have a full season of Chris Sale in the rotation. The bullpen could use a couple of more reliable arms, and we'll see whetherEnrique Hernandez (4.9 WAR) and Hunter Renfroe (2.4 WAR) can repeat their strong 2021 performances. One thing that could create a domino effect this offseason: Do they want to stick with Bogaerts at shortstop and Devers at third? Both are below average on defense -- and remember that Bogaerts has an opt-out clause after 2022, and it appears certain he'll exercise it. They could move Bogaerts to third and Devers to first and look to trade Dalbec or even look to trade Bogaerts for pitching/prospects depth.

9. New York Yankees

2021 record: 92-70 (tied for second in AL East)

Doesn't 2022 feel like a big year for the Yankees? After re-signing Aaron Boone to manage the club, GM Brian Cashman described the 2021 season as "unwatchable" at times. Only that 13-game winning streak saved the season. Cashman thought he had his 2019 offense in 2021, but he didn't, even though Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton remained healthy. The Yankees thought Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez would become big stars; that didn't happen. The lineup was slow, the defense uninspiring. The rotation is one Gerrit Cole injury away from being a big concern, although getting Luis Severino back will help. No doubt they'll go all-in for a new shortstop -- Carlos Correa or Corey Seager being the best bets. Still, at some point, the Yankees will have a losing season. The last one came in 1992.

10. San Francisco Giants

2021 record: 107-55 (first in NL West)

The Giants won 107 games in a dream season. Keep in mind, however: The 2018 Red Sox went from 108 wins to 84; the 2013 Cardinals from 100 to 86; the 2013 Red Sox from 97 to 71; the 2011 Phillies from 102 to 81; the 2001 Mariners from 116 to 93. Great teams take a major step backward the following season all the time. Hey, it's hard winning 100 games, let alone 107! Three concerns: (1) The lineup was exceptional, but old, so regression from at least some of the position players has to be expected. (2) The rotation was exceptional, but Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood are all free agents. (3) The bullpen was exceptional (2.97 ERA, best in the majors), but ranked 22nd in strikeout rate, so repeating that success will be difficult. Farhan Zaidi will have a busy offseason ahead, but you also have to have a lot of confidence at this point in his ability to find the right pieces, and Gabe Kapler's ability to deploy them -- and that could include bringing back a couple of those starters to go with postseason hero Logan Webb.

11. St. Louis Cardinals

2021 record: 90-72 (second in NL Central)

The 17-game winning streak in September didn't save Mike Shildt's job and the Cardinals hired 35-year-old bench coach Oliver "Oli" Marmol to take over. He'll be the youngest Opening Day manager since Eric Wedge with Cleveland in 2003. While the managerial move may suggest a small state of panic in the organization and the winning streak elevated what had otherwise been a .500 team into the playoffs, never underestimate the Cardinals: They haven't had a losing season since 2007.Tyler O'Neill's breakout is a reason for optimism, and the outfield defense with O'Neill and Harrison Bader is outstanding. The Cardinals do need to improve the team OBP -- the .313 mark was the lowest since 1988 -- and find some rotation depth. There should be some payroll room to go after a big free agent (a shortstop or perhaps Max Scherzer returning to his hometown).

12. San Diego Padres

2021 record: 79-83 (third in NL West)

Well, that wasn't as fun as it was supposed to be. It's already easy to forget the Padres were in first place on May 30 and just 2.5 games out on June 30 before everything fell apart. The pitchers couldn't stay healthy, and those who were healthy didn't pitch well. Keep in mind, however, that the lineup was healthy: Four regulars played 150 games, and four others, including Fernando Tatis Jr., played at least 130. Yet the Padres were just eighth in the NL in runs scored.

Hiring Bob Melvin is a big get, however. The Padres can hope this is the reverse Bruce Bochy scenario. Bochy managed the Padres for 12 years, moved up the coast to San Francisco and won three World Series. Maybe Melvin will get a ring or two after moving down the coast.

13. Los Angeles Angels

2021 record: 77-85 (fourth in AL West)

Mike Trout played just 36 games and Anthony Rendon just 58, so instead of a great offense, the Angels finished eighth in the AL in runs despite Shohei Ohtani's brilliance and Jared Walsh's All-Star season. Still, if those two get healthy and Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell improve and they sign one of the free-agent shortstops, this should shape up as a lethal lineup. Of course, that doesn't solve the pitching problems that have long plagued the franchise -- Ohtani was the only Angel to pitch 100 innings. They also have to replace free-agent closer Raisel Iglesias. A lot of ifs here, but one of these years they'll stumble upon some pitching help.

14. Oakland Athletics

2021 record: 86-76 (third in AL West)

The A's missed the postseason for the first time since 2017, and maybe a 34-36 record in the second half doesn't bode well for 2022. The A's also went 12-26 against the Astros and Mariners, and maybe that doesn't bode well for 2022. Starling Marte, acquired at the trade deadline, is a free agent and he was tremendous for 56 games, so that's a loss. And now Bob Melvin departs for the Padres and we might learn how much his steadying presence has meant to the franchise. Still, the A's return five solid starting pitchers, with Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea an underrated trio. Matt Olson is a beast, coming off a 39-homer season. They have to do better than Elvis Andrus at shortstop. The bullpen, best in baseball in 2020, needs to improve. As always, Billy Beane will have to work his magic, but I think they'll miss Melvin.

15. Seattle Mariners

2021 record: 90-72 (second in AL West)

It was a miracle season for the Mariners. Outscored by 51 runs, yet still alive for a playoff spot entering the final day of the season. This ranking, however, might be a little generous: The talent base, at least right now, is not that of 90-win club. They won 90 due to some amazing clutch performances -- late-game clutch hitting in close games from an otherwise bad offense, and late-game clutch bullpen work from the likes of castoffs Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider.

The Mariners need some stars. Maybe Jarred Kelenic will become one, but more likely it will be Julio Rodriguez, who will arrive sometime in 2022. Starter Logan Gilbert has a bright future, and Matt Brash and George Kirby could be impact starters soon as well. The Mariners are expected to be active in free agency, so this ranking could improve by the end of the offseason, but the surprising results in 2021 might also create unrealistic expectations for 2022.

16. Detroit Tigers

2021 record: 77-85 (third in AL Central)

The Tigers were a pleasant surprise in 2021 -- no doubt new skipper AJ Hinch was a significant reason for that -- and are trending in the right direction. I still like the upside of young starters Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, although Skubal has to cut down on the home runs allowed. Matt Manning struggled as a rookie, so the jury is out on him, and Spencer Turnbull's Tommy John surgery is a big loss. The good news: Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are consensus top-10 overall prospects. Both reached Triple-A and both raked there, so they should be ready to impact what has been a lousy offense ever since the decline of Miguel Cabrera began. Plus, the Tigers have money to spend. Look for them to be players for one of the free-agent shortstops (a Carlos Correa reunion with Hinch?) and other bats.

17. Cleveland (soon-to-be) Guardians

2021 record: 80-82 (second in AL Central)

Cleveland had its first losing season since 2012, and it would have been a ninth consecutive winning season if Shane Bieber had made more than 16 starts. After missing three months because of a shoulder strain, Bieber did return for two starts in September, so he should be 100% for spring training, plus there is rotation depth if Cal Quantrill's breakout is for real and Triston McKenzie continues to develop. Still, where will the offense come from? Josh Naylor (.301 OBP) and Bobby Bradley (.294 OBP) failed to impress, and Nolan Jones, the team's top hitting prospect in the upper minors, hit .238 with 122 strikeouts in 99 games at Triple-A. Then there's manager Terry Francona's status. He maintained at the end of the season that he's confident he can manage again in 2022 after missing much of the past two seasons (including 63 games in 2021) due to health issues. Let's hope so.

18. New York Mets

2021 record: 77-85 (third in NL East)

Nope. Never again. I'm not going to get sucked into the Mets until they can actually find some stability and end the chaos that has hung over the franchise for the past decade or so. They need a president of baseball operations and a new manager. Owner Steve Cohen has money, and that's helpful, but in his first year he didn't show any signs of the maturity (see his Twitter feed) or leadership to fix a franchise that has just three winning seasons in the past 13. His initial foray into improving the team -- trading for Francisco Lindor and signing him to a mega-extension -- may have been a mistake. Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Javier Baez and Michael Conforto are all free agents, and Jacob deGrom last pitched on July 7. A healthy deGrom making 30 starts can keep this team over .500, but that's only the biggest question mark on a team with many of them.

19. Cincinnati Reds

2021 record: 83-79 (third in NL Central)

A lot actually went right for the Reds in 2021: Joey Votto's resurgence, Wade Miley's big season, Tyler Naquin as a pleasant surprise, Jonathan India may win Rookie of the Year, a rotation that stayed healthy for the most part. Still, they were barely over .500 in a weak division, Nick Castellanos is likely to opt out of his deal to enter free agency, they're going to have rebuild one of the worst bullpens in the majors, and they're on the books for $74 million in future payroll to two third basemen who hit a combined .201.

Top prospects Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo may be ready to contribute to the pitching staff, but losing Castellanos would be a big blow. There is something here, and if Greene and Lodolo develop, the future may be bright, but that's more 2023 than 2022.

20. Miami Marlins

2021 record: 67-95 (fourth in NL East)

The Marlins couldn't catch any breaks in the first half -- through the end of June they had outscored opponents by 20 runs but were 12 games under .500 -- but they were legitimately bad in the second half. They went 3-17 against the AL East, which didn't help matters. Still, the rotation with Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez and some combination of Jesus Luzardo, Zach Thompson, Elieser Hernandez, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Max Meyer and a hopefully healthy Sixto Sanchez coming back from shoulder surgery is young, exciting and potentially really good (the Marlins were 11th in the majors in rotation ERA even though only three pitchers made more than 14 starts).

"I think one of the No. 1 priorities on baseball operations was to build our system, strengthen our system," team CEO Derek Jeter said at season's end. "We've done that. Now, we need to see the wins on the field here in Miami, so that's why I'm excited about going into this offseason, and I'm excited about the young core that we have. But we've got to see how we can get better and what we can add to them."

Suggestion: Find some offense. A lot of it.

21. Kansas City Royals

2021 record: 74-88 (fourth in AL Central)

I'd like to be more optimistic about the Royals heading into 2022, especially with Bobby Witt Jr. ready to join the lineup, probably as the third baseman unless they trade Adalberto Mondesi or move Mondesi to third and Nicky Lopez to second. Dig deeper, however, and there isn't much power here aside from Salvador Perez and potentially Witt -- the Royals were 29th in the majors in OPS at first base, 29th at third base, 30th in right field, 24th in center field. Carlos Santana and Hunter Dozier were terrible, yet remain under contract. What do you do with them?

OK, the young pitching. The Royals were 12th in the AL in rotation ERA despite playing in a pitchers' park. Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch, Asa Lacy in the minors -- these guys seem more like No. 4 starters than 1s or 2s, but you never know.

22. Philadelphia Phillies

2021 record: 82-80 (second in NL East)

Too low? Well, think of everything that went right for the Phillies in 2021: Bryce Harper will probably win NL MVP; Zack Wheeler has a strong case for NL Cy Young; Ranger Suarez had a ridiculous 1.36 ERA over 106 innings. The last pitcher to throw that many innings with a lower ERA was Bruce Sutter in 1977.

Still, the same problems persist: Bad bullpen, bad defense, lack of depth on the 40-man roster and a weak farm system. As of now, they would enter 2022 with Didi Gregorius (minus-0.8 WAR) at shortstop and Alec Bohm (minus-1.3 WAR) at third base. The payroll is already high, but it will be interesting to see if they pursue one of the shortstops.

23. Arizona Diamondbacks

2021 record: 52-110 (fifth in NL West)

There is no sugarcoating a 110-loss season, one that featured an incomprehensible 8-48 record in May and June. Still, there are some pieces here to build on: Ketel Marte bounced back to star-level production (although he played just 90 games), plus Carson Kelly, Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas and Pavin Smith all had their first taste of major league success. Outfielder Alek Thomas reached Triple-A (where he posted a 1.091 OPS) and should be ready to contribute. The problem: The pitching and defense were a disaster, as the Diamondbacks allowed the most runs in the NL.

24. Colorado Rockies

2021 record: 74-87 (fourth in NL West)

The Rockies actually were somewhat of a surprise in that they weren't the total disaster many expected and even went 64-59 against the non-Giants/Dodgers portion of the schedule. The park-adjusted offense was one of the worst in the majors (only the Diamondbacks received fewer home runs from their outfielders), but the rotation and defense were surprisingly solid. Good health helped -- they were one of just three teams with five starters making at least 23 starts, and all the position players were generally healthy -- but now Trevor Story and Jon Gray head into free agency, and lack of depth and the weak state of the farm system are problematic.

25. Chicago Cubs

2021 record: 71-91 (fourth in NL Central)

"It's hard to put timelines on things," Jed Hoyer, president of baseball operations, said at his season-ending video conference, mentioning how the 2013 Cubs looked so far away yet were in the playoffs in 2015. "Things can change quickly."

It's hard to envision things changing quickly enough for the 2022 Cubs -- even if owner Tom Ricketts issued a letter to Cubs declaring, "We have the resources necessary to compete in 2022 and beyond, and we will use them." OK, that sounds like the Cubs will be dipping into free agency instead of simply hoping Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom are contenders instead of pretenders. Still, right now the rotation is Kyle Hendricks, Adbert Alzolay and a whole bunch of slots to fill -- so it will take a busy offseason to get the Cubs back to respectability, let alone contender status.

26. Minnesota Twins

2021 record: 73-89 (fifth in AL Central)

A lot can change in six months. The Twins entered 2021 as a World Series contender, but started 9-15 in April (including four walk-off losses in extra innings) and never recovered, leading to the trades of Jose Berrios and Nelson Cruz. With no Berrios, Michael Pineda a free agent and Kenta Maeda undergoing Tommy John surgery in early September, the rotation has three holes to fill.

The Berrios trade indicated the franchise is probably willing to take a step back for 2022. That could lead to the offseason trade of Byron Buxton, who is heading into free agency and reportedly turned down an $80 million extension during the season.

27. Washington Nationals

2021 record: 65-97 (fifth in NL East)

Yes, a team with Juan Soto can be this bad. Without Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber, the Nationals went 17-41 the final two months -- a 47-win pace over 162 games. The farm system is ranked among the worst in the majors, although Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray -- acquired in the Scherzer trade -- will get a chance to start (Gray allowed a staggering 15 home runs in 62 innings with the Nationals, though). Maybe there is a path to mediocrity if Stephen Strasburg can get healthy and Patrick Corbin can bounce back, plus some free-agent additions, but the lineup is barren beyond Soto and Josh Bell.

28. Baltimore Orioles

2021 record: 52-110 (fifth in AL East)

The Orioles tied the Diamondbacks for the worst record among the teams participating in the 2021 tankathon, but edged out Arizona to get the first pick in the 2022 draft based on the tiebreaker rules. So there's that! There is also some hope in the offense with Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and now Adley Rutschman, perhaps the top overall prospect in baseball, ready to debut. We also have to cut them a little slack for playing in a division with four 90-win teams.

Still ... that pitching. Lord almighty, the pitching was terrible -- somehow more terrible than the 2019 staff. The 5.85 ERA was the worst since the 1999 Rockies (6.03) and worst since the 1996 Tigers (6.38) for a team that played closer to sea level. The adjusted ERA was the worst since the 1954 Philadelphia Athletics -- a team so bad it departed for Kansas City the following season. For better or worse, the Orioles remain in Baltimore.

29. Texas Rangers

2021 record: 60-102 (fifth in AL West)

The Rangers lost 100 games for the first time since their two seasons in old Arlington Stadium back in 1972 and 1973, an era that later inspired Mike Shropshire's book titled "Seasons in Hell." President of baseball operations Jon Daniels has promised the Rangers will be active in free agency. "We are going to look to add to the core of this team," Daniels said in his season-ending media session. "We view this free agency class and the next couple of classes as attractive areas for us to focus on. We have a lot of flexibility and a lot of areas we can improve."

Well, he's right about that, because the talent base remains alarmingly thin, not to mention the team's top position player in WAR in 2021 (Joey Gallo) now plays for the Yankees and the top pitcher (Kyle Gibson) is now with the Phillies. No doubt the roster in March will be much different than the one we see now, but this is a major project.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

2021 record: 61-101 (fifth in NL Central)

The Pirates occupied this space a year ago and while they did manage to avoid the worst record in the majors for a second straight season, the 101 losses indicate that progress remains ... slow. The one piece of good news at the major league level was Bryan Reynolds rebounded from a poor 2020 to have one of the 10 best seasons among NL position players. The top three returning starters in terms of innings had ERAs of 5.36, 5.48 and 6.17, so the Pirates essentially head into the offseason without one reliable starter currently on the roster.

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