As we assess the moves made during the recent MLB Winter Meetings, and the many free agents still on the market, it’s instructive to take a global look at next season’s playoff prospects for National and American League teams.
The 2019 American League post season looks to be securely owned by the “elite league” teams that have dominated the past several years—Houston, Boston, the Yankees, and Cleveland.
Which likely describes your three AL Division winners and one of two Wild Card teams.
Leaving the second Wild Card slot on the table to be scrambled after by teams like Tampa Bay, Oakland, and the LA Angels.
While every season has its surprises, it’s hard to come up with a reasonable scenario that paints a dramatically different picture of next year’s American League postseason. But feel free.
The National League, on the other hand, looks like a wild full-on scrum in 2019, a race to the finish involving eleven potential teams.
To do the reverse math, only the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, and Miami Marlins have virtually no hope of contending in the National League next season.
And while teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates are in that “in between” bubble, both currently skew as non-contenders in 2019.
Which still leaves nine teams legitimately going after the NL’s five playoff spots.
The National League East has become a cauldron of concentrated competition in recent weeks, with the Washington Nationals and New York Mets making bold, sweeping moves, and the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies hot on their tails to reshape and reboot for 2019.
It has been especially fascinating to watch the Nationals reposition themselves after posting an 82-80 record last season, 8 games behind the NL East Division winning Atlanta Braves.
So far this winter, no other MLB team has made more trades and signed more free agents pieces to reset their attack than the Washington Nationals.
And there are further positives for Washington.
It would not be a surprise if both NL Wild Card teams came from the NL East next season. Except…
In the National League Central, it’s a full-on grab-the-folding-chairs WWE battle between the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Milwaukee Brewers.
So it would not be out of the question to see both National League Wild Card teams come out of the NL Central next October.
In the NL West the Los Angeles Dodgers look to be in the same position the Cleveland Indians find themselves in the AL Central.
None of the other teams in their respective Divisions appear to have any hope of seriously challenging either club for the Division title, which gives them the ability to freely reshape their rosters as needed throughout the season.
Having said that, the Colorado Rockies’ have the kind of talented young starting pitching that could make them contenders for a Wild Card spot in 2019.
A number of MLB analysts feel that the Rocks need to reboot their offense at first base this off-season.
But Colorado’s offense scored the second most runs in the NL last season (780) after the Dodgers (804). So run production was not the issue.
Starting the 2018 season, the Rockies had over $123 million dedicated to six exceptional relief pitchers: LH Mike Dunn ($7.3m/1 year); RH Adam Ottavino ($7m/1 yr); LH Jake McGee $27m/3 yrs); RH Bryan Shaw ($27m/3 yrs); RH Wade Davis ($52m/3 yrs); and LH Chris Rusin ($2.9m/2 yrs).
That the Rockies expensive “super bullpen” melted down in 2018 was one of the big stories out of the National League last season. Colorado finished 13th out of 15 NL team bullpens with a collective 4.62 ERA, allowing opponents a .742 OPS.
Still, the Rockies took an NL Wild Card spot and it’s logical to project that a number of those super relievers will bounce back in 2019. Which legitimately puts Colorado in the playoff hunt next season.
The elite league teams, the potentially 100 win teams, will win big without Harper or Machado. The Yankees, Houston, Boston, or Dodgers don’t really need to spend $360 million to bump up their win totals from, say, 98 to 104.
As far as non-contending MLB teams, none of them would magically bloom into legitimate contention by simply signing any one player—even unique superstar players at Harper and Machado’s levels.
The teams that could really cash in and take a big step forward with a Harper or Machado signing this off-season are teams like Philadelphia, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Nationals or the Mets.
Bringing in an impact bat with the crushing run production potential Harper or Machado can bring would make all the difference in the world for franchises just under the “elite” level.
Let’s see which of these teams choose to go all in before Spring Training 2019.