**Disclaimer: If you are a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, or the Colorado Rockies – sorry, no need to keep reading to look to see if your team is on this list (it is not).**
Welcome to ‘Anything is Possible Land,’ where teams that missed out on the postseason in 2019 have a chance to make the playoffs. And while technically all 30 teams have the same odds to make the playoffs entering the 2020 season, not ‘all’ teams have the same chance to make the playoffs in 2020.
Certain teams managed to lead their divisions for a long period of time before faltering late and missing the postseason altogether (Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs), while others put together a late-season push for a Wild Card spot but ended up missing the playoffs (New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks), while some teams decided to look like contenders for the early part of the season but became what everyone knew them to be before June even hit (Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates).
An interesting and exciting 2019 season that came down to the final day – again – due to the National League Central division needing to be hashed out, 2020 will finally be the season that some struggling team(s) can change their team status over from rebuilding/retooling to postseason entrant. While spots are limited and the incumbents are hard to push out, here are a few possibilities to look for in 2020.
2019 record: 75-87
2019 divisional finish: 4th (behind STL, MIL & CHC)
A major surprise for the vast majority of the season, the Reds faltered right before the trade deadline and fell off the pace in the struggling NL Central divisional race, which was eventually won by the St. Louis Cardinals. Their in-season actions were conducted with a very safe mindset in consideration, always planning for the future and not giving up on what they have built for the past few years.
Acquiring ace Trevor Bauer from the Cleveland Indians as the main part of a three-team deal was a very savvy move by this team, also since it helped alleviate some issues for their starting rotation. While they did ship out impending free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig in the deal, their farm system naturally took a hit after making this deal, which was expected but not necessarily a bad thing.
A much better move than the one that they made with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 offseason that saw them give up their then-no.7 prospect Jeter Downs for a package that featured outfielder Matt Kemp and Puig, as well as starter Alex Wood and utilityman Kyle Farmer, the Reds bettered themselves for the future while also not losing sight of the present. By adding Bauer to their rotation, he becomes a great piece to pair with young stud Luis Castillo, who is dripping in ace potential, and Sonny Gray, who was recently signed to an extension and looks to have found his stuff that made him so dominant while pitching in Oakland.
Besides Bauer, the additions for this team should not stop at what they did during the season. Strapped with cash and an impatient fan base that is wanting to get back to the Redlegs days of crazy offensive numbers, their pocketbooks seem to be open as an intriguing team that should see a few mid-tier free agents want to help turn this team around.
Rumors, as always, have begun to float around the league, and the big one involving the Reds is their interest in bringing catcher Yasmani Grandal back to the team that originally drafted him. Having put together his best season to date as the main backstop for the Milwaukee Brewers, Grandal’s time to earn his big paycheck should come this season, as he was frozen out during the free agency collapse of 2018.
Likelihood of making the MLB postseason (out of 10, 10 is most likely): 6.7
2019 record: 78-84
2019 divisional finish: 3rd (behind HOU & OAK)
Moving out of a not-super-old ballpark into a new one always makes for an exciting season, so what would be better than christening their new stomping grounds with their first postseason appearance since 2016. While they would be happy to make the playoffs in 2020, their goals should eventually match up with the quality of their new park too.
On the back of starter Mike Minor, who put together a sparkling age-31 season in his second season with the Texas Rangers. Mentioned as a potential trade target this past season, the Rangers smartly held onto him, in the hopes that he can steady that starting rotation and lead this team to the playoffs again.
With big-money players like Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus, who will combine to earn $36.25 million in 2020, still on the roster, any sort of big free agency moves will need to be done smartly and with their overall roster in mind. However, they have a bit over $100 million in tax space if they so choose to use it, so it remains to be seen how much they will spend this winter.
Players like Delino DeShields, Willie Calhoun, and Jose Leclerc all have a chance to lead this team as young studs, and they will need to take on a ton of responsibilities in 2020. Pairing these three with a stud free agent, someone like San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith, Houston Astros reliever Will Harris, or even St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna, would be a great next step for this playoff-bound team.
Likelihood of making the MLB postseason: 5.2
San Diego Padres
2019 record: 70-92
2019 divisional finish: 5th (behind LAD, ARI, SF & COL)
For a team that was in the news for their offseason free-agent acquisitions the past two offseasons, the San Diego Padres have not made that jump that they should have made already. By finishing last in their division, it made Andy Green become their former manager while opening up an intriguing opening for the best managerial candidates to fill.
With both first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Manny Machado under contract for a while still, this team is in need of a few more pieces before they can become full-fledged contenders. But they are in luck, as general manager A.J. Preller looks to be on the aggressive side of the front office coin, which can help this team accelerate their rebuild.
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who was placed on the injury list and ended his season prematurely, will be back healthy and ready to build upon his super impressive rookie season. With Tatis Jr. and Machado filling the two slots on the left side of the infield, and with Hosmer over at first base, the only need for this team to address is second base – that means that Preller can focus on other elements of the team, like upgrading his starting rotation.
Besides Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards is healthy and set to become this team’s best starter, who was signed to a two-year deal this past offseason while he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Richards, who would have most likely been paid big-time if he was a free agent this offseason, is a sneaky pick for 2020 Comeback Player of the Year for the National League next season.
In the outfield, they traded away Franmil Reyes in the three-team deal with the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds that brought the Reds’ top prospect, Taylor Trammel, to the Friars. While Trammel slots into the team’s second-best prospect behind left-hander Mackenzie Gore, his impact should be felt in the team’s outfield ranks sometime in 2020.
A few rotational pieces away, combined with consistent bullpen performances outside of closer Kirby Yates, and the NL West could provide two solid teams for the postseason next season.
Likelihood of making the MLB postseason: 5.4
New York Mets
2019 record: 86-76
2019 divisional finish: 3rd (behind ATL & WAS)
A great story in 2019 that ended without that coveted postseason berth that they were trying so hard to get, the New York Mets truly have a solid core that will help them get even better next year. While a search for their new manager may throw a wrench in the franchise’s efficiency in 2020, players like the Polar Bear and their rotation will need to step up yet again to make sure that they do not go yet another year without a playoff appearance.
Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, who was on an absolute tear at the plate in his rookie campaign, will have a full season of MLB baseball under his belt, which will be of great help for this team. Already looked at as one of the franchise’s cornerstones, the first baseman will be counted on yet again to help lead this team on and off the diamond.
Impending free agent Zack Wheeler, who was a part of many rampant trade rumors before this past season’s deadline, will be on the lookout for his next team and to get paid a ton of money. The Houston Astros have been considered as a potential landing spot for him, and even though they have a ton of money already tied up with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, and their own impending free agent Gerrit Cole looking to get the largest free-agent deal ever for a starting pitcher, Wheeler could become the Astros’ big signing this winter.
Robinson Cano is the team’s starting second baseman, and injuries have been catching up with the former Yankee on a regular basis now. Having signed Joe Panik last season when he was released by the Giants, Cano’s role with this team will be a major story to follow, especially with his monster contract that will be next to impossible to move to another franchise.
Yoenis Cespedes also has been injured for what seems like five years now, and his big contract is on the books for this team too, wasting prime money that they could be using to help provide Edwin Diaz more assets next to him in their bullpen. Cano and Cespedes combined account for $49.75 million on this team’s payroll next season, which is just over 30 percent, a massive amount for injury-riddled superstars and high-leverage players looking to be past their prime.
Outside of Diaz and Jeurys Familia in the ‘pen, this team is in need of other reinforcements. Their rotation, even if they lose Wheeler, will the three-headed monster of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and recent acquisition Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays. Steven Matz is their fourth starter at the moment, and players like Robert Gsellman from the pen or their 2017 first-round draft selection, left-hander David Peterson, from their minor league system, could rise to the occasion and help bridge the gap to their pen.
With both Syndergaard and Stroman still under arbitration eligibility, their front office needs to take advantage of having their rotation mostly on lock and upgrade other elements of this team, like the outfield depth and the bullpen. With the volatility of the NL East, anything can happen in 2020.
Likelihood of making the MLB postseason: 7.4
Los Angeles Angels
2019 record: 72-90
2019 divisional finish: 4th (behind HOU, OAK & TEX)
Mike Trout deserves a World Series title – hell, Mike Trout deserves a postseason appearance.
For everything that the career-long Angels outfielder has done for this team, Trout has gotten next to no help in his entire professional career. Now while he just signed a long-term deal that will most likely leave in an Angels uniform for the remainder of his career, this does not give the team a sense of complacency to just sit back and do nothing while Trout’s great career rots away in LA.
Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, and Yusmeiro Petit are the seven names that are under contract for this team in 2020 – the remainder of their players are on various levels of the arbitration ladder or entrants into the free agency pool. The amount of money that will need to be determined this offseason will be a huge task for their front office, but it also provides them with a chance to name their price and give the team money to make outside moves.
Getting Shohei Ohtani healthy and back to his dominating two-way ways will be integral to this team’s success in 2020, as the designated hitter and starting pitcher was signed for a reason – to help provide Trout with more help. All player moves need to be made with Trout in mind, as they are playing with one of the best players in the MLB for the next 10+ years, so they best not mess it up.
Their rotation, outside of Ohtani once he is healthy, is a mess, as is their bullpen, infield ranks, and catcher. Their outfield is held down by Trout in center and Calhoun in right field, so left field is a bit of a question mark as well.
With money being their main way of getting to the next level of competition, the front office will need to show that they are committed to making that climb into contention. Rumored to be a dark-horse candidate in the race for Houston’s Cole due to his familiarity with the area and the state, the former UCLA product would be a great arm to pair with Ohtani to form a formidable 1-2 punch in their rotation.
At least one big move needs to be made this year, and this team is not afraid to bring in big-time free agents on long-term, big-money deals (just ask Pujols). If Cole ends up not being their target, then signing Anthony Rendon to become their starting third baseman or his teammate, starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (if he decides to follow through on opting out of his current deal), would represent a good first step in the right direction.
Keeping Trout happy has seemingly been easy for this franchise, even as they have not produced any postseason results for him. While Trout looks to be one of those really good players happy with playing with one team the entirety of his career, it would be a great shame if he was never able to enjoy the sweet taste of postseason baseball.
With the Astros looking like a dynasty right before our eyes and the Rangers building a contender as well, it is Wild Card or bust for this team. Their chances obviously rest on the health and production of both Trout and Ohtani, but free agency could prove to be the real factor in how well they do in 2020.
Likelihood of making the MLB postseason: 6.5