The 2021 Major League Baseball regular season is fast approaching. Spring training action being on Sunday. While spring games are fun in their own way, I think we're all eager for meaningful baseball. Francisco Lindor in New York, Trevor Bauer in Los Angeles, George Springer in Toronto (err, Dunedin) ... there are a lot of faces in new places this season.
As always, each MLB team will face a different amount of pressure in 2021. Pressure is unquantifiable but you know it when you see it, and you definitely know it when you feel it. Some teams feel pressure to win. Others feel pressure to simply make progress and get out of the rebuilding phase. And other teams feel a different kind of pressure entirely.
With the 2021 season fast approaching, let's rank the 30 MLB teams based on the amount of pressure they feel to win the World Series this year. Here are our definitive rankings, starting with the teams that feel the least pressure to capture a championship and advancing to the teams under the most pressure.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
29. Baltimore Orioles
28. Detroit Tigers
27. Texas Rangers
26. Colorado Rockies
Five rebuilding teams (or, rather, four rebuilding teams plus whatever the Rockies are doing) that will go into 2021 with basically zero expectations. These five teams are not just making no effort to improve their MLB roster, they've been actively getting worse by trading away productive big leaguers. No pressure to win here. No one expects anything from these teams this year.
25. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners belong in the rebuilding group but deserve their own section because they're a special kind of pathetic. They've been so bad for so long now, yet their (former) team president was recently caught on video admitting business matters take priority over fielding a quality baseball team. Kevin Mather said, in no uncertain terms, the Mariners will manipulate the service time of their top prospects this season, because when you haven't been to the postseason since 2001, apparently the priority is making sure you will still control your players in 2027. Mather did not resign because he held those views. He resigned because the organization holds those views and he got caught saying them out loud. Let's all hope Jarred Kelenic blows the doors off spring training so the Mariners look extra foolish when he begins the season in Triple-A.
24. Kansas City Royals
23. Miami Marlins
Two rebuilding teams that are making an effort to improve. What a concept. The Marlins did make the postseason last year, though I'm not sold on them being Actually Good just yet. Still, they're making an effort. They traded for Starling Marte last season, signed Adam Duvall and Anthony Bass this offseason, and traded for John Curtissand Dylan Floro. That's something.
The Royals signed several free agents (Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, Michael Taylor, etc.) and traded for Andrew Benintendi, and have all that young pitching coming. GM Dayton Moore was asked recently about putting together a competitive team in this environment and his answer was refreshing. From Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times and Alec Lewis of The Athletic:
As far as pressure to win the World Series in 2021, the Royals and Marlins don't really have any. They are at least making an effort to win games this year and that lands them ahead of the other rebuilding clubs. That's a good thing. Wear this ranking as a badge of honor.
22. Arizona Diamondbacks
21. Cincinnati Reds
Last season went about as poorly as possible for the D-Backs, who looked like a preseason favorite to win a wild-card spot. Instead, they went 25-35 and had a thoroughly uninspiring offseason (Asdrubal Cabrera, Tyler Clippard, and Joakim Soria are their only notable additions). There's enough talent on the roster, including a legitimate star in Ketel Marte and the sneaky-great Zac Gallen, that Arizona should feel at least a little pressure to win in 2021, even though their best-case scenario is the second wild-card spot.
The Reds went to the postseason last year, scored precisely zero runs in the Wild Card Series, then spent the offseason cutting payroll. Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin were non-tendered, Raisel Iglesias was salary dumped, Trevor Bauer left as a free agent, and they're talking about playing Dee Strange-Gordon or Kyle Farmer at shortstop. I dunno. The thing is, Cincinnati has talent on offense (Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, etc.) and on the mound (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, etc.), and the NL Central is so very winnable. The Reds should feel a little optimistic heading into 2021.