Welcome to the Rotoworld MLB Power Rankings, a weekly feature that will run every Tuesday through the end of the 2019 regular season. These rankings are not fantasy-driven in any way, though I will include nuggets of fantasy advice here and there inside the individual team writeups. 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 short-and-sweet preseason outlooks for each club. Let’s get to the good stuff …
Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Must-have pitchers
1. Boston Red Sox
The defending champions get top billing here after piling up 108 regular-season wins in 2018 and capturing their fourth World Series title in 15 years. It’s shocking that the Red Sox didn’t make any upgrades to their bullpen over the winter, but the offense -- led by 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts -- should keep Boston firmly in the top tier of our Rotoworld Power Rankings all year. And the starting pitching could be very good with some luck on the health front. Chris Sale has the stuff to win the AL Cy Young Award if his shoulder holds strong.
2. New York Yankees
Staff ace Luis Severino is expected to miss at least the first month of the 2019 regular season after being diagnosed in early March with inflammation in his right rotator cuff, but the Yankees added James Paxton to the mix this winter and he flirted with ace status during his time with the Mariners. New York sits at No. 2 in these preseason rankings primarily because the offense looks like it could be an absolute juggernaut. And the bullpen should be lethal, even if setup man Dellin Betances isn’t quite himself coming off a spring shoulder injury.
3. Houston Astros
Michael Brantley was inked to a two-year, $32 million deal in December and should help extend an already deep lineup in Houston after slashing .309/.364/.468 over 143 games with the Indians in 2018. The Astros didn’t make any other big splashes in free agency, but they did sign rising star Alex Bregman and veteran ace Justin Verlander to contract extensions in late March. The back-end of the rotation is maybe a question mark, but Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock could very well flourish as starters and top prospect Forrest Whitley is on the way.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw’s health remains a huge concern and there are other durability issues up and down the pitching depth chart, but the Dodgers aren’t lacking in arm talent and Walker Buehler should help stabilize things in what will be his first full major league campaign. The 24-year-old right-hander posted a 2.62 ERA and 151 strikeouts across 137 1/3 innings in 2018, including a 1.55 ERA over his final 75 1/3 regular-season frames. Los Angeles has advanced to the World Series in back-to-back years and will be looking to finally win the whole thing in 2019.
5. Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper went to a division rival in free agency, but the Nationals had a nice offseason nonetheless. Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Anibal Sanchez, and Trevor Rosenthal were all smart, inexpensive additions, and the front office bucked up big time to bring in Patrick Corbin, who will slot in behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in what could be the best rotation in the NL. Maybe this is the year that Anthony Rendon finally gets his due. The highly-underrated third baseman is set to cash in on the open market next winter, if the Nats can’t extend him.
6. Cleveland Indians
Their offseason strategy was a head-scratcher, but the Indians return an incredible fivesome of starters in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber. Francisco Lindor missed most of camp with a right calf strain, but he’s made steady progress of late and could be ready to rock as soon as April 4. Jose Ramirez had to be carted off the field after fouling a ball off his left knee Sunday in a Cactus League game but ultimately escaped with a bruise. Lindor and Ramirez combined for 77 home runs and 59 stolen bases in 2018.
7. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies called their shot this offseason and spent big, inking Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract, signing Andrew McCutchen for three years, $50 million, trading for the best catcher in the league in J.T. Realmuto, and greatly upgrading the shortstop position with their acquisition of Jean Segura. They also brought in veteran reliever David Robertson to help bring some stability to a bullpen that was a mess at times last season. The rotation has some question marks, but Aaron Nola is an ace, Jake Arrieta should be better with improved health, and Nick Pivetta is a breakout candidate.
8. Chicago Cubs
We’ve got a run of National League Central teams between the No. 8-10 spots, and that division should be a battle all year. Chicago looks like maybe the best team on paper, but it’s close, and the Cubs are going to need a lot to right to recapture the NL Central crown. Kris Bryant moving past last year’s shoulder injury and returning to MVP form would be massive. Yu Darvish staying healthy and Jon Lester continuing to outwork his peripherals would be of big help on the pitching side. Can catcher Willson Contreras shed that dreadful finish to the 2018 campaign?
9. St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis made probably the best trade of the offseason, acquiring star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks in early December before signing him to a five-year, $130 million extension in late March, before he had even taken an official at-bat in a Cardinals uniform. Teams have become wisely risk-averse in how much money they commit to players beyond age 32 and Goldschmidt will be 37 years old when this deal concludes, but he should be a perfect fit for this team through at least the first half of the contract.
10. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee won the NL Central last year for just the second time since being moved out of the American League following the 1997 season. And really the entire gang is back for 2019, with reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich again set to lead the charge. Free agent acquisition Yasmani Grandal should be a huge offensive upgrade over what the Brewers had at the catcher position last year, further extending one of baseball’s best lineups. The pitching is a concern, especially with late-spring injuries piling up in the bullpen, but there are high-upside arms all across the depth chart.
11. Atlanta Braves
The Braves made a big jump from rebuilder to contender in 2018 and captured the National League East title with 90 regular-season wins. Ronald Acuna should be a monster in his first full major league campaign, Freddie Freeman figures to be as steady as always, and Josh Donaldson could be set to rake with his lingering calf injury in the rear view, but Atlanta’s front office decided against spending money on pitching upgrades this winter and it’s easy to see how that might cost this team over a 162-game slate. Perhaps they can pull off some in-season upgrades.
12. New York Mets
New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen captured the attention of all of baseball in the early part of the offseason when he brought over stud closer Edwin Diaz and veteran second baseman Robinson Cano from the Mariners. And he put a cherry on top with a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension for Jacob deGrom two days before the opening of the 2019 regular season. Don’t sleep on the signing of Wilson Ramos either. There are some holes on this roster, but Yoenis Cespedes returning healthy in the second half could certainly give the offense a jolt.
13. Colorado Rockies
Veteran infielder Daniel Murphy was signed to a two-year, $24 million free agent contract in December and should be a perfect fit for the hitting environment at Coors Field. He’ll play first base, which will hopefully keep him more durable, and he projects to bat either second or third next to Nolan Arenado, who agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extension in late February that could very well keep him in purple and black for life. The offense is once again loaded, and the Rockies’ young starters will be out to prove that last year’s production was no fluke.
14. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay got on a roll in the second half last year and marched to 90 regular-season wins, which could be good enough for a postseason bid in 2019 with so many American League teams moving in a losing direction. Blake Snell, coming off an AL Cy Young Award in 2018, signed a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the Rays last week -- the biggest extension ever given to a pitcher with between two and three years of service time. Tampa Bay also brought in veteran starter Charlie Morton on a two-year, $30 million free agent pact.
15. Minnesota Twins
Minnesota made a handful of smart upgrades this offseason and will try to finally present a challenge to the Indians for the American League Central title after finishing 13 games back of the Tribe in 2018. Veteran slugger Nelson Cruz was brought in on a one-year, $14.3 million deal to bring some pop to the heart of the lineup, Jonathan Schoop was inked to a one-year, $7.5 million contract to replace Brian Dozier at second base, and Marwin Gonzalez was signed for two years, $21 million to play all around the diamond. Look for Jose Berrios to emerge as a true front-line ace in 2019.