Spring training is mere days away. While the offseason isn’t over and there are still plenty of good free agents left, we are beginning to get an idea of who will rule the American League in 2021 and who will be on the outside looking in.
Without further ado, here are the pre-spring training American League power rankings:
On paper, the New York Yankees are the best team in the American League by some margin. Their offensive nucleus is intact, and they replaced Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle and with Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson.
The rotation is the area that shows more change, but the potential is there for it to be a strength. When healthy, Corey Kluber is a top-15 starter, and Jameson Taillon is a very good mid-rotation option. If Luis Severino comes back healthy and dealing down the stretch, there is no one in the young circuit that can keep up with the Yankees, not even the Rays.
With Nelson Cruz back into the fold, the Twins have the same offensive core that made them terrifying in 2019 and 2020, minus Eddie Rosario. The bullpen is weakened with the losses of Matt Wisler and Trevor May, but their poaching of Alex Colomé from the division rival White Sox should help pick up the slack. They’ve also added starters J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, as well as shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who will give the club yet another defensive ace with center fielder Byron Buxton. Yes, the Twins are arguably the second-best American League team right now.
Last year, the White Sox were one game away from the AL Central crown. They have an explosive offensive highlighted by MVP José Abreu and young stars Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, and company. Now, they also have ace Lance Lynn to pair with Lucas Giolito and give them a strong one-two punch, plus reliever Liam Hendriks — perhaps the best reliever in baseball since the start of 2019. They should be good, and they should be fun to watch.
Tampa is the gold standard in the American League when it comes to player development and talent recognition. That’s why they can’t be dismissed as potential contenders even after they lost ace Blake Snell the ever-reliable Charlie Morton. They added a very bright pitching prospect in Luis Patiño, among other players, and still have a rock-solid core. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even work their magic with old friend Chris Archer and the slumping Michael Wacha.
Oakland led the AL West by seven games in 2020, and yet they still lost to the Astros in the postseason. They do have a very good team, but Elvis Andrus is a clear downgrade from Marcus Semien at shortstop. It also hurt to lose Robbie Grossman and Tommy La Stella, who were both quite good for the A’s last season. Still, they have the two Matts at the infield corners (Chapman and Olson), plus pitchers Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, and others. They should fight for the division title again if that group remains healthy.
Houston won’t have Justin Verlander in 2021 and Zack Greinke is aging. However, there is no denying that they managed to put together an impressive group of young pitchers: Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr. and José Urquidy will be rotation stalwarts in 2021, and Forrest Whitley is a call away. The offense remains elite, although losing George Springer’s bat has to rank up there with the biggest losses that any lineup has suffered this offseason.
If Toronto had signed Trevor Bauer, we would be talking about them as a serious threat to the Yankees and Rays. They may still be such a contender after plucking Springer out of Houston and adding infielder Marcus Semien to an already impressive group of position players, but they may be a pitcher or two short of making a true run in 2021. The offseason isn’t over, though, and they could still add Jake Odorizzi or Taijuan Walker.
Cleveland lost shortstop Francisco Lindor, 1B/DH Carlos Santana, reliever Brad Hand, and starter Carlos Carrasco, so they are a worse team than they were in 2020. That doesn’t mean they won’t fight for a postseason spot; they have Shane Bieber anchoring a very good rotation and José Ramírez as their best offensive player. They also added Eddie Rosario and two young infielders with potential in Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez.
Any team with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon has the potential of being very, very good. But the organization keeps getting in the way: with Trevor Bauer, James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi, Charlie Morton, and Corey Kluber available just for money, they traded for Alex Cobb and signed José Quintana. That won’t suffice.
10) Seattle Mariners
In my view, the James Paxton acquisition puts the M’s above the Red Sox and really close to the Angels. Jarred Kelenic is a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, part of a young movement in Seattle that should include outfielders Kyle Lewis (the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year) and Julio Rodriguez (likely in 2022) and pitchers Logan Gilbert, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield. Marco Gonzales should help stabilize a potentially good rotation as the team tries to be relevant again.
11) Boston Red Sox
The offseason still isn’t over for Boston, as they still may re-sign center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The Franchy Cordero acquisition is interesting, they also brought Kiké Hernández and Garrett Richards, and they do have a couple of good pitchers on the way up who should contribute at some point this year (that’s to say nothing of the recovering Chris Sale, either). However, they are still firmly the second-worst team in the AL East.
12) Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are moving in the right direction: two of their boatload of pitching prospects were called up to the bigs in 2020, Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize, and they still have Matt Manning waiting in the wings. This offseason, they also made some under-the-radar offensive additions, like Robbie Grossman and Renato Núñez. They are still, however, a year or two away from contending for a playoff spot.
The Royals have a great collection of young pitching. Two of them made their debut in 2020, with mixed results: Brady Singer and Kris Bubic. They also have Brad Keller, and a few talented hitters, including the steady Whit Merrifield, Silver Slugger veteran Salvador Pérez, K.C. newcomer Carlos Santana, and the recently-acquired Andrew Benintendi. (Jorge Soler is only a year removed from leading the AL with 48 homers in 2019, too.) Once Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Bobby Witt Jr., and others are ready to contribute, they may be interesting. That likely won’t be in 2021, though.
14) Texas Rangers
The Rangers traded Lance Lynn and that makes them a worse team. However, they have a new GM with fresh ideas in Chris Young, and have already picked up interesting players in pitchers Dane Dunning and Jharel Cotton, first baseman Nate Lowe, outfielder David Dahl, and designated hitter Khris Davis. We are also about to see what a healthy Willie Calhoun can do over a full season. Texas should be bad in 2021, but hey, the arrow is pointing up.
The Orioles signed both Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey to minor league deals. Boy, if it were 2013, the rest of the league should be SCARED ... kidding aside, the O’s had some breakthrough performances in the past couple years that set them up well for the future: John Means, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Keegan Akin, and Dean Kremer are among them. However, they are still the worst team in the AL East and perhaps the American League. They are at least on the right track as O’s fans count away the months until Adley Rutschman makes it to The Show.