5 rebuilding MLB teams on the verge of playoff contention

By Robbie Stratakos

There are several MLB teams in the midst of a rebuild. Some are further along in the process than others. Here are five rebuilding MLB teams on the verge of playoff contention and/or competing for their respective league pennant in a traditional modern-day format (five teams making the playoffs per league).

5. Kansas City Royals

MLB teams: Kansas City Royals
Sep 25, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Whit Merrifield (15) flips his bat after striking out against the Detroit Tigers during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have a compelling positional depth chart. With the likes of Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, Hunter Dozier and offseason acquisitions Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana present, manager Mike Matheny has a slew of productive hitters. Infielders Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez hold steady gloves at the middle-infield positions.

Meanwhile, they have an improving starting rotation, as Brad Keller is coming off a stout season and Brady Singer had an encouraging rookie campaign. The Royals’ issue is they’re the fourth-best team in the AL Central.

The Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians are all better than the Royals. They have considerably better pitching staffs and functioning-to-great offenses. Their continued presence inhibits the Royals’ ability to make the playoffs in 2021 and perhaps 2022. The only way the Royals can make legitimate headway in the AL Central and American League as a whole in the short term is with starting rotation evolving into an elite unit. It’s unrealistic for that to take place this season.

Read More: MLB power rankings: 2021 outlook for every team before Opening Day

4. Cincinnati Reds

Reds Eugenio Suarez
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) and Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez (7) embrace at the conclusion of an intrasquad scrimmage, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Reds Scrimmage July 15

The Reds still have a reliable starting rotation even after Trevor Bauer’s departure in free agency (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle). Their rotation complements a bullpen that features the likes of Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and free agent signee Sean Doolittle.

Offensive production has been lacking in recent memory for the Reds, but they have the talent to turn the tide. Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino have pop in their bats. Meanwhile, healthy versions of Joey Votto, Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas do damage. Plus, the Reds play in a raggedy National League Central.

It’s a matter of whether the Reds can overcome the rival St. Louis Cardinals, who now have Nolan Arenado at the hot corner, and Milwaukee Brewers, a playoff team in each of the last three seasons. They’re each more proven than the Reds, and the formidable Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres make it difficult for Cincinnati to claim a Wild Card spot.

Read More: 2021 MLB season: X-factor for each National League team

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

MLB teams: Arizona Diamondbacks
Mar 4, 2021; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, Arizona, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) warms up before a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The D-backs are just a season removed from winning 85 games with a young roster and looking like a team on the cusp of being a playoff fixture. The heart of that roster remains intact. Ketel Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Christian Walker and David Peralta spearhead an offensive attack that has power threats across the board. They also have positional versatility, as Marte, Escobar and Peralta have extensive experience starting at multiple positions.

Their offense swings for a deep pitching staff. While Zac Gallen is nursing a forearm injury, the D-backs still have an array of proven and/or budding arms. A rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith can be a reliable unit for one of the better dark horse MLB teams out there right now.

With five teams in the NL East potentially competing for the division crown, there’s a chance that some of them will underwhelm from a record standpoint as they feast on each other. That opens the door for the D-backs to make a push for an NL Wild Card spot. It’s a tall task that’s reliant on them holding their own against the Dodgers and Padres.

Read More: MLB games today: MLB schedule, probable pitchers for Opening Day of 2021 season

2. Seattle Mariners

2021 MLB season: Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners
Sep 25, 2020; Oakland, California, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (18) delivers a pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners are minding their own business and building a sneaky squad that could be among the most surprising MLB teams this year.

They have a grouping of compelling position players. Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Dylan Moore, Shed Long Jr. and Tom Murphy have produced at the plate and/or shown some upside in the field. Meanwhile, healthy versions of Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager can rake. They all make for a balanced offense.

Perhaps, the most comforting development for the Mariners last season was their young starting pitchers. Youngsters Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn were steady forces taking the hill every fifth day. They’re joined by veterans Marco Gonzales and James Paxton, who’s set to embark on his second stint with the Mariners. Maybe Yusei Kikuchi can turn a corner in 2021? All in all, the Mariners are an evolving product coming off a decent 27-33 season. The AL West is yawning. Maybe the Mariners jump up the standings a bit this season?

Read More: 2021 MLB predictions: From MLB playoffs to 2021 World Series winner

1. Toronto Blue Jays

MLB teams: Toronto Blue Jays
Mar 17, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) and center fielder George Springer (4) talk against the New York Yankees at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays’ jump to contention is just about wrapped up. Now, it’s a matter of their starting rotation taking a step forward.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is a bonafide ace. Outside of him, it’s a combination of young arms and veterans looking to right the ship. Nate Pearson, the team’s former top prospect, could come into his own with more outings this season. Offseason acquisition Steven Matz has shown an ability to be a reliable starter. He could get his career back on track with a new coaching staff. Veterans Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark and Ross Stripling are all capable starters. Their rotation being in the top-third of the sport makes the Blue Jays a pennant threat.

Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and free agent signees George Springer and Marcus Semien make for a should-be vibrant offense and fundamentally sound defensive depth chart. The Blue Jays are tasked with getting around the dynamic Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in the AL East. There’s no margin for error. However, with the Blue Jays gradually improving over the last three years, it’s a goal that’s within reach.