It's easy to focus on the best teams. The Dodgers and Padres are going to be elite. The American League is kind of a mess, but the Yankees are a dependable option to win 90-plus games. The White Sox could turn out very well, too. As for the flip side of the coin–baseball's worst squads? There are plenty of options. SI's MLB experts weigh in with their pick on the club that will lose more games than anyone else.
It’s hard to see a team worse off this year than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last season they played at a 111-loss pace with the worst offense in baseball. They traded two of their best pitchers, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon, and their No. 3 hitter, Josh Bell in return for 11 prospects. They are in full-on teardown mode, as in the 2019 Tigers (114 losses), 2018 Orioles (118), 2013 Astros (111), and 2012 Cubs (101).
The Pirates do have a few nice pieces, starting with third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. But they are low on high-ceiling players and depth, especially when it comes to the pitching needed to cover 162 games. This is going to be ugly. Yes, even in the weakest division in baseball.
The Pirates' status as the worst team in last year's shortened season was no small-sample-size fluke—and the roster now is actually worse. Trevor Williams, Keone Kela, and Chris Archer all departed in free agency, and Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon were traded. That leaves a pretty bleak outlook. Focus on the fact that top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes should be promoted into an everyday role and just... try not to think too much about anything else.
The Pirates are going to be awful. The Rangers and Rockies will be as well. I'm convinced the Orioles, too, could be very bad. But let's pick on the Tigers. They signed a new manager (AJ Hinch) and a slew of free agents (shoutout Robbie Grossman), yet it's hard to see how their division rivals (even the Royals) don't beat up on them. The Twins and White Sox will be very good, the Indians got worse but could still win 80-something games and the Royals, primarily through free agency (!), improved as well. If Detroit's top prospects blossom in the majors this year, they can avoid this dubious conversation. Seems like a big if.
The Pirates have the least amount of talent after subtracting Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Joe Musgrove from the team that accumulated the most losses last year.
That said, the Rangers could end up with a worse record if they rightfully take the long view and trade Joey Gallo, who has two more seasons of club control, since the AL West should be tougher than the NL Central. Same deal with the Rockies, Trevor Story and the NL West, though Colorado still has a bunch of young starters who have flashed at times. In the end, it's hard to bet against the defending "champs" of ignominy in Pittsburgh.
The only reason the Rockies won't be the worst team in baseball this year is because they'll probably hold onto Trevor Story for the whole season, somehow thinking they can extend him long term. That, and their starting rotation has some fairly good arms. This race to the bottom comes down to the Pirates and Rangers. Now, non-Pittsburghers, close your eyes, spin around three times and without looking it up, try to name three players who will be on the Pirates' Opening Day roster. Can't do it? There's your answer.
Unfortunately there are more than a few worthy candidates for this dubious distinction. The Pirates get the nod, though, as they got a leg up on their cellar-dwelling competition when it comes to fire-selling the best of the big league roster. The returns for Joe Musgrove and Josh Bell won't help Pittsburgh much in 2021, and the outlook will get even worse if Gregory Polanco doesn't have a bounce-back season in him—though, if he does, that would likely only expedite his eventual trade elsewhere. So, yeah...lots to be excited about at PNC Park this year!
Perhaps the Pirates have the worst roster in baseball, but playing in the National League Central should provide at least a minor boost to their 2021 win total. The Rockies won't have the same luxury. Colorado will have to play nearly 40 games against the Dodgers and Padres, and both the Giants and Diamondbacks could hover near .500 for much of the season. Colorado's bullpen once again projects to be a disaster. The lineup is littered with question marks, with little guaranteed production outside of Trevor Story. What was recently an emerging contender has been mismanaged into a bottom feeder, setting the stage for the worst season in franchise history. An afternoon at Coors Field will remain a delight. But don't expect to see much winning baseball while you're there.