Spring has finally come back around, which means Major League Baseball isn’t far behind. It’s a special time of year for the Valley, as baseball fans across the country usually make their annual migration to the desert.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s mostly likely not going to be the case. The uncertainties of the 2020 season are behind us, though, and it’s time for ballplayers to get back to work. Spring Training began February 28, and we’ve got everything you need to know about all 15 Cactus League teams in 2021.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 2020 record – 25-35
The D-backs finished last in the NL West in last year’s truncated season, missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. That being said, there were some positives to take away from 2020.
Buckeye-raised right fielder Kole Calhoun finished top 10 in the NL in home runs and RBIs — 16 and 40, respectively — in his first year playing for his hometown team. With one more year on his contract and a club option for 2022, the 33-year-old will certainly look to keep his production near that level in 2021.
First baseman Christian Walker showed improvement in his second full season in the majors, batting a career-high .271 and finishing third in the NL with 18 doubles. Despite committing three errors, he was top 5 among NL first basemen in assists (28), double plays turned (40) and fielding percentage (.990).
Coming into 2021, the D-backs core is largely the same as last year. A couple of notable departures are outfielder Jon Jay, and former Arizona State pitcher Mike Leake. Jay, a career .283 hitter, struggled in his second stint as a Diamondback, batting .160 in just 50 plate appearances. Leake, who opted out of the 2020 season, posted a 3-3 record in 10 starts with a 4.35 ERA for the D-backs after being acquired midseason in 2019.
Arizona’s biggest offseason acquisition was veteran reliever Joakim Soria, signing him to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 6-foot-3 Soria, who turns 37 in May, had a 2.82 ERA in 22 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season, and is considered a top contender for Arizona’s closing spot in 2021.
Chicago Cubs: 2020 record – 34-26
After winning the NL Central, the Cubs are still just four years removed from their World Series title. They had a chance to make a deep playoff run in 2020, and drew a seemingly favorable matchup in the Wild Card series against the 31-29 Miami Marlins, who hadn’t been to the postseason since 2003. Unfortunately, the Cubs’ bats dried up as they managed to score just one run in the series and were swept in two games.
A few notable players will not be returning to the Windy City this season, including fan-favorite outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Washington Nationals. The Cubs also traded veteran right-hander Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres, landing pitcher Zach Davies and several prospects. Darvish was named to the All-MLB First Team after the season.
By far, the biggest acquisition for the Cubs this offseason was free agent left fielder Joc Pederson, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal in February. Pederson, fresh off his first World Series championship with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is just two years removed from a 36-home run, 74-RBI season in 2019 that also saw him hit .249, all career bests.
Chicago White Sox: 2020 record – 35-25
The White Sox took an important step in 2020, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008. First baseman José Abreu was named AL MVP after leading the league in RBI with 60, finishing second in home runs with 19, and fourth in average with .317.
Shortstop Tim Anderson has emerged as a budding star, hitting over .320 for the second year in a row and winning his first Silver Slugger award.
The club turned heads around the league in October when it hired Tony La Russa, 76, as its next manager. The Hall of Famer managed the team from 1979 to 1986 and hasn’t managed since leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title in 2011.
The Sox made another splash in December by trading for right-hander Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers. Lynn has placed top 5 in the AL in wins and strikeouts in each of the last two years and was considered the best pitcher on the market at last year’s deadline. He went 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 2020.
Pitching was obviously a priority for the Sox, even though its collective 3.81 ERA last season was well below the league average (which is a good thing). Chicago signed free agent reliever Liam Hendriks, who was named the AL’s Reliever of the Year in 2020 and was named to the All-MLB First Team, to a three-year, $54 million contract.
Also joining the club is familiar face Adam Eaton, who previously played in Chicago from 2014 to 2016. The right fielder signed a one-year, $8 million contract after spending the last four years with the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series in 2019.
Cincinnati Reds: 2020 record – 31-29
Despite hitting a league-worst .212, Cincinnati ended its seven-year playoff drought on the strength of their pitching, before losing to the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card series.
The Reds’ biggest problem offensively was their heavy reliance on home runs. Over 60% of their total runs scored came on home runs, which is something the team will look to change in 2021.
The club took a big hit in free agency, losing 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to the Dodgers. Bauer is the only Reds pitcher to win the Cy Young. Finding a replacement for a pitcher of his caliber is nearly impossible.
The team didn’t make many big acquisitions, but they did sign two-time All-Star closer Sean Doolittle to a one-year, $1.5 million contract after trading previous closer Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Noé Ramirez. They also added depth relievers Edgar García, Brandon Bailey and Jeff Hoffman.
Cleveland Indians: 2020 record – 35-25
Big changes are on the horizon for Cleveland. This year is likely to be the final season of Cleveland Indians baseball before the club changes its nickname, and on the field, the team will look a bit different than in years past.
In January, the Indians traded four-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and longtime starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets for shortstops Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, plus a pair of prospects. Trade rumors had been circling the superstar Lindor for months, and the return wasn’t quite what many were expecting.
The good news for Cleveland fans is that there is still a lot of talent on the roster. Right-hander Shane Bieber won the AL Cy Young in just his third season, dominating batters with his 1.63 ERA and incredible league-record 41.1% strikeout rate. The team also boasted a pair of Gold Glove winners in catcher Roberto Peréz and second baseman Cesar Hernandez, and a Silver Slugger in third baseman José Ramírez.
In a division with rebuilding teams like Detroit and Kansas City, the Indians are still a threat to make the postseason.
Colorado Rockies: 2020 record – 26-34
After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Rockies decided it was time for a change. In early February, the team traded franchise centerpiece Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals for a package of prospects and young players.
Arenado’s faith in the team reportedly diminished last year, presumably explaining the low return for the five-time All-Star third baseman. Arenado won the NL’s third base Gold Glove the last eight years in a row and has won the last four Platinum Gloves.
On the mound, righty reliever Daniel Bard turned out to be one of the best baseball stories of 2020. After not having pitched in the majors since 2013, Bard finished with a 4-2 record in 23 appearances and a 3.65 ERA. He was 6/6 in save opportunities and won the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
The club will move forward with 34-year-old right fielder Charlie Blackmon leading the way offensively. Although his power dipped in 2020, his .303 batting average shows he’s still got some juice left.
Kansas City Royals: 2020 record – 26-34
It’s been a rough go for the Kansas City Royals since winning the 2015 World Series, but things could be looking up. After back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2018 and 2019, the Royals’ 26-34 record in 2020 roughly equates to 70-92 in a full season which is… not good, but still an 11-game improvement over the year prior.
The team will miss 14-year veteran outfielder Alex Gordon, who retired after last season. The 37-year-old was a three-time All Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, and two-time Platinum Glove winner, having just won the award last season.
The Royals made some decent additions to their squad this offseason, signing free agent lefty Mike Minor, first baseman Carlos Santana, veteran righty Ervin Santana, and resigned reliever Greg Holland. They also acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi from the Boston Red Sox for outfield prospect Khalil Lee.
The club also boasts four prospects in the MLB’s top 100 rankings, including shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., ranked No. 7. Witt, drafted second overall in 2019, has impressed Royals management thus far, and is estimated to make the big leagues as early as 2022.
There’s still a long way to go for this team, but they may not be down for long.
Los Angeles Angels: 2020 record – 26-34
For a team fielding likely the most talented player in baseball history, the Angels have not lived up to expectations. Star center fielder Mike Trout, an eight-time All Star, has only seen postseason action once, getting swept in the 2014 ALDS by Kansas City.
The club has made big acquisitions in recent years, bringing in players like Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon, as well as manager Joe Maddon, but nothing has seemed to work. Losing four-time Gold Glove winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons in free agency didn’t help either.
New Angels general manager Perry Minasian plans to keep the team competitive and traded for veteran right fielder Dexter Fowler from the Cardinals. The soon-to-be 35-year-old is looking to rebound from a tough 2020 campaign that saw him limited to just 31 games while hitting .233, well below his career average.
The Angels’ biggest concern last season was pitching, putting up the AL’s third-worst ERA at 5.09. To address it, the team signed lefty José Quintana to a one-year, $8 million deal, traded for former Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, and acquired Alex Cobb from the Baltimore Orioles.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020 record – 43-17
After years of playoff disappointment, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally captured their first World Series title since 1988. The team was unstoppable for most of the year and aren’t likely to slow down in 2021.
A few key pieces won’t be returning to LA in 2021, including Joc Pederson and left-hander Alex Wood. The gains far outweigh the losses, however, as they signed the biggest free agent pitcher on the market, Trevor Bauer, to a three-year, $102 million contract. The reigning NL Cy Young winner joins an already stacked rotation, featuring Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, and David Price, when healthy. The team also bolstered its bullpen by resigning Blake Treinen and trading for Corey Knebel from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Dodgers held the best ERA in the majors last year at just 3.02, and they might be even better this year.
Pitching isn’t the only scary thing about this club. They led the majors in home runs last year with 118, averaging almost two a game. With players like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, AJ Pollock and Max Muncy all returning in 2021, it’s tough to see another team usurping that throne.
The reigning champions also added to their infield by acquiring Sheldon Neuse from the Athletics and re-signing third baseman Justin Turner to a two-year, $34 million contract. Turner has averaged over .300 in four of his seven seasons wearing Dodger blue, and quickly became a fan favorite through his play and iconic red hair. Neuse, 26, has only played 25 major league games to date, but has averaged .250 and hit three doubles, in addition to some very impressive numbers in the minors.
Milwaukee Brewers: 2020 record – 29-31
The Brewers took a step back in 2020, finishing under .500 for the first time since 2016. They still managed to qualify for the postseason under last year’s expanded format but didn’t stand a chance against the powerhouse Dodgers in the Wild Card series.
The club decided to move on from longtime left fielder/free agent Ryan Braun, who leaves as the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs with 352.
Experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump last year was second baseman Keston Hiura, who turned heads in 2019, making the MLB All-Rookie team. He’s a player who’s looking to rebound with a big 2021 campaign and is expected to switch to first base this year.
Devin Williams, the reigning NL Rookie and Reliever of the Year, was fantastic last year and will try to continue that success. In 27 innings pitched, he posted a miniscule 0.33 ERA and struck out 53% of batters.
Milwaukee’s biggest addition was signing free agent second baseman Kolten Wong to a three-year, $18 million deal. The longtime Cardinal will help solidify the team’s infield defense.
Oakland Athletics: 2020 record – 36-24
The A’s are a team stuck in a time loop. They develop great players who eventually become too good for the team to afford and lose them to teams with deeper pockets. This offseason was no different. Infielders Marcus Semien and Tommy La Stella, pitchers Liam Hendriks, Mike Minor and Joakim Soria, and outfielder Robbie Grossman all signed with other teams in free agency.
To fill the void left by Semien at shortstop, the A’s acquired two-time All-Star Elvis Andrus from the Texas Rangers for a package including fan-favorite designated hitter/left fielder Khris Davis. “Khrush,” as he is known in Oakland, is just three years removed from leading the major leagues in home runs with 48 back in 2018. The team also signed veteran infielder Jed Lowrie for his third stint in Oakland and acquired lefty reliever Adam Kolarek from the Dodgers.
The good news for the A’s is they finally got over the first-round hump in the postseason after knocking out the White Sox in the Wild Card series. Despite being the only AL West team to finish over .500 in the regular season, they fell to their division rival Houston Astros in the ALDS. They’ll look to be back in the postseason for a fourth straight year in 2021.
San Diego Padres: 2020 record – 37-23
The 2020 Padres were a revelation under first-year manager Jayce Tingler, ending a 14-year postseason drought and fielding one of the most exciting teams in recent memory. The dynamic duo of third baseman Manny Machado and shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. turned the Padres into must-watch television, and with big additions to an already-strong pitching staff, they could be even better this year.
The team acquired starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in separate deals, giving them an incredible one-two punch to start their rotation, followed by All-MLB Second Teamer Dinelson Lamet. Darvish is a four-time All Star who was named to the All-MLB First Team last year, and Snell won the AL Cy Young with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018.
As if the Padres weren’t scary enough, they’ve also got two top-10 prospects ranked on MLB’s top 100: lefty pitcher MacKenzie Gore, and shortstop CJ Abrams. There was talk of Gore making his debut last year, so don’t be surprised if the Padres give the 2017 third overall pick a look in 2021.
With the combination of power and pitching the Padres possess, the Dodgers’ biggest threat could come from their own division.
San Francisco Giants: 2020 record – 29-31
The Giants missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year by the skin of their teeth under new manager Gabe Kapler. The team scored the fifth-most runs in the NL, largely on the back of All-MLB Second Team outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. “Yaz,” as he’s known by fans, has only played two seasons in the majors at age 30, but has provided a significant boost offensively, hitting .297 last year while leading the team with 35 RBI.
San Francisco added second baseman Tommy La Stella and pitchers Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood through free agency to round out their roster. DeSclafani struggled last year in Cincinnati, but earned himself a one-year, $6 million contract with the Giants in the hopes of bouncing back. La Stella is a career .274 hitter who earned his first All-Star nomination with the Angels in 2019.
Seattle Mariners: 2020 record – 27-33
The Mariners haven’t played postseason baseball since 2001. The last time the Mariners made the playoffs, the first Harry Potter movie hadn’t even been released in theaters yet. Not that Mariner fans need to be reminded of that fact, but it shows just how desperate this team is to break that streak.
Third baseman Kyle Seager led the team with 40 RBI, but it was AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis who stole the show in Seattle. The 25-year-old outfielder led the team with 11 home runs and a .262 batting average and was selected for the award unanimously. The team also featured two Gold Glove winners, first baseman Evan White and shortstop J.P. Crawford.
There is help on the way though, and in the not-so-distant future. Outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are ranked as MLB’s No. 4 and No. 5 prospects, respectively, and could see action on a Major League field soon. Kelenic seems to be the closer of the two to making the big leagues, so keep an eye out for his name in 2021.
The team is also reportedly in agreement on a multiyear contract with free agent reliever Ken Giles, who is likely to miss the entire 2021 season after having Tommy John surgery. Giles was considered one of the top closers in baseball before his 2020 struggles.
Texas Rangers: 2020 record – 22-38
The Rangers haven’t fared well since their 95-win season in 2016, but 2020 was especially rough. Their 38 losses in a 60-game season roughly equates to 103 over a full schedule, which would’ve been their first 100-loss season since 1973. Texas also had the worst batting average in the AL at just .217. They didn’t get much help from their pitching staff either, registering the fifth-worst ERA in the league at 5.02. They also committed the fourth-most errors in the AL with 40. To put it simply, this team needs help everywhere.
To remedy this, new general manager Chris Young made several moves. He signed 2018 All Star righty Mike Foltynewicz to a one-year, $2 million contract. He also brought in former Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields on a minor league contract, with an invitation to Spring Training.
By far the biggest move of the Rangers offseason was trading longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus to Oakland for a package including slugger Khris Davis. Davis hit 133 homers and knocked in 335 runs from 2016-2018, leading the majors in home runs in 2018 with 48. He hasn’t been anywhere close to that form the last two seasons, but with just one more year on his contract, the team isn’t taking too much of a risk.