The threat of the coronavirus looms over every aspect of our lives, and it could eventually lead to baseball being canceled for the entirety of 2020. It depends on if they’re willing to have no fans frankly. I think they will be and I think the odds that a season doesn’t happen are slim, however, an interesting hypothetical is “who suffers the most from a lost season?”
Player-wise, the list is long. Fringe prospects entering their all-important age 25 season might never get a chance, because better prospects lose an entire year and teams may be more aggressive with them. Aging players, particularly ones coming off down years. Players in the last year of their contract whose 2020 season could go a long way towards how much they’ll be paid. I could make that list, but today I want to focus on the teams themselves. Teams will lose a year of service time for every player currently in the MLB, they’ll lose an important developmental year, and they’ll potentially lose a good year out of a sketchy free agent contract.
With all that in mind, here’s my not at all scientific ranking of the impact of a lost 2020 season from most screwed to least screwed.
#1 Minnesota Twins, Projected 2020 record: 89-73, 1st place in AL Central
Losses: Jake Odorizzi, Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Alex Avila, Trevor May, Ehire Adrianza
The Twins lose 2/5 of their rotation and Rich Hill, who will pitch whenever he’s healthy. They’ll lose projected 2.8 WAR player Nelson Cruz, who could resign but will also be 40 next year. Losing the first year of Josh Donaldson’s contract is devastating to any team, but extremely so to a team who spends as little as the Twins do. They’ll also get about 20 starts total out of Michael Pineda, whose suspension wouldn’t kick in until the second year of his two year deal.
#2 New York Yankees, Projected 2020 record: 94-68, 1st in AL East
Losses: Mashairo Tanaka, DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton, (probably) J.A. Happ
The Yankees will be fine. I wish I could put them lower on this list, but the real impact of a lost 2020 is not from their losses, even though that’s going to be what is likely 3/5 of their rotation. (Happ has a mutual option that should be rejected). No they lose the first year of Gerrit Cole’s megadeal, which obviously the Yankees can weather, but he’s getting paid $36 million a year and just throwing out his best year is going to make this not great. They’re also losing Giancarlo Stanton’s age 30 season, which came after a lost age 29 season. His contract is already underwater and taking away another prime season when there’s still six more years on that deal is not great. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez being another year closer to FA, plus Gleyber Torres entering arbitration next year are other factors.
#3 Cincinnati Reds, Projected 2020 record: 83-79, 2 games out of Wild Card
Losses: Trevor Bauer, Anthony Desclafani, Freddy Galvis, Pedro Strop
Clearly the losses don’t compare to the team you expected to be here by now, but that’s not why the Reds are here. They have clearly gone all-in, and the actions of an all-in team do not prepare for the year after the all-in year. Mike Moustakas, already on an iffy deal, loses his age 31 season. Nick Castellanos, already on an iffy deal, is now going to either have a good year and opt-out in 2021 or have a bad year and have a contract the Reds wish they didn’t have. Sonny Gray misses his age 31 season, Shogo Akiyama loses his age 32 season, and Joey Votto loses his age 36 season. They also get to have Wade Miley at 34 instead of 33, and I don’t trust the age 33 version in the first place. Jesse Winker and Luis Castillo will also enter arbitration for the first time in 2021.
#4 Los Angeles Dodgers, Projeted 2020 record: 97-65, 1st in NL West
Losses: Mookie Betts, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner, Blake Treinen, Alex Wood, Enrique Hernandez, Pedro Baez
The only reason the Dodgers aren’t higher is because they are better positioned for the future than the Reds, Yankees, and Twins, because they certainly have a similar hit from a lost 2020 season, if not more. About those losses and why they’re 4th: Justin Turner will return because he won’t sign with anyone else, and Alex Wood probably would return since he’s on a 1 year deal. Betts remains to be seen, but they’re certainly in a good position. That’s not all thought. They lose Clayton Kershaw’s age 32 season, David Price’s age 34 season, and AJ Pollock’s age 32 season.
#5 Philadelphia Phillies, Projected 2020 record: 81-81, 4 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: JT Realmuto, Didi Gregorious, Jay Bruce, Tommy Hunter, (probably) David Robertson, Jose Alvarez
The big free agent loss is a pretty big one, but he’s not necessarily why they’re all the way in 5th place. Phillies will lose Jake Arietta’s age 34 season and instead get his 35 and 36 seasons, which probably won’t be great. Zach Wheeler is in the first year of a five year deal where the first year is wiped out. Andrew McCutchen is going to lose more than half of the first year and the entire second year of his three year deal with the Phillies and the third year will be him at 34. And let’s not forget about losing a prime year of Bryce Harper.
#6 Arizona Diamondbacks, Projected 2020 record: 80-82, 5 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Robbie Ray, Jake Lamb, Andrew Chafin, (maybe) Mike Leake
Diamondbacks are filled with players who are either past 30 or just signed a free agent deal that will probably be a loss because of losing the first year. Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Merrill Kelly will be 32 next year, Kole Calhoun and David Peralta 33. Plus Madison Bumgarner loses his age 30 season and the first year of a five year deal. And if they keep Leake (who has a mutual option for $18 million), he’ll be 33. This is a surprisingly old team.
#7 Los Angeles Angels, Projected 2020 record: 83-79, 4 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Andrelton Simmons, Tommy La Stella, Julio Teheran, Jason Castro
Castro and Teheran signed one year deals so there’s no reason to think they can’t re-sign them again. La Stella pretty much screams flash in the pan so I don’t think that’s a big loss either (plus they have David Fletcher). Simmons will be hard to replace though. More importantly, the Angels lose a prime season of Mike Trout, a prime season of Anthony Rendon, and they lose Justin Upton’s age 32 season which is still young enough to bounce back from his 2019. Shohei Ohtani starts getting paid in 2021 too.
#8 Chicago White Sox, Projected 2020 record: 83-79, 4 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Alex Colome, James McCann, (possibly) Kelvin Herrera
For the record, the White Sox have five players with team options for 2021, four of which were signed prior to this season, so I assume, with no new information, they’d surely pick up those options. The fifth is Herrera. Anyway, the losses are not terribly large, but they are relying on some old players: they lose 32-year-old Dallas Keuchel’s first year, 31-year-old Yasmani Grandal’s first year, 33-year-old Jose Abreu’s 1st year, and they’ll be dealing 38-year-old Edwin Encarnacion and 35-year-old Gio Gonzalez, assuming both options are picke up. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are sure to take a chunk out of their spending money as well, as both are entering arbitration in 2021.
#9 Houston Astros, Projected 2020 record: 95-67, 1st in AL West
Losses: George Springer, Brad Peacock, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel
Why aren’t the Astros higher? Replacements. They have Abraham Toro, Houston’s #3 prospect, ready to replace Gurriel in the infield. They also have Kyler Tucker (#10 overall prospect last year). Clearly that still leaves some holes, but they’ll also have money to spend with four of those five players above making at least $8 million. But they lose a year of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, both of whom are old already and can’t stay good forever.
#10 Oakland Athletics, Projected 2020 record: 87-75, 2nd AL Wild Card team
Losses: Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks, Robbie Grossman, TJ McFarland, Joakim Soria, ike Fiers, Yusmeiro Petit
Now that I’m looking at Marcus Semien’s projection, they should probably be higher. But that’s really the only loss that matters, which helps. And being the A’s, the only contract that suffers because of age is Khris Davis who will be 33 next year. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both enter arbitration next year so they’ll probably not have much to spend to replace Semien, but Billy Beane is crafty.
#11 San Diego Padres, Projected 2020 record: 84-78, 1 game out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Kirby Yates, Jurickson Profar, Garrett Richards
While the Athletics are bad contract free, the Padres are not... to say the least. Eric Hosmer is 30 and Wil Myers is 29, so they still - in theory - have time to still be good, but now we’re removing a year from those ages and it becomes even less likely. The freshly signed Drew Pomeranz will be 32 instead of 31. You also lose a year of Manny Machado, which can be a big deal for a 10 year contract.
#12 Chicago Cubs, Projected 2020 record: 0-162, 85 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Steven Souza Jr, Jeremy Jeffress
I’m not sure I would put them this high if I didn’t have a better understanding of their 2021 problem. They have a $10 million buyout for Jon Lester’s team option, which will make them more inclined to accept his $25 million salary. The dilemma is if accepted, they have nothing else to spend and everyone is a year older. If not accepted, they lose 2/5 of their rotation and don’t exactly have deep pitching depth. Or, they accept and trade Kris Bryant.
#13 Washington Nationals, Projected 2020 record - 88-74, 1st in NL East
Losses: Sean Doolittle, Kurt Suzuki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman
They are this high because they’re win now with a bunch of aging players whose clock is ticking: 31-year-old Stephen Strasburg has a seven year deal that probably wasn’t going to look good before you throw out his first year. In addition to him, Max Scherzer will be 36 next year, Patrick Corbin 31, and Anibal Sanchez 37. Also over 30 where losing a year could be bad: Adam Eaton (31), Will Harris (35), Howie Hendrick (36), Daniel Hudson (34), Yan Gomes (32), and Eric Thames (33). Go ahead and add a year to all those ages for 2021 and you get an idea why they’re on thin ice, even with Juan Soto.
New York Mets, Projected 2020 record: 85-77, 2nd NL Wild Card
Losses: Yeonis Cespedes, Jed Lowrie, Rick Porcello, Justin Wilson, Michael Wacha, Marcus Stroman, Jake Marisnick
Losing Stroman, Porcello, and Wacha makes up 3/5 of their planned rotation for 2020. No reason to think they can’t get Porcello and Wacha on 1-year deals again though. Robinson Cano stands a lower chance of bouncing back at 38 than he does at 37, which is bad long-term for them. That projection, I assume, assumes Noah Syndergaard is pitching, and that’s why I don’t have them higher.
#15 Colorado Rockies, Projected 2020 record: 77-85, 8 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: (probably) Wade Davis, (probably) Bryan Shaw, (probably) Jake McGee
The Rockies lose an important year of Nolan Arenado. They have no year they can point to and up the price for a trade. Charlie Blackmon will be on a one-year deal for $21.5 million with... two player options at 34 next year. Daniel Murphy has a mutual option for $12 million with a $6 million buyout so you know he’s coming back at 36. The Rockies have so many bad contracts and such little hope for 2020, a loss season might not actually be that bad.
#16 Atlanta Braves, Projected 2020 record: 87-75, 1st NL Wild Card winner
Losses: Cole Hamels, Marcell Ozuna, Mark Melancon, Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, Adeiny Hechavarria, Shane Greene
Most of the losses were signed for one-year deals in free agency. With the exception of Ozuna, there’s no reason to think you can’t re-sign all of them for 2021 if you want. Which in some cases, you don’t want only Adeiny isn’t in his mid-30s. And you’d still get a 37-year-old Cole Hamels instead of a 36-year-old one. Plus 30-year-old reliever Will Smith has one of those ill-advised 3 year deals and they’re losing his best year.
#17 Texas Rangers, Projected 2020 record, 78-84, 9 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Mike Minor, Jeff Mathis, Shin-Soo Choo, Jesse Chavez
Look at their ranking as a reflection of their starting rotation. Lance Lynn will be 34 next year, Kyle Gibson 33, and Corey Kluber 35. Mike Minor, 4 fWAR pitcher last year, is departing for free agency. Free agent signings Robinson Chirinos and Todd Frazier both have two options that will be accepted are are in their mid-30s right now.
#18 Toronto Blue Jays, Projected 2020 record: 74-88, 13 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Ken Giles, Matt Shoemaker, Joe Panik
The Jays probably don’t want Hyun Jin-Ryu, an injury-prone 33-year-old, to miss potential games when he’s perfectly healthy. Tanner Roark will be 34 instead of 33, Chase Anderson 33 instead of 32, and Shun Yamaguchi 33 instead of 32. They lose potential value from trading Giles and Shoemaker as well, which wouldn’t be nothing.
#19 Milwaukee Brewers, Projected 2020 record, 83-79, 2 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: (probably) Ryan Braun, Brett Anderson
Brewers have a whole bunch of 2020 deals with team options for 2021. Again, I assume with no new information, they accept these deals. Which means 34-year-old Justin Smoak, 35-year-old Eric Sogard, 32-year-old Brock Holt, 34-year-old Josh Lindblom, and 34-year-old David Phelps.
#20 Cleveland Indians, Projected 2020 record, 85-77, 2 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Cesar Hernandez, Brad Hand, Sandy Leon
I’m probably not taking the win now aspect of some teams, in comparison to teams that aren’t expected to make the playoffs, enough into account, but the Indians return everyone important in 2021. Carlos Santana being 35 and Carlos Carrasco being 34 are clear negatives though.
#21 St. Louis Cardinals, Projected 2020 record, 81-81, 4 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Yadier Molina, Brett Cecil, Brad Miller, Matt Wieters, (probably) Andrew Miller, Adam Wainwright
The Cardinals are one of the few teams, and all the rest of below them, that in some ways can benefit from a lost 2020 season. With no 2020 season, no Andrew Miller for 2021 (unless they pick up the option, which... they better not). Carpenter’s 2022 option can’t vest either, so his option will be picked up or rejected purely on the basis of his 2021 play. And you lose the contract to Brett Cecil and a year of Fowler’s contract. Molina and Wainwright will both be back if they want to so they aren’t real losses either. On the downside, Paul Goldschmidt’s contract stands little chance of not being a huge loss if you take away his age 32 season.
#22 Tampa Bay Rays, Projected 2020 record: 90-72, 1st AL Wild Card winner
Yeah they don’t lose anybody. Charlie Morton is a key part of their team and will be 37 next year though. Rays would be lower, but they are obviously well set up for a playoff run and with their payroll situation, losing that year is awful. But I can’t put them higher because everyone is returning. Well in theory. They have a lot of arb guys next year they might abandon.
#23 Boston Red Sox, Projected 2020 record: 85-77, 2 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Kevin Pillar, Collin McHugh, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brandon Workman
That seems like a wildly optimistic projection even if Chris Sale weren’t injured. Which is he is, which would tank that projection. The only real negative is an older JD Martinez, although he can opt-out after next season if he has a good year anyway. If this season happens, he can opt-out this year. Nathan Eovaldi will also be 31, although at this point it seems better if they lose a year of his contract.
#24 Seattle Mariners, Projected 2020 record: 66-96, 21 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Taijuan Walker, Yoshihisa Hirano
They are on this list, even with the poor record, because they don’t have a plan. Or at least, they have little idea of who on their roster is going to be a plan for the future. Roster Resource on Fangraphs projects each teams’ depth charts, and the Mariners projected MLB depth chart has a whopping 13 players with one year or less of service time. Losing a year of figuring out what those guys will bring sucks a lot.
#25 Miami Marlins, Projected 2020 record: 69-93, 16 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Francisco Cervelli, Matt Joyce, Jonathan Villar
Not being able to get anything for Villar sucks. Cervelli and Joyce can easily be had back again for 2021 if they want. That’s about it.
#26 Pittsburgh Pirates, Projected 2020 record: 72-90, 13 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Jarrod Dyson, Keone Kela
It sucks for them that Chris Archer can’t re-establish himself so then they can trade him for valuable pieces, but they don’t have a lot of cast changes for next season and neither Dyson or Kela move the needle all that much anyway.
#27 Kansas City Royals, Projected 2020 record: 72-90, 15 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Ian Kennedy, Alex Gordon, Trevor Rosenthal
Losing Kennedy is good, and Gordon and Rosenthal can sign identical 1 year deals if the Royals want. In theory, a Salvador Perez bounceback season and then trade can’t really happen, but I don’t see them trading him. But that’s a loss if they plan on it.
#28 San Francisco Giants, Projected 2020 record: 71-91, 14 games out of NL Wild Card
Losses: Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Guasman, Hunter Pence, Tony Watson, Drew Smyly
Giants are firmly in the run out the contracts stage of rebuilding and removing 2020 gets them closer to doing that. They have basically nobody on their team who is going to be on the Giants next winning team - majors, not prospects - so they’re barely harmed in the developmental game. They lose the chance to trade some guys who may break out though.
#29 Baltimore Orioles, Projected 2020 record: 60-102, 27 games out of AL Wild Card
They are however a year closer to losing Alex Cobb and Chris Davis. Much like the Giants, you can’t really see much on their roster that is for the future either. A year to have random guys break out so you can trade them is lost with a lost season.
#30 Detroit Tigers, Projected 2020 season: 67-95, 20 games out of AL Wild Card
Losses: Jordan Zimmermann, CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin, Ivan Nova
The Tigers beat the Orioles for the last spot because a lost year actually removes a bad contract. Also, besides Cron, the rest signed 1 year deals specifically for 2020 and there’s no reason to think they can’t sign identical deals. And Cron seems like a guy who is a 1 year deal person as well.