Hopelessness Index: Which MLB Teams Have the Bleakest Outlooks?

The SI Staff
Sports Illustrated

When it comes to hope in baseball, what does every fan ultimately want for their team? The correct answer should be a World Series title. Unfortunately in 2019, very few teams harbor genuine hope they'll be parading after the Fall Classic. The chasm between baseball's haves and have-nots has seemingly only grown, leading us to wonder which teams are the most hopeless.

Teams clearly in the midst of a rebuild were easy to include in the list (hello, Tigers, Orioles, Marlins and more). But organizations with questionable track records or unclear paths to contention (Reds, Angels) merited consideration here as well. There are notable omissions, too. (The Mets' recent surge kept them off—for now.) The 20 organizations that avoided this list aren't necessarily on the cusp of October glory, but don't carry the stigma of the teams below.

In creating our ranking of hopeless teams, we folded in many factors, including payroll ranking, average farm system ranking between Baseball America and FanGraphs, current record, ongoing playoff drought and over the last three seasons, how many were losing, last-place finishes and/or 100-loss campaigns.

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The list below is organized from most hopeful teams to least, and we used Baseball-Reference's version of WAR to calculate each organization's best MLB player. 

Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Los Angeles Angels

Record: 63–67, 19 GB in AL West

Average Farm System Rating: 16.5

Best MLB player: Mike Trout (8.3 WAR)

Soonest return to October: 2020

Why Are They Hopeless?

It takes a lot going wrong to have the best player since peak Willie Mays on your roster yet still find yourself constantly splashing ineffectively about in the .500 section of the pool. Yet that’s the Angels, who were gifted with a talent that 29 other general managers would commit murder to get but haven’t been able to turn Mike Trout’s presence into anything other than frustration.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

It’s tempting to label the 2011 decision to give Albert Pujols enough money to buy at least two of the Hawaiian islands only to watch him decay in agonizing slow motion as what cut the Angels’ hamstrings (or wings, if you like). But the franchise’s current woes have more to do with a tendency to pinch pennies in free agency, and a slowly improving farm system that has long struggled to produce help. The result is a roster perennially stocked with mediocre veterans who underperform and cancel out Trout’s brilliance.

One Reason For Hope

Trout, Trout, and Trout (and also Shohei Ohtani and, starting next year, top prospect Jo Adell, too). With those three excellent under-30 hitters already present, Los Angeles should have no trouble competing if it can build an even competent supporting cast. And yet ... — Jon Tayler

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 60-66, 8 GB in NL Central

Average Farm System Rating: 20.5

Best MLB Player: Sonny Gray (4.5 WAR)

Soonest Return to October: 2020

Why Are They Hopeless?

The Reds haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, when they won 90 games in the regular season but lost in the NL wild-card game to the Pirates. That season is the perfect representation of why there’s limited hope for the Reds. The NL Central is so deep a division that Cincinnati, at 8 games out of first with a +22 run differential, has little shot at making the playoffs. The three teams ahead of the Reds—the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers—are built to contend over the next few seasons, too.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

The Reds declined in 2014, finishing 14 games back, though some of that could be written off as simply a down year. They still had a strong rotation and they could dismiss their offensive woes because Joey Votto played in just 62 games because of an injury. They still had hope for a return to October. But that changed with the emergence of the Cubs—joining the Cardinals and Pirates at the top of the division. Cincinnati went 64-98 and 36 games out in 2015.

One Reason for Hope

The Reds are willing to go for it. They unexpectedly traded for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Sonny Gray this offseason and then shocked the baseball world at the trade deadline when they made a three-team deal to get righthander Trevor Bauer in exchange for Puig and prospect Taylor Trammell, among other prospects. Luis Castillo looks like an ace for years to come, and Aristides Aquino’s historic power surge is encouraging. — Matt Martell

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 52–77, 31.5 GB in AL East

Average Farm System Rating: 11.5

Best MLB player: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2.0 WAR)

Soonest return to October: 2021

Why Are They Hopeless?

The future in Toronto is bright thanks to a wealth of hyper-talented prospects, including second-generation stars like Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Bo Bichette. But it’s hard to feel positive about that core getting the help it needs given the team’s unwillingness to spend in free agency.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

After losing the pennant to the Indians in 2016, the Blue Jays took the winter off; their biggest signing was aging designated hitter Kendrys Morales. That financial retrenchment (and subsequent similar offseasons) led inexorably to this point, where Toronto is far from contention and entirely dependent on homegrown talent to get back to that point.

One Reason For Hope

Guerrero Jr. is as close to a franchise savior as exists, but he’s just the star attraction of a stellar farm system—one that will have to produce a lot to overcome ownership’s stinginess. — J.T.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Chicago White Sox

Record: 57-69, 19.5 GB in AL Central

Average Farm System Rating: 6

Best MLB Player: SP Lucas Giolito (5.3 WAR)

Soonest Return to October: 2021

Why Are They Hopeless?

The White Sox are actually more hopeful than they’ve been in quite some time. But their rebuild isn’t over yet, and there are still plenty of question marks remaining. Are Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada’s gains for real? What will continued development look like for Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease? How will Michael Kopech recover from Tommy John? Will ownership be willing to invest a little more when needed? If the answer to too many of these questions is “no,” winning might be further away than anyone would like to think on the South Side.  

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

The White Sox’ last playoff berth was in 2008; their last winning season was in 2012. They’ve dedicated the last few years to build up their farm system, and they’re now beginning to see the results in the big leagues—but this kind of rebuilding is a process, and they’re still in the middle of it. 

One Reason For Hope

Have you seen Giolito this year?

And if you’re looking for some hope beyond this year, the club has several interesting hitting prospects who should be nearing the majors: Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert, and this year’s No. 3 draft pick, Andrew Vaughn. — Emma Baccellieri

John McCoy/Getty Images
John McCoy/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 52–74, 16 GB in NL Central

Average Farm System Rating: 15

Best MLB player: Bryan Reynolds (3.3 WAR)

Soonest return to October: 2021

Why Are They Hopeless?

The Pirates struggle to get the best out of their players (particularly their pitchers) and are one of the cheapest franchises in the sport, running a payroll that’s dead last in the National League (29th overall). It’s hard to win consistently when you can’t develop or spend for talent.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

Despite losing to the Cubs in the wild-card game, the 2015 Pirates won 98 games and were poised to be a long-term power in the NL Central provided they made the right roster additions. Their biggest signings that winter? Your pick of Juan Nicasio or Ryan Vogelsong. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, that was Pittsburgh’s high-water mark, and the last four years have been the wave breaking and rolling back.

One Reason For Hope

Maybe owner Bob Nutting will sell the club to someone who wants to invest in it instead of whining about the game’s economics despite being a literal billionaire. Realistically, hope rests on the farm system churning out lots and lots of low-cost stars—the only path that the Pirates apparently want to walk down. — J.T.

Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Seattle Mariners

Record: 54-74, 27 GB in AL West

Average Farm System Rating: 9.5

Best MLB Player: SP Marco Gonzales and DH Edwin Encarnacion (2.0 WAR) (Sidenote: Encarnacion was traded to the Yankees on June 15, but still has contributed as much to the team as Gonzales who’s actually been here all season.)

Soonest Return to October: 2022

Why Are They Hopeless?

Well … *gestures vaguely at entire franchise.* But, in all seriousness, Seattle has a pitching staff held together with duct tape, a season that’s gone off the rails entirely, and, yes, another year to extend the longest postseason drought in American professional sports. Plus, all of the existential dread that comes with watching the ongoing decline of Felix Hernandez.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

Remember April? When Seattle began the season 13-2? Yeah, that feels very distant now. The team quickly fell out of first place, started selling early (Encarnacion was shipped out with six weeks to go before the deadline) and recently suffered a final blow in seeing one of their better remaining players suspended for PEDs (Tim Beckham will miss the rest of the year). Any of these might be considered the inflection point where everything went wrong ... but you could just as well rewind to Spring Training, when it became clear that the team was really going to try to make things work with this pitching staff. 

One Reason For Hope

There are a few gems in this system (Justus Sheffield’s name is worth remembering), but it’s particularly worth noting the club’s return for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano: 20-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic and 23-year-old pitcher Justin Dunn, both in Double-A, both talented prospects to keep an eye on. 

And then there’s GM Jerry Dipoto, who can always be counted on for roster activity, if not necessarily outright improvement, which, hey, if nothing else, it keeps things interesting. — E.B.


G Fiume/Getty Images
G Fiume/Getty Images

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 41-86, 41.5 GB in AL East

Average Farm System Rating: 11

Best MLB Player: SP John Means (3.1 WAR)

Soonest Return to October: 2022

Why Are They Hopeless?

The Orioles are breathtakingly bad for the second straight year; the only real question here is whether they can become one of the only clubs in baseball history to play back-to-back seasons under .300. (It’s a feat previously accomplished only by the 1915-16 Athletics and 1941-42 Phillies.) Baltimore has a miserable roster with a middling farm system, and while there’s something to look forward to with its newly installed front office… real change could take a while.  

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

It’s easy to forget just how recently Baltimore was good. The Orioles were in the wild-card game in 2016! They seemingly made a good-faith effort to win in 2018! (Remember those deals for Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner?) Recently, though, they’ve had to face the ramifications of several long-standing organizational problems—namely, an inability to develop pitching prospects and a lack of investment in international free agency—and after last year’s deadline fire sale, they’re in a tough spot.

One Reason For Hope

Adley Rutschman. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft has a real opportunity to become one of baseball’s best all-around catchers. (Sure, go ahead and insert the usual caveats that exist for any hyped catching prospect … but there are plenty of reasons to believe that the hype is for real here.) The 21-year-old is currently in Low A, with a good chance to show up in the big leagues by 2021. — E.B.

Mark Brown/Getty Images
Mark Brown/Getty Images

Miami Marlins

Record: 45–80, 29.5 GB in NL East

Average Farm System Rating: 6

Best MLB player: Brian Anderson (3.8 WAR)

Soonest return to October: 2022

Why Are They Hopeless?

[gestures broadly at the Marlins’ long, sad history of being built up and immediately, cynically torn down, including the new ownership group’s decision to ship away every player worth anything, including two MVPs, ostensibly for prospects but realistically to save money, as seems to be the goal of every person who’s gotten their hands on this perpetually mistreated franchise]

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

[once again gestures broadly at the Marlins’ history and forcefully at the decision by Derek Jeter to trade Giancarlo Stanton for essentially nothing—the start of a teardown that has yet to bear any substantial major league fruit]

One Reason For Hope

The farm system, one of the worst in baseball before the fire sale, is now among the best, though at the consequence of a non-competitive MLB roster. The pieces are theoretically there for the next contending Marlins team, but that rests on the belief that ownership won’t do what it did to the last contending Marlins team and break it apart the second it gets slightly too expensive. — J.T.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Image
Julio Aguilar/Getty Image

Kansas City Royals

Record: 45-82, 32 GB in AL Central

Average Farm System Rating: 22.5

Best MLB Player: UTIL Whit Merrifield (3.1 WAR) 

Soonest Return to October: 2022

Why Are They Hopeless?

The best way to explain the Royals’ hopelessness is with the players no longer on their roster. Nine ex-Royals from the 2017 team are now playing for teams that do not appear on our hopeless index, including three key members of their 2015 World Series championship team: first baseman Eric Hosmer (Padres), third baseman Mike Moustakas (Brewers) and Lorenzo Cain (Brewers). Relatively unknown, lefthander Mike Minor was a reliever for Kansas City in 2017 and is now an All-Star starter for the Rangers. 

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

The Royals had just gone to consecutive World Series, losing the first and winning the second, before dropping to third place in 2016. With the pieces to make a third straight run for the postseason—and maybe even the Fall Classic—Kansas City faltered as Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain struggled, among others. Then, on January 22, 2017, electric righthander Yordano Ventura died tragically in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic, and the Royals entered a long season of mourning.

One Reason for Hope

Adalberto Mondesi. The 24-year-old shortstop has five-tool potential and projects as a 20-20 talent. His defense is magnificent, with nine defensive runs saved in just 82 games this season before landing on the IL in mid-July. He’s hitting .266 with a .727 OPS and 31 stolen bases. If he stays healthy and gets on base more often, Mondesi will be a force atop the Kansas City lineup. — M.M.

Will Newton/Getty Images
Will Newton/Getty Images

Detroit Tigers

Record: 38-86, 37.5 GB in AL Central

Average Farm System Rating: 12

Best MLB Player: SP Matthew Boyd (3.6 WAR)

Soonest Return to October: 2024

Why Are They Hopeless?

The Tigers aren’t simply the worst team in baseball. They have a real chance to be one of the worst teams in recent history. (Their offense is among the handful of the game’s worst since 1965, with a 76 OPS+.) There are certainly some bright spots on the farm, but there aren’t enough to suggest that there’s a full-scale transformation. And if you’re looking for any drastic evolution from the front office, keep looking—Al Avila has been in charge since 2015, and in the front office since 2002, and he just got an extension.

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

While it might feel like ancient history now, Detroit isn’t far removed from success. In 2014, the team was in the midst of its fourth straight postseason run, which included a trip to the World Series. But fast forward a few years, and the team is left with some big contracts that aren’t doing much (Miguel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann) and a lot of empty space otherwise. Being this bad in 2019 has taken some particularly bad luck … but while they were hardly guaranteed to be this historically bad, they were never going to be good.

One Reason For Hope

Last year’s No.1 overall draft pick, Casey Mize. The 22-year-old righty is widely regarded as a top prospect and has been handling himself well in Double-A (including a no-hitter in his debut), despite missing some time with shoulder inflammation. The Double-A Erie SeaWolves have some other top-flight pitching prospects, too: Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal both stand out as young talent to watch.

Not to mention that Detroit is currently on track to nab another No. 1 pick. — E.B.

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