Rebuilds are difficult, they seem to stretch on forever and they are never fun for fans. The payoff can be worthwhile though, if front offices build their teams the right way. The Houston Astros famously made tanking a tactic, and they tanked to the top, winning the 2017 World Series. The Astros have remained one of the better teams ever since.
Even the big-spending New York Yankees aren't immune to down seasons and rebuilding periods. The Baby Bombers helped reignite the Yankees after a four-year span in which New York made the playoffs only once, losing the AL Wild Card Game to the Astros in 2015. Two years later they were in the ALCS with a homegrown core and supplementary players that were acquired because of a loaded farm system that was stocked during those down years from 2013-2016.
Looking ahead to next season, we can probably predict a few teams that will be toward the bottom of the standings. Sure, there will be a few surprisingly bad teams because there always are, but these five teams likely won't be at the top and shouldn’t be given the timeline of their rebuilds, their contracts past this season and the state of their farm systems.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The club has a lot of money tied up in Madison Bumgarner, who has been largely underwhelming since signing his free-agent megadeal in the winter of 2020.
The World Series-winning ace will turn 33 next season, so it's tough for the D-Backs to know what kind of production they'll be able to get from him. Tyler Gilbert, who threw a no-hitter in his first Major League start, could turn out to be a nice piece to build a rotation around, but Arizona doesn't have a ton of top pitching prospects at the higher levels of the organization.
The lineup has also been underwhelming this season with the minus-171 run differential being the second-worst in the National League. Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed will still be around next season, but unless the club undergoes a significant roster makeover, you can slot them in for another underwhelming season.
There is reason for optimism in upcoming years since B/R's Joel Reuter ranks the Arizona farm system as the sixth-best in baseball. But the impact players are still developing. The top five prospects are 21 or younger and only one, outfielder Alek Thomas, is playing in Triple-A.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
The end is also nearing with the Pirates. And when it does finally end, this team is going to be fun to watch. But they're at least another year or two away from reaching the playoffs. And that's fine, because Pittsburgh can take another year to develop some potentially elite talent and acquire a little more of it.
Much of the top talent in the Pirates' system is playing in High-A or Double-A right now, so next year will be a big development year. Reuter ranked the Pittsburgh system at No. 5 before the trade deadline and Baseball America ranked it No. 4 after, which is a big improvement from it's No. 18 ranking when general manager Ben Cherington took over in 2019.
Only two players are under contract in 2022 with several others due for raises in arbitration. So like the Orioles, the Pirates have some room to get creative and improve their roster in the short- and long-term. They can take payroll dumps with prospects. They can sign some free agents. They can bring in some veteran leaders that will set the tone of the clubhouse. Unlike the O's, they don't have to worry about paying Chris Davis either, so signing a marquee pitcher to a long-term deal to have around once these players start graduating to the major leagues could be feasible as well.
Right-hander Roansy Contreras, acquired in the Jameson Taillon deal last winter, and infielder Oneil Cruz and Nick Gonzalez could all be in the big leagues at some point next season, so some offseason building block moves might not be a bad idea.
Give it time. Player development can't be rushed. Next year won’t be the Pirates' year, but don't count them out for 2023.