With most of the top free agents now signed and teams starting to take shape as we approach spring training, I thought I would share my pre-preseason pespective on the relative strengths (and weaknesses) of all 30 major league teams. I have broken the article down into three installments and will publish one of the segments each day this weekend.

Part I (today) will cover the three teams I view as the weakest in baseball; Part II (tomorrow) will cover the teams in the middle of the pack; and Part III (on Monday, MLK Day) will preview the 10 best teams in baseball. Without further ado, here is how I see things:

21. Florida Marlins (2010 record: 80-82)

Notable additions: C John Buck, RP Randy Choate, RP Mike Dunn, UT Omar Infante, SP Javier Vazquez

Notable subtractions: 2B Dan Uggla, C Ronny Paulino

The Marlins are young and getting younger, and there is a lot of talent on the big league roster, but in all likelihood, the club won’t be in a position to challenge for a division title until the young players have an opportunity to gather experience in the Show.

The front office traded away Uggla’s salary and obtained a serviceable second baseman and an electric (though erratic) bullpen arm in exchange. They then brought in Vazquez, a veteran right-hander who has had great success in the NL, and Buck, a veteran catcher who will help with the development of the young pitching staff.

The rotation is anchored by Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, all of whom who are either 26 or 27-years-of-age. The 2011 lineup will include SS Hanley Ramirez (26), 1B Gaby Sanchez (26) and outfielders Chris Coghlan (25), Logan Morrison (22) and Mike Stanton (20). As these core players gain experience, the Marlins should become increasingly competitive and ultimately give chase to postseason glory.

22. San Diego Padres (2010 record: 90-72)

Notable additions: SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Aaron Harang, 1B Brad Hawpe, 2B Orlando Hudson, CF Cameron Maybin, SP Dustin Moseley

Notable subtractions: 2B David Eckstein, RHP Jon Garland, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, CF Tony Gwynn Jr., SS Miguel Tejada, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Chris Young

IMO, this rating is a best-case-scenario for the Padres in 2011, and it’s very possible they could fall into the bottom five. The club has lost three-quarters of its starting infield, its center fielder, one of its catchers and one of its best starting pitchers…and in each instance, the replacement player was a downgrade, except at second base (Hudson in place of Eckstein).

The impact of the loss of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is incalculable, especially when you consider he has been replaced by Hawpe. The exchange of Garland for Harang will also have significant adverse impact on the on-field results in 2011.

With all that said, the pitching staff should be relatively solid, though there is one big red flag at the top of the rotation (see below). The rotation will have Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Wade LeBlanc and Tim Stauffer in addition to Harang, and the bullpen has a bevy of solid arms to back up closer Heath Bell.

But it’s unlikely the pitching will make up for the team’s offensive deficiencies. The team ranked 12th (of 16) in the NL in runs scored last year and then lost its most productive hitter…only two of the returning regulars had as many as 50 RBI. The pitching will HAVE to be good for the team to warrant this No. 21 ranking.

Caveat emptor: fantasy baseball fans should be aware the data suggests you should be wary of investing heavily in Latos. The Padres have increased his innings pitched by 60+ in each of the last two seasons—for pitchers under 25-years-of-age, especially those with a slight frame, that type of increase has the potential to be disastrous. Let someone else take the gamble.

23. Baltimore Orioles (2010 record: 66-96)

Notable additions: RHP Jeremy Accardo, RHP Kevin Gregg, SS J.J. Hardy, 1B Derrek Lee, 3B Mark Reynolds

Notable subtractions: RP David Hernandez, RHP Kevin Millwood, LHP Will Ohman, 1B Ty Wiggington

The Orioles had the third best record in baseball after Buck Showalter was brought in as the new manager. He seems to have a way of getting the best out of his players, until his style wears on them. But that may take a while…

The front office made a couple of nice trades this offseason to bring in some veteran players to complement a young core with great potential. Sluggers Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds will add pop to a lineup that has just one 20+ HR hitter returning from last year. Accardo and Gregg will significantly improve the bullpen, with Gregg being the odds-on favorite to assume the closer’s role—although Koji Uehara may have something to say about that during spring training.

The Orioles are generally heading in the right direction, but they have the misfortune of being in the same division as the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays…and with the Blue Jays also headed in the right direction it could be some time before the O’s can even crawl out of the cellar in the AL East.

24. Washington Nationals (2010 record: 69-93)

Notable additions: OF Rick Ankiel, 1B Adam LaRoche, LF Matt Stairs, RF Jayson Werth

Notable subtractions: 1B Adam Dunn, LHP Scott Olsen, RHP Joel Peralta, OF Josh Willingham

The addition of free agent Jayson Werth speaks volumes about the Nationals growth in terms of the perception of the team and its journey towards baseball relevance. The trade-off from Dunn to Werth likely won’t make an impact in terms of wins and losses on the baseball diamond, but it makes a clear statement about the possibilities for the future.

The team is very young, and as a result, it’s likely still at least three years away from competing for a division title, but the future looks brighter. The key will be how quickly the team’s stable of prospects can develop into consistent contributors.

On offense, the ballclub will be dependent on 24-year-old SS Ian Desmond and 23-year-old 2B Danny Espinosa to complement 25-year-old 3B Ryan Zimmerman and Werth. On the mound, it is essential the bevy of young pitching prospects they have started integrating at the big league level develops quickly in support of veteran Livan Hernandez and phenom Stephen Strasburg.

25. Seattle Mariners (2010 record: 61-101)

Notable additions: OF/DH Jack Cust, 2B Adam Kennedy, C Miguel Olivo, SS Brendan Ryan

Notable subtractions: 1B Russell Branyan, INF Jose Lopez

The M’s offense was historically inept last year, scoring the fewest runs of any team in a full season since 1972. They compounded the problem by bidding adieu to Branyan, who led the team in homers (15) in spite of playing in just 57 games.

In spite of those facts, I believe the offense will perform considerably better in 2011.

Olivo is a substantial improvement on Adam Moore and Rob Johnson behind the plate. I’m a big fan of Cust, although the dimensions at Safeco will not allow him to easily increase his offensive output. And Kennedy should be a marked offensive improvement over Lopez at second base (that is, until blue-chip prospect Dustin Ackley is promoted to the big league club sometime in June or July). I also anticipate significant improvement from 1B Justin Smoak and LF Michael Saunders.

On the mound, the club is hopeful Erik Bedard will be healthy and slide into the rotation in the four-hole, behind Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister and ahead of rookie righty Michael Pineda. The bullpen should be fine in the long term, but it will be without closer David Aardsma at the beginning of the season (hip). Look for Brandon League to close as the season starts, although it is possible the Mariners will take a long look at rookie Danny Cortes in Arizona.

26. Kansas City Royals (2010 record: 67-95)

Notable additions: OF Melky Cabrera, OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, LHP Jeff Francis, OF Jeff Francoeur, RHP Jeremy Jeffress

Notable subtractions: SP Brian Bannister, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, OF David DeJesus, RHP Zack Greinke

The Royals are one more year away from beginning a slow, inexorable climb up these rankings…and while Royals’ fans have heard similar promises for years, their patience is finally (mercifully) about to pay off. The front office has developed a farm system filled with prospects who are expected to make a significant impact in the major leagues, and they will start to feed those prospects to the parent club in full force this year. The organization already had the top minor league system in baseball before the front office shipped Zack Greinke to Milwaukee…the talent got better and deeper as a result of that deal.

In anticipation of the upcoming influx of talent from the minor leagues, GM Dayton Moore has stocked his major league roster with journeymen and retreads—guys who are little more than place-holders until then (and who are expendable at that point in time). IMO, the exception to that rule was the signing of 27-year-old OF Jeff Francoeur, who still has the potential to live up to the hype that greeted him when he first came up to The Show.

Otherwise, the roster is due for a substantial overhaul over the next two seasons, with 1B Eric Hosmer, 2B Johnny Giovatella, 3B Mike Moustakas, C Will Myers and several pitchers (Duffy, Montgomery, Lamb, Odorizzi and Jeffress) due to join Matt Cain in KC (NOTE: Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, and maybe Duffy should all reach the major leagues this year)

The Royals are on the brink, KC fans…but you will have to endure one more year of struggles before hitting paydirt.

27. Houston Astros (2010 record: 76-86)

Notable additions: SP Ryan Rowand-Smith, 2B Clint Barmes, INF Billy Hall

Notable subtractions: SP Felipe Paulino, IF Geoff Blum, RHP Matt Lindstrom

The 50th-anniversary season won’t be much of a celebration for the team originally known as the Colt-45s. Long-time Astros owner Drayton McLane has put the team up for sale, and long-time stars Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt are no longer wearing Astros uniforms. There isn’t much of a reason to buy a ticket to see a baseball game in Houston—unless you are a fan of the visiting team.

The starting pitching should be decent, with RHP Brett Myers and LHPs Wandy Rodriguez and JA Happ heading up the rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rodriguez dealt at (or before) the trade deadline if the ballclub can land a couple of nice prospects in return. The recent trade of Matt Lindstrom makes Brandon Lyon the undisputed closer, but the bullpen behind him lacks depth, and for the most part, talent.

The offense will revolve around speedster Michael Bourn and sluggers Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. The under-the-radar addition of free-agent Billy Hall could prove to be a small coup, as he should be very productive with consistent playing time. Beyond that, the Astros have to hope youngsters Jason Castro, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace prove to be ready for prime time.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks (2010 record: 65-97)

Notable additions: LHP Zach Duke, RHP David Hernandez, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Xavier Nady, RHP J.J. Putz

Notable subtractions: 1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, RHP Brandon Webb

Arizona is an organization that is floundering, seemingly always taking a step to one side and then to the other, but never forward. IMHO, you don’t trade a slugging third baseman for two young and largely unproven relief pitchers, not unless one of those relievers is named Andrew Bailey.

In the last year, the front office has purged the club of pitchers Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, 1B Adam LaRoche and 3B Mark Reynolds, among others. In their place, the front office added Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson, Juan Miranda and Melvin Mora…while I like Hudson, the rest of the additions are completely unforgettable. And now, they’re rumored to be shopping OF Justin Upton. I’m not sure I trust this front office to get a suitable return on a talent like Upton (heck, Saunders, prospect Tyler Skaggs and two marginal minor leaguers was not nearly enough of a return for Haren!).

The offense ranked eighth (of 16 teams) in the league last year but has endured the loss of both of its corner infielders. The club’s answer? The front office went trawling and came up with nothing more than Miranda and oft-injured Xavier Nady. Yikes.

The ballclub has brought in a couple of arms to address the problem it had with the relief corps last season, when the bullpen posted a 5.74 ERA (the 6th-worst mark in major league history)…but Putz, Hernandez and Kam Mickolio aren’t the answer to what ails this franchise. It seems to me the D-backs, as well as the Indians and Pirates, will struggle to avoid losing 100 games in 2011.

29. Cleveland Indians (2010 record: 69-93)

Notable additions: None

Notable subtractions: None

If there is little reason to buy tickets in Houston, there is even less of a reason to buy a ticket in Cleveland. The Indians have done nothing worth mentioning this offseason. If you’re an Indians fan looking for an excuse to go see the team in person, I guess you can always justify the expenditure by rationalizing that this year will be your last chance to see Grady Sizemore or Fausto Carmona in a Cleveland uniform, as both players will almost-certainly be dealt sometime this season (as long as they are healthy).

Okay, so I am prone to a bit of hyperbole—but only a little bit! OF Shin-Soo Choo and C Carlos Santana are certainly good reasons to watch the Indians (on TV)…and I remain convinced that Justin Masterson is going to have a breakout season one of these years (okay, in the interest of full disclosure, Justin is a friend of mine, but I still think he has the talent to be a consistent 15+ game winner in the American League). Trevor Crowe and Michael Brantley are interesting guys, but neither has much power and therefore is unlikely to become an everyday player.

Otherwise, the roster is forgettable. Matt LaPorta, the key prospect acquired in the CC Sabathia deal with Milwaukee a few years ago, has thus far been a bust. Jason Donald, one of a handful of prospects acquired when Cliff Lee was traded to Philadelphia, was never much of a prospect (in my opinion). Austin Kearns? His best days are in the rear-view mirror.

And so on, and so forth.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates (2010 record: 57-105)

Notable additions: SP Kevin Correia, LF Matt Diaz, SP Scott Olsen, 1B Lyle Overbay,

Notable subtractions: SP Zach Duke

And speaking of abject futility—the Pirates’ streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons won’t end in 2011, but the good news is the club really can’t get any worse (and it may actually get a couple of games better in 2011).

An infusion of young talent has begun, but it remains to been seen just how much talent the organization has accumulated in the minor leagues. The future of the club is built around a pair of 23-year-olds (Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen) and a 24-year-old (Neil Walker), all of whom have shown they can perform in The Show in spite of their young age and minimal experience. And then there is 21-year-old Jose Tabata, the former Yankees prospect who looks like he might be ready to show the world why he was so highly regarded once upon a time.

But the game of baseball starts with the pitcher, and the Pirates pitching staff is underwhelming (to say the least). Paul Maholm (4.48) and Ross Ohlendorf (4.40) are the only proven starters with a career ERA under 4.50, though they are in the process of converting righty reliever James McDonald (3.84) into a full-time starting pitcher. Behind them, there is little in the way of quality (or quantity). Kevin Correia (4.57), who was brought in from San Diego, should help the rotation avoid being a total disaster. Hard-throwing Joel Hanrahan (100K in 69.2 IP) will be the ballclub’s closer in 2011.

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