MLB All-30: As Memorial Day nears, giving out grades as teams begin prep for trade deadline

On the baseball calendar, Memorial Day is typically the time to really begin taking stock. There’s enough of a sample to get a feel of what a team might actually be. It won’t be long until they’ll have to decide how to treat the trade deadline. Will it be a time to gather talent for a final push? Or a time to shed talent and wait till next year? Or will your favorite general manager impress everyone with their 4D chess by doing both at the same time?

With that in mind, The Athletic’s baseball staff assigned each team a letter grade based on what they’ve seen so far. We’ll begin with the head of the class. We’ll end with the clubs that should be fitted for dunce caps.

The Rays have the best record in baseball and it doesn’t look like a fluke in any way. They have the best park-adjusted offense, the best starting rotation ERA, and until a fluky 20-1 drubbing to the Blue Jays this week, the best run differential in baseball. The only thing that’s a little wonky right now is the bullpen, and they’re getting healthier there, and they’ve also bought themselves some time to figure that out. Maybe they’ll regress a little just because they’ve been impossibly hot, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that this is one of the best two or three teams in baseball. — Eno Sarris

They’ve used a deep lineup led by MVP-caliber play from Ronald Acuña Jr. and catcher Sean Murphy, along with stellar performances from young starter Bryce Elder and several well-traveled relievers, to help withstand a litany of injuries and entered play on Wednesday at 29-19, with the largest division lead (4 1/2 games) in the majors. Staff ace Max Fried and Kyle Wright, MLB’s only 20-game winner last season, made only five starts apiece and both are expected to be on the IL until after the All-Star break. But so far the Braves have overcome their absence as well as earlier IL stints for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, center fielder Michael Harris II, closer Raisel Iglesias and shortstop Orlando Arcia, who returned from a fractured wrist without going on a rehab assignment and picked up where he left off with stellar defense and clutch hitting. — David O’Brien

Ronald Acuña Jr. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

After a shaky April, the Yankees entered play on Wednesday tied with the Dodgers for baseball’s best record in May at 15-6. What makes this impressive is that they’re doing this without several key contributors in Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Rodón, Jonathan Loáisiga and Tommy Kahnle. Luis Severino just made his season debut on Sunday. The offense has broken through in the past few weeks led by Aaron Judge, who looks like an early contender for AL MVP. Things are going well in Yankeeland. — Chris Kirschner

We expected this to be the first Pitching-First team in franchise history. The fact that it hasn’t really been the case is less an indictment on the starting rotation, and more an indication of just how good the offense has been, scoring a league-best 307 runs through Tuesday’s games. The reason it’s an A- instead of an A+ is because the bullpen has been kind of a mess. They’ll likely address that as the trade deadline nears, but for now, the “build up a six-run lead and win by two” plan will have to hold the line. — Levi Weaver

You can nitpick these Orioles. The starting pitching needs to be more consistent. The offense must pick up its game with runners in scoring position. The talented but taxed bullpen might be running on fumes by June. The defense isn’t as good as it was last year. But, frankly, no one expected this team to have the second-best record in baseball at this point. It made sense that a regression would occur after a 31-win turnaround in 2022. And yet these guys keep on winning, keep coming back late in games. They aren’t perfect, hence the A-, but they are fun to watch. — Dan Connolly

Perhaps I’m being a tough grader, considering the Diamondbacks are second in their division and sit comfortably above .500. They’ve come a long way from their 110-loss season two years ago, and they boast a young and productive lineup. But they fall shy of an A because their weaknesses are the same ones they had entering the offseason. The bullpen is better than last year’s abhorrent unit, but it’s still a vulnerability. The top-of-the-rotation duo of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly has been excellent, but the final three spots are a crapshoot of rookies trying to get their feet under them. The good news: If Arizona hangs in the playoff picture through the summer, general manager Mike Hazen is likely to address those needs at the trade deadline. — Zach Buchanan

Zac Gallen. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Jose Altuve missed 43 games, Luis Garcia and José Urquidy made six starts apiece before getting injured, and José Abreu’s production is still nowhere to be found. The Astros absorbed it all and managed to stay above .500. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez carried a top-heavy lineup in Altuve’s absence while Mauricio Dubón’s emergence helped to steady things. Underperformance by Abreu and Alex Bregman leave the lineup vulnerable, but a pitching staff missing three starters owns the sport’s lowest ERA. — Chandler Rome

I’m reluctant to hand out such a gleeful grade to a rebuilding team, but a lot has gone right for the Nationals. Coming off a 107-loss season, their rotation has held together, with significant steps forward for Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore and perfectly passable results from Trevor Williams and Patrick Corbin. In the bullpen, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey look like they could be in demand at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, in the lineup, Lane Thomas, Jeimer Candelario, Victor Robles and Joey Meneses have all delivered above-average production, giving the Nationals a mix of organizational development success stories and smart free-agent signings this season. And all the while more prospects march closer to the majors. Last place never felt so good. — Stephen Nesbitt

The Tigers have played much better baseball after a 2-9 start. They’ve won series against the Giants, Guardians, Brewers and Mets. They entered the week in second place in an unimpressive AL Central, and Riley Greene is showing signs of a real breakthrough. But the Tigers still have arguably the league’s worst offense (a .648 team OPS as of Tuesday) and veterans such as Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Schoop bogging down the lineup. Things are not as bad as they could be, but the Tigers still have a long way to go. — Cody Stavenhagen

The Angels are 27-23 through Tuesday’s games. Certainly not bad. But also not good. They’re four games back in the division and two out of a wild-card spot. And their roster has notable flaws, particularly on the pitching and defensive side. The Angels have lost a number of games by blowing late leads. Games they should have won. But, again, this team is above .500. They’re hanging around and have the talent to make a run. It kind of feels like the season is in a holding pattern until a real direction takes shape. — Sam Blum

Los Angeles Dodgers: B

It’s certainly an improvement over their offseason grade (a C-) and it would’ve been much higher if not for the last week’s worth of injuries that will color the rest of their season. The Dodgers own the best record in the National League, but there are still some warning signs. Shortstop remains a big problem, even though Mookie Betts’ ability to play there should bolster some of the position’s offensive production. The bullpen had started to sort itself out before this recent run of injuries forced them to take on a heavy workload. Their starting pitching depth has whittled down quickly, forcing a pair of young pitching prospects they didn’t anticipate seeing until midseason to make starts on the road against Atlanta this week. It’s also made them rely on Noah Syndergaard, whose ERA is a gaudy 5.88 through nine starts. But the rookies (James Outman, Miguel Vargas) have largely held their own, and this group is still quite talented. The first quarter of the year has been a net positive, even if there’s room for improvement. — Fabian Ardaya

Milwaukee Brewers: B

The more advanced preseason projection systems pinned the Brewers to win in the range of 85-86 games this season. And with a 26-21 record through Tuesday, they were ahead of schedule by about two or three games. They remain atop the National League Central. And yet, it feels as if they’re underachieving a touch. The Cardinals’ early struggles gifted the Brewers a wide lane to run away with the division and that hasn’t happened yet. But an aggressive influx of young prospects — a risky move for a contending team — not only didn’t backfire but may have enlivened the group. Corbin Burnes is starting to regain his form and Christian Yelich has played well in May. They’ll need to hit better, with an OBP that ranks 20th in the league. But the Brewers have a good base for another run. — Nick Groke

All things considered, the Red Sox have been pretty good. They play in an absolutely loaded division, which has kept them fighting simply to avoid last place, but they’ve also remained in the wild card hunt and done so without Trevor Story or Adam Duvall up the middle, and often without Garrett Whitlock in the rotation. Although they’re certainly not standouts, the Red Sox have largely exceeded expectations that had them struggling even to play .500 baseball, and there’s a chance to get better as key players get healthy. Not the best. But far from the worst, and certainly a passing grade up to this point. — Chad Jennings

Oddsmakers set the Twins’ over/under at 83 1/2 wins and as of Tuesday they’re on pace for 83 as they near the end of an up-and-down first two months, so a C+ grade seems fitting. Their rotation has been arguably the best in baseball, leading MLB in innings per start and Win Probability Added while ranking second in ERA, but the bullpen has been mediocre despite Jhoan Duran’s continued greatness and the lineup has struggled to consistently score more than a few runs. Fortunately for the Twins, the rest of the AL Central is an absolute mess, and 83 wins could win the division, but Minnesota feels like a team that has another gear if they can start hitting even a little bit. — Aaron Gleeman

Toronto Blue Jays: C+

The Blue Jays haven’t really played to their potential yet. They’ve been playing fine enough to maintain a winning record, but a recent skid dropped them at one point to last place in the highly competitive AL East. This is a team that still has aspirations of winning the division but all the elements of the roster haven’t been clicking at the same time. Recently — aside from Tuesday’s 20-run outburst against the Rays — the offence has mightily struggled to come up with big hits. There is still plenty of talent on the team and time for their A-game to emerge more consistently to pull up their overall grade. — Kaitlyn McGrath

Listen around Cincinnati and the Reds already have many more victories than many expected this season. Coming off just the second 100-loss season in franchise history, everyone knew this would be a bridge year. Although Joey Votto hasn’t played, Nick Lodolo is on the IL and Wil Myers has underperformed, this Reds team has been not terrible when they were expected to be god-awful. The record doesn’t really allow for anything higher than a C, but with the young pitching talent, a bounce-back year from Jonathan India, the recent promotion of Matt McLain and the coming promotion of Elly De La Cruz, the Reds are at least worth watching, which is something that was tough to say a year ago. — C. Trent Rosecrans

Matt McLain. (Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

New York Mets: C

The Mets were days away from a much worse grade, but their recent winning streak at home helped salvage this first part of the season. While there remain plenty of reasons for optimism moving forward — more regular starts from Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and the continued progress of their young players chief among them — the Mets still missed a significant opportunity in the early part of the season. Namely, they went 6-16 during one of the easiest stretches of their schedule. In a division that came down to a tiebreaker between 101-win teams a season ago, that’s the kind of malaise that can haunt come October. — Tim Britton

The Phillies are never normal and May offered more evidence. The Phillies lost six straight, then won five in a row. They followed that with a five-game losing streak. There are things to like, but everything hasn’t clicked at once. The bullpen is better, but it doesn’t work if the starters cannot pitch deep on a routine basis. That hasn’t happened enough. Bryce Harper returned well ahead of schedule for a boost, but Trea Turner was beset by the worst slump of his career. The young hitters have taken steps forward. But there haven’t been hits with runners in scoring position. None of it has reached alarming levels. There are just too many nagging concerns for a team that wanted to capitalize on the momentum generated from a season ago. — Matt Gelb

From March 30 through May 1, the Pirates were playing A-level baseball. Since then, they deserve an F. How do you reconcile those two extremes into one grade? I asked a pro: my younger daughter, a seventh-grade English teacher. “I would give them a C. A grade of C represents being average,” she said. “You have to be good all the time to get that A or B.” Barring some sort of catastrophe, the Pirates are going to snap a run of back-to-back 100-loss seasons — that’s progress. But it’s clear they are not the juggernaut they resembled over the first month of the season. The younger players still have much to learn and the older veterans might wear down as we get into the hot-and-sticky part of the summer. — Rob Biertempfel

No complaints at all about Jarred Kelenic finally tapping into his immense upside or even the pitching — rotation or bullpen. Those two components are enough to probably merit a higher mark. But where the Mariners get dinged is their offense, and what has thus far largely been an underachieving group. There are far too many strikeouts (especially for a team that preaches controlling the strike zone) and the team’s two biggest trade acquisitions, Kolten Wong and Teoscar Hernández, have underperformed. It’s a good thing this has been a second-half team in each of the past two seasons, right? — Corey Brock

Entering play on Wednesday, the overall record is just shy of .500 so maybe this grade seems harsh, but the Marlins have a bottom-five run differential, and the record should actually probably be worse. After an offseason dedicated to improving their strikeout rate at the plate, their offense is bottom-half in strikeout rate with a bottom-third isolated slugging percentage — by runs scored per game, they’re last, and that’s the biggest problem right now. Even their vaunted pitching staff is more middle-of-the-road, though there’s more hope there. “Will the Marlins ever put together a good offense” is the existential question here. — Eno Sarris

San Francisco Giants: C-

The Giants were on the verge of a failing grade, which is what happens when you don’t complete assignments (like dropping series to the Royals, Tigers, Marlins and Nationals). But they’ll barely skate by because they earned extra credit for sweeping the Phillies last week, and the way they did it — with terrific bullpen work and a lineup that showed it can score a big inning without a home run — signaled improvement in key areas that had been holding them back. Every one of their free agents is off to a mediocre to miserable start, but there’s still time for Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Taylor Rogers, Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling to provide a return on investment — and for the Giants to prove that they’re good enough to make honor roll. — Andrew Baggarly

It’s been the tale of two different teams for the Cardinals so far. After the first five weeks of the season, St. Louis was in last place in the National League Central and owned the worst record in the National League. Since then, they’ve racked up four series wins and sit just five games back from the first-place Brewers. The Cardinals severely disappointed to start the year. Now, they’re frantically making up for it. What do you get when you follow up an abysmal beginning with an impressive stretch of games? You get the grade of satisfactory, at least for now. — Katie Woo

Results matter. The Cubs can point to reasons for optimism — run differential, underlying metrics, better luck in one-run games, the length of the season — and try to convince themselves that a turnaround is possible. But unless that actually happens, this looks like a wasted opportunity, failing to capitalize on strong individual performances and an epically bad start by the Cardinals. For a big-market franchise that undertook two full-scale rebuilds within a decade — and then spent more than $300 million on free agents this past winter — this season already appears to be close to going off the rails. — Patrick Mooney

Kansas City Royals: D+

The Royals are on pace to sail past 100 losses and that alone might constitute a harsher grade. On the whole, the pitching staff has not made any significant improvement, and if you’re projecting into the future, the Royals seem further away from contention now than they did a year or two ago. The club has some obvious trade chips — Aroldis Chapman, Scott Barlow — but will general manager J.J. Picollo be motivated to do more to shake up the roster and acquire players and prospects that better align with the team’s timeline to compete? The Royals need more talent up and down the roster. But they earn a D+ for a few reasons: Nobody expected the club to contend, Vinnie Pasquantino is producing (and often raking), Nick Pratto is hitting, and Bobby Witt Jr. is playing better shortstop. The offense as a whole is starting to click, too, after an abysmal start. But this grade could start to inch upward if MJ Melendez, Michael Massey and some other young players can show they’re real pieces moving forward. Credit, too, to Salvador Perez for continuing to hit at an All-Star level while the losses mount. — Rustin Dodd

Vinnie Pasquantino. (Raj Mehta / USA Today)

Cleveland Guardians: D

Hmm, well, they’re off to a historically poor start from a slugging standpoint, they rank last in the league in home runs, not one hitter on the roster has met or exceeded expectations, their once-dominant bullpen has crumbled at the worst moments, their flame-throwing closer no longer misses bats, their All-Star second baseman with the new nine-figure contract stopped hitting, their two offseason additions have flopped, Triston McKenzie has yet to pitch, their catching production has been a disaster and their lame-duck shortstop has fans pining for any of the 78 rookie shortstops waiting their turn. But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how have they played? — Zack Meisel

The Rockies are a tough team to grade. Their record is basically exactly what was projected for them, trending for a finish just shy of 100 losses. In this case, though, what did the Rockies project for themselves? Dick Monfort, their owner, thought his team could reach 81 wins. That was a pie in the sky. Their pitching rotation is wrecked with injuries, sure, but do not translate that as an excuse. The Rox have used as many starting arms as the Braves this season, to far worse results, with thinly-built roster depth. And they remain one of the worst-hitting teams in the majors (entering Wednesday tied for the fourth-fewest home runs) — which, considering Coors Field, should be outlawed in the Colorado state constitution. This Rockies team will probably remain largely intact next season. What then? — Nick Groke

Chances are this team is closer to OK than awful. But a miserable April in all facets of the game for a franchise purportedly in the middle of their contention window has put the White Sox in a far greater hole than any element of the offseason (which I maligned) ever could. I don’t know why I don’t feel like giving a harsher grade to a stretch that included a brutal 10-game losing streak that everyone will be referencing for the rest of year. I just think I have zero F’s left to give. — James Fegan

If the regular season ended today, the Padres would not qualify for the playoffs. And their offense would be remembered for producing at the same level as the $59 million A’s. Fortunately for the Padres, the season does not end today. But when you have a $249 million payroll and World Series aspirations, barely outperforming the Rockies qualifies as a failure. Josh Hader remains elite, a few other pitchers have exceeded expectations, and the team’s defense is solid, but the pressure is on the Padres to avoid a repeat of 2015 and 2021. — Dennis Lin

Where do I even begin? The record (10-40 through Tuesday) speaks for itself. Fans are throwing tomatoes at photos of John Fisher, Dave Kaval and Rob Manfred in the Coliseum parking lot. Jayson Stark listed 10 ways this team is historically awful, so there’s nothing else to say other than this all seems to be by design … except for the fact that the A’s tried to bolster their pitching depth when they made all of those roster-dismantling trades over the past 14 months and their pitching is beyond awful. A’s hurlers have combined for -3.9 fWAR. The next-worst team, the Mets, are at 0.7 fWAR as a staff. — Steve Berman

(Top illustration of Shintaro Fujinami, Randy Arozarena and Dylan Cease: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Tom Pennington, Julio Aguilar, Frank Jansky / Icon Sportswire/ Getty)