MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Clubs that boast the most flexibility for '17

Teams with the greatest ability to evolve and adapt for long-term success

Clubs that boast the most flexibility for '17

The quick erosion of the Mets' starting depth, just in the time since I bestowed upon them the coveted title of best and deepest rotation in baseball, illustrates that stuff happens in this sport. The ability for a ballclub to evolve is essential.

The 2016 Indians are a great example of this. Going into '16, their starting rotation was clearly their signature strength. But a farm system teeming with outfield bats and upside arms was identifiable as a secondary strength. And sure enough, the swap that netted Andrew Miller proved pivotal, because the deepening of the 'pen allowed the Tribe to advance to the World Series, even though its vaunted rotation fell apart via injury.

That's the gist of today's ranking of clubs who are interesting, not just because of what they trotted out there on Opening Day, but because of their potential ability to adjust to the unexpected.

Encarnacion's role with Indians

5. Cubs and Indians (tie)
These two clubs cemented their World Series status last year by swinging big trades. So their farm systems aren't quite as strong as they were a year ago. But the Indians' ability to pull off what turned out to be a player-vetoed trade for Jonathan Lucroy, and the Cubs' very deep collection of position players means both clubs are still positioned to address in-season needs. Chicago is earnest about becoming just the second National League club in the past 95 years to win back-to-back titles. And Cleveland, as evidenced by the Edwin Encarnacion signing, is absolutely all-in, so you know the Tribe will leave no stone unturned.

Beyond all of the above, the Cubs obviously have tremendous versatility at the Major League level. And the Indians have some really intriguing near-ready prospects (Brad Zimmer, Greg Allen, the versatile Yandy Diaz) in the one area (outfield) where they might be most vulnerable at the big league level.

Epstein on Cubs' 2017 roster

4. Mets
As noted above, flexibility is already being tested here, with Steven Matz's left flexor tendon strain and Seth Lugo's right elbow injury thrusting Zack Wheeler into the rotation. But because the Mets were nowhere near as aggressive at last year's Trade Deadline as they were in the Yoenis Cespedes swap in 2015, they've retained a very deep system that can help them in a lot of ways. Amed Rosario made a huge leap on MLBPipeline's Top 100 Prospects list in the last year (from No. 79 to No. 4), and he is a pretty obvious infield insurance piece for a club that battled injuries in that area in '16. The Mets also have some good arms in the low Minors that could serve as trade chips, if need be. The Nationals probably have the better Major League roster at the start of '17, but because trades have thinned Washington's system, the Mets might be better situated to make adjustments.

Collins on Lugo's injury

3. Rockies
Are the Rox really a contender? Hard to say. They had a really rough spring, injury-wise. But a deep Coors-aided lineup will probably score 800 runs again, the young Jon Gray-led starting staff is intriguing, and the 'pen ought to be improved.

Don't ignore the strength of Colorado's system, either. If the Rockies can overcome the early injury hurdles and hang around in the NL West, they're in position for a midyear upgrade. Though I wouldn't expect their top prospect -- infielder Brendan Rodgers, who is No. 14 on MLBPipeline.com's list -- to be dangled, they have a lot of athleticism on the position-player front and are flush with some nice power arms that, depending where they fall on the developmental curve, can either help take the pitching staff to another level or be dangled in trade.

Colorado has already showed some aggressiveness this offseason in adding Ian Desmond and bullpen help, and that urgency could extend into the summer acquisition window.

Black expects strong bullpen

2. Astros
If there's any concern on this Major League roster, it is the state of the rotation, where Houston clearly needs both Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. to stay healthy and fulfill their potential. But if that doesn't happen -- or if the Astros still discover they need additional help, anyway -- this system is pretty well poised to come to the rescue.

Maybe it is as simple as Francis Martes nailing down his secondary stuff in Triple-A and showing he's ready for prime time. Or maybe Martes or other pieces from a system strong in pitching and outfield depth allows them to swing an impact trade for Jose Quintana or somebody else. Also, while the Astros' payroll is out of the lower tier for the first time in the Jeff Luhnow era, the years of bare-bones spending probably leave room to add on, which is important.

Hinch on bringing in veterans

1. Dodgers
The primary reason the PECOTA and FanGraphs models get so drunk on the Dodgers (both of them gave L.A. the best odds of winning the World Series) is the depth. This club used 55 players, including 31 pitchers and 15 starters (with Clayton Kershaw absent for 70 days), and it required more innings out of its bullpen than any other last season and won 91 games anyway. Though Los Angeles' depth is already being tested early with injury situations involving Scott Kazmir, Andre Ethier and others, the 2016 example earns the Dodgers a spot on this list.

What cinches the top spot is the farm. It's an embarrassment of riches that a club with this payroll size and this clear a path to October also has so much heft in the upper levels, from Cody Bellinger to Alex Verdugo to Yadier Alvarez to Walker Buehler and beyond. I can't tell you precisely how that system is applied in 2017, because we've seen some hesitancy from the Andrew Friedman group to part with prized pieces and really go for the throat, but the swap of Jose De Leon for Logan Forsythe could be a window into the seriousness with which they take this season. And anyway, even if he's not traded, a guy like Bellinger could make like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager before him and quickly assert himself as a difference-maker.

Honorable mention
The Cardinals have been listed as a possible suitor for Quintana for a reason. They've still got a deep organization of viable trade assets. … If the Yankees or Braves surprise people and get into the contention mix this summer, they've got two of the game's strongest farm systems to draw on. Just doesn't seem especially likely. … The Pirates are at an interesting juncture after missing the playoffs for the first time in four years, but don't discount the quality of their relief prospects or the possibility that outfielder Austin Meadows or starter Nick Kingham could make an impact in the second half. … Trades and graduations have thinned the Rangers' system a bit, but there's still room for creativity in the lower levels and the potential strength of the big league bench is an asset for them. … I should probably include the Mariners here, not because they have a strong system, but because Jerry Dipoto will make trades in his sleep if it has any chance whatsoever of moving the needle.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.