Technically the season has already started before the slew of games this afternoon and evening–the Cards beat the Marlins to open their new ballpark and Seattle and Oakland split two games in Japan at the end of last week. With that, I want to take time to make with a traditional writing subject for the beginning of the seasons: predicting how the various baseball teams will do and which players will win what awards.
Let’s start with the AL:
1) Tampa Bay Rays (95-67)
2) New York Yankees (93-69)
3) Toronto Blue Jays (87-75)
4) Boston Red Sox (85-77)
5) Baltimore Orioles (65-97)
Why do I think the Red Sox will struggle? Well, I still have them as a .500 team, but my opinion has nothing to do with the silly media fascination with chicken and beer. I don’t think David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, or Josh Beckett will perform as well as they did last year for various reasons–though of course they’ll still be great. I am curious to see how Daniel Bard does in the rotation and he could very well surprise. But, still, the opening day lineup includes Ryan Sweeney, Mike Aviles, and Cody Ross. And presumably, they’ll still be allowing John Lackey to give up 6 runs a start. Maybe I just think guys like Brett Lawrie and Brandon Morrow are ready to turn heads in Toronto and best at least the Red Sox in the AL East.
1) Detroit Tigers (92-70)
2) Kansas City Royals (83-79)
3) Cleveland Indians (81-81)
4) Minnesota Twins (73-89)
5) Chicago White Sox (64-98)
I’d love to give a sunnier projection for the Twins, but I just don’t think this is going to be their year. They are going to need time to get back to being a contending team. That means the draft this year (seven picks in Top 100) is going to be huge. The Twins need to reload, take a chance on some players with skill sets (i.e., power, whether for hitters or pitchers) they often ignore, and hope that some of their current minor league talent (Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia, etc) pan out. But this year, there isn’t enough pitching and while I think the offense will be serviceable and possible even pretty good, it won’t be enough. I criticized the Tigers offseason a lot, but that was basically all about the Prince Fielder contract, which I still dislike. I don’t think it really makes their team that much better for the price and long-term, it’s going to be ugly. However, right now, they have the starters (Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer), the bullpen, and the hitters (Cabrera, Fielder, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch) to dominate the central.
I do think, like many others, that the Royals will take a step forward this year. The Royals offense was actually pretty good last year, posting a 104 OPS+ as a unit. A few of those players (Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon) seem likely to regress some from last year, but plenty of their young guns should step forward–from Eric Hosmer to Billy Butler to Mike Moustakas. They also have Lorenzo Cain stepping into the CF role and based on his AAA numbers from last year (.312/.380/.497, 16 SBs), he should be able to provide about as much value as Melky Cabrera did last year. Their pitching could surprise as well. Picking up Felipe Paulino off the waiver-wire last year was one of the underrated moves of the season, as he had a 119/48 K/BB ratio in 124 2/3 innings for the Royals. The kind of arm the Twins should take a chance on–not the Matt Maloneys and Jeff Grays of the baseball world. Up-and-coming arms like Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery could surprise too.
1) Texas Rangers (96-66)
2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (94-68)
3) Seattle Marines (72-90)
4) Oakland As (63-99)
The Angels had a monumental offseason, with the signing of Albert Pujols as well as C.J. Wilson, but I still think the Rangers are the better team. The Rangers, for one, have more starting pitching depth if not overall talent. They’ve moved Neftali Feliz into the rotation, where he joins new signing Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison. The depth includes Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando, who did quite well starting last year. They have a great bullpen, even if they overpaid Joe Nathan, between him, Mike Adams, Ogando, and Koji Oehara. Their position player core is older, but still quite good (Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz). Michael Young might be the most overrated player in the AL (still confused how he managed a 1st place MVP vote–look at those home (.353/.384/.547) and away (.322/.377/.399)–with no power outside of the cozy confines of Arlington for a player with no defensive value), but he still has value as a DH.
The Angels first four in the rotation (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson, Ervin Santana) is something special, but they don’t have quite the depth. Still, that starting rotation is going to be pretty dominant. Pujols obviously adds a lot to the lineup and could easily be the MVP–he’s likely to bounce-back from a “down” year for him. Erick Aybar is a solid shortstop, Peter Bourjos is the best defensive center fielder in the league who contributes enough at the plate, and Chris Ianetta is a underrated player due to his low averages but good power/discipline. And, of course, Mike Trout could be the Rookie of the Year. However, they also have several declining, overpaid players who will continue to be in the lineup (Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Bobby Abreu). Mark Trumbo was also overrated last year and placed way too high in Rookie of the Year voting for a guy with a .291 OBP. I don’t think they’ll hit the way the Rangers will.
The Mariners have intrigued in a lot of young players and prospects, including the recently-acquired Jesus Montero. But they are still a while away from contention. The As had a offseason firesale and apparently aren’t looking to compete until they get a new stadium. Job well done.
1) Atlanta Braves (92-70)
2) Philadelphia Phillies (90-72)
3) Washington Nationals (86-76)
4) Miami Marlins (83-79)
5) New York Mets (67-95)
Why do I keep picking the Braves to best the Phillies–do I think it’s still the Bobby Cox Braves of yesterday? Once again, it’s starting pitching depth. Tim Hudson starts the season off on the DL and he’s likely to drop off of last year’s numbers. Same goes for Jair Jurrjens. Nonetheless, between them, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and new arms like Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, and Mike Minor, there is lots of depth here. The Braves might have the best starting pitching prospects at the top end right now. Hanson seems like a shoulder injury waiting to happen, but as long as he’s pitching (like Josh Johnson), he’s got electric stuff. The Braves bullpen was so good last year that the Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel was maybe their 3rd best reliever, behind Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. That’s no knock on Kimbrel–it’s just a phenomenal bullpen. They won’t be a great hitting team, but they’ll be better than the Phillies between Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Chipper Jones (he can still hit, yes), Freddie Freeman, Martin Prado, and Jason Heyward. I know Heyward struggled last year, but he had a shoulder injury and I believe he’ll bounce back.
The Phillies pitching might carry them to one of the wild card slots this year, but I am not sure that they can win the division and I don’t think they’ll be winning over 100 games. It’s still an incredible rotation between Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Vance Worley and Joe Blanton will be fine 4th and 5th starters, but that’s not the same level of depth as the Braves. More importantly, this is going to be a bad offense. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will start the season on the DL and could be out for months. Jim Thome, at 41, will be forced to play first base regularly and I imagine that will limit his value. Ty Wigginton will be stretched starting in the infield. Hunter Pence might be their best hitter and that’s not a good thing–a career .343 OBP doesn’t scream greatness. Still, I think they are likely to make the playoffs.
The East has two teams that many have picked as teams to surprise–the Nationals and the Marlins. I think the Nats will be good, but they won’t make the playoffs. I liked their offseason, as they’ve constructed a good rotation between Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Edwin Jackson. Even Ross Detweiler, who moves into the rotation in place of John Lannan, is a good move for 5th starter. They now have a staff filled with hard throwers. They made the smart move of picking up Brad Lidge on the cheap, as their young closer Drew Stanton starts the season on the DL. Between Lidge, Tyler Clippard, and arms like Henry Rodriguez, they could have a solid bullpen. I like their position players, too, between Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, and Michael Morse, but I wouldn’t expect Bryce Harper to show up and dominate–it’s extraordinarily uncommon for 19-year old hitters to do so.
The Marlins will be improved, but I’m not convinced they will be competing for a playoff spot. The offense is going to be good, between Mike Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, and Jose Reyes, but I’m not sure about the pitching. If Josh Johnson is healthy, that could make the difference, but I’m pretty worried about that shoulder. Anibal Sanchez is underrated and I think he’ll have a good season–do people even realize he struck out 200 hitters last year? But I’m skeptical about the rest of the staff (Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Carlos Zambrano). In the best-case scenario, they could do quite well, but Zambrano hasn’t been good in years and Nolasco, despite his control and strikeouts, seems to constantly get hit hard. Buehrle has been a very good pitcher, but I think the fall is coming soon. As for the Mets, is it worth a comment? They are unquestionably a mess.
1) Cincinnati Reds (93-69)
2) St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)
3) Milwaukee Brewers (84-78)
4) Pittsburgh Pirates (77-85)
5) Chicago Cubs (69-93)
6) Houston Astros (57-105)
Reds are a popular pick to win the Central, but there’s a good reason for that. Even with Ryan Madson out for the season, they still had a good offseason. Sean Marshall is one of the more underrated relievers out there since he wasn’t a closer the last two years. Aroldis Chapman moves back to the bullpen as well, which only gives them more depth there. Bronson Arroyo shouldn’t be allowed within 100 feet of a starting rotation, but Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto should be very good and I believe Homer Bailey could surprise. The offense will be great–Joey Votto could win MVP, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce should be around All-Star worthy and they have potential rookie of the year players in Zack Cosart (SS) and Devin Mesoraco (C). The Cards will be fine competing after Albert Pujols left–I gave them the best offseason after all (though that might have changed considering the Yadier Molina deal–that’s a headscratcher)–with Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and the younger bats of Allen Craig and David Freese to carry the offense (though I think Freese’s power is in more of the 15-20 range). Chris Carpenter is out for the first month, though, and that does hurt them–Kyle Lohse was their opening day starter. I think they just miss the playoffs.
I don’t think Ryan Braun’s offseason issues will hurt him that much, but losing Prince Fielder and replacing him with Aramis Ramirez will. The Brewers infield defense is going to be ugly. I like Zack Grienke to make a run at the Cy Young and Shaun Marcum/Yovani Gallardo make up for a great top three, but there’s no depth here. The bullpen is good and they’ll hit, but I don’t think it will be enough. The rest of the division will surely struggle and the Cubs new front office isn’t going to pay dividends right away. I do think the Pirates take another small step forward, but that’s just the optimist in me not wanting that franchise to suffer anymore. Signing Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51 million extension was a great piece of work though. They just still have to wait for other players to develop.
1) Arizona Diamondbacks (95-67)
2) San Francisco Giants (91-71)
3) Los Angeles Dodgers (76-86)
4) Colorado Rockies (72-90)
5) San Diego Padres (66-96)
I’m pretty convinced that the Diamondbacks have a excellent team primed to make a run at the world series. But a lot of it is projection–the Giants could easily have this division with their pitching staff. On the other hand, I like the Diamondbacks combination of a good overall starting staff with a great lineup. I still don’t understand the Jason Kubel signing, since Gerardo Parra hit well last year and was one of the best outfielders, but I liked the Trevor Cahill trade. Cahill’s peripherals got better last year, as he struck out more hitters but kept getting ground balls. Hopefully he can just control the walks going forward. Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy are probably as underrated a one-two punch of starters you can find. Kennedy had the 21 wins, but Hudson may nearly outpitched him–or at least, he was right there in terms of value. Trevor Bauer is potential Rookie of the Year material. Justin Upton could win MVP and I think that Paul Goldschmidt could hit 35 or even 40 home runs this year.
The Giants, as mentioned, have the starters. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are outstanding. They still have a great bullpen–Sergio Romeo is as underrated as they come for set-up men. But they won’t hit enough. Pablo Sandaval will certainly and I think Buster Posey will bounce back from a injury-riddled season. I even thought that trading for Angel Pagan was a solid move. The problem is that the Giants don’t seem keen, for whatever reason, on giving Brandon Belt much of a chance. I have to think that giving Belt at-bats over Audrey Huff would make a difference over the course of a season. Gary Brown might also make a run at the Rookie of the Year given his outstanding speed. I still think they’ll make the playoffs, but just as a one of the wild cards.
The Dodgers have new ownership ($2 billion still seems high to me), but they aren’t a well-constructed team right now. They have some of the best players in the game in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but little else. Andre Ethier can’t hit lefties and has long been overrated. James Loney never developed and is one of the lightest hitting first basemen around. Jerry Sands could do some good if given a chance. Dee Gordon has speed that gets old-school baseball men excited, but can he even get on-base at a .300 clip? I’m doubtful. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are too inconsistent to compete with the other staffs here. Kenley Jansen quietly struck out 16.1/9, a new record as far as I know. He’s exciting and young–but that’s what the Dodgers are. A few bright stars and zero depth. The Rockies had a confusing offseason, making a lot of moves, but none that convincingly made the team better. (Swapping Chris Ianetta for Ramon Hernandez, for instance and yes, signing Michael Cuddyer) I like a lot of their talent, like Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin, and Troy Tulowitzski could easily win the MVP. But I don’t see a lot of depth here and I don’t think their pitching is going to be good enough.
The Padres will be good in the future, but they are clearly rebuilding. But they made some great deals–they got some great prospects in the Mat Latos deal, for instance, and Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo could work out quite nicely. They might have the best system right now. A few years down the line and they might be the dominant team here.
AL MVP: Jose Bautista, 3B/OF, Blue Jays
NL MVP: Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
AL Cy Young: David Price, SP, Rays
NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies
AL Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish, SP, Rangers
NL Rookie of the Year: Trevor Bauer, SP, Diamondbacks
AL Wild Card: Yankees over Angels
ALDS: Rangers over Yankees, Rays over Tigers
NL Wild Card: Giants over Phillies
NLDS: Diamondbacks over Reds, Giants over Braves
ALCS: Rays over Rangers
NLCS: Diamondbacks over Giants
World Series: Rays over Diamondbacks