1. 2015 Predictions

    The 2014 SB Nation MLB preview contained predictions. A lot of those predictions were wrong. This is the 2015 SB Nation MLB preview, and you are about to read more predictions. They will be wrong. You will not get these minutes back, yet there’s still a chance you will continue reading. Are you just skimming? Are you a copy editor, employed by SB Nation? Why are you here?

    Because there are reasons to read predictions that will almost certainly be wrong. Let us recount them.

    You want someone to be angry with

    Say you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. When you open up a predictions post like this, you know there is going to be a passage making fun of the Phillies organization and/or current roster. It’s a given, a box to check off for the person who writes it. Why are you here, then?

    1. You’re a super fan, and you still believe in Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and 2008 wasn’t that long ago, and we’ll see, we’ll all see. So you want someone to motivate you and your team with cynical predictions, possibly while using the term "haterade" without irony.

    2. You want to hate the Phillies even more right now, and these things help.

    Either reason is fine with me. Thank you for reading.

    You want someone to confirm your hopes and dreams

    At some point, I will refer to the Nationals as the best team in baseball. Are you a Nationals fan? You’re here because you need validation. The baseball season is dark and full of terrors, and the last three Nationals seasons have ended in crushing disappointment. In one of those seasons, the Nationals were supposed to be the consensus best team in baseball — just like now — and they didn’t even make the postseason. It could happen again.

    It could happen again.

    Not in these predictions, though! The Nationals make the postseason in these predictions every time, just like you were hoping and predicting. It’s uncanny. Nothing bad happens to them in these predictions. There aren’t any freaky injuries, weird slumps or untimely suspensions. Just the Nationals winning the NL East over and over and over again.

    Baseball writers are dumb and smug, and you want to rub their predictions in their dumb, smug faces next year

    Fair enough. I predicted Prince Fielder to win the AL MVP last year. That prediction was the baseball equivalent of the reporter who fell down while stomping grapes. It was so painful to watch that it was a level removed from funny. (Fielder did not win the AL MVP.)

    There will be something in here that’s just as stupid. Please, throw it in my face. I wear stupid predictions like merit badges, and I reference them often when freestyling, hoping to take ammunition away from my opponent. Baseball writers should never forget that baseball is both malevolent and smarter than them. Unless it’s waaaaay dumber than all of us, and we’re giving it too much credit. Either way, don’t take these predictions too seriously.

    Even though most of them are probably right.

    Please enjoy the 2015 SB Nation MLB Predictions!

    AL West

    Projected standings:

    1. Los Angeles Angels
    2. Oakland A’s
    3. Seattle Mariners
    4. Houston Astros
    5. Texas Rangers

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Not ludicrous or 80-point-font-on-the-Times-front-page surprising, but not great.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: See the above. The Rangers would have been slight favorites for fourth place with Yu Darvish.

    1. Angels
    Dirty secret about these predictions: It’s possible to rip every team apart, except for maybe the Nationals and Dodgers. If you want to make an argument against the Angels, it would invoke the regression of Matt Shoemaker and Kole Calhoun, and it would loudly point out that the slow decline of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and/or Albert Pujols is about to evolve into sudden decline. David Freese was a mess last year, and C.J. Cron is unproven. They got worse at second, and they’re out of tantalizing prospects to dangle at the trade deadline. They might finish behind the Astros with a few bad breaks.

    Then I look into those big doe eyes of Mike Trout, and …

    They have the best head start in baseball, which means they get a pass on some of those other dodgy variables. If Freese is still a mess, they’ll find someone else and they’ll have Mike Trout. If Wilson never finds what made him so good in Texas, they’ll explore deals in July and they’ll have Mike Trout. One player doesn’t make that much of a difference over 162-game season … unless he’s Mike Trout.

    2. A’s
    I do not love the roster overhaul or the wacky permutations it took to get there. The A’s had a talented, low-cost team with holes, they made a dozen jarring, disorienting moves, and they emerged to field a talented, low-cost team with holes. It’s certainly possible that everyone on the team hated each other, but allow me to be the grandpa who argues in favor of continuity, both for the fans and the players. You’ve seen what happens when things are at risk of being yanked away by a claw from the heavens at any time. Their brain gets mushy. They start worshiping the claw. It’s all they can think about.

    That written, the A’s are still a talented low-cost team with holes, but not enough to prevent them from contending. The Josh Reddick/Billy Butler/Ike Davis middle of the order scares the bejeepers out of me, and it should scare you too. The rest of the lineup features solid-to-excellent players, so it’s too easy to get hung up on that troika, but it’s not like you have to concoct the ultimate doomsday scenario to get 1,700 combined at-bats of 100 OPS+, .310 OBP and 500 strikeouts.

    Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Hahn are a great start toward the rotation the A’s need, with a potential return from Jarrod Parker helping the depth. This just looks like the kind of pesky A’s team we underrate at our own peril, so I’ll put them a little higher than the projection systems have them. They’ll figure something out.

    They’ll figure something out, or we’ll get 583 articles about how Billy Beane ruined the clubhouse chemistry. Brrrrr.

    3. Mariners
    The Mariners have the best pitcher in the division. They have the second-best player in the division, but he would be the best player in almost any other division. They’re atop the FanGraphs projected standings by a game. So why do I put them third?

    gold gut

    My gut. There’s gold in there. And my gut tells me that four or five of the hitters in the Mariners lineup will struggle mightily all danged season. They’ll flail around in the land of the vacant-eyed 640 OPS, wondering why they’re not hitting like they should. The pitching will be fabulous, of course. There will be 2-1 games and 2-0 games and 4-3 games and, when things get wacky, maybe a couple of 5-4 games. The Mariners won’t win enough of them to win the division, and they won’t lose enough of them to fall out of contention.

    You can hate this prediction. You can hate the reasoning behind it. But I don’t think Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ are enough to reverse the raging current that has annoyed/drowned Mariners fans for the last few years. Unless there’s something of a group effort from the under-30 set like Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Austin Jackson to emerge from their potential chrysalis at the same time, it looks like the same Mariners team as last season to me.

    I’d apologize, but there are just so many Mariners fans that I actively hate, so that felt cathartic.

    4. Astros
    They sure had a fine offseason effort. I’ll miss the easy laughs and immobile targets.

    RIP, FUNNY ASTROS. And Matt Downs. We’ll miss all of you.

    The only thing missing if the Astros wanted to ape the 2006 Tigers was the what-are-they-doing feeling that came with the Tigers spending exorbitant amounts of money on All-Stars in their 30s. That might be next year for the Astros, but if they get on an early season roll, those fox-crazy deals might come at the trade deadline. Here’s the roster. Look for the gaping hole. Look for the player who should not, under any circumstances, belong to a major league lineup, bench, rotation or bullpen.

    He’s not there. That player was the default of the 2012 Astros, and his bite would infect the players who were acquired or called up. The 2015 Astros are clean, though. Even the players you should be skeptical about (looking at Jake Marisnick) are talented enough to get at least a trial on a transitional team. When you have a roster like this, where everyone makes some sense, you have the potential for a surprise title run. Astros fans, especially the ones who have stuck around, deserve it.

    5. Rangers
    Oh, Rangers.

    It’s only a tragedy if they end the movie right now. It’s a delightful rom-com if they roll the last three years into an opening montage, where there’s nowhere to go but up! The Rangers won the pennant, then they won the wild card, then they missed the playoffs and then baseball set them aflame. Pretend this is just the start of their story, and when they win three straight titles behind Rougneds Odor, well, just remember how bleak it seemed for them once.

    That isn’t to say this is a team without talent. It’s a team with plenty of talent, both dormant and possibly resurgent. There are former stars who could rise from the ashes, and there are emerging stars who could break through. They have a minor league system of note, with one of the most compelling power prospects of the last decade. It’s a cocktail that can come together quickly. Maybe even next year.

    Not this year. They’re going to give up a billion runs. With Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation, they had the slimmest of glimmers. Now they just have Holland, Gallardo and the sketchiest 3-5 in the American League. Oh, and Holland’s shoulder is sore. A commenter on this Baseball Prospectus article on pitching depth said it well:

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Rangers only needed a 6th or 7th starter, instead of a 22nd and 23rd starter?

    Oh, Rangers.

    AL Central

    1. Cleveland Indians
    2. Detroit Tigers
    3. Chicago White Sox
    4. Kansas City Royals
    5. Minnesota Twins

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Not very good, despite how it approached the offseason. The pitching and hitting could both be OK, and the Twins could surprise, but more in an 81-win kind of way.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Decent. It won the pennant last year, after all.

    1. Cleveland Indians
    I can’t tell if this is a dark-horse pick, or if it’s a trendy pick. Maybe I’m just doing it to break up the monotony of picking the Tigers every year, can’t tell. Still, the Indians have a deep lineup that gets even better if/when Nick Swisher gets healthy, the rare starting nine that doesn’t give a pitcher a break anywhere. Jose Ramirez would have been a Rookie of the Year candidate if he didn’t lose his rookie status, but Francisco Lindor will be a Rookie of the Year candidate the second he’s called up. The best way to describe the depth of the lineup is with a sentence: Yan Gomes, who hit 21 homers and won a Silver Slugger award last year, is probably hitting sixth.

    The rotation is risky in that old Rays kind of way, lining up youngish, half-proven pitchers behind their established ace, but it’s still filled with potential. That’s even if you don’t trust Trevor Bauer. If you’re predicting good things from him, well, this is probably the second- or third-best rotation in the division. That doesn’t sound impressive until you realize they have the best or second-best lineup in the division. It’s the combination of the two that makes them especially dangerous.

    2. Detroit Tigers
    There are just enough questions to push them closer to the wild card game than a division title. Justin Verlander will have to have an ERA over 5.00 to get bounced from the rotation — call this the Lincecum Theory — and even then, the team still might give him 32 starts. The bullpen problems might be a touch overblown, but they certainly aren’t completely manufactured. The up-the-middle defense is stellar, but the corner defense is a Christmas play put on by dizzy kindergartners.

    They have the talent to win the division and the World Series, of course. Yoenis Cespedes is a fine replacement for Torii Hunter, David Price is one of the only pitchers who could replace Max Scherzer at the top of a rotation, and Anthony Gose’s talent would probably play Austin Jackson’s talent in a film adaptation, so it’s not as if they’re that much different from last year’s. It’s not like this roster is substantially worse than the roster that opened last season, and those Tigers were consensus favorites. The predicted second-place finish has more to do with the Indians being good than the Tigers being flawed.

    They are flawed, though. A list of players I’m skeptical about for 2015: J.D. Martinez, Gose, Nick Castellanos, Verlander, Alfredo Simon, Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene, and Joe Nathan, for some reason. Those players still might contribute, mind you, but I’m skeptical about their abilities to perform as well as they did last year, or as well as the Tigers are hoping for. It all might be enough to move a 90-win team to an 86-win team, and 86 wins is going to be on the fringes for the wild card game.

    3. Chicago White Sox
    What a dizzying offseason. What a surprising, aggressive offseason. They have one of the three best pitchers in the American League, and they have one of the three best hitters, too. So if the White Sox are building a roster, and have that kind of head start, shouldn’t a bunch of smart moves make them favorites?

    Probably not. I believe a lot more in the Conor Gillaspie from 2013 than the one from last year, and that’s true for Adam LaRoche, too. Jose Quintana might be the most underrated pitcher in baseball, but John Danks and Hector Noesi are most certainly not. If either (or both) of them falter, there aren’t a lot of thrilling options to replace them unless 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon is even more special than believed.

    I still almost put them ahead of the Tigers. I still might put them there before this is published. But when you think of a ball hit off Danks sailing over Carlos Sanchez’s head and shooting into the gap, you get a visual of why it’s hard for them to be favorites for anything.

    4. Kansas City Royals
    And then, in the middle of the World Series, for the first time in my life, I thought, "You know, I’m not sure if either of these teams in the World Series are that good." Hey, if I can admit it, Royals fans should be able to. The postseason is a barrel of monkeys, alright, but the monkeys are mischievous and extra-bitey, not fun. That barrel was how the Royals ruined the season for three different teams. Someone shook the barrel up, too.

    Edinson Volquez isn’t James Shields, and the parallels are more depressing when you realize that he was even worse than Shields in his wild card game start. Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios have a chance to be as valuable as the players they’re replacing, but the Royals are almost certainly a little worse without Shields. Considering they were already a touch lucky last year (five games over their expected win-loss record), that’s not the direction they needed to go.

    There’s a chance, a real chance, that they might have sub-.300 OBPs from the No. 5 spot in the lineup through the No. 9 spot — four of the five hitters did it last year — at which point the lineup would turn over with a player who also has a chance to make a lot of outs. Yordano Ventura is a treat, and they still have the competent veterans in the rotation and the world’s sludgiest, funkiest bullpen. But as Abraham Lincoln said to Abner Doubleday when giving him a medal for inventing baseball and winning the war: You can’t steal first.

    5. Minnesota Twins
    Maybe I should be nicer to the Twins. Every member of the starting lineup had an adjusted OPS above the league average last year, and while I dislike the Ervin Santana contract, I don’t dislike him as a contributor for a team that needs steadier pitching. Phil Hughes was a revelation last year, even if the ERA didn’t line up neatly with the historically outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio. They have two of the best prospects in baseball, and it’s not farfetched to think one or both might force their way into the majors. They’re not the Phillies. They’re not especially close.

    Can’t trust them, though. They can’t possibly have enough pitching around Hughes and Santana. Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are very, very, very Twins, in all the wrong ways, and Ricky Nolasco is morphing into a pure Twins pitcher by the light of a full moon. It would take some serious breakouts from the young hitters in the lineup, possibly around a resurgent Joe Mauer, to contend. Could happen. Might happen. Probably won’t happen.

    AL East

    1. Boston Red Sox
    2. Baltimore Orioles
    3. Toronto Blue Jays
    4. Tampa Bay Rays
    5. New York Yankees

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Very realistic. The Yankees are a zombie team, and you cannot kill what is undead.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Also realistic. Where there’s pitching, there’s a chance for surprises.

    1. Boston Red Sox
    If it’s not wise to predict the White Sox to reverse their record with a splashy offseason, maybe we’re giving the Red Sox too much credit. Maybe 71-91 means too much to ignore.

    Except the Red Sox have a lineup this year that’s different from what they tried last year in one key way: They can be excellent even if the young hitters don’t develop right away or break out. Last year, they counted on Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. When those players didn’t hit, it was too much to ask a lineup with A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes to overcome that. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia can’t do everything.

    With the additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, though, the Red Sox have an outstanding, five-deep run in the middle of their lineup that’s free of serious red flags. Ramirez, Sandoval, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Mike Napoli aren’t locks for anything — never forget that baseball is awful and age is even worse — but they’re all proven, reliable hitters. Now if Mookie Betts wants to break out? Sure, come along. Same goes for Bogaerts and Rusney Castillo. Happy to have you. The Red Sox don’t have to have them do things they’ve never done before.

    The rotation sure does bring up a lot of questions, though, so this isn’t the lock of MLB. Every single pitcher comes with a "yeah, but," and those things can ruin the best-laid plans. Still, the Red Sox have depth upon depth upon depth at almost every position. They should be one of the more watchable teams this year. Other than the four-hour-game part.

    2. Baltimore Orioles
    They did nothing this offseason. Nothing. Nooooooothiiiiiiiiing. I see you waving, Travis Snider, but the song remains the same. Nothing. It’s a fascinating gambit, if only because it’s amazing how short-term the Orioles’ collective memories are. Don’t they remember what it was like for most of the last two decades? It wasn’t fun at all. This should have been a pouncepouncepounce offseason, in which an owner who remembered the bad old days seized the opportunity to get greedy.

    They can still hit dingers, though. They should have Manny Machado back. They’ll eventually have Matt Wieters back. They should have Chris Davis back, at least a version that’s better than the miserable 2014 variety. Even with Steve Pearce almost certainly taking a step back, the Orioles should ht the ball close to as well as they did last season, which is plenty well enough.

    Which means their rotation just has to be OK, much like the Red Sox. The two teams at the top of these projections have a similar quantity-not-quality feel to them, and all the teams need to do is hit as well as everyone expects them to. The Orioles’ path to the 2015 postseason is the exact same as their path to the 2014 postseason. Maybe that’s why they did nothing.

    Like, seriously. Nothing.

    3. Toronto Blue Jays
    Are the Blue Jays a hot dog? Probably. We’re talking a hot dog without condiments. Standard bun. Standard processed hot dog from a huge company. Boiled. They have been this hot dog for two decades, never odious enough to turn your stomach, and never delicious enough to leave you satisfied.

    Like every team in the AL East, they could win the division. They’re better on paper than most people guessed last year’s Orioles would be, and by a good margin. The Blue Jays would be the second-biggest surprise in the AL East over the last two years. They have dingers and OBP for the first five lineup slots, even if the next four are a little underwhelming. They have intriguing arms in all five rotation spots, even if they’re almost all filled by someone too old or young to trust completely. A surprising season or two from random folks, like Dalton Pompey or Kevin Pillar, and they could coast into the postseason and end the nasty drought.

    After Josh Donaldson, though, the lineup really is a leap of faith out of the nest. The Marcus Stroman injury hurt their depth, which they’ll probably have to tap into this season, but where the Red Sox and Orioles should both do at least one thing well, the Blue Jays are in danger of middling performances everywhere on the roster other than the middle of their lineup.

    They’re in danger of being the Blue Jays, then. We probably should have seen that coming.

    4. Tampa Bay Rays
    If a team has five solid starting pitchers, it has a chance. You don’t need a list of former division winners to prove that maxim. The Rays had those five starting pitchers before the Grapefruit League started, and it might have made sense to slot the team higher in these projections. Heck, if Matt Moore came back on schedule, they might have had the best rotation in the division.

    Instead, forearm tightness and shoulder tendinitis have already made two Rays questionable for opening day (Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly, respectively), and the Rays don’t have the backup plans to deal with worst-case scenarios effectively. While the lineup still has a couple candidates for breakout seasons, it’s probably the worst lineup in the division, or close to it, without those breakouts. Evan Longoria should return to form, and the Rays aren’t a team bereft of talent, but they aren’t balancing their noticeable flaws with a pile of sure things, either.

    They have five solid starting pitchers. They have a chance. It’s just less of a chance than the three teams ahead of them.

    5. New York Yankees
    There is a monster who lives under Yankee Stadium like a rancor, and he’s made of magic. The only things it eats are cynical predictions from dumb sportswriters, and he uses them to as fuel for magic monster beams that help the Yankees contend, even when they have absolutely no right to contend. He’s eating this paragraph right now. The Yankees will use it to fuel another contending season. Sorry. Sorry for writing this.

    I just can’t stop myself, though. The Yankees have a rotation that’s held together with twine and moist newspaper. CC Sabathia wasn’t good last year, and then he missed time with a serious injury. Michael Pineda had serious shoulder problems, and Masahiro Tanaka’s throwing ligament is partially torn. It’s more likely that all three of them miss chunks of the season than they all make more than 28 starts, so the Yankees would have to figure out how to make pitching stew out of flour and warm Tab if anything went wrong. Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano are already hurt, too.

    The lineup is filled with I’ve-heard-of-them players, but they’re all a year older, and Chase Headley isn’t enough to save an offense that was comfortably below-average last year.

    (You know Alex Rodriguez is going to hit 30 homers and the Yankees are going to win the division, right? Just making sure.)

    NL West

    1. Los Angeles Dodgers
    2. San Diego Padres
    3. San Francisco Giants
    4. Colorado Rockies
    5. Arizona Diamondbacks

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Only mildly ludicrous. Not desperately ludicrous.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Only mildly ludicrous. Not desperately ludicrous. I’m pretty sure they’re both the same team, to be honest.

    1. Los Angeles Dodgers
    One of only two teams I didn’t hem and haw with at the top of their division, the Dodgers are pretty, pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. They remade their team, with their two best hitters from last season gone, and yet they somehow got better. What manner of dark alchemy is this? Money can’t buy World Series trophies, and money can’t buy happiness, but it can apparently buy some fancy roster moves and a new braintrust. Which can help that first part. So hold off on being so sure about what money can or can’t buy.

    Even if Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy were both expensive risks (with delightful Twitter accounts!), the Dodgers clearly have the best rotation in the division. That starts with the best pitcher alive, an unfair head start on the rest of the world. Zack Greinke is excellent enough to give the Dodgers a formidable rotation, even if the three pitchers behind him falter or miss games. There’s a good mix of once-weres and should-bes in the minors, too, just in case of a serious emergency.

    It’s the lineup that’s going to get them in the mid-90s, though. They don’t have any holes at any position, and even if there are some players you’re right to wonder about — say, third base and an outfield spot or two — they have contingency plans for everything. If they made a lineup out of their bench and prospects who won’t be on the team …

    1. Justin Turner - 3B
    2. Alex Guerrero - 2B
    3. Scott Van Slyke - 1B
    4. Andre Ethier - RF
    5. Corey Seager - SS
    6. Chris Heisey - LF
    7. Scott Schebler - CF
    8. A.J. Ellis - C

    … it would out-hit more than a few teams around both leagues. The Dodgers are loaded. Except for the bullpen, but they’ll figure that out. Unless it RUINS EVERYTHING, ha ha ha ha aaaa ha ha. Ha ha ha. Uh. Ha?


    2. San Diego Padres
    After winning the imaginary offseason World Series, the Padres had an imaginary offseason parade. One of the imaginary floats drove into the crowd and exploded in a delightful explosion of cotton candy and sunbeams. You should have been there.

    It sure was an offseason from Padre-fan dreams, though. Lots of activity and a new identity is just about everything fans from a previously dull team could ask for. The Padres couldn’t hit home runs, and now they can. They could pitch but not score, and now they can do both. While Alexi Amarista isn’t exciting, and Yangervis Solarte is probably closer to the player no one thought about before last season, there should be dingers and more dingers and then some more. The rotation would have been good enough to contend with that lineup, but then they signed James Shields. Lap it up, Padres fans. You’ve earned this.

    If I can concern-troll for just a moment, though! I just mentioned the pitching as if its completely isolated from the rest of the team. It’s not. Pitchers need help from their fielders, and the Padres might have the worst defense in baseball. Matt Kemp is a known quantity in right field, and that quantity is negative-five billion. Wil Myers is likely to be rough in center compared to his peers. Derek Norris has well-chronicled problems throwing out baserunners, and he isn’t likely to make up for it with his framing. The best you say about the remaining five is that they could/should be average. There aren’t standout defenders anywhere.

    It’ll bother you until the next dinger, which will usually be a half-inning away.

    3. San Francisco Giants
    Bonds help me, I tried to put them at No. 2. They were there for a week before I just couldn’t go through with it. Hunter Pence is hurt. Angel Pagan is having predictable back issues. Their biggest weakness is supposed to be their starting pitching, and all of their starting pitchers have been shelled this preseason, other than Tim Hudson. They can’t win in the Cactus League. Doomed. They’re doomed. Doooooooooomed

    They still have Buster Posey, mind you. And you aren’t really buying into Madison Bumgarner being in trouble because of spring stats, are you? They just won the World Series, the difference between Michael Morse/Pablo Sandoval and Norichika Aoki/Casey McGehee can’t be much more than a win or two, so they have something going for them. Even though they’re starting some older/questionable pitchers, at least they have a lot of them in case repairs are needed.

    If you were going to make a checklist of warning signs before this season, though, the Giants would have checked more than a couple off already. Even if you don’t believe in odd-year nonsense like a smart person, you can still look at the Giants and see all of the ways things could go horribly for them. They’ll need either superlative hitting or surprising pitching to make the postseason again. Sounds simple, except one of the best hitters will miss a month, and the pitchers aren’t showing any indication that they’ll surprise anyone.

    4. Colorado Rockies
    They have the potential to be an annoying team if they stay healthy. Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado make a fearsome middle of the order, and they have worthwhile hitters at the top of the order, too. Team defense is a strength, which should help a rotation that needs every last bit of it. Really, I’m not sure what we’re so worried about.

    Oh. Oh, dear. There might be an explanation for this, but it’s still a disconcerting start to the season.

    rockies lol

    That is a fake tweet, included because I lack restraint. Still, you get the idea. Injuries and pitching, pitching and injuries. If the Rockies can cobble a pitching staff out of some of their younger pitchers, and if they can stay healthy, they actually have a shot. That’s an "and," though, not an "or." It has to be both, which makes things exponentially more difficult.

    5. Arizona Diamondbacks
    They have the same problem as the Rockies — an offense with a few steady names, but a pitching staff that should be a constant source of turmoil. They don’t have a lot of starting pitchers who can miss bats, and they’ll start the season with substantial worries about the players at third, behind the plate, and in right field. While they have at least two or three Gold Glove candidates, it’ll still be an occasional amusement park ride out there.

    This wouldn’t be a huge issue a) if they had the frontline pitchers who would be good behind any defense, like the bulk of the Padres’ staff, or b) they had the 1-through-9 depth of the Dodgers. But they don’t come close to either, which leaves them wishing on Aaron Hill to hit better, for Mark Trumbo to rebound (or at least make a few assists), for Chris Owings to hit just enough, and for everyone to come together and help make up for the guaranteed offensive void left by various catchers.

    The Diamondbacks have two young, talented pitchers in Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley, so if the team is going to surprise, it’ll be with their help. It would take a surprise that eclipses last year’s Orioles team, though. They would need 2013 Pirates-level surprise, and Andrew McCutchen isn’t gliding effortlessly through that door.

    NL Central

    1. St. Louis Cardinals
    2. Pittsburgh Pirates
    3. Chicago Cubs
    4. Milwaukee Brewers
    5. Cincinnati Reds

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Jason Marquis.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Could happen! Of all the fourth-place teams around, this is the one with the best shot.

    1. St. Louis Cardinals
    Owen Wilson in Meet the Parents. How can you hate him? And yet you do. Perfect in every way, but never with a guarantee that he’ll get exactly what he wants. Even after the most devastating of losses, he’ll look up with a dumb, optimistic, Labrador Retriever grin and mumble something about next year. He’ll always, always, always get that chance.

    They’re probably the best team in the division. Again. For starters, the Cardinals have one of the cleaner 1-through-9s in the game, joining a group that includes the Dodgers, Nationals, Indians and maybe a couple others. They augment that with a deep rotation, with a nice mix of veteran talent and up-and-comers in the wings. If Jaime Garcia can’t stay in the rotation after his injury, the Cardinals have Carlos Martinez. If he’s not good to go, they have Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons in the seventh and eighth spots. The Cardinals are probably set.

    Ah, but that assumes the front of the rotation is solid and dependable. Which it certainly could be, what with Adam Wainwright a perennial All-Star and Lance Lynn coming into his own. But anyone who watched Wainwright in the playoffs was at least a little uncomfortable with the apparent fatigue that was dragging him down, and Michael Wacha was a phantom in the postseason until the exact wrong moment. How will he recover from injury?

    Whatever. They’ll be good. If those guys don’t do well, the other guys will. And if those guys don’t, the other guys will surprise. If those other guys don’t surprise, they’ll trade for some more other guys. They’re the Cardinals. They always land on their feet. They have Jason Heyward, you know. They’ll sign him to an extension before the season is over, and he really will turn into Stan Musial. Meet the Cardinals.

    2. Pittsburgh Pirates
    They’ve been underestimated for two straight seasons, so it’s time to compensate, and while having the best outfield in the game doesn’t have to mean anything, it can’t hurt. The best way to evaluate the Pirates is by noting they have Pedro Alvarez hitting sixth, with a backup plan or two behind him. He’s not the shining hope, the slugger who needs to thrive to make everything work. If he hits well, he hits well. If he doesn’t, they’ll figure something out. That’s the spot they’re in, and it’s much different from the one they were in a couple of years ago.

    It’s a solid lineup, with a competent rotation of familiar faces who all have a chance of being something more, something exciting. Gerrit Cole is the ace-in-waiting, and even if that’s an unfair label, he’s probably the best pitcher on the staff. A.J. Burnett is back, and so is Francisco Liriano, a veteran tandem that’s probably good for 40 starts or so, but with a great chance of being an above-average 40 starts. That’s a big deal. The fourth starters have fifth-starters-in-waiting, and the fifth starters have sixth-starters-in-waiting. They have a deep, absurd bullpen.

    This could be the year. What, you think Liriano is going to get …

    / ligament makes SPROOING sound and shoots across the room

    Well, it looks like a solid rotation on paper, at least. And it’s a lineup without a lot of obvious holes. The World Series will be won by a team that doesn’t have an obvious path to the championship, as is the Word Series’ way. Why not the Pirates? foreshadowing

    3. Chicago Cubs
    SO CLOSE. Probably a full season of Kris Bryant away, really. Maybe a non-dead-armed Jon Lester. Whichever the case, the Cubs will be competitive. They’ll be active, both before and after the trade deadline. They’ll offer hope for the present and the future. They’ll just come up a little short this time. Not next time. Probably not next time. Maybe the time after next time will be theirs. Everyone just be patient. EVERYONE BE PATIENT.

    Do you think this is pessimistic? Possibly, but feast thine eyes on the Cubs hitters who will likely bat after the cleanup hitter:

    • Miguel Montero
    • Chris Coghlan
    • Mike Olt
    • Tommy La Stella

    There are backup options, both Bryant-related and not, but for the first month or two of the season, the Cubs will be counting on a half-lineup. Dexter Fowler is a fine leadoff hitter, and three-time All-Star (!) Starlin Castro should be the right hitter to move him along. This is the year that Jorge Soler becomes the star that Anthony Rizzo already is. Those four are the offense until Bryant and others (Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Russell) force their way into the lineup.

    Assuming Lester (he of the dead-arm-that-isn’t-a-big-deal) is fine, the Cubs have a rotation to match the lineup, heavy at the top and light at the back. Even then, it’s not like the top of the rotation is filled with sure things after Lester. Can Jake Arrieta repeat his superb season? Was first-half Jason Hammel the real one, or is the dismal second-half version the one to expect now? Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks both have an upside of "OK, so long as everything else is going well," so the Cubs will be counting a lot on a small number of players.

    4. Milwaukee Brewers
    They probably deserve better. I’m not sure if there’s a division they would be the favorites for, but they are an overqualified fourth-place team. If we had some clue as to which Ryan Braun was going to show up, maybe the Brewers would jump up a spot or two or three. If Braun is closer to the MVP variety, the Brewers have the best start to a lineup in baseball, and they follow that with power. The rotation doesn’t have a clear, win-day ace, but there isn’t a Jason Marquis in the bunch, either. They have a shot to win the division, a real shot.

    The problem is that they’re counting on simultaneous somethings from just about everyone in the rotation, more so than the average team. They’re counting on Kyle Lohse to ward off the aging demons for another year, Matt Garza to stop being so flaky, Mike Fiers to put together a full season, Wily Peralta to keep the walks down and strikeouts up, and Jimmy Nelson to establish himself. Behind those five is a bullpen that’s probably going to be shaky for what feels like the second straight decade. If you rewrite this paragraph to highlight the things the rotation might get right, the Brewers would almost sound like the best team in baseball.

    As is, they’re counting on too many parlays. If Braun hits and the question marks in the rotation become exclamation points, this is the ranking that’s likely to look the silliest by September. We were almost used to a good Brewers team last year when the calamity rained down from the sky and melted everything. If they started the season poorly and finished it strong, we would probably have a different, more optimistic view of them. Funny how that works.

    5. Cincinnati Reds
    It’s not that Jason Marquis is going to be in the rotation. It’s that two weeks before they needed to make a decision, the Reds said, "OK, we don’t need to see any more. Marquis is clearly the best option we have, so let’s just announce this now." This should be the last-gasp season of last-gasp seasons, with the Reds clawing frantically for one … last … shot … before nearly their entire rotation goes away in free agency. Instead, they embarked on a half-rebuild, half-contend strategy, trying to sell their cake and display it, too. This is how you end up with things like Jason Marquis.

    If the All-Stars in the lineup return to form — as in, completely — the Reds could win 90 games, even with the questionable pitching. That’s how All-Starry the former All-Stars are. Joey Votto can still be one of the best hitters in the game, and Jay Bruce is young enough to expect a renaissance, even if Brandon Phillips isn’t. With Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier having a chance to hit 30 homers, that would give the Reds the kind of offense that made them World Series contenders just a couple seasons ago.

    They’re stretched too thin, though, and even if Homer Bailey shows up like nothing was ever wrong with his arm, they’ll have two iffy starters in the rotation. The lineup probably won’t be strong enough to carry them 40 percent of the time, which makes .500 seem like a small victory. If they can surprise in the first half, though, I could see the Reds going bananas at the trade deadline, buying instead of selling. If things go well for them, the holes will be obvious and fixable. Hopefully for the Reds, it won’t be too late to do something about them.

    NL East

    1. Washington Nationals
    2. New York Mets
    3. Miami Marlins
    4. Atlanta Braves
    5. Philadelphia Phillies

    Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

    Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

    1. Washington Nationals
    Most of these predictions use words like "depth" to describe teams that feature rosters filled with good-to-outstanding players. Here, then, is a different kind of depth. Last year, according to wins above replacement, Tanner Roark was the sixth-most valuable starting pitcher in the National League. The Nationals looked at this and said, "Gee, if only there were some way to replace him." The Nationals won 96 games last year. They should be better this year. Here’s your best team in baseball, and I’m not sure if it’s especially close.

    It’s been an ominous beginning, mind you. Jayson Werth and Denard Span are both going to miss chunks of the season, which leaves Michael Taylor and Tony Gwynn as the bookends of the lineup. That wasn’t the plan, and if Bryce Harper is more of a candidate to break than break out, there really aren’t any exciting options in the minors. Play a game, though. Pick the five worst lineups in baseball, and put any of them behind the Nationals rotation. Is that team still the favorite in the East? Probably. Surgically inserting the Phillies lineup into the middle of the Nationals’ roster would probably still give us a contender, if not a favorite.

    They don’t have the Phillies’ lineup, of course. They have Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman in the middle of the lineup until Werth gets back. And they have Bryce Harper, who is going to lay waste to the National League this year, we’re totally serious, this time for real. If you venture down the dark alleys of the Internet, you’ll find people who are convinced that Harper is overrated, that he’s nothing but hype. Those people are bad people, and this is the year they feel bad.

    Basically still a prospect. This is the year, everyone. This is the year. Just watch. Just wait. You’ll see. This is the year Harper goes nuts. Everybody kick back and watch the show.


    2. New York Mets
    And then the Mets reached into their bag of dad magic, rustled around and pulled out a Michael Cuddyer. Are you not impressed? They can do it again, you know.

    What a bizarre offseason. Mets fans told me that the team’s inactivity was expected, considering the state of the Wilpons’ finances. It was as if the organization had a plan to make a quick strike in free agency to fool everyone into thinking the Mets were active. It didn’t work. The team went into the offseason without a shortstop they loved, and they didn’t do a thing about it. They went into the offseason in need of an outfielder, and they left with a DH. I don’t get it. Even considering the financial limitations, I don’t get it.

    The Mets still have enough hitting to contend behind their rotation, though, even if you can tell how old Bartolo Colon is by cutting him open and counting the many, many rings. Dillon Gee is ostensibly the Zack Wheeler replacement, but that won’t last long if someone else like Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz starts pushing him from the minors, and Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom are good enough at the top to let the Mets contend for a wild card spot, even if the division is probably out of reach.

    Considering what the Nationals look like, maybe this is what the Mets should do. Hang back, see what they have, and add at the deadline if they need to. Next year might be the better season to make an all-in push. Still, for a team this close, the Offseason of Cuddyer didn’t make a lick of sense.

    3. Miami Marlins
    On the other hand, the Mets could have gyrated and jiggled like the Marlins all offseason, making move after move, and come away with a roster that isn’t that improved in the short term at the expense of the long term. The Marlins traded some of their best assets for a second baseman who hit his ceiling last year and isn’t likely to do it again, and then they traded even more for Martin Prado, who is showing signs of rapid decline. They traded even more for a pitcher who isn’t likely to be much better than the one they traded away for Prado, and they spent money on a first baseman who can’t really play first base. If they got better, you have to squint to see it.

    The good news is they were already pretty respectable, with one of the two great young outfields in the game (along with the Pirates), and a rotation that should do fine until Jose Fernandez is ready to return. While I’m fond of making fun of the Dee Gordon trade, he’s a serious asset if he does exactly what he did last year, and there’s enough talent in the lineup to have a hitter like Marcell Ozuna hitting sixth, which is where he should be in a productive lineup. They don’t have the pitching of the Mets, not yet, so there’s no sense in pretending they’re favorites, but like every other No. 3 team in these predictions, don’t be surprised by the surprise. One of these No. 3 teams will win the division. Why not the Marlins?

    Right. The Nationals. Still, the wild card isn’t out of the question, and even though they made a big push for a pending free agent (Mat Latos) and the already arbitration-eligible Gordon, they’re still set up well for the future. If Fernandez comes back and looks like his old self, and if Latos reclaims his velocity and ace-like stuff, the Marlins won’t be that far behind the other contenders in the National League.

    4. Atlanta Braves
    Good news, Braves fans! The Braves signed Nick Markakis because they still think they’re contenders. Let’s just check in on how his spring is going …


    Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Let’s check in on his temporary replacement.

    Zoilo Almonte

    Hey, it’s the guy who won that MVP back in the ’60s! Good for him. Good for the Braves.

    But this lineup probably won’t score 600 runs. It might threaten to score fewer than 500. They spent the offseason trying to deal Chris Johnson, and no one bit because he’s not a very good hitter. He’s hitting fifth in the lineup. In a power-starved open market, everyone still passed on Jonny Gomes because it’s been a couple years since he hit enough to justify his strangeglove ways. He’s the cleanup hitter. The Mets didn’t have any use for Eric Young because he couldn’t hit enough. He's the Braves’ leadoff hitter.

    You get the idea. The sad part is the Braves still might have the second-best rotation in the division, and that’s even assuming Mike Minor will miss a little time. It takes a special lineup to look at Alex Wood, Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller at the front of the rotation and think, well, there’s no way this team can contend.

    This is a special lineup. Freddie Freeman might have 35 homers and 36 RBI this year. If they can find offense anywhere, anywhere at all, they’ll be better than expected. As of right now, though, this is the worst lineup in baseball, give or take. Although it’s also possible it isn’t even the worst lineup in the division, considering the …

    5. Philadelphia Phillies
    If you’re looking for a reason to pick the Marlins or Mets for the wild card, consider that they each play 36 combined games against the Phillies and Braves. When the Phillies went out of their way to re-sign Jerome Williams last year, I remember wondering why they did so. Because it turns out Williams is one of their five best options to start baseball games, apparently. Welcome to Philliestown, population: aw, jeez.

    Pretend you have a Game Genie for the Phillies and you can make Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz as good as they were in 2011 or so. Would they have enough pitching to contend with that fearsome start to a lineup? Probably not. Now realize the Game Genie is a fantasy, and those older players are surrounded by once-weres and never-will-bes. I’m starting to wonder if Domonic Brown might not work out. And is that Grady Sizemore in right? At least Jeff Francoeur is behind him, just in case!

    The Braves have Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons as their core, and they still have the bounty of young pitching, so they can be bad without being actively depressing. The Phillies still have the players that used to make them a yearly contender, which makes them extra sad. Trading Cole Hamels might even improve spirits, considering that he reminds everyone that this team used to be so excellent.

    For now, though, appreciate them for what they’re best at: giving the world a chance at 600 at-bats from Jeff Francoeur in the year 2015. Keep your fingers crossed, everyone.

    NL Playoffs

    Wild card game: Pirates over Mets
    NLDS: Dodgers over Cardinals, Pirates over Nationals
    NLCS: Pirates over Dodgers

    AL Playoffs

    Wild card game: Tigers over Orioles
    ALDS: Angels over Indians, Red Sox over Tigers
    ALCS: Angels over Red Sox

    World Series

    Pirates over Angels

    You know it’s going to be someone random. Why not the Pirates?


    NL MVP: Bryce Harper
    AL MVP: Jacoby Ellsbury

    NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
    AL Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka

    NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
    AL Rookie of the Year: Robert Refsnyder

    by Grant Brisbee
  2. MLB's 10 Biggest Questions

    Who will be this year's surprise team? Who is this year's Royals?

    Grant Brisbee: I have the Brewers fourth in my predictions, but of all the fourth-place teams, they're the ones who would surprise me the least by winning the division. They start with two of the very best players in the league, with Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy, and it's not like they pasted in schlubs around them. Ryan Braun still has MVP talent, and he's not pushing 40 just yet, so I would expect a bounce-back season from him. They even addressed their abscess at first base, which they hadn't bothered to do for the last two years.

    The only reason they aren't widely thought of as contenders is because a) the pitching is filled with unknown quantities, and b) they set themselves on fire in the middle of last season, and someone please help them no no no no what happened. If they can ease the fears of the first scenario, and avoid the depressing second scenario, they're a pennant contender.

    Bill Hanstock: This year's Royals will be the Indians. Unless it's the A's. But it might be the Cubs. Or the Royals! It won’t be the Blue Jays or the White Sox, two teams that spent way too much and made too many moves in the offseason to truly be considered "this year’s Royals."

    Marc Normandin: The Rays just lost almost every face of their franchise and success in one winter. General manager Andrew Friedman left for a promotion with the Dodgers. Manager Joe Maddon opted out of his deal shortly after to bring his Ultimate Dad persona to the Cubs and their pursuit of their first World Series championship in over 100 years. Then, the Rays traded Ben Zobrist, who epitomizes what the Rays have been during their successful run better than any other player, as he came out of nowhere and beat the odds to consistently produce some of MLB's best work. Oh, yeah, and Tampa Bay traded David Price last July, too.

    Things look bleak for them with all that in mind, but hey, they still have Evan Longoria, and if everyone is healthy, they could have the top rotation in the AL East. The lineup is teetering on the edge of disaster, but there is enough to like about it with that pitching staff that they could surprise everyone and make the postseason in spite of all the turnover.


    Which star will go Verlander and turn into MLB's most disappointing player?

    Marc Normandin: Inexplicable implosions have to be just that, so let's say Zack Greinke falls apart just in time to decide that he's not interested in invoking his opt-out clause after all.

    Bill Hanstock: Well, that’s just Max Scherzer. He’s gonna Verlander harder than anyone’s ever Verlandered before. And the Nationals will be paying him until President Rand Paul is serving his fifth (nonconsecutive) term.

    Grant Brisbee: In my day, by gum, they called it "going Lincecum," and that's the way we liked it. This is an especially ghoulish category, and I'm not proud of picking anyone, so I'll compound the distaste by picking someone I really enjoy watching. By the end of the postseason, Adam Wainwright looked like a different pitcher, with a curve-heavy pitch selection that seemed more necessity than strategy. His NLCS Game 5 was one of the most impressive starts I've ever seen, and he deserved better, but I'm not sure exactly what he would have had for the World Series anyway. He was spent.

    Since Tommy John surgery in 2011, Wainwright has thrown 198 2/3, 276 2/3, and 243 innings over the last three seasons, including the postseason. That's a huge workload, and last year he missed fewer bats than usual. I'm not saying he's doomed. I'm saying I'm not drafting him in my fantasy league. Please note that I'm always dead last in my fantasy league and that the Cardinals are always good, so you have the counterpoint right there.


    Who will be the Bartolo Colon, the old dude who produces?

    Eric Stephen: Count me all-in on Team LaTroy Hawkins. Sure, he's 42 years old with a low strikeout rate (14.2 percent in 2014), but he has been an effective reliever the last two years and in three of the last four years. He even excelled in Colorado last year, putting up a 3.31 ERA and 3.39 FIP while saving 23 games. His final game of 2014 was the 1,000th of his career, making him one of just 16 pitchers in history to reach that milestone. You know what they say, the second 1,000 games are much easier than the first 1,000 games.

    Marc Normandin: Tim Hudson is 39 years old, and dude is just to keep doing his thing out in San Francisco, inducing grounders every five days and talking trash in his down time. Hudson has had a remarkable and somehow unsung career even though he was on the Moneyball A's, and maybe he won't get into the Hall of Fame for his efforts, but it would be pretty great if he went out on a high note. Yes, sadly, this is our last year of Tim Hudson, so enjoy it while it lasts. Let's hope he slow trots around the bases on another homer before he hangs 'em up for good.

    Bill Hanstock: Jamie Moyer’s still playing, right? No? Then pencil in Tim Hudson and David Ortiz.

    Grant Brisbee: If the Yankees are going to horrify us all and contend -- and you know they will -- they'll need a bunch of Colons. The likeliest candidate for peak Colon is Carlos Beltran, who has a busted knee for an elbow and a melty elbow for a knee, but has the Hall of Fame talent to surprise for one more season. Give me 400 at-bats and 25 homers or more, even if logic suggests he should be good for 200 at-bats, and exactly one home run that bounces off the rightfielder's head.


    Which team is going to flop horribly?

    Bill Hanstock: No one’s really expecting big things from the Giants, so that’s too easy. There are really only three "sure thing" superpowers as the season opens, so let’s say the Angels are the ones who fall off this year.

    Grant Brisbee: This question allows me to have the veneer of objectivity, even though it's just a spoiled brat pouting because he's spoiled. But it has to be the Giants, right? Some people are expecting big things, Bill. Some people.

    The injuries are already worrisome, the pitchers are either old, bad, hurt, or overworked, and they're playing in the same division as a team that just spent $60 million-plus to fill a position they didn't need filled. Logic (and the fancy projection systems) suggest they'll be mostly fine, but I can't shake the feeling of dread.

    By signing John Bowker, you can tell the Giants are already looking toward next year's postseason, so I don't even feel guilty about this projected doom.

    Marc Normandin: The Blue Jays have gone the longest without a playoff appearance. They could absolutely make the postseason in 2015, and maybe easily, but that's what makes the horribleness of a potential flop here stand out. The rotation has promise but it's already missing Marcus Stroman, and now they're relying on a bunch of pitchers who could be too old or too young. The lineup looks frightening for opposing pitchers, but depth could be an issue there as well, and the AL East and American League as a whole is super talented.

    I feel comfortable picking them to flop, for the same reason I used to feel comfortable just assuming the Braves would make the playoffs back when they always did. You know, in the 90s, the last time the Jays made the playoffs.


    Who is your Corey Kluber, your completely random award winner?

    Bill Hanstock: Christian Yelich for MVP.

    Marc Normandin: Alex Rodriguez, AL Comeback Player of the Year and also your American League Most Valuable Player. Listen, the Yankees are going to win when they don't deserve to somehow, why can't their dark magic be channeled through A-Rod?

    Grant Brisbee: If it's a true Kluber, it has to be a completely random. Like, not even in your top 50 preseason picks. So I'll go with Nolan Arenado, a brilliant two-way player who will put up the counting stats to make the veteran voters happy and the defensive stats to get the nerds all giddy, winning the MVP in a landslide.

    Kyle Kendrick gonna win 20, everyone ...


    The first manager fired will be ... ?

    Grant Brisbee: Low-hanging fruit, but Fredi Gonzalez isn't exactly a beloved institution in Atlanta, and this is going to be one dreadful season for them. The other teams who are supposed to be bad this year have new managers, and while that isn't a guarantee of job security (Bo Porter, for example), I don't think the Diamondbacks or Phillies are going to make a change that soon, just because they're out of ideas.

    Bill Hanstock: Horse race between Rockies (Walt Weiss), Reds (Brian Price), and Diamondbacks (Chip Hale).

    Eric Stephen: Terry Collins has already lasted four years in New York, longer than the manager lasted in Houston and Anaheim, his two previous gigs. The Mets still aren't very good, but have a strong enough pitching staff and play in a weak enough division to at least give off the impression of a team that should contend for a wild card spot. But when the Mets ultimately fail, someone will need to be the fall guy, and that's Collins, who might finally blink in 2015.

    Marc Normandin: Terry Collins will be fired from the Mets when principal owner Fred Wilpon decides he's seen enough, and that it's time to show everyone just how you manage a New York baseball team. Interim manager Fred Wilpon will then spend the summer arguing with himself about whether he can afford a real shortstop.

    Wilmer Flores, tired of being at the center of so much controversy, will leave the team to escape the scrutiny, but first dress up a large rock in a Mets' jersey and put it at shortstop in his place. The team's defense will improve, and Fred Wilpon will take all the credit before deciding to remove the interim tag from himself.


    What's going to be the biggest trade at the deadline?

    Bill Hanstock: The Giants will trade for a bat. Two days later, the Dodgers will trade for THREE bats. So let’s say Chase Utley to the Giants for Andrew Susac and Ehire Adrianza, followed by the Dodgers acquiring Bryce Harper, Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday for Andre Ethier and half a billion dollars.

    Marc Normandin: The Zombie Yankees will somehow still be over .500 despite the fact that all of their veterans are injured or awful. So, they'll trade a bunch of minor-league players you've never heard of to the Reds for Johnny Cueto and Marlon Byrd, then extend Cueto for six years. Why should they ever learn? Nothing bad ever happens to them for very long.

    Grant Brisbee: Craig Kimbrel to the Mariners for D.J. Peterson and others. Mariners fans will just love this idea, I'm sure! Fake Internet trades are the best.


    Which team stereotype (Blue Jays being mediocre, Mariners always sad, Cardinals always good, etc) will be proven wrong this year?

    Grant Brisbee: The Padres have been baseball's glass of warm milk for years now, boring you pleasantly before putting you to sleep. You can't get mad at a glass of warm milk. You can get mad because there's no instant hot chocolate around, but you can't get mad at the milk. You can only get sleepy.

    I don't know if the Padres are going to win 90 games this year or lose 85, but they won't be boring. They'll be a team worth staying up for on the East Coast, a compelling dinger factory that might also allow 485 triples on the season.

    Marc Normandin: If the Cardinals aren't any good it's likely part of some larger plan that will see them come back as somehow even more unstoppable, so let's go with the Mariners. They can pitch, but that's normal for them. The difference is that they can hit (probably!). A Mariners team who can hit will (probably!) make the playoffs.

    Bill Hanstock: The Mariners will break out and win the AL West and the Blue Jays will contend for the AL East all the way to the final week, proving both stereotypes wrong. The Cardinals will always be good, though. Don’t worry about that one.


    Is 2015 A-Rod's final season?

    Bill Hanstock: Oh, lord, no. He’ll be around for at least five more years.

    Marc Normandin: If A-Rod has a quality year, I could see him retiring and leaving the rest of the money on the table. He would have left on his own terms, and after proving something to himself and a whole lot of his doubters. Plus, it would infuriate Bud Selig that A-Rod didn't leave the game a monster.

    Eric Stephen: Of course Alex Rodriguez will be back after 2015. There are 40 million reasons for him to do so, namely the $20 million per season he will earn in 2016 and 2017 per his contract. A-Rod will be vilified and booed all year in 2015, but none of that will deter him from coming back. In fact, the real question should be is how long A-Rod will play beyond his current deal, which expires after 2017. We aren't getting rid of him that easily, after all.

    Grant Brisbee: Ha ha ha ha ha, no.

    2015: $22 million
    2016: $21 million
    2017: $21 million

    For $42 million, I would eat a VW Bug piece by piece, over a 10-year period. All Rodriguez has to do is play baseball. If he can't do that, all he'll have to do is rehabilitate whatever is hurt. What, he's going to turn down $42 million -- with a possibility of huge incentives -- because he's sad and doesn't like booing?

    Also, the VW Bug could be covered in centipedes, I don't care. Make me an offer.


    Will Bryce Harper be the Nationals' best player?

    Bill Hanstock: Oh, lord, yes. By some degree.

    Grant Brisbee: Yes, I'm convinced of this. We've taken Harper for granted for far too long, and this is the season that he ascends into the pantheon of supremely productive and unlikeable bros.

    When Barry Bonds was 21, he hit .223/.330/.416, with 16 homers and a 103 OPS+. When Harper was 21, he hit .273/.344/.423, with 13 homers and a 111 OPS+. That isn't to suggest that Harper is on that Bonds path, but that it is utterly absurd to suggest he's overrated because he was merely good before he was 21, not great. The only thing that can stop him is his own body, which isn't a mild concern, but Harper has the talent to do almost anything.

    Marc Normandin: It just feels like this is the year Harper stays healthy and puts it all together and brings the Nationals to the World Series, doesn't it? He's 22, he's in his fourth season in the majors and is somehow still younger than a whole bunch of 2015 rookies will be, his ceiling is still astronomical in nature. There is maybe nothing more I want in baseball in 2015 than for Harper to break out and silence his many critics.

  3. This will be our year

    For the baseball fan, November always begins the cold season. Not just in terms of temperature but also in the frozen wasteland of time. Day after day, the calendar marks the long, slow stretch of nothing between the World Series and Opening Day. For 162 games, stretching over six months of the year, we gave three to four hours of our time, living and dying on each pitch, each slow chopper, each base hit and RBI (or, if you're reading this, more likely you were agonizing over each WAR and FIP and TOOTBLAN).

    After so many hundreds of hours of baseball each year, we're still never quite prepared for the sudden and absolute absence of baseball in our lives. The removal of its presence, a formidable cliff of nothingness that seems impossible to scale until the bunting is once again draped over the low walls, running up each baseline come springtime. We try and make-do with the second half of the NFL season, the Super Bowl, March Madness, the NBA Playoffs, the Stanley Cup and that GIF of the cat bursting through the snowbank. But it's never quite enough.

    Still, though, we baseball fans are tough. Formidable. Hearty. We survived Dane Cook insisting there's only one Ock-TOE-bur every two minutes. We vanquished Bruce Springsteen's caterwauling about that train. We were made intimately aware that it was written in the stars, a million miles away. We kept our wits about us while Fall Out Boy lit approximately twelve zillion mups. We persevered, because we love baseball.

    As hard as it can be at times to slowly (or perhaps not so slowly, in the case of half a dozen or more fan bases) watch your team's season spiral away from you into nothingness, you continue to fill your hours with baseball. Because even the Rockies resorting to mop-up duty in the third, even Ryan Howard going 0-for-5 with a platinum sombrero, even the best pitcher in baseball getting shellacked in the playoffs because at some point the bullpen turned into a pile of drunk and rabid possums ... even that is preferable to no baseball at all.

    So shake off those cobwebs and snap out of your doldrums, because baseball is returning. It's time to throw both arms around that comforting beast and make your resolution for the 2015 season. Make the most of it, and don't let anyone (other than your team, of course) bring you down.

    Come hell or high water, this is going to be your year. Our year.

    Yes, for about 97 percent of baseball fans, this season is going to end in heartbreak. That doesn't matter. Especially not now, as Opening Day approaches. That heartbreak is all the way over there. You'll get there, don't worry. No need to stampede toward it when you're feeling bad. Let's turn it around and embrace it, because before you know it, it'll be gone again. And nobody wants that.

    This year, resolve to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the MLB season. It's baseball, dang it, and you love it. Why else would you do this to yourself each year? Renew your love of baseball by not letting anyone tell you what to do, how to root, or how to feel. You're in control of your baseball adventure, so live it as hard as you can.

    Some simple tips:

    • Believe. Don't give up hope, because stranger things have happened. Yes, stranger than the 2015 Phillies winning the World Series. Probably.
    • Root however you want to root. Yes, this goes against the previous bullet point. That's fine. If you want to never believe, to be a doom-and-gloomer, that's perfectly acceptable. I totally understand that. Always expecting the worst can make the good things unexpected and wonderful. That's fine. Everyone's wired differently. You be you.
    • Don't ever let anyone shame you. Not for the way you root, not for loving your favorite team, not for your (at times) completely irrational thoughts or beliefs about players, tactics, rules, stats, or anything else that becomes a sticking point with jerks and trolls that pepper the baseball world. Life's way too short to have someone else make you feel bad about the things you like or why and how you enjoy them. (While we're at it, don't have "guilty pleasures." Just enjoy things. You can like whatever you want. Be proud.)
    • Don't be a jerk. Sometimes it's hard not to gloat after a big win and sometimes you may lose your cool and tweet the stray GOD I HATE THE YANKEES, but don't go after people. If someone says they love a team, there's no reason for you to immediately blurt out, "THEY'RE GARBAGE AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD," regardless of how much you may dislike their team personally. Just say, "That's cool, I like (your team)." Let things go from there. If someone says they love/hate steroids, you don't have to immediately stampede to a "WELL ACTUALLY." Just relax. Everyone roots in their own way. Everyone has their own hot, lukewarm or cold take. Just ride the wave. Don't resort to arguments as a first, or even second resort. Try to love your neighbor as you love the game. However that may be.

    So, buckle up and/or strap in, because it's about to be baseball season, and -- for everyone, at least for the first month or two -- the sky's the limit. On Opening Day, everyone has the same chance to win it all. But that's all the way over there, and you've got between 162 and 182 games (or so) to worry about that. For now, just enjoy it. Love it. Because it's finally back. And there's no telling what can happen.

    This will be our year. Took a long time to come.

    by Bill Hanstock
  4. Baltimore Orioles

    In spite of injuries to a number of key players, the Orioles won the AL East by stomping all over the rest of the division in head-to-head match-ups. They are unlikely to be so lucky in 2015, but they might not have to be, as Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado should all be back, healthy and productive once again. So long as Ubaldo Jimenez isn't needed too often, the pitching should be a top-to-bottom strength as well.
    Key Addition
    Travis Snider just doesn't have that wow factor you're looking for in this space, so let's pretend Davis, Wieters and Machado count. Hey, they're basically additions: They played in fewer than 30 games together in 2014.

    All additions: Travis Snider

    Key Departure
    Nelson Cruz led the American League with 40 homers and finished seventh in the MVP voting. Cruz is now with the Mariners. The O's need to hope the 2013 or even 2012 version of Davis shows up to replace that.

    All departures: Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, Andrew Miller

    Best Case
    Wieters is healthy, hitting, and his usual defensive self behind the plate. Machado takes steps forward thanks to healthy knees, and Davis rediscovers the stroke that made him one of the most powerful hitters in the league for two years. The pitching is once again solid from top to bottom and led by Kevin Gausman, and this reliable consistency brings the Orioles the AL East crown.
    Worst Case
    The Orioles waste the last year of Davis and Wieters before free agency when the rotation can't repeat 2014's all-around quality, and a lineup relying on contributions from Alejandro De Aza, Snider and Jonathan Schoop can't make up the difference.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Steve Pearce, Adam Jones, Travis Snider, Delmon Young

    Rotation: Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman

    Manager: Buck Showalter | Owner: Peter Angelos
    The Orioles could win the World Series this year. They probably won't, because only one team can win the World Series. That leaves 29 teams who won't win. A team can be good or great and still run into a better or luckier team somewhere on the way to a championship. The O's know this as well as anyone, running as they did into a luckier team in the ALCS, bringing a magical season to a screeching halt. They could win, though, which is more than Orioles fans could truthfully tell themselves through many dark seasons not too long ago.
  5. Boston Red Sox

    The Red Sox followed up their championship season with a disappointing 2014, but they opened their wallet and added a number of the game's top free agent hitters, both international and domestic. It's to be seen how the rotation holds up without an ace like the departed Jon Lester aboard, but Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello and company have plenty of upside of their own – especially when backed by what could be baseball's best lineup.
    Key Addition
    Hanley Ramirez is one of the top hitters in the game, and now he's back with the organization that originally signed him. He'll be in left instead of at short, eliminating one weakness in his game, and the 25 pounds of muscle he put on could mean a more powerful and healthier Ramirez, too.

    All additions: Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson

    Key Departure
    Lester didn't leave through free agency, as he was traded in July, but the Sox attempted (and failed) to re-sign him. If Porcello or Masterson do not step up, this one could haunt Boston's 2015.

    All departures: Jon Lester

    Best Case
    Buchholz is healthy, Porcello, Wade Miley and Masterson replicate the best work they've managed before and the likes of the youthful Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts complement a powerful veteran lineup that takes the AL East with ease.
    Worst Case
    Buchholz is unhealthy, Porcello, Miley and Masterson replicate the worst parts of their pasts, the lineup depth is incapable of overcoming the injuries to its aging core and suddenly 2015 is just a more expensive version of last year.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez

    Rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly

    Manager: John Farrell | Owner: Fenway Sports Group
    The Red Sox found themselves back in the AL East cellar once more in 2014. After an eventful offseason, are they back on track to take down the division once more?
  6. New York Yankees

    The 2015 season could be a weird one for the Yankees, as they're intentionally sitting back to assess what this roster is capable of before making any other franchise-altering commitments. If the right rebounds occur, the Yankees could compete for a playoff spot, but in many ways 2015 could just be about figuring out what New York is still missing. They're already on the hook for $183 million in 2016, so narrowing those needs down matters.
    Key Addition
    The Yankees don't want this to be true, but it's Alex Rodriguez. If A-Rod's year off truly put him in a better place physically and mentally, he could be a huge addition for the Yankees after his suspension.

    All additions: Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, Andrew Miller, Garrett Jones, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson

    Key Departure
    Hiroki Kuroda headed back to Japan after a three-year run as one of the AL's top arms. The Yankees are going to attempt to replace him with projects like Nathan Eovaldi, whose fastball could lead to success with the right tweaks.

    All departures: Derek Jeter, David Robertson, Martin Prado, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Shane Greene

    Best Case
    The Yankees will be great if Mark Teixeira is healthy and effective and CC Sabathia manages the same. If A-Rod is still an above-average hitter. If Chase Headley's back and Masahiro Tanaka's elbow don't give out. If Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran show that investing in them a year ago wasn't misguided. If Didi Gregorius learns to hit a little, Stephen Drew or Rob Refsnyder take hold of the second base job, Eovaldi evolves into a useful starter, and Chris Capuano is only used in emergencies.
    Worst Case
    All that stuff you just read doesn't happen.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez

    Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Chris Capuano

    Manager: Joe Girardi | Owner: Hal and Hank Steinbrenner
    The 2015 season will be a bit of a new journey for the current Yankees roster to establish an identity for itself. Now that the last remaining bit of Core Four safety net has sailed off into the sunset it's time for new faces to emerge as the look of what's to come over the next few seasons in New York. There's a new shortstop and a new closer. The rotation is no longer led by CC Sabathia. Third base is no longer manned by Alex Rodriguez. Youth in pinstripes is more evident now than it has been in quite some time. The future looks even brighter with the farm finally looking like it might be able to produce impact players in the very near future. How will the new-look team respond as they embark on making a name for themselves?
  7. Tampa Bay Rays

    You would think the Rays were in trouble after losing the manager, general manager and player most responsible for their rise from joke to relevance, but this is the Rays: They're used to beating expectations. They might have the best rotation in the AL East even after trading David Price, and although they struggled to hit in 2014, they're an Evan Longoria rebound and inexplicable Steven Souza breakout away from contention.
    Key Addition
    It's a split between Souza, who could be a late-breakout player and a more than adequate replacement for the traded Wil Myers, and Matt Moore, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 but before that was proving the rotation could survive after Price's departure.

    All additions: Steven Souza, Asdrubal Cabrera, Drew Smyly, John Jaso, Rene Rivera, Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri, Nick Franklin

    Key Departure
    Trading Ben Zobrist leaves a huge hole in the lineup, but if 24-year-old Nick Franklin delivers on his promise and Evan Longoria bounces back from a rough 2014, his absence won't be as notable.

    All departures: Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, David Price, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Molina, Yunel Escobar

    Best Case
    Steven Souza is the middle-of-the-order bat the Rays believed they acquired, Evan Longoria churns out a more typical campaign, Moore returns healthy and effective, and Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier and Drew Smyly take the next steps forward the Rays need in order to stand against the AL East's best.
    Worst Case
    Souza is a dud, Moore takes too long to find his command after returning from Tommy John, and the lineup just can't hit enough to support an otherwise talented rotation.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Rene Rivera, James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Franklin, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza, John Jaso

    Rotation: Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore

    Manager: Kevin Cash | Owner: Stu Sternberg
    In many ways the front office and managing staff of the Rays are certainly new, but after much promoting from within and the welcoming home of Kevin Cash, the fanbase has responded with appreciation and anticipation for what could be another competitive year for the franchise.
  8. Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays squandered their best chance at snapping a now 21-year streak of missing the playoffs in a weakened AL East, but they responded by signing the top catcher on the market, Russell Martin, and trading for MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. A spring training injury to Marcus Stroman has compromised their rotation, but the right mix of promising youth and veteran ability could still exist, especially when the lineup has Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in it as well as Donaldson.
    Key Addition
    Donaldson replaces the disappointing Brett Lawrie at third base, and does so on the heels of consecutive top-10 MVP finishes. He's one of the top-hitting third basemen in the game and also owns one of the hot corners' best gloves, and he'll help give the Jays the lineup depth they've been missing.

    All additions: Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Daric Barton, Dayan Viciedo, Ramon Santiago, Marco Estrada, Wilton Lopez, Johan Santana, Jeff Francis

    Key Departure
    Stroman was Toronto's best bet at a legitimate rotation topping-arm, but a torn ACL suffered during spring training bunting drills has him out for 2015.

    All departures: Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Juan Francisco, Brett Lawrie, Anthony Gose, J.A. Happ, Casey Janssen, Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos

    Best Case
    The Blue Jays finally make it to the postseason for the first time since 1993, and are able to do so because Stroman's injury opened a spot for minor-league signing Johan Santana, who is miraculously healthy and an ace once more. More realistically, Mark Buehrle, Aaron Sanchez, and R.A. Dickey do their thing well enough that this talented lineup is always the one scoring the most runs.
    Worst Case
    The awkward combination of pitchers who might be too old for the AL East with pitchers who might be too young for it proves too much in a division with four other legitimate contenders, and the Jays once again hover too close to 80 wins to be relevant.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Russell Martin, Justin Smoak, Devon Travis, Jose Reyes, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Dalton Pompey, Michael Saunders, Edwin Encarnacion

    Rotation: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris

    Manager: John Gibbons | Owner: Rogers Co
    The Blue Jays started the off-season with a flurry of activity. They claimed Justin Smoak, signed Russell Martin, and traded for Josh Donaldson, Michael Saunders and Devon Travis all before the end of the first week of December, then things slowed down. There was the odd minor league free agent signing or waiver pickup but, for major moves, they were done in time to focus on the Christmas shopping.
  9. Chicago White Sox

    The White Sox have one of the best first basemen and power hitters in the game in Jose Abreu, one of the game's great pitchers in Chris Sale and an underrated workhorse in Jose Quintana. It wasn't enough in 2014, in large part because the lineup was still filled with holes, but they spent the offseason plugging them by signing Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera, as well as bolstering the pitching with Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson. The Sox aren't perfect, but if things go right the lineup could devastate opponents, and their top three starters can beat anyone in a series, short or long.
    Key Addition
    Jeff Samardzija is the most significant of many new faces, as he's only in Chicago for a year. If the White Sox are out of it in July, he could be traded to help bring in prospects to bolster the team in 2016 and beyond, but if the Sox are contending in the now, Shark will have a lot to do with it.

    All additions: Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonacio

    Key Departure
    The White Sox mostly added, with few losses. Paul Konerko retired, but he was a bench bat at this point, and infielder Marcus Semien, traded for Jeff Samardzjia, was more about dealing potential than anything.

    All departures: Paul Konerko, Marcus Semien, Dayan Viciedo

    Best Case
    Abreu's tremendous rookie campaign wasn't a fluke, and neither was Samardzija's ascent to the top of the rotation. Adam Eaton, Cabrera, LaRoche, Avisail Garcia, Conor Gillaspie and Abreu help form the core of one of the strongest lineups in the AL and the likes of John Danks and Hector Noesi pitch well enough at the back of the rotation that the White Sox vault to the top of the Central. That, or 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon saves the day when one of those two cannot.
    Worst Case
    You'll notice a few huge ifs in the best case. Garcia is promising, but unproven. Conor Gillaspie was productive once, but hasn't shown it's who he is all the time. Danks and Noesi are two of Chicago's biggest questions, and the Sox might not like the answers. Samardzija and LaRoche could both fall back into their poorer habits, and, suddenly, Chicago's lack of depth is exposed and their playoff hopes dashed.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Tyler Flowers, Jose Abreu, Micah Johnson, Conor Gillaspie, Alexei Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Adam LaRoche

    Rotation: Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Hector Noesi

    Manager: Robin Ventura | Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf
    The White Sox have struggled to captivate their own fans while losing 99 and 89 games over the last two seasons, so you can't blame the greater baseball-watching world for ignoring them. The question: Why do the White Sox think they can contend now?
  10. Cleveland Indians

    Everyone forgets about the Indians, but that's their mistake. They quietly won 85 games and finished just four games back of the Royals in 2014, and now they've added Brandon Moss' bat to the mix. With their young pitchers and hitters a year older, top shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor not all that far off and Cy Young winner Corey Kluber established as an ace, the Indians have as lofty a ceiling as anyone in the American League.
    Key Addition
    Moss could be what pushes the Indians to the postseason once again, or what helps keep them out of it. Starting with his breakout in 2012 through the midpoint of 2014, Moss was one of the top power threats and hitters in the majors, but a balky hip destroyed his line in the second half. If the hip is feeling good, so will the Indians.

    All additions: Brandon Moss, Gavin Floyd

    Key Departure
    The Indians didn't lose anyone of consequence this winter, as they dealt pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson in-season, and neither was helping Cleveland much before then.

    All departures: Jason Giambi's clubhouse presence

    Best Case
    Kluber and Michael Brantley are the Cy Young and MVP candidates their 2014's suggest they are, Moss feels healthy and resumes his late-career run as an offensive threat, Jason Kipnis looks more like the future star 2013 said he was and the trio of Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco give the Indians one of the deeper rotations in the league. If things go down this way, a playoff spot is theirs.
    Worst Case
    It turns out that Kipnis' 2013 and Brantley's 2014 were both one-offs, Moss just can't get back to who he was and Kluber once again is the only Indians' starter worth talking about. The Indians are unlikely to be awful, but the AL Central is too competitive for this much to go wrong.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, Brandon Moss, Nick Swisher

    Rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, T.J. House

    Manager: Terry Francona | Owner: Larry Dolan
    As with most teams (and with any team whose payroll is so limited), there are plenty of questions to be answered, plenty of uncertainties that need to break the right way, but there is more reason for optimism than there has been in years. The Cleveland Indians are legitimate contenders in 2015.
  11. Detroit Tigers

    The Tigers' defense improved by swapping out Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, but it wasn't enough to get them past the Division round thanks to a horrific bullpen performance. They didn't do much to change the pen this time around, with the hope being that the real Joakim Soria would show up for 2015. With Yoenis Cespedes now part of a lineup already featuring Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the bullpen might have plenty of room for failure, anyway.
    Key Addition
    Yoenis Cespedes is only around for one year, but his tremendous power and arm are both rarities that could do magical things for the Tigers. Cespedes, Cabrera, Kinsler, and Martinezes Victor and J.D.? Scary.

    All additions: Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, Tom Gorzelanny

    Key Departure
    There is that Max Scherzer guy. You know the one. Cy Young winner, signed a record-breaking contract with the Nationals. Doesn't ring a bell? Well they lost Rick Porcello, too, everyone knows Rick Porcello.

    All departures: Torii Hunter, Eugenio Suarez, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello

    Best Case
    You know how this goes for the Tigers. They have had a World Series caliber club for years now, but haven't managed to win it all just yet. With Yoenis Cespedes and David Price free agents in a year and Justin Verlander not getting any younger, now is best case in more ways than one.
    Worst Case
    Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan continue to be ineffective, Justin Verlander's decline isn't just because of pre-2014 surgery, and Detroit never smartens up and adds Jonathan Papelbon to a bullpen that needs him. Once again, this core falls short.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez

    Rotation: Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene

    Manager: Brad Ausmus | Owner: Mike Ilitch
    After a long offseason of handwringing about Max Scherzer, the bullpen, and Miguel Cabrera's ankle, the Tigers are still the class of the AL Central.
  12. Kansas City Royals

    The Royals not only made the playoffs for the first time since 1985, but also played in their first World Series since then. They've lost James Shields and let Billy Butler go, but used that freed up payroll space and more to bring in new veterans to support what is still at heart a homegrown roster. The big question in 2015 is whether this is enough for the Royals to do it all again, or, as has been their way more often than not, to fall short once more.
    Key Addition
    Kendrys Morales may be the riskiest acquisition the Royals made, but the powerful DH also has the most upside. His poor 2014 might have just been due to missing spring training and being tossed right into major league action by the Twins, and not the start of a very ugly downward trend. The Royals hope so, anyway.

    All additions: Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen, Chris Young, Jandel Gustave

    Key Departure
    Losing Shields is a huge blow to the rotation, and replacing him with Edinson Volquez is probably the quickest way to prove that.

    All departures: James Shields, Billy Butler, Norichika Aoki, Josh Willingham, Aaron Crow, Raul Ibanez, Scott Downs

    Best Case
    Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura take steps forward to become the inning-eating, top-of-the-rotation arms the Royals need, and the veteran additions like Alex Rios and Morales show they still have something left, leading to what seemed impossible only a year ago: consecutive playoff appearances for the Royals.
    Worst Case
    Both of Rios and Morales were declining, veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas can't pitch well enough to support the younger arms in the rotation, and Volquez reverts to the form that made him available to the Pirates a year ago to begin with. This is all too much to overcome in a division with three other contenders in it.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, Mike Moustakas

    Rotation: Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie

    Manager: Ned Yost | Owner: David Glass
    For the first time since 1986, the Kansas City Royals will begin their season by raising a playoff flag at Kauffman Stadium. While last year's Royals fell just two runs short of winning it all, it was a remarkable season that reignited a fanbase and captured the nation's attention. The Royals enter the 2015 season as American League Champions and more swagger than they have in years past. However, they still face many doubters who believe last year's run was a bit of a fluke, or that the team will not be able to overcome the loss of key players like pitcher James Shields.
  13. Minnesota Twins

    The 2015 season is not about getting the Twins to compete. It's about seeing what on the current roster can be relied upon when it is time to compete, and to give their stable of young, exciting prospects – Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer – time to put the finishing touches on their minor-league careers. The Twins might not be relevant again yet, but their time is coming in a hurry.
    Key Addition
    Ervin Santana is the key addition, in the sense the Twins invested $54 million and a lost draft pick in the free agent pitcher. If Santana doesn't deliver, like with Ricky Nolasco the year before, it puts a damper on the Twins' future rotation hopes, as that's a lot of money tied up in mediocrity.

    All additions: Ervin Santana, Torii Hunter

    Key Departure
    The Twins didn't lose anyone of significance, as anyone of worth is locked up long-term or still under team control. Don't be too excited, this group lost 92 games last summer.

    All departures: None! Congratulations

    Best Case
    The Twins end up ahead of schedule, as their talented young lineup bests last year's surprising performance, and both Nolasco and Santana pitch like they are paid to while Phil Hughes shows 2014's performance was for real. The playoffs are a longshot even in a best case world, but a competitive Twins' team would do wonders for a fan base that's tired of waiting.
    Worst Case
    A repeat of 2014, where the pitchers getting paid are disappointing, the prospects are delayed by injuries and ineffectiveness, and the exploits of the young lineup don't matter in the long run because they're the only positive around.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Danny Santana, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Kenny Vargas, Torii Hunter, Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia, Kurt Suzuki, Aaron Hicks

    Rotation: Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey

    Manager: Paul Molitor | Owner: Jim Pohlad
    The Twins improved by four games in 2014, reaching the 70-win barrier for the first time since 2010. But they also lost more than 90 games for the fourth year in a row, so it's safe to say that the improvement was - if we're being diplomatic - moderate. Yet 2014 wasn't all thorns...
  14. Houston Astros

    The Astros climbed out of the basement in 2014 and, if you squint pretty hard, you can see them having a solid 2015. The upside is there, in both the lineup and rotation, but it's hard to imagine it all comes together before 2016 at the earliest, when a few more prospects like Mark Appel and Carlos Correa join up with another offseason of additions. Still, though, this is the team that lost 324 games from 2011 through 2013, so even being able to squint to see success counts as a step in the right direction.
    Key Addition
    Evan Gattis will move out from behind the plate to become a full-time designated hitter, and over a full season he has 30-homer power.

    All additions: Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus, Hank Conger, Dan Straily

    Key Departure
    Center fielder Dexter Fowler was traded to the Cubs, and the significance of this loss is measured by how little or how much you think of Fowler's defense.

    All departures: Dexter Fowler, Mike Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, Matt Albers

    Best Case
    The Astros probably aren't a playoff team even if everything breaks right thanks to a rotation lacking depth, but a lineup with Jose Altuve and the power potential of George Springer, Gattis and Chris Carter, supported by a cast of 31-and-under players who have all had success at the plate at one time or another in their career, could cause some serious damage. The Astros might not be able to win the AL West just yet, but they can determine its winner in head-to-head play.
    Worst Case
    Pitchers adjust to the holes in Springer's swing better than Springer does. Carter turns back into a pumpkin, while Jose Altuve reverts into a decorative gourd. Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel no longer look like the arms that will someday help bring a World Series to Houston, and prospects like Appel and Correa – the draft prizes from the first two of three 100-loss seasons – cannot get back on track after injuries derailed them.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Jason Castro, Jon Singleton, Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie, Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus, Jake Marisnick, George Springer, Evan Gattis

    Rotation: Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer, Dan Straily

    Manager: A.J. Hinch | Owner: Jim Crane
    Months of leaked trade talks, failing to sign top draft picks and breaking up with a manager made the Astros brass look incompetent at times. All that off-field errata, though, hid what the front office did right. The Astros saw tangible improvements to the on-field product. Now, Houston is poised to take the next step in their rebuild. They look like a team capable of winning half its games for the first time since 2008.
  15. Los Angeles Angels

    The Angels might be the closest thing to a dominant team the American League has, but even they come loaded with questions. They need to maintain their high offensive levels without the traded Howie Kendrick or suspended Josh Hamilton, and the rotation needs Garrett Richards back and looking like the ace he was for the 2014 squad. Does C.J. Wilson have anything left? Which Matt Shoemaker is going to show up? Will Albert Pujols be as effective at 35 as he was at 34?
    Key Addition
    The Angels acquired Andrew Heaney in the Kendrick trade, in the hopes that swapping hitting for pitching works out better than it did a year before, when they dealt Mark Trumbo for eventual Tommy John recipient Tyler Skaggs.

    All additions: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Matt Joyce

    Key Departure
    Kendrick was the forgotten man on a team with Mike Trout, Pujols and Josh Hamilton, but his absence will be felt in 2015 every time a ground ball is hit in the direction of Josh Rutledge.

    All departures: Howie Kendrick, Hank Conger, Josh Hamilton (likely suspension)

    Best Case
    Richards and Matt Shoemaker pick up where they left off, Wilson anchors the middle of the rotation once more and Andrew Heaney pitches well enough that the Angels have their most complete starting five since John Lackey was in town. The lineup doesn't miss Kendrick or Hamilton thanks to relative unknowns like C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun, and the Angels finish up with the AL's best record.
    Worst Case
    Richards goes back to mid-rotation effectiveness, Shoemaker pitches more like his uninspiring minor-league career suggests he should, Wilson is done as a useful starter and losing both Trumbo and Kendrick in back-to-back years is too much for a lineup with an aging Pujols in it, especially in the competitive AL West.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Chris Iannetta, Albert Pujols, Josh Rutledge, David Freese, Erick Aybar, Matt Joyce, Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron

    Rotation: Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago

    Manager: Mike Scioscia | Owner: Arte Moreno
    Three weeks from today the home plate umpire will shout "Play Ball" and the 55th season of Angels baseball will begin.
  16. Oakland Athletics

    The joke is that Billy Beane blew up the A's because he was bored, but he went hard in 2014 and its following winter for a reason: that core had run its course. The extent to which he turned over the team is still staggering, though, as their best player, Josh Donaldson, is now on the Blue Jays, but the A's now have Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist in key roles instead. Oakland is nothing if not fascinating to follow.
    Key Addition
    Zobrist is the most significant of the many additions, as he's the only one of the bunch who could rival Donaldson in on-field value. Plus, he's a free agent at year's end, so if the A's end up out of contention by July, look for Beane to move him for a large – and youthful – return.

    All additions: Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Josh Phegley, Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Chris Bassitt, Tyler Clippard, R.J. Alvarez

    Key Departure
    The A's shipped out a number of players, but Donaldson will be missed the most. Oakland can replace him and then some if Lawrie finally takes a step forward and Zobrist is who he's been since 2009, and that's the whole point of this exercise.

    All departures: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, John Jaso, Jed Lowrie, Alberto Callaspo, Daric Barton, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Luke Gregerson

    Best Case
    Ben Zobrist has his typical wonderful season, while Lawrie and Davis produce seasons matching the hype of their younger years. The rotation stays healthy for once, and Beane's plan to remake the team without ever losing any relevance to rebuilding goes off without a hitch, resulting in their fourth playoff appearance in a row.
    Worst Case
    Zobrist finally starts to show his age, the intriguing but disappointing players the A's spent their winter acquiring keep on being disappointing, and Sonny Gray ends up being the only thing worth talking about in Oakland's rotation. In a division with three other competitive clubs, all that means Beane is watching the postseason from his living room.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Stephen Vogt, Ike Davis, Ben Zobrist, Marcus Semien, Brett Lawrie, Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld, Josh Reddick, Billy Butler

    Rotation: Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Hahn, Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman

    Manager: Bob Melvin | Owner: Lew Wolff
    The last time the A's had a team this new, this full of question marks, was ... gosh, all the way back in 2012, when this most recent run of success began.
  17. Seattle Mariners

    The Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and have been something of a joke for more of that time than their fans care to remember, but things seem to be changing in Seattle. They finally have a designated hitter who can hit – Imagine that! – to go along with Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and an overall promising lineup. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will lead a rotation that also features the young and promising James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. There are real risks on this team, but the Mariners look as good as they ever have under Jack Z.
    Key Addition
    Nelson Cruz is the only choice here, as he represents the first capable Mariners' DH of this decade. That's not an exaggeration, either: M's designated hitters have batted .218/.295/.347 since 2010. MLB's 2014 home run leader is a solid bet to change that.

    All additions: Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, J.A. Happ, Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks

    Key Departure
    It might feel as weird to read as it is to type, but Chris Young threw 165 league-average innings for the 2014 Mariners, and now he's gone. Whether he could do that again isn't important, it's whether the Mariners have found someone else to manage that or better.

    All departures: Kendrys Morales, Michael Saunders, Brandon Maurer, Chris Young, Justin Smoak

    Best Case
    The Mariners have the pitching, and for once, they have the hitting, too. The combination of homegrown talents and recent free agent spending, led by their superstar duo of Felix Hernandez and Cano, brings the Mariners to their first AL West crown and first playoff appearance since 2001.
    Worst Case
    The Blue Jays make the playoffs and Seattle does not, and suddenly the Mariners are the answer to the trivia question “Which MLB team has gone the longest without a postseason appearance?”
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Mike Zunino, Logan Morrison, Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz

    Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker

    Manager: Lloyd McClendon | Owner: Nintendo America
    Is this the year Mariner fans have been patiently waiting for? All signs point to yes.
  18. Texas Rangers

    The Rangers' 2014 season was defined by injuries and underwhelming performances. Before their 2015 even began, former top prospect Jurickson Profar and ace Yu Darvish both underwent season-ending surgeries. The Rangers still have loads of talent in the forms of Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo, but the rotation is a question mark after Darvish's Tommy John surgery, and each one of those hitters comes with questions the Rangers probably don't want to ask given how their last calendar year has gone.
    Key Addition
    It's Yovani Gallardo if you want to talk about a brand new face, but Fielder only appeared in 42 games in 2014: If he's healthy once more after neck surgery, he'll be the greatest addition to the Rangers.

    All additions: Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Corporan, Delino DeShields, Jr.

    Key Departure
    Darvish has Cy Young level talent, and now he's gone until sometime in 2016.

    All departures: Alex Rios, Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross

    Best Case
    Fielder is healthy and mashing once more, age is no deterrent for Beltre, Choo's 2014 was an unfortunate fluke and his massive contract isn't a bust, Andrus gets back to hitting now that his $120 million extension has kicked in, Rougned Odor makes everyone forget about Jurickson Profar's shoulder and the Rangers find a replacement for Darvish that helps propel them to the top of the AL West.
    Worst Case
    It's hard to imagine 2015 could be worse than the injury-filled, 67-win, soul-crushing awfulness of 2014, but it's that kind of hubris that angers the baseball gods in the first place.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Robinson Chirinos, Prince Fielder, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Rua, Leonys Martin, Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland

    Rotation: Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch

    Manager: Jeff Banister | Owner: Ray Davis and Bob Simpson
    It can't be worse than last year, right?
  19. Atlanta Braves

    The Braves are rebuilding or reloading, or maybe a little of both, though their executives won't admit as much. They traded away Jason Heyward and Justin Upton to inject some more youth into the organization but aren't giving up on the players who are already extended, as they represent a collection of core talent that could have Atlanta competing once more sooner than later. Just maybe not 2015 soon.
    Key Addition
    Shelby Miller still has all the talent that made him a top-10 prospect not all that long ago. The Braves just have to find out how to make that talent into something they can use.

    All additions: Shelby Miller, Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski, Alberto Callaspo, Jace Peterson, Jonny Gomes, Eric Young Jr., Dion Toscano, Zoilo Almonte, Manny Banuelos

    Key Departure
    The Braves lost two-thirds of their outfield, holding onto the one part that no one else wanted. Heyward is quietly awesome, and while his replacement Nick Markakis is underrated, he's no Heyward.

    All departures: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Emilio Bonacio, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, David Hale

    Best Case
    Even if the Braves don't make a run for the wild card, 2015 can still be a productive season. If Miller finally blossoms, Andrelton Simmons shows he's more than just an outstanding defender and both Alex Wood and Julio Teheran remind you there is reason to be excited about the future of Braves' pitching, then even if they don't make the playoffs plenty was accomplished in this year of sort of rebuilding.
    Worst Case
    The Braves opt for the group rate discount on Tommy John surgery so their 2015 rotation will be ready before too much of 2016 passes them by.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Christian Bethancourt, Freddie Freeman, Jace Peterson, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Eric Young Jr., Melvin Upton Jr., Nick Markakis

    Rotation: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller, Mike Minor, Wandy Rodriguez

    Manager: Fredi Gonzalez | Owner: Liberty Media
    After a series of trades aimed at fixing the team’s barren minor league system were made and a string of short-term deals were inked, the Braves appear to be in rebuilding mode for the first time since the late ‘80s.
  20. Miami Marlins

    It's hard to trust the Marlins when they appear to be trying, but they convinced Giancarlo Stanton that they're 325 million kinds of serious, then added players who could make an impact by filling 2014's holes in Dee Gordon, Mike Morse and Martin Prado. If that's not enough to entice you, remember that they also traded for Mat Latos, Jose Fernandez will be back mid-season, and most of the key youths are coming along in their development. The Marlins' rebuild just might be working out after all.
    Key Addition
    Latos is the obvious one, as he's a No. 2 starter who can play ace until Jose Fernandez returns, but don't discount a full season of Jarred Cosart now that he's working with the coaches who made Henderson Alvarez and his sinker somebodies.

    All additions: Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, Michael Morse, Martin Prado, Aaron Crow, David Phelps

    Key Departure
    Losing lefty prospect Andrew Heaney could be a problem, especially with Dan Haren looking vulnerable, but it was the chance they took on improving at the thin second base.

    All departures: Andrew Heaney, Nathan Eovaldi, Anthony DeSclafani, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Brian Flynn, Enrique Hernandez, Domingo German, Chris Hatcher, Austin Barnes

    Best Case
    Fernandez faces no setbacks and returns with his command stuff intact. Latos stays healthy, and Alvarez and Cosart combine to induce untold numbers of grounders. The lineup doesn't turn heads unless Stanton is up, but the holes that kept runs off the board a year ago have been filled, and it's enough to support a strong rotation and earn a playoff spot.
    Worst Case
    Talking about Fernandez facing setbacks in his rehab from Tommy John surgery that lead to the Marlins fielding just another mediocre club is not something we want to do, but this is the worst case scenario, you know.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Michael Morse, Dee Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, Martin Prado, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton

    Rotation: Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Jarred Cosart, Dan Haren

    Manager: Mike Redmond | Owner: Jeffrey Loria
    Owner Jeffrey Loria is looking for a new start after two tumultuous seasons since the 2012 move to Marlins Park, and the surprisingly successful 2014 campaign was the impetus for a big move for 2015. As such, the Fish made a series of changes this past offseason in order to form a foundation for success in the years to come. But did they succeed in accomplishing this task?
  21. New York Mets

    The Mets had a laughably quiet offseason for a team on the bubble and still aren't spending like any respectable New York market team should, but focusing too hard on that distracts from the fact there is still a lot of talent here. There isn't as much as there could have been if the Mets had opened up the checkbook a little more often, but hey, at least Matt Harvey is back from Tommy John.
    Key Addition
    Going down the list, the most significant new player on the Mets has to be Michael Cuddyer. If it's not Michael Cuddyer, then it has to be Michael Cuddyer. You see, the joke is that the Mets only brought in Michael Cuddyer.

    All additions: Michael Cuddyer

    Key Departure
    Losing Zack Wheeler to a torn UCL in the spring depressingly earns this honor, but on whatever bright side is allowed in this situation, the Mets have an overabundance of young, intriguing options to replace him.

    All departures: Zack Wheeler (Tommy John)

    Best Case
    It's not a stretch to suggest the Mets make the postseason. Harvey is back and looks like Harvey. Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon could be a wonderful middle rotation. Between top prospect Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and maybe even Dillon Gee, that fifth spot could feature a standout performance. If David Wright rebounds from a tough year, Curtis Granderson hits like the player the Mets thought they were signing and the Mets find someone who is a shortstop for better reasons than their cheapness, they could be a legitimate threat in the NL.
    Worst Case
    The rotation has enough depth to withstand almost anything, but the lineup is a poor Wright season and the discovery that Wilmer Flores can't hit or field away from irrelevance, especially if Granderson keeps showing his age and Cuddyer realizes he's not playing at Coors Field anymore.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson, Travis d'Arnaud, Wilmer Flores

    Rotation: Bartolo Colon, Jake deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee

    Manager: Terry Collins | Owner: Fred Wilpon
    Coming off a 79-win season, the Mets are finally expected to be competitive in 2015. While the Nationals are the heavy favorites in the National League East, the Mets compare favorably to many other teams in the league, and given the relatively low bar for contention that is the second Wild Card, it’s not too far-fetched to see the Mets making some noise in the playoff race this year, even without Zack Wheeler.
  22. Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies' teardown is happening, but this is a time to rejoice if you're a fan. It's awful to follow a losing team, but worse than that is sticking with one that gives you no reason to hope in the future. General manager Ruben Amaro has made plenty of mistakes before, but he seems to get what it is the Phillies need to do to survive and thrive: rebuild the farm system while spending money on the big-league roster. It will take time to see the fruits of this, but for once, Amaro's Phillies are heading in the right direction.
    Key Addition
    Aaron Harang? Listen, the Phillies are trying to rebuild, don't make fun.

    All additions: Aaron Harang, Chad Billingsley, Jeff Francoeur, Odubel Herrera

    Key Departure
    There is a real possibility that Cliff Lee never throws a pitch for the 2015 Phillies, or anyone else ever again. Philly loses a serious pitcher and any outside shot at contention thanks to this, but they also lost any chance of swapping Lee to a real contender in exchange for the prospects they need.

    All departures: Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett

    Best Case
    Lee returns mid-season with rest and rehab doing the trick, and the Phillies are able to salvage enough value from the wreckage to call it a happy ending. Cole Hamels is dealt in July to a team desperate enough to pay the high prospect price they had refused to over the winter. Even Ryan Howard plays well enough to make moving him and the last two years of his contract possible. What, too much?
    Worst Case
    Lee never returns, and it's depressing on a number of levels. The Hamels deal the Phillies need to kickstart their farm system never happens. The few young players on the roster are no better than the old, broken down ones, and 2015 becomes just another lost season under Amaro.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Ruiz

    Rotation: Cole Hamels, Jerome Williams, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan, Chad Billingsley

    Manager: Ryne Sandberg | Owner: David Montgomery
    Even though everybody is pretty sure they know what's about to happen, the Phillies have a season to play just like all the other teams.
  23. Washington Nationals

    The Nationals look like they're the team to beat in 2015. They added 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a rotation that didn't need him. They have Ryan Zimmerman back, now at first base. Future superstar Bryce Harper will start his fourth season, and he's still just 22 years old. There are some depth concerns in the lineup, but Doug Fister or Gio Gonzalez, who could lead the rotations of many teams, will be their fifth starter. A hole or two in the starting nine might not matter.
    Key Addition
    Tanner Roark was almost as good as Scherzer last season, but the difference between the two is that you know Scherzer can do it again. And now Roark is maybe the best sixth starter in the game until a hole opens up in the 2016 rotation.

    All additions: Max Scherzer, Casey Janssen, Yunel Escobar

    Key Departure
    Getting Zimmerman back for a full season is huge, but the switch to first base cost the Nats Adam LaRoche, making Zimm's return more of a lateral move.

    All departures: Adam LaRoche, Tyler Clippard, Steven Souza, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ross Detwiler, Rafael Soriano

    Best Case
    Harper emerges from Mike Trout's shadow to have a no-doubt MVP-caliber breakout. Jayson Werth and Zimmerman both stay on the field, and the Four Aces plan leads the Nationals to a World Series title before free agency takes Fister and Jordan Zimmermann away.
    Worst Case
    Having four aces is a great idea! If the Nationals don't win, though, expect everyone to spend all of next winter making fun of them for trying that tactic. People still make fun of the Braves for “only” winning one World Series when they had three Hall of Fame starters. Prepare yourselves.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Yunel Escobar

    Rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister

    Manager: Matt Williams | Owner: Lerner Enterprises
    With two of the five projected starters in the Nats' rotation, right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, set to hit free agency if not signed to extensions, shortstop Ian Desmond due to become a free agent after this season and Denard Span in his walk year as well, the 2015 campaign could be the last run for this version of the Nationals' roster.
  24. The Cubs have Jon Lester now and Theo Epstein has said the 2015 goal is the playoffs, and from there, maybe the World Series victory that has eluded them since 1908. Before anyone starts planning a parade, though, the Cubs need their stable of top hitting prospects to develop into actual top hitters, which in some cases isn't going to be that easy. Let's not forget that the rotation is still more hypothetically good than actually good at this stage, too.
    Key Addition
    The Cubs needed to come away from the offseason with some pitching, and it doesn't get much better in that regard than locking up Jon Lester long-term.

    All additions: Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, Jason Motte

    Key Departure
    It was a good winter for the Cubs, who lost starting third baseman Luis Valbuena in a trade that netted them Dexter Fowler and an (eventual) open spot for super prospect Kris Bryant.

    All departures: Luis Valbuena, Justin Ruggiano, Carlos Villanueva, Wesley Wright

    Best Case
    The snapping of the longest World Series championship drought in the history of the sport, of course. Failing that, Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara all cement their place in the majors and take the steps forward to prove the future is, for once, bright on the North Side.
    Worst Case
    Losing a chance at a World Series won't haunt Cubs fans. No, it's the fear that there won't be a next chance that would keep them up at night. Imagine what Baez striking out more often than he gets on base would do to them. If Soler and Bryant aren't ready for full-time major league gigs just yet. Should Lester start to show his age a little too early into a six-year deal, if Jake Arrieta's 2014 was a fluke, if Anthony Rizzo has already had the greatest season he will ever have. All of this, at the same time the White Sox are once again exciting. This is Nightmare Construction 101, people, and the Cubs could live it.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Dexter Fowler, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Montero, Jorge Soler, Mike Olt, Chris Coghlan, Javier Baez

    Rotation: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood

    Manager: Joe Maddon | Owner: Tom Ricketts
    For the first time in several years, we go into the Chicago Cubs 2015 season with hope that they might return to playoff contention.
  25. Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds traded two-fifths of their rotation, demoted a young starter to the bullpen and their solution to fixing the offense was to spend the winter hoping things would be different this time. It's not likely to be a winning season for the Reds but 2015 is still an important one, as depending on how they handle their opportunities for trades, they could be competing again in a hurry.
    Key Addition
    Marlon Byrd was the primary addition in an offseason full of subtractions. The now 37-year-old outfielder has had a strong last two seasons, and he'll need yet another either to help the Reds in games or in a July trade to a contender.

    All additions: Marlon Byrd, Burke Badenhop, Anthony DeSclafani

    Key Departure
    Losing Mat Latos leaves a hole in the rotation, as he was the only starter on the roster capable of filling the shoes of a number two.

    All departures: Ryan Ludwick, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Chris Heisey

    Best Case
    The Reds aren't hopeless in 2015. If Joey Votto is healthy, Byrd hits, Brandon Phillips doesn't decline further, Billy Hamilton breaks out, Jay Bruce rebounds and Todd Frazier hits once again, the lineup could be good enough. With Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey in the rotation and Aroldis Chapman securing the ninth inning, maybe the Reds surprise everyone and fight for one last wild card before Cueto's free agency.
    Worst Case
    Count the ifs and maybes in the previous section. This summer could be an ugly one in Cincinnati, especially in the suddenly stacked NL Central.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Devin Mesoraco, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Marlon Byrd, Billy Hamiton, Jay Bruce

    Rotation: Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Homer Bailey, Jason Marquis

    Manager: Bryan Price | Owner: Bob Castellini
    After the recent success of the early 2010s, the 2014 Cincinnati Reds had a season to forget. They had injuries at just about every part of the roster, with multiple starting pitchers missing significant time, and over half of the starting lineup spending time on the DL. Most of the same pieces are back in 2015, but plenty of questions still remain with the rest of the NL Central getting stronger.
  26. Milwaukee Brewers

    Holes at first base and shortstop hid the fact the Brewers could actually hit in 2014, and while the rotation had its problems, they've already been shipped off to Canada. They aren't the favorites in the NL Central, not by a long shot, but now that Adam Lind is at first base and the successful version of Mike Fiers seems to be back, the Brewers are likely to compete for a playoff spot all season long.
    Key Addition
    Lind is the only major change, and while he's still limited against lefties, Lind has crushed right-handers for his entire career. If that pattern holds, he'll be a major upgrade from the Mark Reynoldses of the world.

    All additions: Adam Lind, Corey Knebel, Luis Jimenez, Neal Cotts, Shane Peterson

    Key Departure
    Trading long-time Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo could open up a hole in the rotation if 26-year-old Jimmy Nelson isn't ready to take his place.

    All departures: Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Marco Estrada, Mark Reynolds

    Best Case
    Lind was the final piece necessary in a lineup that already featured Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy, and the Brewers produce one of the top offenses in the NL. Nelson steps in to replace the traded Yovani Gallardo, and Fiers continues pitching as well as he did to finish off 2014. The balanced rotation and lineup lead to an NL Central title and the team's first playoff spot since 2011.
    Worst Case
    Nelson's minor league promise doesn't turn into major-league production, Fiers is hurt and unhelpful once more and Lind's inconsistency rears its head once more. Braun's down year proves to be the start of a trend and the last season of Ramirez's career is wasted on yet another mediocre squad. Depressing, but fitting for the former Pirates and Cubs third baseman.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Jonathan Lucroy, Adam Lind, Scooter Gennett, Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun

    Rotation: Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Jimmy Nelson

    Manager: Ron Roenicke | Owner: Mark Attanasio
    Despite 2014's second-half collapse, the Brewers have decided to go into 2015 with a largely unchanged roster.
  27. Pittsburgh Pirates

    If anyone has a shot at knocking off the Cardinals, it's the Pirates, even though the last time they made the playoffs in three straight seasons, Barry Bonds still had more career steals than homers. They are certainly due, as their last postseason series victory came seven years before Andrew McCutchen was born. We're not picking on the Bucs here. We're just reminding you of how awesome it will be when Cutch's Pirates make the playoffs and then proceed to snap that unfortunate streak.
    Key Addition
    It's either the return of A.J. Burnett to the rotation, or the signing of Korean infielder Jung-Ho Kang. Kang destroyed KBO pitching in 2014, hitting 40 homers while slugging .739. Those numbers won't translate directly, but he has more potential to hit than Jordy Mercer has ever had.

    All additions: A.J. Burnett, Jung-Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli, Antonio Bastardo, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, Radhames Liz

    Key Departure
    Russell Martin's 2014 season might have been difficult to repeat, but that doesn't change the fact he was the second most valuable player on the roster and is now on the Blue Jays.

    All departures: Russell Martin, Edinson Volquez, Travis Snider, Ike Davis, Justin Wilson

    Best Case
    The Pirates make up for losing Martin thanks to a strong first full season from Gregory Polanco, who along with McCutchen and Starling Marte form one of baseball's top outfields. Kang takes over early for Mercer at shortstop and gives the Bucs their first high-quality bat at the position in over 20 years. Gerrit Cole breaks out to lead the rotation, and the Pirates topple the Cardinals in the Central.
    Worst Case
    We're not going to scare a fan base that went 20 seasons in between playoff appearances and hasn't won a World Series in 36 of them.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Francisco Cervelli, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco

    Rotation: Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Burnett, Charlie Morton, Vance Worley

    Manager: Clint Hurdle | Owner: Bob Nutting
    Despite the absence of team leader Russell Martin, the 2015 Pirates have a decent shot at a third straight playoff berth.
  28. St. Louis Cardinals

    The Cardinals have made the postseason in four straight seasons, and 2015 will likely make five. The NL Central has plenty of competitive teams in it, but none of them are obviously better than the Cards, who now have a full season of John Lackey and a healthy Michael Wacha in the rotation to go with their shiny new Jason Heyward. As you expect from St. Louis, there is depth waiting on the farm for when something inevitably goes wrong, too, so don't think an injury or two will slow them.
    Key Addition
    Trading Shelby Miller for Heyward was an easy move for the Cardinals, who even after shedding Miller have more starting pitching than they can fit on the roster. Heyward's bat might not fill the hole Carlos Beltran left behind after 2013, but his glove should more than make up the difference.

    All additions: Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Mark Reynolds

    Key Departure
    The Cardinals traded Miller, but what they lost was mostly potential: Miller was a former top-10 prospect with rotation-leading stuff, but he's bounced between greatness and mediocrity in his two seasons in the majors.

    All departures: Pat Neshek, Shelby Miller

    Best Case
    Heyward returns to the MVP-caliber performance of his rookie season, Kolten Wong breaks out and those key players with injury concerns like Adam Wainwright, Wacha, and Yadier Molina stay on the field and help lead the Cardinals to a third consecutive NL Central title.
    Worst Case
    Heyward gets hurt, but is replaced by an outfielder you've never heard of who plays even better. The rotation is a mess until the Cardinals call up Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons because they can. St. Louis only wins a wild card, and loses in the NLCS.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Jhonny Peralta, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, Kolten Wong

    Rotation: Adam Wainright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia

    Manager: Mike Matheny | Owner: Bill DeWitt Jr.
    While the NL Central is a competitive division, the Cards appear best positioned at present to win it for the third straight season and qualify for the postseason for the fifth consecutive year. This golden age of Cardinals baseball appears likely to continue in 2015.
  29. Arizona Diamondbacks

    The Diamondbacks are under new management, but whether that translates into new results immediately is something 2015 will teach us all. They've certainly tried to speed through the process, firing manager Kirk Gibson, trading the established Wade Miley for young pitchers and spending on Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas. There are plenty of players to like here, but in a competitive NL West, it might take another year before the D-Backs can show us all as much.
    Key Addition
    Tomas is a wild card, as scouts are torn on whether he is going to be a serious threat in the middle of the lineup or a strikeout-prone outfielder who occasionally gets all of one. In a game where power is losing to pitching, though, the risk is worth it for the D-Backs.

    All additions: Yasmany Tomas, Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa

    Key Departure
    Miley was sent packing for Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, and while De La Rosa could be a decent starter, Webster is probably a reliever. Miley's 2014 was rough, but he can likely blame the horrific D-Backs' defense behind him for that.

    All departures: Wade Miley, Miguel Montero

    Best Case
    The D-Backs are unlikely to contend in 2015, but if Tomas shows he and his power are legitimate while young pitchers like De La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson and Archie Bradly all take steps forward, then it will not be a waste of a summer. The future isn't now for the D-Backs, but if things go well over the next 162, it's not all that far off.
    Worst Case
    Tomas' naysayers are proven right, the D-Backs immediately regret dealing off Miley when both De La Rosa and Webster are relievers, and once again the pipeline of pitching prospects gets stopped up, making the future seem as bleak as the present.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Chris Owings, Yasmany Tomas, Ender Inciarte, A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo, Tuffy Gosewich

    Rotation: Josh Collmenter, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill, Rubby de la Rosa, Chase Anderson

    Manager: Chip Hale | Owner: Ken Kendrick
    There's no sugar-coating it. Last year, the Diamondbacks sucked, with their worst record in a decade. Change was swift and decisive, with manager Kirk Gibson fired just before the season ended and GM Kevin Towers following him out the door shortly thereafter. The changes weren't limited to management, with both halves of our 2014 Opening Day battery, Wade Miley and Miguel Montero, being dealt for prospects. With a #1 draft pick upcoming in June, there seems to be a rebuilding project under way in the desert. But what does that mean for the team this year?
  30. Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies have to answer the same question that greets them every spring: Will they be healthy this summer? If Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can stay on the field, then the Rockies have a shot at relevance. If not, well, you've already seen what happens, as the Rockies were last in the postseason in 2009 and haven't won more than 83 games in the last five seasons. All hope is not lost, though, because the lineup could be great so long as Tulo is in it more often than not.
    Key Addition
    We should probably just skip answering this question. Otherwise we'd have to reveal to you that Kyle Kendrick might be the answer.

    All additions: Nick Hundley, Kyle Kendrick, David Hale, Daniel Descalso

    Key Departure
    Losing Michael Cuddyer and cutting Jhoulys Chacin might not matter at all. Cuddyer could mash when he was healthy, though, and Chacin, under the same conditions, is probably the top pitcher on the team.

    All departures: Michael Cuddyer, Josh Rutledge, Juan Nicasio, Franklin Morales, Matt Belisle

    Best Case
    Gonzalez and Tulowitzki combine for 300 games, and the likes of Justin Morneau, Corey Dickerson, and Nolan Arenado all repeat their quality 2014 campaigns to give the Rockies a legitimately good lineup, not just one that can hit at Coors. Jorge De La Rosa anchors a rotation that sees gains from its many young starters like Tyler Matzek, Jordan Lyles, and Jon Gray, and the Rockies surprise and play themselves into the wild card race.
    Worst Case
    Gonzalez and Tulowitzki combine for 150 games, the promising youth in the rotation and lineup perform poorly enough to lose that designation, and Jhoulys Chacin catches on elsewhere then outpitches everyone on the Rockies.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, Nolan Arenado, Nick Hundley, DJ LeMahieu

    Rotation: Jorge De La Rosa, Tyler Matzek, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Kendrick, David Hale

    Manager: Walt Weiss | Owner: Dick and Charlie Monfort
    Say what you want about the Colorado Rockies, but 2015 will be a season like few others in the history of the franchise.
  31. Los Angeles Dodgers

    This will come as a shock, but the Dodgers used their considerable finances to upgrade not just the roster, but also the front office. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi displaced former general manager Ned Colletti, and then sent expensive pieces flying all over while bringing in plenty of new ones. The new-look Dodgers are a couple of Nationals injuries away from being the top team in the game, and they might not be done spending just yet.
    Key Addition
    Nabbing the last year of Howie Kendrick in a trade with the Angels should pay huge dividends, as Kendrick possesses value on both sides of the ball.

    All additions: Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Hector Olivera, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Yasmani Grandal

    Key Departure
    Neither Matt Kemp or Hanley Ramirez were any good with their gloves, but the two could mash, and now the Dodgers are hoping their upgrades made elsewhere cover for the absence of these sluggers.

    All departures: Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren

    Best Case
    The Dodgers traded dollars and assets for defensive upgrades, and the gamble pays off at shortstop, catcher, second and in center field, where rookie Joc Pederson takes over. Andre Ethier settles in as a righty-mauling fourth outfielder, Yasiel Puig's season gets him MVP consideration, and a rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke leads the Dodgers to the NL West title and beyond.
    Worst Case
    The Dodgers miss Kemp and Ramirez in the middle of their lineup, as Jimmy Rollins shows his age, Pederson his inexperience, and Ethier doesn't rebound. Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy are not healthy or dependable, and that's on top of Hyun-Jin Ryu's shoulder pain. An incomplete lineup and rotation has the Dodgers finish behind a rejuvenated Padres team led by Kemp's bat.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Jimmy Rollins, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Howie Kendrick, Joc Pederson, Juan Uribe

    Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Hyun-Jin Ryu

    Manager: Don Mattingly | Owner: Guggenheim Baseball Management
    The Dodgers' new front office overhauled half of the roster - almost literally, 19 players on the 40-man roster are new since October - of a team that won back-to-back National League West crowns. But bigger goals are in mind for Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and the gang, trying to make the playoffs a third consecutive year for the first time in the 132-year history of the franchise.
  32. San Diego Padres

    Attempts to convince free agent Pablo Sandoval to sign with the Padres seemed comical in November, but then new general manager A.J. Preller took the winter meetings by storm when he traded for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton and Derek Norris – all without giving up any of San Diego's top prospects – and then signed James Shields on top of that. The Padres now have an identity and a legitimate lineup and rotation, but it's to be seen if that's enough to overcome what could be an atrocious outfield defense.
    Key Addition
    Every move we could rave about begins with the introduction of A.J. Preller as the Padres' new general manager.

    All additions: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Clint Barmes, Brandon Morrow, Shawn Kelley

    Key Departure
    The Padres held on to their best prospects, but they did trade one of their better young players in Yasmani Grandal. Derek Norris can match his bat, but their differences behind the plate likely give the edge to the former Padre.

    All departures: Yasmani Grandal, Jesse Hahn, Rene Rivera, Seth Smith, Eric Stults, Everth Cabrera, Tim Stauffer

    Best Case
    The Padres’ outfield defense isn't as bad as everyone suspects now that Matt Kemp's ankle feels better. Will Middlebrooks and Jedd Gyorko both realize the potential they showed back in 2012 as prospects, and now it's not just the outfield that's mashing. Andrew Cashner and Brandon Morrow are both healthy, and the Padres field the deepest, most effective rotation on the West Coast, pushing them to their first postseason berth since 2006.
    Worst Case
    Moving to the NL and Petco Park does not slow James Shields' aging, and injury risks like Andrew Cashner, Brandon Morrow and everyone the Padres have lined up as rotation depth spend more time on the shelf than on the mound. Matt Kemp in right field isn't the worst thing that happens to the Padres' defense, but only because Wil Myers in center is a never-ending nightmare. The Padres are irrelevant again, only this time they're expensive, too.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Wil Myers, Yonder Alonso, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Jedd Gyorko, Will Middlebrooks, Alexi Amarista

    Rotation: James Shields, Tyson Ro, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow

    Manager: Bud Black | Owner: Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler
    For the first time this century the Padres got people across the country talking about them during the offseason ... With that momentum comes great expectations.
  33. San Francisco Giants

    The Giants won the World Series in 2014 – their third in five years – and then mostly sat on their hands all winter. They couldn't retain Pablo Sandoval, and then either would not or could not lure any of the other major free agents west. The result? A Giants team that isn't good enough to beat the Dodgers, but then again, neither was the 2014 squad. There is still plenty of talent here, especially if the Giants can survive their time without Hunter Pence to begin the season.
    Key Addition
    Norichika Aoki is the top new player somewhat by default, but he can still be a useful piece in the expansive Giants outfield, and a year with the Royals didn't cause him to forget how to draw a walk.

    All additions: Norichika Aoki, Casey McGehee

    Key Departure
    Losing Pablo Sandoval, who was a fixture in the Giants’ regular and postseason lineups since 2009, will hurt, and Casey McGehee can only soften that blow so much.

    All departures: Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse

    Best Case
    The Giants have enough leftover talent from their championship season to go hard for a repeat. Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson are old, but still crafty enough to pitch well, and Tim Lincecum settles into the Barry Zito role of expensive – but helpful! – fifth starter. The return of Matt Cain gives the Giants someone besides just Madison Bumgarner to lean on, and the Giants break their streak of a World Series victory followed by watching the playoffs at home.
    Worst Case
    It's 2015, not 2016. The Giants don't win in odd years anymore. Everyone knows that.
    Projected Team
    Lineup: Norichika Aoki, Joe Panik, Angel Pagan, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Casey McGehee, Brandon Crawford

    Rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum

    Manager: Bruce Bochy | Owner: Charles Johnson (not the catcher).
    The Giants will be as good as they were last year, unless they're as awful as they were in 2013, unless they're somewhere in between.