The biggest baseball questions of 2016, answered

Questions, questions, questions. You have so many questions! "Who will win the World Series?" and "Will the White Sox be good?" and "If I'm drafting ninth in an NL-only, 10-team snake draft, should I make sure to grab a starting pitcher with one of my first two picks or wait it out?"

Hopefully, we have answers for you. To five questions. That aren't any of those listed up there. And certainly don't have to do with fantasy baseball.

OK, so we asked ourselves some questions and answered them, regardless of what you were actually wondering. Enjoy!

What will be the biggest baseball story of 2016?

Ashley Varela
It will be the even-numbered year we’ve all* been waiting for: the one that doesn’t end with another Giants World Series championship.

*Except for Giants fans, probably.

Liz Roscher
The complete and utter failure of everything the Diamondbacks are trying to do. They can sign or trade for all the big name pitchers they want, but when the rest of their moves vacillate between head-scratching and objectively terrible, I can't be convinced that they're going to do anything but implode.

Plus: Tony La Russa. That's a big NOPE.

Grant Brisbee
No one expected the 2001 Mariners to win 116 games. They'd recently lost Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr. They were replaced with a Japanese player with a funny batting stance and other assorted parts. It seems easy to explain them away with the benefit of hindsight, but the equation for predicting a 110-game-winning juggernaut is simple:

  1. Take a good team
  2. Predict them to have all sorts of good fortune and inexplicable luck for no reason
  3. Sit back and enjoy that feeling of being right on the Internet.

The Mets should have a good team. They won the pennant last year, and the pitching staff should come back even stronger. Matt Harvey is a year further away from Tommy John surgery. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz now know how long a postseason-filled year can be in the majors, and they'll have the kind of additional experience young pitchers don't usually get. Bartolo Colon is even more benevolent and mirthful.

They'll have a real lineup for the entire year this time. Yoenis Cespedes won't ride in on a white horse/McLaren in August; he'll have been there, galloping around the whole damned time. Michael Conforto won't have rookie jitters to deal with, and the hitting should be better up the middle, too.

So take that good team, then predict outlandish things for them, if only because you know baseball has outlandish things in store. It's a fool's errand to predict outliers, so this probably won't happen. But we're talking about baseball, not climate change. You can afford to look like a dingus with a dumb prediction.

Mets: 110-52.

(Which will make their first-round loss to the Padres hurt that much more.)

Demetrius Bell
Is this going to be the year that the Cubs finally break the Curse? This is easily one of the most talented teams that the boys from Wrigleyville have ever had, and if there was ever an opportunity for them to finally end that curse and give their long-suffering fans something to really celebrate, now is the time.

It's a little refreshing to see this much optimism emanating from the North Side, as it will hopefully balance out all of the years of self-loathing and anguish. With so much young talent at their disposal, the team is set up to be really good for a long period of time. Hopefully, we don't see a typical Cubbie collapse -- whether it's due to a regular season disappointment or a calamitous occurrence during the regular season.

That's the big story: Can the Cubs avoid getting hit by another big whammy that has historically hit them whenever things are going well? If they can, then baseball's longest streak without a championship could be ending this season.

Plus, I just want to see the utter horror show that would occur for a Cubs World Series parade/celebration rally. That might be the wildest sports-related party in history.

Matthew Collins
There’s little doubt in my mind that the biggest story in baseball this year is the Cubs. They’re the near-unanimous favorites heading into the season, and in case you haven’t heard they haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. That’s a long time! It’s more years than the combined ages of the top four finishers in the AL MVP voting last year! Chicago has a strong combination of hitting and pitching and a strong mix of youth and veteran experience.

Unfortunately, they are also still the Cubs. The 2016 season will revolve around how they’ll mess this up.

Marc Normandin
No one believed in the Royals back in 2013 when they started trading like they had plans of contending. When they had their first winning season in over a decade, notching 86 victories and just missing out on their first playoff berth since 1985, it barely made a ripple in the baseball universe. They kept trading and adding before 2014, though, and while they still weren't beloved by analysts or predictions, their moves brought them first to the playoffs and then to the World Series for the first time since George Brett was still at his peak instead of in the Hall of Fame.

Did making it to the World Series change how people outside of Kansas City viewed the Royals? Maybe a little, but not enough for them to be picked for a return to the playoffs or the World Series by many, if anyone. So how'd the season end up going? Oh, right, they crushed the opposition during the regular season, made some mid-season trades to prepare for their return to the playoffs, and then won their first World Series in 30 years.

You would think everyone would have learned to stop doubting them at this point, but you'd be wrong! The Royals still aren't expected to make much noise in the American League, even though they still have that championship defense and the core that brought them to consecutive World Series in the first place.

Who/what will be the unpredictable, random success in baseball this year?

Liz Roscher
The Brewers... anything Brewers related. Manager. GM. Players. The people of our national Cheese Paradise deserve to see their team succeed even randomly.

Grant Brisbee
I wrote 500 words on why Trevor Bauer was going to blow the doors off the American League this year. A few hours later, the Indians confirmed he wasn't in the rotation. My 2016 predictions are off to a rousing start.

Okay, fine. Be that way, baseball. Then I'll take Cody Anderson, who was so impressive in spring training that he unseated Bauer. Jeff Sullivan wrote about him aping Matt Harvey's repertoire here, and the Indians apparently agree with the analysis. The Indians already have an enviable front three of their rotation. Getting a fourth ace would vault them into that rarefied air of teams that don't even need to hit that much to win 90 games.

Anderson struck out just 44 batters in 91 innings last year, so this is a deep, deep dive into the unknown. But the Indians are seeing something they like. They seem to know what they're doing with pitchers so ...

Matthew Collins
Domonic Brown signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays and isn't guaranteed a roster spot. Domonic Brown is also a former top prospect with the chance of playing in a stacked lineup full of veteran superstars in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. Is it likely he’ll finally come around in 2016? Not really.

But hey. It worked for Justin Smoak, and Brown was a good hitter as recently as 2013. Let’s get crazy.

Ashley Varela
Munenori Kawasaki, professional dancer and baserunner extraordinaire, will be the catalyst that propels the Cubs into their second consecutive postseason run. What's a little getting released and re-signed between friends?

Demetrius Bell
The San Francisco Giants had themselves a pretty good offseason, as they decided to dip their toes into the free agency pool, and they found that pool to be nice and warm, picking up both Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. They were decent last year, but now appears to be the time for them to stage a serious challenge against their fierce rivals in Los Angeles.

Plus, you know, even year voodoo and all that jazz.

Marc Normandin
I am so ready for Ian Kennedy to throw 200 above-average innings and win a World Series game with a dominant outing, you guys.

Who/what will be the inexplicable, random failure of 2016?

Demetrius Bell
Last season, I was mortified when Andrew McCutchen shaved off his trademark dreadlocks in a charitable effort. Yeah, it was for a noble cause, but why would you cut off what was quite obviously the source of your power? I figured he'd suffer a Samson-like loss of ability, and while he did "decline," it was only by just over 1 fWAR.

This year could be the precipitous drop, as we're now a full year away from the day in which he shed his locks. The only way that you can fight aging is by keeping your long and amazing hair, and now that it's gone, the hope for a "bounce back" season is gone.

All hope is lost, I tell you. Lost!

Ashley Varela
Teddy Roosevelt will regress to his pre-2012 state, losing both dignity and popularity during the rise of the less-favored underdog of the Nationals’ racing team, William Taft.

Matthew Collins
Kris Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year, and by all accounts he should be a big reason for the Cubs’ presumed 2016 success. He also strikes out more than 30 percent of the time and relied on an inflated BABIP.

The good news is, even if he fails, he still has the best eyes in the game.

Grant Brisbee
This is a very mean category! The person who doesn't share the same political beliefs as me. That's who will fail. Because they are wrong.

If I have to choose a baseball player for baseball reasons, give me A.J. Pierzynski. Just because the dude is 39 and still catching 100 freaking games every year, which he's done for 15 straight seasons. If he does it this year, he passes Carlton Fisk, who was made out of diamonds and improbability. Why? Why this guy? Why him?

It's impressive, harrumph, and I have a begrudging respect for it, harrumph harrumph. But this will be the year that it doesn't work. Right? Right?

He hit .300/.339/.430 last year, when he was 38. He hit .300/.334/.439 in 2002, when he was 25. Come on. That's not fair.

Liz Roscher
Jake Arrieta, because something on the Cubs has to go wrong in 2016 or it won't be fair to all the other teams.

Marc Normandin
Joe Maddon, attempting to lighten the mood and spit in the face of superstition using his trademark kookiness, invites goats into the Cubs' clubhouse before Game 7 of the World Series. One goat bites Anthony Rizzo's hand, and the injury keeps him from properly fielding the ball that would have won the World Series for Chicago.

Which one of the bad teams is going to surprise?

Matthew Collins
What if Ryan Howard hits again? What if Maikel Franco, Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola break out? What if Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, Mark Appel and Jake Thompson come up and make an impact right away?

Liz Roscher
The Twins. At various points in 2015 they were actually playing sound, competent baseball. Plus, they have some talented prospects on their way up that could even pop in and help them out if things get serious.

Demetrius Bell
Most of the bad teams in the National League are near-locks to be bad, so it'd be wise to avoid those teams. As far as the AL is concerned, there are "bad" teams but nobody is going to be a dumpster fire.

The division that seems to be the most wide open is the AL West, where the only really solid team in that division appears to be the Houston Astros. Other than that, it's anybody's guess as to who comes second, which could open the door for a team like the Oakland Athletics to possibly make a run. The A's had some terrible luck in one-run games last year (19-35), and if they can turn that around then we could see some improvement.

If the improvement is enough to get them into 80 or so wins, then they could be in the thick of things in the West if the other teams in that division turn out to be mediocre. Other than Sonny Gray, there's nothing really spectacular going on for the green-and-gold gang in the Bay, but if the lineup can produce at a decent clip and the bullpen can pick up the slack where the rest of the rotation falls, then who knows?

The A's really could be in the postseason conversation if all goes well for them, and we'd be subject to people preaching the values and virtues of Moneyball for yet another season. The Phillies are going to be bad this year, but what if they’re not?

Grant Brisbee
I waver between the Rockies and the Padres. Both of them are hanging around, just interesting enough, in a division where everyone's focused at the top three teams. That's a fine recipe for a banana cream pie to the face. The Rockies need their homegrown pitchers to come through. The Padres need their assortment of acquired arms to come through.

I like the Padres' chances to surprise just a little bit more. I'll take the Rockies if we're talking about finishing .500, which is why I'll take them over the Padres in the predictions post, but if we're talking about a season where everything goes right, I like the Padres to do much better in the pie-in-the-sky scenarios.

And when it comes to the Padres, you should always bet on everything going right.

Marc Normandin
The Padres will be just good enough to mess with their rebuilding efforts, but not good enough to make it to October. Granted, that's not a surprise, it's just Padres' baseball, but you take what you can get.

Ashley Varela
The Phillies will match their spring training winning percentage in the regular season... for at least a week.

Which of the good teams is going to surprise people the wrong way?

Grant Brisbee
I've played this Red Sox game before. They're so ludicrously deep, both in the majors and the minors, but there's something that sticks in my craw. From Hanley Ramirez through Jackie Bradley, Jr., there are five hitters I don't trust, at least not enough to gamble cash money on. From Joe Kelly through Steven Wright, I can say the same about the bottom half of the rotation, and it's not like Eduardo Rodriguez is a slam dunk, everything-is-fixed, piece of the rotation when he comes back.

The bullpen is sound and the best young players are freaking amazing. Mookie Betts is a tattoo you haven't considered but should. Still, I see all sorts of importance being placed on Kelly and Travis Shaw and Brock Holt, and I'm skeptical. Next year, they might be the favorites to win 100 games, because everything worked out. Until then, I'll be the cynic.

Liz Roscher
The Dodgers. Spring training is meaningless of course, but you can't ignore the signs. I have a bad, bad feeling.

Ashley Varela
The Dodgers will get even bigger bragging rights when Clayton Kershaw finally nails down a perfect game... as a combined no-hitter for the NL All-Stars.

Demetrius Bell
As much as I hate to say it, I really can't see the Toronto Blue Jays repeating as AL East Champions in 2016. It's going to be a very tough ask for them to pull off a repeat in that division, especially with both the Red Sox and Yankees making improvements to their squads and they figure to play an important role in the AL East race.

Yes, Toronto still has a fearsome lineup that will mash like crazy, but they may not have the pitching to keep up with that hitting. As much as I want to see the Postseason return to the absolute madhouse of waving towels and flying beer that is the Rogers Centre, I think that this could be a disappointment of a season when compared to the magic that they strung together in 2015.

Matthew Collins
The Cardinals are good every year. Literally. Every. Year. Eventually they have to be bad, right? RIGHT?!

Marc Normandin
Whatever, Grant, the Giants are relying on Jeff Samardzija, I'm picking them out of spite.

Who will be the Mark Redman Memorial All-Star?

Grant Brisbee
There's no way that Alejandro De Aza is going to get playing time. He signed with the Mets when they were saying things like, "Hello, we are a team from Medford, Oregon, not New York City, and it is 1885, and all we have are these trusty mules and some seeds, so we can only afford Alejandro De Aza-priced players." To which De Aza thought, "Hey, I'm an Alejandro De Aza-priced player. This is a perfect fit."

Then Michael Cuddyer retired, and the bottom fell out of the Yoenis Cespedes market. Now De Aza is buried, absolutely buried. He isn't even a fourth outfielder. So how beautiful would it be if he weren't just an All-Star, but the Mets' only All-Star?

I'll start designing the shirseys.

Demetrius Bell
Darin Ruf. For some reason, I've felt like the name "Darin Ruf" is the most Philadelphia Phillies name of all time. As such, when it comes time for picking Philadelphia's lone representative for the Midsummer Classic, they'll probably skip past guys like Maikel Franco and go straight to Darin Ruf just because he seems like such a Philly type of player.

Marc Normandin
If you aren't hyped for Joe Kelly starting the All-Star Game then you just don't know how to baseball.

Liz Roscher
Ready for this? JEFF FRANCOEUR.

/drops mic

Matthew Collins
The A’s are probably going to be represented in the All-Star Game by Sonny Gray. In a just world, though, Rich Hill is going to pitch just well enough to make the team. Then, every year after that we’ll all be able to collectively remember that Rich Hill made an All-Star team in the year 2016.

Ashley Varela
Madison Bumgarner, designated hitter.