This is my sixth season as a full-time baseball writer. This is my 12th season as a baseball blogger. Over the last two decades, I've watched at least 2,000 baseball games, and that's a very conservative estimate. I've read every team chapter in the Baseball Prospectus annual since 2000, and I read FanGraphs daily. I have contacts in baseball, real contacts who get to put the name of a baseball team on their tax returns, and we occasionally share information. I've appeared on television to talk about baseball, and I've won an award for baseball writing.
What I'm trying to get at, here, is that these predictions are going to be right. There's just no way that someone as knowledgeable about baseball as me could be wrong about something as simple as the standings. You can see the rosters, right? How hard can it be to predict how each team will finish?
It's not hard at all. Please, close the tab now if you want the 2016 season to hold any surprises for you. Here's the exact finish for every team in baseball this year, along with exactly who will win every major award.
Spoilers after the jump.
1. New York Yankees
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Decent. Better than decent? One guy emailed me to tell me that the Orioles have more talent than the rest of the AL East put together, which sounds impressive!
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Better than decent, considering they're probably better than the fourth-place team. But I'll get to that.
The Yankees aren't here because I'm scared of the baseball gods. The AL West predictions are proof of that. The Yankees are my pick here because I'm tired of being wrong. A partial list of players who have not been alive for an under-.500 Yankees team:
So if you assume that the Yankees won't be under .500 because of Newtonian physics, it isn't a big leap to put them at the top of the division. You can't do that with the other teams, even if it's so, so, so easy to pick away at what the Yankees have built. There are seven players in the starting lineup who are 32 or older, and in the history of baseball, there has never been a team with seven 32-and-older players who qualified for the batting title. There have been three teams with six such players, and two of them were from over 100 years ago.
There will be injuries. The lineup's depth will be tested, and Bird won't be available. And the only players constituting a youth movement are Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, which is a farcical sentence that would lead to many guffaws if you wrote it about the Phillies. The Yankees should fail, if only because of hubris and flying too close to the sun on players old enough to look like wax figurines. A team counting on a 39-year-old right fielder shouldn't be rewarded. A team counting on a 41-year-old DH shouldn't be rewarded.
But they will, and the pitching will hold together just enough to make it all work. Everyone assumed the Yankees were batty for keeping Masahiro Tanaka away from the surgeons, but it's a gamble that's paying off now. Luis Severino is probably the most crucial player in the organization, giving them ace potential in an offseason where the Yankees didn't want to spend for an ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda might combine for 300 innings in an optimistic projection, and it's not like they were even above-average last year, but it would be very Yankees to either extract more from them than expected, or find a young pitcher who would do it unexpectedly.
There aren't a lot of reasons to pick the Yankees for first place. That's why I'm picking the Yankees for first place.
Then again, there is the minor detail that the Blue Jays sort of won the AL East as recently as seven months ago. This time, they'll have a full season of Marcus Stroman and Troy Tulowitzki. They'll have the most feared middle of the order in baseball, a cavalcade of dingers and hitters who are nearly impossible to pitch to. They're probably the on-paper favorites.
At the same time, play a game and try to replace any of the key lineup cogs in the event of an injury. That dinger gauntlet suddenly looks a little tamer with a heapin' help of Justin Smoak. And, oh, you were expecting 160 games from Tulowitzki? Well, that's neat, but here's Darwin Barney for three straight months. The best-case scenario of the Blue Jays is a beautiful dream, a meteor shower of dingers set in front of constellations of bat flips and parrots.
Baseball just loves it when you talk about your best-case scenarios. Just text your best-case scenarios to baseball, and it will show the text to all of its friends in the bar, laughing drunkenly at your expense.
Is it fair to suggest that the Blue Jays will be hurt by a lack of depth, while predicting the Yankees to win the division? Nope. Not at all. But baseball isn't fair, and my proof is this: the Yankees. So I'll take the Blue Jays as a contender, one that will play an elimination game after the regular season ends, still with hopes to reach the real postseason, but it takes a lot of J.A. Happ-related faith to make them prohibitive favorites. I'm not there just yet.
If I have such a depth fetish, why are the Red Sox down here? If Pablo Sandoval doesn't get on a roll, start roasting the ball, and pan out like the Sox expected, they'll calmly turn to Travis Shaw. If Rusney Castillo isn't as majors-ready as assumed, there's Chris Young on the major league roster and Andrew Benintendi in Double-A. The rotation is still counting on some of last year's problems, like Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly, but they also have Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, just in case.
I just can't get over the team slogan of "Your 2016 Red Sox: The same as last year, but now with David Price!" Unless I just made that up. If you need it, it's yours, Red Sox. Really, what they're counting on isn't just the addition of Price, but [Price + (improvement from young, burgeoning stars) + (improvement from 2015 disappointments)] = AL East domination. It's not a bad plan. It's probably all the Red Sox could/should have done.
But even if you buy Hanley Ramirez, quality first baseman, or Xander Bogaerts, perennial All-Star, my eyes keep drifting toward the bottom of the rotation. Rick Porcello is pretty fetch as far as pitchers go, but we have five below-average adjusted ERAs from him out of the last six seasons, and he'll probably pitch just well enough to keep his job. Joe Kelly will be a boffo reliever one day, but that's not what the Red Sox need right now.
Price will help. The best pitchers in baseball tend to do that. And if Mookie Betts and Bogaerts were valuable last year, this might be the year where they molt and become spiritual Diamond Kings. This isn't a section designed to make you feel bad about the Red Sox, who have far more going for them than most teams. It's just a list of reasons to be skeptical, which is something we all could have used before the 2015 season.
The Orioles, who finished 81-81 last year, effectively traded Wei-Yin Chen for Yovani Gallardo, which should make them a little worse. They effectively traded Steve Pearce and Gerardo Parra for Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez, which is probably a wash. And there's a strong chance that Ubaldo Jimenez will be the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation now, but only if he doesn't start Opening Day.
If you're predicting the Orioles to be better than .500, then the burden of proof is on you. Manny Machado would be the talk of baseball in a Trout and Harper-less world, and he probably will be after the season anyway. The Chris Davis deal will be a mess one day, but the Orioles will sure be glad to have him this year. Start with those two players, and you have a promising foundation for 2016 success.
At the same time, this is a sentence you will hear several times this year:
"Jimenez limits the damage and gets out of the bottom of the first. Here come the Orioles, with Trumbo, Wieters, and Alvarez due up."
The homer-happy lineup could work, but it isn't one that I would have a lot of faith in when the Orioles are down by one and facing the late-inning behemoths of the Red Sox or Yankees. The O's finished fourth in the AL East in runs scored per game, and I'm not sure they got better, which means they'll have to get extra help from the starting pitchers. Hopefully, Ubaldo Jimenez has cleaned up his delivery. Let's take a look!
Looking good! It's not irrational to hope for much, much more from Kevin Gausman, too, as he could do for the Orioles what Luis Severino did for the Yankees last year. But it's a stretch to be so optimistic that an over-.500 season is the likeliest possibility.
The rotation could make them this year's Mets, and that's not hyperbole. Chris Archer continues acing the joint up, followed by Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly. Erasmo Ramirez does just fine as a Steven Matz/Bartolo Colon type at the back of the rotation, and Matt Moore is the wildest of wild cards, almost as likely to finish in the top 10 of the year-end WAR rankings as out of the top 150.
The first rule of predictions, again, is to mess with your original predictions because you know you're going to be wrong. I might have the Rays in second, just behind the Blue Jays, if I'm in a sunnier mood on a different day.
But it's not just the baseball gremlins that are making me tread lightly with the Rays, it's the idea that Corey Dickerson isn't just a complementary piece to a talented roster (he is), but that he's the cleanup hitter, protected in the lineup by Logan Morrison (he is). If the Red Sox don't get to be favorites just because they added David Price, the Rays certainly can't be favorites just because they added Dickerson, Morrison, and Brad Miller.
They can be favorites, though, if you're expecting more from the young rotation. If they're uniformly excellent, any of the above projections for the lineup wouldn't mean as much, especially once the trade deadline rolls around. This is probably the best rotation in the division, even if they don't improve a lick, which means it would take an extremely punchless lineup to keep away from the top of the projected standings.
Here, then, is that lineup. Surprises are welcome. Optimism is encouraged. Wagering is expressly discouraged, even if they deserve a lot more credit than they'll get in a lot of the preseason predictions.
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Minnesota Twins
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Reasonable. They spent more than $250 million this offseason because they think their chances are far better than reasonable.
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Fair. Miguel Sano is talented enough to be this year's Bryce Harper, but they would have to hit a ton to make up for the dullest rotation in baseball.
Yeah, I'm not going to be that idiot again. Even if I'm wrong, at least I'll have fewer Royals fans yelling at me, which would make me right. In a way. I'm not sure if Edinson Volquez would have made a postseason start for the Mets, but he was the Game 1 starter for a championship team designed to shut all of us pasty baseball writers up. Between ESPN, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus, 89 different prognosticators predicted the standings for the 2015 season. Not one had the Royals making the postseason. The pennant-winning team from the previous season didn't even get a token Wild Card pick from someone with a raging case of recency bias.
That's not going to be the case this year, so maybe this will be a trendy pick. The Royals combine what's hip with the kids (defensive aptitude) with what's nice and familiar with the old-school, seed-chewing grumblers (clubhouse chemistry, the things you just can't teach). That doesn't mean they had an especially inspiring offseason.
Ben Zobrist is gone, and Omar Infante returns as the second baseman who had to be replaced in the first place. Johnny Cueto gives way to Ian Kennedy, who's a fair bet to pitch like the Cueto the Royals didn't enjoy. Joakim Soria and Travis Snider might be the most exciting additions of the offseason, which isn't the kind of sentence you would expect from a team that had some championship money to spend. (Also, Snider was released shortly after I wrote this, so ...)
Ah, but they spent the rest of that money on their own homegrown favorite, who came back on one of the best deals of the winter. Alex Gordon lengthens the lineup and keeps the defensive magic going, and if just two of the raffle tickets (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Dillon Gee, Chris Young) manage average seasons, the Royals are much deeper than you think.
Most importantly, the bullpen is back, and baseball is finally hep to the idea of a power bullpen. We've seen it work in the postseason for the last two years, and it's not like it doesn't help in the regular season, too. The Royals probably aren't as good as they were last year, if only because no one should expect to be that good. But they don't have to be. I'd rather be laughed at for being too bullish on them than laughed at for being too bearish for the third year in a row. Won't you join my movement of spineless appeasement? It's all the rage.
The Indians' staff had an adjusted ERA of 116 last season, which was the rough equivalent of having Jose Quintana pitch every one of the team's 1,432 innings. That's a heckuva advantage over your opponents. And yet the team barely finished above .500, which meant their offseason was a crucial opportunity to build on a head start that most franchises won't see for decades.
They ... well, they tried. As a collection of contributors, Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe make a lot of sense. As an entire offseason, it's a group that would make more sense for a team that won 101 games, not 81. The Indians were restricted by small-market realities, but that doesn't mean there wasn't an opportunity for a big, bold gamble. The only problem is that they took that big, bold gamble several offseasons ago, which is why they nearly lead the world in dead money. Almost a quarter of the Indians' payroll is going to players who aren't even there.
Oh, if they only knew the pitching staff they were going to build in 2016, they wouldn't have spent so much on Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. While I suppose in 2019, we'll be saying that it's a good thing they couldn't afford Justin Upton because it allowed them to spend big on Manny Machado, this offseason sure seemed like a wide open window for a team with clearly defined needs.
Instead, it's a team looking for rebounds and comeback seasons. Some of those hopes are reasonable. Carlos Santana is coming off the worst season of his career, and he's just 29. Yan Gomes had the worst season of his career, and he's just 28. Getting both of them back at their 2014 levels would be the same as a pair of $150 million free agents that set the offseason aflame.
Maybe they didn't need to spend big on the open market. Maybe they traced the call, and the impact free agents were calling from inside the house, repeat, calling from inside the house. Once Michael Brantley comes back, the lineup is surprisingly deep. It's possible that by focusing so much on the Indians' glorious starting pitching, we've missed a nifty set of hitters that's easy to overlook because of uncharacteristic seasons last year.
Let the Jimmy Rollins acquisition be the metaphor for the White Sox offseason. Was it a move that deserved to be announced in 80-point font? No, just the opposite. Was it a move that deserves to affect these rankings and make them volatile? Not at all. Did it make sense in a practical, sleepy way? Oh, heck yes.
The White Sox: They make sense in a practical, sleepy way.
Whoa, put your credit card away, I'm not the one selling season tickets, here. But the White Sox improved a tick with almost all of their winter transactions. Alex Avila is probably a slight upgrade over Tyler Flowers. Brett Lawrie is a bigger upgrade over Carlos Sanchez, but that's because the bar was set so low. Austin Jackson helps the defense improve, and Drake LaRoche helps the offense improve. If indirectly. And you laughed at the idea that he was a team leader. All of the moves make sense, and they all probably nudged the team closer to .500.
But they needed a two-hand push, not a nudge. The closest they came to doing that was with Todd Frazier at third, who'll replace Conor Gillaspie and Tyler Saladino. White Sox third basemen hit a collective .226/.277/.345, which is statisticese for "Welcome, Todd Frazier," and it's possible that no team improved so much this winter with just one move. The question is if one drastic move and several sleepy moves were enough for an 86-loss team to catch up with the champs.
Maybe? Maybe! With Chris Sale, the White Sox have the pitching equivalent of Mike Trout, an enviable start to a roster that should be hard to foul up. Jose Quintana is chronically underrated, and Carlos Rodon is blessed with an ungodly slider and a ceiling that can take down small airplanes. Combined with the defensive upgrades at second, third, center, and right, it's entirely possible that we're underrating the front of Chicago's rotation, which is a horrifying concept for the rest of the teams in the AL Central.
The Tigers have one of the only lineups that can match the Blue Jays' thunder for the first five spots. Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez is a farcical start to any lineup, even if you're skeptical of Victor Martinez's ability to bounce back at 37. And now that Justin Verlander has learned to thrive with his reduced velocity, there aren't a lot of teams that can top the front two of the Tigers' rotation, either. At least a third of the Tigers' roster is filled with players you would desperately want on your team.
It's the other two-thirds that's the problem. If the Tigers' offseason were a novelty t-shirt, it would read, "I spent $250 million, and all I got was this lousy Mike Pelfrey." Nick Castellanos is still a strange glove and an enigmatic bat, plopped right down after that murderer's row, and the lineup doesn't get much better after that. The spectrum of different Anibal Sanchez possibilities is fascinating, but that doesn't mean he should fill Tigers fans with unabashed enthusiasm, not after last year's misery.
The statistical projections have them scoring and allowing more runs than anyone else in the division, which is about right, but that's based on projections that have everyone staying healthy and a reasonable facsimile of their old selves, and the under-30 upsides don't jump out at me quite as much as the over-30 downsides. If last year was the season we got used to the Tigers not winning the division every year, this is the season we might get used to the Tigers finishing under .500 and wondering how to fix a roster that money helps only so much.
Write out your blueprint for a division-winning Twins team. It's not that hard, really:
It's not likely that all of that will happen, but it's not the fever dream of a bad dungeonmaster, either. That's two-thirds of a lineup, and the only real red flag is a declining superstar.
And then you get to the starting pitching.
The Twins, bless them, have tried to build a rotation. They've taken whatever financial resources they've had at their disposal over the last few years and thrown it at starting pitchers. Three of the four highest-paid players on the team are starting pitchers. Those pitchers also have something else in common: They were all spectacularly disappointing last year.
Give Phil Hughes a mulligan if you want because he's younger, even though his imploding strikeout rate suggests that he's been infected with something that escaped from the Twins' laboratory. Give Ervin Santana a mulligan because he presumably won't be suspended this year, and his league-average pitching last year is about what we can expect, just more of it. Assume Kyle Gibson is a dependable innings eater now. Give Ricky Nolasco the benefit of the doubt just because. Get excited about Tyler Duffey, who hasn't struggled at any level since he was a freshman at Rice. Go ahead, make those leaps of faith for three, four, or even five of those pitchers. What do you have?
A rotation that would still need the support of a strong offense. Which might happen. The Twins were a below-average run machine last year (91 wRC+, tied with the Padres), but there's enough youth and ceiling to make the lineup an asset that can support a liability. It's just a complicated cocktail with a hundred ingredients, and you're not sure if Target is going to carry them all. They can do it. But don't expect them to do it.
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Houston Astros
3. Texas Rangers
4. Los Angeles Angels
5. Oakland A's
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Not absurd at all. They have Mike Trout. As long as they pick first in the fantasy draft of real life, they'll have a head start on the rest of their roster.
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Partially absurd, but probably better than any other last-place team (outside of the AL East) in these predictions.
The secret to all these frighteningly correct predictions: Write down what you really think the standings will be, then screw with a couple of the divisions on purpose. No, I don't think the Mariners have the best on-paper roster in the division. And, yes, I'm aware they've been a reliable, churning, nuclear furnace of disappointment for well over a decade now. But the 2015 Blue Jays broke a lot of barriers for me. My biases and lowered expectations for the boring, never-awful teams are traditionally the path of least resistance, but I have to try harder.
That, and I have to atone for my dumb Nelson Cruz takes.
Here's what I don't like about the Mariners: the bottom of their order. Adam Lind is an underrated hitter (three straight seasons with an OPS+ of 122 or better), but he seems like exactly the sort of slugger who would get sucked into the Safeco death spiral after spending the last few years on the fringes of elite sluggerdom. Seth Smith had a fine, sethsmithian season, but he's already 33 and his ghastly platoon splits will always be a liability. Chris Iannetta doesn't have to bounce back just because he was better in the past, and Leonys Martin has never been much of a hitter, even in his best seasons.
Here's what I like about the Mariners: everything else.
Norichika Aoki seems like the kind of slap hitter that would fit in any ballpark — note that his raw numbers stayed steady, even as he moved from Milwaukee to Kansas City to San Francisco. Kyle Seager and Cruz have nothing left to prove in Safeco, but Robinson Cano still does, and his second half of 2015 suggests that he will. And, really, all of those complaints about Lind and Smith were nitpicky. If nothing changes, they'll be fine contributors to a balanced lineup, with Iannetta and Martin at least offering a measure of upside that hasn't been at the bottom of a Mariners lineup in a while.
While the rotation isn't stuffed with the forces of nature that should allow the Indians and Mets to contend, even in the event of a team-wide slump, it's still filled with promise, from Felix Hernandez to Nathan Karns. There's depth, too, as James Paxton would be an improvement on a lot of third starters around the league, much less sixth starters.
Congratulations on making the postseason for the first time since Ketel Marte was 7, Mariners!
By the end of this season, Mike Trout might be known as the second-best player in the AL West. That's how good Carlos Correa might be. That's how good he might be this season. Considering he plays with the incumbent Cy Young, it's hard to come up with a better one-two head start to any roster in baseball. The only reason they're not the easy favorites is because I've invoked my baseball-is-experimenting-with-terrifying-designer-drugs rights as a prognosticator.
Well, that, and they sure sputtered in September last season, which makes it easier to squint-judge the holes in their lineup. We might see four straight lefties at the bottom of the order, with only one of them having any measure of extended success in the majors last year, and it's not like the right-handed complements on the bench will be sure things, either. At least, not until Evan Gattis gets back, but even he was the very definition of replacement level last year.
Colby Rasmus is 20 dingers wrapped inside a soggy .310-OBP shell, and he's the cleanup hitter. It's possible that the all-or-nothing offense that jumped out to a great start last year has been solved, at least somewhat, and they'll need to readjust to the adjustments. Other than Jose Altuve, I'm not sure how many of those hitters are capable of that adjustment.
That written, it's a talented lineup with a rotation that can forgive some offensive inconsistencies. The bullpen was upgraded at great cost, but it was a move that had to be made to keep up with the AL bullpen arms race, and somehow the Astros still have a noteworthy farm system.
Of all the picks, this is the one I'm least sure of, unless I'm less sure of predicting a third-place finish for the ...
Tell me when Yu Darvish will return and how he'll respond, and this prediction could be higher. Tell me that Mitch Moreland is real, and that the Rangers are geniuses for being so patient with him, and this prediction should be higher. Give me guaranteed health for Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder and the rest of the rotation, with the productivity that comes with that, and I would be a lot more forgiving with these predictions.
As is, the Rangers were a year ahead of schedule with their surprising division title, and I'm not sure how many of those gains they'll hold. They were five games over their expected record, for one, and the roster is filled with players we'll need to see again to believe. With the exception of Rougned Odor, it's possible to write worst-case scenarios for almost everyone in the lineup that are far, far too real.
It's one thing to write something like, "Well, what if Bryce Harper is eaten by an anaconda?", but it's another to ask questions about Choo's and Fielder's continued health and the likelihood of them repeating their renaissance seasons. It's reasonable to wonder about Moreland, and if Delino DeShields can continue being one of the best Rule 5 steals in years. It's not overly cynical to wait and see how Darvish looks after Tommy John surgery before assuming he's one of baseball's brightest aces again, just as it's sensible to wonder about how much longer Cole Hamels can continue his string of 200-inning seasons.
In other words, the Rangers are a garden of earthly delights for concern trolls.
That written, the Rangers are the reigning division champs. And Ian Desmond was an inspired pick up, a solid bet to take his winter aggressions out on the rest of the league. They could be 10 up by the All-Star break and no one would be especially surprised. I'll go with my gut, though, and suggest that Murphy's Law still has a bone to pick with the Rangers.
Still don't know why David Murphy had to make that law.
Do you remember the Angels being just a game away from the postseason last year? I guess on some level I did, but I would still make a baby-seeing-a-juggler-for-the-first-time face every time Baseball-Reference reminded me. How were they even that close?
Mike Trout. He was worth more according to WAR than the entire Orioles outfield, Adam Jones included. He was worth three times as much as the entire Giants outfield. He is a human cheat code, and he allows the Angels to get away with so very much. He's the primary reason they've never finished lower than third since he's arrived.
But it's also stunning that the Angels have made the postseason just once in Trout's career, and the lack of urgency in the offseason was noticeable. In a market filled with outfield options, the new front office made do with a Billy Beane special, mashing together Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, hoping they'll both fill in the other player's blanks. The calm competency of David Freese was replaced with the defensive lunacy of Yunel Escobar, and Jered Weaver's spine and C.J. Wilson's shoulder are making everyone nervous.
The prize of the offseason, Andrelton Simmons, was a snazzy, savvy acquisition, and he'll be a lot of fun to watch, but it doesn't take a lot to predict doom and gloom for the lineup, with .300 OBPs possible from just about every hitter after Pujols. And it's not like Escobar and Nava/Gentry are rock solid certainties at the top of the lineup, either.
Trout might hit 40 home runs this year, but that will just make his 41 RBI seem even sadder.
Sonny Gray is a marvel.
(Editor's note: At this point, I emailed the post back to Grant, suggesting that he write more about the A's.)
Josh Reddick seems like a player we're not appreciating enough.
(Editor's note: At this point, I emailed the post back to Grant, suggesting that he write more about the A's.)
Sean Doolittle throws hard and tweets well.
(Editor's note: At this point, I emailed the post back to Grant, suggesting that he write more about the A's, and CC'd human resources on the email.)
Fine! You want hot A's takes, you got them. They're a team that's good enough to make you hedge your bets and say that every team in the American League is trying to win this year. They signed Rich Hill, kept Reddick, traded for Yonder Alonso, and made a quartet of bullpen moves that all suggest they're at least curious about the first couple months of the season.
At the same time, the A's lost 94 games last year with a half-season's worth of help from Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir. They won't have their help this year, and they ditched Brett Lawrie, too. I've never seen a roster that's taken such pride in accumulating as many limited 18-homer players as the 2016 A's, and there's a chance that they'll be one of the worst defenses in baseball, with only Reddick likely to be above average, at least if you're going by recent defensive metrics.
Gray is a marvel, though, and it's not like there are players on the team that don't make sense in a starting lineup. Teams can do worse than Billy Butler at cleanup. Teams can do worse than Alonso at first base, with Mark Canha helping out against lefties. That wasn't always the case in previous seasons, so maybe there's something to the A's spreading the competent players around the roster like so much helpful, flavorless margarine.
If they contend, though, it would be a surprise, which isn't something you would say about the four teams ahead of them. That means they're the obvious pick for last place, even if they deserve a smidgen better.
1. New York Mets
2. Washington Nationals
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: About as likely as a team building a parking lot across the freeway from a new stadium, then not building a bridge to get from one place to the other.
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: There is a parallel universe in which Cody Asche hits 40 homers with a .460 on-base percentage. Perhaps it shall be revealed that we are they, and they are we.
I'm smitten with the pitching. Being pitchin'-smitten is contagious, so get away if you don't want the fever, but the Mets have the deepest rotation we've seen since the pre-nuclear Phillies, where the fourth starter has a chance to remind the world that it's pointless to use designations like "fourth starter." You can argue that the defense will be abominable -- and it should be -- but the lineup is much better than you might think.
Here's a pre-Cespedes lineup from last year:
That team won the pennant that year. There are 15 teams in the National League, and the one that put that lineup out -- regularly! -- won the pennant just last season.
Now they're even better. They'll have Noah Syndergaard for a full season. Matt Harvey will be stretched out. Jacob deGrom's spring velocity is kind of a story, but let's assume he'll be fine. Steven Matz is around for a full season. Bartolo Colon is keeping the seat warm for Zack Wheeler, and he'll do a great job of that.
That's why the pitching will be better. The lineup is improved even more. Michael Conforto is around for the whole year. So is Cespedes. Asdrubal Cabrera isn't Carlos Correa, but he's at least Brandon Crawford compared to the players he's replacing. Travis d'Arnaud shouldn't have as much dumb luck with his health this year. The #7 hitter is overqualified, regardless of who you put there.
Did we mention that Matz has the slowest average fastball on the staff (94.3 mph)?
The defense is a mess, though. FanGraphs has only Lucas Duda as a net positive for his position, which is curious, considering he's never been a positive before and was a part of the Royals' biggest plays in their championship run. David Wright was hard to watch at third base in the postseason, and replacing David Murphy with Neil Walker is a great way to make Mets fans think that's just how second basemen play defense these days. Cespedes might be a Gold Glover, but he's no center fielder.
The way to fix that is to acquire a bunch of strikeout pitchers. So good job, Mets.
Last August, I wrote about how the Nationals might be hosed for 2016, too. I don't know if I was in a sour mood, or if I was drinking decaf that morning, but that seems a little harsh in retrospect. For one, I used a naughtier word than "hosed," and that's not like me! For two, I was way too grumpy about Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, who are both young enough to be fine.
Or maybe I just had both of them on my NL-only fantasy team, and I was just bitter as all heck.
Regardless, the Nationals are not hosed. They're just competing against the Mets' rotation, which is the rotation we thought the Nationals were going to have last year. And that once-vaunted rotation is still mostly vaunted, but they're down a Jordan Zimmermann. I know Joe Ross is a fantabulous young pitcher, but his best-case scenario is Jordan Zimmermann, so they're at least even? Tanner Roark probably isn't going to be as good as we figured Doug Fister was going to be, and while that's not a fair way to evaluate anything, it's a good way to remember that we probably should expect less from the Nationals' rotation this year.
And then you get to the lineup. No Ian Desmond, which isn't a big deal when you remember how disappointing he was last year, but how confident are you that Danny Espinosa is guaranteed to be better than the two-win shortstop Desmond was last year? Jayson Werth can't be worse, unless he is. Ryan Zimmerman should be better, unless he isn't. Ben Revere is like Denard Span with fewer push-ups and less range, and Daniel Murphy is like Daniel Murphy was less range. Because he's older. Moving on.
Which brings us to Bryce Harper, who is one of baseball's brightest lights and a titan among mortals. He doesn't have to be as good as he was last year, considering that no one is as good as he was last year, at least not as a hitter, not right now. Let's look at the last hitters to post an 1.100 OPS or better and see if their OPS went up or down the next year.
Some takeaways: Albert Pujols was good. 2001 was wacky. Players in 2001 seemed bigger for some reason. Barry Bonds is always, always, always an outlier. And it's very likely that Bryce Harper won't be as good this year.
Ah, but there's a silver lining to that list. Did you notice that Albert Pujols sort of showed up a lot? That's because he was freaking awesome and is going to the Hall of Fame. His OPS went down, technically, but not by any meaningful amount. Sometimes players are just that good. And of all the players in baseball, there are maybe two that I expect to be that good. Harper is one of them.
Still, the Nationals floundered last year even with Harper's historic season. How can you pick them for first this year? Above a pennant-winning team that got stronger? You might. I can't.
Not as far away as you think. They were a semi-trendy pick in last year's predictions after acquiring Mat Latos and Dee Gordon, and now they're a semi-trendy non-pick because the Mets are familiar contenders now and the Nationals are still talented. But they're not as far away as you think.
I'm not sure if Wei-Yin Chen is worth $90 million in a what-about-teachers kind of way, but he's a dynamite addition to a pitching staff with a Jose Fernandez-sized head start. Jarred Cosart has big-s Stuff that's never translated into missed bats, but he's one of those Jake Arrieta-types, where it looks so obvious in retrospect. The Marlins just need to get there before the next team.
That means the rotation is a 1, a 2, and a bunch of 5s that could be 3s. Fair enough. It's the lineup that's promising enough to dream on. Giancarlo Stanton, praise be unto his dinger prowess, is back. So is the rest of the outfield, and there's no way Marcell Ozuna is going to be as counterproductive this year.
Someone decided that Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon can both hit a little bit, and it was at a meeting I wasn't invited to, but that's fine. I was wrong, they were right. It's Martin Prado at third this year, not Matt Dominguez and the husk of Casey McGehee. While I'd like someone a little more steady than Justin Bour at first and in the middle of the order, he's not without some promise of bigger, brighter things.
So it's a lineup of YES-maybe-eh and a rotation of YES-maybe-eh. The two sides are nicely balanced, both anchored by generational talents with injury histories, with a shelf of talent below them, and question marks shortly after.
Of all the teams you're ignoring this year, this is the one with the best chance to make you revisit everything in August.
Still comfortable with the Mets at the top, mind you. Just keep an eye on these rascals. It's a dormant volcano of spinning fish, there, and every so often it erupts and covers the landscape with spinning fish. Dreams are crushed. People die. It's the Marlins' way.
The suspension of disbelief stops here. The Braves should be terrible, and everyone knows it.
That doesn't mean that their moves this offseason were without purpose, or that they aren't heading in the right direction. They have Ender Inciarte -- how did he get here? -- and Matt Wisler -- how did he get here? -- in the plans, and a bounceback season from Julio Teheran is something I would put cash money on. But they also have five 30-somethings in an ostensibly rebuilding lineup. And that's before you get to benchies like Michael Bourn, Tyler Flowers, Emilio Bonifacio, Kelly Johnson, and possibly Nick Swisher, all of whom you know will get time if healthy.
This is not the lineup you'll see the next time the Braves contend. The only player who fits with that plan would be Freddie Freeman, and there's a chance he's the hottest July topic in baseball.
With those 30-somethings, though, you have a fairly high floor without a ton of surprises, so they'll take fourth for now. All they care about is the dry-aged prospects they're patiently waiting on. I could see the Braves winning 80 games and featuring an Aaron Blair and Sean Newcomb rotation in September that makes them the easy pick for a 2017 surprise. Dansby Swanson isn't that far removed from a Kris Bryant path, and he could be a year ahead of schedule, showing up in the late summer months with a strong minor-league season.
It's probably going to be a year of pain, though, for a franchise that isn't used to it. The last time the Braves finished under .500 two seasons in a row was 1990. Russ Nixon started the year as the manager. Greg Maddux was on the Cubs. Tom Glavine was the Robbie Erlin of the staff, not a future Hall of Famer. Mario met Yoshi for the first time. It was a long, long, looooong time ago.
It would be a lot harder to take if there wasn't a plan. There's a plan, alright. Acquire the prospects, and let baseball sort them out. That's a plan that's worked for a lot of the teams up ^ there. Why not the Braves?
The Phillies, as presently constructed, project to have a lineup worth about as valuable as Bryce Harper, according to WAR. That is, the eight players in the Phillies' lineup would be about as good at winning baseball games as Bryce Harper playing an alphabetized group of random Triple-A 30-year-olds at every position. If you want perspective, that'll do.
Like the Braves, though, the Phillies finally have a bedtime story that makes them feel better. Instead of "Ryan Howard will make $40 billion until your grandkids retire," they have stories about the haul for Cole Hamels. About the first-round picks that turned into help you can see in 2016. About J.P. Crawford, who might make Brandon Crawford the second-best shortstop Crawford in the National League, maybe even this year.
Until then, here's a bowl of Freddy Galvis! And others. Please consume them and smile. Let's take a look at the #5 hitter and oh okay it's Ryan Howard again well that's great. Maikel Franco is a dynamo, but he could also be one of those players who needs to wriggle through a couple .280-OBP seasons to find himself on the other side. It's a transition year of transition years.
All eyes on Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, then. Both pitchers can help the Phillies win in the present, but they have an awful lot to do with the future. Nola we expected, Eickhoff, less so, but they could be a shortcut on the road to a resurgent Phillies franchise.
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Low. Dreadfully low. As low as any team predicted for fourth-place since last year's Braves. Or this year's Braves.
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: About the same as Joey Votto going 30-30, but you never know, baseball, ha ha, it will surprise you.
I would understand if y'all were feeling Cubs fatigue, what with them being the favorites in Vegas and pundit land. Last year's preseason favorites, the Nationals, started slow and never recovered, and you might feel some natlash with how universally beloved the Cubs' roster is.
Don't give in, though. This is an absurd team. As deep as last year's Nationals ... if last year's Nationals were far younger and made it out of spring training with their health. The best magic trick of the offseason was when the Cubs took the two most valuable players from last year's division winner and replaced them with Mike Leake. They were not chased by a boulder. There were not dart guns or sinister archaeologists waiting for them. They just ... left and went home.
Where's the hole? The top of the order? Looks like a pair of .370 OBPs before a genuine slugger to me. The middle of the order? There's a string of MVP candidates there. The bottom of the order? They have a couple of young players who were recently among the best prospects in baseball, and they might combine for 50 homers. The bench is stuffed with overqualified players. The rotation has a true ace, and it doesn't drop into oblivion when you get to the #5. The bullpen has depth both in the late innings and if a long reliever is needed.
Oh, and almost everyone in the lineup is young enough that most of the hitters won't just do as well as last year, but they'll actually improve.
There's always a catch, a weakness, you say, as Karnak nods, thoughtfully. There is! And if a couple of the starting pitchers get sucked into the turbines, the Cubs don't have any impact pitching prospects they should count on. They have exactly one top-10 prospect who should spend substantial time above Class-A this year, and he struck out six batters per nine innings in Myrtle Beach last year. The reinforcements would have to come in a trade.
Which is all a fancy way of saying, "If you take away their best players, then what, smart guy?" You can say the same about every team, and the Cubs are a 97-win team that improved dramatically. Don't fall for the fatigue.
But the Pirates are good, too! They're quite good. They're just going to be the blood sacrifice tossed into the wild card volcano again. It's nice to have a defined role, I guess.
The Pirates couldn't keep up with Jason Heyward-type contracts, of course, and they couldn't really even flirt with Ben Zobrist-type contracts. They just had to grin, sigh, and be uncomfortably practical, with Juan Nicasio and Jon Niese shoring up the rotation, with David Freese and John Jaso bolstering the lineup. Those are not proper responses to Mike Leake, much less Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, but they are the proper responses to "We have $6.92, and we need to finalize this roster somehow."
Unlike the Cubs, they do have those special pitching prospects in reserve, and they're content to play the fake-need-for-minor-league-seasoning game to make them cheaper for the future. If both Nicasio and Niese are still in the rotation by August, that will have meant that Tyler Glasnow and/or Jameson Taillon have disappointed, somehow. Unless it means that pitching coach Ray Searage really is a warlock, and the Pirates are positively thrilled with their rotation filled with spare parts and life hacks.
It's worth remembering that the Pirates were successful last year, even though Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Gregory Polanco were all letdowns. They're all young enough to bounce back, with the rest of the lineup young enough to hold steady.
They're ahead of the Cardinals because of the bullpen. Well, the bullpen and the top prospects. Well, the bullpen, the top prospects, and biomechanical subterfuge of the front office that we're not privy to. It's a complicated, proprietary blend. And how many times can you expect the Cardinals to recover from the slings and arrows that would have felled lesser franchises?
The Cardinals are the Black Knight in Monty Python & the Holy Grail, except after their arms are chopped off, they shriek, "Look, I can still play piano," which they do, just before their legs are chopped off and they shriek, "I can still drive a manual transmission with my teeth!", which they do. The laughs stop. The movie stalls. And they don't care. Also, they're playing the piano and driving the manual transmission at the same time because they don't give a damn.
But of the three monster teams from 2015, the Cardinals are the easiest one to poke holes in. Isn't Matt Holliday due for a slump? Is that Matt Adams hitting cleanup? Is that Jedd Gyorko playing short? What happened to Kolten Wong in the second half? Should we really expect Adam Wainwright to miss a year and return as a super-ace at 35? Can a team seriously lose one of the league's best pitchers every season for several years running and still win the division again?
To which the Cardinals politely respond, "Gosh, I don't know how we do it mister. Just good ol' fashioned hard work, I suppose." And that makes you wish bad things on them even more, which just gives them a chance to respond in a completely infuriating way. Don't get me wrong, they're probably my first- or second-place team in every other division in baseball, and they're still a deep, talented roster. You just have to pick one of the three teams at the top, and there's going to be an annoyed team left out.
Did you know that Randal Grichuk's OBP last year (.329) was the highest it's been at any level since rookie ball? It was, which means we're talking about a player who couldn't crack a .330 OBP in Double-A or Triple-A, not even in the Pacific Coast League. Maybe he changed his approach, and he's a new, patient, refined hitter, you think. Then you check the stats, and, nope, he struck out 110 times in 320 plate appearances, with just 22 walks.
That's the cleanup hitter.
Stephen Piscotty's minor-league career was more distinguished, but he still posted his career-best OPS in the majors, which isn't supposed to happen. Matt Holliday is 36 and oft-injured. I'm not sure what they can count on from Yadier Molina, even if he's fully healthy. The Cardinals had trouble scoring runs last year, even with the unexpected help from Grichuk and Piscotty, and other than Matt Carpenter, there isn't a hitter that fills me with he'll-be-fine confidence.
Eh, they'll win 97 games because ...
/opens random Baseball-Reference page
... Patrick Wisdom will hit 30 homers. I know this. You know this. I don't even know why we're here. But I'm not seeing a lineup that can propel a team. And I'm not seeing a pitching staff that's good for a sub-3.00 team ERA like last year because it's not 1968, and no pitching staff is really that good.
The Brewers' rotation makes sense. That's not damning with faint praise. Wily Peralta's cratering strikeout rate is a major concern, but he was an excellent young pitcher just a year ago. Of course you stick with him. Jimmy Nelson is a legitimate breakout candidate, as is Taylor Jungmann. Chase Anderson is that right mix of young, cheap, and tradeable if he has a good year. Matt Garza is ... a free agent very soon if you use a geological scale of time.
But you know that at least one of those pitchers will disappoint. One of them will be hurt. One of them will be Matt Garza. That's because that's how pitchers work when you need an absolute best-case scenario to paper over any other roster deficiencies.
No, this is the Brewers' rebuild season, maybe the start of three rebuilding seasons, and instead of worrying about Peralta or Nelson shocking the world, they're going to be seeing which one of them might be around for the next good Brewers team. The season's excitement will be concentrated in two main bursts:
And you know what? That's enough. There's a calm, peaceful mood that comes from following a team like this, a team that isn't going to compete even if you shoot three of their players with an Immediate All-Star ray. Focus on the little things, the prospects and the trades. Maybe Keon Broxton is the center fielder of the future, maybe Domingo Santana's time is now, maybe Yadiel Rivera is a diamond in the rough. There are things to watch for on the 2016 Brewers.
Just don't expect a lot of wins. That's probably not something to watch for.
The Reds' rotation makes sense. That's not damning with faint praise. Jon Moscot's cratering strikeout rate is a major concern, but he was an excellent young pitcher just a year ago. Of course you stick with him. Raisel Iglesias is a legitimate breakout candidate, as is Anthony DeSclafani. Michael Lorenzen is ... wait a second. This seems familiar.
So, yes, apparently the Brewers are the Reds, and the Reds are the Brewers. They'll have the youth in the rotation they need, but it's only to figure out which pitchers are worth keeping around through the rebuilding process. They have a big-time franchise player that they can't/won't move (read Russell Carleton in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus annual for more on that), along with some still-tradeable players. Their fun this season will be in watching some players develop and trading other players away, just like the Brewers.
Except the Reds have Joey Freaking Votto, which makes for a fun season, regardless. Lose 100 games? At least you get to watch Joey Votto. Trust me, it wasn't so bad watching Rikkert Faneyte because there was a promise of Barry Bonds at the other end. Votto is that compelling, unless you're an RBI junkie from 1988. Brandon Phillips had a very fine season last year, and he apparently doesn't want to go anywhere. There are things to watch?
There are also things not to watch. Billy Hamilton was the weakest hitter in the majors last year, and this is the year the Reds might finally lose patience with him. Somehow Billy Burns became the Billy Hamilton we were waiting for, and that doesn't seem very fair. Can't we have both?
The most fun we'll have with the Reds this year is when people complain about Votto having 40 RBI in August, even though he'll have Hamilton and Eugenio Suarez hitting in front of him.
That's not a real tweet. Yet.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Not great, Bob! At the same time, we've all pooh-poohed teams reliant on young pitching, only to watch all the young pitchers clicking into place.
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: The chances of the Padres winning the NL West are significantly lower than we thought at this time last year.
I know a Dodgers fan who compared the team's offseason to Jack trading his cow for magic beans. Zack Greinke is the cow in this scenario, and his dominant starts are farm fresh milk, sprayed straight from the udder. Or something. And the magic beans are the 47 different starting pitchers the Dodgers accumulated, most of whom have been disappointing this spring.
Except that analogy is flawed on several levels. For one, Greinke would be the magic beans that worked. Like, you have scientific proof that they're going to turn into big, freaky vines that you can climb, and they're so rare that there's absolutely no way you're going to get them anywhere else. And the pitchers the Dodgers got instead are beans. Plain, nutritious, unremarkable beans that should keep you alive, though the resulting gas could also ruin your presentation before the board of directors.
Greinke would have made the Dodgers better, and the Kershaw/Greinke combination wasn't something the Dodgers had seen since the days of Koufax/Drysdale, and it's something that some teams have never seen. At the same time, it seems like there's been a rush to suggest that Not Greinke is the same thing as Pitcher Signed After Winning Radio Contest, as if the Dodgers have accumulated riff raff and ne'er-do-wells who can't pitch.
That's not the case. If you want an example of how much depth the Dodgers still have left, just look at who isn't in the rotation. They're not rushing Jose De Leon or Julio Urias. They'll trot out Zach Lee, but only if they have to. It takes an impressive roster to go 10 pitchers deep before dipping into the best prospects in the upper minors.
At the same time, the Dodgers' biggest problem over the last few years has been ignoring the luxury of a third ace, something that would hedge against the possibility of a lackluster postseason from either Kershaw or Greinke. But instead of acquiring David Price or Cole Hamels, they held onto their best pitching prospects instead. And now that the Dodgers might be in an hour of need, they're going to ... play it safe with those prospects? Feels odd.
The lineup should be fine, deep, and talented, with deserving players on the bench and in the minors. Yasiel Puig should rebound, if only because that's what young stars do after disappointing seasons, and Corey Seager doesn't have to outhit Carlos Correa to be a revelation and a drastic improvement. If they can pitch even a little behind Kershaw, they'll take the division.
Can they pitch a little bit behind Kershaw? The early returns aren't encouraging, but acknowledging that is acknowledging that you're paying attention to spring. Don't pay attention to spring.
The Giants wanted to spend way too much on Zack Greinke. It was their plan approaching free agency. It was their plan entering free agency. And they almost came away with him, a move that would have doubled as a drastic improvement and a poke in the nose to their rivals.
Then the Diamondbacks ripped off their shirt and started dancing on the bar while everyone watched, jaw open.
The Giants' backup plan was to target risky players who were still expensive, just not as expensive. If the Dodgers somehow made a three-way deal to acquire Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span for Zack Greinke before the 2015 season, there would have been a hundred articles about what a deft, brilliant sleight of hand the deal was. So why shouldn't the Giants be favorites after making something roughly equivalent to that trade this offseason?
The 2015 season happened, for one. That's an extra year of data that made scouts and analysts say ruh-roh, if you'll pardon the baseball jargon, and you just can't pretend it didn't happen. Cueto looked tired by the end of the year, like a pitcher who threw 240 innings the season before and was asked to shoulder a postseason run. Samardzija's average season is, well, average, and it seems like the Giants paid for a lot more than that.
For the first time since Barry Bonds and the early days of AT&T Park, though, the Giants are counting on the lineup to be the most important component of the team, and they don't need Cueto and Samardzija to pick up Cy Young votes if they want to contend. The Giants finished first in the National League in wRC+, and that was without a lot of contributions from the entire outfield. Those outfielders are ostensibly healthy this year, and the players responsible for the gaudy rate stats are still around and still under 30.
But while they have more depth than they get credit for in the event of continued Matt Cain meltdowns (Chris Heston, Clayton Blackburn), they still might not outpitch the Dodgers, even with Madison Bumgarner. It's an even year -- HAVE YOU HEARD THAT YET? ABOUT THE EVEN YEARS AND THE GIANTS? OH, THEN LET ME T -- but it's probably smarter to take the Dodgers until they actually stumble, which they haven't done for three seasons now.
Before you get too mad, remember that the Dodgers won the division in 2014, too.
Zack Greinke is phenomenal. Shelby Miller is already a huge upgrade, and he could get even better. Patrick Corbin might not have been a proper ace, but he's at least an overqualified third starter. So you can see what the Diamondbacks were getting at.
Paul Goldschmidt might be one of the five-best players in baseball, a cyborg who does everything right. At some point during the season, A.J. Pollock moved from the most underrated player in baseball to a properly rated star. It would be a crime to waste their primes. So you can see what the Diamondbacks were getting at.
It's a shame, then, just how underwhelming the rest of the roster might be. Other than David Peralta, I'm not sure how many average players the Diamondbacks should count on, much less above-average players. There's a path for them to get to 100 wins, easy, and it starts with the five players in the first two paragraphs. But to get there, they'll need surprising contributions from unlikely sources, like Yasmany Tomas, Robbie Ray, and Jake Lamb, all young enough to develop, all enigmatic enough to disappoint. The entire roster is like that, right down to the #5 starter.
This is why the projection systems hate the 2016 Diamondbacks. They have regression to the mean built in, so they'll project very good seasons instead of historic seasons, and the Diamondbacks won't threaten the rest of the NL West if they get merely very good seasons from Greinke and Goldschmidt. They'll need something beyond that, or they'll need more than a couple of the Tomas/Lamb/Jean Segura set to exceed expectations and blossom into something beautiful.
Heck, turn it into a song that we can use for every third-place team in these predictions.
Probably won't happen
But if it does happen
You don't get to say I told you so
Because I used non-committal
Slap some vibraphone behind that sucker, and get it stuck in your head every March for the rest of your life. The Diamondbacks are good enough to win the division. The other two teams ahead of them are just a touch better on paper. And before you say "The game isn't played on paper," know that there is an underground network of stat nerds that's committed to sprinkling ash and three-hole-punch confetti onto the field of all 30 ballparks. The modern game is literally played on paper, and you cannot stop us, for we are legion.
The Rockies have to try everything they can because they have the extra burden of Coors Field. Rather, the extra burden of adjusting to everything that isn't Coors Field. The one thing that worked for them, though, was developing their own pitching. The 2007 Rockies don't win the pennant without a homegrown rotation featuring Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and Ubaldo Jimenez, and while those names don't seem impressive now with the benefit of hindsight, it worked at the time.
That's what the Rockies are trying to do. And it's crazy enough to work.
Not this year, probably. Not this year. Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, Antonio Senzatela, and (hopefully) Tyler Matzek might form an unstoppable homegrown rotation one day, but it won't be soon. And if you cast the net wide enough to include the young pitchers acquired in trades, which you should, it's clear that the Rockies intend to build their next contender on a pile of arms. Young pitchers who've never pitched anywhere else in the majors don't know the difference. It's widely known in baseball circles as Denver Syndrome, and it's a solid strategy.
For it to work this year, they would need all of the arms to click and surprising seasons from everyone other than the outstanding Nolan Arenado, who would just have to be himself. And while there's an argument to be made that hoarding relievers is more sensible than hoarding outfielders in this market, the lineup might not be deep enough even if the starting pitching is vastly improved over last season.
At the very least, you can see what the Rockies are trying to do, which hasn't always been the case.
The previous offseason was Transformers 6: Megatron v. Sever: Dawn of Space Justice, a big-budget blockbuster that flopped critically and commercially but still earned your sad, begrudging respect. The story was a mess, and there was a solid two-hour stretch that made you fall asleep in the theater, but you had to appreciate the dumb explosions. They went BANG and there was fire and your eardrums folded into a quantum singularity, and it was pretty cool. Everything else was garbage, but that was something.
That makes this last offseason Transformers 7, but all it says about it on IMDb is "(in production)." You're not optimistic, but it's not like anyone had hopes for Furious 7, and that did well. Heck, Creed was fantastic, 25 years after the franchise was a joke. Maybe there's something to this seventh movie. Maybe it will stun the world.
It's probably going to be direct-to-video, though, with eyes on the eighth installment, even though they still haven't finalized a screenplay for this one. Are the Padres rebuilding? Possibly, considering their decision to jump the bull market on power relievers, trading away Craig Kimbrel like they should have in July. Are the Padres contending? Possibly, considering they'll have a lineup with Jon Jay and Alexei Ramirez in it. They're a cloud floating by, and you get to decide what they look like.
What they really are is a team that's hoping, hoping, hoping that Andrew Cashner and James Shields pitch as well as they're capable of, enticing teams at the deadline. A prospect haul for whatever they have to sell would push reset on the grand offseason experiment, and they would argue that the months-long offseason of intense interest in the team last offseason was a net positive. Fair enough.
My only issue with their limbo is that they didn't address their defense. Jon Jay is a center fielder only in contrast to Wil Myers, and he'll still have to cover the real estate that Matt Kemp left back in 2009. Ramirez is a good enough hitter to make him a plus when he fields, and he fields well enough to make him a plus when he hits, but he's probably past the tipping point on both. Last year's NL-worst defense isn't much better, and that's a problem for a team trying to boost the value of its semi-available pitchers.
Wild card game: Pirates over Giants
NLDS: Dodgers over Cubs, Mets over Pirates
NLCS: Mets over Dodgers
Wild card game: Astros over Indians
ALDS: Mariners over Yankees, Astros over Royals
ALCS: Mariners over Astros
Mets over Mariners
You know it’s going to be someone random. Why not the Mets? Also don't forget that these predictions are probably right.
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen
AL MVP: Manny Machado
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
AL Cy Young: Sonny Gray
NL Rookie of the Year: Hector Olivera
AL Rookie of the Year: Bradley Zimmer