1. San Francisco Giants -- 2015 Record: 84-78; Projection: 93-69
I don't believe in correlation without causation, but the fact that the Giants won the World Series in 2010, missed the playoffs in 2011, won the World Series in 2012, missed the playoffs in 2013, won the World Series in 2014, and missed the playoffs in 2015 is fairly interesting. The Giants appear to retool every other year to then subsequently win the World Series. And boy did they retool this offseason.
San Francisco added Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span over the winter, deepening both their rotation and lineup. On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants boast the likes of Joe Panik, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Matt Duffy, as well as Span, to give them a great order from the top to the bottom. This was a team that posted the second-best wRC+ in baseball without Span, so 2016 should be a similarly good offensive year for the team.
The Giants' downfall came in their rotation last year. As a group, that unit was worth a total of 7.2 fWAR, sixth-worst in the Majors. With pitching that bad, I'm actually surprised that the Giants played as well as they did last year. The front office obviously noticed the same issues, and they pounced. Cueto and Samardzija now give the Giants a much improved rotation that also includes Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, and Matt Cain. This improved pitching, plus the fact that it is an even year, should carry the Giants to a division title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks -- 2015 Record: 79-83; Projection: 91-71
I guess I still haven't learned my lesson, have I? I've always been high on teams that are considered the bigger winners of the offseason and then they falter and do not reach expectations. The Diamondbacks are different, though. They did something similar to what the Cubs did last offseason. The Diamondbacks took a young core in the form of Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, and Patrick Corbin and supplemented to it. That's different than the 2015 Padres, for instance, who basically built their team through free agents and trades. The Diamondbacks built their team, and now they are supplementing it. This is why I think this will work.
Who were those additions, you ask? Well, their biggest came as a huge rotation upgrade. Zack Greinke will now be leading a Diamondbacks' staff that also includes fellow new addition Shelby Miller, as well as Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray. The rotation was a place of struggle for Arizona last season, and they definitely made the necessary moves this offseason to give them one of the more formidable staffs in baseball. Their bullpen, too, got an upgrade. This time it comes in the form of Tyler Clippard, who will serve as a nice bridge to closer Brad Ziegler. Last season, the Diamondbacks ranked 27th in fWAR from pitchers.
In the lineup, the Diamondbacks supplemented Goldschmidt, Pollock, and Peralta with Jean Segura. They hope Segura can find his bat in 2016. If so, he'll be an extremely good upgrade in the middle infield. Arizona also needs Yasmany Tomas, Jake Lamb, or Nick Ahmed to step it up in 2016 in order to make up for the loss of Ender Inciarte.
The Diamondbacks will be on the cusp of making the playoffs, but if everything goes well for them, I wouldn't be surprised if they are still playing come October.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers -- 2015 Record: 92-70; Projection: 88-74
It appears that the Dodgers have an unlimited amount of funds, but they still could not get David Price or Zack Greinke to sign with them in free agency. Even a deal with Hisashi Iwakuma fell apart, leaving the team to settle for deals with Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, and Yaisel Sierra. The Dodgers won the NL West in 2015, but this was partly because their pitchers combined for the second-highest fWAR total and fifth-lowest ERA in the Majors.
In 2016, where are the Dodgers going to get their pitching? Greinke, who was worth 5.9 fWAR, is gone. The Japanese Maeda is something of an unknown. Hyun-jin Ryu missed the entire 2015 season with a torn shoulder. Clayton Kershaw is the only anchor in this rotation. If it works out, more power to them. But, I'd rather have the Diamondbacks' Greinke, Miller, and Corbin in a three-game set as compared to Kershaw, Anderson, and Kazmir or Ryu.
On the offensive, the Dodgers should be just fine. Their lineup posted the third-best wRC+ in baseball last year, and it should be even better this year with a full season from top prospect Corey Seager. Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig are the heart of a power-heavy order that is among the best in the league. The Dodgers still have the firepower to make a run deep into the postseason, but their pitching remains a question mark.
4. San Diego Padres -- 2015 Record: 74-88; Projection: 74-88
The Padres' 2015 season was nothing short of a disappointment. The team put all their chips on the table last offseason, acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, James Shields, and Craig Kimbrel via trade and free agent signings. Despite all those big names, the Padres were actually worse in 2015 than they were the prior year (77-85). Kimbrel and Upton are gone, but the Padres seem to be in between fully rebuilding or trying to contend. This uncertainty will lead to another subpar season.
Perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition for the Padres was the hiring of new manager Andy Green. He has never managed at the big league level, last serving as the Diamondbacks' third base coach, but needs to spark this team and develop a chemistry that they did not have last year.
The Padres' offense got additions in the form of Jon Jay and Alexei Ramirez this offseason, but the loss of Justin Upton in the middle of the order will hurt. Even with Upton posting a 122 OPS+, San Diego was in the bottom third in baseball in wRC+. They can be better this year if Norris can improve on his 99 OPS+ in 2015 and if Ramirez serves as a true upgrade over Alexi Amarista at shortstop (which he should).
In the pitching department, the Padres shouldn't be terrible. Their staff actually posted the eighth-best xFIP in baseball and top-three starters, Tyson Ross, Shields, and Andrew Cashner, all return. In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney takes over as closer. If the Padres want to beat this projection, they need their offense to pick up the slack. It's hard to see that happening, when the team appears to lack a real direction.
5. Colorado Rockies -- 2015 Record: 68-94; Projection: 70-92
The Rockies want to contend, but I just don't think that is possible. It may happen sooner rather than later, however. In 2016, the Rockies indirectly proved that they wanted to contend, signing Gerardo Parra and acquiring Jake McGee from the Rays to upgrade their lineup and bullpen, respectively. This team won just 68 games in 2015 and is not complete or deep enough to make any real noise in the National League this upcoming year.
I am a fan of the Rockies lineup heading into the season. Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, and the Coors Field effect should give the Rockies one of the higher scoring offenses in the National League. Last season, though they did have Troy Tulowitzki for the first half of the year or so, the Rockies scored the fifth-most runs in baseball.
The only issue with the Rockies is their pitching. That's a pretty major issue, to be fair. Colorado's projected rotation consists of Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jordan Lyles, Jon Gray, and Tyler Chatwood. De La Rosa and Bettis each posted ERA+s over 100 (considered average). The bullpen should be improved, because the Rockies also added Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to go along with McGee. It's hard to know how much of a difference all these moves will make, but the Rockies probably won't be in the conversation in the National League this year.
Next up: AL East.