We've made it! This is our last weekend without regular season baseball, with Opening Night coming next Sunday. We have arrived at my last division preview, as this time I take a look at the American League West. They have five teams that all have arguments for contention in 2016, but who will?
1. Houston Astros -- 2015 Record: 86-76; Projection: 92-70
The Astros narrowly missed out on winning this very division last year, falling two games shy of the Rangers in the standings. Fans still weren't upset by any means. The team hadn't made the postseason since 2005, and they had some of the worst teams in baseball from 2011 to 2013, losing an average of 108 games during those horrid years. Last season was a huge turnaround for them, and it should only serve as the beginning of a huge window of contention for the 'Stros.
To find the heart and soul of this Houston team, look no further than the middle infield, with 21-year-old Carlos Correa and 25-year-old Jose Altuve being among the best shortstops and second basemen in the league, respectively. The Astros practically had no turnover in their lineup going into the 2016 season, with only Chris Carter leaving via free agency. Other than that, this team is ready to pick up where it left off.
Their pitching staff is deep. I had absolutely no problem with the team taking a shot at Doug Fister to help with the back end of their rotation. I, in fact, loved it. He was an awfully good starter not too long ago, and at 32, he should still be in his prime or close enough to his prime to be a valuable piece. The team upgraded their bullpen, their lone issue in 2015, this offseason with the addition of Ken Giles from Philadelphia. Giles, with his 100 mile per hour fastball and wipeout slider, is one of the best up-and-coming closers in baseball and should be able to finish off games with ease.
Overall, the Astros have the makings of a ball club that could be very dangerous in the 2016 playoffs. The laughingstock of the league no longer, many will be paying attention to Houston for many reasons. Plus, who isn't excited to see what Carlos Correa can do in a whole season?
2. Texas Rangers -- 2015 Record: 88-74; Projection: 90-72
When the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels from the Phillies at the trade deadline last season, their main intention was to have him for a possible run into the postseason in 2016. They were 50-52 at the time and seven games out of the division. Slowly but surely, the Hamels acquisition became not just a 2016 move, but a 2015 move too, as the Rangers propelled themselves towards the postseason. They went 38-22 the rest of the way, and they found themselves playing the Blue Jays in the American League Division Series, where they lost in five games.
The Rangers' lineup is solid from top to bottom. Probably the most underrated player there is Delino DeShields, who, as a Rule 5 draft pick, went out and posted a .718 OPS, stole 25 bases, and provided fine defense. DeShields could even have a bigger year in 2016, as he stole 101 bases in 2012 while in the Astros system. With more of a green light on the base paths, DeShields could be a huge headache to pitchers. Also, the Rangers added Ian Desmond to the mix this year, where he'll serve as an outfielder until Josh Hamilton can find a way to get healthy (if he does at all). On a one-year, $8 million deal, Desmond looks to be a steal and may be able to have a solid year in a hitter's park.
As for their staff, the biggest addition (or more like a re-addition) the Rangers will be getting this year is Yu Darvish, who missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. Darvish and Hamels should give them one of the better one-two punches in the American League. As for their bullpen, the Rangers took on Tom Wilhelmsen in a trade with the Mariners this offseason, where he'll be in the back-end of the 'pen with Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson, Keone Kela, and Shawn Tolleson.
The Rangers should have a very good year in 2016, but the Astros are just a bit better in terms of depth and in the rotation. I expect Texas to have a good shot at the playoffs, though.
3. Seattle Mariners - 2015 Record: 76-86; Projection: 82-80
The Mariners did a lot this offseason. Perhaps the move I liked the most, however, was the hiring of Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager and their subsequent hiring of Scott Servais to be their manager. They needed an executive like Dipoto to come in and clean house, while building around the talent that they already have in store, with players like Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners brought in quite a few mid-range additions this offseason: starter Wade Miley, outfielder Nori Aoki, reliever Steve Cishek, reliever Joaquin Benoit first baseman Adam Lind, outfielder Leonys Martin, catcher Chris Iannetta and many, many others. If I spent time on every one, I'd be here all day. However, I'd like to point out that as a whole, I loved what the Mariners did this offseason. They attacked their weaknesses from 2015, like the pitching, especially out of the bullpen. Miley is a huge bounce-back candidate for their rotation; though he had a 4.46 ERA last year, his peripherals were very good (147 strikeouts and 64 walks in 193 2/3 innings) and advanced stats like FIP and xFIP suggest that his ERA should have been closer to 4.00. FIP in particular said that Miley should have had a 3.81 ERA last year with better defense behind him.
The Mariners' core part of their lineup is similar to what it was in 2015. In terms of wRC+, the Mariners had the seventh-best offense in the league. If they want to be better than that, they'll need Cano to play like he did in the second half. He had a .331 batting average, hit 15 home runs, and posted a 157 wRC+ in the latter half of 2015. There's reason to believe he'll be back to where he was, as he is now fully healthy after battling a long-term stomach illness. Overall though, there's reason to have hope in the Mariners' lineup in 2016.
Looking at the team as a whole, it's really hard to know where the Mariners stand in 2016. It is impossible to determine if they will mesh, if their pitching will hold up, or if they can beat out some of the better American League teams. I initially thought that the Mariners could win the AL West, but I'm still skeptical as to whether they will put it all together on the field.
4. Los Angeles Angels - 2015 Record: 85-77; Projection: 81-81
The Angels are wasting the best player in baseball. Mike Trout has only seen the postseason once (in 2014 for a mere three games). And he won't see it again this year. The Angels are coming off a season where they were oh-so-close to making the postseason, but just could not do it. I liked the addition of Andrelton Simmons to fill a whole at shortstop, but are they really going into 2016 with a platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry in the outfield? I am not a fan.
Outside of Trout and Albert Pujols, I have concerns about who will provide the offense in Anaheim. The team had five players with an OPS+ of 100 or greater in 2016. One of them is gone (David Freese), and the other two--Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron--were just above 100 at 104 and 106, respectively. The Angels ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored in 2015. That could only be worse this year. Mike Trout can only do so much, L.A.! That's what I love about baseball; one player cannot make a team a playoff team.
The rotation is fine. I am a fan of Garrett Richards at the top there and Andrew Heaney more towards the back. Even Hector Santiago was solid last year, working to a 3.59 ERA in 33 games (32 starts). But then the Angels have Jered Weaver, who has struggled to work above 80 mph this Spring Training and looks even more hittable than last year when he worked to a 4.64 ERA. Matt Shoemaker is the wild card here, as he had a 3.04 ERA (3.26 FIP) in an excellent rookie year, but posted a 4.46 ERA (4.59 FIP) last year. What Shoemaker will we see next year?
The Angels have plenty of concerns in my eyes, but there's definitely a chance they contend, especially if their offense can pick up some of the slack. They've got a good couple of stars there, but I'm worried about the depth, or lack thereof. The Angels will keep themselves in the mix if they can win the close games and beat the teams they should beat in 2016. Because I don't think they'll be blowing anyone away.
5. Oakland Athletics - 2015 Record: 68-94; Projection: 78-84
The Athletics missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time since 2011, and I don't see them reversing their fortunes. The front office may still have hope, though, considering Sonny Gray is still in an Oakland uniform. This is despite the fact that he was a hot name on the trade market this offseason, and the Athletics are not expected to contend next year.
The team made a few modest upgrades this offseason, bringing in relievers Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, John Axford and Marc "Scrabble" Rzepczynski; starter Rich Hill and Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, and Yonder Alonso in the lineup. Each move came with a purpose, but my favorite of all of them was the trade for Davis, who is a candidate to a ton of home runs in 2016. This is something the A's lacked last year. Davis hit 27 in 440 plate appearances with the Brewers last season, posting a 122 OPS+. There's a lot to like about his upside on the field, but the A's must like him due to the fact that he's inexpensive and controllable through the 2019 season.
As for their pitching, you can't go wrong with Gray, who, at 25, was named to his first All-Star team last year. He posted a 2.73 ERA in 31 starts and 208 innings last season, striking out 169 and walking just 59. Gray is the ace of Oakland's staff, and his excellent control gives me plenty of reason to believe that he'll be the ace for years to come. Hill was the another addition for the A's this offseason, and he earns $6 million in 2016 after making just four starts last year. However, Hill's four starts were fantastic, as he posted a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings with a 36 to five strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Red Sox. Those are again reasons to believe that his success was sustainable. The A's hope he'll be just good enough to be worth the $6 million they owe him.
Overall, the Athletics are another puzzling case in the American League West. I'm not sure how big of an impact their new additions this offseason will make. However, I can say without much doubt that Oakland will be improved after a bad year last year, but the question is how much.
Up Next: Postseason and Award Picks
Harper or Trout? Kershaw, maybe? What about Goldschmidt?
Fantasy baseball players around the country are asking themselves this question as they prepare for their drafts.
Who do I pick if I get the first selection?
I had the luxury of picking first overall in my fantasy draft earlier this month and asked myself the same question. Heck, I was so unsure about the pick I ran a poll on Twitter as to who I should take.
Sixty percent of you said Mike Trout should be leading my outfield; 40 percent chose Harper. Some even replied in favor of Kershaw.
Believe me, I took every argument into consideration. This includes the argument that Harper could walk even more in 2016 than 2015 due to getting pitched around or even being intentionally walked overall, possibly limiting his production. (Harper, mind you, led the National League in walks last season too.)
I thought about stolen bases, where both players have let up since their rookie years, when they had plus speed.
Continually, though, I was drawn to the upside of Harper and the fact that he could be even better in 2016 than he was in his NL MVP campaign last year.
Harper has 50+ home run power. He has the ability to drive in 120 runs. He could steal 10 to 15 bases and walk 200 times. He could do all this while hitting at a .310 clip or better.
By OPS+, Bryce Harper had the best season in 2015 since Barry Bonds' 2004. And the thing is: I don't think he's done getting better.
Does Trout have the same type of ceiling to tap into?
I think what we've seen from the Angels' center fielder is what we are going to get. He's a .280 to .300 hitter, hits 30 home runs, and drives in 100 RBI. But Trout's done that every single season; Harper has only one excellent season under his belt.
Thinking about this, I continued to dream about Harper's upside and how he would be the player to carry me to fantasy glory.
Now this does not mean I think Harper is a better player than Trout.
If I was building a Major League team from scratch, I'd choose Mike Trout over Bryce Harper.
Trout carries unquantifiable traits that Harper has yet to fully develop. He's a leader and a great teammate.
But do those show up in the fantasy box score? I think not.
This is why when I was sitting at my computer, picking first overall, Bryce Harper was my selection without hesitation.
It's three weeks until baseball. And since it is Saturday, that means it is time for another division preview. After taking a look at a competitive AL East last week, I delve into the American League Central, home of the defending World Series champion Royals. This is a competitive division that may end up producing two playoff teams.
1. Kansas City Royals -- 2015 Record: 95-67; Projection: 93-69
Here we go again. After winning the American League in 2014 but losing the World Series to the Giants in seven games, most analysts thought coming into 2015 that the Royals just weren't that good. I, however, predicted them to win the division but never thought that they'd get back to the World Series, let alone win it. Now this season, many analysts are again picking against the Royals, but I just cannot get myself to do it.
The biggest move the Royals made this offseason was the re-signing of Alex Gordon to play left field. Outside of his good statistical season in 2015 (120 OPS+), Gordon is the heart and soul of this Royals team, and their front office recognized the need to pay him what he deserved. They also added Ian Kennedy to their rotation and Joakim Soria to their bullpen, but lost Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, and others.
The Royals' lineup does something very few lineups do: put balls in play. Their refusal to strike out makes them so dangerous and definitely helped them win the World Series last year. They have built many stars through their organization, including Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Gordon. The depth of their lineup is matched by very few American League team, and it should help them a very fair share of games in 2016.
As for their rotation, the loss of Cueto hurts. I, unlike others, like the signing of Kennedy. With the Royals' stellar defense, the team should be able to get plenty of value out of the starter. I would not be surprised if he had a really solid season. The lack of an ace in their rotation does hurt, and if they aren't at the top of the division at the end of the season, it is because their pitching faltered at some point or another.
2. Cleveland Indians -- 2015 Record: 81-80; Projection: 91-71
While the Royals' pitching may be their downfall, the Indians' pitching could be the reason they win this division. The team made a few modest moves this offseason, but when you have a rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin, you can't help but be excited. Indians' starters posted the fourth-lowest ERA in the American League.
The Indians helped fix their woes at third base with the signing of Juan Uribe this offseason. He is getting up there in terms of age, but has still proved to be a valuable asset over the past few years. Three other signings-Will Venable, Rajai Davis, and Mike Napoli-could all find themselves in the lineup come Opening Day. They add to the already-existing nucleus in Cleveland of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, and Michael Brantley, who is expected to begin the season on the disabled list.
A full season of Lindor should be huge for the Indians offense, which, even in 2015, was one of the better offenses in the AL. The loss of Brantley for an extended amount of time due to shoulder surgery definitely hurts, though. However, the Indians are in prime position to make the postseason in 2016 thanks to pitching alone. I would not be surprised to see the Indians in the Wild Card game, and if everything goes right, they may be able to overtake the Royals as American League Central champions.
3. Minnesota Twins -- 2015 Record: 83-79; Projection: 85-77
The Twins have the brightest future of any team in the American League Central. Their turnaround almost began in 2015; the Twins were in the Wild Card hunt for most of the year, and they finished above .500 for the first time since 2010. Three stud consensus top-100 prospects (per Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus)-Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler-should find their way into the big leagues this season. Miguel Sano, who had the sixth-highest HR/FB ratio in the Majors (min. 300 PA), has his first full season at baseball's highest level. The stars appear to be aligning for the Twins.
But in 2016, they're still a bit away. The rotation has questions. Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Ricky Nolasco, and Tyler Duffey probably won't be able to hold their own against some of the staffs just inside their own division. The bullpen is good, and Glen Perkins remains one of the most underrated closers in baseball. Again, though, I don't see their bullpen keeping pace with the Royals' bullpen, per se.
The lineup was given a boost with the signing of Korean slugger Byung-ho Park, who projects out as their designated hitter. Park, who has looked good in Spring Training, could end up being a fantastic one-two power punch with Sano. Add in Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer (who's still a fairly solid contact hitter), and the Twins are looking at a formidable and deep lineup.
My target date for the Twins' next postseason team is 2017 or 2018. I still leave the door open for a run in 2016, but that would be based upon perhaps unrealistic development from top prospects that have yet to see even a cup of coffee in the Majors (Berrios, Kepler). Let's just say this: What Carlos Correa did in 2015 by coming up to the Majors and succeeding right out of the gate is the exception to the rule. Twins fans, 2016 isn't your year, but you are on the up and up.
4. Chicago White Sox -- 2015 Record: 76-86; Projection: 81-81
The White Sox confuse me. Do the White Sox confuse you too? They were easily the hardest team to predict in this division. The team has some good pieces, but I just don't like the fact that five of their projected starting nine were not in the organization last season. Brett Lawrie, Todd Frazier, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, and Jimmy Rollins are all new additions to the club, and I don't know how they will mix together.
The biggest move that the White Sox made this offseason was the acquisition of Todd Frazier from the Reds. The 30-year-old Frazier did hit 35 home runs last season, posting a .806 OPS (117 OPS+) in 678 plate appearances. However, his career OPS is almost 100 points lower outside of Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. I'm not sure how he'll do out in the South Side of Chicago. The only real staple in the White Sox' lineup is Jose Abreu, who, even in a season considered a down year, hit 30 home runs and posted a 135 OPS+. As a whole, though, I have my doubts in the fluidness of the White Sox' lineup and how they will fare over the course of a season.
I do, however, like the White Sox' pitching staff. Chris Sale is dominant. Jose Quintana's and Carlos Rodon's best days may still be ahead of them. John Danks is an innings eater. And Mat Latos may have a bounce-back season and be a valuable asset as well. In the bullpen, the Sox have a nice group of arms in David Robertson, Matt Albers, Nate Jones, and Zach Duke. The team had one of the better bullpens in terms of xFIP, and with no significant losses there, they should be just fine in 2016 too.
Overall, the White Sox just don't appeal to me as a team destined for contention in 2015. I'll give them credit where due, though. They do appear to have a plan, but I'm just not sure if they will have strong enough chemistry to win the division in 2016.
5. Detroit Tigers -- 2015 Record: 74-87; Projection: 77-84
I hate to say it, but the Tigers may just be falling down a 2012-2014 Philadelphia Phillies path. The team is trying to piece together free agent signings with their aging core, something the Phillies did to no avail during that time period. The team didn't get what they wanted--a World Series title--with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez closer to their primes, and there is no reason to believe they will do so now, even after the additions of Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, and a whole new back-end of the bullpen.
The Tigers had five hitters-Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes, and J.D. Martinez-who posted a 100 OPS+ (considered league average) or higher last season. Cespedes is gone, but is basically replaced with Upton. Victor Martinez will hopefully be 100 percent in 2016. I'll admit: the Tigers lineup is very good. They were among the best offensive teams in baseball last year, adjusted for park factors. But offense is nothing when there is no pitching to support it.
Even with the addition of Zimmerman, who I wouldn't consider an ace, the Tigers have lots of unknowns in their rotation in 2016. Anibal Sanchez had an awful year last year with a 4.99 ERA, and his peripherals (Ks and BBs) were equally as bad. Justin Verlander was decent, but still only made 20 starts and missed time due to injury. Daniel Norris is a promising young starter, and he could have a really good year. But then the Tigers brought in Mike Pelfrey, an innings eater at best, to round out the rotation. As for the bullpen, the Tigers brought in Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, and Justin Wilson this offseason to attempt to improve on the third-worst bullpen in baseball last season by fWAR. The Tigers are notorious for building bad bullpens, but maybe they'll be better this season with a new regime in the front office.
The overarching theme of this preview, however, is age. The Tigers' main guys are getting up there and that might not bode well for them. The best case scenario for Detroit is that 2015 was a fluke, everyone stays healthy, and they challenge the Royals for the AL Central title. But I just don't see that happening.
Next up: AL West.
We're three weeks from baseball season. Almost there, readers! This Saturday, you're going to have to settle for another division preview, though. After doing the entire National League over the past three weeks (if you missed them, they're further down on the blog), I flip over to the Junior Circuit American League, beginning today with a very competitive AL East.
1. Boston Red Sox -- 2015 Record: 78-84; Projection: 90-72
In the second half of the 2015 season, the Red Sox finally saw the production they were hoping for from their young players. From August 1 through the rest of the season, Boston went 32-26 and almost finished .500 even though they were 12 games under coming. An exciting breath of youth for Sox fans was seen at the end of last season, and this offseason, a new regime in the front office supplemented to their promising roster in hopes to make a playoff run.
Perhaps the most intriguing player for the Red Sox in 2016 is Mookie Betts, who looks to build off of a fantastic age-22 campaign. He hit for an .820 OPS (118 OPS+) in his first full season in the Majors, solidifying himself in Boston's outfield for years to come. Joining him in the 2016 lineup will be a good mix of up-and-comers as well as seasoned veterans, including designated hitter David Ortiz, who is planning on retiring after the season, his 20th.
In the pitching staff, the Red Sox get a huge boost with the additions of David Price via free agency and Craig Kimbrel in a trade. The rotation still has some questions, especially surrounding Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, but a true ace will definitely help this team, as Price is exactly what the Sox lacked in 2015. Kimbrel, on the other hand, will step in as closer and should be able to fix other woes Boston has had in years past.
David Price, Craig Kimbrel, and the young talents will lead the Red Sox to the 2016 AL East crown. Maybe even Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will chip in too!
2. New York Yankees -- 2015 Record: 87-75; Projection: 88-74
The Yankees can win this division. They could've won the division last year too, but settled for a Wild Card spot. The Bronx Bombers lost the one-game playoff to Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros, ending their season abruptly. But a pair of offseason moves should help the Yanks make a run deep into the 2016 season as well, operating with the best bullpen in baseball.
Yankees relief pitching posted the third-highest FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) as a group in 2015, and then they went out and traded for Aroldis Chapman, the game's best relief pitcher, this offseason. However, Chapman will miss the season's first 30 games due to a suspension after a domestic violence incident that did not result in an arrest. Albeit the suspension, the Yankees still boast Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in the back of the 'pen, and they should be more than capable of shutting down opposing lineups at the end of games.
The rotation is this team's only question, as just like in 2015, they do not have a true No. 1 starter. Masahiro Tanaka does appear at the top of their rotation, but he did not have an ace-like season last year. The Yankees do have one of my personal favorites, Nathan Eovaldi, in their rotation. His stuff is fantastic (100+ MPH fastball), and he had a 3.2 fWAR season in 2015.
As for the lineup, the Yankees are returning most of their veterans and add the likes of Starlin Castro. They will score runs. And lots of them. But will it be enough to win the American League East? I just don't see the team on top at the end of the year.
3. Toronto Blue Jays -- 2015 Record: 93-69; Projection: 86-76
The Blue Jays made the playoffs for the for the first time since 1993 in 2015, and they concluded their season with their fans wanting more, losing the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals. Despite this, the Blue Jays proved that their offensive-minded team can win but only after they acquired David Price at the trade deadline were they able to run away with the division. The Blue Jays' record before July 31 was 53-51. Their record after July 31 was 40-18.
While this rapid improvement cannot all be credited to Price (they also got Troy Tulowitzki at the deadline, you know), he did provide something they lacked during the first part of the season: an anchor at the top of the rotation. Price is no longer in Toronto this season, and this means that someone else will have to step it up in order for the team to repeat their successes. It could be Marcus Stroman, who allowed just five earned runs in 27 innings after coming back from injury. But even if he does pitch well, the depth they have just isn't the same. Mark Buehrle is also gone. Besides Stroman, their pitching staff consists of: R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ (new addition), and Aaron Sanchez. I'm not a fan.
However, there are no holes in this lineup. They've got AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin all in one lineup. There's no way to pitch to this team, who scored 891 runs last season (5.5 R/G), the best in baseball by almost 130. There's no doubt in my mind that their offense will have issues in 2016, but the Blue Jays' downfall comes in the form of their rotation. And I'll let you in on a little secret: There aren't any David Prices that are likely to be available at this season's trade deadline.
4. Tampa Bay Rays -- 2015 Record: 80-82; Projection: 84-78
The 2015 Rays were average. They finished just two games under .500, scored 644 runs, and allowed 642 runs. Their season had its ups and downs, from leading the division by as many as a pair of games and being as far behind as 15 1/2. At the end, the Rays finished 13 out of the Blue Jays and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. This offseason, the club acquired Corey Dickerson from the Rockies for Jake McGee and brought in Logan Morrison and Brad Miller via Seattle.
If the Rays want to win in 2016, they'll need some bounce back seasons from Matt Moore and Drew Smyly, who each missed a good portion of the 2015 season due to injury. Moore is just three years removed from an All-Star season, and Smyly had a 3.24 ERA in 153 innings in 2014. Those two will fall behind the anchors in the Rays rotation: Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, both of whom had stellar years. In the bullpen, the Rays lost McGee, a back-end reliever, to Colorado, but still retain Brad Boxberger and Alex Colome to shut down opposing lineups at the end of games.
As for their lineup, the Rays don't really have a big bat. Despite this, every player in their lineup has the ability to be productive. Even Evan Longoria, who led the team with 21 homers, posted a 110 OPS+ in 2015 (10% above league average). This could come back to bite the team, as they'll have to go up against some of the toughest lineups in baseball in their very division.
I still wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Rays making a wild run in the American League, but going into the season, they just appear to be a bit behind most of their fellow AL East members.
5. Baltimore Orioles -- 2015 Record: 81-81; Projection: 77-85
The Orioles are going to be haunted by their lack of pitching in 2016. Even last year, Orioles' starters posted the sixth-highest ERA in baseball. Now, they get Yovani Gallardo on a free agent deal but lose Wei-Yin Chen to the Marlins. The loss of Chen may not seem like a big deal, but to Baltimore, it could mean everything. He was their best starter, posting a 3.34 ERA in 31 outings.
The rest of their staff isn't deep. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Kevin Gausman round out the O's rotation, with Tillman and Gonzalez posting ERAs above 4.90. Even Gallardo, who registered a 3.42 ERA last year and is supposed to help anchor the starters, is showing signs of age with diminished velocity and a relatively average FIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015. As for the bullpen, the Orioles are set. Darren O'Day re-signed with the club this offseason, and Zach Britton was named an All-Star with a 1.92 ERA (2.01 FIP) last season. As for the innings between their starters and back-end relievers, there is a lot of unknown in Baltimore. Vance Worley, T.J. McFarland, and even Dylan Bundy could be used as middle relievers.
I don't have a problem with the Orioles' offense, and I may even prefer it to the Rays'. Chris Davis is back with the team, complementing Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and two new additions, Mark Trumbo and Korean signee Hyun-soo Kim. Their offense will have to step it up to win high-scoring games if they want to beat their projection this season. And even if this does occur, the Orioles may still only have the third- or fourth-best offense in the AL East. This could be a rough year for O's fans.
Next up: AL Central
Baseball season begins in a month. Spring Training games began last week, but the real news is that regular season baseball is just four weeks away. This Saturday night, I will be previewing the National League West division, after previewing the East and Central divisions each of the past two weeks.
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.