- Boston Red Sox- It’s hard not to pick them. Sale and Price are going to be money and though it’s going to be hard for Porcello to repeat his 2016, he still looks pretty good. The mix of Pomeranz, Wright and Rodriguez at the bottom doesn’t look too bad either. I think the line-up will be what impresses everyone again. They were underrated last year because everyone slept on their bats, Kung Fu Panda isn’t completely done, they get a full season Benintnedi and Mookie Betts established himself as one of the best players in baseball. The only guy I could see regressing a bit is Jackie Bradley Jr, but as long as he hits for some power and plays good defense he’s going to have a ton of value. Dombrowski even went out and improved his bullpen to lead to Craig Kimbrel, who is coming off the worst season in his career so we know he will be better too. It’s just hard to pick against the Sox even if you want to.
- New York Yankees-The Yankees have a promising future and they look like in a year or two they could be the Cubs biggest dynasty competition, but me putting them in second is a bit of a leap of faith. Their young guns will likely start the year in the minors and their rotation is still a question mark. The FanGraphs Depth Charts projection has them at 81-81 in last and PECOTA at 82 wins. We know there’s margin for error in those projection systems and I think the Yankees are going to eventually bring up Clint Frazier and some prospects are going to come up and outplay their expectations. Then you have Tanaka as the ace, but behind him Severino and Pineda both look ready to step up and Sabathia makes a good four. If you combine that with late innings guys Chapman and Betances, who lower the chance of blowing the game, you have a pretty solid team. I’d say a poor version of the 2015 Cubs.
- Toronto Blue Jays-The Blue Jays can still compete for a playoff spot and they got Jose Bautista back, but he’s getting older and they lost their best hitter. There’s a lot of quality players on Toronto, but a lot of injury history. Can Travis stay healthy? Can Tulo stay healthy? Can Bautista stay healthy? They still have a solid line-up if everyone can, but that’s unlikely. Also, can J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada keep out-doing expectations? Estrada is a fly ball pitcher in a park where the ball flies, it’s only a matter of time before he crashes a little. The positives besides the line-up are that they have two top of the rotation starters with Stroman and Sanchez and a young stud closer in Osuna. They also have talent in their system (they could have Syndergaard, Norris, and Boyd to go with their current crop), they just need to choose to keep it so they can replace free agents they can’t afford. I think this year they’ll regress a little, but their future isn’t that bleak.
- Baltimore Orioles- I think the Orioles were probably the worst team to get a playoff spot last year. Wellington Castillo isn’t quite the hitter Matt Wieters is, Mark Trumbo can’t repeat hitting 47 homers every year and they are at a crossroads with most of their roster coming up on free agency. They also keep getting by on really bad rotations. Kevin Gausman is good, but they depend on guys like Chris Tillman and Wade Miley. These are okay four and five guys but if you’re constantly depending on them to win games, you’re going to end up disappointed a lot. The positive side is that they have some of the best players in the game. Chris Davis is the benchmark for power, Manny Machado is one of the top young players in baseball, Zach Britton is an elite reliever, and Adam Jones is a perennial all-star in center. The Orioles stars and scrubs approach works about as well as you’d expect, especially when their rotation is lacking. If Dylan Bundy can step up and they go grab an arm that’s solid at the deadline, they have a playoff chance.
- Tampa Bay Rays-Evan Longoria expressed his disappointment when the Rays traded Logan Forsythe this past off-season. I don’t blame Longoria, it’s frustrating to lose games and Forsythe has been the Rays second best hitter in recent seasons. The Rays got Jose DeLeon for him though. They also have a lot of talent in the minor league system. It’s plausible that they can return to their 2008-13 form if they continue the rebuild. That means they’d be good for the last seasons of Longoria’s career. If Longoria is impatient (and it’s his right) though, the Rays can deal him for an absolute haul of prospects to add to their plan. This year will likely be a lost year, but we will get to enjoy Longo, Archer and some new young prospects that come up and we can really see where the Rays stand.
- Cleveland Indians- They won the AL and then added Edwin Encarnacion at first base. It’s going to be hard to pick against them. Their bullpen looks solid led by Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw. Their rotation is among the best if Salazar, Kluber and Carrasco can stay on the field. Francisco Lindor is probably one of the top ten position players in baseball. They have some stiff competition right behind them though with the Tigers and Royals ready to make runs again. It just wouldn’t be fair not give the Indians the preseason number one. That would be like not giving Alabama is top ranking to start college football next season. Health is key though, if Brantley, Carrasco and Salazar get hurt again it’s hard seeing them being able to repeat.
- Detroit Tigers*- Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander carried their rotation for most of the year, but Daniel Norris came on strong to end the year and Matt Boyd looked really good until he wore down near the end. Combine that with a healthy Jordan Zimmermann and the Tigers might just have the rotation to go with the line-up. The line-up only has one hole, which is center field. Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones look like role players at worst, but maybe one of them could step up. If James McCann and Alex Avila are platooned correctly, the Tigers look solid at the catching position and the Tigers have mashers 1-6 in the order. The bullpen might be a concern, but Bruce Rondon came into his own last year, Alex Wilson looked great for another season, Justin Wilson was unlucky, K-Rod had another solid year closing and they have the top relief prospect in baseball. The Tigers will give the Indians a serious run for their money and they actually did better taking out the head to head games they played against Cleveland last year, a small correction could go a long way.
- Kansas City Royals- The core that won them a World Series are all going to be free agents at the end of the season and they already traded away Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson. They did get a promising guy in Jorge Soler back in all of this, but their rotation now took a hit with the death of Yordano Ventura. There’s no ace in waiting, Danny Duffy is really the only sure thing in that rotation now. I think we will see them do something similar to what they did in 2016. They still have the small ball approach to winning, but without good pitching and minus two of their once scary 7-8-9 in the bullpen they aren’t as potent. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are good, but they are both imperfect players and overall the team just doesn’t have the bite.
- Minnesota Twins- If I had to give you a sleeper team, these guys would be just that. Buxton, Sano and Kepler are about to make the middle of the line-up scary. They need Berrios to adjust to the major league level and contribute. Their rotation stinks, but it isn’t that bad and if they start to win like they did in 2015 they have guys like Tyler Jay and Stephen Gonsalves that can come up. Joe Mauer isn’t ever going to be elite again, but he can provide a table setting bat and I’m telling you that the full season numbers Sano and Buxton can put up could get crazy. The bullpen isn’t that great though and their pitching staff as a whole will likely pull them back behind the Royals and Tigers, but the talent level gap isn’t as big as it seems.
- Chicago White Sox- I keep hearing that the White Sox won’t be that bad this year. They do still have Jose Quintana, but that might not last long and they lost Chris Sale, who is easily worth a couple of wins. They have a promising future, but they only won 78 games with Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and so on won’t play the whole season in the big leagues and even if they did it’s really unfair to expect them to produce big numbers. The White Sox still have punch in the middle of the line-up with Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu. If anything they’ll win 70 games and get some production from Avisail Garcia and other young guys to build with their prospect core and try to unload Quintana, Robertson and Frazier at the deadline for a good price.
- Houston Astros- Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and A.J. Reed might be one of the best infields in baseball. George Springer might be the next 30-30 player. Their offense is potent. Lance McCullers is going to be their ace and Dallas Kuechel will recover and likely be someone who is between his 2015 and 2016. The sleeper guy here is Joe Musgrove because he can be so much more than he was in his short stint last season. They also have Francis Martes and David Paulino who could make their debuts in 2017. The offense will rake and the rotation is one I actually trust more than their division rivals the Rangers, who despite having Hamels and Darvish one and two don’t have the depth after them that the ‘Stros do. Jose Altuve might be Mike Trout’s biggest MVP competition and I think Correa and Bregman won’t be too far behind him. They basically could have three elite hitters and then the group of Springer, Reddick, Beltran, and McCann behind that. Their line-up is likely the best in the AL right there with Boston and the Tigers.
- Texas Rangers*-The Rangers won the division last season and have good mix of veterans and young stars to repeat as a playoff threat. PECOTA and FanGraphs like the Mariners better but I like their offense a lot. Beltre, Mazara, and Gomez could lead the way. I think Rougned Odor is a bit overrated, but his power is legitimate and Shin-Soo Choo along with Odor will be the difference in their offense and how good it may be. They need Yu Darvish to stay healthy. I’m not sure Andrew Cashner is the best fit, but we will see what he can do, he does have a few good seasons under his belt. The bottom half the rotation after Hamels, Darvish and Cashner needs a guy like Martin Perez, once a top prospect to really step up. Matt Bush is one of the more underrated guys in baseball, the fact he’s not the closer is actually probably a good thing because he can be used like Andrew Miller. Sam Dyson is a fine closer too. I think overall this team is a little bit stars and scrubs but they have a lot of talent on the top. I wouldn’t bank on Mike Napoli to repeat his 2016, but if he doesn’t there’s people like Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo to fall back on. When Darvish and Hamels starts there’s not many better teams in baseball.
- Seattle Mariners- Every few years they are everyone’s favorite pick to breakout. Adding Smyly helped but now he’s hurt and they gave up Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura who they paid for his past production. Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma look like they may be on the decline, though Hernandez can save himself if he learns how to pitch instead of rely on his heat like Verlander did. They do have Cano and Cruz and then Kyle Seager, one of the most underrated hitters in baseball and Edwin Diaz is one of the more exciting young arms in the game. Overall they grade out as average to slightly above average to me.
- Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim- Pujols is still a slugger but not the same. That’s why I say I wish the Angels had a team around Trout. This isn’t basketball where one superstar can change the whole team’s landscape. Without Trout the Angels would likely be the worst team in baseball. They still have no pitching outside of an above average guy in Shoemaker. They have some good supporting pieces like Simmons but overall they still won’t do anything, which is shame because they have the best player in baseball
- Oakland A’s- They’re rebuilding and have been since Billy Beane made his career worst Josh Donaldson trade. Now they’re starting to do it right, but their line-up is still far away and with Sonny Gray as baseball’s human question mark at this point it’s going to be hard to believe that they can pull off more than 70-72 wins this year.
- Washington Nationals- If Bryce Harper can be 2015 Harper, which is a possibility, then they could really easily win this division. They have a really solid line-up, there’s not much of a weak spot if Ryan Zimmerman can reverse his backwards trend, which Statcast supports. Eaton, Turner, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Wieters, Rendon, and Murphy. If Strasburg can stay healthy and step up, their top half may be better than the Mets with Scherzer and Strasburg. They also have guys like Tanner Roark and Joe Ross who are really good but don’t grab the headlines. The bullpen is their weak spot but that didn’t stop the Tigers from winning four straight division titles.
- New York Mets*-It’s hard not to love their rotation and Yoenis Cespedes, they’ve quickly become one of the most exciting and better teams to watch. Unfortunately, they will never stay fully healthy over the course of 162. As of Opening Day Matz and Wright are already out and they’ve had many guys who have been hurt and missed major time over the last couple seasons. If they can stay healthy they have a top five starting rotation, a good closer, and a solid offense.
- Miami Marlins- With Jose Fernandez I’d say that this team was going to surprise a lot of people this year. Fernandez was easily one of the most valuable players to his team. Now they have Volquez starting Opening Day. I think Adam Conley will break out and their rotation and now very full bullpen can put together an overall good pitching season to go along with their now very strong offense, but they just don’t have enough. Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton might be the best outfield in baseball though and Stanton is still a superstar.
- Philadelphia Phillies- These guys are making progress and you’ll see guys like J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro get their first big taste of the majors this year. I think Jeremy Hellickson might have found his groove and behind him guys like Nola, Velasquez, Thompson and Eickhoff have really bright futures. Tommy Jospeh and Odubel Herrera will start to become bigger names and they are trending upward.
- Atlanta Braves- I didn’t really get going for the 2012 Dream Team of Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey, Brandon Phillips and Bartolo Colon, but they have a really good young core and one of the best minor league systems in baseball. They’re also trending upward and this whole division might be the best in baseball soon. The Braves are still a few years away though and those guys listed above could be cheap option for contenders come this July, but cheap still means the Braves can get even more quality prospects in return. Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman figure to be all-stars and they are the main reason to watch this team. Also, the Braves should petition the NL for the DH in 2018 because the way Matt Kemp hits against his fielding at this point may be the largest difference in quality by any major leaguer.
- Chicago Cubs- I don’t know what to say about these guys. Their main weakness is they have a five starter who hasn’t been able to stay healthy but they have depth. They have Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the best set of teammates in baseball on the offensive side, they won over 100 games without Kyle Schwarber and the only major pieces they lost were Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel. They give you no reason to say they can’t win 100 games again. They could have legitimately 10 people deserving of all-star nods next year (Schwarber, Rizzo, Russell, Bryant, Baez, Zobrist, Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Davis).
- Louis Cardinals- They got Dexter Fowler and they are coming off a very solid season, but they’re getting older and they might be stuck in that mid-80s win range. Molina is still hitting but he’s getting older, Wainwright is starting to fall off, Peralta is older. Alex Reyes could’ve been a leading factor in them being able to improve but now he’s lost for the season. No matter what these guys are one of the safest bets for a winning record, but they just might not have that high of a ceiling this year. They’ll be right in the race for at least the second wild card
- Pittsburgh Pirates- This organization is in such a weird place. They have tons of really talented young starters coming up and might have an outfield that’s better than the Marlins but they underperformed. Maybe having Josh Bell at first will help against just a total platoon. McCutchen will likely bounce back, but he might also be traded because they can get a king’s ransom for him and have Austin Meadows ready to roll. Starling Marte is one of the top outfielders in the game now. They also have their downfalls though, the starters have no track record and rookie starters don’t always get it right away, Jung-Ho Kang was an important bat but now it looks like he will miss most or all of 2017, Jordy Mercer isn’t the ideal shortstop. Overall, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the race but I’d keep them here in the middle.
- Milwaukie Brewers- They are kind of the dark horse of not so great teams. They have solid players with Villar, Braun, Broxton and young gun Arcia. Their downfall is the lack of pitching they have. Junior Guerra is a solid rotation option but he’s unlikely to repeat and isn’t my ideal ace. I also don’t buy into the Eric Thames hype, he might be a big power hitter who hits for a low average, but to me he’s just an even riskier version of Chris Carter. Bottom line is if they get pitching, they’ll start to compete but until then they’re stuck in the early-mid 20s power ranking purgatory.
- Cincinnati Reds- Another team with no pitching, you can have Joey Votto and solid guys like Suarez, Cozart, Peraza, and Hamilton behind you but when Scott Feldman starts Opening Day, you’ll be stuck here. They do have some young talent, but they’re a ways away.
- Los Angeles Dodgers- These guys are the biggest threat to the Cubs, but they have to hear me out and know that Cody Bellinger is their best left fielder (and then 1B when A-Gone’s contract is up). They have a lot of talented pieces on offense that they mix and match and have about ten to elven serviceable to greatest of our generation starters and the best closer in baseball. Kershaw is so valuable to this team and guys like Urias and other young guns can help when the season reaches the dog days. Corey Seager and Justin Turner are legitimate stars and their depth will carry them
- San Francisco Giants*- Cueto and Bumgarner are a deadly 1-2, but Shark wasn’t as good as advertised the last two season and their offense has a few holes. Altogether their pitching staff and guys like Posey, Belt, Crawford, Pence and Span will help them be a top NL team and be able to compete and likely play in another Wild Card game.
- Arizona Diamondbacks- I really think the rotation is underrated. Greinke will bounce back, Ray was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball and Walker is ready to bounce back. Their offense has a lot of question marks too but they have a few interesting guys like Drury and Jake Lamb. Pollock and Goldschmidt are tier player, Goldy is one of the top 10 players in baseball. Overall, I think they’re just a bit short for the playoffs, but a winning record wouldn’t surprise me.
- Colorado Rockies- Ian Desmond was supposed to make them dark horse candidates, but he’s hurt along with much of the team and they were never going to go far with that pitching staff. Arenado, Cargo and Story will be fun to watch though.
- San Diego Padres- I think they’ll be the worst team in the majors this year and their future is kind of bleak beyond that, they do have Wil Myers though.
AL Wild Card: Tigers over Rangers
NL Wild Card: Mets over Giants
ALDS: Red Sox over Tigers in 5
Astros over Indians in 4
NLDS: Cubs over Mets in 3
Dodgers over Nationals in 5
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox in 6
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers in 5
World Series: Cubs over Astros in 5
AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Kris Bryant
AL Cy Young: Chris Archer
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
AL ROY: Andrew Benintendi
NL ROY: Cody Bellinger
AL Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly
Surprise Team/Most Improved: Minneosta Twins