Welcome to MLB 2015! Here’s a quick outlook for each team. I’ll tackle them in order by my predicted order, picking up with the American League today.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
BOSTON RED SOX
The Sox are trying to go from worst-to-first for the second time in the last three years, and I think at least in terms of their division, they have a really good shot at doing it. I’m still slightly surprised that they didn’t re-sign Jon Lester, but it sounds like they didn’t really even give it a good effort. What they did do was acquire a bunch of extreme ground ballers for the rotation in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson to go with incumbents Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. While there is some gambling with this approach, I actually like these guys. And, of course, the rotation is not the key to their rebuild. They spent big bucks signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. They also have a rejuvenated Mike Napoli (sleep apnea surgery), Cuban signee Rusney Castillo, rookie phenom Mookie Betts, and veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia all expected to play big roles. I’m also thinking they’re going to be a fun team to watch, so I’m looking forward to their season.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Blue Jays made some nice moves this offseason signing C Russell Martin and trading for 3B Josh Donaldson and OF Michael Saunders. Part of me really wants to put them in the top spot, but the injury to Marcus Stroman and the reliance on a lot of rookies give me pause. Not to say those rookies aren’t good. Daniel Norris is a really good pitcher, Aaron Sanchez has beastly talent, and Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis looked good this spring. It’s just tough to do real winning with four rookies you’re really counting on to produce. I’m definitely also looking forward to seeing how Martin’s leadership and framing help this young pitching staff. I don’t expect him to repeat what he did with the bat last year, but his contribution with these intangibles will happen. So, finally, this team has the ability to be better than this ranking, but I’m just hedging with all of those rookies.
Much like all of last year, this team still doesn’t look that great on paper in terms of projections. They consistently out played their “stats” last year, however, so I have to believe the Buck Showalter factor is still going to be valuable. He’s quite simply a great manager who’s finally found a place he can do it without worrying about losing his job. I like the pitching staff a lot with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and hopefully Kevin Gausman. They have a solid pen with the emergence of Zach Britton as closer. They will definitely miss Nelson Cruz in the middle of the lineup, but I really believe in the breakout of Steve Pearce, there’s no way Chris Davis will be that bad again, and newly acquired Travis Snider had an excellent 2nd half last year and is entering his prime age season (27). I like this team, despite what the numbers say, and even though I have them 3rd, they’ll be right there in the battle for one of the wild cards.
NEW YORK YANKEES
I really wanted to pick the Yankees last because of the dubious health of the first three in their rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda. They all lost considerable time last year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they all lost some time this year as well. That said, if even two of the three stay healthy, this could be a pretty good team. They have a really solid pen with Dellin Betances and free agent signee Andrew Miller at the end, I like the addition of Nate Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova should be back at some point. I also like the re-signing of Chase Headley. He should perform at or above Pablo Sandoval and cost significantly less. If they can get anything better from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and even A-Rod, this could be a nice team.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team just has too many holes along with the departure of GM Andrew Friedman and Manager Joe Madden. They still have some talent, and I imagine they’re still going to run their team in a similar fashion with many platoons and advanced statistical analysis, but it’s not enough to pick them any better than fifth at this time. I really like acquisition Steven Souza, but his projections are awfully rosy, and there are too many other problems with the lineup. The middle infield looks really rough, Loney’s an empty bat at 1B, the OF other than Souza looks below average offensively. The Alex Cobb injury is concerning as the rotation is looking paper thin despite some talent in Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi. They do have a good pen, but what’s that worth when you don’t have a lead very often?
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Despite being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I think the Tribe is poised to take the division in 2015. The pitching is excellent highlighted by defending Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and emerging star Carlos Carrasco. Trevor Bauer is a bit of a lightning rod player, but he put up a sneaky good season for a 23-year old last year. On offense, Michael Brantley emerged as an MVP type player last year. Was that a career year or a breakout? I’m betting more of a breakout. I also like the Brandon Moss acquisition and expect better seasons from Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Bourn. There is a lot to like here, despite some question marks, and of course let’s not forget Tito is one of the best managers in baseball.
I still like the Tigers and think they’ll be a top contender for a wild card spot, I just think it’s time for the Indians to win the division. First, they replaced Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello with Afredo Simon and Shane Greene. I’m not necessarily hating on Simon and Greene (I actually really like Greene as a sleeper), but that is a pretty significant down grade in the rotation. They added Yoenis Cespedes (for Porcello), which I’m slightly dubious about. Yes, he’s better than what they’ve had out there in recent memory, but he has a pretty bad plate approach limiting his overall ceiling. All is not lost, however, as Miggy Cabrera should be as close to 100% as he’s likely to get anymore, and I think J.D. Martinez backs up his breakout from last year. Jose Iglesias should improve their infield defense at SS, as Cespedes should help them in LF. The big Achilles heel for this team remains the bullpen. They didn’t really do much to solidify the disaster from last year, and I feel it will loom large in the regular season this time around.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The White Sox made some noise trading for SP Jeff Samardzija and signing OF Melky Cabrera and closer David Robertson. I actually like the Shark despite his Notre Dame past, but I’m not a big fan of Melky. Robertson is a really nice fit in a talented bullpen that seemed to need a leader last year. Shark splitting Ace Chris Sale and #3 Jose Quintana provides a very potent top of the rotation as well. And of course MVP candidate Jose Abreu comes back to lead the offense. The questions that put the ChiSox behind the other two in the division for me are the rest of the rotation, the OF, and half of the IF…which is a lot! The back two in the rotation (John Danks, Hector Noesi) are as bad as any in baseball, and while I like Adam Eaton, he’s never been healthy and I’m not convinced Avisail Garcia will ever learn a successful approach. Micah Johnson had a nice spring, but he’s a risky prospect, and Conor Gilaspie was just about the worst starting positon player in baseball in the second half last year. Just too many question marks to rank any higher than this.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Smoke and mirrors. I actually kind of want to leave it at that, but I know I have to expound. I don’t believe Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas actually transformed into good players in the month of October last year. They might be better than their career stats, but they aren’t all of the sudden really good players. Hosmer pounds the ball into the ground, Cain is perennially ouchy, and Moose…well, he’s a meathead. James Shields didn’t pitch great in the playoffs, but his stability was huge for that pitching staff. He will be missed, likely a lot. Yordano Ventura is precocious, but he’s also a 5’9” guy throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s. That’s not normal and likely unsustainable. Danny Duffy has durability issues as well as potential ERA regression based on the peripherals, Jason Vargas is a crafty lefty with a small margin for error, Jeremy Guthrie is the RH version of Vargas, and newly signed Edinson Volquez is likely to revert back to himself after being rescued by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage for a year. That’s so iffy. The top three in the pen were AMAZING last year…almost too good. I’d be shocked if there isn’t some regression to the mean due for them…potentially serious regression. They had a magical run in 2014, but I think 2015 will be the year of the pumpkin.
Twins fans, keep focused on the days of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. They’ll both be in AA this year, so it’s not far off. Until then, this just isn’t a very good team. The emergence of Phil Hughes is a bonus, but free agent signing Ervin Santana’s 80-game suspension is ominous. There are some interesting players here like 2B Brian Dozier, OF Oswaldo Arcia, SS/OF Danny Santana, and SP Kyle Gibson, but there just isn’t enough to get excited about.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
I felt like the Mariners were the best team to miss the playoffs last year, at least from a statistical perspective. They had a great run differential, great top of the rotation, and an emerging offense. Then they added OF/DH Nelson Cruz and OF/1B Seth Smith this offseason to join 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Kyle Seager, and CF Austin Jackson. They have two young flame throwers in James Paxton and Taijuan Walker set to join King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. They have a bunch of big arms in the pen behind enigmatic and seemingly ageless Fernando Rodney. This is a good team in a relatively weak division, and I expect them to take care of business.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Not much has changed for the Angels, who dominated the division last year, so this is more about the Mariners improving. This is another favorite for a wild card. It’s always nice when you have the best player in the game, and Mike Trout is certainly that. That said, other than Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun, this is a pretty anonymous team for having won so many games last year. The key for me is Garrett Richards. How long will he be out, and will he be as good as he was last year? If he is that good, this team has a legit Ace to go with veterans Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson and 2nd in the ROY last year Matt Shoemaker, which is huge. And Mike Scioscia’s ability to get the most out of a team should not be discounted.
Billy Beane’s saga continued this offseason. After selling out hard last year at the trade deadline and watching his team disintegrate spectacularly, he put together a very curious offseason. It began with the selloff of SP Jeff Samardzija, 3B Josh Donaldson, C Derek Norris, and OF/1B Brandon Moss. And then when you thought the rebuild was in full force, he traded for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, and then sent Escobar out for a potential closer in Tyler Clippard. The next thing you know, this team doesn’t look that bad. I like SS Marcus Semien, who came over in the Samardzija trade…good power/speed potential at a scarce position. I like the rotation addition of Jesse Hahn. I like the versatility and leadership of Zobrist. There is a bit of a black hole on the OF, but they A’s have track record of finding guys to emerge. I don’t think this is a playoff team, but they’ll be more competitive than you’d think just looking at the headlines of their offseason moves.
The Astros are headed in the right direction…period. They were far more competitive in the second half last year, and they made real improvements this offseason. It’s not necessarily sexy to pick up bullpen, but the Astros signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek this offseason to patch up what was just about the worst pen last year. That’s not enough to make them a winning team, but it’s also not all they did. They traded for DH/OF Evan Gattis and 3B Luis Valbuena and signed SS Jed Lowrie and OF Colby Rasmus. Gattis should have his potent bat on full display moving out from behind the plate, Valbuena had a sneaky good season in Chicago last year, Lowrie had best seasons in HOU previously, and Rasmus is very talented if flawed. Combined with 1B Chris Carter, OF George Springer, and eventually 1B/DH Jon Singleton, these guys actually have a respectable offense. The emergence of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh in the rotation add even more respectability. I’m not sure if they cross 0.500 this year, but they’ll flirt with it and it may be the last time they don’t having a winning record for a while.
Injuries destroyed the Rangers last year, and what has already happened? Ace Yu Darvish hit the DL with a torn elbow ligament early in Spring Training. It’s almost unfathomable. Former #1 prospect in all of baseball 2B/SS Jurickson Profar tore up his shoulder again and will miss the entire season. SP Matt Harrison is still inching back with his fused vertebrae. Beyond those issues, I think newly acquired Yovani Gallardo is going to struggle mightily in the AL, Derek Holland had some smoke-and-mirrors in his success last season, Ross Detwiler hasn’t been a regular starter in two years, and Colby Lewis was a gas can last year. Yikes. On the bright side, the offense could be really good. Prince Fielder appears fully recovered from his neck woes last season, and Shin-Soo Choo looked healthy in the spring. Adrian Beltre is still one of the best 3B in the league as he transitions from his mid to late 30s, and 2B Rougned Odor held his own well as a 20 year old last year and I expect improvement. Leonys Martin is a physical specimen in CF, and I actually like rookie Ryan Rua in LF. So, it’s likely to be another lost year because of that awful, awful pitching, but the offense should be entertaining at least.