Remember that time that the Chicago Cubs won 97 games and weren’t even that good. Yeah…that was last year. Only, it wasn’t that they weren’t that good, it was more that they didn’t have their best players out there for the entire season. A full season of OF Kyle Schwarber and 3B Kris Bryant could be enough to get the team to 100 wins. Then, you have to factor in the addition of OF Jason Heyward, and this team is downright scary.
You don’t believe me? Just visit the 2016 Steamer projections over at Fangraphs.
Based on Steamer, the Cubs have three of the top 11 overall position players (based on WAR), as Bryant ranks 7th (5.6), with 1B Anthony Rizzo (5.1) and Heyward (4.8) coming in at 10th and 11th, respectively. If that wasn’t enough, RHP Jake Arrieta (5th, 5.2) and LHP Jon Lester (14th, 4.4) give the Cubs two of the top 15 most valuable starting pitchers in baseball.
With all of this top-tier talent, Fangraphs has the Cubs projected to lead MLB in wins, using their crystal ball to estimate that the lovable losers will earn 95 wins in 2016.
However, it isn’t just the top-tier talent that the Cubs possess. They also signed 2B Ben Zobrist to take over second base, trading 2B/SS Starlin Castro to the Yankees for RHP Adam Warren, who is can fill a role in the bullpen or the rotation, while opening up shortstop for SS Addison Russell, who turns 22 later this month and will offer improved defense at short and another player with a full season of production, as Russell spent a brief amount of time in the minors in 2015 – similar to Bryant. RHP John Lackey was also added to the rotation, adding another veteran arm to the rotation, solidifying that group for another possible postseason run. If Chicago keeps OF Jorge Soler, since he was rumored to be on the move for pitching earlier this winter, and actually have a full, healthy season out of him, that give the Cubs a 24-year-old who could blast 25 or more home runs from right field.
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs are capable of much, much more than they accomplished in 2016. After signing Heyward away from the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals, they are the front runners for the NL Central and the World Series championship. Sure, there are 162 games to play, health to maintain, and possible regression and decline for some of their veterans, but with so many young, gifted, and talent players on their roster, and continuing through the minors, it will be a new team dealing with a new curse, as the billy goat sacrifices will finally come to an end around Wrigley Field.
The Los Angeles Dodgers struck out on re-signing Zack Greinke, allowing the 32-year-old to take his NL-leading 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP to the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks, who locked up Greinke’s golden locks with a massive six-year, $206.5 million deal. The Dodgers added some rotation depth by taking a risk on Scott Kazmir, whose career rebound hit a snag when he hit a wall in September, going 0-2 with a 6.93 ERA and 1.74 WHIP over his final five starts and 24.2 innings; however, the 3.10 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 183 innings over the 2015 season may have spoken louder to the Dodger brass than his collapse in Houston. Then, the Dodgers added Japanese, right-handed sensation Kenta Maeda, who signed an eight-year, $25 million deal, which was loaded with incentives, leading to a possible $100 million-plus deal.
Kenta Maeda’s #Dodgers contract: $1m signing bonus, $3m/year for next 8 years. No opt-out. No no-trade. Incentives could take deal >$100m.
Maeda, who had a 2.39 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over eight seasons and 1,509.2 innings in Japan, was given an incentive-laden deal due to some issues that came up with his physical. While the Dodgers still paid the $20 million fee to negotiate with, and eventually land, the 27-year-old, the elbow issues that scared Los Angeles into this type of offer may have been worrisome to other teams, as well.
It was not a #Dodgers physical that tripped up Maeda. It was the physical he took and submitted to all teams, hence the limited market. — Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 7, 2016
This deal speaks to Maeda’s willingness to prove himself, but it also could speak volumes for teams and players in the future. The “Prove-It” contract has been around for quite some time, as the good ol’ “never-met-a-bad-one-year-contract” folks will approve of. It’s why the Indians giving Kazmir a look for much less than the three-year, $48 million that the Dodgers paid was so brilliant back in 2013. But there is brilliance on both sides of this contract.
For the player, you are guaranteeing yourself much less than the market value; however, if you are healthy and productive year after year, you are handsomely rewarded. Additionally, for those who are locking up years of arbitration, there is no risk of being non-tendered due to an injury, as your team would have to release you and eat the remaining guaranteed seasons if they didn’t want to maintain your spot on the 40-man roster.
For example, if Mike Trout was offered a ten-year, $75 million deal after his first season with incentive multipliers for various Triple Crown stats that could have made the deal worth up to $140 to $150 million, wouldn’t he have taken it? Imagine a 20-year-old who could guarantee himself $7.5 million over the next ten seasons, while protecting himself in case of a Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro type of catastrophic, injury-related collapse…
Sure, the guaranteed money is what makes the Major League Baseball contract so welcoming to the player and so damning to the teams, but, in today’s financial market, isn’t $7.5 million chump change? Teams are willing to give lesser players $14.8 million per year on one-year deals as qualifying offers to land an additional draft pick.
The teams, while taking the financial risk, also protect themselves from paying someone, like Ryan Howard, huge annual salaries when they aren’t producing at the levels necessary to be worthy of such a deal. Yes, teams are content with getting a WAR of 28 from the first three seasons of a Mike Trout-type of player for roughly $1.8 million dollars in salary, but wouldn’t it be nice to know that you could have that player into his prime on agreed to incentives into his early 30s? Imagine if the Braves had given Jason Heyward, who just received $184 million over eight years from the Cubs, a deal similar to this. During his productive seasons, he would have earned more money, while the arbitration period wouldn’t have been able to look at one or two very good seasons to say that he was worthy of such significant raises to price him out of the team’s future.
With the top players in the league earning more than $30 million per season, there is certainly a reason for the Player’s Union to avoid this type of commitment. There isn’t a reason for the top players to earn $20 million with incentives when they could guarantee $30 million per year, right? This would give teams and owners too much power; however, there are positive risks involved on both sides.
Can Maeda’s contract change the way that teams negotiate contracts? I think it may be better for the game to reward players for production in this way, while not forcing fans of the Phillies to watch Ryan Howard collapse for $25 million per season and strangle the financial side of the franchise for years to come. With so much money available through television contracts and MLB Advanced Media, maybe it is time for the league, the owners, and its players to find new, creative ways to utilize it…without a salary cap.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
St. Louis Cardinals
2015 Projected Record: 88-74 (1st in NL Central, 4th in MLB)
Manager: Mike Matheny (275-211 in three seasons with St. Louis)
After a breakout 2013, Carpenter slipped a little in 2014, watching his OPS fall from .873 to .750, aided by the drop in his BABIP from .359 to .318. Carpenter was still quite valuable, leading the NL in walks, which helped his on-base percentage get to .375, and he was able to score 99 runs. With a lot of improving talent around him, the 29-year-old Carpenter is ready to get back to the production levels of 2013, scoring 110 or more runs and 40 or more doubles.
Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Jason Heyward
Heyward is entering his age-25 season and he already has five full seasons under his belt. He’s set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and a huge season would lead to a huge contract. He hasn’t had a very consistent career, as his most productive overall season was his rookie year, 2010. He can provide well above-average defense, but at 6’5″, 245 pounds, you’d expect more than 11 home runs, last season’s career-low total. Maybe the Cardinals can rework his swing and get some of the power back, allowing Heyward to get back to his natural, beautiful swing that made him such a force earlier in his career. There’s a lot of money riding on Heyward’s ability to do more with his bat; however, in the current market, he’ll still get nine figures.
Offseason Overview: The Cardinals got Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden from the Braves for a couple of young arms, RHP Tyrell Jenkins and RHP Shelby Miller. While the deal hurt the Cardinals rotation depth, they needed to replace the potential production in right field after the tragic loss of Oscar Taveras. Although they’ll have Heyward for just one season, he has the potential to be the best player the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols‘ heyday. Still, with Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, John Lackey, and Adam Wainwright having injury issues in the past, it’s fair to wonder if dealing pitching was worth the potential lack of rotation depth. The Cardinals will continue to trust their “way”, though, so the next man up will be expected to produce. There wasn’t much action this winter in St. Louis, unless someone really wants to hear about the Mark Reynolds, Carlos Villanueva, and Matt Belisle signings.
The Verdict: Well, it’s another season and the Cardinals are still the favorites – at least based on PECOTA. You’ll likely see big seasons from Heyward, Carpenter, first baseman Matt Adams, and second baseman Kolten Wong, who is going to breakout worse than a 13-year-old boy who sips Mountain Dew all day. The Cardinals success will lie in the health of the pitching staff. They have Marco Gonzales lined up as their No. 6 starter and Garcia, if his shoulder stays connected, but Wainwright and Lackey have a lot of innings on their reconstructed elbows, and they need to see consistency out of Carlos Martinez to stay competitive. The Cubs are improved and the Pirates should be the favorites for the division. The Cardinals will win more than 85 games, but this could be the first seasons they miss the playoffs since 2010 – unless things go right, which they usually do.
Last year, I went with Toronto, which was an absolute nightmare. They still have a lot of offensive talent, but they don’t have the rotation depth (even with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez knocking on the door) to compete in this division. I really like the Orioles and I even think that Ubaldo Jimenez can make it work in Baltimore, but I’m hesitant to expect a repeat from Chris Davis in 2014 and we still don’t know the second base situation will work out or when Manny Machado will be full strength. The top three in the East are nearly replaceable parts, as you could put them in any order and look like a genius. For me, Boston doesn’t have the goods this year, having not replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with a legitimate part (Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) and a veteran team another year older screams regression. The Yankees are a mess at second after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but they added enough parts to look like a team on the rise. The Rays nearly stood pat, but I think that will work for them. A full season from Wil Myers and the tremendous arms in David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb make them a force. While re-signing James Loney was the highlight of their offseason, the Rays are still strong enough defensively and in the rotation to win this division. The only worry is injuries, as their minor league system hasn’t produced many stars as they’ve moved to the back-end of drafts due to their major league success.
American League Central
1st: Detroit Tigers
2nd: Cleveland Indians
3rd: Kansas City Royals
4th: Chicago White Sox
5th: Minnesota Twins
The Central was quite competitive in 2013, as the Tribe and Royals finally pushed the Tigers and made the division look respectable once again, though Chicago and Minnesota were two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Things still look bleak for the latter two teams, as they are both slowly rebuilding by developing their own talent or acquiring talent in trades. The Twins will be a force to be reckoned with within the next couple of seasons when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano (who will miss all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery), Alex Meyer, and others begin reaching Target Field, and the White Sox will be better with solid, young, major league-ready talent in Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu being acquired or signed within the last year. Regardless, this division will be a three-way battle in 2014. The Royals will come up a bit short after losing Ervin Santana‘s production to free agency. While Santana struggled to find consistency throughout his career, Yordano Ventura, no matter how good he may be in his rookie season, likely won’t be able to repeat Santana’s 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 211 innings in his age-23 season in the No.5 starter role. I’m expecting huge things from Eric Hosmer and tremendous improvements out of Mike Moustakas and his new swing, but the rotation isn’t strong enough to contend with the other offenses in this division. The Indians may not win 92 games again this year, but the have the offensive firepower to be a contender. Even with lackluster seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher in 2013, Cleveland rocked. They’ll struggle due to rotation losses, much like the Royals, needing to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir‘s innings, but Danny Salazar should continue to establish himself as an electric arm, albeit with around a 170 to 180 innings limit. The Tigers will remain the class of the AL Central due to their rotation. Even after trading Doug Fister, the Tigers were able to replace him with the young lefty Drew Smyly, and the Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez trio should be good for over 600 innings and 600 strikeouts in 2014. Rick Porcello‘s drastic improvements last year leave him heading towards his free agency after the 2015 season, so if he is determined to strike it rich, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the 2nd best pitcher on the staff this season. Miguel Cabrera may be all that they need, but rookie Nick Castellanos can swing it, Austin Jackson is looking at a breakout season, and Ian Kinsler, even if he is just mediocre away from Arlington, is more than capable of devastating opposing pitchers. The Tigers may be a 100-win team in 2014.
American League West
1st: Los Angeles Angels
2nd: Oakland Athletics
3rd: Texas Rangers
4th: Seattle Mariners
5th: Houston Astros
Houston is brutal, but you have to trust in the processes that GM Jeff Luhnow brought with him from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has quickly turned the minor league system around for the Astros and there is tremendous talent on the way up, but Houston looks like a 95 to 100 loss team once again in 2014, though there are some pieces who will show themselves useful to the organization in Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler (likely trade bait), Brad Peacock, and Jonathan Villar (a poor man’s Everth Cabrera). Seattle improved tremendously and will field a winning team, but they don’t have the talent to overcome the class of the division. The Mariners have plenty of young talent in Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley who will be valuable, but they also have glaring weaknesses in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders locked into starting roles. If Seattle continues to add pieces over the next couple of seasons to their strong, young core, they’ll get there. The Rangers have been very good for quite some time, and they made the Kinsler trade with Detroit to bring back the big bopper that they lost when Josh Hamilton left for Los Angeles. Prince Fielder should be tremendous in Texas, likely rebounding to the 35 to 40 home run power that we used to see in Milwaukee, while the trade opened up a spot for Jurickson Profar at second. With Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios still around and the additon of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers should be very tough to keep off of the scoreboard, but with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (whose back still isn’t right), the Rangers will heavily lean on Yu Darvish and youngster Martin Perez. They’ll need a lot of help from Colby Lewis (who missed all of 2013) and Tommy Hanson (a shoulder injury away from being out of the league) to be competitive. The A’s have lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to injuries (Parker is out for the season) already this spring, but they still have solid depth in their rotation with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez to be solid in the rotation, especially with their spacious home field. Yoenis Cespedes should provide a full season with 30/30 potential, Josh Donaldson can really hit a baseball and pick it in the field nearly as beautifully, and Josh Reddick has a healthy wrist and will want to prove that he is more the 2012 version (32 HR/85 RBI) than last year’s version (12 HR/56 RBI). The A’s are dangerous, and while they don’t look like much offensively in parts of the order, Billy Beane continues to do quite a bit with the talent that he and his operations staff are able to find and get the most out of. The Angels have had a rough go of things in the Albert Pujols era. Mike Trout is now the centerpiece of the team, but the club has continued to put pieces around him, adding David Freese at third, and a couple of solid young arms to a depleted rotation in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The minor league system is still a hot mess, but the Halos have quite a bit of talent that, if healthy, will allow them to be a dominant team once again. I’m betting on Pujols, Trout, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson in carrying this team back to the top of the West in 2014.
American League Wild Cards
New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
National League East
1st: Washington Nationals
2nd: Atlanta Braves
3rd: Miami Marlins
4th: Philadelphia Phillies
5th: New York Mets
I may be a bit of an optimist when it comes to the NL East, but I’m seeing things a bit differently than most. The Mets offense is horrendous and they haven’t had a full season of David Wright in two of the last three seasons – plus, Wright’s now on the wrong side of 30. The outfield is a cluster of mediocrity, featuring an aging Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while the club seems to think that Eric Young, Jr. is an everyday corner outfielder. The rotation is also ugly after losing Matt Harvey late last year. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, but a team in need of a rebuild signed Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka to fill their rotation voids. I don’t see it working. The Phillies also feature aging players, and it’s hard to see full seasons out of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley again in 2014. The rotation is hurting a bit with Cole Hamels having shoulder issues and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looking like garbage after signing out of Cuba, but Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett should continue to be productive. I’d like to see Domonic Brown have another season like 2013 to make Ruben Amaro, Jr. look worse than he already makes himself look with his horrific contracts and clueless way of running the team, after letting Brown waste away for so long in the Phillies’ minor league system. I like the Marlins this year. The rotation is very good: Jose Fernandez is an ace; Henderson Alvarez may not strikeout a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball down and pounds the strike zone; Nathan Eovaldi has an upper-90’s fastball and looks promising; Jacob Turner is up and down like most young starters, but he was once a future No.1 or No.2; A.J. Ramos and Steve Cishek are good at the back-end of the bullpen, and you can’t not like Giancarlo Stanton mashing in the middle of the order. The club will get some offensive help with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Garrett Jones (only against RHP) in the lineup. They won’t be above .500, but they should be better than the Mets and Phillies in 2014. The Braves are hurting in the rotation after losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries in the last few weeks; however, they still have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (when he’s over his injury around the second week of April), and Alex Wood, with Gavin Floyd coming back from Tommy John surgery by mid-May. They just need to make it through the first month, and they have enough offense to do that. Jason Heyward is a monster who has struggled, but I’m expecting huge things out of him this season after injuries limited him to 104 games last season. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton will likely rebound, as well, and Freddie Freeman looks to be an MVP candidate after having a breakout season at the age of 23 in 2013. Andrelton Simmons could only build on his breakout 2013, and Atlanta is either going to get a rebound from Dan Uggla or production out of his eventual replacement, Tommy La Stella, at second. The Braves will be great, but not was good as the Nationals. This team is setup to win games and win lots of them. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister present a top four of a rotation that can’t be matched by another club in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper is jacked and looks primed to reach 30-plus home runs at the age of 21 and Jayson Werth will team with him in the middle of the order to cripple opposing pitchers. Ian Desmond is one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball and Anthony Rendon should establish himself as an All-Star level producer at second this season. Ryan Zimmerman is still a defensive wizard, and, if he can stay on the field, he can come close to 30 home runs and 90 RBI at the hot corner. The Nationals, like the Tigers, are capable or exceeding 100 wins.
National League Central
1st: St. Louis Cardinals
2nd: Cincinnati Reds
3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates
4th: Milwaukee Brewers
5th: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be difficult to deal with in 2015, when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, and Arismendy Alcantara are officially within their everyday lineup; however, in 2014, Chicago will, once again, be the red-headed stepchild of the NL Central, taken out back and beaten in the wood house, or any other form of describing a team that will be laughably bad. If Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back, they could win 65 to 70 games, but if they’re both as bad as they were in 2013, this is a 100 loss team. The Brewers will be better in 2014. Management has spent money and, while the minor league system rivals the atrociousness of the Angels’ system, Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis in the lineup to be productive offensively. Wily Peralta should build on his late season success from 2013, and the veteran leadership in the rotation from Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza should lead to an above .500 season. The Brewers just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries to the rotation or the everyday lineup, so they’ll likely run into some trouble in 2014, especially if they’re counting on 200 innings from Garza. The Pirates surprised everyone by winning 94 games in 2013, but they aren’t going to stop there. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Gerrit Cole look like the core of a franchise that will be capable of winning several divisions in a row in coming seasons. With Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco on the way, this club should only get better. Unfortunately, the loss of A.J. Burnett could take its toll on the rotation. Cole and Charlie Morton are effective, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez, however, haven’t shown much consistency for health or production over their careers. If things break right, the Pirates could be right where they left off, but that’s a big “if”. The Reds lost a lot of production when Shin-Soo Choo signed with Texas. Billy Hamilton will utilize his thoroughbred-like speed to steal bases and score runs, but he doesn’t have the power or on-base skills that Choo brought to the club. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order, the Reds have plenty of pop, and if Brandon Phillips rebounds a bit (hard to say with 100-plus RBI, but the average and on-base numbers were rough), the offense should still be in good shape, especially with production from Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier. The rotation is still solid. A healthy Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani will battle the Washington Nationals for a starting staff ERA title. The scary injury to Aroldis Chapman hurts the bullpen for the next six to eight weeks (his real-life health is more important considering what happened), but J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton have each closed games before. The window is closing in Cincinnati quickly, though, so they could make some moves to make a late season push. St. Louis and the “Cardinal way” is frustrating to watch as a lifelong Cincinnati native and Reds fan, but you have to appreciate their success. The team is setup to be dominant once again. Strong offensive output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams will carry the team, while Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, and Kolten Wong make adjustments to new leagues or life in the majors. The club has a .300 hitting, 30 home run talent waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras if an injury strikes in the outfield or an infield corner, but the rotation depth is what makes them unbelievably good. Joe Kelly, who had a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, may not even be in the rotation. Adam Wainwright could be joined by Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. Any other team would likely be starting Trevor Rosenthal, but the Cards can let him close thanks to their rotation depth, which hasn’t even included Jaime Garcia, who is, once again, battling shoulder woes…but he could be ready to pitch again soon. The Cardinals are a tremendous example of a team that can compete while consistently drafting in the last half of each round, while not having an unreasonable payroll number. They should be envied by fans and replicated by other organizations.
National League West
1st: Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd: San Francisco Giants
3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks
4th: Colorado Rockies
5th: San Diego Padres
The Padres are a solid team with a lot of good talent, but the NL West is quite competitive, and the Padres home park may continue to be their own worst enemy. They’ll have an advantage for their pitchers, but they just don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome Petco’s offensive squashing ways. Chase Headley quickly returned to form in 2013 after a breakout 2012 and Carlos Quentin, once again, showed that he is productive and very, very fragile. The Friars will have full seasons out of Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera, with some power production from young second baseman Jedd Gyorko, but Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross will struggle to win games due to the rest of the talent, or lack thereof, around them. The Rockies may finally have an appropriate way to attack their own offensive environment in Coor’s field, finding and developing pitchers who can pound the bottom half of the strike zone, drafting and developing pitchers like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler in the minor league system, but they’re still a year or two away from overcoming the pitching talent that they currently are rostering at the major league level. Still, they’ll win games thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, and Nolan Arenado powering home runs. The Diamondbacks continue to deal away tremendous young talent to compete at the major league level, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels this winter. Trumbo will add great power to a lineup already featuring NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and with Martin Prado and Miguel Montero in the lineup, the D’backs should score plenty of runs. The rotation lost Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery, but they had Randall Delgado out of options to step into the rotation, with Archie Bradley near-ready in Triple-A. Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo, and Trevor Cahill should provide solid innings, while Brandon McCarthy could be the wild card in the teams success due to his dominance when healthy, though he can’t always be counted on. The bullpen in Arizona is dynamite, featuring Addison Reed at closer, with J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, and David Hernandez as setup men. The Giants have pitching for days, but still have trouble finding offense. Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season and utilized that motivation to finally show up to spring training in shape. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence should continue to produce, while they are hoping that Mike Morse can return to his powerful 2012 form rather than whatever it was that showed up last season. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could be Cy Young candidates, while the Giants will hope that Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum can return to their former Cy Young candidacy days. The Dodgers…do they ever have a loaded roster! All-Stars all over the field: Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp will lead the club offensively, while manager Don Mattingly finds a creative way to rotate four very good outfielders between three spots, with a fifth, Joc Pederson, nearly ready to produce when called up from the minors. The rotation is very deep and the bullpen is the deepest in baseball. Clayton Kershaw needs no explanation, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm should be very productive in a forgiving home ballpark with an electric offense supporting them. Five pitchers with closing experience in the bullpen make it nearly a guarantee for success. A payroll with no end makes the Dodgers capable of adding pieces if a need were to arise, as well.
National League Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers in six games
He’ll finally do enough to get the votes that went to Miguel Cabrera the last two years. He has easily been the best all-around player in the game since the start of the 2012 season. At just 22, it’s scary to think of what he will become in his prime if he, fingers crossed, stays healthy.
There’s just something about a guy coming off of any injury plagued season who didn’t live up to expectations that makes me want to go with him here. He’s not Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, but Heyward will be doing a lot of the things that made Shin-Soo Choo so valuable for the Reds in 2013: getting on base as the leadoff hitter, hitting for power, and stealing bases. I could see Heyward posting a 30/30 season out of the leadoff spot in Atlanta while driving in close to 90 runs and scoring over 100. The numbers will add up to make him one of the top players in baseball, leading Atlanta to an NL playoff matchup with the Nationals.
Yu Darvish will be your trendy pick because of all of those strikeouts, but Verlander has shown that he still has something left, striking out nearly 11 per nine over his final six starts before striking out over 12 per nine over his three playoff starts. With negotiations with Max Scherzer being completely thrown out, Verlander is the man in Detroit, and he is going to show why once again.
Kershaw, like Darvish, would be the easy pick. I picked Bumgarner last year, and one of these years, I’m going to look smart for sticking with him. Bumgarner’s hits per nine (6.5) was the lowest of his career last year, and that number continues to fall each season, while his strikeout rate continues to increase, while he reached 8.9 in 2013. He’s just 24 and he has the home ballpark and the stuff to continue to improve his already impressive numbers.
Bogaerts showed that he is advanced beyond his years in the playoffs last season, helping Boston win another World Series with his impressive play. He hasn’t shown the power yet, but Bogaerts could be a 25 to 30 home run hitter in coming seasons, and his youth is a welcome addition to the aging Red Sox roster.
Vince Coleman once stole 100 bases with a .581 OPS. If Billy Hamilton is on base enough to steal 100 bases, he’s going to score enough runs to create value for himself and the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve seen him run in person and it doesn’t seem real. He’ll have more infield hits than some teams will combine for. Even if he isn’t successful, Hamilton doesn’t have any true competition for at-bats beyond Chris Heisey (who likely can’t handle center field) and Roger Bernadina (who hasn’t been able to handle a job). He’ll maintain the job and be quite productive due to his speed, but if he ever gets a leg injury and loses that tool, he has no role and no business in baseball.
Random Bold Predictions
1. Bryce Harper will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera.
4. Grant Balfour will have more saves than whoever closes for Baltimore, and the Orioles will look even more ridiculous for backing out of the contract that they signed with him than they already do.
5. Drew Smyly will win more games in Detroit than Doug Fister wins in Washington.
6. B.J. Upton will hit over .260 and will hit at least 15 home runs while stealing 25 or more bases.
7. Devin Mesoraco will provide more value offensively than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina provide offensively AND defensively in Tampa…which will show just how bad Dusty Baker messed with the former top prospect in Cincinnati by not playing him daily.
8. Hector Santiago will win 14 or more games to solidify an iffy Angels rotation.
9. Yoenis Cespedes will post an OPS over .920 and will be a top 5 AL MVP candidate at seasons end.
This has nothing to do with my Top 100 list, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
On Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that if the Boston Red Sox are unable to re-sign Mike Napoli, they could look to make a deal with the Los Angeles Angels for first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, saying:
Trumbo, who would come at half Napoli’s price, cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season, has tremendous righthanded power (34 homers, 100 RBIs this season), and is considered an above-average first baseman. Yes, he strikes out a ton (184 times in 2013). The Angels could use a third baseman (Will Middlebrooks?) and a pitcher (Felix Doubront?). The Pirates and Rays could also be fits.
God bless columnists, who have to fill up a page in a dynamic market in a dying industry, but this is reaching. In fact, the major issue is that so many teams are rumored to have interest in Trumbo in the first place.
Trumbo has some serious power, mashing 95 home runs and driving in 282 runs over the last three seasons, but those numbers have come with a .251/.300/.473 triple-slash and a 457:115 K:BB in 1,837 plate appearances. Trumbo certainly has some power, but it is a power that will get very expensive within the arbitration process (see Ryan Howard‘s rapid salary increases) while producing very little elsewhere.
Add on the fact that Trumbo is a weak defender at first, third, and the outfield, and you’re paying premium dollar for a player who should truly be hidden at the designated hitter spot, which won’t really work with some guy named David Ortiz in Boston, while it certainly won’t help the Pirates in the National League.
More damning is why the Red Sox would give up Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront for Trumbo, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2014 and is already 27, coming off of his worst season (based on OPS and WAR) of his career. Middlebrooks isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2016 and Doubront is 26, left-handed, breathing, and under team-control through 2018, while showing improved numbers in ERA and WHIP in 2013.
Certainly, dealing for a powerful bat is intelligent rather than going to the free agent market and giving nine-figures to a player like Shin-Soo Choo, but Trumbo isn’t really a “guy” when it comes to improving a roster. Considering that in 660 plate appearances, Will Middlebrooks has a .254/.294/.462 triple-slash with 32 home runs and 103 RBI, don’t the Red Sox already have Mark Trumbo?
Boston should try to get Napoli to re-sign, they should even try to get Jarrod Saltalamacchia to re-sign, but they need to be smarter than this type of trade to make sure that they don’t fall back to the 2012 Boston Red Sox instead of the 2013 champion-version.
Mark Trumbo is highly overrated due to his power production, but teams like the Red Sox could find players who are just as productive when looking over the last three season’s OPS leaders, where you’ll find Jason Kipnis, Seth Smith, Lucas Duda, and Jason Heyward, with the same .773 OPS since 2011 that Trumbo sports, while players such as David Freese (.785), Adam Lind (.776), and Brandon Belt (.798), could be more affordable options in a trade or non-tender situation in 2014, while outproducing Trumbo in the OPS statistic over the last several seasons.
The Atlanta Braves won their 12th straight game on Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals. Sitting 14.5 games in front of the second place Nationals in the NL East, the Braves seem capable of walking the finish line to make the playoffs this season…barring another catastrophic collapse. This whole winning a lot of games thing is nothing new for this Braves team, after all, they started the season off by going 12-1.
However, the team with the best record in baseball entering play on Wednesday hasn’t been as productive as it could have been.
The offense…wow…who would have thought the club would have won all of these games with the offense performing the way that it has in the 2013 season? Sure, the Braves rank 15th in average (.253), 8th in on-base percentage (.326), and 9th in slugging percentage (.412), but that is with Justin Upton hitting just four home runs from May 1 through July 31, Dan Uggla hitting .193, B.J. Upton hitting .188, and Jason Heyward hitting just .234 (including just .220 on July 27). Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, who was sharing the third base job with Juan Francisco at the beginning of the season, have been the only year-long contributors, while Brian McCann has done a stellar job since returning from injury, as well. The Braves have had some punch from Evan Gattis and surprising pop out of Andrelton Simmons, but, given the struggles of their offensive superstars, at least the people who were supposed to make huge contributions this season, it is shocking that they are where they are today.
Since the All-Star break, Atlanta is 3rd in average (.269), 2nd in home runs (23), and 1st in runs scored (99). B.J. Upton has returned from a recent DL-stint and the club is firing on all cylinders. For a team that, mind-numbingly, won 11 consecutive NL East titles from 1995-2005, the tradition of winning in nothing new in Atlanta; however, with Chipper Jones gone, the new core of talent could very well lead the team in the same direction. With 12 games against Washington, Miami, Philadelphia, and the New York Mets ahead of them, the Braves could make the division into an embarrassment.
The Atlanta Braves are 32-22, 4.5 games in front of the Washington Nationals in the NL East heading into Saturday’s game in the nation’s capital. After starting the season 12-1, the Braves have struggled to find consistency out of two of their (expected) star, offensive talents, as B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward have combined to hit .183/.285/.244 over 305 plate appearances, with 14 extra-base hits and 16 RBI. Atlanta is doing it all with pitching, as the group has performed very well, ranking 10th in MLB in starter ERA (3.71):
With the starting rotation looking very good overall, what will the Braves do with Brandon Beachy, who has now made two rehab starts as part of his return from Tommy John surgery. Beachy has had a pretty remarkable career to this point:
Prior to his injury in 2012, Beachy was putting up ace-like numbers, and over his brief, 41-start career, he has been pretty fantastic, averaging over a strikeout per inning, as well as above-average ERA and WHIP totals. With his return, the Atlanta Braves will have a difficult decision to make with their rotation: Who goes to make room for Beachy?
If you took Tim Hudson, who has five quality starts in 11 tries (45 percent), and his numbers out of the current rotation, the staff ERA would be 3.33, which would be 3rd (behind St. Louis and Cincinnati). Hudson is in the final year of his contract and he turns 38 years old in July. One could question if he has what it takes to thrive over the rest of the season, given the team’s inability to find offensive success, especially as the races heat up in the later months of the season, but is his “experience” worth keeping around?
Julio Teheran has been nothing short of spectacular over his last seven starts, compiling a 2.49 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, and a 32:6 K:BB over 47 innings. Teheran turned 22 years old in January and after being rated the No.4 prospect in baseball by MLB.com and the No.5 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, Teheran has reinforced his skills, his status, and his ability to contribute at the major league level; however, is his lack of extended success and experience capable of forcing the Braves to remove him from the rotation?
Kris Medlen may not have the greatest record, but he has proven himself as a starting pitcher over his career, compiling these statistics:
Medlen’s success, despite his current 1-6 record, would seemingly keep him locked into the rotation; however, due to his success in the bullpen (2.92 ERA, 1.19 WHIP over 90 appearances), should the Braves consider another switch for the 27-year-old, 5’10” right-hander?
Mike Minor looks like an ace in 2013 and he has been since the All-Star break of 2012, having compiled a 2.31 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and a 133:30 K:BB over 160 innings. He would seem to be going nowhere anytime soon, having shown that he is a shutdown arm for the squad, in spite of his career 4.00 ERA.
Paul Maholm has been very consistent for Atlanta since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs last season. While he doesn’t thrive in any particular part of the game (ERA, WHIP, or K:9), Maholm is a very good mid-rotation starter that will give the team an average to above-average start every fifth day.
Should the club go to a six-man rotation? The move could make some sense. Why?
Julio Teheran will be on an innings limit due to his lack of experience at the major league and minor league level
While there has been some time between several of those surgeries and today, would the extra day of rest keep the Braves starters fresher and keep them in the rotation this season, so they don’t have to make a Stephen Strasburg-like shutdown of any of their starters when their presence matters most?
There could be injuries that ease Beachy’s transition back into the rotation or the Braves could make a trade for more offensive help, but if those things don’t happen, their pitching depth will only help them be a stronger team. It’s just unfortunate that someone may have to go to an unexpected bullpen role or be sent to the minor leagues.