National League: Will 2016 Be the Cubs’ Year?
1. Cubs: The loveable losers won big last year, winning 24 more games than they did in 2014 and reaching the NLCS ahead of schedule. Free agent acquisitions Jason Hewyard, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist join the team’s young core and make the Cubs a favorite to reach their first World Series since 1945 and perhaps even end their 108-year title drought.
2. Cardinals: It wasn’t a great offseason for the Redbirds, but Mike Matheny’s club still has more than enough talent to reach a sixth consecutive postseason. The club signed Mike Leake to replace Lackey, ace Adam Wainwright is healthy again and young outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk appear ready to replace the production of Jason Heyward.
3. Mets: The Mets reached the World Series last season behind four young flame-throwing pitchers, and the team could be even better this season. While Yoenis Cespedes is back for a full season and Zach Wheeler will return to the rotation in July after missing all of 2015, the Mets’ chances for a second NL East title in a row could hinge on a breakout season from outfielder Michael Conforto.
4. Giants: The 2010, 2012, and 2014 world champions are loaded again in 2016. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija bolster San Francisco’s rotation, and Denard Span gives the club a true leadoff hitter to reach base in front of run-producers Matt Duffy, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
5. Pirates: Clint Hurdle’s talented team is stuck behind the league’s two best teams in the NL Central. Pittsburgh’s young outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco is one of baseball’s best, and adding on-base machine John Jaso helps the lineup. New starting pitchers Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong must contribute for Pittsburgh to reach a fourth consecutive postseason.
6. Dodgers: Zack Greinke spurned Los Angeles and joined the Diamondbacks, but new pitchers Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda should be productive in his place. Perennial Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw will keep the Dodgers afloat, but unless top prospect Corey Seager exceeds expectations and Yasiel Puig returns to form, new manager Dave Roberts’ first season will be a disappointment.
7. Nationals: Washington slumped down the stretch in 2015 and missed the playoffs, and the downward spiral could continue under Dusty Baker in 2016. Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer will excel, but there’s no clear rotation replacement for Jordan Zimmermann, and shortstop prospect Trea Turner must succeed right away in place of Ian Desmond.
8. Diamondbacks: Arizona made an offseason splash, signing Greinke and trading a big part of its farm system for Shelby Miller. Those acquisitions won’t be enough to get the Diamondbacks to the postseason, as the rotation remains unproven behind the two new stars and the lineup is still thin outside of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock.
9. Marlins: Full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez can only help the Marlins, who should feature a promising young lineup in Don Mattingly’s first season. If the young starting pitchers behind Fernandez and Wei-Yin Chen continue to develop, the Marlins could make some noise.
10. Padres: San Diego swung for the fences last offseason and came up empty. The Padres dealt Craig Kimbrel and let slugger Justin Upton and innings-eater Ian Kennedy walk in the offseason, and young starters Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner could be trade bait by midseason.
11. Cincinnati: The Reds traded pitchers Cueto and Mike Leake at last year’s trade deadline, and then dealt closer Aroldis Chapman and third baseman Todd Frazier this offseason. Joey Votto isn’t going anywhere, and his bat, combined with young pitchers Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani, should keep Cincinnati out of the NL Central cellar.
12. Colorado: One-time star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is gone, and his replacement Jose Reyes is currently on paid leave. The team didn’t seek starting pitching improvements in the offseason, and outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon could be dealt before season’s end.
13. Atlanta: The Braves dealt shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pitcher Miller this offseason, receiving several pitching prospects and potential superstar shortstop Dansby Swanson in return. The future looks bright, but this season will be a struggle, as a patchwork rotation holds down the fort until prospects arrive.
14. Milwaukee: New GM David Stearns took the wrecking ball to Milwaukee’s roster, dealing Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Adam Lind and Francisco Rodriguez. Outfielders Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips are bright spots, but it will be a tough season at Miller Park.
15. Philadelphia: After trading Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon at the deadline, the Phillies shipped reliever Ken Giles to Houston in the offseason. It will be another long season in Philadelphia, but the prospects for the future (led by pitchers Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickoff) are starting to arrive.
American League: Astros Set to Take Next Step
1. Astros: Houston had Kansas City on the ropes in the ALDS before letting a Game 4 lead slip away. The Astros will be even better in 2016, with Carlos Correa and Carlos Gomez playing full seasons and Ken Giles solidifying the bullpen.
2. Royals: The defending champs brought back Alex Gordon but lost midseason acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist in free agency. Kansas City won’t win 95 games again, but the Royals will ride a deep lineup and dominant bullpen to a third consecutive AL Central crown.
3. Blue Jays: Toronto lost David Price to Boston but should have young hurler Marcus Stroman for the whole season. The Blue Jays have the best middle of the order in baseball if Tulowitzki stays healthy, and breakout seasons from outfielder Kevin Pillar and starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez will keep Toronto atop the AL East.
4. Rangers: Texas overperformed last season and should be even better in 2016 with more starts from Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Rougned Odor and Delino DeShields add youth and speed to the Rangers lineup, and if Desmond learns left field quickly, Texas could track down Houston and win a second consecutive AL West title.
5. Red Sox: Youngsters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts should take the next step, and infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval expect to bounce back. Boston should use its strong lineup, offseason acquisitions Price and Kimbrel and emerging starter Eduardo Rodriguez to reach the playoffs in David Ortiz’s final season.
6. Yankees: The bullpen will be even better once Chapman returns from suspension, and Luis Severino should join Masahiro Tanaka atop the Yankees rotation. However, New York lacks depth behind its aging lineup, especially after Greg Bird’s season-ending injury, and the Yankees don’t have enough pitching to reach a second consecutive postseason.
7. Orioles: It was a busy offseason in Baltimore, as the birds brought back Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and replaced pitcher Chen with Yovani Gallardo. A thin rotation and shaky defense alignment will keep Baltimore out of the playoffs despite its revamped lineup.
8. Angels: Mike Trout can only carry the Angels so far. Although the star center fielder should win his second MVP and Andrelton Simmons will improve the team’s defense, the lineup has holes and there’s not enough pitching behind Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney to keep Los Angeles in the AL West race.
9. Indians: Cleveland has one of the best rotations in baseball, and shortstop Francisco Lindor is an up-and-coming talent. The Indians will regret opting for cheap veterans Mike Napoli, Juan Uribe and Marlon Byrd instead of trading for a young power bat, and won’t have enough offense to jump Kansas City in the AL Central.
10. Tigers: Detroit is much improved from last season, having added Justin Upton to the lineup, Jordan Zimmermann to the rotation, and Francisco Rodriguez to the bullpen. Unfortunately it won’t translate to enough of an improvement on the field to make the playoffs.
11. Rays: Tampa boasts four terrific young starters in Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore, but three of the four have missed significant time with injuries, fifth starter Alex Cobb will miss the first half of the season as he recovers from Tommy John and offense will be hard to come by beyond Evan Longoria.
12. Twins: Minnesota has an up-and-coming lineup, led by Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and old stalwarts such as Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. Korean designated hitter Byung Ho Park will be exciting to watch in his first MLB season, but the starting rotation overperformed last season and could be the undoing of this year’s team.
13. Mariners: Seattle still has Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma atop the rotation, and new general manager Jerry DiPoto added several on-base machines to the lineup. That said, Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and the back end of the Mariners rotation must improve before the team makes a jump in the cutthroat American League.
14. White Sox: The South Siders also made a splash this offseason, adding Todd Frazier to Jose Abreu at the heart of their lineup, but Chicago needs to wait for starting pitcher Carlos Rodon to emerge behind Chris Sale and infield prospect Tim Anderson to reach the big leagues before the White Sox can contend.
15. Athletics: It’s rebuilding time again in Oakland. The Athletics will spend the season watching new outfielder Khris Davis crush long homers, admiring another strong season from Sonny Gray and hoping a solid starting pitchers emerge out of a group of recently acquired prospects.