*Y denotes projected division winner
*X denotes projected wild card winner
Y Boston Red Sox
During the offseason, Red Sox icon David Ortiz announced that 2016 would be his last in the majors. After a disappointing 2015, the team is equipped to send Ortiz off with a bang. The Sox added pitcher David Price to be the ace of the rotation and Craig Kimbrel was acquired from San Diego to anchor the bullpen. If Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval can bounce back from subpar performances last year, the lineup will be an offensive force along with Ortiz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The rest of the rotation can be solid and will propel the team to a division title.
X Toronto Blue Jays
After more than two decades, the Blue Jays returned to the postseason by winning the AL East. MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson along with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Jose Bautista lead the league’s most potent offense. Pitcher David Price left for the Red Sox during free agency, but the rotation led by Marcus Stroman, while not elite, is solid. The combination of offense and pitching may not be enough to beat out the Red Sox for the division title, but will help the team get back to October in a wild card slot.
The biggest move the Orioles made was retaining slugging first baseman Chris Davis. However, they bid against themselves to do so and will pay him $154 million over the next seven years. The lineup, which also features Manny Machado and Adam Jones, will score runs, but those runs translating into wins will depend on pitching. The rotation is a big question mark. Yovani Gallardo was signed to be the team’s ace and while he is solid, the rest of the group is shaky at best. Does anybody really think Ubaldo Jimenez is going to ever return to the pitcher he was while with the Rockies? Yeah, me neither. Pitching is the reason why Baltimore has a third-place ceiling, but could also find themselves with one of the worst records in baseball come September.
New York Yankees
An aging roster and injuries marked a season that should have featured 90 or more losses. Instead, the Yankees secured a wild card spot, losing to Houston in the one-game playoff. During the offseason, New York attempted to get younger by trading for second baseman Starlin Castro and outfielder Aaron Hicks. The rotation will rely on youngster Luis Severino to follow up an impressive rookie year. The key will be the health of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and hitters Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran. With health being such a concern, I don’t see the Yankees having a repeat performance. At best, they are a third-place team and at worst, they could be in store for 87 or more losses.
Tampa Bay Rays
Heading into the season, pitching is by far the biggest strength for the Rays. Chris Archer is one of the better young pitchers in the game and is complemented by Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi. The rotation will have to stay healthy if the team is to contend in the division. The lineup depends on whether or not Evan Longoria can return to the player he was a few years ago. As is usually the case for Tampa, it will take some lucky breaks to overcome divisional foes that have a lot more resources at their disposal. In the end, I don’t think they have enough to contend with Boston and Toronto and will finish somewhere near the bottom of the division.
Y Kansas City Royals
Coming off of an improbable World Series title, and second consecutive AL pennant, the Royals will look to continue their dominance in 2016. The team’s core, led by outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Yordano Ventura, is young and is capable of winning another division title. In addition to Cain, the lineup features fellow home grown talents third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder Alex Gordon. This isn’t a team that will win by scoring a lot of runs, but they excel at the fundamentals of fielding and base running. While not overwhelming, the rotation and bullpen are solid. In a division that has several good teams, but that also have issues, Kansas City will rise to the top of the pack and once again be playing October baseball.
X Detroit Tigers
After dominating the division for several years, due to the emergence of the Royals, the Tigers are now the hunters and no longer the hunted. Free agent acquisitions, outfielder Justin Upton and pitcher Jordan Zimmerman will help complement mainstays Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, and pitcher Justin Verlander. A shaky bullpen will be helped by the addition of veteran right hander Francisco Rodriguez and left hander Justin Wilson. At the end of the day, the Tigers are much improved from their 74-win performance a year ago and should be able to secure a wild card slot.
Coming out of nowhere to contend for a wild card spot in 2015, the Twins will look to seal the deal and make it back to the postseason this year. Veteran Joe Mauer is the leader in a lineup of youngsters such as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Along with Korean import Byung Ho Park, if the Twins are capable of scoring runs when needed. The rotation is mediocre, with pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana. If Minnesota can build on their success of a year ago, they will once again be contending for a wild card spot. However, due to the Tigers’ improvements, I see the Twins taking a step back and finishing in third place.
Chicago White Sox
On paper, the White Sox have a good team. There’s ace Chris Sale leading the rotation and sluggers Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, acquired in a trade with the Reds, in the heart of the lineup, along with David Robertson anchoring the bullpen. However, there are enough question marks behind Sale to give pause to saying this team can challenge for the division title. Like the Twins and Indians, the Sox have enough talent to contend for a wild card spot if everything falls into place. If not, manager Robin Ventura will probably not be back in 2017.
The Indians have a big strength (their pitching) and a glaring weakness (the lineup). If the pitching can maintain its form, and the hitters get their act together, this is a group that could be vastly improved. Corey Kluber leads a rotation that had the second best ERA in baseball a year ago and it’s a good bet that he and fellow pitchers Carolos Carrasco and Danny Salazar will have a repeat performance. Jeff Kipnis and Carlos Santana headline the lineup, but I don’t see them as enough to keep the team from being anything more than a fourth- or fifth-place team.
Y Houston Astros
Perpetually in rebuilding mode, the Astros’ hard work paid off, resulting in a wild card slot. In 2016, the team is poised to make another leap and win the AL West. Reigning CY Young winner Dallas Keuchel leads the rotation, while a lineup, featuring youngsters such as shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer, will score plenty of runs. The bullpen was bolstered by the acquisition of closer Ken Giles from the Phillies for a package that included former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel. With those pieces in place, watch for the Astros to cement their status as a team that is here to stay.
The Rangers shocked everyone when they acquired pitcher Cole Hamels from the Phillies last year when they were several back in the west. Hamels helped propel a rotation that was without ace xxx Darvish to a division title. With Darvish healthy, Texas hopes to continue its success. If the team can score enough runs and have solid pitching from more than just the top two pitchers, they will contend for a wild card spot well into September.
The best player in the game resides in SoCal; too bad his team is probably going to waste away his prime years. Each year it looks as though the Angels are primed for a deep postseason run, but they always fall short. This year shouldn’t be any different. Aside from Trout, the lineup features one of the prime hitters in Albert Pujols, who rebounded from a subpar few years. But with him, health is always a concern. The team acquired shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Braves, but it shouldn’t be enough to overcome Texas and Houston. Once again the Angels will wallow in mediocrity – not good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to land a top draft pick, essentially making them the Miami Dolphins of the MLB. At least fans get to watch Trout play every day.
Last year was supposed to be the year the Mariners got over the hump and returned to the postseason. However, a 76-86 record cost the GM and manager their jobs. With Robison Canoe, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz leading the lineup and Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation, Seattle could win 90 games and make the postseason. They could also lose 85 or more games and miss October and extend their drought to 15 years. Until they prove that last year was a fluke, I’m inclined to believe it will be the latter and it will be another disappointing summer in the Northwest. Hey, at least weed is legal.
After making a postseason run in 2014, the A’s are once again at the bottom of baseball, losing 94 games in 2015. While they won’t be a contender by any stretch of the imagination, Oakland will be better in 2016. There aren’t any standout hitters in the lineup, but there also aren’t any glaring holes with players such as outfielder Josh Reddick. The rotation is headlined by Sonny Gray who should be a CY Young contender and the other members of the staff and bullpen are adequate enough to keep the team in games. The A’s will most likely finish in last place and that is where I will rank them. However, if the teams above them falter, Oakland could very well make some noise before the end of the season.
Y New York Mets
Led by a rotation of young pitchers, including Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the Mets made an improbable run to the World Series last year. Acquiring outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline gave the pitching staff a much-needed boost. With the only significant loss being postseason hero Daniel Murphy, the Mets are in good shape to repeat as division champions. The success or failure of the season hinges on the health of the rotation. With almost every pitcher having Tommy John at some point early in their careers, a significant injury to one or two guys would be a major setback.
A trendy World Series pick, the Washington Nationals’ 2015 season did not go according to plan. On top of missing the playoffs, the last week saw closer Jonathan Papelbon choke MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout altercation. During the offseason, the team swung and missed on several free agents, only landing second baseman Daniel Murphy from the Mets. Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman left for the Tigers, which is a blow to the rotation. Injuries decimated the lineup, with Harper being the only consistent bat. Health will be a key if the Nats are going to return to the postseason. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to new manager Dusty Baker, but even if they play better, it won’t be enough to overtake the Mets.
The epitome of inconsistency, the Marlins could be really good or really bad. Giancarlo Stanton, who crushed 27 home runs in only 94 games last season, leads a lineup that is capable of scoring a lot of runs. In addition to Stanton, second baseman Dee Gordon is arguably the best lead-off hitter in the game. However, Stanton has battled injuries each of the past few years and keeping him healthy is a key to success. The rotation is led by ace Jose Fernandez, who is in his first full season after Tommy John. Adding left-handed pitched Wei-Yin Chen as a solid No. 2 starter in free agency was a nice move to have depth behind Fernandez. The coaching staff was remodeled, with Don Mattingly taking over as manager and Barry Bonds making his return to baseball as the teams hitting coach. The Marlins have enough talent to challenge the Nats for second place and possibly a wild card spot. However, it’s the Marlins and I don’t trust them to fulfill the potential that could lead to a good season.
For the first time in several years, the Phillies aren’t the worst team in the division. With nearly every player of significance, aside from first baseman Ryan Howard, gone from the team that reached the World Series in 2008 and 2009, they are making strides with youngsters such as outfielder Cody Asche. It may be another year of finishing below .500, but the Phillies are building on something and could be back in the postseason mix as early as 2017.
Heading into the last year at Turner Field, the Braves traded away almost every player of value aside from first baseman Freddie Freeman. This year will be about developing a new core of players. As they learn on the job, fans will have to be patient and deal with what will probably a 90+-loss season.
Y Chicago Cubs
Coming off a 97 win season and a trip to the NLCS, the Cubs are prohibitive favorites to make a deep postseason run. A solid rotation anchored by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester received a boost at its back end with the signing of veteran John Lackey, who played for division rival St. Louis last year. Also coming over from the Cardinals is outfielder Jason Heyward, who along with utility man Ben Zobrist will solidify a lineup built on third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Picking up pitcher Adam Warren, who can pitch in the rotation or bullpen, for second baseman Starlin Castro was yet another shrewd move by Cubs executives. For the first time in a long time, the Cubs are World Series contenders and have a good shot at winning a championship for the first time since 1908.
X St. Louis Cardinals
Every year it seems as though the Cardinals are poised for a bad year and every time they exceed expectations. This year should be no exception. Early on in 2015, ace Adam Wainwright suffered an injury that kept him out most of the year and the team still went on to win 100 games and capture a division title. This year, the season hinges on the health of catcher Yadier Molina’s thumb. Losing Heyward and Lackey to the Cubs hurts, but the Cardinals always find a way to win and I’m confident they will secure one of the NL’s two wild card spots.
In a stacked NL Central, 98 wins was not enough to win the division and the Pirates were once again in the crapshoot one game wild card game where they lost to the Cubs. Led by franchise cornerstones Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh will look get back to October, but this time as a division winner. The lineup is solid with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco along with Jung Ho Kang. With Cole as an anchor, the rotation could be one of the better groups in the NL and the bullpen will continue to dominate after leading the majors with a 2.67 ERA. While the Pirates are solid from top to bottom, I don’t see three teams making it out of the Central for a second year in a row. The Cubs have too much talent and you can never discount the Cardinals. It should be a fun summer in Pittsburgh, but one that will end with the team watching the playoffs instead of participating.
After holding onto first place in the division in June 2014, the Brewers have been in the midst of another rebuild. This season will be another one of developing talent while looking to trade veterans for prospects leading into the summer. Pitcher Matt Garza is the most likely candidate to be dealt and probably won’t cost teams too much if they are willing to take on the majority of the xxx owed to him. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is the team’s most prized player and while other clubs will make offers, it will take a king’s ransom to pry him away. As the youngsters gain experience, they may have the opportunity to play spoiler in September, especially against divisional foes St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh, who will all be in the postseason mix.
It’s clearly rebuilding time in Cincy. Stud closer Aroldis Chapman was dealt to the Yankees, power hitting third baseman Todd Fraizer to the White Six and a trade of second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Nationals and outfielder Jay Bruce to the Blue Jays fell through at the last minute. Look for the team to try and move Bruce and Philips again along with anyone of value aside from Joey Votto before the July 31 trade deadline.
Y San Francisco Giants
It’s an even-numbered year, so that means the Giants are going to win the World Series, right? As has been the case this decade, San Francisco alternates between championships and missing the postseason. In 2016, the team looks primed to make another deep postseason run. After missing out on pitcher Zack Greinke, the front office moved quickly to secure Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija as the No. 2 and 3 starters behind ace Madison Bumgarner. Neither of the pair will in the position of having to be “the guys,” which they both were on previous teams, and that should help alleviate pressure and give the Giants a solid rotation. Sergio Romo leads the bullpen, while Buster Posey and Hunter Pence are the cornerstones of a lineup that will score enough runs to support the pitching staff.
X Arizona Diamondbacks
No team made bolder moves during the offseason than the Diamondbacks. Plucking away pitcher Zack Greinke, who becomes the ace of a rotation after playing second fiddle to Clayton Kershaw, not only improved the team, but also weakend a division rival. Shortstop Dansby Swanson was dealt to the Braves for pitcher Shelby Miller just over six months after being selected No. 1 overall in the draft. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt will knock in plenty of runs as Arizona looks to make a trip to the postseason.
Losing Greinke hurts and replacing him with Scott Kazmir is not enough. The Dodgers are perpetually a team that is great during the regular season and falls apart come October. However, with the resurgence of rivals Arizona and San Francisco, I’m not sure they will even have the opportunity to choke this year. Staying healthy with an aging roster is key, and they don’t know what kind of production they will get out of polarizing outfield Yasiel Puig. All of those factors lead me to conclude that while the Dodgers will contend for a wild card spot, they will fall short.
San Diego Padres
The Padres were the kings of the 2015 offseason, trading for outfielders Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, along with closer Craig Kimbrel. The season did not go according to plan and instead of a trip to the postseason, the team finished in fourth place. Subsequently, Upton bolted for the Tigers in free agency and Kimbrel was dealt to the Red Sox. Developing prospects acquired in trades will be the team’s primary focus this year. It may be a long summer of losing for the players, but there are worse places to spend this summer than San Diego. They could be in Cleveland.
For Colorado, 2016 is the first year without franchise cornerstone Toy Tulowitzki who was dealt to Toronto last July. The team who finished in last place a year ago is primed for more of the same. Outfielder Carlos Gonzales could be dealt, along with other aging players as the youth movement becomes complete. Divisional foes will be able to take advantage of the team that should lose 90+ games during what will be a long summer for Rockies fans.