Ranking teams before the season even starts is just dumb. Exhibit A: most people thought the Padres were going to be good last year. Exhibit B: if you look at my preseason power rankings last year, only three of my top ten teams made the playoffs. Then again, I also said this last year about the Red Sox: “I don’t believe that any member of the rotation will both end the season with an ERA lower than 3.45 and pitch +175 innings. I don’t believe Hanley will be worth positive defensive value or that he will go the season uninjured.” BAM.
30. Atlanta Braves (last season’s preseason ranking: 23)
I already talked about how amazing their off-season trades were. This team is rebuilding in the right way. Best case: A bonus last place finish and the first pick of the draft. Worst case: Freddie Freeman gets hurt but they still finish ahead of four other tanking teams.
29. Philadelphia Phillies (30)
I hate to admit it, but the Phillies aren’t as fun to beat up on now that Papelbon is off their roster. Still, remember how this time last year he said he was expecting to pitch for them in the 2015 postseason? What an a-hole. Best case: Young talent excels and sets them up well for two years down the road when they have almost no money on the books. Worst case: Somehow Jonathan Papelbon rejoins the team.
28. Cincinnati Reds (20)
Between Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclefani, this rotation could actually be really fun to watch. Best case: Fanbase finally realizes why it’s not a bad thing that Joey Votto walks so much, shows him appropriate level of respect/devotion. Worst case: Fanbase continues to not understand why it’s not a bad thing that Joey Votto walks so much, lusts after Pedro Alvarez and his home runs from afar.
27. Colorado Rockies (29):
While I agree with just about the entire internet that the Rays won the McGee/Dickerson trade, Buster Olney outlines perfectly why it wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed. Best case: CarGo is a monster, gets traded at the deadline. Worst case: CarGo remembers his body is incapable of playing more than 110 games of baseball in any given year.
26. Brewers (24):
I’m as excited as anyone about Orlando Arcia joining a terrific crop of young shortstops in the majors, but Jonathan Villar is more than just a placeholder: he could steal 30 bases. Best case: I’m really getting tired of tanking teams who desperately want to finish last. Worst case: Jonathan Lucroy isn’t good anymore and no one wants him ever.
25. Padres (14):
Will Myers shouldn’t be forgotten just yet. He’s on my “probably won’t but actually maybe could” breakout list this year. You can go ahead and forget about Matt Kemp though. Best case: I literally don’t even know. Worst case: The pointlessness of last offseason’s spending spree starts to really reverberate.
24. Angels (4):
Shame on you, Angels, for having Mike Trout and doing nothing with him. It’s like if Oscar Isaac was only allowed to perform in Michael Bay films. Best case: the AL West stays even enough to allow the Angels to catch up after a big mid-season acquisition. Worst case: Trout loses out on yet another deserved MVP award because of his team’s mediocrity.
23. Tigers (8):
Jordan Zimmerman just finished the worst year in his career and is transferring to the AL. And, while there’s always talk about how good this lineup is, remember they finished 10th in the AL in runs scored last year. Best case: Verlander and Miggy are tricked into thinking its 2012, and the Tigers overcome a still horrible bullpen to win the AL Central. Worst case: new contract Justin Upton looks like new contract BJ Upton, the rotation is horrible, and they stumble to last place.
22. Red Sox (12):
Most writers have this team a lot higher, even in the top 10. But the Red Sox could win 100 games and I’d still think they were a joke. Price is awesome, but I maintain that they don’t just need a number one, they need a numbers one through five. Best case: Big Papi has a glorious final season and gets the honor of losing in the wildcard game to a team that isn’t spending 75 million dollars on a backup third baseman. Worst case: I don’t judge baseball teams just by their year to year performance and I’m actually wondering if there is a worse case than having a 75 million dollar backup third baseman.
21. Athletics (18):
I’m not convinced this team will be good, but I’m not as eager to dramatically write them off as most. Last year’s negative 35 run differential was not that awful. Best case: They sniff the second wild-card slot but fall just short. Worst case: Worst team in the American League.
20. Twins (27):
Sano, Buxton, Park, Berrios should make for an awfully fun team. Best case: Buxton reminds people that he was mentioned in the same conversation as Trout, Harper, and Correa not that long ago. Worst case: season goes poorly enough that fans fastforward through gameplay to get to old Joe Mauer head and shoulders commercials.
19. White Sox (13):
Wow I was ready for the off-season to be over when the media spent an entire 48 hours talking about Adam LaRoche’s son. Though that story did give me decent evidence to back up my hunch that Chris Sale is the absolute worst. Best case: Rodon reaches his potential and leads them to a wild-card spot. Worst case: Rodon never reaches his potential and the Curse of Adam LaRoche’s Son dooms the other Chicago team.
18. Marlins (17):
This is the NL team most caught between tanking and contending. If Ozuna can recover his form, Stanton can stay healthy, and Yelich takes a step forward, the Marlins could challenge the Pirates for best outfield in the majors. Best case: The NL East is actually a three team race (at the top, I mean). Worst case: The NL East is actually a three team race… at the bottom.
17. Orioles (7):
The Blue Jays demonstrated last year that you can play baseball like a 2003 video game team and still make the playoffs, so I guess there’s hope for the Orioles? Best case: Pedro Alvarez ends up being the best signing of the offseason and the Orioles mash their way to a wildcard. Worst case: Last place in the AL East.
16. Mariners (10): This could be King Felix’s last chance to be a legitimate ace for a playoff team. Enough is enough already. Best case: King Felix starts a wildcard game. Worst case: the Mariners disappoint the entire baseball world once again.
15. Rays (15): Last year I ranked the Rays 15 and said “If Alex Cobb can come back quickly and avoid the DL the rest of the season they could make a run at the wildcard yet” so I’m questioning whether there is such a thing as time passing. Best case: the increase in depth translates to an increase in production and an underrated rotation takes the Rays to first place in the AL East. Worst case: Longoria continues to drop off into irrelevancy, Archer plateaus, Cobb’s recovery isn’t smooth, and the Rays start and end in the basement of the AL East.
14. Yankees (21):
People keep talking about how good this rotation could be, but I’m going to make a dramatic call akin to last year’s Red Sox prediction: barring a midseason acquisition, no Yankees starter will finish with better than a 3.80 ERA and +175 innings pitched. Best case: I’m entirely wrong about their rotation and they win 94 games and the World Series. Worst case: I’m entirely right and they finish last in the AL East. Notice how I think just about every AL East team could finish in last place?
13. Diamondbacks (28):
If Paul Goldschmidt is the underrated star of MLB, then David Peralta is the most underrated fantastic supporting piece. Dude had an .893 OPS last year. That Pollock injury is tragic. Best case: Greinke, Miller, and Corbin are good enough to give the NL West crown to a non-California team for the first time since 2011. Worst case: Arizona remains a team of stars and spare parts, finishing just short of the wild-card in a competitive NL field.
12. Indians (6): I get that the Mets rotation is really amazing, but Kluber/Carrasco/Salazar could be pretty incredible as well, especially with a full season of Lindor’s defense to back them up. Best case: If that trio performs to their abilities, this team could win the World Series. Worst case: Their bad luck continues and they miss out on the playoffs.
11. Giants (9):
I want to rank this team a lot lower. If people are going to point out how Jeff Samardzija’s horrible year (4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP) was an outlier in his career, then I’m going to point out that his ace-like 2014 (2.99 ERA) is an outlier too. And his career ERA (4.09) is a lot closer to the bad outlier than it is to the good one. That $90 million contract is absurd. Best case: it’s an even year in the 2010s, so I guess I have to say World Series. Worst case: I’m entirely right about Samardzija’s contract, Madison Bumgarner goes the way of fellow Giants Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and this team ends under .500.
10. Rangers (26):
The 2015 Rangers were actually the best story of 2015 by far. Add in a nearly full year of Yu Darvish, and they could finally snag that ring. Best case: World Series winners. Worst case: 2016 is the bad kind of surprising, and they end up 4th in the AL West.
9. Cardinals (5):
I don’t want to question the best run organization of the last decade, but the Cardinals did hand over their two top performers (in terms of WAR) to division rivals. Also: that .210 opponents batting average with RISP is probably not sustainable. Best case: the Cubs are the 2016 Nationals and we head into October wondering why ever bet against the Cardinals. Worst case: Finally, hard evidence that October can exist without Cardinals games.
8. Dodgers (2):
Clayton Kershaw isn’t a fan of defensive shifts. I guess you don’t have to understand how analytics generally make you a better player when you’re already the best player in the universe. Best case: They finally justify their astronomical payroll and win the World Series. Worst case: Zack Greinke defeats them in the wild-card game.
7. Pirates (3):
I don’t get paid to write about baseball so I also don’t have to apologize for being a huge Pirates fan. So: The narrative about how the Royals are always undervalued by projections is nice, but the Pirates are actually more undervalued. Over the past 3 seasons, the Royals have outperformed FanGraphs by 30 wins while the Pirates have outperformed it by 33. Note: FanGraphs has projected 77 wins for the Royals and 83 for the Pirates. The Pirates should have a huge chip on their shoulder after winning 98 games and not being even included as an afterthought in off-season narrative of “are the Cubs or the Cardinals the better team in the NL Central this year?” Best case: They finally win the division and get to avoid the biggest joke in Major League Baseball, the wildcard play-in game. Worst case: Honestly, after having two incredible seasons cut short by running into two different pitchers enjoying some of the most dominant streaks of pitching of all time (Arrieta’s second half run and Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason run), I actually think missing out on the playoffs entirely would be more palatable than another wildcard game.
5. Astros (25):
A full year of Correa and a healthy George Springer should make the Astros the most fun team in the AL. Best case: AL MVP, AL Cy Young, and World Series rings cluttering up the trophy shelf. Worst case: The narrative around Correa sets the bar too high for a team that is still young.
4. Blue Jays (19):
I am a big fan of good pitching, elite defense, and smart analytics. I am also a big fan of watching one team go against the trend by hitting a billion home runs. Best case: Jose Bautista signs a reasonable extension and then hits an ALCS-winning home run that hits Goose Gossage in the head just hard enough to make him forget that he’s the absolute worst. Worst case: The entire team is revealed to be on steroids???
3. Royals (22):
Last year’s Royals were the perfectly designed team to take on the Mets, but I don’t think they win that series against any of the other NL playoff team. Best case: Ian Kennedy isn’t a joke, Alex Gordon is more than just a feel good story, and they make it back to the World Series for the third year in a row. Worst case: the bullpen magic dries up, Yost is exposed for the phony I think he is, and they end up fourth in a deceptively even AL Central.
2. Mets (16):
My brother’s girlfriend got me a Noah Syndergaard shirt for Christmas which left me wondering what she was even doing with a dude who drafted Bartolo Colon to his fantasy team. Putting aside my love for Thor, DeGrom, and yes even Colon: for all the talk about the strength of this rotation, don’t forget three teams finished 2015 with better ERAs. Best case: They return to the World Series and sweep with four no hitters. Worst case: Remember all the talk about the historically good Phillies rotation, circa 2011? Or all the the talk about the historically good Nationals rotation, circa 2015?
1. Cubs (11):
To take it for granted that by adding Heyward, Zobrist, and a full year of Bryant, the Cubs are going to win +100 games is to ignore just how good (and lucky) a team had to be to get to 97 wins in the first place. I’m not saying they don’t win the NL Central, but the Cards/Pirates/Cub all played EXTREMELY well last year and their eventual order is more likely to be determined by factors we haven’t even thought of yet. Best case: It’s a bummer that the expectations have been set to “World Series or bust” when they should be focusing on winning the most competitive division in baseball. Worst case: Even half of their sophomores slump, and the Cubs are this year’s Nationals.