By: Andrew “Fish” Fain
The Cherry Blossoms are blooming , the sun is shining brightly in Los Angeles and Pitchers and Catchers have started to report in both Florida and Arizona (just a little note because I love to educate as well as entertain, before teams reported to Florida and Arizona, Spring Training was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was there that Babe Ruth once hit a 573 foot home run). That’s right, all is good with the world as baseball is right around the corner.
Of course, that also means it is time for preview columns to start popping up everywhere. Sure, you can read what the good folks over at ESPN, FOX and CBS have all written. Over at MLB dot com they do a tremendous job of looking ahead, and breaking down all the position battles etc. But, none of those sites told you to look out for the Royals two years ago, as they were a team on the rise. Nobody else said the Astros would finish 2015 above .500. Of course, if you had read my previews you would have learned both of those things.
So what’s on the horizon for the 2016 season? Let’s delve in a little closer shall we …
Added: Chris Davis extension/Odrisamer Despaigne/Darren O’Day (re-signed)/Mark Trumbo
Lost: Stephen Pearce/Gerrardo Parra/Wei-Yin Chen
Grade: C- (up to C+ if they add Gallardo and Fowler).
Off-season analysis: This team is a mess, they bid against themselves to overpay for Chris Davis, they are still reeling from losing Nelson Cruz, their best pitcher bolted for Miami and they appear to be quite happy wasting the best years of two of the games better players, Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
Outlook: Wasn’t this the team that just two short years ago appeared to be on the verge of becoming a juggernaut? Now they will be lucky if they aren’t the fifth place team in their own division. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is any way this team finishes anywhere but the cellar. Of course, with Buck Showalter at the helm, a 4th place finish has a sliver of hope.
Boston Red Sox
Added: Carson Smith/Roenis Elias/David Price/Chris Young/Craig Kimbrel
Lost: Wade Miley
Off-season analysis: The clear winner of the off-season. They went out and took care of business right away, and came away with the ace they so desperately needed, one of the top closers in the game, and a great set-up man who is vastly under-rated. With the added push of this being Big Papi’s last season, another worst to first could be in the stars.
Outlook: My predictions will show up later in this column, but the Red Sox look like they may be the class of the AL East. Yes, a lot will depend on the Hanley Ramirez move to first base, and Pablo Sandoval playing more like the Kung-Fu Panda by the Bay, than just a fat bear in Beantown. But with the addition of David Price to anchor the staff, and in turn take pressure off the rest of the rotation, it should be a much better summer in Boston.
New York Yankees
Added: Aroldis Chapman/Starlin Castro/Aaron Hicks
Lost: Stephen Drew/Justin Wilson/Adam Warren
Off-season analysis: By adding Chapman, this may be the best trio at the end of the bullpen since the Reds trotted out the Nasty Boys in 1990. But with question marks all over the rotation, the loss of Adam Warren may mean more than people think. Health will always be the key for this team, who will start to shed serious salary over the next couple of years, so look out.
Outlook: While this version of the Yankees is better than the one last year that made the playoffs, there are too many other teams in the AL that took bigger steps to get better than what the Yankees did. Questions still abound about all five members of the rotation, if any of them can make it through the entire season, and that’s why dealing away Adam Warren may prove to be the Yankees biggest mistake of the off-season.
Tampa Bay Rays
Added: Corey Dickerson/Steve Pearce/Brad Miller/Logan Morrison
Lost: Jake McGee/John Jaso/Asdrubal Cabrera/
Off-season analysis: This may be the most controversial grade I give out, but I love what the Rays have done. Already blessed with the best rotation in the AL (Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyley, Erasmo Ramirez plus Alex Cobb back in July and Blake Snell coming up from the minors they are filthy), and a bullpen that was good enough to lose their closer (McGee) and still be in great shape, they needed offense. They added Dickerson, Pearce and Morrison all good hitters and got Brad Miller who will thrive with the change of scenery. If Desmond Jennings can live up to what people thought he would be, I would not be shocked to see the Rays win the AL East.
Outlook: The Rays could very well be this season’s Astros or Mets. The team nobody sees coming that is a good team all season. With one of the two best rotations in the American League, the Rays biggest issue has always been a sluggish (and that’s being kind) offense. To that end, the additions of Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce should make them a lot more dangerous than they have been since Carl Crawford and BJ Upton were roaming the outfield.
Toronto Blue Jays
Added: Drew Storen/JA Happ/Jesse Chavez/
Lost: Ben Revere/Mark Lowe/David Price/
This team made their noise at the trade deadline adding Tulo. But they hope to off-set the loss of David Price by getting a full season from Marcus Stroman, re-signing Marco Estrada and adding Jesse Chavez and JA Happ who both can start. They also added Drew Storen in a trade, which means that Aaron Sanchez could also go back into the rotation. This is still the best offense in baseball, and I for one, cannot wait to see the fireballers at the back end of the Yankees pen face the best fastball hitting line-up in the game.
Chicago White Sox
Added: Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila , Dioner Navarro, Jacob Turner, Jimmy Rollins, Tommy Kahnle
Lost: Jeff Samardzija (SFG), Alexei Ramirez (SD), Geovany Soto (LAA), Gordon Beckham (ATL), Emilio Bonifacio (ATL), Micah Johnson (LAD), Trayce Thompson (LAD)
Off-Season Analysis: The Pale Hose get a solid B for their off-season efforts, but in this division it may not be enough. Yes, they have Ace Chris Sale, but the rest of their rotation are counting on Carlos Rodon (youngster) and Jose Quintana (solid, but not spectacular). Jimmy Rollins is getting old, and showed it last season in LA. Todd Frazier is a great addition, especially in that park, but there is just too much competition in this division for them to be anything but an also-ran this season.
Added: OF Rajai Davis, LHP Joe Thatcher, 1B Mike Napoli, Juan Uribe 3B
Lost: Mike Aviles UTIL
Off-Season Analysis: While they have one of the best pitching staffs in the AL, the offense was subpar last season. With an excess of pitching, a deal for a hitter was expected, especially with either Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco as trade bait. But instead, they signed Napoli and Juan Uribe with the hopes they can hold things together until Michael Brantley returns from injury. With Tito Francona on the bench, they have an advantage there, and the pitching should keep them in games. A mid-season deal for a bat is a must for this team to keep its post-season dreams alive.
Added: OF Justin Upton , RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Mike Pelfrey, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Mark Lowe, UTIL Mike Aviles, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Francisco Rodriguez
Lost: OF Rajai Davis
Off-Season Analysis: The Tigers became the first team in history to hand out two $100 million free agent contracts in the same off-season (Upton & Zimmerman). While I believe Zimmerman may turn out to be a steal, this will still be a team that will win or lose based on Annibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander. The offense should be as good as ever with Miggy, V-Mart, JD and Upton, but the rotation is still a bit shaky and we will see if K-Rod falls prey to the curse of the Tigers Bullpen.
Kansas City Royals
Added: RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Joakim Soria
Lost: RHP Johnny Cueto, UTIL Ben Zobrist, OF Alex Rios
Off-Season Analysis: The biggest move made by the Royals this off-season was the re-signing of Alex Gordon. Jarrod Dyson should do well in right in place of an ineffective Alex Rios, and the additions of Ian Kennedy and Dillon Gee will make up for the up and down starts of Johnny Cueto. There is a reason this team is a World Champion, and the addition of Soria to that bullpen only makes this team that much scarier. Write them off at your own peril.
Added: 1B Byung-Ho Park, C John Ryan Murphy
Lost: RHP Mike Pelfrey, OF Aaron Hicks, OF Torii Hunter
Off-Season Analysis: A lot will be riding on the young shoulders of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. Last year Paul Molitor did one of the best managing jobs in the bigs, making this team believe it could contend. This season, they will do more of the same, but there just isn’t enough firepower to overtake the Royals or Indians. But they will be exciting to watch, and could be very good for years to come.
Added: Colby Rasmus (re-signed), Tony Sipp (re-signed), Ken Giles (trade), Doug Fister (FA)
Lost: Jed Lowrie (OAK), Chris Carter (MIL), Chad Qualls (COL), Oliver Perez (WAS)
The addition of Ken Giles makes this team so very dangerous. With a full season of Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers, and IF Doug Fister bounces back, I think the Astros could not only be one of the most fun teams to watch in baseball, but one of the best.
Los Angeles Angels
Added: Andrelton Simmons (trade), Yunel Escobar (trade), Al Alburquerque (FA), Daniel Nava (FA), Craig Gentry (FA)
Lost: Erick Aybar (ATL), Trevor Gott (WAS), Chris Iannetta (SEA)
This team desperately needed someone to play left field and 2nd base, with names like Upton, Gordon and Kendrick out there, they still have Nava/Gentry in left and Giovatella at 2nd … Jerred Weaver as your #2 starter is not good either, I think the division has passed this team by.
Additions: Rich Hill (FA), Liam Hendriks (trade), Jed Lowrie (trade), Yonder Alonso (trade), Marc Rzepczynski (trade), Ryan Madson (FA), John Axford (FA), Henderson Alvarez (FA)
Losses: Brett Lawrie (CWS), Drew Pomeranz (SD), Jesse Chavez (TOR), Evan Scribner (SEA)
It seems to me that Billy Beane just loaded his team with a lot of trade bait to refill his minor league system. I would be shocked if Madson, Axford, Lowrie or Hill were on the team at the end of the season. I do like the addition of Henderson Alvarez.
Additions: Nathan Karns (trade), Franklin Gutierrez (re-signed), Joaquin Benoit (trade), Leonys Martin (trade), Iannetta (FA), Nori Aoki (FA), Wade Miley (trade), Scribner (trade), Adam Lind (trade), Steve Cishek (FA), Hisashi Iwakuma (re-signed), Dae-ho Lee (FA)
Losses: Logan Morrison (TB), Brad Miller (TB), Tom Wilhelmsen (TEX), Mark Trumbo (BAL), Carson Smith (BOS), Roenis Elias (BOS)
Jerry Dipoto has molded this team into his image … He didn’t make any huge deals, but a ton of smaller ones to reshape this team. While they look much better on paper, I still don’t think they have enough to take down to Texas 2-Step
Additions: Tom Wilhelmsen (trade), Colby Lewis (re-signed), Justin Ruggiano (FA), Ian Desmond (FA)
Losses: Leonys Martin (SEA), Anthony Bass (Japan), Mike Napoli (CLE)
This team made it’s big off-season moves at the trade deadline last year. A full season of Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish is a GREAT 1-2 punch … They still need a catcher, and I am not sold on the rest of the rotation or the bullpen … I think it is going to be a great race in Texas this season
Added: Kelly Johnson, AJ Pyrzinski, Erick Aybar, Sean Newcombe, Bud Norris, Jim Johnson, Gordon Beckham, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair
Lost: Andrelton Simmons, Shelby Miller, Cameron Maybin,
Analysis: When grading the Braves consider what it is they wanted to do, and they did it. This team now has a stocked farm system with some great young pitchers as they prepare to move into their new ballpark in 2017.
Added: Edwin Jackson, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Johnson
Lost: No Significant losses
Analysis: They will also get a healthy Stanton and hopefully Fernandez back and they gave Gordon a nice contract extension. It’s all going to come down to Cosart and Osuna. If both are good, this team could be a surprise challenger.
New York Mets
Added: Neil Walker, Asdrubal Caberea, Jerry Blevins, Alejandro De Aza, Antonio Bastardo
Lost: John Neice, David Murphy, Clippard
Analysis: They kept the bat they needed, replenished their MI without breaking the bank, kept all 5 starters. Still a little concerned about bullpen and defense up the middle.
Added: Mark Appel, Charlie Morton, Jeremy Hellickson
Lost: Ken Giles,
Analysis:It is very hard to grade out these Phillies yet as they are just about to start the long climb back up to the top. They do have some good young studs like Aaron Nola on the hill and Top 10 prospect in SS JP Crawford. But it may be a few years until they’re a factor again.
Added: Dusty Baker, Daniel Murphy, Ben Revere, Stephen Drew, Bronson Arroyo
Lost: Matt Williams, Yunel Escobar, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Denard Span, Drew Storen
Analysis: They missed out on Price, they missed out on Cespedes and Heyward, landing a defensive liability in Daniel Murphy does not help matters, and now their rotation has to rely on Joe Ross and Tanner Roarke and they did not do near enough to help the bullpens shortcomings.
Additions: Jason Heyward (FA), John Lackey (FA), Ben Zobrist (FA), Adam Warren (trade), Trevor Cahill (re-sign)
Losses: Starlin Castro (NYY), Edwin Jackson (MIA), Dan Haren (retirement), Fernando Rodney (SD)
Grade: A (still can use some bullpen help and a more solid 4/5)
Analysis: With Dexter Fowler back in the fold, it allows Jason Heyward to move back to right field, where he is the best defensive player in the game, and the spot that is the reason why earned the contract he did. This Cubs team will be a juggernaut, the interesting part will be how last year they flew under the radar while this year, the pressure will be on. The only question is, how will they handle said pressure.
Additions: Jose Peraza (trade), Scott Schebler (trade), Blake Wood (FA)
Losses: Aroldis Chapman (NYY), Todd Frazier (CWS)
Analysis: There is no easy way to say it, this is going to be a bad team. Expect both Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to be gone by the trade deadline as they continue to rebuild. They are not totally bereft of talent. Eugenio Suarez showed enough last to allow the Reds to trade Todd Frazier and hand 3rd base to him. Jose Peraza will be an exciting player when given the chance to play. Devin Meseroco and Zach Cozart need to stay healthy, and Billy Hamilton has to find a way to get on. He needs to be reminded, you can’t steal 1st base. Poor Joey Votto, with his untradeable contract, another great season from him will be all for naught.
Additions: Chris Carter (FA), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (waivers), Will Middlebrooks (FA), Jonathan Villar (trade), Aaron Hill, Chase Anderson
Departures: Jean Segura, Adam Lind (SEA), Francisco Rodriguez (DET); Kris Davis (OAK)
C-, this grade can change depending on the fates of Lucroy and Braun
Analysis: This team has what could be a very dangerous line-up at times. Lucroy, Braun, Scooter Gennet are all solid hitters, and Chris Carter is one of the most powerful bats in the game (of course, he actually has to make contact). Vets Aaron Hill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis should provide manager Craig Counsell with some options and youngster Domingo Santana should be fun to watch. The pitching on the other hand, may be flat out ugly. Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta have great stuff, but can’t seem to put it together, and Matt Garza has not looked like himself for a while. This team is going to be stuck behind Pitt, Chi, & STL for quite a while.
Additions: Jon Niese (trade), Sean Rodriguez (re-sign), Ryan Vogelsong (FA), John Jaso (FA), Neftali Feliz (FA); Juan Nicasio (FA)
Departures: A.J. Burnett (retirement), Neil Walker (NYM), Antonio Bastardo (NYM), Pedro Alvarez (FA), J.A. Happ (TOR), Aramis Ramirez (retirement)
Analysis: Anytime you have and outfield of McCutcheon, Polanco & Marte, you know you’re team can be dangerous. They will miss Neil Walker’s steady presence at 2nd base, but Josh Harrison will be a great replacement. The issue becomes Harrison’s value takes a hit as now he is locked into one position. The platoon of John Jaso and Michael Morse at 1st should provide some pop, and Francisco Cervelli is proving to be a plus behind the plate. The staff led by Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will be very good. Watching what pitching coach Ray Searge can do with Juan Nicasio, Jon Neise and youngsters Tyler Glasnow & Jameson Taillon, this team could be scary good and will hang around all season.
St Louis Cardinals
Additions: Seung-hwan Oh (FA), Mike Leake (FA), Jonathan Broxton (re-sign), Jedd Gyorko (trade), Jose Martinez (trade), Brayan Pena (FA)
Departures: Jason Heyward (CHC), John Lackey (CHC), Jon Jay (SD), Tony Cruz (KC), Steve Cishek (SEA)
Analysis: It has been a tough off-season for the Birds. They lost Lackey and Heyward to their rivals in Chicago. Their starting shortstop will miss significant time and Yadier Molina is starting to show signs of age. But all is not lost. First of all, this is the best run franchise in all of the sport. There is a group of youngsters led by Randall Grichuck and Stephen Piscotti playing key roles this season, and they still have a pitching staff led by Adam Wainright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. To count Mike Matheny’s squad out would be to do so at your own peril.
Added: Zack Grienke, Shelby Miller, Jean Segura, Tyler Clippard
Lost: Aaron Hill, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte
Analysis: Regardless of the results this season, the D-Backs are setup to be good for years to come. Zack Greinke will be the ace they are looking for, but his numbers will suffer a bit from moving into a hitters park, as will Shelby Miller. I love the addition of Segura at SS and Paul Goldschmidt is an absolute stud. AJ Pollock will be a household name by the end of the season. I am not sold on Brad Zeigler as the closer, and the bullpen does scare me a little bit. I also think they need a big season out of Yasmany Tomas. They will push the Dodgers and Giants all year long.
Added: Jake McGee/Gerrado Parra/Mark Reynolds/Jason Motte/Chad Qualls
Lost: Corey Dickerson
Analysis: This team HAS to trade Cargo ASAP, with his injury history they are playing with fire, and after the season he had in 2015, the iron may never be hotter … They HAVE to get pitchers who miss bats to succeed in Denver. I like the addition of Jake McGee to close games, and Charlie Blackmon is turning into a monster. We all know how good Nolan Arrenado is, and people will know who Ben Patrick is before the season ends. Jose Reyes may not be with the team for a while, and when he returns I am not sure he will have a job as rookie Kevin Story may be the best story of the year. But for this team, it will all come down to pitching.
Added: Scott Kazmir/ Trey Thompson/ Kenta Maeda
Lost: Zach Grienke/Jose Perraza
Analysis: Injuries have been the story of the spring. Corey Seager, Brett Anderson, Howie Kendrick, Andre Ethier, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Bolsinger and even Yasiel Puig have missed time due to injuries this spring, while none of them (except Ethier and Anderson) are significant, it does raise a red flag. Add that to the lower velocity of Kazmir and there is some room for concern. But this team is a lot deeper than last years team. At some point this season, all of those players plus Brandon McCarthy will be back. Add that to Julio Urias and Jose DeLeon in Triple A and the depth of this squad will be it’s strength. Any team with Clayton Kershaw has to be a threat and 2016 will once again see the Dodgers fighting for the division.
Added: John Jay/ Fernando Rodney
Lost: Craig Kimbrel/ Juaqin Benoit/Jedd Gyorko
Analysis: This is one of the few teams that there really is not much to say. They have a solid top 3 in their rotation with Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner. They have some pop in their line-up with Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. But other than that, there is not a whole lot to get excited about, except the fact that they play in one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
Added: Johnny Cueto/Jeff Samardzja/Denard Span
Lost: Tim Lincecum/Tim Hudson/ Ryan Vogelsong/Yesmero Petit/Jeremy Affeldt
It’s an even numbered year, and this may be the West’s best rotation, especially if Cueto is healthy and Jeff Samardzja can find his old form. The line-up is not powerful, but very pesky and always seems to get the key hit. Buster Posey is a perennial MVP candidate. The key for this squad will be the health of the outfield of Pagan, Span and Pence. If any of them lose significant time it could be doom for this team. Plus I need to see progress from Brandon Belt and make sure that Matt Duffy’s rookie season was no fluke.
This is where I will let you know who will make the post-season and who will win the post-season awards. So here we go:
Houston, Cleveland & Toronto Division Winners
Tampa Bay & Kansas City Wild Cards
Mets, Cubs, Dodgers Division Winners
Nationals, Marlins Wild Cards
Post Season Awards
Cy Young: AL: Chris Sale NL: Clayton Kershaw
ROY: AL: Byron Buxton NL: Corey Seager
MVP: AL: George Springer NL: Paul Goldschmidt/Giancarlo Stanton (Co-MVP’s)