5.Boston Red Sox
Preview- The Red Sox were among the free agent winners this off season. They signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and swapped Yoenis Cespedes out of a crowed outfield to bring back SP Rick Porcello. The Porcello move was a good one, they bring back a talented, 26 year old pitcher, and only lose an outfielder who struggled for them, and they didn’t have room for anyway. As for the Sandoval and Ramirez signings, they are being overblown. Sandoval is not that good of a hitter in the regular season, and Ramirez in left field is going to be an adventure.
The reason they are rated this high is the team around those players. Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, and eventually Rusney Castillo, will make for a very good line up. They may be overpaying Ramirez and Sandoval, but they have the money to bite that bullet. Bogaerts struggled his rookie year, but has been working hard with a hitting instructor, and seems poised to put together a breakout year. Ortiz keeps hitting, despite his age, and has yet to show any signs of regression.
What may hurt them, is their rotation. Porcello is a good pitcher, but after him, there is only question marks. Clay Bucholz and Justin Masterson have shown potential in their careers, but have been mediocre the last couple of years. They really need an elite pitcher to put at the top of the rotation. They are tentative to give a prospect from their deep farm system in order to bring one back, but they may eventually cave in. For now, their lineup alone makes them a top 5 team.
Player to Watch- OF Mookie Betts- While all eyes have been on Kris Bryant this spring, there is a different player who has been flying under the radar. Mookie Betts is a star in the making, and is ready to become a top outfielder in the game. He will lead off this year for the Red Sox, and is a candidate to hit over .300 and steal 40 bases.
- Los Angeles Angels
Preview- When people think of the Angels, they think of Mike Trout. Trout is the best player in the league, and probably the new face of the MLB after Derek Jeter retired. He is the favorite to repeat as AL MVP, but what about the rest of the team?
This team led the majors in wins last year, with 98. They only had one major loss in the offseason, and that was 2B Howie Kendrick. They shipped him up the freeway to the Dodgers in exchange for SP Andrew Heaney. They downgraded at second base, where Johnny Giavotella will start this year, but get a much needed boost to their pitching rotation. They also made some minor signings to boost their bullpen depth, and brought in OF Matt Joyce for outfield depth.
The rest of their team remains mostly the same. Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols, Erik Ayabar, CJ Cron, Chris Ianetta, the Angels are getting above average production from almost every position except for second base. The lineup doesn’t have the name power some of the other top five teams have, but it will be just as productive.
The concern will be their pitching rotation. First, there is Jered Weaver, who is talented, but has had issues with a loss in velocity the last couple of years. Garret Richards is coming off an injury, and it’s no guarantee he will be able to shake the rust off this year. CJ Wilson has been marred in a decline over the past couple years as well. How good this rotation may come down to the performances of young pitchers Andrew Heaney and Matt Shoemaker. The Angels aren’t the best team on paper, but they are a well-constructed team, and should once again be at the top of the standings.
Player to Watch- SP Matt Shoemaker- Shoemaker was the runner up in the AL Rookie of the Year race, and if he can continue to develop could be the key to the Angels taking the next step.
- Washington Nationals
Preview- Everyone’s favorite team to win it all, they have more holes than most like to talk about. They are a very good team, but they aren’t as good overall as the two teams ranked above them on this list.
To give credit where it is due, their pitching rotation is fantastic. With Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, and Doug Fister as their starting pitchers, they are an almost lock to make the postseason. The issue will be whether they score runs or not.
Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon are legitimately good hitters, but after them, the lineup is mediocre. There is no reason to believe that Ryan Zimmerman will make a comeback. He is injury prone, and when he is on the field, he isn’t even that good anymore. Bryce Harper is young, but this will mark three straight years that everyone thinks will be a breakout year, and it hasn’t happened yet. Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Dan Uggla round out a lineup that is mostly underwhelming. To make it worse, Rendon is dealing with various injury issues entering the season, so his status for now is up in the air.
They are still going to be a good team, but people are getting ahead of themselves in saying they are the favorites to win it all. They have a chance to win, but as a Phillies fan, I remember what happened to the Phillies when they had an all-star rotation but an underwhelming lineup. If they want to win, they are going to need that breakout from Harper now, because their lineup isn’t good enough without it.
Player to Watch- OF Michael Taylor- Span will miss a chunk of April to start out the season, giving Taylor a chance to play. He is a promising prospect, and with a good April, can steal Spans spot permanently, and make it a little more likely they win it all this year.
2. St Louis Cardinals
Preview- The Cardinals are the most consistent team in baseball. While every other team is like a roller coaster and has its ups and downs, the Cardinals are a constant. They may not always be among the best teams in the league, but they are always at least there in the playoffs. This year they have as good a chance as anyone to win it all.
The lineup is talented from top to bottom. Matt Adams will finally get consistent playing time, and Kolten Wong will get a full year. Jason Heyward has struggles his last two years, but maybe the change of scenery will get him back on track. Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Holiday round out a lineup that is good almost from top to bottom.
Their rotation may be even better. Adam Wainwright is as good as almost any pitcher. After him, they have two very promising young pitchers in Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. The rotation is rounded out by John Lackey and Lance Lynn, who are both mid 3 era pitchers. Their rotation may not be as good as the Nationals, but barring an injury, they should be among the best in the league still.
Few teams have been as successful as the Cardinals have the last decade. They not only make the playoffs every year, but also have been able to have success in the playoffs, unlike the Nationals and Dodgers, who they are ranked in between. With a top 10 pitching rotation, and a top 10 lineup, they will be amongst the best teams in the league, with the track record to back it up.
Player to Watch- 2B Kolten Wong- Wong was unimpressive in year one, but finished strong in the second half, hitting 11 homeruns. Expect him to raise his average this year. Wong hit over .300 in the minors, and should be expected to do the same in the majors. He also has decent power and speed, with his ceiling being a 20-20 type of hitter.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
Preview- The Dodgers are the most talented team on paper, but they were the most talented team last year as well, and all it got them was a first round exit. It’s hard to put them anywhere other than at number one with how much talent they have, but there is going to be that concern of what they will do when they get to the playoffs again.
With all the moves, they made in the off season, trading for Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, signing Brandon McCarthy, and brining in Cuban prospect Hector Olivera, their best move was trading Matt Kemp. Not because they brought back a promising catcher in Yasmani Grandal, but because it opened up a spot for Joc Pederson on the roster.
The Olivera signing actually was a head scratcher. Did it allow them to bring in a promising player? Yes, but it blocked another promising player from having a space on the roster, Alex Guerrero. Guerrero, another Cuban prospect, was looking very promising, and in line to play third base before the Olivera signing. Now his spot on the team in up in the air. The infield and outfield were already packed, and third was really the only chance he had at playing.
The pitching rotation is probably the second best behind the nationals. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, there aren’t very many rotations better than that. Their lineup is even better on paper. Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Pederson, Carl Crawford, and Yasiel Puig make for an imposing line up.
The problem is, just because you throw a bunch of all stars together it doesn’t mean they will be the best team. It didn’t work for the Bobby Valentine Red Sox, didn’t work for the Marlins a couple years ago, so there is no guarantee it will work for the Dodgers.
Player to Watch- OF Joc Pederson- Pederson has the potential to hit 20-20 in his first year, and to maybe even be a 30-30 player. His potential is sky high, and having a player like Pederson up in the majors is going to be great for the game as a whole.