The beauty of the MLB is in these eight upcoming teams. Right now, they don’t look like they can truly be contenders, but like the Royals or Giants a season ago, a hot-streak, timely hitting and a little bit of luck with health can turn a middle of the pack team into a possible World Series champion.
16. San Francisco Giants: 2014 record: 79-83
2015 projected record: 84-78
You know the drill. In even years this decade, it seems like the Giants have made a deal with the baseball gods. In 2010, 2012 and 2014 San Francisco has developed a rather improbable dynasty by relying on a dominant pitching staff, timely hitting and their stars proving their worth in the moments that matter. 2015 though, has gotten off to a somewhat rotten start. With Hunter Pence out injured for probably all of April, the reigning champs will have to do a little lineup juggling till he returns.
The rotation of World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum looks deadly on paper, but Mad-bum hasn’t looked the same in Spring Training, Hudson is 100-years old, Peavy is can be injury prone and no one knows what Lincecum will provide. With the rise of 2B Joe Panik and the consistency of Buster Posey, the Giants will still be formidable offensively, but will they finally follow a championship with a strong defending campaign?
15. Chicago White Sox: 2014 record: 79-83
2015 projected record: 78-84
Two things. First, what a job by GM Rick Hahn this offseason. The South Siders fell under the radar between Billy Beane creating Moneyball 2 (that’s coming up) and the Padres signing any beating heart on the market, Hahn didn’t go crazy spending absurd amounts of money, he got pieces that fit perfectly in the rebuild of the White Sox. Jeff Samardzija is a perfect fit as a number two guy behind Chris Sale (when he gets healthy) they reloaded their bullpen with All-Star Brian Robertson and Zach Duke. Additions to the lineup in Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Emilio Bonifacio are also perfect complimentary parts. Also, the development of OF Avisail Garcia may turn into one of the best prospects in 2015. Like I said, helluva job.
Secondly, the 78-84 projected record is a little skewed. All projections have these guys at most at .500 ball and at least, finishing six games under .500. Odds are, they will be hovering around the mark all season. Also not to mention this division is ridiculously competitive. The Royals were in the World Series last year, Detroit was one of the best regular season teams and now the Indians are a favorite in the AL this season. Still don’t sleep on the South Side, because everyone in Chicago will be paying an incredible amount of attention on the next team…
14. Chicago Cubs: 2014 record: 79-83
2015 projected record: 85-77
The people are hungry. The youth movement has garnered national attention now. The Chicago Tribune has been following these guys for the past three to four years through the farm system, their time is finally now. I get why many expectations are a little bit through the roof. Including Vegas, who has this team at 6-1 odds to win the World Series. Slow your roll Vegas, not quite yet.
But that is why everything about this team is followed with incredible intrigue. The Kris Bryant story is a national topic. I know the kid has hit everything out of the park in Spring Training and Theo Epstein sending him down along with Baez and Addison Russell to start the season has disappointed the North Side faithful, it’s a smart move on his part for a variety of reasons. Those guys will be playing by June and July, I assure you. This team will compete this season, the introduction of the exponentially talented youth will add energy to an already energetic fan base, and Joe Maddon is this offseason’s best acquisition. He is ready to start talking about winning pennants, World Series’ and establishing a winning culture that the Cubs so desperately need.
Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler add defensive quality, and with Jon Lester healthy, the Cubs have a legit top five #1 pitcher even at 31.
The future is finally here, even though my fandom is not with this team, I can’t help to like them. Especially when this happens:
13. Miami Marlins: 2014 record: 77-85
2015 projected record: 81-81
Don’t let absurd number fool you. $325 million dollars is a ludicrous amount of money and the Marlins have been subjected to awful spending spree’s in the past (Jose Reyes experiment is a prime example) but this was needed. This major contract to the most gifted power hitter in the game where guys like Giancarlo Stanton come few and far between, Miami made a statement.
The NL East has most likely the best team in the league (Nationals) and the worst team in the league (Phillies) which leaves a lot of room for the Marlins to make great strides this season. It starts in the outfield, where they boast the best young outfield in the Majors in Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. No team can match the offensive and defensive production that these three will manufacture.
Yet, unlike past Marlins offseason’s, they pieced together a team that can certainly challenge for a Wild Card spot in 2015. The influx of veteran talent in 2B Dee Gordon, 3B Martin Prado, 1B Michael Morse and RP Dan Haren and Mat Latos compliment their youth perfectly with a solid balance between the two. Plus, the return of the young super-duper star pitcher Jose Fernandez (expected to make season debut in June) can only mean more potential out of this team already projected to be on the rise.
12. San Diego Padres: 2014 record: 77-85
2015 projected record: 85-77
Last season the Padres’ lineup ended collectively with .226/.292/.342, which is pretty horrendous. So San Diego took a page out of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and both LA teams books (you know, traditionally big spenders) and gave GM A.J. Preller a blank check. Preller went on a spending spree many teenage girls would be proud of, snatching up OF Matt Kemp, OF Wil Myers, OF Justin Upton, C Derek Norris, 3B Will Middlebrooks and SP James Shields (along with a few others) and in the process doubled their Opening Day salary (about $50 million in 2013) to a cool $100 million in 2015.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the completely revamped outfield will mesh as well as James Shields first year of pitching in the NL, coming off a impressive season with the Royals a season ago. They still have some holes, but their spending spree makes this team much more entertaining and will make the Dodgers work a little harder in the NL West.
11. Detroit Tigers: 2014 record: 90-72
2015 projected record: 83-79
The Tigers have been the class of the AL Central this entire decade, but 2015 might signal a changing of the guard. With the White Sox and Cleveland on the rise, and the fact that KC was the team in the World Series last season makes this division pretty much up for grabs. Detroit has been unable to translate regular season success into the postseason which is a shame because the past four years of Miguel Cabrera’s career was some of the best hitting we’ve seen in the history of the game.
The lineup still looks dominant and capable of leading the league in home runs with Cabrera, Kinsler, Martinez and newly acquired OF Yoenis Cespedes. Rotation wise, Scherzer going to D.C. will obviously hurt but if Justin Verlander can have a strong comeback season after posting a lackluster 4.54 ERA in 2014, his impact won’t be felt as much. Although, news broke today that he will start on the 15-day DL, so not a running start. Bullpen depth is a critical weakness and in a division that looks to be close all season long, it could be a major issue in close games.
10. Oakland A’s: 2014 record: 88-74
2015 projected record: 84-78
Billy Beane went for it last season by trading for Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, giving away Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes and top prospect SS Addison Russell. But can you blame the man? His team was sweeping everyone heading into the All-Star break, quite possibly the best the A’s have ever looked under his command. The starting rotation was tops in baseball, but the A’s began dropping winnable games left and right and ended up landing in the Wild Card game where the Royals’ magic thwarted another solid Billy Beane club.
So he decided to rebuild, making everyone in the MLB think he is a complete fool unloading All-Star 3B Josh Donaldson, 1B/DH Brandon Moss, C Derek Norris and never attempted to keep Lester nor Samardzija. But this is what he does, he reloads when it looks like he is rebuilding, watch the A’s win 100 games out of nowhere for all we know. Acquisitions of 1B Billy Butler, RP Jesse Hahn and 3B Brett Lawrie are solid replacements, but picking up Mr. Utility in Ben Zobrist is the ultimate fit to Beane’s philosophy. He can play just about everywhere, hit for power or average and in any spot in the order, that is what we call value. Rotation will once again be solid with Sonny Gray leading the way, even if the names after him are brand new. The return of SP Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin who both missed last season with Tommy John surgery will be key additions as well.
Everyone knows at this point, don’t ever bet against Billy Beane, because apparently this is what he does on any given day.
Next: The Contenders, Postseason picks and Awards