Top 5 Remaining MLB Free Agents and Where They’ll Sign

Though Manny Machado has just signed a 10 year, $300 million contract with the Padres, Bryce Harper and many other top MLB free agents are still on the market with Cactus League and Grapefruit League action starting up.  With Harper rumors really starting to heat up, I will be listing my Top 5 of the remaining MLB free agents and predicting their contracts.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.  I’ll start with the obvious #1:

1.Image result for bryce harper headshot Bryce Harper, OF

2018 Team: Washington Nationals

If you’ve been following any kind of MLB off-season news, you’ve probably heard plenty about Harper, so I’ll keep this brief.  The Nationals could still be in it to re-sign the 26-year old Harper after a strong start to his career in Washington.  But the Phillies appear to be the current front runners.  The latest rumors suggest that the Phillies are in Vegas with Harper and may have a deal done by Monday.  But earlier this week, we heard the same thing about Friday, and it didn’t end up happening.  Will Harper end up in Philly, or will a mystery team swoop in before the Phillies finalize things?

My Prediction: San Francisco Giants, 10 years, $330 million

I’ve heard things suggesting that the Giants aren’t up to offer a $300 million contract to Harper.  But now that they are reportedly willing to offer a long-term deal, they could change their mind considering the mutual interest between Harper and San Fran.  If the Giants came close to Philly’s offer, maybe Harper would sign there out of impatience.  Plus, the Phillies are division rivals of the Nats, and the west coast is closer to Harper’s hometown.

2. Image result for craig kimbrel headshot Craig Kimbrel, CL

2018 Team: Boston Red Sox

Kimbrel’s agent made it clear that although Kimbrel has been stubborn about his contract, he will pitch in 2019.  But with the late inning relief market already settling down, where does Kimbrel fit?  Sure, he could re-sign with Atlanta.  But you cannot discount Arodys Vizcaino as a closing option for the Braves.

My Prediction: Boston Red Sox, 4 years, $64 million

Kimbrel will eventually have to settle for a smaller contract, and if there’s any team who could still use relief help, it’s Boston.  The Red Sox have been adamant about finding a closer internally.  Who knows, Jenrry Mejia or Tyler Thornburg could bounce back.  Matt Barnes could step it up.  But I think the Red Sox will end up bringing back Kimbrel as a safety net once his price goes down.  Barnes, Mejia, Thornburg, and others can set up Kimbrel.

3. Image result for dallas keuchel headshot Dallas Keuchel, SP

2018 Team: Houston Astros

Keuchel, like Harper, is a Scott Boras client, and Boras clients have tended to sign late into the off-season, so it’s not a huge surprise that Keuchel is still on the market.  But unlike the relief market, there is still a handful of teams that could use starting pitching help.  The Phillies, Braves, and Padres have been linked to Keuchel, but the Padres just signed Machado, and the Phillies aren’t going to turn attention to Keuchel unless they lose out on Harper.  The Braves would be smarter to sign a lower-tier starter considering their surplus of SP prospects on the verge of a major league career.  I see the Padres finding a cheaper option and a surprise team signing Kimbrel.

My Prediction: Toronto Blue Jays, 4 years, $68 million

The Blue Jays may have a decent rotation going with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard, and Ryan Borucki.  But they lack a true ace, and could use depth in case Borucki turns out to be a bust or Shoemaker and Richard are inconsistent or get hurt.  Keuchel could help Toronto kill two birds with one stone.  Why sign a top line starter with so many prospects about to crack the majors?  Well, Toronto’s rebuild is a unique situation.  With this legendary group of prospects, Toronto’s a pitcher or two away from contending during a rebuild.

4. Image result for adam jonesAdam Jones, OF

2018 Team: Baltimore Orioles

When people think about all the quality players still on the FA market, they think Harper, Kimbrel, and Keuchel.  But what about Adam Jones, who slashed .281/.313/.419 with 15 dingers despite a down year?  Back in 2017, he put up a .787 OPS with 26 home runs.  Though he is getting up there in age, I think he still has potential to succeed for the next few years to come.  But where?  He will likely end up with a team that needs OF help but cannot afford Harper.  Maybe a small market team that hasn’t spent much this off-season could be a fit.

My Prediction: Cleveland Indians, 3 years, $48 million

The Indians spent a lot in 2016 and 2017, but after cheaping up by trading away Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion, they may have room for the outfield centerpiece they need.  Jones would allow Bradley Zimmer, Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Jordan Luplow to split time among the remaining two outfield spots.  I don’t see any of them as full time starters, so this is a good depth signing.  Maybe trading away one of their lower-end outfielders after could be a smart move.  That way, the Indians will have less crowding and more talent.

5. Image result for gio gonzalez Gio Gonzalez, SP

2018 Teams: Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers

Gonzalez is a cheaper SP option that teams who cannot afford Keuchel may go after.  Gonzalez had a strong year in 2018, making the case for a decent sized contract.  But he hasn’t received much interest from teams besides the Brewers, who traded for him at the deadline.  Who will end up signing him?

My Prediction: San Diego Padres, 3 years, $39 million

The Padres aren’t going to want to invest in Keuchel after signing Machado.  So I think it’s more likely that they save a few bucks and add Gonzalez.  You could make an argument that the entire Padres rotation is wide open.  There is no pitcher on their current roster that I see as a surefire starter.  But Gonzalez will provide the Padres with the rotation stability they need, with the help of another low-tier free agent starter or two.

That’s all for today.  Stay tuned for MLB predictions once Harper finally makes his decision.

Baseball Bits #11: How Much are Harper, Machado, Really Worth?

Welcome to the final article of my initial 2018-19 MLB free agency coverage.  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may be the Top 2 free agents of the off-season, but how much money are they really worth?  Keep reading to find out my take.  If you haven’t seen them yet, you can also check out my previous MLB free agency articles at the links below.  In February, I may also have some updated predictions on where the final remaining free agents will sign, so stay tuned.

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule

Week of November 19: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers

Week of November 26: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Catchers & Infielders

Week of December 3: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Outfielders & Trade Ideas

Week of January 21: Baseball Bits #11: How Much Money are Harper, Machado Really Worth?

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It’s been a crazy off-season so far.  The Mariners have completely refreshed their roster, and the Dodgers dealt away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in one trade.  Winter Meetings were not only full of trades, but also free agent signings.  Many of the top free agents, including Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew McCutchen have been signed.

Image result for bryce harper and manny machado

But the top two free agents of the off-season, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, remain unsigned.  Harper and Machado are regarded as a couple of the league’s best offensive players, and among free agent batters, Harper and Machado were the Top 2 in oWAR.  Both Harper and Machado are capable of making a mediocre team a contender, or making a team that’s already a borderline playoff contender a relevant World Series contender.  

Machado met with three teams in December: the White Sox, Yankees, and Phillies.  He is likely going to sign with one of those three teams, but he has not made his decision yet, though he has reportedly narrowed it down to the White Sox and Phillies.  Originally, I had predicted that Machado would go to the Phillies.  But after their acquistion of Jean Segura, I see the White Sox as the best fit.  There could be mystery teams in on Machado though, according to several newer reports.

Harper has not met with any teams yet, but the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, and Phillies among others have shown interest.  After trading away two of their outfielders and more to the Reds for next to nothing, it would not be smart for the Dodgers to pass on Harper.  But I think there’s a chance he’ll sign with the White Sox or Phillies as well.

Although they have some different suitors, one thing Harper and Machado have in common is their demand for a big contract.  Harper turned down a 10 year, $300 million contract offered by the Nationals back in September. Machado could also reportedly sign for $250-300 million or more.  But are Harper and Machado, let alone any free agent batter worth that much money?

I did some research on some free agents throughout the last 12 years.  I looked at free agent batters and pitchers who were Top 50 in oWAR or pWAR the season before they hit the open market who ended up signing for at least $12 million/year and at least $45 million total.  I researched their stats the following year. Did their WAR improve or decline? I looked at other stats too, like OPS for batters, and ERA for pitchers. The goal is to gauge how much Harper and Machado are really worth based on how big an impact they could realistically make right off the bat.  Keep reading to see my research and some interesting “Baseball Bits” that I found through my research.

The Research

baseball bits #11_ how much money are harper and machado really worth_ (3)

The “Baseball Bits”

  • Of the 23 free agent batters since 2006 who were Top 50 in oWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 2, or 8.7%  (Lorenzo Cain and Nelson Cruz) saw an increase in oWAR AND OPS throughout their contract, and only 1 of the 2 saw an increase in oWAR of 1.0 or more (Cruz, 4.2 → 6.0)
    • Only 4, or 17.4%, saw an increase in oWAR OR OPS throughout their contract:
      • Cain, 2017-2018
      • Justin Upton, 2016-2017
      • Cruz, 2014-2015
      • Victor Martinez, 2010-2011
    • 19 of the 23 (82.6%) saw a decrease in both oWAR AND OPS, and 14 of those 19 (60.9% of all the free agents, 73.7% of the 19), saw an decrease by 2.0 or more in WAR or 0.2 or more in OPS
    • Only 7 of the 23, or 30.4% were under 30 as a free agent
      Of those 7, 6 saw a decrease in OPS AND oWAR
    • Only Justin Upton saw an increase in OPS, while none of the 7 saw an increase in WAR
    • Harper and Machado both had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 in 2018.  12 of these 23 free agents also had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0. Of the 12:
      • 2 saw an increase in both oWAR and OPS
      • 1 saw an increase in OPS
      • 9 saw a decrease in both
    • Harper and Machado both apparently want over $250 million.  Only 1 free agent hitter since 2006 (Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $275 million) received that much, and he saw a significant decrease in both oWAR and OPS the next year.  Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million) made almost that much and saw a mild to moderate decrease.
  • Of the 17 free agent pitchers since 2006 who were Top 50 in pWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 1 (Max Scherzer) saw an improvement in pWAR AND ERA the next year
    • Only 2, or 11.8%, saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA the next year:
      • Scherzer, 2014-2015
      • Jon Lester, 2014-2015
    • 15 of the 17 (88.2%) saw a decline in pWAR AND ERA.  12 of them (80% of the 15, 70.6% of of all the free agents) saw a decrease in ERA or pWAR by 2.0+
    • Only 5 of the 17 were under 30 at the end of their first year of the new contract (Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto).  Only 2 of the 5 (Scherzer and Lester) saw an increase in pWAR or ERA
    • None of these free agent pitchers were paid anything close to $250 million.  The largest of their contracts went to:
      • David Price, 2015-2016 (7 years, $217 million)
      • Max Scherzer, 2014-2015 (7 years, $210 million)
      • Zack Greinke, 2015-2016 (6 years, $206.5 million)
      • Of these 3, only Scherzer saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA

The Verdict

Very few of the free agents since 2006 saw their WAR, OPS, or ERA improve on their new contract.  You have to take into consideration that Harper and Machado are younger than any of these free agents.  However, 3 of the 4 free agent batters who saw an increase in WAR or OPS were actually 30 or older.  This may be due to the fact that it’s easier to judge an older free agent.  But both Harper and Machado entered the league as teenagers and have proven themselves throughout the years.  Finding the right young free agent is hard, as it’s not everyday that two proven 26-year old sluggers hit the open market in one off-season.  I also saw different results among free agent pitchers, as both pitchers who saw either their ERA or WAR improve on their new contract were under 30.  Plus, both of the free agent batters who saw their stats improve had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 the year before signing, just like Harper and Machado did in 2018.  However, it’s not like the teams in the market for Harper and Machado necessarily expect better stats throughout their new contract, especially if they’re looking to sign 8-12 year deals.  Some might not even expect improvement from 2018 to 2019.  But you should expect your $300 million dollar free agent to improve the next year.

The real question is, should anyone (even the Dodgers) pay Harper or Machado $300 million?  Similar contracts that have been signed in the last 10-12 years have not ended up working out so well.  Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2008 (the most among the free agents I researched).  He was a star player for the Yankees early on in the contract, but his stats saw a decline in Year 1 of the contract, and by 2015, his stats had declined significantly.  Maybe the steroids had something to do with it (2014 was the year he missed for steroids), but he was no longer the same A-Rod when he returned from his suspension, and he ended up retiring the year before his contract expired.

The only other free agent batter who even came close to receiving that kind of contract was 2B Robinson Cano, who signed for 10 years, $240 million with the Mariners in 2014.  Things have worked out in the first half of his contract, but he didn’t quite play at the level he did with the Yankees.  Who knows, maybe he will improve after being traded to the Mets and returning to New York City, but so far, he has begun to slowly decline during his new contract.  He’s still a key piece in the lineup, but he made even more of an impact with the Yanks.

Harper and Machado are a unique situation, but it would be silly to give them $300 million only for them to decline significantly.  I can’t see any team giving Harper or Machado much more than A-Rod without regretting it later.  They are younger and Harper nearly won the Triple Crown in 2015, so maybe they’re worth a little more, but not $300 million.  I don’t think Machado is worth more than A-Rod, and his attitude has turned some teams off.  I think he goes to the White Sox, but it would be ridiculous to give him much more than $25 million/year.  A 10 year, $260 million deal could work.  As for Harper, he may be worth a little more due to his MVP season, and the Dodgers should be willing to bid a little more after their trade with Cincinnati.  But he’s still not worth $300 million or more.  9 years, $288 million would be more reasonable.  The Dodgers may end up giving him over $300 million, but I don’t think it’s worth it.

That’s all for this edition of Baseball Bits.  Stay tuned for more MLB coverage soon, including my MLB 2019 Season Predictions (which will come after the NFL season ends and Harper and Machado finally sign).

 

 

Baseball Bits #10: Not many 100 Win Teams win World Series

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As I publish this post, the Sox need only one win to reach 100 for the first time since 1946. Last year, 3 of the 6 division winners were 100-win teams. But what does this mean for the Red Sox hopes for the post season success?

The American League is a league of extremes. 3 teams in the AL are on pace to win 100 games this year and 1 more is on pace to be very close. But there are a lot of teams in the American League who are on pace for close to 100 losses. The Orioles have already lost 103 games and most teams have 15-20 games left! The 3 worst teams by record are in the American League, and 6 AL teams have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The National League has only 3 teams that have been eliminated so far.

The American League playoff picture is practically locked up, while no National League team has even come close to clinching a playoff berth. It’s likely going to come down to the final week in the NL and tiebreakers may be a factor.

Even though the top AL teams will likely finish with a better record, does this mean they are better teams? I don’t think so. Due to the tough competition, talented National League teams have been challenged to reach win totals of some of the top AL teams. For example, the Washington Nationals aren’t even a .500 team. That being said, I think a National League team could win the World Series this year, giving a wake-up call to the AL because regular season wins won’t mean anything once the playoffs start.

I’ve done some research on every 100-win team in the 162-game era. I wrote down the team, the year they did it, their final record, and how they did in the playoffs. Based on 100-win teams of the past, what are the odds the Red Sox or one of the other 100-win teams to win the World Series? Will these teams choke early in the playoffs? (Note: Considering that there could be 3-4 from the American League, it is unlikely that all of them do). Check out my research below and keep reading to find out what the research says and how I interpreted it.

The Research

Baseball Bits #10_ 100-Win Teams – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

  • There have been 57 100-win teams in the 162-game era
  • Only 15 of the 57 (26.3 %) went on to win the World Series, even though 30 of the 57 (52.6%) made it to the World Series.
  • Since the LDS began, there have only been 26 100-win teams. 12 of them (46.15%) lost in the LDS
  • 13 of the 57 100-win teams (22.8%) lost in the LCS
  • 2 of the 57 (3.5%) 100-win teams missed the playoffs entirely. These two teams both played in the era before any playoffs beyond the World Series
  • The Red Sox reached 100 wins three times before the 162-game era: they won the World Series in two of those years
  • However, the Red Sox have yet to have a 100-win season in the 162-game era
  • The Yankees have had 8 100-win seasons in the 162-game era, winning the World Series in 3 of them
  • The best team in 162-game MLB history (the 2001 Mariners) went 116-46 and went on to lose in the ALCS
  • The 2018 Red Sox are on pace to win 111 games, which would make them the third best team in the 162-game era by record behind the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees (who lost in the ALDS)
  • Each of the last two World Series winners were 100-win teams
  • There have been 15 seasons in the 162-game era with multiple 100-win teams
  • 5 of these seasons had three 100-win teams – in only 2 of those years did one of the 3 100-win teams win the World Series
  • The Red Sox, Yankees (on pace for 101), and Astros (on pace for 102) are all on pace for 100 wins this year, and Athletics (98) are close
  • The best team in the 162-game era to win a World Series went 114-48 (The 1998 Yankees)
  • The best team in the 162-game era to miss out on the LCS went 103-59 (The 2002 Athletics)

The Verdict

The fact that an 100-win team won the World Series in each of the last 2 years is very promising. There were three 100-win teams last year and three on pace to do it this year, so I think one of them will pull off a World Series victory. But will it be the Red Sox? The Astros just outplayed the Red Sox in their most recent series and won the series 2-1, and the Yankees always give Boston a hard time in the playoffs. You also have to consider how easy the competition is in the American League compared to the National League. Who knows, there might have been no 100-win teams this year if the MLB’s leagues were more balanced.

However, I don’t think the Red Sox will choke in the ALDS, even though 12 of the 26 100-game winners in the ALDS era did. They are on pace for 110 wins. The winning-est team that missed the LCS was the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who were 103-59. But I do think there’s a good chance the Yankees come close to topping the Red Sox in the ALDS, and there’s an even better chance the Astros beat them in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. In the end, I think the World Series goes to one of these teams: the Astros, the Red Sox, the Cubs (best NL team), the Dodgers (always a contender), or the Rockies (a young team with a stacked lineup and drastically improving pitching).

I’ll be going to the game tonight against Toronto. Will David Price lead us to our 100th victory? We’ll all find out tonight.

UPDATE: I just witnessed Red Sox history! The Red Sox have reached 100 wins. Hopefully they become the 16th 100-win team in the 162-game era to win the World Series.

Ranking The Teams 6-1: My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are true contenders but are not quite on the level of the MLB’s best.  That consisted of 5 wild card competitors and the Indians, the lowest ranked of what is known as the MLB Super Seven.  They just missed the Top 6, at #7.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and what’s holding them back.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements.  Today I will do the same for the for the Top 6 teams in the league.  What are their chances of winning it all, and what are their Achilles Heels?  Read below to find out how the best of the best line up.  Every team on this part of the list is part of the Super Seven I have been mentioning.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Thursday, April 5: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

6. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

Off-Season Review

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The Red Sox were pretty quiet for much of the off-season despite the rumors that they were the front-runners to sign OF J.D. Martinez, and that it was near inevitable that the Red Sox signed him.  They did bring back 1B Mitch Moreland and 2B Eduardo Nunez.  With that, they had a pretty good roster.  But they had no home run hitter, which was crucial after the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton and formed what has the potential to be a historic HR duo between Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Eventually, they did sign Martinez despite a lack of a position for him to play.  If there was an open position called “designated home run hitter (DHH)”, it might be fitting, but now he has to split his time between left field and DH, with Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. losing at-bats to him.

The Case for the Red Sox

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If the Red Sox are meeting their expectations, they will make the playoffs, and they will make it to at least the ALDS.  Red Sox reporter Tony Massarotti thinks we are a good team but can do a lot better, and I agree.  Sure, the Yankees had a great off-season and are now favorites to beat us out in the AL East.  But the Sox are capable of winning the division, and if they cannot win the division, they are definitely capable of making the playoffs.  Hopefully, Chris Sale and David Price will be able to lead the rotation together after Sale’s strong 2017 and Price’s strong Spring Training, and I’m hoping J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts can lead the lineup (with the help of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, who are off to a great start).

But if they cannot, we need someone else to step up their game.  In fact, no matter what, we need someone else to step it up.  Whether Bogey keeps going and breaks out, or Devers builds on his late 2017 success, or Andrew Benintendi has the season he was supposed to have one year ago, I will be satisfied.  They just need one more player to build on the consistency they have had and turn it into dominance.

The Achilles Heel

Like I said, the Red Sox have an ace, and they have a pretty strong lineup. But they just need some of their good players to achieve greatness. It would be nice if they could have the beastly rotation people were expecting of them, and so far, it’s looked pretty good. It would also be nice if the Red Sox had a couple more players who broke through and joined Betts and Martinez as the All-Stars of the lineup. World Series contenders aren’t led by a couple superstars and a bunch of other good, but not great players. They are led by a group of star players that work well and fit well together.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates, several players in the lineup breakout and the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, which you will notice is the Best Case Scenario for all 6 of the top teams.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation continues to be inconsistent, the lineup is no more than good, and the Red Sox lose out to other teams like the Twins and Angels in the Wild Card race.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 2nd in AL East

 

5. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Review

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The Cubs lost star pitcher Jake Arrieta, but they made up for it by signing SP Yu Darvish and SP Tyler Chatwood.  They also added Brandon Morrow to a strong bullpen.  The Cubs appear to be pretty confident in their lineup, but does their lineup need an upgrade if the Cubs want to win another World Series ring?

The Case for the Cubs

About a year ago, the Cubs were viewed as the best team in the MLB.  But the competition has caught up with them, and the Cubs experienced a World Series hangover early in 2017.  The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros have all caught up, and the Indians, Nationals, and Red Sox are close.  They have a nice young roster with a dominant rotation, and their lineup is great but could use a bit of a boost in the power department.

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs have a lot of good, consistent, hitters.  But they were hoping that they could get some power out of guys like Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo that they have signed/kept around.  Bryant and Rizzo have done well at the plate, but are good hitters for average, not good hitters for power.  Heyward was signed to add some power to the lineup, and it would have been nice to see some power out of Ben Zobrist.  Who will emerge as a home run hitter for the Cubs?  If they cannot find one, then that means the league’s elite teams are one step ahead of them.

Best Case Scenario: The Cubs go on to win a World Series after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward have dominant years at the plate and get help from Chicago’s younger players.  The rotation also continues to dominate.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms, the lineup cannot find their power hitter, and the Cubs just barely snag a Wild Card after losing their division to the Cardinals or Brewers.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in NL Central\

 

4. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

Off-Season Review

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The Dodgers kept their roster at World Series level.  They did lose some of their starting pitchers, but they had at least eight viable starters on their World Series roster.  They added Tom Koehler to the bullpen, and he could even start in the case of an injury to another starter.  They also brought back Chase Utley and acquired Matt Kemp from the Braves in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and a couple extra starters they had.  Gonzalez was no longer needed with Cody Bellinger ready to start at first base full time.

The Case for the Dodgers

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The Dodgers could still be a World Series contender, but other teams may beat them out.  The Astros are looking even better this year, the Nats have extra motivation to do well with many star players in contract years, and the Yankees have more power in their lineup than any other team in the league.  Their lineup and rotation still look great.  Clayton Kershaw has continued to dominate the league, and the lineup has done well despite the lack of a true leader.

The Achilles Heel

The Dodgers do not have any major holes.  But they need two smaller things.  The first thing is some bullpen help.  They need to find a reliable set up man for Kenley Jansen, and even Jansen has struggled so far.  They also need a leader for the lineup.  They have a lot of great hitters, but who is their true star?  Kershaw is the rotation leader.  Who will be the Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers lineup?

Best Case Scenario: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner will lead the Dodgers lineup to dominance, the rotation continues to thrive, and Kenley Jansen gets back on track as the Dodgers win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Kershaw, along with the rest of the rotation regresses, the lack of depth hurts them, and the lineup cannot quite dominate without a leader.  Jansen and the bullpen continue to struggle too, and the Dodgers are left to compete for a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in NL West

 

3. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

Off-Season Review

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The Yankees already had a strong lineup, and they made a splash this off-season by adding to that.  They acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and with that, they had the top two home run hitters in the league in Stanton and Aaron Judge.  They also added 2B Neil Walker late in the off-season to help out while Gleyber Torres recovers from his injury and continues to develop.  They acquired Brandon Drury to help out Miguel Andujar at third too.

The Case for the Yankees

The Yanks have a lineup that is stacked with home run hitters, but they are lacking depth, especially in the infield.  Judge and Stanton will balance things out though, making the lineup look dominant.  The rotation also looks good but is the one portion of their roster that does not quite match up with the Red Sox, who can rely on the combo of Chris Sale and David Price.  The good thing is, the rotation will be backed up by a strong bullpen, much stronger than the Red Sox bullpen.

The Achilles Heel

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The Yankees do have a bit of an infield depth problem, but their real depth problem is in the rotation.  Jordan Montgomery has been forced into the #5 starter role, while the Sox will have E-Rod and Steven Wright once everyone is healthy.  The Yankees have a nice group of starters, but they lack depth, and they lack a true ace.  Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino are great but are not quite ace material.  The Red Sox have Chris Sale to lead their rotation, so they are ahead of the Yankees in that department.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates the league with multiple #1 level starters, the bullpen backs them up, and the lineup hits the most home runs in the MLB by a long shot as the Yanks win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems come back to bite the Yankees, the Yanks must depend on their bullpen after rotation struggles, and the lineup cannot find much talent around Gary Sanchez, Stanton and Judge.  The Yankees are left with a Wild Card spot and do not make the ALDS.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL East

 

2. houston-astros Houston Astros

Off-Season Review

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After winning the World Series (as I predicted) in 2017, the Astros only got better.  They acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, and now they will have Justin Verlander for a full season.  They arguably have seven viable starters, and their first three starters were all #1 starters on different teams before this season.  They also added Joe Smith to a strong bullpen.

The Case for the Astros

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The Astros are coming off a World Series title, and I do not expect much of a hangover.  They have a dominant rotation, and a strong lineup led by Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and AL MVP Jose Altuve.  I don’t see much of a chance for them to regress.  But will they be beaten out by a motivated contender who was not won in recent years?

The Achilles Heel

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The Astros do not have any major weaknesses, but with DH Carlos Beltran gone, and 1B Yulieski Gurriel suspended, they will have some depth problems in the lineup.  They will have to rely on Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher, and J.D. Davis more this season.  Other than that, they do not have any other problems, at least major problems.  That will likely resolve itself as the season progresses.

Best Case Scenario: The stacked lineup dominates, the rotation is led by three aces, and the Astros dominate the league for the second consecutive year, winning the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms and struggles, depth and World Series hangover problems affect the lineup, and the Astros fail to make the ALCS after losing the division to the Angels surprisingly.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in AL West

 

1. washington-nats Washington Nationals

Off-Season Review

The Nats did not make any big moves this off-season besides resigning Howie Kendrick, and I think their roster looks good as it is, although it could have used one more starting pitcher.  They should sign somebody who’s still available if A.J. Cole struggles in the rotation.  But the Nats have many star players, including Bryce Harper in contract years, so the Nationals are in win now mode, and for that reason, they are my favorite to win the World Series.

The Case for the Nationals

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Like I said, the Nats are in win-now mode.  The window is closing for this team to win a World Series with this era of players, but I think this could be the year.  With a great roster flooded with young talent and led by superstars in Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are in good position to take advantage of the fact that they have one more year to win it all before they lose Bryce Harper and other strong players on the roster to free agency.  But will they be motivated enough to lead themselves past other dominant teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees?

The Achilles Heel

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The Nationals have a nice lineup that is still doing well early on, even with Daniel Murphy starting on the DL.  Later in the season, Murphy will help lead them.  But the rotation has a depth problem.  If A.J. Cole struggles, the Nationals have nobody to replace him with Joe Ross injured. There is no guarantee that any free agent pitcher will willingly sign here, but if Cole struggles, they will need to try, or it may hold them back from winning now like they are hoping to.

Best Case Scenario: Motivated to win it all before losing Harper, the Nats lineup dominates, carried by an MVP season by Bryce Harper where he nearly wins the Triple Crown.  The rotation also dominates as A.J. Cole does well and Strasburg and Scherzer dominate all year.  The Nationals win the World Series triumphantly.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems cause rotation struggles and injury problems add to it, Bryce Harper cannot carry the lineup alone in a contract year, and the Nats just edge out a division win and struggle in the NLDS.

Projected Finish: 97-65, 1st in NL East

 

That’s all for my MLB pre-season power rankings.  My next power rankings update will come at the end of April as I begin my Monthly Power Ranking series.  I will also have Red Sox recaps, more Baseball Bits, and my first Red Sox Report of 2018 coming soon (The Red Sox Report article will be up tomorrow and I will try to post them every Friday from here on out.)