In this winter of our free agent's discontent, we've finally seen the last significant free agent sign with a team just over a week to go before Opening Day. Congrats Alex Cobb on holding out for the contract you deserved. Now that the majority of rosters are set, it's time for my annual dart throw as to how the 2018 season is going to unfold. My 2017 predictions turned out to be all over the place. I got 4 division winners right (Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs) and got 6 out of 10 playoff teams (Nationals, Dodgers). My World Series prediction was mostly awful since I had the Indians beating the Giants and the Indians choked in the first round while the Giants were the worst team in baseball (technically they tied the Tigers but c'mon). I got all of the major player awards wrong. But just like the return of spring allows teams to dream of glory, I too can hope this will be the year all my predictions come true. Here they are...
(Division winners bolded, wildcard teams italicized)
AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles
AL Central: Indians, Twins, Royals, White Sox, Tigers
AL West: Astros, Angels, Rangers, Mariners, A's
NL East: Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Braves, Marlins
NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds
NL West: Dodgers, Dbacks, Rockies, Giants, Padres
ALWC: Red Sox over Angels
NLWC: Phillies over Cardinals
ALDS: Astros over Red Sox, Yankees over Indians
NLDS: Nationals over Phillies, Cubs over Dodgers
ALCS: Yankees over Astros
NLCS: Nationals over Cubs
World Series: Nationals over Yankees
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
AL CYA: Luis Severino, Yankees
NL CYA: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
AL ROY: Shohei Otani, Angels
NL ROY: Ozzie Albies, Braves
A look at the AL East: The AL East is looking like it's going to settle back into a New York/Boston showdown for the foreseeable future. The addition of Giancarlo Stanton to what was already a very powerful line-up is going to have the Yanks living up to their nickname as the Bronx Bombers. There's a chance, albeit slight, that every member of their starting line-up hits at least 20 home runs. That's stupid. Pair that offense with an above average bullpen and a capable rotation and you have arguably the American League's best team though they'll have to prove they're better than Houston come the playoffs. Boston added JD Martinez to counter the Stanton get by New York. Both of these teams should be vying for the division title though I think the Yanks power will push them over the top. The Jays are interesting because their rotation could be sneaky good but their line-up has really gone down the tubes from the days when they had Donaldson, Tulo, Bautista, and Encarnacion in their primes. Tulo and Donaldson remain but the rest of the Jays line-up leaves something to be desired. Tampa Bay is young. They gutted their team and even got rid of young guys that could play. However, they always have pitching and it'll carry them enough to avoid last place. The Orioles are a mess and will likely trade their tradeable vets by the deadline, including their superstar shortstop Manny Machado. Once the vets go, the O's will likely be competing for a top 5 draft pick in 2019.
A look at the AL Central: The Indians didn't do much this offseason which is somewhat shocking given they have a really good opportunity to go to the World Series. It would have been nice to do a little more to replace Carlos Santana aside from sign Yonder Alonso but the Tribe are still well rounded enough to take a weak division. The bullpen is still good enough with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in the backend and the rotation should be above average with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco as the co-aces upfront. The Twins were surprise contenders last season and snuck into the wildcard game. Their line-up is talented and deep but there are some question marks surrounding their pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen. Anytime a team is relying on Fernando Rodney to close games, you can't quite take that team seriously. The Twins had a great chance in a ridiculously slow free agent market to make some solid additions to their rotation where they really could use upgrades. They signed Lance Lynn and traded for Jake Odorizzi but Twins fans have to be asking why couldn't they have done more? However, in a weak division, the Twins should be able to contend again for a wildcard. The Royals rebuild is in full swing and despite having some talent it would take a lot to go right for KC to become a legit contender. The more likely scenario is they trade some guys come the deadline and go for a full rebuild that will start in earnest in July. The White Sox and Tigers are equally bad but in different ways. The White Sox are in the middle of their rebuild and will have a lot of young talent on display this season. But they'd all have to breakout for the Sox to become competitive. The Tigers window has slammed shut but they also have some large contracts to veteran players they won't be able to move. Their rebuild is just beginning and they may sell off their best pitcher in Michael Fulmer for a king's ransom come July.
A look at the AL West: There's only one sure thing in the wild AL West and that is that the Astros will win their second consecutive division title. With a strong rotation, decent bullpen, and deep line-up the Astros are well equipped to defend their title and on paper seem to be the best team in the American League, if not all of baseball. The rest of the division, however, is a toss up. The Angels are a trendy pick to contend due to the signing of Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, the free agent addition of Zack Cozart, and the re-signing of Justin Upton to pair with Mike Trout. But the Angels rotation is a patchwork of hype and health concerns and the bullpen is a question mark. They should be in the thick of the wildcard but it's also easy to see the pitching imploding and the Angels being the Marlins of last season - a good offense with little pitching to support it. The Rangers are fascinating. They could be really good. Or they could be a complete mess. They have a nice mix of vets and young guys but the pitching is a total gamble from top to bottom. Every year the Mariners seem like a team on the brink of contention yet every year they fall short. With question marks surrounding the rotation and a second baseman in centerfield, it'll be interesting to see where the M's wind up in the standings. They could be wildcard contenders or they could be a huge disappointment. Then there's Oakland. The A's could be surprisingly good this year. Alas, in this division, they are more likely another season away before truly being able to contend. Yet you can never count out a Billy Beane team. However, the A's are young everywhere and it probably is wishful thinking they'll be in the hunt this year.
A look at the NL East: The East has been the Nationals playground for the past few years except that one time the Mets forgot they were the Mets. This season the division is a bit more interesting with the Phillies sporting a nice blend of veterans and young kids looking to prove themselves and a rotation that has a strong 1-2 punch but has question marks in the back end. Throw in the Mets who are hoping their strong rotation can stay healthy while being complemented by an intriguing lineup and you got a division that is a little stronger than it has been the past couple of seasons. That being said, the Nationals are still the best team in the division and one of the elite National League teams. While the Phillies and Mets may be a bit annoying for Washington to deal with, they still should win the division. Bryce Harper is in his contract year which means he's going to be Mr. Bionic Man and hit 100 homers. The Nationals are going to take full advantage of it being Harper's last season as a National by going hard after the playoff success that has thus far eluded them. The Phillies and Mets will compete with each other for a wildcard berth but the Phillies have some breakout performers that may turn the tide. The Braves are not quite where they need to be yet to be a serious contender and the Marlins are a joke.
A look at the NL Central: The NL Central is quite the opposite of its AL counterpart. The NL Central has 3 teams that could be fighting for the division and even the Pirates, who got a lot of crap for trading away McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, aren't exactly devoid of talent. Even the hapless Reds have some potential, though it'd take a minor miracle for them to be relevant. That being said, there's no cakewalks here. The Reds line-up is still capable of scoring runs while the starting pitching is young and inexperienced but does have some guys that could be good, most specifically Luis Castillo (former Giant prospect, sigh). The Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals, which means they'll find some no name prospect and he'll be a top 3 candidate for rookie of the year. The addition of Marcell Ozuna is huge. The only thing really holding back the Cards is surprisingly their pitching. Their rotation is iffy but has high ceiling arms. The bullpen has been begging for a Greg Holland signing and honestly I have no idea why that hasn't happened yet. But the Cardinals should be in the division and wildcard hunt because they're the Cardinals and that's what they do. The Brewers were sort of an enigma this offseason. They came up just short of making the playoffs last season (mainly because their front office didn't do anything at the deadline) and they had a lot of outfield depth and not so much starting rotation depth. So of course they went out and traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain. Now they have way too many good outfielders and still question marks in the rotation. Odd strategy Brew Crew. The Cubs still look to be the class of the division. Adding Darvish helps replace Arrieta and Chatwood is sneaky good... he's ChatGood. Like Chatwood is That Good. I don't know what that means but I'm rolling with it and the Cubs have my permission to use it. Morrow is a risky choice as closer but hey, Greg Holland is still out there. The Cubs have the best rotation in the division and that is why they should win it.
A look at the NL West: The NL West is a tough division. As a Giants fan, that kind of sucks. The Dodgers aren't as good as they were a year ago. Their depth is a little less this season and they're trying to stay under the luxury cap which means they might not actually go out and get all the players at the deadline like they did last season with Darvish and to a lesser extent Tony Watson and Curtis Granderson and Tony Cingrani. But they're still really good unfortunately. And unless they get the post World Series Runners-Up blues, they probably will win the division again. The Dbacks had a lot go right last season which helped them make the playoffs. One of the biggest pieces was getting JD Martinez. He has morphed into Steve Souza and I'm not quite sure everyone will be quite as good as they were last year for the Snakes. They still should be in the wildcard conversation but it may be hard for everyone to be quite as good as they were a season ago. Ditto the Rockies. The Rockies tried to part with Carlos Gonzalez this offseason but he just wouldn't go away so there he is, back again in their outfield. The Rockies last great chance at a run with their current group is this season. Blackmon is a free agent after the season and he'll be hard for the Rockies to replace. It's hard to take the Rockies seriously though with the rotation they're going to trot out most days. Everyone behind Jon Gray is a question mark. Given Coors Field, it's hard to see the Rockies making the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in franchise history. Then there's the Giants. Prior to Samardzija's strained pec and Bumgarner's devastating broken left hand (damn you Baseball Gods, it's an even year!!), I had the Giants as finishing 2nd in the division and taking the wildcard. Now? 2-3 months (or more) of no Bumgarner? Again? 3-4 weeks without Shark? The rotation going into the season is Cueto and 4 other guys. While the Giants imported Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson and Tony Watson while exporting Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, and Christian Arroyo (among some other names you won't remember), the key to their whole offseason was getting their Big Three to pitch as much as possible. That's Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija. Now that plan has burned up and the Giants just don't look deep enough to avoid another year finishing in the tail end of the division. Luckily, we still have the Padres who are young but boring and the Giants can probably finish ahead of them. (Checks last year's standings). OK, the Giants can HOPEFULLY finish ahead of them.