MLB Power Rankings: A Belated Opening Day Preview

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Rejoice, baseball fans: Opening Day has arrived.

Below I’ve compiled some 2016 Preseason Power Rankings, based on a fine-tuned amalgamation of gumption, ESP, and side-eyed glances at PECOTA and Fangraphs. Why is it being rolled out days after Opening Day? Who cares!

As an eternal reminder, yes of course I’m biased against your team. Your team sucks. And I hate it. And that’s why it’s ranked so low. Get over it.

(Special thanks to Geoff Young for his help.)

Jake Arrieta assumes the position.

Jake Arrieta assumes the #1 position. (Photo by Arturo Pardavila III – CC/2.0)

MLB 2016 Power Rankings #1 – February 17, 2016

1. Chicago Cubs: Not that Cubs fans deserve it, but Theo Epstein and company have built a powerhouse club that’ll compete in the National League for years to come. Kris Bryant hits 500-foot home runs in his sleep. Jason Heyward is such a good defender he probably bought his glove in Diagon Alley. Kyle Schwarber, who looks like what Joe Blanton must have looked like at 16, is somehow the Roy Hobbes of baserunning. The Cubs are loaded like a plate of nachos and, barring listeria in the guacamole, will enter the season as the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.

Of course, these Cubs could also end up like the 2015 Nationals, which would probably be just as fulfilling.

2. Kansas City Royals: Q: What’s the difference between a Royals fan and a St. Louis Cardinals’ fan? A: About 241 miles.

Okay, maybe after three decades of misery we can cut Royals fans a little slack for letting recent success go to their heads. Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for everyone else), the Royals should continue their hard-hitting, projection-busting ways in 2016. Former failed prospect Alex Gordon is back on a team-friendly deal. The rotation should once again be just decent enough to allow the bullpen to swoop save every night. Speed and defense play well at the K, and the Royals are apparently able to grow speedy defenders in the hydroponics setup they’ve got going beyond the outfield walls.

3. New York Mets: No, Yoenis Cespedes isn’t going to be the same godly force he was for six weeks in 2015. But he and his delicately waxed eyebrows should still lead a potent Mets offense to the NL East crown with assists from Messrs. Harvey, de Grom, Syndergaard, Matz, and Big Sexy Bartolo Colon.

One person who won’t be there to help: Jennry Mejia, who may as well go home and get his fucking shine box.

4. San Francisco Giants: It’s an even year.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Their second-best hitter took a one-way trip to Wrigleyville, their second-best starter did the same, and who knows if Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez can return to the rotation as their former selves. But this is the Cardinals we’re talking about, an organization that routinely takes randomly-generated NPCs from The Show and turns them into Stan Musial. They’ll be fine.

kershaw

Clayton Kershaw’s face when he was told Zack Greinke would be eating his In-n-Out burgers in Arizona this season. (Photo by Arturo Pardavila III – CC/2.0)

6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Gone are Zack Greinke and Don Mattingly. In are Dave Roberts and Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir and Old Kyle Schwarber and Micah Johnson and Frankie Montas and Trayce Thompson and this new hippie organist dude. The point is the Dodgers are hoping Mariana Trench-level roster depth can help make up for losing one of the three best pitchers in the world, as well as prevent guys like Alberto Callaspo and Chris Heisey from getting valuable plate appearances. The team could surprise and win 100 games if everything goes right. If something goes awry — like Kershaw’s arm falling off — then “Yankees West” is going to take on a whole new meaning.

7. Houston Astros: It’s easy to forget that the upstart Astros were only 3 innings from an ALCS berth when their bullpen abruptly collapsed like the Bluesmobile. They’ll try to build off their surprising 2015 with help from 21-year-old Puerto Rican Superman Carlos Correa, who is basically Alex Rodriguez without the roids or disturbing centaur fetish. Add in big players like Jose Altuve and top prospect A.J. Reed, and the lingering ghosts of the Houston Lastros will be exorcised for good.

8. Pittsburgh Pirates: My bookies financial advisors are now accepting bets on which buzzsaw starting pitcher will shut down the Pirates in this year’s NL Wild Card game. Lots of early action on repeat performances by Arrieta and Bumgarner. Still good odds on Kershaw, Greinke, and room service aficionado Matt Harvey. The darkhorse: Gerrit Cole. Wouldn’t that be wild?

9. Toronto Blue Jays: If this were a Batflips and Swagger power rankings, the Pride of Ontario would be sitting atop the pack like a 25-man CN Tower. Alas, this is a power rankings of whether the team is any good, and the Jays — still a force to be reckoned with — don’t look nearly as impressive as they did last year. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki are all on the wrong side of 30. David Price has been replaced by JesseA Chavapp or J.Asse Happvez or something like that.

Don’t get me wrong here. Toronto still has as good a chance as any to run the AL East. It also has as good a chance as any to erupt like a Springfield Tire Fire.

10. Cleveland Indians: Fun fact: Lonnie Chisenhall, who is a real life adult person, is nicknamed “The Chiz Kid,” according to Baseball Reference. The more you know.

It appears the Chiz Kid will be starting in right field for an Indians team entering what seems to be its upteenth consecutive season as the consensus Cinderella pick. They’re banking on one of the top rotations in baseball, solid defense, and a strong bullpen to make up for an offense that would probably be outscored by any SEC baseball lineup.

Francisco Lindor is pretty awesome though.

Yu Darvish and his anime character sunglasses return in 2016. (Photo by Keith Allison - CC 2.0)

Yu Darvish and his Squirtle Squad sunglasses return in 2016. (Photo by Keith Allison – CC/2.0)

11. Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish is back! It’s easy to forget greatness when a pitcher misses an entire season (Remember Hyun-Jin Ryu? Yeah, neither does anyone else). Couple Darvish’s May-ish return with a full season of Zoolander 2 extra Cole Hamels, and Texas should have a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation for most of 2016.

Ultimately, the Rangers’ hopes hinge on their aging offensive corps, with Adrian Beltre (37), Prince Fielder (32), Shin-Soo Choo (33), and Angels payroll bloat Josh Hamilton (35) leading the way. One key player to watch: Rougned “Stinky” Odor, a sparkplug second baseman whose younger brother is also in the Rangers organization — and also named Rougned Odor. What a world, huh?

12. Boston Red Sox: “It can’t get much worse than last year,” was the preseason rallying cry for the 2015 Red Sox. They did technically improve, winning 7 more games than in 2014, but boy was it an ugly 78-win season. The good news is that prolific Instagrammer Pablo Sandoval and world’s worst left-fielder Hanley Ramirez can’t possibly be worth a combined -3.8 fWAR again. Even if the duo contributes zero wins between them, the Red Sox will still be at least a .500 ballclub. Anything on top of that is gravy, which you know must be really exciting for Sandoval.

Also, don’t ever let Mookie Betts drive your car.

13. Minnesota Twins: The Twins surprised everyone last season by forgetting they were the Twins for 160 games before getting eliminated after game 161, Miguel Sano and company look to build off that success by competing once again in the anything-goes AL Central. The aforementioned Sano is key here. He’s projected to anchor the offense and hit 30 home runs. He’s also expected to strike out 30 percent of the time and be awful in right field, a position he hasn’t played before. Not that anything could possibly go wrong.

If fellow young guns Max Kepler and Byron Buxton are hitting well by mid-season, Minnesota’s surprisingly fiery offense could make up for its anemic rotation and carry the Twins all the way to game 162, and perhaps beyond.

14. Detroit Tigers: You have to hand it to Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch. And by “it,” I mean a new toupee. The 86 year-old owner and apparent amateur taxidermist really wants to win a World Series. He also seems wants to be a member of the Beatles, but the World Series is more attainable, although both have two openings. That’s why, even with a roster as old as the Whig party, Ilitch okayed the signings of Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann to long term deals. The bald truth is this: Two years from now, Detroit will be paying Miguel Cabrera, Mr. Kate Upton, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler, Upton, Zimmermann, and other over-the-hill stars around $150 million to be shadows of their former selves. But in two years, Mike Ilitch could be as dead as whatever’s on his head, so there’s no better time than now to go all-in. And if that doesn’t work, at least he now has both Justin Uptons.

15. Washington Nationals: In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers had both the best pitcher and (arguably) the best hitter in the National League, and still only barely reached .500. As far as wasted seasons go, that one is pretty high up there. Not far behind: the 2015 Nationals, who wasted what was basically Mickey Mantle’s 1962 season from Bryce Harper, as well as a Max Scherzer season that would have netted him a runaway Cy Young if not for some guys named Jake, Zack, and Clayton. The 2015 Nats finished 83-79, a half-game better than the 2011 Dodgers.

It’s not difficult to see why. As Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote in August, almost all of the Nats good players in 2014 stopped being good players in 2015. Whether it was injury, age, or just plain awfulness, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and Warden of the North Jayson Werth contributed little or nothing for the preseason World Series favorite, allowing the upstart Mets to take the division crown. Looking toward 2016, the Nats need the players above who are still on the team to stop being terrible. That’s really the key to success. Stop being bad, and maybe you’ll win.

Oh, and just don’t go near Jonathan Papelbon.

Chris Sale's pitching mechanics are only marginally better than yours. (Photo by: Keith Allison - CC/2.0)

Chris Sale’s pitching mechanics are only marginally better than yours. (Photo by: Keith Allison – CC/2.0)

16. Chicago White Sox: The White Sox are one of many teams that could have everything go right and win 95 games or once again crumble toward 70-80 win mediocrity. Brett Lawrie and Home Run Derby champ Todd Frazier are nice additions to an infield that was mostly godawful in 2015, but the Southsiders are still planning on giving regular at-bats to human ballast like Melky Cabrera and Avisail “Dayan Viciedo 2.0” Garcia. Signing a guy like Justin Upton or Dexter Fowler to shore up the offense made so much sense that GM Rick Hahn’s inaction leads me to believe he’s at the bottom of a lake somewhere. Let’s hope they fish him out soon. If not, at least Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and a full season of Carlos Rodon should be fun to watch pitching late in 2-1 games.

17. New York Yankees: It sure is sad that there are six year-old Yankee fans who have never seen their team win a World Series. Poor, poor little Yankee fans. Ah hell, who am I kidding. It’s great! I hope those kids live to 100 and never see another World Series at the Bougie Bronx Bandbox. Waking up during Spring Training knowing the Yankees aren’t a favorite: This is a great feeling for the 90 percent of people who don’t think Derek Jeter’s farts smell like Dutch tulips.

For the other 10 percent, consider that Brian Cashman has shrewdly constructed the league’s most formidable bullpen (and only needed one domestic abuser to do it!). Young players like Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Rob Refsnyder offer depth and balance to a deceptively deep and balanced team. The Yankees might be the most underrated team in all of baseball! They might also be old, decrepit, and on the precipice of their first last-place finish in 26 years. Can’t wait.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and the return of Patrick Corbin make a bad rotation better, but the real story of the 2016 D-Backs is that they’ve got players named Pollock and Lamb, plus a guy named Brito, which sounds like Burrito, and another dude named Gosselin, which sounds like Gosling. Forget Paul Goldschmidt — Arizona has found the new market inefficiency. Acquire more food names! Someone better get Mike Carp’s agent on the line. Marlon Byrd’s still a free agent. Did you know there was once a ballplayer named Soup Campbell? Arizona should scout his grandkids.

As for 2016, Goldschmidt and Greinke appear to be prime candidates to be this year’s amazing pitcher/hitter combo on a .500-ish team (see the Washington Nationals above). There might not be a more stars-n-scrubs roster in all the majors than Arizona’s. A.J. Pollock’s recent elbow injury shifts a lot of weight from the “stars” category to the “scrubs.” Even though it’s possible lineup staples Lamb, David Peralta, and “Beef” Welington Castillo will pick up where they left off in 2015, guys like Jean Segura, Chris Owings, and Nick Ahmed are not going to cut it up the middle.

There’s a chance the Diamondbacks live up to their potential and compete with the Dodgers and Giants, but more likely they’re going to be as ugly as their new uniforms. Still, with a Chip managing and a Butcher coaching pitchers, they promise to be delicious.

19. Tampa Bay Rays: The future San Antonio Rays are the Majors’ best team that currently plays in a soup can. They’re also arguably the best team in Florida, though perhaps only the third or fourth most popular. If you can name more than six current Rays then you’re probably the GM, though six might be a little ambitious even for him. By the way, who is the Rays’ GM? Matthew Silverman? No way that’s not just a random name made up by the computer in OOTP. Can anyone actually confirm the Rays exist? Do I exist? What is going on? If a Ray falls in the soup can, does it make a sound?

20. Miami Marlins: In lieu of a preview paragraph, I present to you MARCELL AND JEFF: A PLAY IN ONE ACT.

marcell

“Yo Jeffrey, hold up. I got a bone to pick with you.”

loria

marcell“I know you sent me down to Triple-A to manipulate my service time last season. You know it too. No use denying it.”

loria

marcell

“Don’t go playing the fool with me, Jeff. I’ve filed a grievance with the league. These antics have got to stop. We’re not gonna’ stand for this bullshit anymore.”

loria

marcell

“You’re really going to be like this, huh? Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”

loria

marcell

loria

marcell2

loria2

fin.

But seriously. Miami will never win another World Series as long as Jeffrey Loria is in charge.

That look when you're a top 5 third-baseman and all anyone can talk about is your stupid little brother. (Photo by Keith Allison - CC/2.0)

That look when you’re arguably a top 5 third-baseman and all anyone can talk about is your stupid little brother. (Photo by Keith Allison – CC/2.0)

21. Seattle Mariners: The Mariners did not acquire Marcell Ozuna, but new GM Jerry Dipoto did make a flurry of moves to acquire depth pieces to surround franchise tentpoles Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Kyle Seager (above). Was it enough? No, probably not. Wade Miley, Adam Lind, Leonys Martin, and Nori Aoki are not going to put this team over the hump, especially when that hump looks like this.

The Mariners haven’t been to the postseason since the amazing 116 win season in 2001, and we’ll probably say the same thing again next year. In the meantime, enjoy these great Kyle Seager gifs:seager-weaver1.0 seagerweavertimeseagerfuckyou

22. Los Angeles Angels: It’s hard to be a bad team while rostering God’s Own Son Mike Trout, but Anaheim’s Angels are giving it their best shot. Despite missing out on a Wild Card slot by only one game, the Angels looked dreadful for most of 2015. The rest of the team behind Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun hit like a bunch of guys who don’t have hands. It’s not impossible, but it certainly isn’t easy.

The 2016 iteration of Arte’s Angels features a sparse rotation and very little lineup upside. Andrelton Simmons is here now, which is great for infield defense. He’ll be flanked by Yunel Escobar and Johnny Giavotella, which is not great for infield defense. The bullpen is made up of guys unrecognizable to their own mothers, let alone any casual fan. 

Ever since the playoff field was expanded in 2012, any so-so team could potentially luck into a playoff spot with a few favorable bounces. That’s basically the Angels’ entire strategy for 2016. If something bad happens to Trout, you’re looking at the worst team in the American League.

23. Oakland Athletics: They say it’s better to trade a player a year early than a year late. Sometimes it’s better not to make a bad trade at all.

After a bitter end to the 2014 season, Billy Beane and the A’s front office made an array of questionable moves highlighted by the trade of future MVP Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie, promising prospect Franklin Barreto, and a pair of meh pitchers: Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin. Lawrie and Nolin now collect their paychecks from other teams; Beane has almost nothing to show for them. Graveman appears to be slotted into the 2016 rotation but offers little upside beyond a #4 starter. If Barreto somehow develops into the next Rogers Hornsby, then sure: Beane is Nostradamus. If not, the Donaldson trade will continue to haunt the A’s for years to come.

24. Baltimore Orioles: The O’s went to the ALCS in 2014. No, really. You can look it up. It totally happened. Buck Showalter and friends followed up on that success by finishing 2015 at .500, then watched as GM Dan Duquette employed his trademark sit-on-hands offseason strategy. The only major move was the re-signing of Chris Davis to a contract set to expire in the year 2178, even though there’s no guarantee that Davis will even be good in 2016, let alone 2177.

Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones still form a robust core but the rotation is thin and the front office either didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to improve it, Yovani Gallardo notwithstanding. The Orioles’ brief may have already closed. At least they got the chance to play in the ALCS, even if no one remembers it.

25. Milwaukee Brewers: Take it from Crooked Scoreboard’s Official National Brewers Correspondent Travis Sarandos:

 

Before you @ him, know that Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have the Brew Crew winning 77 games. Maybe that figure drops when Jonathan Lucroy is finally released from captivity. Then again, maybe the ragtag collection of Our Gang cast-offs acquired by the front office actually finds a way to put it together. Either way, it’s a rebuilding year for the Brew Crew, so contention isn’t in the cards. But don’t worry, Milwaukee fans. You still have the Bucks!

Chin up, Nolan Arenado. Only 1,720 days until free agency! (Photo by Keith Allison - CC/2.0)

Chin up, Nolan Arenado. Only 1,700 days until free agency! (Photo by Keith Allison – CC/2.0)

26. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies don’t get much play in the national press for some reason. They have a loyal and supportive fanbase in Denver, which is impressive when you consider the quality of the product on the field. But you rarely hear about them on talk radio or ESPN. That’s why it was nice to hear the good folks at Fangraphs Audio and MLB Statcast devote time on their programs to discuss Colorado’s specialized brand of mediocrity. The conclusion: The Rockies are an under-the-radar fascinating team, mostly because of their high-altitude ballpark.

They are not an under-the-radar fascinating team because of the team itself, which is bad. Carlos Gonzalez is going to show up to spring training not knowing why he hasn’t been traded, and he won’t be alone. Coors Field is where pitchers go to die and the latest set of arms due for a date with the executioner are about as uninspiring as the last. It’s a race for fourth place in the NL West, and the Rockies are only my pick because the…

27. San Diego Padres: …are even more hopeless than the Rockies. The Padres have more should-be DHs on the roster than any other team (with the added benefit of not actually hitting like DHs), which is a problem unless GM A.J. Preller finds a way to trade the entire franchise to the American League. Since that’s unlikely, get ready for another season of Matt Kemp playing the outfield with arthritic hips.

The only real silver lining is that the Craig Kimbrel trade netted San Diego some promising young players to replace the promising young players Preller traded away last season last season, all for the very low price of Melvin Upton’s unmovable contract. That’s progress!

28. Atlanta Braves: At least next year’s Braves fans will have an excuse not to show up to Turner Field.

Oh man. I’ve been waiting all offseason to use that line. Venerable Turner Field, all of 19 years old, will be a former big league ballpark in 2017 when the Atlanta Braves complete their move to not-Atlanta in 2017. Expect next year’s squad to be much better than the Gwinnett Braves roster they’re trying to pass off as a Major League team in 2016. At least Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman should keep the lineup looking semi-professional, which is more than can be said for the NL East’s guaranteed cellar dweller. 

29. Philadelphia Phillies: Ding-dong the witch is dead: Ruben Amaro Jr. is no longer the general manager of the Phillies. In fact, he’s now first base coach for the Red Sox. I hear he’s already tried to sign the nearest umpire to a 5-year extension.

With Amaro gone, the three-years-too-late rebuild is in full swing. Aging stars Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are distant memories, Cole Hamels was dealt for a bevy of young talent, and Ryan Howard’s horrendous contract is set to come off the books next season. Young players like Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Maikel Franco and Aaron Nola will receive extended auditions to prove they’re part of the promising future rather than placeholders in the present. For that reason, the Phillies might be one of the more exciting teams to watch in 2016 — just as the Astros from 2012 to 2014 were a more interesting club than their woeful performance indicated. There are no more Jeff Francouers or Aaron Harangs to soak up at-bats and innings. Instead, we’re going to see fringe big leaguers and hopeful comeback kids try to prove themselves. That’s sort of neat.

The team’s going to be terrible though.

30. Cincinnati Reds: Here is a cool and uncomplicated Joey Votto factoid: From 2010 through 2015, Votto is in the MLB top five in AVG, OBP, wOBA, wRC+, BB, BB%, wRAA, wRCI, WPA, +WPA, WPA/LI, Line Drive %, and fWAR. I swear I only made one of those up and that you’ll never guess which it was.

Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are the only two hitters in baseball you can argue have been better than Votto over the past half-decade. His plate discipline is unmatched — a once-in-a-generation kind of talent. He was also in a great This is Sportscenter commercial (in which his Canadian accent is on full display) which should count for something. Votto hits baseballs like Bobby Fischer captured queens: disciplined, methodical, and battle-tested. Probably less crazy too, which would be nice.

As for the rest of it… well, the less we think about the Reds’ woeful rebuild effort, the better. Votto, though. Yeah. That dude’s good.

***

Robert Montenegro is a writer from Washington DC who will celebrate the completion of these power rankings by finally taking a shower. You should follow him on Twitter.

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One thought on “MLB Power Rankings: A Belated Opening Day Preview

  1. I do not know anything about any of this, but I really, truly believe you should be a sports writer and I feel like you could accomplish that, like, yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

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