To those who can’t enjoy the warmth of Florida or Arizona, spring training is the first sign of a new season. Before long, it’ll be time for the 30 teams to play for keeps. As the preliminary portion of the baseball calendar gets under way, let’s look at which MLB clubs hold supremacy.
30. Atlanta Braves: The soon-to-be destruction of Turner Field is nothing compared to the implosion this franchise is enduring. A long rebuilding process awaits.
29. Colorado Rockies: The only attractive quality about them is their power hitting duo of Arenado and Gonzalez, but half may be gone by the trade deadline. Walt Weiss doesn’t stand a chance.
28. Cincinnati Reds: The days could be numbered for Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in Reds uniforms. It’s just better off for Cincinnati to plan for the future.
27. Milwaukee Brewers: Another rebuilding effort – like many of the teams at the bottom. Jonathan Lucroy is a prime trading chip to contenders should he have a bounce-back year.
26. Oakland A’s: Coming off a 94-loss season, Oakland can be optimistic provided Khris Davis’ power carries over from Milwaukee. If not for he and Sonny Gray, the A’s would really be going nowhere.
25. Philadelphia Phillies: Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford – names that could become quite familiar to you by September. Philly’s turnaround may not be far away.
24. Tampa Bay Rays: Among the worst in the AL in runs scored, Tampa needs to rely its arms. Most notable is Chris Archer, who fanned 252 last year, and is still seeking better numbers.
23. San Diego Padres: From the soaring optimism of 2015 to the diminished expectations of 2016. A team that ranked dead last in batting average a year ago is now without Justin Upton. That doesn’t bode well.
22. Baltimore Orioles: A strong offense and a stout bullpen remain. However,a suspect starting rotation is ripe to be exposed by the rival offenses of Toronto, Boston and New York.
21. Minnesota Twins: Paul Molitor’s first year as a manager was a rousing success. A tougher division, though, poses a tougher challenge in year No. 2.
20. Miami Marlins: Good news…the Fish are no worse than a third-place team in the NL East. Bad news…even with Jose Fernandez and Giancarlos Santon, Don Mattingly’s new club is far behind the division’s top two.
19. Los Angeles Angels: It’s a shame that a few of Mike Trout’s prime years are set to be wasted if the organization doesn’t get things straightened out. He and Albert Pujols can’t do it alone.
18. Chicago White Sox: The acquisitions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie have made the South Siders a trendy pick for the postseason. An improved offense along with another strong year from Chris Sale, and being an AL Wild Card is a definite possibility.
17. Seattle Mariners: If Taijuan Walker pitches more like the starter from the second half of 2015, the Mariners have a potent 1-2 in the rotation (along with King Felix). For now, the jury’s still out on him and the M’s.
16. Arizona Diamondbacks: By getting Zack Greinke, the D-Backs have vastly upgraded an area that was previously very weak. It still may not be enough for the playoffs.
15. New York Yankees: The Big Apple’s second fiddle can still make headlines with a dominant bullpen. But it’s tough to be effective when the starting pitchers don’t give them a lead more frequently.
14. Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor nearly led the Tribe to the postseason after being called up in June. Can he and the club carry that momentum over to 2016?
13. Detroit Tigers: No team spent more on free agents during the offseason. But it’ll be a couple of familiar faces, Cabrera and Verlander, who’ll prove most vital to the fortunes in Motown.
12. Washington Nationals: Dusty Baker’s presence will add sensibility to the Nats’ clubhouse. Bryce Harper will add another MVP.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen is a given, Gerrit Cole is a Cy Young candidate. The Bucs’ biggest unknown at this point – outfielder Gregory Polanco – is still the player with the greatest potential.
10. Texas Rangers: Even minus Yu Darvish, the Rangers (and first year skipper Jeff Banister) won the AL West. With their ace expected back in May, his presence can only improve the rotation — and the chances of his club.
9. Toronto Blue Jays: Losing David Price to Boston hurts Toronto’s hopes of repeating as division champs. While the offense should remain very strong, they’ll need young Marcus Stroman to bail out what looks to be a vulnerable pitching staff.
8. San Francisco Giants: If you believe in numerology, and the “even year theory”, then it’s time for the Giants to rise to the top. In reality, the performances of Buster Posey, along with their two new arms – Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija – are going to have the greatest influence on San Francisco’s 2016 fate.
7. Kansas City Royals: Several projection systems, like this one, have K.C. winning 80 or fewer games. Not to worry – many did the same thing prior to last season.
6. Boston Red Sox: The signing of David Price instantly made a bad pitching staff good. A nice blend of established veterans and hopeful prospects can be the recipe for another worst-to-first movement.
5. St. Louis Cardinals: Once again, it never seems to matter who’s on the roster. The loss of a star outfielder and a veteran starting pitcher would doom most teams. Not the Redbirds.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: Losing Greinke doesn’t hurt so badly when Clayton Kershaw’s still in the fold. Expect a breakout year from Kyle Seager as L.A. takes the West.
3. Houston Astros: Far too little attention has been given to them when it comes to title contenders. Carlos Correa has the capabilities of turning his second season into an MVP season.
2. New York Mets: An entire year with the club’s vaunted young rotation should lead them to another division title. A full year of Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order can help them get back to the World Series.
1. Chicago Cubs: The best lineup, the NL Cy Young Award winner, the best manager. If championships were decided on paper, the century-plus-long curse would be history.