1. Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox look poised for another deep playoff run after bringing home the hardware last year. Centre-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury left for the greener pastures of Yankee Stadium, but with the addition of Grady Sizemore and the emergence of Jackie Bradley Jr., the Sox won’t regret letting Ellsbury walk. Expect the 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts to flourish at shortstop and for Boston’s deep lineup to carry them late into October— and maybe another World Series— if the pitching staff stays strong.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays have been a model of excellence for small-market clubs since 2010. The quirky Joe Maddon has been a proponent of extreme defensive shifts and statistical analysis to make sure that the Rays are always competitive. The offence is getting better, and Wil Myers should take another step in his development at the plate after a phenomenal rookie campaign last season. David Price returns to captain one of the league’s premier pitching staffs, and if Evan Longoria stays healthy, the Rays look to be set for another 90+ win season.
3. New York Yankees
The Yankees expect to field an Opening-Day lineup without a player under the age of 30—and with age comes injury. Although the Yankees stole Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox, their biggest deal brought in 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on a seven-year, $155 million contract. With Mariano Rivera enjoying retirement and Derek Jeter announcing that this will be his last season in Yankee pinstripes, the evil empire’s dominance is squarely coming to an end.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are certain to impress fans with a plethora of powerful bats in their lineup this year. The burning question for the Orioles is what to expect from Chris Davis after the 28-year-old burst onto the scene with 53 homers last year. The Orioles added Ubaldo Jimenez this off-season to help shore up a weak pitching staff, but Jimenez is one of the league’s most inconsistent pitchers. The addition of Nelson Cruz should add even more power to an already-loaded lineup, but iffy pitching could be this team’s downfall. Expect the Orioles to miss the post-season in an incredibly tough AL East division.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t change much this off-season after an embarrassing, injury-ridden 2013 campaign. Nonetheless, Canada’s team is talented and has the potential to do some damage. Unfortunately, with an aging Jose Bautista in right field, an injury-prone Jose Reyes, and a very questionable pitching staff, the team looks to be in for another sub-par season with John Gibbons behind the bench. Expect Colby Rasmus to have a phenomenal season on a contract year, while RA Dickey should bounce back after a disappointing 2013 season. Ultimately, the Jays will struggle early and eventually blow up the team before the July trade deadline.
1. Detroit Tigers
Gone is Prince Fielder and his oversized contract; welcome Ian Kinsler, an All-Star second baseman. With the swap, the Tigers’ lineup shouldn’t miss a beat and should continue to smash the baseball. First baseman Miguel Cabrera is coming off of two straight MVP trophies and doesn’t look like he’s about to stop—he has hit .337/.425/.612, with 156 homers over his past four years. On the mound, Detroit brings back two Cy Young-winning flamethrowers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who will both look to continue their success. This team is built to win now and should return to the playoffs.
2. Kansas City Royals
With just two seasons above .500 in the past 19 years, the Kansas City Royals have not been the standard for a successful MLB franchise. However, the positive is that one of those winning seasons happened last year, with the majority of that roster returning this season. The Royals have a balanced lineup that is surprisingly dangerous, and welcomes the addition of Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to the first two spots to provide speed and contact. James Shields anchors an otherwise-mediocre rotation that could stand between the Royals and a playoff spot.
3. Cleveland Indians
Fans from the most unlucky sports city in the United States have found a bright spot with the Indians. Former Red Sox Manager Terry Francona came in last season and changed the culture of the organization, bringing with him championship experience. The initial results were promising, with Cleveland making the playoffs, and the lineup that powered them to success returns this season primarily intact. No batter averaged above .300, but the Indians get on base and have the power to bring runners home. Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez are gone from the rotation, leaving Justin Masterson as the only proven starter—a problem that could prevent them from advancing far in the post-season if they get there at all.
4. Chicago White Sox
2005 must be starting to feel like 1917 for baseball fans from the south side of Chicago. Eighty wins might be the team’s ceiling, and a playoff appearance is out of the question. The biggest addition this past off-season was Cuban defector Jose Abreu, who brings a reputation of light-tower power. Injuries have robbed the Sox’s rotation of any consistent production behind left-hander Chris Sale. However, building blocks are in place, and Chicago could be just a year or two away from making noise in the post-season.
5. Minnesota Twins
Even if the Twins see solid production from sluggers Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, they lack depth throughout the rest of their roster. A lacklustre starting rotation, coupled with a mediocre bullpen will make things difficult for Minnesota. Unlikely sources will need to step up if the Twins have any chance in the Central.
1. Oakland Athletics
The A’s are the winners of two straight division titles, and will be the favourites in 2014 despite a pitching rotation filled with new faces. Bartolo Colon left as a free agent, Brett Andersen was traded, Jarrod Parker is out for the year following Tommy John surgery, and A.J. Griffin is starting the year on the DL. Despite this, General Manager Billy Beane has created a roster that just keeps winning, by exploiting every loophole imaginable. The team will need strong defence, but a third straight AL West title could be in the cards.
2. Texas Rangers
Texas made plenty of noise this off-season, with numerous changes to its offensive core. The team’s biggest move was shipping franchise mainstay Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugger Prince Fielder. This, combined with the signing of Shin-Soo Choo will give the Rangers much-needed power from the left-handed side of the plate. Injuries mean that a couple of pitchers will start the season on the DL, but once healthy, the pitching staff should be quite good. Manager Ron Washington has been promising during his tenure with the Rangers, and should lead another talented and determined ball cub.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Success for the Halos this year depends more on how their returning players can bounce back than the contributions of new additions. Mike Trout should deliver another MVP-calibre season, but the Angels will be in trouble if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton—who are making more than $40,000,000 combined in 2014—can’t improve on their disappointing 2013 campaigns. The Angels are talented, but their talent needs to return to form. If they are able to do so, a playoff spot is not out of the question.
4. Seattle Mariners
All eyes will be on newcomer Robinson Cano this summer in the Emerald City. Cano left the Yankees to sign a 10-year, $240 million mega-deal with the Mariners this off-season. There will be serious pressure on Cano to perform. The move signaled that Seattle is serious about competing, but wins are far from a guarantee. The offence’s success depends heavily on whether former top prospects like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley can finally put it together. Pitching and defence shouldn’t be an issue in the Mariners’ cavernous stadium.
5. Houston Astros
Houston was little more than a punch line in 2013, and not much has changed thanks to its commitment to a long-term building process. Casual baseball fans likely won’t recognize a single name in either the Astros starting lineup or pitching staff. Catcher Jason Castro provides the lone bright spot after finishing 2013 among the league’s best.
1. Washington Nationals
After a disappointing 2013 campaign saw the Nationals finish well out of playoff contention, GM Mike Rizzo went out and pulled off the heist of the off-season, trading away a few odds and ends for control-specialist Doug Fister. The addition of Fister strengthens an already-potent rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman. The Nationals’ batting order will remain largely unchanged on paper, but offensively, time is their best friend. The Nats should cruise to the division title this season, and Bryce Harper has the potential to take home the NL MVP.
2. Atlanta Braves
The usually self-reliant Braves were forced to spend on the inconsistent Ervin Santana after losing what seems like their entire 2013 rotation to injuries over the off-season. With pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy out for the entire season, the Braves will have to rely on promising youngsters Julio Teheran and Alex Wood to anchor the team. Now for the good news: if B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla are able to find even a semblance of their former selves this season, the Braves would suddenly find themselves with one of the scariest lineups in the division. Don’t count the Braves out this season.
3. New York Mets
Bartolo Colon will play his first full season of National League ball after signing a two-year, $20 million deal with New York this off-season. This may have been GM Sandy Alderson’s shrewdest acquisition so far; the former Cy Young winner posted a sparkling 2.65 ERA over 190 innings for the A’s last season, despite throwing his fastball a whopping 84 per cent of the time. Clearly, he knows something we don’t. If Ike Davis can stay healthy for the whole season, and catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud breaks out, look for the Mets to make a run at the second Wild Card berth.
4. Miami Marlins
The Marlins aren’t going to finish anywhere near the top of the NL East this year, but they’re going to be a fun team to watch. Giancarlo Stanton will most likely be traded at some point before the deadline, but until then, tune in to watch him crush monstrous home runs with nobody on base. Things look brighter for the Fish on the mound. Last year, we saw Jose Fernandez dominate the league at age 20, to the tune of a 2.19 ERA over 28 games. With elite pitching prospect Andrew Heaney in the pipes, look for the Marlins’ rotation to make some noise this season.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Things don’t look too good for the Phillies this season. They’ll open the year with All-Star Cole Hamels on the disabled list, and a rotation full of question marks. Offensively, the lone bright spot will be the development of Dominic Brown, who finally broke out last season with 27 home runs and a promising eight steals. Hopeful fans shouldn’t bet on resurgences from veterans Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley. Speed doesn’t age well, and historically, players entering their age-35 seasons don’t put up big numbers. If you’re a true Philly fan, hope that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. blows up the roster this year in exchange for a few prospects.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
What more can be said about the Cardinals? Every year they come into the season looking decidedly average, and every year audiences somehow continue to watch Cardinal baseball well into October. This year, the strategy will rely a little less on luck; after all, a team can’t be expected to hit .330 with runners in scoring position two years in a row. With highly-touted rookie Kolten Wong getting the start at second base, and top-hitting prospect Oscar Taveras expected to break into the Majors this season, the Cardinals are only getting younger and scarier. This is a team that has no weaknesses.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates rode NL MVP Andrew McCutchen’s bat to their first playoff appearance in 20 years last season. At 27 years old, McCutchen is only now entering his prime. The duo of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker combined for 52 home runs last season and represent a dynamic scoring threat in the heart of the order. If Starling Marte—recently locked up to a six-year extension—can prove that last season’s breakout was for real with another all-star calibre season, this club should capture another Wild Card spot in 2014.
3. Cincinnati Reds
Las Vegas has the Reds finishing second in the division, but Joey Votto’s super-human abilities may not be enough to see this team to the playoffs. The rotation— topped by the one-two punch of Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey—remains fearsome, and rookie pitcher Tony Cingrani should fill in nicely for the departed Bronson Arroyo. However, the loss of Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 on-base percentage leaves a huge hole at the top of the lineup. Unless Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier overachieve their projections significantly, the Reds are going to be stuck with a lacklustre offence beyond Votto and Jay Bruce.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
It’s hard to know what to expect from Ryan Braun this season., following his 65-game suspension. However, even if a clean Braun returns and posts a 40/40 season, the fact remains that the rest of the Brewers offence is anemic— just look towards the first base platooon of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. The pitching staff looks solid, with sleeper Marco Estrada sliding in at the fourth starting spot, and the bullpen is deep and talented. Barring breakout seasons from Khris Davis and Carlos Gomez, however, this squad is destined for mediocrity.
5. Chicago Cubs
It’s not going to happen this year. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are likely the only hitters on the Cubs being drafted in fantasy leagues this season, and both have failed to live up to their potential thus far. Both players, however, are just 24 years old. The rotation may feature a few established names, but the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup doesn’t have a player over 30 years old. With Cuban defector Jorge Soler almost ready to bring his raw power to the team, the Cubs should see their team improve slowly but surely over the coming years.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the biggest headlines during the off-season came from the Dodgers when they signed Clayton Kershaw to a seven-year, $215 million contract extension. Kershaw’s average annual salary of $30.7 million is the highest in baseball history, and the left-hander will be key to any success the Dodgers have this season. Offensively, look for Matt Kemp to bounce back after starting the season on the disabled list, and for Yasiel Puig to keep on electrifying the big leages. The Dodgers will also rely on a deep lineup to recover from the team’s disappointing NL Championship Series loss last season.
2. San Francisco Giants
Pablo Sandoval will be key to San Francisco’s upcoming season. The 27-year-old infielder will be playing for a new contract this year, and after making headlines with his off-season weight loss, may be set to put up big offensive numbers. The Giants constantly have live arms in their rotation and this year there are five capable starters to test batters across the league. San Francisco struggled with its offence last season, and will need to impress if they hope to return to the World Series after last year’s sub-par finish.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
With Patrick Corbin’s season-ending elbow injury, the Diamondbacks will need to rely heavily on pitching prospect Archie Bradley if they are to experience any success this season. Beyond Bradley, Arizona has only Brandon McCarthy, Mark Trumbo, Trevor Cahill, and a handful of decent players to rely on. Corbin’s injury is a huge hit to the Diamondbacks’ playoff hopes. Arizona may have to bank on the luck of the wildcard this season to experience the playoffs.
4. San Diego Padres
Key off-season acquisitions for the Padres included Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres, who will help shore up San Diego’s bullpen. Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso are two other players to keep an eye on this season, with both athletes entering the beginning of their prime. Gyorko’s penchant for home runs will be a much-needed boon for the Padres, who currently have a roster riddled with injuries and PED suspensions. San Diego will have to rely on its young players to step up if they are to experience any success this upcoming season.
5. Colorado Rockies
Colorado boasts a heavy lineup this season, with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Nolan Arenado leading the Rockies. The team will look for Arenado to take the next step, with the already spectacular third-baseman showing promising signs of a powerful bat. Pitching prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler are exciting young arms who could help the Rockies in a playoff push. With a competitive NL West, Colorado’s season could go either way. The team’s success will depend on the health of their big stars and the potential of their pitching prospects.