It’s an even-numbered year, so the Giants must be looking at another trip to the World Series. All kidding aside, during the off-season the Giants made strides to address some of their main issues and plug them up. They added more pitching with Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto while solidifying their outfield with Denard Span. Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks made themselves into a contender by signing Zack Greinke away from the Dodgers at the last minute and trading for Shelby Miller. The Dodgers, defending division champs, didn’t do much to cover for the loss of Greinke but still come back with enough talent to defend their title.
San Francisco Giants (2015: 84-78, 2nd place)
Manager: Bruce Bochy
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
CF — Denard Span
2B — Joe Panik
C — Buster Posey
RF — Hunter Pence
1B — Brandon Belt
3B — Matt Duffy
SS — Brandon Crawford
LF — Angel Pagan
CL: Santiago Casilla
Posey, the best catcher in the game, will also receive more playing time at first base this year as the team attempts to elongate his career. His 2015 stats include a .318 batting average with 19 homers and 95 RBIs with an .849 OPS. Expect more of the same this year.
Belt may not have the power typically found in an everyday first baseman, but he does a lot of other things well enough to be considered a solid batter. Last year, he hit .280 with 18 home runs and 68 RBIs with nine stolen bases. His defense has always been very good, as he only committed three errors.
At second base, Panik turned in a solid 2015 before back issues shut him down. Offensively, he provides a little pop and he hit for average, turning out a .312 mark. He gets on base with solid contact and a good eye. He also proved to be one of the better defenders at that position, as he committed only two errors for a .996 fielding percentage.
Duffy will open his second full season at third base. In 2015, he hit .295 with 12 homers and 77 RBIs, which is not the type of pop you would like to see in a third baseman, but Duffy makes good contact and also collected 12 stolen bases without getting caught, so he adds some good baserunning to this offense. A dozen errors at the hot corner in 2015 will need to be improved upon, however.
Gold Glove shortstop Crawford will be manning the position for the Giants for the foreseeable future, as he signed an extension to the tune of six years and $75 million. His offensive numbers have improved every year, with his homer total in 2015 (22) a career high. Best shortstop in the NL? Quite possibly. Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza will provide infield back-up for the G-Men.
In the outfield, Pagan should open the season in left. The 34-year-old has lost a step due to knee issues, but still managed 12 stolen bases in 2015. Look for Gregor Blanco to spell him more often to give him some rest. In center, Span brings A+ defense to his new team. Last year was an injury-filled season, however, with hip surgery and lingering back issues. If he stays healthy, he will be the spark the Giants need at the top of the order. In right field is the spiritual leader of the team in Pence. When healthy, Pence provides middle-of-the-order pop that the Giants will be needing. However, as has been the case for Pence the last few seasons, remaining healthy is the key.
The rotation is anchored by number one starter and perennial Cy Young candidate Bumgarner. He is a strikeout machine, matched with great command and a low walk rate. Expect another 200+ innings from Bumgarner. Cueto signed a 6-year, $130 million deal after a World Series performance with the Royals. Coming to AT&T Park and the NL is the best thing for him, and provides a solid one-two punch with Bumgarner. Samardzija also joins this rotation as a free agent. He really did not have a good 2015, with an ERA near 5.00. However, as in Cueto’s case, AT&T Park should help him immensely. Look for a bounceback year from The Shark. Veteran Peavy holds down a rotation spot, but with declining numbers, the Giants will keep a close eye on his innings. Cain continued his battle with injury and inconsistency in 2015. With a drop in velocity, Cain is no longer the dominant force he once was. So the Giants still have some holes in their rotation, but have the depth to cover them with Chris Heston waiting in the wings.
The role of closer goes to Casilla, at least to start the season. He converted 38-of-44 save chances in 2015, but his WHIP (1.28) ran a little high for a closer. If he falters early, former closer Romo could easily reclaim that role. Romo bounced back from a tough 2014, but Casilla was successful enough as the closer to keep Romo as a set-up guy. The true closer of the future is probably Hunter Strickland with his 100-mph gas. It will be interesting to see which direction the Giants go in if Casilla can’t close the deal. Lopez adds an extremely successful lefty specialist to the back of Bochy’s bullpen. Osich and Kontos will round out the back end of the bullpen. This sets up as one of the better bullpens in the division.
With the help of free agency, the Giants addressed some concerns in the rotation and in the outfield. The rotation is a little older than a typical contender, but with the help of a solid bullpen, the Giants will be competitive all season.
Prediction: The Giants have the tools to overtake the Dodgers in the division and claim a playoff spot, where they will go deep. First place.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2015: 92-70, 1st place)
Manager: Dave Roberts
ProjectedOpening Day Lineup:
SS — Corey Seager
3B — Justin Turner
1B — Adrian Gonzalez
RF — Yasiel Puig
LF — Carl Crawford
CF — Joc Pederson
C — A.J. Ellis
CL: Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers almost look like the same team as 2015, which is the good news. The bad news is that Zack Greinke isn’t on this team, and he would have been a difference maker. The Dodgers went out and signed Kazmir and Japanese import Maeda to try and make up for the loss. Will it be enough? With the departure of Don Mattingly — who tried his best to keep this team grounded and focused — Roberts steps in. In his managerial debut, does he have the chops to keep this team moving in the right direction?
Grandal returns from a surgically-repaired shoulder to reclaim his spot behind the plate. The injury significantly and negatively affected his production. Staying healthy and picking up where he left off before the injury is important for this team.
At first base, Gonzalez is a steady, reliable, and consistent force. Not one of the elite at the position, he does bring solid numbers at the plate. In 2015, he hit .275 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs. Defensively, he may have lost a step but his glove has always been strong.
Also the model of consistency is Kendrick at second base. He re-signed on a two-year deal and will provide an average somewhere between .285 and .300. He also provides a dependable glove although his range is sometimes in question.
Turner has been upgraded from super-utility player to everyday third baseman after turning in a pretty good 2015. He hit .294 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs and supplied the Dodgers with a surprisingly solid defensive body of work.
At shortstop, the Dodgers will begin the Corey Seager era. He provided a small sample of what is to come by hitting .337 in 27 games in 2015. At only 21-years-old, his defense at shortstop will only improve and already has the tools to be a perennial All-Star.
Veteran Chase Utley can provide back-up at second base, while Enrique Hernandez can cover several infield spots. Alex Guerrero will also get a look at third when Turner rests.
In the outfield, the Dodgers may use a platoon situation in left with the left-handed hitting Crawford and the righty Van Slyke. Crawford has regressed to the point where he is no longer an everyday-level starter, while Van Slyke needs to rebound from a 2015 where he only hit .239.
Pederson will get the majority of starts in center. An All-Star in 2015, he got on base with 92 BB but only hit .210. The 26 home runs are what the Dodgers need behind Gonzalez, but at 23-years-old, Pederson has plenty of room for improvement with the batting average.
Puig will take advantage of Andre Ethier’s broken leg to play right field every day. Hamstring injuries held Puig back from a complete 2015, as he played in only 79 games. If he can turn the focus away from his off-field issues and bring it back to his work ethic on the field, Puig has the tools to be the force he was in 2014.
Kershaw is not just the best left-handed pitcher in MLB, he is the best pitcher period. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that he will even slightly regress and should be the guy that leads the Dodgers back to the post-season. This team goes where Kershaw goes. An off-season free agent signing, Kazmir figures to slide in behind Kershaw in the rotation. No longer the flamethrower he once was, Kazmir should succeed in the NL. Another left-hander for the Dodgers is Wood, who had uneven results in 2015 and looks to bounce back this season. Maeda signed with the Dodgers for eight years and $25 million. His slight frame may lead to some durability concerns as the long season stretches out, but he is projected to be similar to Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma in terms of success. Rookie Ross Stripling will begin the year as L.A.’s fifth starter, as most of the Dodgers’ rotation depth is already on the DL.
Kenley Jansen opens 2016 as MLB’s top closer. He saved 36-of-38 last season with 80 Ks in 52.1 innings. J.P. Howell sets up Jansen from the left side, coming what was probably his best season; duplicating that in 2016 should not be in question. He will share set up duties with right-hander Carlos Frias, who could also jump into the rotation if necessity requires it. Right-handers Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez provide the Dodgers with more bullpen depth, especially if Jansen misses any time. Luis Avilan solidifies the back end of the ‘pen and figures to be a frequent late-inning player.
There is no question that the loss of Greinke hurts the Dodgers, and they didn’t do enough to replace his innings and wins. Kazmir and Maeda help a little, but that loss is going to cost the Dodgers the division, as the Giants did more to address their holes. Gonzalez and Crawford are aging and are not the elite players they once were. Seager, Pederson and Puig provide a solid young base and Kershaw figures to carry this team on his back when he pitches.
Prediction: The Dodgers have talent, but not quite enough to catch the Giants. Second place.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2015: 79-83, 3rd place)
Manager: Chip Hale
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
2B — Jean Segura
1B — Paul Goldschmidt
RF — David Peralta
LF — Yasmany Tomas
3B — Jake Lamb
SS — Nick Ahmed
CL: Brad Ziegler
The Arizona Diamondbacks put their stamp on the hot stove season with a shock signing of ace Zack Greinke, who was *thisclose* to re-signing with the Dodgers when the D-backs brass called him. They ended up agreeing to a 6-year/$206.5 million deal. Then the D-backs went out and traded their number one draft pick in the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, along with pitching prospect Aaron Blair and outfielder Ender Inciarte, to the Atlanta Braves for another starter in Shelby Miller. The D-backs want to win in 2016, and since their prospects didn’t figure into the current equation, they were moved for proven talent.
At catcher, Castillo bounced around to three different teams last year, eventually ending up in Arizona, where he finally found his stroke. He figures to get most of the playing time, with Tuffy Gosewich backing him up.
Goldschmidt is the MVP candidate on this team. The first baseman hit .321 with 33 homers and 110 RBIs in 2015. Not only did he do that, but he also stole 21 bases, making Goldschmidt a multi-tool stud: average, power, baserunning, and defense. He should be in the MVP talks once again at this season’s end.
Owings will open the season at second base, but if he repeats the poor start he had in 2015, expect to see Brandon Drury get a call-up. Owings doesn’t walk much and strikes out a lot, a bad combination if you want to play every day.
At third base, Lamb stand to win the starting job. A foot injury derailed a good start to last season, but Lamb should bounce back if he stays off the DL. He might sit against some lefties, but look for Lamb to try and improve on his power numbers slightly.
Coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers, Segura will man shortstop to open the season. Segura will not do much with the bat, as he has a tendency to swing at bad pitches. He also doesn’t walk very much, so hopefully Hale will keep him away from the top of the order. His defense is a plus, however. Nick Ahmed and Phil Gosselin will fill in should Segura not work out.
In the outfield, the D-Backs have the potential for one of the best hitting trios in MLB. In left, Peralta gets the nod. In 2015, he hit .312 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs while playing good defense. The former pitcher should benefit from hitting behind Goldschmidt in the order. A.J. Pollock was a pleasant surprise for Arizona in 2015. Hitting over .300, clubbing 20 home runs and stealing 39 bases, Pollock will quickly rise to be the cream of the centerfield crop if he comes close to duplicating those numbers.* Tomas will play every day now that he has been moved from third base to right field, which will prove to be a good thing for the D-Backs.
*Late in spring training, Pollock fractured his elbow. He’ll be out four months or so, dealing a severe blow to the DBacks’ outfield and contention chances. Socrates Brito figures to start in Pollock’s place.
As mentioned already, Greinke heads up an improved rotation. In 2015, he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting behind winner Jake Arrieta. Miller didn’t have a win-loss record like Greinke, going 6-17 in Atlanta, but that’s because the Braves didn’t score any runs for him. That should not be an issue in Arizona, a team that finished second behind Colorado in runs scored in 2015. Corbin continues to rebound from Tommy John surgery and provided a small sample size of his potential success in 2015 with a 6-5 record and 3.60 ERA. With his innings getting stretched out a little more this season, he will make a solid number three. De La Rosa was the winningest pitcher on the team in 2015, sporting 14 wins, but don’t let that fool you. He allowed 32 home runs (third in the league) and a 1.36 WHIP. Being moved down near the back end of the rotation should take some pressure off him. Ray will hold down the fifth spot. Ray had a decent showing in 2015, but his efforts record-wise (5-12) were the result of poor run support and his inability to pitch deep into games.
Ziegler is not your conventional closer. He doesn’t throw hard, and may be considered a throwback to Dan Quisenberry. Ziegler ended up with 30 saves in 32 chances, which is not too shabby and it earns him the spot to open the season. Clippard was added on a free-agent deal and should be Ziegler’s primary setup man. Hudson and Collmenter are former starters who find themselves in late-inning situations these days. Hudson throws hard and gets strikeouts when he needs them (71 in 67.2 innings in 2015). Collmenter started in the rotation in 2015, but when he was moved to the bullpen, he regained his form. He will not blow anyone away, but he has good command. Delgado and Chafin round out the bullpen.
The Diamondbacks want to win in 2016 and made the right moves as far as the rotation goes. The bullpen has some questions about its depth. The offense from the outfielders will be good, and Goldschmidt will be his usual awesome self, but the other infielders are unproven and really need to step up. These are the reasons why the D-Backs will just miss the playoffs in October.
Prediction: The on-the-fly rebuild fails to pay off and the team misses Pollock, Inciarte, and Swanson. Third place.
San Diego Padres (2015: 74-88, 4th place)
Manager: Andy Green
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
CF — Jon Jay
C — Derek Norris
RF — Matt Kemp
1B — Wil Myers
SS — Alexei Ramirez
3B — Yangervis Solarte
LF — Melvin Upton, Jr.
2B — Corey Spangenberg
CL: Fernando Rodney
During the 2014 off-season, Padres GM A.J. Preller spent some money and made several trades in an attempt to build a team to win immediately. The Padres flopped in that, but they did not sell the farm in doing so, and in fact Preller has made moves to give the Padres plenty of prospects for the future. In the meantime, Padres fans will have to be patient and sit through another tough season that includes Upton, Jr. and Kemp.
Norris appeared in the second-most games behind the played last season, behind only Buster Posey. At age 27, he is starting to make appearances at first base also, in an attempt to preserve his body. He will start the season at catcher, and figures to duplicate a 2015 that saw him hit .250 with 14 homers and 62 RBIs.
Myers gets the nod at first base, as the Padres wait and see if he is going to finally hit his potential that he showed in Kansas City’s organization (and with Tampa Bay) just a few short years ago. His health has been an issue, but when he has played, his power has not been what was expected.
Spangenberg at second base will provide a decent batting average and plenty of speed. He should hit at the top of the order and get in scoring position plenty of times for the middle of the lineup.
At the hot corner sits Solarte. Coming over from the Yankees in the Chase Headley deal in 2014, Solarte provides about the same offense that Headley did. He isn’t flashy as there isn’t much speed there, and he doesn’t strike out much, but he can play anywhere the Padres put him.
Free agent signee Ramirez will patrol shortstop for the Friars. In 2015 with the White Sox, he hit .249 with 10 home runs, 62 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases. However, his OPS was .642. He’s a free swinger without a lot of power, but provides adequate defense.
In the outfield, the left field bleacher creatures should be ready to ride Upton, Jr. once again. The guy who signed a huge contract several years ago with the Braves, and then immediately regressed to the point where one can’t understand how he continues to find a job still has two more years to go on his deal. Former Cardinal Jay gets the start in center, providing great defense, although his bat may end up platooning before the season ends. Kemp in right field provides the power for the Padres in the middle of the order. After a slow start to 2015, had a strong second half before a torn tendon in his finger ended his season early. He should be ready to go for 2016.
Shields heads up a pretty decent rotation. Last year saw him compile a 13-7 record with 3.91 ERA and 216 strikeouts, however his command was an issue with 81 walks. Ross is the number-two guy behind Shields and he can be pretty nasty as well, with 212 strikeouts in 196 innings. Cashner had a rough 2015, going 6-16. He still has good stuff and health was not an issue last season. He should bounce back in 2016. Drew Pomeranz and Colin Rea will round out the rotation for San Diego.
In the bullpen, the Padres have some holes and it all starts with Rodney in the closer role. Rodney has lost the job everywhere he has gone, and with Quackenbush down there, Rodney may lose the job to him if he struggles again. Quackenbush was the setup man for Craig Kimbrel in 2015, and will set up Rodney in 2016. Veterans Brandon Maurer and Matt Thornton round out the late-innings corps.
With many prospects getting major league ready and the Padres not really being picked to do much of anything, expect to possibly see more veterans getting traded during the season. The Padres are not a bad team, but they are in a tough division and they have too many holes, especially on the pitching side of things, to actually contend. They are set up very well for the future, however, and that should provide some consolation for the Petco Park crowd.
Prediction: San Diego did well getting some prospects for Kimbrel, but their offseason silence did nothing to change the fact they will wind up in fourth place.
Colorado Rockies (2015: 68-94, 5th place)
Manager: Walt Weiss
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
CF — Charlie Blackmon
SS — Trevor Story
RF — Carlos Gonzalez
3B — Nolan Arenado
LF — Gerardo Parra
C — Nick Hundley
2B — D.J. LaMahieu
CL: Jake McGee
The Rockies were once a contender. Going all the way to the World Series in 2007 and then making the playoffs again in 2009, you could pencil in the Rockies as a dark horse almost every season. In 2016, the Rockies are struggling to find confidence while playing in a ballpark that has probably gotten inside their (organizational) head, as pitchers coming through the system neglected secondary pitches because of the altitude. Offense has never been the issue. However, with new management in place and an aptitude for drafting young talent and exploring the analytical side of the game, the Rockies should be contenders again within the next few years. However, their fanbase can expect a lot of high scoring games again this season, mostly on the losing end.
Hundley will get a fair share of the catching duties, and may find himself trade bait come July or sooner, as catching prospect Tom Murphy is big-league ready. Hundley had a surprising 2015 by hitting .301 and hitting double digits in HR. He also handles a pitching staff very well, something needed in a Rockies staff that is trying to cope with Coors Field.
The Rockies will go with Paulsen at first base, who popped 11 homers in 325 at-bats last season. Given a full year of playing time, Paulsen could mash north of 30.
All-Star LeMahieu holds down second base. He can get on base and run (23 steals in 2015) and should be a solid number-two hitter behind Blackmon. His is also among the best defensive second basemen in the league.
At third base is team MVP Arenado. The 24-year-old had 42 home runs and 130 RBIs in 2015 and the Rockies can expect more of the same this season. He makes a lot of contact, which is a good thing in Coors Field, and even though he committed 17 errors in 2015, he has won three straight Gold Glove awards.
Rookie Story gets the nod at shortstop, thanks in some part to the off-field problems of Jose Reyes, and also thanks to talent on his end. Story should hit between .280 and .300 at Coors and provide 10-15 homers. If he comes anywhere near those numbers, he could be a contender for Rookie of the Year.
The outfield is pretty talented. It starts in left with Parra, who signed as a free agent. He brings an ability to hit to all fields, with plenty of doubles and triples. Being in Coors may help him get close to 20 home runs and he swiped 14 bases in 2015. Blackmon patrols the spacious center field. He is coming off two consecutive solid seasons, with the ability to get on base and steal (43 swipes in 2015). He will hit at the top of the order and should provide some RBI opportunities for the sluggers behind him, one of which is right fielder Gonzalez. If CarGo stays healthy like he did in 2015, he should be able to duplicate his numbers from a year ago.
De La Rosa will be the Opening Day starter for the Rockies. He comes off a 2015 where he went 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA. He is not afraid of pitching at home in Coors Field, but that is not something that can be said for the other starters. Bettis looked pretty good at times in 2015. After starting the season at AAA, he was called up and made the most of his time, impressing the Rockies enough to earn the No. 2 slot behind De La Rosa. Lyles missed most of 2015 with a toe injury that required surgery to repair. Before he went down, however, he was having a horrible season. If he stays healthy, he will need to rebound in order to keep his spot. Chatwood is coming off Tommy John surgery that made him miss the entire 2015 season, which was the second such surgery of his career. Staying healthy is an understatement for him, as he tries to crack a needy Rockies rotation. The fifth spot probably goes to Christian Bergman to start the year. He’s basically keeping the spot warm for when top prospect Jon Gray gets healthy.
The Rockies may have finally found themselves a good closer, something they have struggled with over the past few season. McGee was acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson, and appears to be a more viable contender than Motte or Qualls. Motte has lost some of his velocity after Tommy John surgery but should make for a valuable set-up man. Qualls is a sinkerball pitcher who should be able to avoid the thin air trappings of Coors, but hopefully McGee succeeds for the Rockies, because Qualls does not have a good track record as a closer. Logan is the token left-handed specialist in the Rockies ‘pen, with Miller and Castro holding down the mop up roles.
Manager Weiss gets his team to play hard for him, no question. What is in question is the organization-wide attempt to get their pitchers to show no fear in Coors. The thin rotation shows that there are not many options to go with, and none that are considered to be major league ready down in the minors. However, there is a good nucleus of young players with lots of talent, so there is reason to believe that the Rockies should be a threat sooner rather than later.
Prediction: Some good offensive talent cannot overcome the weak pitching. Fifth place.
With that, our look at the MLB season is complete! Check back throughout the season for our Power Rankings and a few other baseball-related surprises!
Until next, PTB Nation, all the best … and PLAY BALL!