SweetSpot: 2014 rankings

Ranking the teams: 6 through 1

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
The final six. Let the debating begin.

Team rankings: Nos. 12-7
Team rankings: Nos. 18-13
Team rankings: Nos. 24-19
Team rankings: Nos. 30-25

Boston Red Sox6. Boston Red Sox

How they can get to 90 wins: The Red Sox went 97-65 with a Pythagorean record of 100-62. They could score 56 fewer runs and allow 49 more runs and still project as a 90-win team.

Big offseason moves: Lost CF Jacoby Ellsbury, lost C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, signed C A.J. Pierzynski, re-signed 1B Mike Napoli, signed RP Edward Mujica, lost RP Andrew Bailey, acquired IF Jonathan Herrera from the Rockies for P Franklin Morales, signed OF Grady Sizemore. (SS Stephen Drew is still a free agent.)

Most intriguing player: Xander Bogaerts looked like a polished veteran in the postseason, hitting .296 and drawing six walks in 12 games. He’ll take over as a shortstop as a 21-year-old and has the potential to be star in his rookie season.

Due for a better season: Will Middlebrooks struggled early in the season and was sent back to the minors in June hitting .192. He returned in August and hit .276/.329/.476 the rest of the way. Middlebrooks may never hit for a high average but he should improve on his .227 overall mark and could hit 30 home runs if he plays 150 games.


How do the Red Sox do this year?


Discuss (Total votes: 20,167)

Due for a worse season: When you win a World Series, a lot goes right, and nothing went more right than for the Sox in 2013 than Koji Uehara. Of course, Uehara became the closer only after injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Bailey. He ended up with one of the most dominant relief seasons ever, with a 1.09 ERA and a sick .130 average against while striking out 101 batters (against just nine walks) in 74 1/3 innings. Uehara has been tough to hit the past three seasons, but .130 is crazy good and he’s never pitched 60-plus innings in consecutive seasons in the majors.

I’m just the messenger: It’s understandable that the Red Sox let Ellsbury walk considering his injury history and the contract the Yankees gave him, especially with Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting to take over in center field. After a big spring training in 2013, Bradley began the season as Boston’s left fielder but was overmatched, particularly on hard stuff inside. He spent most of the season in the minors, and in 107 plate appearances in the majors struck out 31 times.

What to expect in 2014? ZiPS projects Bradley being worth 1.5 WAR, as does the Steamer projection system. Ellsbury was worth 5.8 WAR in 2013, according to Baseball Reference, so the Red Sox are likely facing a 3-4 decrease in wins from center field.

The final word: The Red Sox are definitely a safe bet as far as those things go as they return most of the World Series roster. But they’ll be relying on two rookies in Bogaerts and Bradley and the Uehara/Junichi Tazawa/Craig Breslow bullpen trio to excel once again.

The biggest issue, however, may be whether they’ll get the same production from some of their veterans. David Ortiz will be 38; he has to slow down one of these years. Mike Napoli is 32. Shane Victorino is 33 and played much better in 2013 than in 2012. New catcher Pierzynski has been one of the most durable catchers in major league history -- he’s 19th all time in games caught -- but he’s 37. The rotation depth should cover a lot of potential problems, but there some red flags here.

Projected record: 91-71

Los Angeles Dodgers5. Los Angeles Dodgers

How they can get to 90 wins:
Well, having another 42-8 stretch again will help. The Dodgers runs scored and allowed totals projected to 89 wins (they won 92). They’re a good bet to score more runs, especially with full seasons from Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.

Big offseason moves: Signed Cuban 2B Alex Guerrero, re-signed RP Brian Wilson, re-signed 3B Juan Uribe, signed SP Dan Haren, signed RP Chris Perez, lost RP Ronald Belisario, lost 2B Mark Ellis, lost IF Nick Punto, lost CF/2B Skip Schumaker, lost SP Ricky Nolasco.

Most intriguing player: Puig. He could be the MVP, he could hit .240. He's the most intriguing player in the game heading into the season.

Due for a better season: Matt Kemp would seem to be the obvious choice, but there are still concerns that his ankle injury that required season-ending surgery will remain an ongoing issue. Josh Beckett made eight starts with a 5.19 ERA. Right now, he’s slated as the No. 5 starter (with Chad Billingsley angling to return from Tommy John surgery), so he could certainly improve if he’s healthy.

Due for a worse season: On a rate basis, Ramirez is unlikely to hit .345/.402/.638 again. But the Dodgers will certainly hope he plays more than 86 games. Uribe, awful in 2011 and 2012, but good in 2013, is a strong regression candidate.


How many games will the Dodgers win?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,700)

I’m just the messenger: The Dodgers have the best starter in the game Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke was a great No. 2. They have Puig and Ramirez and Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. A team without flaws? Not necessarily.

Kemp, Crawford, Ramirez and Uribe have all battled injuries in recent seasons. Guerrero is an unknown. If Kemp can’t go, Ethier will be stretched defensively in center. Greinke is very good but has also had just one season in his career where he made 30 starts with an ERA under 3.00. Gonzalez is no longer the .900 OPS guy he was for a few seasons. Haren has been up-and-down the past two seasons. Even with their $200 million-plus payroll, this isn’t a team that’s a lock for the playoffs.

The final word: OK, that said, there is clearly big upside here, maybe even 100-win upside if everything pans out. The rotation has the terrific top three with Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu, and Haren pitched much better in the second half with the Nationals. Kenley Jansen is a top-flight closer with dominant stuff and the setup crew with Wilson, J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow is deep. Kemp is a wild card. So is Puig. But I’m also inclined to believe Puig is closer to the MVP candidate than the .240 hitter. The Dodgers are the clear favorite in the NL West.

Projected record: 92-70

Tampa Bay Rays4. Tampa Bay Rays

How to get to 90 wins: The Rays went 92-71, beating the Rangers in the tiebreaker game to win the wild card, but their Pythagorean record suggests an 87-win team. If they allow the same number of runs they would need to score an additional 30 to project as a 90-win team.

Big offseason moves: Signed RP Grant Balfour, re-signed 1B James Loney, acquired RP Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks, acquired C Ryan Hanigan from the Reds, lost RP Fernando Rodney, acquired IF/OF and RP Brad Boxberger from the Padres for RP Alex Torres, lost RP Fernando Rodney, lost SP Roberto Hernandez, lost OF Kelly Johnson, lost OF Sam Fuld, did not trade SP David Price.

Most intriguing player: Despite all the rumors that the Rays would (or should) trade Price, the hard-throwing left-hander is still here. And why not? The Rays have the ability to win it all and Price is the kind of pitcher you need to do that. He went on the DL last May after nine starts with forearm tightness and a 5.24 ERA. When he came back in July, he was a strike-throwing machine like never before and posted a 2.53 ERA while walking just 13 batters his final 18 starts. Of course, if the Rays fall way back by July, the Price trade rumors will ramp up.

Due for a better year: Right fielder Wil Myers hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs in 88 games to win AL Rookie of the Year. Now he’ll be there a full season. Look for him to double that home run total and slug at least .500.

Due for a worse year: This is why I have the Rays ranked so high. There isn’t an obvious choice here. Pitcher Alex Cobb went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and maybe he’s not quite a sub-3.00 ERA guy, but maybe he is as his strikeout increased with his changeup developing into a true wipeout pitch. Plus, he made just 22 starts after missing time after getting hit by a line drive.

I’m just the messenger: The Rays basically stood pat on offense over the offseason, and after ranking ninth in the AL runs scored, that does put some pressure on Myers to improve and Evan Longoria to remain healthy. If one of those two goes down for any period of time, they could struggle to score runs. One thing the Rays may try to do is run more. Their stolen bases dipped from 134 to 73, so they lost something that has been a big weapon for them over the years. Trouble is, outside of Desmond Jennings, who is doing to do the running? There just isn’t a lot of team speed here.

The final word: I’m picking the Rays to win the AL East primarily because I believe their run prevention will be the best in the league. They allowed 646 runs after allowing 577 in 2012. I think they’ll be closer to that 577 total.

Look at last year’s rotation. Price missed a little more than a month; Cobb missed 10 starts; Chris Archer didn’t join the rotation until June; Matt Moore has the ability to pitch better and deeper into games; yes, it was just announced that Hellickson will miss six to eight weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his elbow but he wasn’t good last year anyway (5.17 ERA); they gave 24 starts to Hernandez who was mediocre as well (4.89 ERA). They have depth with Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome. The bullpen should be solid. They have the best manager in the game.

Projected record: 93-69

Washington Nationals3. Washington Nationals

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 35 more runs, allow 15 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Acquired SP Doug Fister from the Tigers for P Robbie Ray, P Ian Krol and IF Steve Lombardozzi, signed OF Nate McLouth, lost SP Dan Haren, acquired RP Jerry Blevins from the A’s for OF Billy Burns.

Most intriguing player: Remember when Bryce Harper hit .344 with seven home runs in April before crashing into a wall in early May? Now imagine that over six months.

Due for a better season: Anthony Rendon should build on a second rookie season and become one of the best-hitting second basemen in the game.

Due for a worse season: Jayson Werth quietly hit .318/.398/.532 with 25 home runs, ranking third in the NL in slugging percentage and fifth in on-base percentage. He’s turning 35 in May and hadn’t produced at that rate his first two years in Washington so look for a decline.

I’m just the messenger: Yes, I’m falling for the Nationals again even after last year’s disappointing a year, an 86-win season salvaged only by a 34-20 record the final two months. Everybody loved the Fister trade, giving them a great No. 4 starter behind Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg and there are plenty of solid options for the fifth spot. One reason they struggled to score runs last year was the bench was awful, but that’s been improved with the signing of McLouth as a fourth outfielder. But one question remains to be played out: Can they beat the Braves? They went 6-13 against them last year.

The final word: On paper, the Nationals have no obvious weakness, except maybe first baseman Adam LaRoche, coming of a poor .237/.332/.403 season. The rotation should be one of the best in the game, the bullpen is solid, they have power and they have a 21-year-old outfielder who could be an MVP candidate (ZiPS has Harper hitting .279/.363/.523 with 28 home runs, but I’m taking the over). Rookie manager Matt Williams is an unknown factor but I don’t see that as significant negative. This looks like a 90-win team to me.

Projected record: 93-69

Detroit Tigers2. Detroit Tigers

How they can get to 90 wins: Maybe the question should be how they can get to 100 wins. The 2013 Tigers were a better club than the 2012 World Series team, increasing their run differential from plus-56 to plus-172. That’s a 99-win level (although the Tigers won 93, hurt by a 6-13 record in one-run games).

Big offseason moves: Traded 1B Prince Fielder to the Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler, traded SP Doug Fister to the Nationals for P Robbie Ray, P Ian Kroll and IF Steve Lombardozzi, signed RP Joe Nathan, lost RP Joaquin Benoit, lost SS Jhonny Peralta, lost 2B Omar Infante, signed OF Rajai Davis, signed RP Joba Chamberlain.

Due for a better season: Rick Porcello posted a career-best strikeout rate and his best ERA (4.32) since his 3.96 mark as a rookie in 2009. With the Tigers’ revamped infield probably improved defensively at all four positions, look for the ground ball specialist to have his best year yet.

Due for a worse season:
Max Scherzer had a dream season, going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and holding batters to a .198 average as he won the Cy Young Award. Those are going to be numbers difficult to replicate.

I’m just the messenger: The Fister trade was much-criticized, but the Tigers do have Drew Smyly, a guy I think will be very good, ready to step in. Moving Miguel Cabrera over to first base (and off third) and installing Jose Iglesias at shortstop over Peralta will improve that defense. Davis brings more speed to the team and provides a good platoon partner in left for Andy Dirks.

The most overrated signing of the offseason, however? Nathan. He’s very good, yes, but the whole "The Tigers bullpen was horrible" angle was overblown. The Tigers were 82-6 when leading after eight innings; that’s not great (the average team lost 3.5 games) but not horrible. They lost eight games when leading after seven innings (the average team lost 6.7). Yes, there’s that extra-inning record, but that was a result of the team not hitting as much as the bullpen not pitching well (Cabrera, for example, hit .182 in extra innings and Fielder hit .188).

Yes, there was the brutal playoff loss to the Red Sox, when Jim Leyland overmanaged and Benoit gave up the grand slam. Nathan is a good pitcher but the bullpen has also lost two pitchers (Smyly and Benoit) who went 10-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 143 innings.

The final word: There’s no surprise ranking the Tigers here. When you start off with Cabrera, Scherzer, Verlander and Anibal Sanchez you’re in a very good place. It will be interesting to see how much offense the team loses without Fielder and Peralta; Kinsler has hit just .240/.303/.366 on the road the past two seasons, and Torii Hunter will turn 39 in July and remains a key part of the lineup. Still, you have the best hitter in the game and three Cy Young candidates. The Tigers will win their fourth straight AL Central title.

Projected record: 94-68

St. Louis Cardinals1. St. Louis Cardinals

How they can get to 90 wins: They went 97-65 last year, outscoring their opponents by 187 runs. They could score 50 fewer runs and allow 50 more and still project as a 90-win team.

Big offseason moves: Traded 3B David Freese to the Angels for CF Peter Bourjos, signed SS Jhonny Peralta, lost OF Carlos Beltran, signed 2B Mark Ellis, lost RP Edward Mujica, lost RP John Axford, SP Chris Carpenter retired.

Most intriguing player: Michael Wacha was drafted in June of 2012 and by the stretch run of 2013 was shutting down opponents like he was Bob Gibson in 1968. He allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings to beat the Pirates in early September, lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth in his final start of the regular season, took a no-hitter into the eighth against the Pirates in the NLDS, tossed 13 2/3 scoreless against the Dodgers in the NLCS and beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series. He finally tired in Game 6. What does he do for an encore?


Which team will win the most games?


Discuss (Total votes: 28,008)

Due for a better season: Oscar Taveras played just 47 games in the minors, delaying his anticipated arrival to the big leagues. He may start the season in Triple-A, but look for him to take over right field at some point, with Allen Craig eventually moving back to first base and Matt Adams in a bench role.

Due for a worse season: Rookie relievers Seth Maness (2.32 ERA in 62 innings) and Kevin Siegrist (two runs in 39 2/3 innings) developed into a dynamite set-up duo. Maness gets a lot of grounders with his sinker and Siegrist lights up the radar gun from the left side, but you can’t expect them to be that dominant again.

I’m just the messenger: I don’t have anything negative to say here. The biggest weakness the Cardinals had last year was the bench, which we saw come into play in the World Series when Mike Matheny played Shane Robinson in center field and hit him second in Game 5. They’ve improved the bench by acquiring Bourjos and signing Ellis and Peralta (moving Pete Kozma off as the starting shortstop).

If there’s one concern it’s the Cardinals led the league in runs by hitting .330 with runners in scoring position -- the highest mark going back to 1950. (Only 16 teams since 1950 have hit.300.) Based on their component statistics the Cardinals created about 727 runs, so with the expected decline with RISP they’ll have to generate more offense elsewhere.

The final word: While I don’t see the Cardinals as a 100-win lock, what they have is young talent, depth, defense, starting pitching, an ace in Adam Wainwright and a dynamite bullpen. They have two center fielders in Bourjos and Jon Jay; they have multiple options in right field with Craig, Taveras and Jay; they have two options at first base in Craig and Adams; if rookie Kolten Wong struggles at second they have the veteran Ellis; they have Kozma as Peralta insurance; they have Joe Kelly as a No. 6 starter and Carlos Martinez as a No. 7; they have Trevor Rosenthal throwing 100-mph gas in the ninth inning and former closer Jason Motte returning from injury.

They have solutions for just about everything if something goes wrong and that’s what makes them the best team on paper heading into spring training.

Projected record: 95-67
It's Day 4 of our big team rankings package, where you get upset because I ranked your team too low. We're now in the territory of teams I'm projecting to make the playoffs (well, when you get to No. 10).

Team rankings: Nos. 18-13 »

Team rankings: Nos. 24-19 »

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »

Arizona Diamondbacks
12. Arizona Diamondbacks

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 41 more runs, allow 52 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Acquired OF/1B Mark Trumbo from the Angels for SP Tyler Skaggs and CF Adam Eaton (who went to the White Sox), acquired RP Addison Reed from the White Sox for 3B Matt Davidson, re-signed 3B Eric Chavez, traded RP Heath Bell to the Rays, re-signed SP Daniel Hudson to a minor league contract.

Most intriguing player: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished second in the MVP voting after leading the NL with 36 home runs and 125 RBIs and hitting three walk-off home runs. He added 15 steals and a Gold Glove Award. The big year resulted from improved production against right-handers, from .257 and 10 home runs in 2012 to .300 and 25 in 2013. If he gets any better, he'll get that big trophy this season.

Due for a better year: Miguel Montero was a career .275 hitter entering the season, but fell to .230 as his BABIP decreased from a .318 career mark to .282. His line-drive rate remained in line with his career norms so it looks like some bad luck went on.

Due for a worse year: One reason I like the Diamondbacks is there isn't an obvious candidate to have a worse year unless you don't believe in Goldschmidt. Maybe he won't be "Mr. Clutch" in the late innings again, but I believe he's a legit .300, 30-homer guy. Patrick Corbin had a stellar first full season that was surprising (14-8, 3.41), but there's nothing about him that screams fluke.

I'm just the messenger: The D-backs were in on Masahiro Tanaka, with good reason. They want more depth for the rotation as only Corbin and Wade Miley were able to remain healthy all season. They need better production from Brandon McCarthy and the fifth starter right now would be Randall Delgado (with top prospect Archie Bradley behind him). They lost out on Tanaka, but it makes sense for them to sign Ervin Santana, even at the cost of losing their first-round pick. After a good year with Kansas City, Santana should be a solid mid-rotation starter in the NL.

The final word: The Diamondbacks finished .500 last year and while Goldschmidt and Corbin were great, they also suffered through a lot of injuries. I wasn't necessarily a big fan of their offseason moves, especially trading away Eaton, but this is still a team with depth in the lineup if everyone stays healthy. The Diamondbacks have the best defensive right fielder in the game in Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock looked very good on D as well in center. That will help them carry Trumbo's weak glove in left. The infield is also above-average defensively. While Trumbo's OBP won't be pretty, he should give Arizona another 30-homer guy (and maybe 40 as he moves from a tough home run park to a good one). The bullpen will be deeper with Reed closing and they have a good bench with Cody Ross, Cliff Pennington, the loser of the Chris Owings-Didi Gregorius shortstop battle and Chavez.

Projected record: 85-77

Los Angeles Angels
11. Los Angeles Angels

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 43 more runs, allow 51 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Traded 1B Mark Trumbo for SP Tyler Skaggs and SP Hector Santiago, traded OF Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for 3B David Freese, signed RP Joe Smith, signed DH Raul Ibanez.

Most intriguing player: Mike Trout. Or Albert Pujols. Or Josh Hamilton. But definitely not Joe Blanton.

Due for a better year: Pujols and Hamilton. If I were betting on which of the two, however, I'd take Pujols, chalking up last year to the foot injury that eventually required surgery. Remember, even though 2012 wasn't the MVP-caliber Pujols from his Cardinals days, he still pounded out 80 extra-base hits.

Due for a worse year: J.B. Shuck got to play and hit .293/.331/.366. Shuck puts the ball in play -- in his two-plus years in Triple-A he had 111 walks and just 65 strikeouts -- but he'll be back on the bench this year as a backup outfielder and probably won't get 478 plate appearances again.

I'm just the messenger: The Angels seemed to learn their lesson from last year, when they took chances on sore-armed Tommy Hanson and veteran innings-eater Joe Blanton. Hanson wasn't healthy or good and Blanton was, somewhat predictably, shelled in the AL (he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA). This year, they traded Trumbo and his 34 home runs -- but sub-.300 OBP -- for younger arms with more upside in Skaggs and Santiago. They could still use another starter -- I'm not a big believer in Garrett Richards as a starter and Skaggs is unproven -- so I recommend signing Bronson Arroyo, who would be a perfect fit in Angel Stadium.

The final word: Everyone is down on the Angels after they went 78-84, their worst record since 2003. I'm a little more optimistic as they played much better after a disastrous 9-17 April. They obviously need Pujols to bounce back and Hamilton to hit better and one of Skaggs or Santiago to become a reliable No. 3 starter. Oh, and they have the best player in baseball and he's still young enough to get better. They should be in the playoff race.

Projected record: 85-77

Oakland A's
10. Oakland A's

How they can get to 90 wins: They've been there the past two seasons, winning 96 games in 2013 as they ranked third in the AL in both runs scored and runs allowed.

Big offseason moves: Lost SP Bartolo Colon, signed SP Scott Kazmir, lost RP Grant Balfour, acquired RP Jim Johnson from the Orioles for 2B Jemile Weeks, acquired P Drew Pomeranz from the Rockies for P Brett Anderson, acquired RP Luke Gregerson from the Padres for OF Seth Smith, acquired OF Craig Gentry and RP Josh Lindblom from the Rangers for OF Michael Choice, signed IF Nick Punto, signed RP Eric O'Flaherty, lost OF Chris Young.


Which team will win the AL West?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,750)

Most intriguing player: Yoenis Cespedes hit 26 home runs and knocked in 80, but his OPS plummeted from .861 to .737 as he hit just .240 with a .294 OBP. Some felt Cespedes became too homer-hungry and his strikeout rate increased 5 percent from the year before while his walk rate dropped slightly. If he's going to be a big star, he's going to have to play better.

Due for a better season: Cespedes is the obvious choice, but the A's are also counting on better results from Dan Straily, who went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in his first full season. He's a fastball/slider guy, but needs to improve his changeup since his fastball sits in the low 90s.

Due for a worse season: Josh Donaldson was maybe the biggest surprise in baseball, ranking second in the AL in WAR and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. He has a good approach at the plate (76 walks) so I think he'll be very good again, but I'm not sure he's going to post another 8.0 WAR.

I'm just the messenger: The A's made a couple of interesting offseason gambles, betting that Kazmir's first solid season since 2008 will happen again and betting that Johnson -- who led the AL in saves (50) with the Orioles but also blew nine save chances and lost eight games -- will effectively replace Balfour as the closer. GM Billy Beane did seem to hedge a bit on Johnson by also acquiring the solid Gregerson. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are still around so the bullpen should be deep. I'm not sure either move is a net gain, however. Kazmir replaces Colon, who was terrific (2.65 ERA in 190.1 innings), and Johnson is unlikely to improve on Balfour's results.

The final word: It's not so much that I'm down on the A's, but that I can see some regression, in part because the rest of the AL West should be improved. Will Brandon Moss hit 30 home runs again? Will Donaldson be an MVP candidate again? Will Jed Lowrie stay healthy? Is Sonny Gray as good as he looked down the stretch and in the playoffs? On the other hand, you can point to Josh Reddick having a better year and not giving Young (who hit .200) 380 plate appearances again. In the end, I see a rotation that doesn't have a proven No. 1 or No. 2. Maybe Gray and Jarrod Parker will be those guys. If so, the A's will win another division title.

Projected record: 87-75

Cincinnati Reds
9. Cincinnati Reds

How they can get to 90 wins: They went 90-72 in 2013 (with a Pythagorean record of 93-69), ranking third in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed.

Big offseason moves: Lost CF Shin-Soo Choo, SP Bronson Arroyo is still a free agent, signed OF/2B Skip Schumaker.


How many stolen bases will Billy Hamilton end up with?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,239)

Most intriguing player: Speedster Billy Hamilton has been handed the center-field job with the departure of Choo and there's little doubt he'll be one of the most exciting players in the sport. But how valuable will he be? He hit just .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A Louisville and the fear is major league pitchers will be able to bust him inside with fastballs. The obvious comparison is Vince Coleman, who hit .265/.326/.339 in his first six seasons with the Cardinals, averaging 92 steals and 2.0 WAR per season.

Due for a better season: Catcher Devin Mesoraco showed the ability to hit in the minors so look for better numbers than the .238/.287/.362 he flashed in 2013.

Due for a worse season: Mike Leake actually posted a better ERA than Homer Bailey despite striking out three fewer batters per nine innings. He had a 3.37 ERA, but his peripherals suggest a pitcher with a 4.00 ERA.

I'm just the messenger: How are the Reds going to replace Choo's offense? Basically, once you got past Joey Votto's and Choo's ability to get on base (they ranked 1-2 in the National League) and Jay Bruce's power it was a terrible offense. Brandon Phillips drove in 100 runs and while he did hit well with runners in scoring position, his overall line of .261/.310/.396 was the worst of his career. For all his speed, Hamilton won't match Choo's 107 runs if he's not getting on base. The Reds will need somebody -- Ryan Ludwick? Todd Frazier? Mesoraco? -- to have a big year.

The final word: OK, so I don't like the offense, although having a .435 on-base guy in the middle will go a long way to making it respectable. But the reason I like the Reds as a playoff contender is their stellar rotation, one that new manager Bryan Price helped mold as the team's pitching coach. Bailey, Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto are a great 1-2-3 and you can line them up in any order. Leake is a solid 4 or 5 and I'm a big fan of Tony Cingrani, who had the best strikeout rate on the team as a rookie. Throw in a deep bullpen and the Reds are a good bet to allow the fewest runs in the league.

Projected record: 87-75

Atlanta Braves
8. Atlanta Braves

How they can get to 90 wins: They went 96-66 by allowing 548 runs -- the second-lowest total since the 1980s (not counting the 1994 strike season). Only the 2011 Phillies allowed fewer since 1990.

Big offseason moves: Lost C Brian McCann, lost SP Tim Hudson, lost SP Paul Maholm, acquired C/OF Ryan Doumit from the Twins for P Sean Gilmartin, signed SP Gavin Floyd.

Most intriguing player: Now that he has the big new contract, the pressure will be on Freddie Freeman to prove last year was a real improvement in ability.

Due for a better season: B.J. Upton has to be better than a .184 hitter ... right?

Due for a worse season: The bullpen led the majors in ERA and had three relievers pitch at least 65 innings with an ERA under 1.80. Craig Kimbrel is awesome, but I'm not sure the rest of the 'pen will put up the same lethal numbers.


How will the Braves do this season?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,500)

I'm just the messenger: The Braves' run prevention was historic and the trap is to assume it will be just as good. After all, the defense -- led by the wondrous Andrelton Simmons -- should be very good and starters Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are all young. But they could have something similar to the 2012 Phillies, with their great trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. After their historic performance in 2011, the Phillies allowed 151 more runs the following season. I don't believe that severe of an increase will happen to the Braves, but you can surely bet they will allow a significantly higher total.

The final word: Braves fans aren't going to like where I've ranked them and they'll point out that the offense is likely to score more runs with betters years from both Uptons, Jason Heyward and even the much-maligned Dan Uggla. I can see that, but I also don't see Chris Johnson competing for a batting title again or Evan Gattis replacing McCann all that well behind the plate.

Predicted record: 90-72

Texas Rangers
7. Texas Rangers

How they can get to 90 wins: The Rangers and Rays are the only two teams to win 90 or more games the past four seasons. After leading the AL West in late August, the Rangers slumped in early September, rallied to win their final seven games and tie the Rays for the second wild card, but lost 5-2 in the tiebreaker game.

Big offseason moves: Traded 2B Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for 1B Prince Fielder, signed OF Shin-Soo Choo, lost RP Joe Nathan, lost RF Nelson Cruz, lost C A.J. Pierzynski, DH Lance Berkman retired, lost OF David Murphy, acquired OF Michael Choice from the A's for OF Craig Gentry, re-signed SP Colby Lewis to a minor league deal, signed C J.P. Arencibia.

Most intriguing player: Prince Fielder had the lowest home run output of his career last season, hitting 25 for the Tigers, and saw his average drop from .313 in 2012 to .279. He then struggled in the postseason for the second straight year and the Tigers seemed thankful to dump Fielder's remaining contract on the Rangers. Fielder hit .272 against fastballs, leading to concerns that his bat speed has declined (he hit .348 against fastballs in 2012, .323 in 2011 and .296 in 2010). Moving to Texas should help, but is Prince on the decline or did he just have a mediocre (for him) season?

Due for a better season: Jurickson Profar, who takes over for Kinsler at second base and after spending a season in a utility role, will get to play every day. Profar was the game's No. 1 prospect heading into 2012. Expect him to shine.

Due for a worse season: Derek Holland is expected to miss the first half of the season after having knee surgery in early January. The surgery was required when he says his dog ran into him while he climbed stairs at his house. The dog's name? Wrigley. Curse you, Cubs.

I'm just the messenger: The Rangers had to open a slot for Profar and their first-base production with Mitch Moreland was subpar last year, so the Fielder trade -- even with his contract -- is a good gamble in my book. The more interesting question: Who plays first? Moreland is the better defender, but will Ron Washington have the guts to use Fielder at DH if Fielder wants to play first base? In the big scheme of things maybe it's not a big deal. You want to keep the Big Guy happy, but the Rangers are probably the better team if Fielder DHs.

The final word: The additions of Choo and Fielder will help an offense that had slipped the past couple of years -- GM Jon Daniels added two hitters who were fourth and 28th in the majors in OBP. Rangers left fielders hit just .249/.309/.413, numbers Choo should easily surpass, and their DHs (the guys Fielder essentially replaces) had a .698 OPS. The Rangers should score more runs, they have the starter who may be the Cy Young favorite in Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison should be back after missing last season, Martin Perez is developing and they have a deep bullpen that had the second-best ERA (2.91) in the AL last season. Even with Holland out, I like them to get back on top in the West.

Projected record: 90-72
It's the third part of our pre-spring training series. One thing that's tougher than you probably realize: predicting records. Think about it: Every team looks better on paper. Most of them plugged the obvious holes from 2013 (or attempted to), everybody is essentially healthy and every young player is projected to improve. Try it. Add up wins and losses for every team. You need 2,430 in each column.

Team rankings: Nos. 24-19 »

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »

Kansas City Royals
18. Kansas City Royals

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 31 more runs, allow the same. Sounds simple enough, right? Except the Royals allowed the fewest runs in the AL in 2013 with 601 -- the only AL club in the past 20 years to allow fewer was the 2012 Rays with 577. Before that, you have to go back to the 1990 Oakland A's, who allowed 570. So odds are the Royals will allow more runs in 2014, which means they'll probably have to increase their offense by more than 31 runs.

Big offseason moves: Acquired RF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for P Will Smith, signed SP Jason Vargas, re-signed SP Bruce Chen, signed 2B Omar Infante, acquired 3B Danny Valencia from the Orioles for OF David Lough, will likely lose free agent SP Ervin Santana.

Most intriguing player: Eric Hosmer. Through the first two months of 2013 he was hitting .261 with one home run and the Eric Hosmer bandwagon was as quiet as the Denver Broncos' locker room at halftime of the Super Bowl. Then George Brett gave a few batting tips or something clicked and Hosmer looked more like the rookie of 2011 and he hit .318 with 16 home runs the rest of the way. He's just 24 so there's still hope he'll turn into that 30-homer first baseman.

Due for a better year: Alcides Escobar hit a miserable .234 with an even more miserable .259 OBP, which he backed up with a complete lack of power. He created about 41 runs less than the average hitter -- the worst in the majors. He can't be worse because if he hits that poorly again he'll lose his job.

Due for a worse year: Jeremy Guthrie went 15-12 with a not horrible 4.04 ERA even though he allowed 236 hits in 211.2 innings and surrendered 30 home runs. His strikeout rate (4.7 per nine innings) is right on the edge of being too low for a major league starter.


Will the Royals make their first playoff appearance since 1985?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,466)

I'm just the messenger: The Royals ranked last in the AL with 112 home runs and while home runs aren't everything -- the Cardinals led the NL in runs despite ranking 13th in home runs and in 2012 had a very good offense despite finishing last in the NL in home runs -- they are nice to have. Especially in the AL. The offseason additions of Infante and Aoki plugged holes (and Valencia can platoon with Mike Moustakas at third base), but you have to wonder where the power will come from.

The final word: I feel bad picking the Royals where I am because it would be great to finally see them back in the postseason. They also have a lot of things going for them: a terrific bullpen, a young core of hitters that could improve, a solid workhorse starter in James Shields. On the positive side, you also can point to how bad Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza were in their 39 starts, so while losing Santana hurts, they could get better production from the No. 5 spot, whether it's Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura. But I see a pitching staff that is going to regress, maybe a lot, and an offense that won't have enough firepower. I hope I'm wrong.

Prediction: 79-83

San Diego Padres
17. San Diego Padres

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 61 more runs, allow 99 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Josh Johnson, signed RP Joaquin Benoit, traded RP Luke Gregerson to the A's for OF Seth Smith, acquired RP Alex Torres from the Rays.

Most intriguing player: Andrew Cashner. After various ups and downs in his two years since coming over from the Cubs, including an offseason hunting accident, Cashner finally put his explosive fastball/slider combo together in the second half as he posted a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts. A key was an improved changeup -- batters hit .287 against it in the first half but .206 in the second half. With that pitch helping to neutralize left-handed batters, Cashner may take another big leap forward.

Due for a better season: The starting rotation. Gone is Edinson Volquez and his 27 starts and 6.01 ERA. Gone is Clayton Richard and his 7.01 ERA in 11 starts. Gone is Jason Marquis and his 72/68 SO/BB ratio. Yes, Johnson is a gamble, but the most important thing is the depth: Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, with prospect Matt Wisler soon to be ready. From depth the Padres are hoping they'll find quality.

Due for a worse season: One reason the Padres could surprise is that there isn't an obvious candidate to have a worse year. Maybe Stults won't reach 200 innings again, but the Padres are full of players who could improve -- Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal.

I'm just the messenger: The Padres' fourth- and sixth-highest paid players are closer Huston Street and new setup guy Benoit. The Padres are spending 16 percent of their payroll on those two guys. Not that they're bad pitchers, but the Padres have proved year after year that they can build a cheap and effective bullpen in Petco Park. It just seems like a strange way to use their somewhat limited resources.

The final word: It's easy to dismiss the Padres because they lack a big star -- Gyorko led the team with 63 RBIs last season -- but the Padres are an interesting sleeper pick. They'll mix and match with platoons at several positions. If Headley can produce more like 2012, when he led the NL in RBIs (115), and if Johnson can provide 25 good starts (a big if at this point after his injury-riddled season in Toronto last year), don't be shocked if the Padres sneak into a wild-card position.

Prediction: 80-82

Baltimore Orioles
16. Baltimore Orioles

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 33 more runs, allow 21 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Orioles fans are still waiting for one. Acquired OF David Lough from the Royals for 3B Danny Valencia, traded RP Jim Johnson to the A's for 2B Jemile Weeks, signed RP Ryan Webb.

Most intriguing player: Chris Davis. "Crush" had a monster season, leading the AL with 53 home runs, 138 RBIs and 370 total bases. He added 42 doubles (and a triple) to give him 96 extra-base hits, the sixth-most in AL history behind three Babe Ruth seasons, Albert Belle's 1995 explosion and Jimmie Foxx in 1932. Included in those numbers were MLB-leading totals of 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in close and late situations. If the Orioles had made the playoffs, he probably would have walked home with MVP honors.

Due for a better year: What happened to Matt Wieters? He did hit 22 home runs, but his OBP dropped all the way to .287, thanks to a .214/.270/.358 mark from the left side. Wieters' splits have been so pronounced the past three seasons -- his wOBA is .405 from the right side, .291 from the left side -- that he should probably just give up switch-hitting.

Due for a worse year: Davis. He hit .245/.339/.515 in the second half. Was it because he was getting pitched around because of his torrid start? Not really. In the first half, 44.2 percent of pitches he saw were in the strike zone; in the second half, 43.3 percent. In the first half, 33 percent of his fly balls left the park; in the second half, it was a more normal 20.5 percent (he was 24.1 percent in 2012).

I'm just the messenger: Who closes? After trading Johnson and backing out on a deal with Grant Balfour, the Orioles are left without an obvious closer candidate. The sabermetrician in me says it shouldn't matter, but in the case of the Orioles, it may matter, because Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter, the top two candidates, both struggled mightily against left-handed batters in 2013. Part of their value came from Buck Showalter's ability to match them up. But you don't match up with closers. I can see the ninth inning being just as problematic as last year, when the O's lost nine games they led after eight innings (the most in the majors).

The final word: The biggest issue in projecting the Orioles to win 90 or 92 games is who is going to improve? You can't expect Davis to play better, Adam Jones does what he does, J.J. Hardy does J.J. Hardy things and so on. Maybe Wieters gets on base a little more, maybe Manny Machado improves at the plate. But the rotation is still a bunch of No. 3 and 4 starters, there is power but OBP issues in the lineup and closer could be a problem. I see a .500 team.

Prediction: 81-81

Cleveland Indians
15. Cleveland Indians

How they can get to 90 wins: Well, they're already there. Their 2013 actual record was 92-70, their Pythagorean record 90-72 (a 10-2 record in extra-inning games helped). The Indians were 43 runs above average on offense and 40 runs better than average on defense, so their success was split down the middle (not factoring in park effects and Cleveland played as a pitcher's park in 2013, so the offense was a little more valuable than the pitching/defense).

Big offseason moves: SP Ubaldo Jimenez remains a free agent, lost SP Scott Kazmir, signed OF David Murphy, signed RP John Axford, lost RP Joe Smith, lost RP Chris Perez, traded OF Drew Stubbs to the Rockies for P Josh Outman.

Most intriguing player: Carlos Santana. With Yan Gomes emerging as a defensive force behind the plate (he hit .294/.345/.481 last season), Santana is no longer the starting catcher. He's trying to learn to play third base in winter ball, but could end up as a super utility player at third, first, DH and catcher if he can't handle third on a regular basis.

Due for a better year: The Indians signed former Rangers outfielder David Murphy believing he'll bounce back from hitting .220. Mark Simon examined why that's likely.

Due for a worse year: Ryan Raburn had a huge year off the bench, slugging 16 home runs and driving in 55 runs in 277 plate appearances (he slugged .675 with runners in scoring position). Good luck getting that production again.

I'm just the messenger: The red flag for me in Cleveland's run to the playoffs was that the bullpen was 19th in the majors in ERA and yet went 33-16. A few of those wins came after blown saves, but that's still an impressive W-L record for a mediocre relief corps. The Indians also lost Smith and replaced him with the erratic Axford. While Cody Allen appears ready to step in as the closer, they also need Axford to provide quality innings in the setup role.

The final word: The biggest issue, of course, is replacing the 340 solid innings they received from Jimenez and Kazmir (assuming Jimenez doesn't return). They'll need Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to start 32 times instead of 24 and somebody to take over the fifth slot in the rotation. Other than Raburn and maybe Gomes, nobody on offense had a career year, but it's also hard to project much improvement (third base was the weakest spot with a combined .218 average). I just have too many concerns about the rotation and the bullpen to see a repeat trip to the playoffs.

Projected record: 82-80

<a href=14. New York Yankees

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 86 more runs, allow 20 fewer. The Yankees won 85 games last season, but their true talent level in 2013 was much lower as they were outscored by 21 runs.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Masahiro Tanaka, signed CF Jacoby Ellsbury, signed C Brian McCann, signed RF Carlos Beltran, signed IF/OF Kelly Johnson, signed 2B Brian Roberts, re-signed IF Brendan Ryan, RP Mariano Rivera retired, SP Andy Pettitte retired, lost SP Phil Hughes, lost RP Boone Logan, 3B Alex Rodriguez suspended for season.

Most intriguing player: Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract on top of the $20 million posting fee. At that price, he better be intriguing.

Due for a better season: Not including the injury comebacks of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, how about CC Sabathia? Was his 4.78 ERA the beginning of a decline or just a bad year? He's 33, there's a lot of mileage on that left arm, his average fastball velocity dipped 2.7 mph from 2011 and he allowed a career-high in home runs (28), but you never want to bet against CC.


How many games will the Yankees win?


Discuss (Total votes: 18,899)

Due for a worse season: Jacoby Ellsbury's season-by-season WAR totals: 3.0, 2.7, -0.1, 8.1, 1.0, 5.8. Yes, injuries were the factors in 2010 and 2012, but that's the point. You have no idea what to expect. Can you bet on him staying healthy?

I'm just the messenger: Signing all those big free agents plus essentially adding Jeter and Teixeira has created hopes in the Bronx that 2014 will be a repeat of 2009, when they followed a non-playoff year with a World Series title. But no team has won with a 40-year-old shortstop and Teixeira was good, but not great in 2011 and 2012 anyway.

The final word: Hey, the Yankees will at least be far more interesting than last year (no offense to Jayson Nix, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells or Lyle Overbay). But just how good are the additions? According to Baseball-Reference, McCann was worth 2.2 WAR and Beltran 2.4. Tanaka and Ellsbury should be big upgrades. But will that be enough? Don't forget that they've lost a closer, a starting pitcher who had a good year, the infield is old and they're counting on 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda to give them 200 innings. It all adds up to a wide range of possible outcomes. The team will be better than last year, but they could actually end up winning fewer games. Such is baseball.

Projected record: 84-78

<a href=13. Pittsburgh Pirates

How they can get to 90 wins: The Pirates went 94-68, but outscored their opponents by just 54 runs. Their totals of runs scored and runs allowed suggests a team that should have gone 88-74. Barring the same "lucky" distribution of runs, the Pirates will need to score 18 more runs to win 90 games if they allow the same number of runs -- or 55 more to win 94 games again.

Big offseason moves: SP A.J. Burnett remains a free agent, lost 1B/RF Garrett Jones, lost RF Marlon Byrd and 1B Justin Morneau, signed SP Edinson Volquez.

Most intriguing player: Well, Andrew McCutchen was the NL MVP last season, and is one of the most exciting players in the game and a true franchise cornerstone at the peak of his abilities. And then there's Gerrit Cole, who could blossom into a franchise pitcher after posting a 3.22 ERA as a rookie.

Due for a better season: The Pirates better hope it's Wandy Rodriguez, who made just 12 starts last year before going down with forearm tightness and tendinitis. With the likely departure of Burnett and second-half collapse of Jeff Locke, the rotation has some question marks behind Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton.


Which 2013 playoff team is most likely to miss the playoffs?


Discuss (Total votes: 19,297)

Due for a worse season: Mark Melancon had a 1.39 ERA and allowed just one home run in 71 innings, serving as Jason Grilli's setup man and then replacing him as closer when Grilli went down with a right forearm strain in late July. In fact, the entire Pirates bullpen was basically lights out. After ranking fourth in the majors in relief innings, however, will the pen deliver an encore performance?

I'm just the messenger: The Pirates had an Opening Day payroll in 2013 of $66.8 million. Right now, their estimated payroll for 2014 will be about $70 million. Each MLB team will receive an additional $25 million or so in national TV money over 2013 (although Pirates president Frank Coonelly said it's not accurate that teams will receive that amount this season). Pirates' attendance will surely go up after last year's playoff run. Coonelly has also said the Pirates' local TV deal with ROOT sports is in the top half of all MLB teams and that the reported figure of $18 million per year has been "grossly understated." While the decision to not sign Burnett is defensible, it still begs the question of why the Pirates didn't do anything to build on last year's momentum.

The final word: The answer, it seems, is that the Pirates are willing to take a step backward in order to take a step forward. With prospects such as outfielder Gregory Polanco and starter Jameson Taillon perhaps ready to contribute at some point this year and others such as Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Alen Hanson coming up behind them, the Pirates have talent on the way, some of it potentially top-line talent. Still, it's just potential at this point. Anyway, I see the Pirates allowing more than 577 runs again -- even given their outstanding defense. The offense lacks the upside to make up the difference.

Projected record: 84-78
Let's move on to the next six teams in my pre-spring training power rankings. We're getting into the area of "Hey, if things break right any of those teams could be the surprise team of 2014" territory.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »

New York Mets
24. New York Mets

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 73 more runs, allow 72 fewer. Of course, allowing 72 fewer runs will be much more difficult without Matt Harvey.

Big offseason moves: Signed P Bartolo Colon, OF Curtis Granderson and OF Chris Young.

Most intriguing player: Zack Wheeler showcased electric stuff in his 17 starts as a rookie, although the command was shaky at times and the offspeed stuff inconsistent. With Harvey sidelined for the season, the spotlight turns to Wheeler. He has to keep his composure and not try to do too much, improve his curveball or changeup and throw more first-pitch strikes. He has ace potential, although his control may never reach the level needed to get there. The Mets will be happy if he develops into a No. 2 who can give you 200 innings.

Due for a better year: I'd say Ike Davis but he's always due for a better year and Lucas Duda is probably the better bet to win the first-base job with Davis dealt at the end of spring training. Ruben Tejada is the shortstop by default, barring a last-minute Stephen Drew signing and he should bounce back from a miserable .202/.259/.260 line. How quickly Mets fans forget that he hit .289/.333/.351 in 2012.

Due for a worse year: The Mets signed Colon to help chew up innings in the absence of Harvey, but no way will he repeat the 2.65 ERA he had with Oakland last season. He'll be 41 in May and doesn't appear to be keen on eating green leafy vegetables and protein shakes. Colon pumps fastball after fastball, getting just enough late movement to induce weak contact. Still, his peripherals didn't match the ERA -- he had a 3.43 ERA the year before with similar numbers -- so I expect a decline in both results and workload (he pitched his most innings -- 190.1 -- since 2005).


Will the Mets finish over .500 for the first time since 2008?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,593)

I'm just the messenger: While the Mets did dip into the free-agent market to sign Granderson and Young to help in the outfield, remember that in a best-case scenario Granderson really only replaces the production of Marlon Byrd, who hit .285/.330/.518. Granderson did hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012 and he's only 33, so it's not so much that I'm knocking him as pointing out that Byrd had a very good season going when he was traded to the Pirates in late August.

The final word: It's not so much that the Mets are horrible, but that I have trouble seeing a lot of upside here. You're relying on a fat, 41-year-old starter, a guy coming off an injury-riddled year in Granderson, a guy in Young who hit .200, a shortstop who hit .202 last season, a catcher in Travis d'Arnaud who has never been able to stay healthy and a bullpen that doesn't look that deep. Maybe things come together, but I just don't see enough star-level talent here to crack .500.

Prediction: 73-89

Colorado Rockies
23. Colorado Rockies

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 72 more runs, allow 71 fewer. The Rockies were second in the NL in runs scored, so they just need to improve the pitching, right? No, no and no. They need to score more runs as well, especially on the road, where the Rockies went 29-52. Colorado's problem has never been winning at Coors Field; it's been winning away from Coors Field.

Big offseason moves: 1B Todd Helton retired, signed 1B Justin Morneau, traded CF Dexter Fowler to the Astros for SP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes, acquired SP Brett Anderson from the A's for P Drew Pomeranz, signed RP Boone Logan, acquired OF Drew Stubbs from the Indians for P Josh Outman.

Most intriguing players: Is this the year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez win an MVP award? Tulo is entering his age-29 season and CarGo his age-28 season. You get the feeling it's now or never for these two to lead the Rockies back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Of course, you have to stay on the field to win an MVP trophy and the two combined to miss 88 games in 2013. And that was a good year for them.

Due for a better season: The back end of the rotation. If there's reason for optimism in Colorado, this is it. The Rockies gave 26 starts to Chad Bettis, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, Collin McHugh and Pomeranz and they went a combined 0-19. They also gave 24 combined starts to Jon Garland (5.82 ERA) and Jeff Francis (6.27 ERA). So they just need the back of the rotation to be respectable.

Due for a worse season: Michael Cuddyer hit .331 to win the NL batting title at the age of 34. Considering he'd never hit .300 before and hit just .260 his first year with the Rockies, he became one of the unlikeliest players to ever win a batting championship.

I'm just the messenger: The Rockies shuffled a lot of deck chairs, but still failed to make two obvious moves. They need to upgrade second base, where DJ LeMahieu hit an empty .280. And with Helton retiring, they should have moved Cuddyer to first base and out of right field, where his range is a liability. Instead, they signed Morneau for two years and $12.5 million and traded Fowler for Lyles, a guy likely to struggle in Coors. Fowler doesn't make that much more than Morneau ($7.85 million in 2014 and then arbitration in 2015), so that transaction didn't make any sense.

Final word: LaTroy Hawkins is the closer. Need I say more? OK, I will. I can certainly envision a scenario where things work out considering how bad the fourth and fifth starters were a year ago. If Tulo and CarGo actually remain healthy for 145 games apiece, Nolan Arenado improves at the plate and Cuddyer repeats his monster season, the offense could be fine. But I just see too many ifs here with guys like Morneau and Anderson to see a playoff team.

Prediction: 74-88

Seattle Mariners
22. Seattle Mariners

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 99 more runs, allow 114 fewer. Robinson Cano ain't doing that all by himself.

Big offseason moves: Signed 2B Robinson Cano, 1B Corey Hart, acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RP Carter Capps, re-signed OF Franklin Gutierrez, signed SP Scott Baker, lost OF Raul Ibanez. DH Kendrys Morales is still a free agent.

Most intriguing player: Cano. So many questions. How will he do away from the limelight of New York? Now that he has his huge contract, will he press? Will he give max effort when he's playing in front of 14,000 fans on a cold night in Seattle in April? Will he hit as well away from Yankee Stadium? Does he have the drive to prove himself as one of the game's greatest second baseman ever? Will he cry when he sees the rest of the lineup around him? Will Jay Z come to Mariners games? Will Cano buy a house next to Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos?

Due for a better year: Justin Smoak? Just kidding. The bullpen ranked 29th in the majors with a 4.58 ERA even though it ranked fourth in strikeout percentage. Strikeouts usually lead to success, so expect better results (the Mariners lost six games they led heading into the ninth inning and went 6-15 in extra innings).

Due for a worse year: Hisashi Iwakuma was a revelation, performing better than Felix Hernandez and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He was as good as Hernandez, but there was some luck involved. Nineteen of the 25 home runs he allowed were solo home runs and he'll be hard-pressed to repeat the .184 average he allowed with runners in scoring position. In Japan, he also had a history of following up good years with years in which he battled injuries. His innings from 2008 through 2011 were 201, 169, 201 and 119. He threw 219.2 in 2013.

I'm just the messenger: According to Defensive Runs Saved, the Mariners were the second-worst defensive team in the majors at 99 runs below average (only the Phillies were worse). The eye test confirms this was the case. The major culprit was an outfield that was predictably horrid at minus-70 runs. Yes, that was what happens when you play Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse out there on a regular basis and move a second baseman to center field midseason. So what did the Mariners do in the offseason? They acquired two first basemen/outfielders with bad knees and are rumored to be interested in the slow-footed Nelson Cruz. Talk about not learning from your mistakes.

Final word: Yes, signing Cano will make the Mariners interesting at the start of the season. But ... well, what else is there? The Mariners are desperately counting on their young players -- Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley (is he still a young player?), Justin Smoak (ditto) and Michael Saunders (ditto) to improve -- and all have huge question marks. They're counting on two rookies in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton for the rotation. They hope Hart and Morrison are healthy, but even then they're basically replacing the production Morales provided last year. Cano should be great, but I'm having trouble seeing where the improvement is going to come from unless Walker and Paxton are much better than anticipated.

Prediction: 74-88

Milwaukee Brewers
21. Milwaukee Brewers

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 75 more runs, allow 54 fewer. Playing in Miller Park, which helps hitters, the Brewers have to score more than 640 runs. They scored 721 when they made the playoffs in 2011 and even scored 776 in 2012 when the bullpen imploded.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Matt Garza, acquired P Will Smith from the Royals for RF Norichika Aoki, signed 1B Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Cecil Cooper, Franklin Stubbs and Greg Brock to minor league contracts.

Most intriguing player: Ryan Braun. No offense to Scooter Gennett.

Due for a better year: Braun. What to expect? I think he'll return to being one of the best players in the game, maybe even the 30-30 guy he was in 2011 and 2012 when he finished first and then second in the MVP voting.

Due for a worse year: Carlos Gomez. A revelation last year when he hit 24 home runs, stole 40 bases, hit a career-high .284 while winning a Gold Glove, it's hard to improve on a season in which you led all NL position players in Baseball-Reference WAR (at 8.4, just ahead of Andrew McCutchen's 8.2). But much of that value was tied up in his defense in center field, which by all accounts was tremendous. Gomez was credited with 38 Defensive Runs Saved, the most since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking DRS in 2003. Gomez's offense also tailed off a bit in the second half. He's a good player; I'm just not sure he's one of the top three or four players in the league.

I'm just the messenger: Brewers first basemen ranked last in the majors in OPS with a disgraceful .630 mark -- a figure so low that only three full-time position players were worse in 2013. So how do they attempt to fix this issue? Well, they signed the first baseman from the team with the 28th-worst OPS (Overbay).

Final word: I've been burned by the Brewers the past two seasons so I'm officially off the bandwagon. I see the same kind of team as last year -- top heavy with Braun, Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy, too right-handed and one that has serious depth issues. Now that I'm picking against them, they'll probably win 90 games.

Prediction: 76-86

<a href=
20. San Francisco Giants

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 60 more runs, allow 81 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Re-signed RF Hunter Pence, SP Tim Lincecum and RP Javier Lopez, signed SP Tim Hudson, signed OF Mike Morse.

Most intriguing player: Buster Posey. Will 2012 be Posey's career year? After hitting .336/.408/.549 in 2012, he dropped to .294/.371/.450, not that there's anything wrong with that from a catcher. After playing 148 games two years in a row, Posey looked tired in the second half and hit just .244 with two home runs. He did start 16 games at first and five at DH, so Bruce Bochy did give him rest from squatting, but playing him at first also means sitting Brandon Belt, who had slightly better numbers than Posey.

Due for a better year: Matt Cain went 8-10, 4.00, a big drop from the 2.93 ERA over the previous four years. Cain struggled early on with the long ball, three times allowing three home runs in a game through his first nine starts. From June 7 on, however, he looked more like the old Matt Cain, with a 3.03 ERA. His days as a 220-inning workhorse may be over, but look for his ERA to decrease this season.


How many games will the Giants win?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,122)

Due for a worse year: Hunter Pence's totals of 27 home runs and 99 RBIs were boosted by a huge September in which he hit 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs. Pence is a solid, durable player, and the $90 million the Giants gave him wasn't absurd, but with 4.1 WAR, 2013 may prove to be his best season.

I'm just the messenger: People talk about all that went wrong with the Giants in 2013 -- Angel Pagan's injury, Vogelsong's injury, Barry Zito's general awfulness. But you know what? A lot actually went right. Six regulars played 140 or more games, three starters made 30 starts, Marco Scutaro played well at 37, Belt increased his power and the bullpen was pretty solid.

The final word: Nobody likes veterans more than Giants general manager Brian Sabean. He proved that again by signing free agents Hudson and Morse and bringing Lincecum back on a two-year, $35 million deal even though he's been worth -2.3 WAR over the past two seasons. The deals could work out, but the Giants are betting Hudson recovers from his broken ankle, Cain bounces back, Lincecum pitches like it's 2011 and Vogelsong staying healthy and pitching well. That's too many ifs for me.

Prediction: 78-84

Toronto Blue Jays
19. Toronto Blue Jays

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 51 more runs, allow 81 fewer runs.

Big offseason moves: None. Yet. Many expect the Blue Jays to sign one of the remaining free-agent pitchers. Signed C Dioner Navarro.

Most intriguing player: Jose Bautista. Does the slugger who finished fourth in the 2010 MVP vote and third in 2011 have another big season left in him? Bautista has played just 92 and 118 games the past two seasons, although he still swatted 55 home runs in that time. He still has 40-homer power in his bat but needs to stay healthy. And needs to quit his constant bickering with the umpires.

Due for a better season: The team medical staff. Compare that to what we just said about the Giants. The Blue Jays had just three players reach 120 games played, and unfortunately one of those was J.P. Arencibia, who had a .227 OBP.

Due for a worse season: Relievers Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar both made the All-Star team but struggled with injury issues and results in the second half, Cecil pitching 19 games with a 5.65 ERA, Delabar in 17 games with a 7.02 ERA. The Blue Jays may need some of the other bullpen arms -- like Sergio Santos -- to step up in case the All-Stars don't return to their first-half form.


Which of the following teams is the best bet to make the playoffs?


Discuss (Total votes: 17,944)

I'm just the messenger: The Blue Jays haven't ranked in the top half of the AL in runs allowed since 2008 (when they allowed the fewest). Guys like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez aren't the perfect solutions, but Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has painted himself into a corner. With a win-now lineup of veterans like Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Adam Lind, the Jays need to build a rotation that can win now. And that means taking a chance on at least one free agent ... and not counting on Brandon Morrow to actually make 30 starts again.

The final word: It was just one year ago that the Blue Jays were World Series favorites (oh, how everyone got suckered by that deal with the Marlins), so there is clearly some level of talent here. But the Jays have a wide swing of possibilities considering all the injury issues of 2013 and a rotation that remains a mess behind Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. I'm taking the under but wouldn't be surprised on the over.

Prediction: 78-84
The Super Bowl is behind us (best Super Bowl ever!) so it's time to officially start thinking of spring training. In fact, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers will report at the end of this week to get an early jump since they have to make the trip to Australia to begin the season on March 22. I'm going to do quick capsule summaries of all 30 teams, a look at how I view each team heading into spring training. I'll rank them from worst to best, six teams a day through Friday.

For each team, I include how much they need to improve in terms of scoring runs and preventing runs to get to 90 wins, using the Pythagorean theory of winning percentage. The numbers I present are just one way to get there, of course, since it's a sliding scale. Ninety wins doesn't guarantee a playoff spot -- the Rangers and Rays tied for the second wild card in the AL with 91 wins last year and the Rays won 90 in 2012 and missed the playoffs -- but it'll put you in the race.

Houston Astros
30. Houston Astros

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 130 more runs, allow 193 fewer. The Astros have managed to lose 100-plus games three years in a row … and get worse each season. Needless to say, they remain a long way from being competitive.

Big offseason moves: Acquired CF Dexter Fowler from the Rockies for SP Jordan Lyles, signed SP Scott Feldman, RP Jesse Crain, RP Matt Albers, RP Chad Qualls.

Most intriguing player: George Springer. The Astros should finally start seeing the fruits of a farm system Keith Law just rated the best in the majors, starting with Springer, the 11th overall pick in 2011 out of Connecticut who soared up the prospect lists with a monster season in the high minors in which he hit 37 home runs and stole 45 bases. The strikeouts -- 161 in 135 games -- are the big concern, but Springer still hit .303 because he makes such hard contact. He has the range to push Fowler out of center field. He may spend a few weeks in Triple-A to save on his service time, but he’ll be up before long.

Due for a better year: Ummm ... the entire team? The Astros became the first team since the expansion Mets to lose 100 games three seasons in a row. Those Mets actually did it four in a row and five out of six.

Due for a worse year: Jarred Cosart posted a superficially impressive 1.95 ERA in 10 starts even though he walked more batters (35) than he struck out (33). That’s the lowest ERA since World War II for a pitcher who made at least 10 starts and had more walks than strikeouts. The stuff is good with a plus fastball that sits 93 to 96 mph and he generated a high rate of ground balls, which helped limit batters to three home runs in 60 innings. Still, his BABIP ran very low for a ground-ball pitcher (.246), who usually allow more hits than fly ball pitchers. He may be good, but he’s going to have to improve that strikeout-to-walk ratio.

I'm just the messenger: When Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager, the Astros set up a long-term plan that gutted the entire organization and basically started over as an expansion team. It's led to three miserable seasons on the field but has helped the team rebuild its farm system. The Astros will make North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon their third straight No. 1 overall pick this June (assuming Rodon stays healthy) following Carlos Correa and Mark Appel. It wouldn't shock me to see them make it four in a row next June. Here's the issue: Should a team be rewarded for essentially trying not to win at the major league level?


Will the Astros lose 100 games again?


Discuss (Total votes: 26,644)

The final word: Hey, at least Astros fans can dream of this lineup in a few years:

LF Delino Deshields Jr.
SS Carlos Correa
CF George Springer
1B Jonathan Singleton
RF Domingo Santana
DH Rio Ruiz
C Jason Castro
3B Matt Dominguez
2B Jose Altuve

SP Carlos Rodon
SP Mark Appel
SP Mike Foltynewicz
SP Jarred Cosart
SP Vincent Velazquez
CL Lance McCullers Jr.

Prediction: 61-101

Philadelphia Phillies
29. Philadelphia Phillies

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 75 more runs, allow 142 fewer. The Phillies were awful last year. They bring back the same aging core. Yes, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are a great 1-2 combo. But doesn't that point to how bad this team is? Lee and Hamels were terrific in 2013, and the Phillies still lost 89 games.

Big offseason moves: Signed RF Marlon Byrd, signed Cuban RHP Miguel Gonzalez, re-signed C Carlos Ruiz.

Most intriguing player: Domonic Brown. He finally had his breakout season, hitting .272 with 27 home runs and making the All-Star team. It wasn't a great season, as his defense was below average and he didn't walk a whole lot. At 26, will he improve? He hit 12 home runs in May -- without drawing a single walk. He hit just four home runs in the second half, but also missed time in September with an Achilles' tendon injury. What is he, exactly? We'll find out in 2014.

Due for a better season: Well, that's kind of the problem, isn't it? There isn't an obvious guy you should expect to play better. OK, maybe Ryan Howard plays more than 80 games and hits more than 11 home runs, but even then, how much value does he offer? He hasn't slugged .500 since 2010.

Due for a worse season: Byrd washed out of the majors in 2012, but he hit .291/.336/.511 in 2013 with a career-high 24 home runs last season. But he's 36 and even if the changes he made to his swing helped, he's unlikely to come close to those totals again. Chase Utley is coming off a season in which he had his highest games played, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage since 2009.


How many games will the Phillies win in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 20,584)

I'm just the messenger: With Ruiz, Howard, Byrd, Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies are counting on five regulars in their age-34 seasons or older. Only four teams have had five position players that old bat 400-plus times in a season -- the 1945 White Sox, 1985 Angels and 2002 and 2007 Giants. Hey, it worked for the 2002 Giants, who went to the World Series. But these Phillies don't have Barry Bonds in the middle of the lineup.

The final word: I can see a scenario where the Phillies could win 85-87 games and sneak into the wild-card picture, but a lot has to go right for that to happen. Brown improves, the old guys stay healthy and Howard has a big comeback season, and Gonzalez has a big year as the No. 3 starter. More likely, however, this is an old team that has gone from 102 wins to 81 to 73 to ... well, something lower. The core group of Utley, Rollins and Howard was once a dynamic trio that helped create a glorious era of Phillies baseball. The Phillies doubled down on those guys and bet wrong. This looks like a bad team with two ace pitchers. Don't be surprised if Cliff Lee is in another uniform come Aug. 1.

Prediction: 66-96

Minnesota Twins
28. Minnesota Twins

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 125 more runs, allow 133 fewer. The Twins spent an offseason attempting to upgrade a rotation that had the worst ERA in the majors, but consider that the average AL team scored and allowed 702 runs. The Twins were 88 runs below that on offense and 86 runs above that on defense. In other words, they were equally awful on both sides of the ball.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Jason Kubel, re-signed SP Mike Pelfrey, traded C-DH Ryan Doumit to the Braves for P Sean Gilmartin.

Most intriguing player: Joe Mauer. The All-Star catcher moves to first base to clear room behind the plate for rookie Josmil Pinto. It's the right move for the Twins. As valuable as Mauer is catching, he's of no value when he's not playing, and he hasn't started in even half the games in any of the past three seasons anyway. As a first baseman, the Twins should be able to keep his bat in the lineup for 150-plus games and put that .400 OBP to more use.

Due for a better year: The Twins signed Hughes to a three-year contract and while the $8 million per season isn't outrageous, it was a bit surprising after Hughes went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees. The feeling is that getting Hughes out of Yankee Stadium will help a pitcher who has been prone to home runs (24 in 145.2 innings in 2013). Others believe Hughes is destined for the bullpen no matter his home park.

Due for a worse year: Reliever Caleb Thielbar allowed just 24 hits in 49 innings while posting a 1.76 ERA -- part of a good Twins bullpen that ranked fifth in the AL in ERA. With closer Glen Perkins having a dominant season, the Twins were 55-1 when leading after the eighth inning. Thielbar (the first major leaguer from South Dakota since Vean Gregg a hundred years ago) is a lefty without big-time stuff who throws a lot of fastballs up in the strike zone, so you have to wonder about a repeat performance. Perkins should be very good again, but it will difficult for the Twins to match that ninth-inning performance.

I'm just the messenger: How bad was Minnesota's rotation in 2013? It struck out just 477 batters -- even Astros starters fanned 666. But that's nothing new for the Twins. They were last in the AL starters' strikeouts in 2012 and next-to-last in 2011. No wonder they've lost 96, 96 and 99 games the past three seasons. Nolasco and Hughes will at least help a little in that regard as the Twins' front office slowly tries to develop a rotation that includes more than finesse strike-throwers. They're still a ways from developing that kind of group -- most of their top prospects are on the hitting side of the ball -- but at least they've grasped the errors of their ways.

The final word: Everyone knows the Twins are waiting for center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano to arrive, two players who could be hitting 3-4 in the Twins' lineup in a couple of years. Sano may arrive midseason and Buxton in September. That doesn't make this season unimportant. The Twins will learn a lot about Hughes and Nolasco and whether they can be rotation anchors in 2015 and beyond. They'll learn more about outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, who showed promise as a rookie, and whether Pinto's glove will catch up to his bat. The future looks good even if 2014 doesn't.

Prediction: 67-95

Chicago Cubs
27. Chicago Cubs

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 101 more runs, allow 67 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Acquired OF Justin Ruggiano from the Marlins for OF Brian Bogusevic. An old-fashioned challenge trade!

Most intriguing player: Starlin Castro. Once deemed one of the game's rising stars (remember that Sports Illustrated cover?), Castro hit just .245/.284/.347 in 2013 and reminded Cubs fans more of Mick Kelleher than of a franchise building block. He may have run into a lot of bad luck -- his line drive rate was consistent with his previous seasons -- and he's still just 24. But with prospect Javier Baez soon to be ready, this looms as an important year for Castro and his future with the Cubs.

Due for a better year: Joining Castro in the bad luck department was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who posted a low .258 average on balls in play despite a solid 20.6 percent line drive rate. Rizzo still managed 65 extra-base hits even though he hit just .233. Look for a big uptick in his triple-slash numbers.

Due for a worse year: Travis Wood was the big surprise, going 9-12 but with a 3.11 ERA while pitching 200 innings. Wood is pretty unique among major league starters: a smallish lefty without an overpowering fastball who pitches up in the zone. But he mixes his 88-90 mph fastball with a cutter that rides in on right-handed batters, plus a changeup and occasional slider, and rarely, a curveball. He's any extreme fly ball pitcher -- only A.J. Griffin and Max Scherzer allowed a higher percentage of fly balls among starters -- which can lead to (A) a lower BABIP (which Wood had) and home runs (which weren't a problem in 2013 as Wood allowed just 18). I believe Wood is for real -- his cutter helps generate a lot of infield popups, for example -- but odds are a few more balls will leave the ballpark this year and the ERA rises.

I'm just the messenger: The Cubs scored their fewest runs per game since 1981 and finished 14th in the NL in runs scored for the second straight season. In Wrigley Field, that's unacceptable. But this continues a long string of bad Cubs offenses. Since winning 90 games in 1998, the Cubs have ranked higher than seventh in the NL in runs just once -- in 2008, when they ranked first and won 97 games. That's also the only season since 1998 the Cubs have reached 90 wins. Luckily, there appears to be help soon on the way with Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, the team's past three No. 1 picks, plus outfielder Jorge Soler and second baseman Arismendy Alcantara.

The final word: Like the Astros, the Cubs have benefited in building up their farm system by essentially accepting that losing is OK. The Cubs could improve with a more effective bullpen -- they lost 14 games they led heading into the seventh inning and eight they led heading into the eighth -- but I still see a team with holes in the rotation past Wood, Jeff Samardzija (who could get traded) and the mediocre Edwin Jackson and a lineup counting on big improvements from Castro and Rizzo. But wait 'til next year, Cubs fans ... wait 'til next year.

Prediction: 68-94

Chicago White Sox
26. Chicago White Sox

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 169 more runs, allow 44 fewer. I put more emphasis on scoring runs because the White Sox's pitching wasn't that bad -- they allowed 21 more runs than average, but factoring in U.S. Cellular Field, that's a pretty good performance. They need to find runs and lots of them.

Big offseason moves: Signed Cuban 1B Jose Abreu, acquired CF Adam Eaton and 3B Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks for SP Hector Santiago and RP Addison Reed (Santiago then went to the Angels), re-signed 1B Paul Konerko, signed RPs Ronald Belisario and Scott Downs.

Most intriguing player: Abreu. He has top-of-the-line power potential, but some question his bat speed and whether he'll be tied up on inside pitches. His defense isn't a plus and we'll see what kind of plate discipline he has. One thing is for sure: I can't wait to see if he's the real deal. The White Sox bet $68 million that he is.


Which team will win more games in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 19,554)

Due for a better year: I love the pickup of Eaton, heralded as a rookie of the year favorite heading into 2013, but he injured his elbow in spring training and played just 66 games, hitting .252. He can produce better than that and he'll be a defensive upgrade over Alejandro De Aza in center field. More importantly, he'll add some speed and athleticism to a lineup that desperately needs it.

Due for a worse year: De Aza hit a career-high 17 home runs, but made an even bigger mark when the game was one the line. In "late and close" situations, he hit six home runs and knocked in 23 runs. Only Chris Davis had more RBIs (33) in late and close.

I'm just the messenger: There are some interesting parts here, starting with ace starter Chris Sale (an underrated star) and the new additions like Abreu, Eaton and right fielder Avisail Garcia, acquired last summer for Jake Peavy. But I still see a lineup with big OBP issues: Alex Rios led the team with a .328 OBP in 2013 and he's now on the Rangers. Bringing back Konerko didn't make a lot of sense, even if it's just to platoon with Adam Dunn at DH. Garcia led the team in OPS+ at 106 and that was in 168 plate appearances. The only others who were even league average were Rios and Dunn. Maybe Abreu is a monster and maybe Eaton gets on base, but the White Sox were last in the AL in walks and until they improve in that category the offense won't score enough runs.

The final word: The White Sox have alternated good years with bad years since winning 99 games (and the World Series) in 2005 and 90 in 2006: 72, 89, 79, 88, 79, 85, 63. It took 99 losses in 2013, but the front office finally realized it's time to turn away from an offense that is expecting Konerko and Dunn to be the leaders. The farm system, for years one of the weakest in the majors, is showing a few signs of life, with Erik Johnson expected to join the rotation. Still, this is a team counting heavily on Abreu to be a big star. I could see a .500 season, but will predict something less.

Prediction: 71-91

Miami Marlins
25. Miami Marlins

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 136 more runs, allow 71 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Signed C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Garrett Jones, IF Rafael Furcal, 3B Casey McGehee.

Most intriguing player: Jose Fernandez. The Marlins surprised everyone by promoting the 20-year-old from Class A to the majors to begin last season, but he proved to be the real deal -- and then some, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and finishing third in the NL Cy Young vote while beating out Yasiel Puig for rookie honors. He led the majors in lowest batting average allowed by a starter (.182) and gave up just 29 extra-base hits in 28 starts. Baseball gods, keep this kid healthy.

Due for a better year: Giancarlo Stanton. He's still just 24. He just needs to play 150 games, and he'll hit 45 bombs.

Due for a worse year: Fernandez. It will be hard to match or improve on that ERA. Since 1980, only three starters have had more than one season with an ERA below 2.20: Greg Maddux (four), Pedro Martinez (three) and Roger Clemens (three). Now, Fernandez may end being more valuable simply by increasing his innings from 172.2 to something closer to 200 and keeping that ERA in the mid-2s. And if he improves his command just a bit ... wait, maybe he will be better.

I'm just the messenger: Last year it was Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco; this year it's Furcal and McGehee. I realize you need somebody at all eight positions in the field, but why do the Marlins insist on signing these over-the-hill veterans who haven't been any good in years? The last time McGehee was in the majors in 2012 (he played in Japan last year), he hit .217. The year before that he hit .223. He doesn't have a nickname like Human Vacuum Cleaner to suggest his glove carries his bat.

The final word: The Marlins are my deep sleeper, a team that could win 85 games and maybe sneak into the wild-card picture. Young teams can mature in a hurry and the Marlins have two potential top-10-in-the-game players in Fernandez and Stanton, promising outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna and a young rotation that could take big steps. Winning 80-plus games probably won't happen this season, as I don't see enough offense from the infield, but it wouldn't shock me.

Prediction: 73-89