Pitchers and catchers began reporting for Major League Spring training this week in preparation for another season. It's been a long winter with plenty of baseball news to discuss - including trades, free agent signings, and unfortunately several off the field transgressions - while we not so patiently wait for the boys of summer to get back on the field. The majority of the waiting is finally over, yet we still have another six weeks to go before the opening pitch is thrown out on April 3rd.
I think most people will agree that we long ago reached the point when a training camp six weeks in length became far too long. It's a practice that dates back to the days when pitchers routinely threw 300 plus innings in a season and rested for most of the Winter, so they required a significant amount of time to rebuild their arm strength. However, wenow live in a era of pitch counts where pitchers don't really take much time off at all in the winter before they starting throwing again. By the time spring training arrives, many of them are nearly ready to go. The main purpose of spring training now is to sort out a few position battles, see where prospects stand in their development, pare down the roster to 25 guys for opening day, and get into a few games before the season starts. This could all still be easily accomplished easily if the length of spring training was cut in half.
Nevertheless, this isn't something that's likely to change any time soon. Residents and tourists in Florida and Arizona look forward to spring training every year. It brings money in to both States and the people who are fortunate enough to attend, enjoy getting a close up look of their favourite athletes before they get into serious mode. For the rest of us, we're left to wait, counting down the days until the season begins. In the meantime, rather than just sitting around twiddling our thumbs, now is as good a time as any to take a look at how the 30 teams stack up in terms of a World Series title heading into the 2016 season. This is based on opinion.
30 Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies had a very quiet offseason. In fact it may have been a little too quiet. Aside from their recent trade of outfielder Corey Dickerson in a deal for reliever Jake McGee, the Rockies didn't do much of anything. They seem to be a team stuck in no man's land. They finished last season 68-94 for their fifth consecutive season of at least 88 losses, but they haven't entirely committed to rebuilding, opting to hold onto 30-year-old star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. They also haven't made much effort to improve the team. No one seems to know exactly what the Rockies game plan is, but one thing is for sure, it's likely to be another long season in Colorado.
29 Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies started their rebuild last winter when they dealt away shortstop Jimmy Rollins. They continued tearing down the team during the 2015 season, trading away Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Ben Revere. They finished the year with a Major League worst 63-99 record. In the offseason the Phillies fired Ruben Amaro, Jr. as General Manager and replaced him with Andy McPhail whose first major move was to deal away closer Ken Giles. They have a few young players who could make an impact on the team this season, including Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Nola, but they're not likely to do enough to stay out of the NL East basement.
28 San Diego Padres
After bringing in Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and James Shields last winter and later trading for Melvin Upton Jr and Craig Kimbrel, the Padres and first year General Manager A.J. Preller were expecting a resurgence in 2015. Instead the team floundered to a 74-88 record. This winter the Padres lost the elder Upton to free agency, along with innings eater Ian Kennedy and traded away Kimbrel and also moved out first baseman Yonder Alonso and infielder Jedd Gyorko. They did replace Gyorko with free agent shortstop Alexei Ramirez and got outfielder Jon Jay in the Gyorko deal, but there's no real reason to expect the Padres to be better in 2016.
27 Atlanta Braves
If there's one team in the NL East that has a chance to contend with the Phillies for last place, it's the Braves. They kicked their own rebuild off with a boom last winter. After General Manager Frenk Wren was fired and the control of baseball decisions was handed to John Hart, the team made a whopping 11 trades, moving out Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers, and Craig Kimbrel among other. After going 67-95 last season, the Braves continued their rebuild this winter. They dealt shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Angels and traded Shelby Miller, who they acquired last offseason, to the Diamondbacks for a package of prospects that many believe was a steal for the Braves. They're heading in the right direction, but things are going to be a lot worse before they get better.
26 Cincinnati Reds
We conclude the trio of teams that committed to rebuilding last offseason with the Reds. They traded away starting pitchers Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon before the 2015 season and dealt away Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake during a season in which they finished tied for the second worst record in the Majors at 64-98. The tear down continued this winter when they dealt away All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman and there's a possibility they could trade outfielder Jay Bruce before the season begins. It's going to be a long year in Cincinnati with a team that could easily lose 100 games.
25 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers had a disappointing season in 2015 finishing with a 68-94 record. They began retooling in midseason by trading Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez to the Astros, dealing Aramis Ramirez back to the Pirates, and sending Gerardo Parra to the Orioles. This winter they moved out some more pieces, shipping Adam Lind to the Mariners and sending Khris Davis to the Athletics. They also dealt soon to be 26-year-old shortstop Jean Segura to the Diamondbacks in a deal for aging second baseman Aaron Hill. We can expect the Brewers to battle for last place in the NL Central in 2016, although we expect them to finish slightly ahead of the Reds.
24 Oakland Athletics
The Athletics had their worst season since 1997 in 2015 going 68-94. In the offseason General Manager Billy Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations with Assistant GM David Forst assuming the GM's role. They made a few moves to improve their lineup for 2016, trading for first baseman Yadier Alonso, outfielder Khris Davis and reacquiring shortstop Jed Lowrie, but their starting rotation is young with a lot of question marks. The A's could be better this year, but heading into the season they look like the fifth best team in the AL West.
23 Miami Marlins
The majority of the Marlins offseason moves were to their front office and coaching staff. Michael Hill takes over from Dan Jennings as the team's general manager along with Don Mattingly becoming the new manager and Barry Bonds the new hitting coach. The Marlins will have a healthy Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez and will be expecting a bounce back season from Marcell Ozuna. It will be most intriguing to see what impact Bonds has on the team's bats. In a division featuring the Braves and Phillies, the Marlins should at least be able to at least finish third.
22 Seattle Mariners
The Mariners finished fourth in the AL West last season with a 76-86 record. This winter they dealt Brad Miller, Danny Farquhar, and Logan Morrison to the Rays for a package of pitchers. They also traded Mark Trumbo to the Orioles before replacing him by acquiring Adam Lind. The Mariners head into 2016 with a lineup that doesn't look a whole lot better than last year's, but if Felix Hernandez returns to form and the rest of the team's young pitching staff steps up, they could find themselves moving up in a division that isn't easy to predict.
21 Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays finished fourth in the AL East in 2015 with an 80-82 record. They made a few small moves this offseason, trading for shortstop Brad Miller and first baseman Logan Morrison, dealing reliever Jake McGee for outfielder Corey Dickerson, and signing free agent outfielder Steve Pearce. Their overall lineup should be better in 2016, but it still isn't one that will frighten opposing pitchers, especially with Evan Longoria on the decline. You can never count out the Rays pitching, even though Alex Cobb will be out until at least late July, but even with their rotation, they head into the season looking like the fifth best team in the division.
20 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels finished just a game behind the Astros for a wild-card spot last year at 85-77, but owner Arte Moreno's desire to stay below the luxury tax threshold prevented them from doing much this offseason. They traded for Andrelton Simmons to shore up their defense in the infield, but that was about it. The Angels will begin the year without Albert Pujols who is recovering from foot surgery and they'll need some bounce back performances out of their starting rotation if they hope to regain the AL West crown.
19 Cleveland Indians
The Indians saw Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins depart this offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays were they assume the roles of president and general manager, respectively. As for their roster moves, their weren't a lot of changes made to a team that finished 2015 with an 81-80 record. They signed Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, but more importantly the Indians will have a healthy Yan Gomes behind the plate and a full season from young shortstop Francisco Lindor. The team's internal improvement and the strength of their starting rotation could help the Indians win more games in 2016, but they'll be in tough in an AL Central Division with no obviously bad teams.
18 Minnesota Twins
The Twins finished slightly ahead of the Indians in 2015 and 83-79. Their biggest offseason move was to sign power-hitting first baseman Byung-ho Park who posted back-to-back 50 plus home run campaigns in the KBO League. They'll get a full season of Miguel Sano, who hit 18 home runs in 80 games as a rookie in 2015, and baseball's top prospect, Byron Buxton, is likely to assume the team's starting centerfield position. What the Twins get out of their starting rotation is anyone's guess, but they're young lineup could be fun to watch.
17 Chicago White Sox
At 76-86, the White Sox had a disappointing season in 2015. In an effort to turn things around, they went out this offseason and traded for Reds' All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and later acquired Brett Lawrie from the Athletics. They also signed starting pitcher Mat Latos and will be hoping for a bounce back campaign from the right-hander. They also lost shortstop Alexi Ramirez to free agency, but overall the White Sox should be a better team in 2016 than they were in 2015. They could find themselves finishing anywhere from first to last in the aforementioned ultra competitive AL Central.
16 Detroit Tigers
As you've probably noticed, the Tigers are the fourth consecutive AL Central team on our list which shows you just how tight the division is likely to be in 2016. The Tigers finished last in the division in 2015 at 74-87, but went out and flexed their financial might this offseason by signing outfielder Justin Upton and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. They also made a minor deal with the Braves to bring Cameron Maybin back to Detroit. Still, if the Tigers are going to turn things around, they're going to need Zimmermann and the rest of their starting rotation to have a rebound year.
15 New York Yankees
The Yankees won a wild-card spot last season with an 87-75 record and will be looking to improve upon that this season with the additions of closer Aroldis Chapman and infielder Starlin Castro. The back-end of their bullpen may be the best in baseball, but it wasn't exactly lackluster last year, so we don't how much it can really improve. Their lineup isn't getting any younger and Greg Bird, the 23-year-old first baseman who seemed to emerge as a potential star last season, will be out for the year after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum. The Yankees were also the beneficiaries of a renaissance from Alex Rodriguez in 2015. He hit 33 home runs with 86 RBI and 84 runs scored, but at 40 years of age, it's difficult to seem him doing it again. When you consider the additions made by the other team's in the division, the Yankees look like the AL East's fourth best team heading into 2016, but that could easily change.
14 St. Louis Cardinals
The typically reliable Cardinals finished with the Majors best record in 2015 at 100-62, but the offseason saw centerfielder Jason Heyward and starting pitcher John Lackey both depart via free agency for the rival Cubs. They also lost starter Lance Lynn for the year after he underwent Tommy John surgery and while Adam Wainwright is back, it remains to be seen if the 34-year-old can stay healthy and contribute to the level we've come to expect from him. Whether or not Matt Holliday can bounce back and contribute at the age of 36 is also a question mark. It's tough to ever count out the Cardinals, but in 2016 they could take a step back and finish behind the Cubs and possibly the Pirates. Or maybe they'll prove us wrong and be baseball's top team once again.
13 Baltimore Orioles
For a while it looked as though the Orioles were going to have a quiet offseason with the potential loss of Chris Davis to free agency as the only significant change to their roster. However, the Orioles were able to lock up their power hitting lefty to a seven year deal and are reportedly close to free agent deals with pitcher Yovani Gallardo and centerfielder Dexter Fowler. With those additions and a healthy Matt Wieters behind the plate, the Orioles could bounce back from a 81-81 campaign and possibly contend for the AL East title. For now it's hard to put them anywhere but third in the division.
12 Arizona Diamondbacks
The 79-83 Diamondbacks made a huge splash this winter by signing prized free agent starter Zack Greinke, a move that not only improves their starting rotation, but gets him away from the rival Dodgers. They also made a blockbuster trade with the Braves for Shelby Miller and regardless of whether or not you believe they overpaid, the Diamondbacks starting rotation should be a whole lot better in 2016. The Diamondbacks also traded for soon to be 26-year-old shortstop Jean Segura to strengthen their infield and they'll be looking for a breakout sophomore season from Cuban third baseman turned outfielder Yasmany Tomás. Things just got a whole lot more exciting in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks should battle with the Giants and Dodgers for the NL West crown.
11 Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates lost third baseman Aramis Ramirez to retirement this offseason and cut bait with unreliable power hitting infielder Pedro Alvarez. They lost midseason pick-up J.A. Happ to free agency, but replaced him by trading second baseman Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese. They'll be hoping pitching coach Ray Searage can work the same type of magic on Niese that he did on Happ. Regardless of the changes the Pirates made, the bulk of the team that finished 2015 at 98-64 remains the same and should be at or near the top of the NL Central once again in 2016.
10 Texas Rangers
The Rangers had a midseason resurgence in 2015 and finished atop the AL West with an 88-74 record before losing to the Blue Jays in the ALDS in five games. They had a pretty quiet offseason with the loss of starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo as the only notable change to their roster. The Rangers finished with the AL's 13th ranked ERA last season, but with a healthy Derek Holland and Martin Perez, Yu Darvish expected back by midseason, and a full season of Cole Hamels, their rotation should be much improved in 2016. The AL West is a tough division to predict, but the Rangers could be in for a season long battle with the Astros for the top spot.
9 Washington Nationals
Many thought the Nationals would be World Series Champions by now, but it still hasn't happened and the team missed the postseason in 2015 with a record of 83-79. They made a few small moves, replacing Ian Desmond with Daniel Murphy in the infield and trading reliever Drew Storen for Ben Revere to sure up their outfield. However, the Nationals improvement this season should come on the back of a healthy Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg was limited by injuries last season and didn't pitch as well as we're accustomed to when he was healthy. He heads into 2016 with an eye on free agency next winter and if he wants maximize his earning potential, he'll need a strong campaign. That could be a good sign for the Nationals playoff hopes, but a bad sign for the rest of the NL East.
8 Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox were bad in 2015, finishing with a 78-84 record, putting them in last place in the AL East. However, there were some bright spots for the Red Sox. They saw youngsters Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts emerge as potential stars and they'll be expecting more of the same from the trio in 2016. The Red Sox made a huge splash this winter by signing free agent starting pitcher David Price to improve their rotation and also get him away from their rival Toronto Blue Jays. An improved Red Sox squad comes into the season looking to steal the division crown, but they still have a lot to prove and last winter's big signings, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, remain huge question marks.
7 San Francisco Giants
It's an even numbered year which seems to be a good sign for the Giants. They've won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and then missed the posteason in the year following each title. Regardless of whether or not you believe that actually means anything, the Giant should be better in 2016. They received strong performances from a pair of rookies in 2015, starting pitcher Chris Heston and infielder Matt Duffy, and those two should be even better this year. They'll also have a healthy Hunter Pence who spent much of last season on the DL. The additions of free agent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto remain question marks. Samardzija was downright awful in 2015 and Cueto wasn't much better after his midseason trade to the Royals. However, if nothing else, the pair will help eat a lot of innings in the Giants' rotation. At +800 the Giants head into 2016 tied with the Mets for the second best odds of winning the World Series, now they just have to go out and prove their worth it.
6 Toronto Blue Jays
The bulk of Toronto Blue Jays offense that scored 197 more runs than any other team in the Majors last season remains intact in 2016 and they'll have a full season of Troy Tulowiztki. Midseason pick-up Ben Revere was traded for Drew Storen to strengthen the team's bullpen and they're hopeful that a now healthy Michael Saunders can adequately take over in left field. The team's biggest loss was midseason pick-up David Price to free agency, but Marcus Stroman is primed to take over as the team's ace after a strong performance down the stretch and in the postseason despite missing most of 2015 with a torn ACL. The Blue Jays brought back J.A. Happ and will be hoping he can continue where he left off with a dominant ten game performance with the Pirates to end 2015. They might not have the strongest rotation in baseball, but pitching in front of the league's most dominant offense should help them win enough games to hold off the rest of their AL East opponents.
5 Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers suffered a huge blow this offseason when starting pitcher Zack Greinke departed via free agency and joined the rival Diamondbacks, Still, the bulk of the Dodgers team that finished atop the NL West with a 92-70 record in 2015 remains the same. The Dodgers will also have a healthy Hyun-jin Ryu who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. They've added free agent pitcher Scott Kazmir and Japanese starter Kenta Maeda to their rotation, so they should be able to more than make up for the loss of Greinke. They'll also have full season of highly touted infielder Corey Seager and outfielder Yasiel Puig should have at least a moderate bounce back. The Diamondbacks and Giants will both be better teams in 2016, but for now the Dodgers remain the division's best team.
4 Houston Astros
The Astros surprised a lot of people by taking a giant step forward in 2015. They faded down the stretch, but still finished with an 86-76 record to lock down a wild-card spot. The Astros didn't do much this offseason other than replace free agent starter Scott Kazmir with Doug Fister, but they didn't need to. A full season of rookie sensation Carlos Correa and a healthy George Springer should be enough for the Astros to rack up more wins in 2016. Depending on how their young roster progresses, the Astros could either be in for a season long battles with the Rangers or they could become the AL West's most dominant team.
3 New York Mets
The 2015 NL Pennant winning New York Mets lost playoff hero Daniel Murphy to the Nationals, but Murphy's regular season numbers have never been great and the team was able to replace him by acquiring the typically superior Neil Walker from the Pirates for Jonathan Niese. They also re-signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but it's doubtful he'll put up as strong numbers as he did when he first arrived in New York. A full season from outfield prospect Michael Conforto should help to sustain the Mets' offense. Their young rotation featuring Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard will also have top prospect Steven Matz for his first full season. The Mets may have the best rotation in baseball and it's difficult to see them surrendering the NL East title.
2 Chicago Cubs
After finishing third in the NL Central with the Major's third best record at 97-65, the wild-card winning Cubs lost to the Mets in the NLCS. This offseason the Cubs went out and signed super utility man Ben Zobrist and the top centerfielder available on the open market, Jason Heyward. The latter move also takes Heyward away from the division rival Cardinals. They also strengthened their pitching by signed Lackey away from the Cardinals and trading a diminishing asset in Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren. Many are picking the Cubs as the favourites to win the World Series in 2016 and end their 108 year drought. It's going to be tough to bet against them.
1 Kansas City Royals
The defending champion Royals didn't lose any significant pieces from their roster this offseason, aside from super utility man Ben Zobrist. They replaced a departing Ryan Madson in their bullpen with a returning Joakim Soria and re-signed outfielder Alex Gordon. They lost midseason rental Johnny Cueto, who struggled through his stint with the Royals, to the Giants, but signed Ian Kennedy. Whether they get the productive Ian Kennedy of 2014 or the one who struggled through most of 2015 remains to be seen, but he'll at least eat some innings for a team whose starting rotation has never the primary reason for their success. They're in a tough division and they might not be the World Series favourites, but they've gotten there in back-to-back years and they are the reigning champions, so for now they don't deserve to be anywhere else, but number one.