Enough of the hot stove already! With pitchers and catchers reporting February 18
and Opening Day on April 4th
, let’s take a look at eight MLB teams to watch in 2016.Chicago Cubs, NL Central
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have taken a roster that produced 97 wins in 2015 and added a trio of All-Stars in John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward. The Cubs have built an incredibly deep and talented 25-man roster, studded with young impact bats like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber.
The rotation, highlighted by 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, is better than last year, but could use another quality arm. Joe Maddon, the pride of Hazleton, PA, heads a 2016 Chicago squad with dynastic potential. Improving on 97 wins won’t be easy, but the North Siders should win the NL Central over competitive St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates teams.Boston Red Sox, AL East
The Red Sox look poised to pull off another worst-to-first turnaround in 2016. They laid the groundwork for a rebound last summer after hiring new team President Dave Dombrowski, the former General Manager of the Detroit Tigers. After signing ace David Price to a $217 million contract and trading for perennial All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, Boston looks to emerge from a competitive AL East race.
According to FanGraphs
, the Red Sox are projected to produce more WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than any other American League team in 2016.San Francisco Giants, NL West
It’s an even year, right? The (#EvenYear). It also doesn’t hurt that Executive VP Brian Sabean has constructed a roster ripe for World Series contention. From stalwarts like Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey to free agent acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco is built to compete for the next three years.
The Giants play in an outstanding pitcher’s ballpark, have one of the best infields in baseball, and were fourth in the majors and second in the National League in runs per game on the road in 2015. Look for them to capture their first NL West championship since 2012.Toronto Blue Jays, AL East
Last season, the Blue Jays led the majors in runs, scoring 127 more than any other team in baseball, leading to a MLB-best plus-221 run differential. The offense, led by an aging but stable core of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki, returns intact in 2016. Even with a pitching staff bereft of talent, Toronto should be a fun team to watch.Cleveland Indians, AL Central
This team feels like the American League version of the 2015 Mets. The Indians feature the AL’s top pitching staff, but will need to add an impact bat before the trade deadline. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco will keep the Tribe completive until July, forcing General Manager Mike Chernoff to deal from a healthy farm system.
If Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis can once again be excellent offensive middle infielders and Michael Brantley can make a strong return from shoulder surgery, the Indians should hit enough to chase their AL Central dreams.Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West
President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has a brain trust of general managers by his side in the Dodgers front office. They include:
- Current Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi;
- Former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulous;
- Former Padres GM Josh Byrnes;
- Former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti; and
- Former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicke.
Freidman will need this group’s savvy to navigate the loss of Zack Greinke to the division rival Diamondbacks and a malcontent Yasiel Puig.
Still, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Kenley Jansen is one of the best closers in the game. And Corey Seager and Joc Pederson are two high-ceiling youngsters at the outset of their careers. Though the Dodgers appear too flawed to win the NL West (see Giants, above), they're talented enough to earn a Wild Card spot, where anything goes.Houston Astros, AL West
Astros fans suffered through three consecutive 100-loss seasons in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but the payoff seems to be forthcoming. The teams’ payroll was one of the lowest in the majors in 2015, but with a solid nucleus of budding stars – Carlos Correa, George Springer, Ken Giles, and Jose Altuve – Houston looks poised to use the youngest lineup in the American League to capture an AL West crown this year. New York Mets, NL East
The Mets feature an incredible starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. Add to it rookie Steven Matz and Tommy John surgery returnee Zack Wheeler, and New York could clinch a playoff berth with its pitching staff alone.
The offense with miss Yoenis Cespedes, who contended for the NL MVP in a fraction of a season, but sophomore sensation Michael Conforto looks to anchor a stable, though underwhelming lineup. Look for the Metropolitans to be active again in advance of the trade deadline in pursuit of a return to the World Series.