Kentucky

But really, is Kentucky the end of college basketball?

This college basketball season, I signed up for season tickets for my alma mater’s men’s basketball team. Games are played off campus, and the team is worse-than-average in a Division 1 conference that is worse-than-average. Needless to say, attendance is shoddy, averaging just north of 1500 people per game. The venue is oversized and games are middling in quality, but supporting a college I loved well after attending has been more enjoyable than I could have imagined.

 

March is the month for college basketball. The NCAA tournament may be the best sporting event in all of sports (as well as the one that ruins productivity the most). Every year, American spend more on March Madness betting than on presidential elections. The first piece of excitement is the conference tournament phase, where small teams and giant killers are scrapping their way into competing for NCAA tournament bids. Once the 68-team field is set, the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament make up the best two days in sport – 32 games at 8 locations, game after game, and upset after upset. This atmosphere fuels thrilling moments. It is an event more sports and organizations should emulate, as most people do not have any allegiance to the teams at play, but watch and engage like it was their favorite team playing.

 

The tournaments interest continues to escalate despite radical changes to the college basketball landscape. In the past 15 years, college basketball has radically transformed from programs built on juniors and seniors to teenagers. Sure, Duke and Arizona are still national powers and the same coaches rule the landscape, but the investment of individual players in their programs is diminished. Gone are the days of powerhouse players staying at their programs for loyalty or developmental reasons – as soon as your NBA draft stock peaks, it is time to move on to the professional ranks. When the NBA instituted a 19-year-old draft minimum, it all but insured college basketball to become the minor league basketball league, and has altered the landscape of recruiting, player development and player commitment to their college.

 

This philosophy translates to a college basketball product that has huge correlation to trends in the NBA draft. In 1999, 1 lottery pick was a college freshman, and 2 of the first 20 picks were freshman or sophomores. No high school players were taken in the lottery. 2001 kicked off the High school draft era, which actually helped college basketball; players who had no interest in playing college ball declared for the draft. In 2005, the last year high school players were eligible for the draft, 1 college freshman was taken in the entire draft. 3 high school seniors were selected in the first round. These draft classes look old by comparison to 2014: 8 lottery picks were college freshman or minimum age international players, with only 3 players in the top 20 being college juniors or seniors. College basketball has become a 1-year NBA draft combine.

 

Not all of this can be blamed on the NBA age minimum – NBA teams are also realizing younger is better. Studies were showing teams had more success in developing talent when they drafted younger players. A 19-year-old with NBA tools could be challenged to improve faster on the bench of a scrub NBA team than dominating college ranks, so it benefitted players both financially and developmentally to forgo most of college eligibility. With this change in NBA philosophy came a change to the college ranks – with the best talent, 1 year is all you are going to get.

 

Which brings us to Kentucky basketball. Led by a seemingly unending group of teenagers, The Wildcat basketball team has laid wreckage to the college ranks this season. The team is deep (10 players average at least 10 minutes/game), huge (6 players are 6’9” or taller) and talented (8 players ranked in Rivals top 50 of their respective recruiting classes). They are undefeated, and had only 7 games finish with single-digit differentials. This success comes off the heels of a 2014 NCAA tournament run, reaching the championship game with a roster mostly composed of freshman, and a 2012 national championship with baby faces leading the way. Kentucky has become the face of the college basketball youth movement, and many blame them for the demise of college basketball (or imminent demise).

 

The “ruining college basketball” moniker has 2 huge flaws. First, it is misinformed regarding Kentucky’s roster makeup. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky’s frontrunner for player of the year awards, is a junior, and another Kentucky starter, Alex Poythress, is also a junior (although he is out for the year). Two others starters all year have been sophomores. How does this to other college basketball programs? My alma mater finished .500 with two senior starters (both junior college transfers), 2 sophomores and a freshman. Our conference’s champion starts 2 freshman, a sophomore and 2 juniors. Although anecdotal, it speaks to the lack of disparity between Kentucky and the “little guys”: every team is starting and playing freshman. This isn’t 1964. And Kentucky is working their freshman into a rotation of NBA-quality players that all wanted to play college basketball together. No crime there.

 

The second nauseating piece of this argument is the doom and gloom: how the tournament will be ruined because of this “freshman philosophy”. This argument was aided by Kentucky’s run last year, much to the chagrin of basketball purists. The 2014 Kentucky team was freshman heavy, and struggled all regular season only to reach the championship game. This made them easy villains to many during the tournament. The common argument is that last year’s Kentucky run will become every year in college basketball, where freshman heavy teams will dominate the landscape. First, how is this working out? Plenty of teams in the country are blending freshman with older role players, and winning. Arizona starts seniors. Duke has important pieces that stay all four years. Experience still plays a vital part of success in college basketball, and will for some time to come. If you don’t believe that, look at Wisconsin the past two years (and that roster… look at all the home-grown talent!) Second, how is this any different from what the game was turning into, without Kentucky? The “Fab Five” in the early 90s was going to doom college basketball, and it appears we have ridden that wave fairly well (and got some really sweet boy band pictures out of it too) Carmelo Anthony led a young Syracuse team (starting 3 freshman that year) to a National Championship in 2003. Since then, countless other teams have loaded up on young talent (North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis in late 2000s) to varying success. And for those that talk about lack of parity, they obviously don’t see the fact that Duke, UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas dominate the top seeds and final four history books, dating back far before Freshman were even allowed to play NCAA sports. Calling Kentucky out in the name of parity is foolish.

 

Most importantly, there is a reason that no other program is as successful at Kentucky at this style of program: it is hard to do. Say what you will about John Calipari, the Kentucky head coach: he has worked relentlessly to make this team what it is. From recruiting to coaching the players, this team is well coached and immensely talented. The players have all put egos, NBA money and awards aside to be the deepest and most balanced team in my lifetime. It is hard to be a player that knows they may be losing draft stock because of playing in a system that does not showcase them. In addition, it is incredibly challenging to get young players ready to compete at the highest level every season. Look at the 2013 Kentucky for proof of that, where they missed the tournament, scuffling with young players who never meshed. One last thought: how much animosity of this years’ Kentucky team is centered on a different culture making college basketball successful? Kentucky’s basketball team is centered on talented young African-Americans, as opposed to a belief that college basketball looks like skinny white seniors hanging out in the corner chucking threes. Kentucky wins because they are disciplined, unselfish, and efficient, and they are doing those things in a style that is challenging the mainstream ideologies of what those qualities look like.

 

My alma mater’s basketball season ended in heartbreak: no NCAA tournament and no national TV time. I will still watch next year because it connects me to the university that I love. This fact is what brings most adults into college arenas all over the country no matter how many freshman take the court. And as for Kentucky, I will still watch the tournament, rooting for Kentucky the entire way. Being this good is hard to do, and it also creates more interest for me than in years past. Besides, I want to know who I can root for on the 76ers next year.

HOF

Baseball’s Hall of Infamy?

03.17.15

The Baseball Hall of Fame election process is a mess.

Over the last few years controversy surrounding its eligible parties and selection procedures has come to a head. It’s time for more legitimate dialogue about the Hall of Fame and it’s time that dialogue resulted in lasting and meaningful reform to the election process.

To begin, some reminders and basics of how the Hall of Fame election process works:

Each year, qualified members of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) can select up to 10 eligible players they believe deserve to be enshrined. To become enshrined, players need to appear on at least 75% of voter ballots. Players are removed from the ballot if they receive less than 5% of the vote or they have appeared 15 times without receiving election (the HOF is moving to a 10 year period of consideration as of 2014). There is a failsafe, the veterans committee, who can vote in players not voted in by the BBWAA, as well as Negro league players and non-playing personnel (managers, executives). In order to be an eligible voter, a writer has to have been an active member of the BBWAA for at least 10 years (in 2010, 581 ballots were returned, although typically the number increases yearly).

On initial reflection one might think that there would be safety and consistency to be found amongst the throng of Hall of Fame voters, that the large number eligible might provide clarity among potential entrants. Instead the opposite is achieved; the diversity, agendas and sheer number of voters brings chaos to the proceedings.

The first problem is the restriction that each writer is only allowed to select 10 entrants per voting cycle. After trolling sources for a considerable time I have been unable to find a convincing rationale for this. This logically does not make sense. The peaks and troughs associated with the quality of any given sport dictate that there are some eras, years and voting cycles that will be of more high quality than others, where they maybe more deserving entrants. Given that each potential entrant needs to appear on 75% of ballots to be enshrined, what is the purpose of restricting each writer to 10 votes? This expectation has a severe knock on impact to the entire voting procedure; It makes each voter consider choices more strategically, omitting potential entrants that are in their first few years of eligibility if a player (even a potentially weaker candidate) who is in their last few ‘needs’ their vote to ensure enshrinement at the tail end of their eligibility.

Another issue is that only writers who have been active 10 years in the BBWAA have the right to vote. This is curious. How is it beneficial to shut out the younger quotient of potential voters? If there are writers who have been active less than 10 years who are highly influential and respected by their peers, why should they not help shape the history of the game? Baseball is limiting the diversity of its Hall of Fame voters instead of increasing it. Surely there should be a more representative spread of voters contributing to how the history of the game is traversed and remembered?

The mission of the Hall of Fame is an interesting read; it mentions ‘fostering an appreciation of the historical development of the game’, ‘honoring excellence’ and (to speak to my earlier point about voter diversity) to ‘make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball’. Should the election process not strive to meet the same ends? Currently, not all BBWAA voters follow these protocols and strive to meet this mission. Since becoming HOF eligible in 2013, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have failed to be enshrined into the Hall. Bagwell, whose link to PEDs is purely speculatory, has had voting percentages of 59%, 54% and 55%. Clemens has remained at a steady 37% in his 3 years of eligibility and Bonds has remained at a consistent 36%. In other words, these three players are making little headway in their cases to be HOF players.

Should Barry Bonds be isolated in the Hall of Fame, or excluded altogether?

Should Barry Bonds be isolated in the Hall of Fame, or excluded altogether?

Looking at the achievements of these three players during their careers is a telling, if tiresome tale. Bagwell, the least prestigious of the three, had a career .408 OBP, slugged 449 HR, batted in 1529 runs, stole 202 bases, was a 4 time all-star and won an MVP. Bonds won 7 MVPs, has the MLB HR record at 762, single season record at 73 and took 2558 walks in his 22 year career. Lastly Clemens, who won 354 games (Randy Johnson was the last to even pass 300), won an MVP (pitchers rarely do that), won 7 Cy Young awards and owned a career WHIP of 1.173 (over 24 seasons). Incidentally Clemens is the only pitcher who posted over 300 wins in his career who isn’t in the HOF. These three players rank 4 (Bonds), 8 (Clemens) and 63 (Bagwell) on the all-time WAR list. These statistics aren’t new, so why bring them up? To highlight how utterly ridiculous it is that at least Bonds and Clemens are not in the Hall of Fame (Bagwell has good HOF numbers, I brought his name up more to highlight the effect that even suspicion of PED use can have on the case of a player).

The reason for their exclusion is their links to use of performance enhancing drugs. Using PEDs is obviously contrary to the spirit of sportsmanship and the integrity of the game, but for the writers to pretend that the period of PED use wasn’t a significant historical development through ignoring these individuals is equally insulting to fans of the game. No one is suggesting that the actions of PED users be condoned. The current landscape however, where players such as Bagwell are receiving knocks on their voting totals because of an unsubstantiated link is absurd. One cannot parse through the significant historical records of baseball without coming across the names of Bonds, Clemens and Bagwell. Are we really suggesting that if it were not for PEDs their careers would have added little statistical significance and value to the history of the sport? I think not. These three men are all Hall of Famers in my book.

Jeff Bagwell's HOF case has been damaged by association with the PED era

Jeff Bagwell’s HOF case has been damaged by association with the PED era

Another legend marginalized by MLB is Pete Rose. Pete Rose WAS baseball in the 1970s. The all-time hit leader (4256) embodied the combination of hustle, heart and ability which made him a hero, particularly in Cincinnati. Rose’s lifetime ban (in effect since 1989) has lasted almost 26 years. His career in baseball is over. He has served a significant (rightly so) penalty for his infractions. To continue to exclude him from the baseball Hall of Fame and suppress his contributions to the game are insulting. I am not suggesting he be enshrined on the spot, merely that his place in baseball history is reflected in the Hall of Fame, as should be the case with Bonds and Clemens. If it is deemed that these players need to be separated in a new ‘room of controversy’ in the Hall then so be it. To pretend however, that they played no part in shaping recent baseball history is backward. All sports experience eras in which their integrity is challenged (just look at the 2014 NFL season). Baseball’s refusal to acknowledge its own dark past renders it immobile in a purgatory of denial. It is only by acknowledging periods of struggle that we grow from them. With the All-Star game in Cincinnati this year, new Commissioner Rob Manfred has an opportunity to right a wrong early in his tenure by allowing Rose participation in the all-star game festivities and a back door to the enshrinement in his lifetime of which he is fully deserving (Rose has now formally petitioned Rob Manfred for reinstatement from his ban).

Pete Rose has served significant enough punishment for his betting infractions

Pete Rose has served significant enough punishment for his betting infractions

A new issue that has surfaced with HOF voting is around a shift in what perceived ‘Hall of Fame numbers’ are. While this is a useful discussion as a benchmark from which to evaluate players, it also narrows the focus of criterion for entry to an unreasonable level. The discussion is so focused on these statistical measures that all other considerables are thrown aside. Take the example of Jack Morris.

Jack Morris was Madison Bumgarner in the mid-80s and early 90s. In 1984 (a season in which he threw a no-hitter), Morris threw two complete game victories against the Padres to lead the Tigers to their last World Series triumph. In 1991 he signed a one year pact with his hometown Twins, went on to win both his starts in the ALCS against the Blue Jays and went onto one of the most remarkable performances in World Series history. Morris started 3 games in the 91 World Series, going 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA. In game 7 against the Braves, he threw a 10 inning shutout to win game 7, wrap up the World Series for the Twins and finished as World Series MVP, at the age of 36. Morris was up to 67.7% of the vote in 2013 (his 14th year of eligibility). In 2014, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux all became eligible, all three were first ballot Hall of Famers, Morris’s percentage dropped to just 61% in his final year of eligibility. My point here is simply this; Morris didn’t have some of the numbers to stack up with entrants like Glavine and Maddux, he offers something else, a performance for the ages. Does this not have a place in the history of the game? Morris pitched a 10 inning shutout in arguably the greatest World Series ever and was a post-season legend. Perhaps he will be voted in by the veterans committee, but something doesn’t feel right about his exclusion. To give another example, if Madison Bumgarner suffered a career ending injury he would never qualify for enshrinement (he has not played 10 years). Would we want the owner of the most impressive performance in recent World Series history not be celebrated in some way in the HOF? The fact that Bumgarner already appears on lists like this would suggest otherwise. My point here is that it seems as though the HOF has trended to becoming solely a numbers game, how can numbers be all you take into account when you have to compete with pitchers like Old Hoss Radbourn? (Radbourn threw 678 innings in a single season….in 1884).

Usually, writers name problems. Here are some potential solutions. Not all of them are plausible or even effective but it would be hypocritical to list issues that people know exist without naming alternatives.

  • Baseball writers with votes can vote for as many players as they see fit per voting cycle. Let’s trust them, not handcuff them.
  • The baseball writers can waive the 10 year playing requirement under special circumstances (such as career ending injury), if a particular percentage consent to do so for the player in question.
  • The number of voters is cut dramatically and the BBWAA has a limited number of voters that are elected by their peers for a given number of voting cycles before the votes are given to other writers (additionally there is no 10 year active writing requirement).
  • There is an advisory committee set up who cast a certain number of votes every cycle. The members of the committee include but are not limited to; writers, players, ex-players, managers, executives, politicians and other societal figures of note. If baseball is America’s pastime, why can a representative subsection of American society help contribute to how the history of the game is written?

There are many who think that players tied to PEDs should be excluded from the baseball HOF forever. I would be curious to hear your opinions. Obviously the limited suggestions above are no Hall of Fame fix. Ultimately I would ask, what is the Hall of Fame trying to do? Does it aim to chart the history of the game or the morality of the game and some of its most significant players? I choose to believe that baseball can do better. When we have gotten to the stage where intelligent baseball writers are abstaining from voting and can provide a rationale for doing so, perhaps we can agree on one thing. We aren’t celebrating baseball and its most significant players the way America’s national pastime deserves.

Moncada

Yoan Moncada’s signing marks controversy in MLB amateur Process

3.09.15

Cuban 19-year-old Yoan Moncada completed a celebrated courtship last week when he signed with the Boston Red Sox, receiving $31.5 million in up-front bonus money. This bonus easily marks the largest bonus in professional baseball history, and it has sparked debate over amateur signing reform in MLB. With Rob Manfred taking over as commissioner, the responsibility of creating a more equitable system may be the most underappreciated need of his regime, as it speaks to baseball and ethical issues around the globe.

Baseball has three very distinct systems for acquiring players that are first-time eligible for major league contracts. First is the Rule 4 draft, also known as the amateur draft or first-year player draft. This is for American and Canadian amateurs, typically 18-22 years old, and goes by round in reverse order of regular season standings from the year before. There have been a myriad of wrinkles added to the draft, which can all be read about here. A second method is for players who have signed professional contracts in foreign leagues, such as Jose Abreu (Cuba), Yu Darvish (Japan) and Jung-ho Kang (Korea), a posting fee may be required to negotiate a buyout of the player’s other professional contract. Posting fees are blind-auction, all up-front to the current team that holds the player’s contract. When the Rangers posted $51.7 million for Darvish prior to the 2012 season, baseball created a hard cap for these posting fees to attempt to maintain competitive balance in the signing of these players.

Yu Darvish commanded so much on the open market in 2012 that MLB changed the way they do business surrounding foreign professionals.

The last method is for international amateurs, primarily in Latin America and the Carribean. Players who turn 16 on or before June 1st of the calendar year are eligible for bonus offers from MLB teams to sign minor league contracts. Teams have a soft cap of $3 million for signing bonuses of these players, and every dollar over $3 million gets taxed at 100%. In addition to the tax, penalties for following years are enforced, and get more stringent the more a team exceeds the cap.

Since Moncada still had his amateur status, he was eligible for the international amateur free agent signing policies. The Red Sox did not need to pay a posting fee, but could only be signed by teams using their $3 million for international draft pool money. With Moncada receiving $31.5 million, the cost to the Red Sox with tax was $63 million, all up front.

Let’s put this number into perspective: Only 23 free agents have signed contracts with total values greater than this figure of the entirety of the past 5 seasons. The second highest bonus to an amateur was earlier this offseason, when 17-year-old Cuban SP Yoan Lopez received $8.25 million from the Diamondbacks (costing the team $13.5 million). Stephen Strasburg received $7.5 million in his bonus in 2009, and the bonus coupled with his $15.1 million deal for four years marks the most lucrative amateur signing for an American citizen. (Since 2009, the MLB has put in place even more stringent bonus pools for the North American amateur draft). Moncada’s figure is the largest number ever shelled out for an amateur player, and may stay that way if rule changes come into play. It is also the largest cost paid out for any player in one calendar year.

Strasburg was the last of a draft era – where signing bonuses were larger than what they are today.

This deal represents a perfect storm of issues all coming to a head, some of which are not baseball related. First, Moncada is a tremendous talent, a potential all-star prospect, and is 19 years old. He is by far the oldest of the amateur signees from the Caribbean who have made multi-million bonuses. This means he is more physically developed, and it is easier to see his awesome tools. He is more of a sure thing. So, why is he so much older? In case you haven’t heard, foreign policy between the US and Cuba has drastically changed in the past months. With recent changes to those politics, it is no longer a defection and abandonment of your culture to pursue the MLB dream (some defection stories can be incredible). He hit the market at the perfect age for money, where he has shown top-prospect promise, all while still being younger than many U.S. prospects.

For high success, high revenue teams, it can be very difficult to acquire good young talent. You draft late in the first round, missing out on can’t miss prospects through the draft. Baseball’s revenue sharing and luxury tax makes every dollar spent on MLB talent even more costly for teams like the Dodgers and Yankees. Teams are trying to find ways to get young price controlled players. The Dodgers did it by paying Dan Haren’s contract for the Marlins. The Yankees seemed to realize this, and signed every amateur they could this offseason. The Red Sox don’t need Moncada, in a personnel sense: they have all their infield locked up for several years. They are just acquiring young talent in a cost effective way, like any good organization should do. The Yankees did something similar this offseason.

At first glance, this move seems anything but cost effective. With all the tax and penalties, how can you justify $63 million to a minor league shortstop? A glaring truth for the big-spenders in MLB is the lack of fear of the penalties. A new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is coming up in December of 2016. Sure, the Sox can’t spend on international players for 2 seasons. Within 1 year, the system probably will be overhauled anyway. Changes could come to the format as early as next year, rendering punishments for over-spenders moot.

The big debate comes with what should be changed to the system. Most people agree that spending 4 times more on Moncada is not equitable, but there is no easy or just fix. The most popular choice in the MLB front office – met with severe resistance from MLB’s player’s association – is an international amateur draft, which Manfred wants to implement as soon as 2016. There are huge concerns in the transfer here. What to do about all the Cuban-born players who are older, wanting a shot at the majors? Or, what about the next Yu Darvish? Exceptions will still need to be made for foreign-born, already-professional players. Where do those exceptions end?

Another concern with the international draft is having two separate amateur drafts. This would heavily reward poor teams, far past a level of reasonable competitive balance. The worst team would hypothetically get first pick at two different elite talent pools. Some then vote for one universal player draft, which has many of its own concerns. The age difference between 16 (minimum age in international pool) and 18 (minimum in American pool) creates immense physical discrepancies – far greater than the difference between high school and college players- and some questionable ethics regarding foreign- born talent. Do you change the age to a universal 18? And it is easy to forecast modern economic imperialism when it comes to this player draft; if the CBA is not explicit, this system could result in teams trying to get cheap foreign born talent, because they know they could lure a impoverished 16-year from Latin America far easier with less bonus money. The ethics of the universal player draft could get very questionable in a matter of a few years.

Ultimately, the largest concern is how inequitable the draft pool money is in comparison to the value of the drafted players. As Moncada showed, amateurs on the free market are worth way more than the draft bonus slot would indicate. The #1 pick in the US would make tons more if he were a free agent. So, that brings us to abolishing the draft altogether, and adapting a system similar to European soccer leagues. That has the possibility of killing competitive balance, practically ensuring higher revenue teams get all the best young talent.

To ameliorate this, Jeff Cameron of Fangraphs proposes an inverse cap on player spending, with the teams that spend more at the big league level having less to spend at the amateur level. While I love this principle, in actuality it would run into the problem of bad contracts: the Phillies would never be able to get out of their current hole, because of the terrible contracts they have signed. It would be a revolving door of aging players getting paid too much, since you would never be able to spend on young talent. In addition, drafts seem to be an essential part of the American sports experience, and resistance to a pseudo-open market would be severe.

Lastly, there is an idea of making the minor leagues independent, but still heavily subsidized by MLB. If we gave a couple years for player development, say until 20 years old or so, the good prospects would float to the top more reliably, and then they could hit an open market (or be drafted), making the bonus money go to the more deserving player. This is similar to the hockey/NHL minor league system. This runs into the competitive balance issue, as well as getting into trouble with young players who advance through the minors quickly, such as Bryce Harper.

Moncada – along with his 6’1″ frame, monster athletic ability and potent switch-hitting bat – may forever change the way business is done in Latin American baseball.

Ultimately, this issue needs to be about paying the players fair market value, while keeping competitive balance as a priority. I don’t think the universal first year draft is necessarily a bad thing, I am just concerned that the bonus pools will not be expanded enough to represent market price for players. A drafted player has so much less bargaining power than a player on the open market; MLB knows this, and wants to keep the cost of these players low for business. If we can set a priority of higher bonuses for drafted players, and be quick to adapt some of the nuances of the draft, a more equitable draft can maintain balance in the game, all while supporting a global economy, rather than colonizing it.

NL-East

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 6: NL East, The worst for last

by Conway West 03.04.15

The NL East has seen better days. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a 12-year stretch where the division represented the NL in the World Series 9 times. All five teams have either represented the NL in the Series or had the league’s best record in the past 16 seasons, an honor no other division holds.

At this point, the division looks weak. The division may have the two worst teams in baseball, and the second and third best teams do not look elite either. However, due to the disparity between the top tier and middle tier of teams in the National League, I predict two playoff teams from the East.

  1. Washington Nationals

2014: 87 wins; Steamer 2015: 91 wins; Conwaywest: 95 wins; JD Cam: 94 (1st place)
In: Max Scherzer, Yunel Escobar, Casey Janssen
Out: Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Adam LaRoche, Ross Detwiler, Asdrubal Cabrera

Things to like: 6 excellent starting pitchers; a balanced and strong lineup; Anthony Rendon becoming an elite player.
Things to worry about: Bryce Harper and Jason Werth staying healthy; finding the closest thing they can to Clippard in the bullpen.

This is the safest and easiest division pick in all of baseball. The Nationals are loaded: veteran talent and experience; home grown and free agent; power, speed and defense; and most importantly, the best rotation in baseball. Their 5 may be the best in the past 5 years, and they have the best #6 in baseball in Tanner Roark. I believe this is also the year that Anthony Rendon is a national star.

Rendon, one of the most valuable players in MLB last year, could get even better.

This is not to say the Nationals don’t have their problems. The bullpen will miss Tyler Clippard – he has been one of the most valuable relievers in baseball for 5 seasons – and they have 3 injury prone outfielders. But besides predicting injury, this is one of the best teams in baseball. With SS Ian Desmond and SP Jordan Zimmerman becoming free agents after the season, this may need to be their year with the current roster makeup. I am one that thinks it may be.

  1. New York Mets (wild card)

2014: 79 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 84 wins; JD Cam: 78 wins (3rd)

In: Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry
Out: Eric Young Jr

Things to like: Juan Lagares catching a lot of baseballs; Matt Harvey pitching 150 innings; Lucas Duda and David Wright making two good hitters; innovative GM in Sandy Alderson; playing in the NL East.
Things to worry about: lots of bullpen question marks; no corner outfield defense; little middle infield production.

The Mets?! The Mets! After a decade of horrible contracts, poor management, and a little bad luck, the Mets are… still very much the Mets. The team didn’t change very much, has a terrible bullpen, and got a lot older in right field with the addition of Cuddyer. So why the heck do I pick the mets for the second wild card?

The Mets, who won 79 games last year, have tons of young arms to choose from for their rotation (and one very old overweight one). They have young(ish) options up the middle, that all look to produce at or above league average value this year. And, they play in the NL East. If they can take advantage of the Braves being much worse and win 5 more against them, that’s 84 wins. And in the National League, where the second tier teams all have issues, that might be enough for our first Mets postseason birth since 2006. Even if they come up short, they look at least to be in the right direction.

Sandy Alderson looks to have the Mets moving in the right direction after almost a decade of mediocrity.

  1. Miami Marlins

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 81 wins; JD Cam: 85 wins (2nd, wild card)
In: Mat Latos; Martin Prado; Mike Morse; David Phelps; Dan Haren; Dee Gordon; Ichiro Suzuki
Out: Nathan Eovaldi; Andrew Heaney; Anthony Desclafani; Chris Hatcher

Things to like: Giancarlo Stanton challenging for 2nd best player in baseball; the return of Jose Fernandez; Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna rounding out top 3 outfield in baseball
Things to worry about: up-the middle defense; infield positions hitting.

The Marlins sure were busy this offseason. As a team that seems to grow young arms on trees, they traded several of them away this offseason for more reliable options: namely, the versatility of Prado, the speed of Gordon, and the potential all-star starter in Latos. They will have 3 new infield starters to supplement their awesome, young outfield.

But is reliable and different better? Latos has been steadily declining over the past several seasons. This team was middling at scoring runs last year, and with Casey McGehee in San Francisco now, who else will step up with crazy high BABIPs ad RISP averages to score runs? The Marlins hope Mike Morse is up for the task.

This team has geared up to win, which is similar to what we saw in 2013. I just don’t see it. I see a .500 team that has two stars in Stanton and Fernandez, but can’t do the little things (including pitch framing) well enough to win.

The Marlins may be mediocre, but Giancarlo Stanton will continue to do amazing things this year.

  1. Atlanta Braves

2014: 79 wins; Steamer 2015: 71 wins; Conwaywest: 68 wins; JD Cam: 70 wins (4th)
In: Nick Markakis; Shelby Miller; Jonny Gomes; Eric Young Jr; Jace Peterson; Alberto Callaspo; AJ Pierzinski; Jason Grilli; Jim Johnson; Wandy Rodriguez; Melvin Upton
Out: Jason Heyward; Justin Upton; Evan Gattis; Ervin Santana; Kris Medlen; Brandon Beachy; Aaron Harang; Gavin Floyd; Jordan Walden; Tommy La Stella; David Carpenter; Emilio Bonifacio; BJ Upton

Things to like: Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman are still on this team; Julio Teheran and Alex Wood are a decent 1-2 starting pitching punch; Craig Kimbrel throws hard; Christian Bethancourt getting lots of starts at catcher;
Things to worry about: lots of dead lineup spots; getting any value from their outfield; any bullpen arms past Kimbrel.

This is where the NL East gets fun! The Braves gutted their outfield, traded their best power bat, saw an entire starting rotation of arms depart, and lost their two best bullpen arms outside all-world closer Craig Kimbrel. All for Shelby Miller, some fringe prospects and financial flexibility. If financial flexibility equates to 4 years and $44 million to Nick Markakis, this team is in trouble for the foreseeable future.

Much like the Phillies, the Braves appear to be in all-out tank mode. Also like the Phillies, their farm system lacks huge talent to turn around their team quickly. The Braves sold off their best assets besides Kimbrel – he may be traded as well – so it may be a tough year in Atlanta, and 100 losses isn’t out of the question. Hopefully Andrelton Simmons can develop into a power bat to go along with his incredible defense. That could give Braves fans a couple things to look forward to… for 2017 when the new stadium is complete.

The Braves hope Andrelton Simmons can become an all-around star to compliment his elite defense.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies

2014: 73 wins; Steamer 2015: 68 wins; Conwaywest: 66 wins; JD Cam: 66 wins (5th)
In: Aaron Harang
Out: Jimmy Rollins; Marlon Byrd; Kyle Kendrick; AJ Burnett

The Phillies finished 2014 with 73 wins, which feels surprisingly high for the attention their roster received for its need to be disassembled. This offseason, the Phillies began that rebuilding job in earnest, trading franchise icon Jimmy Rollins and aging bat Marlon Byrd. Now, they look to move Cole Hamels (probably), Jonathan Papelbon (hopefully), and Ryan Howard (good luck!) as they try to turn the page in what was the most successful Phillies core in team history.

The trading of parts is why my 66 wins may be high: this team is only planning on getting worse in 2014. They may end the year with many fringe big leaguers logging heavy usage. 100 losses may be a formality is many of their pieces get traded away (as they should). The “Fire Ruben Amaro” fan club will only grow.

Phillies fans are not too happy with how the current regime has handled the team.

AL East

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 5: A Division full of questions

by JDCam 02.25.15

The AL East was unusually uncompetitive in 2014. The Red Sox dropped a staggering 26 wins on 2013, Tampa Bay dropped 15, only the Blue Jays and Orioles improved, with the Orioles running riot by a 14 game margin at the end of the regular season. The division promises to be much closer in 2015, with the Red Sox and Blue Jays making major roster upgrades this off-season, while the Yankees in particular are tough to project. There are dozens of questions surrounding the division, both on the field (Red Sox youth movement) and off the field (A-Rod, sigh). With an influx of mediocre pitching and elite hitting into the division, expect the AL East to be a slugfest in 2015.

1. Boston Red Sox

2014: 71 wins; Steamer 2015: 88 wins; Conway West: 90 wins; JDCam: 89 wins

In: Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross, Ryan Hannigan, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval,

Out: Yoenis Cespedes, Ryan Lavarnway, Anthony Ranaudo, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Allen Webster

Things to Like: New infield high impact bats; a season for Rusney Castillo to shine; Mookie Betts talent (and the best name in baseball)

Things to Worry About: An inferior rotation; Hanley staying healthy; Will Xander Bogaerts live up to the hype?

Will Castillo provide a boost for the Red Sox in 2015?

Will Castillo provide a boost for the Red Sox in 2015?

Just about everything that could go wrong for the Red Sox did go wrong for the Red Sox in 2014. Between poor performances, injuries and blooding young prospects they were a shadow of their 2013 World Series winning team. The 2015 Red Sox should have a huge turnaround, with exciting talents Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts as well as Cuban import Rusney Castillo given a whole season to test their mettle. After losing Jon Lester, their biggest question mark will be their rotation, with mid-level starters Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley who will all be relied upon to deliver in the absence of a true ace. Additions like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval don’t hurt either; if the Red Sox stay healthy, they should be in the hunt for another AL East crown.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

2014: 83 wins; Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 88 wins; JDCam: 85 wins

In: Michael Saunders, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Marco Estrada

Out: Casey Janssen, Colby Rasmus, George Kottaras, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, JA Happ, Anthony Gose, Adam Lind,

Things to Like: The arrival of Josh Donaldson; one of the strongest lineups top to bottom; a potential sleeper in Marcus Stroman

Things to Worry About: An inevitable letdown year from Russell Martin; will their rotation hold up?

Donaldson will form a formidable 3/4/5 combo with Encarnacion and Bautista

Donaldson will form a formidable 3/4/5 combo with Encarnacion and Bautista

The Blue Jays have been the teaser team of the AL East the past two years after an aggressive building process from GM Alex Anthopoulos. This could finally be the year when the Jays break through. Their 3/4/5 of Encarnacion, Bautista and Donaldson rivals the Tigers as the best in baseball and the addition of Russell Martin will be a huge upgrade at catcher, particularly if he can continue his 2014 form. Much will depend on the competitiveness of the Jays rotation, with arms like Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison who will need to keep the Jays competitive for their big bats to take over.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins Conway West: 81 wins (4th place); JDCam: 82 wins (4th place)

In: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Rene Rivera, Steven Souza, Ernesto Frieri

Out: Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers

Things to Like: Replacing one potential star in Wil Myers with another in Steven Souza; a rotation full of sleepers (Smyly, Cobb); an improved Evan Longoria

Things to Worry About: Losing Joe Maddon; a potentially crippling team OBP; no one wants to watch them play

Drew Smyly is one of several underrated Rays rotation pieces

Drew Smyly is one of several underrated Rays rotation pieces

The Rays finally broke up a core of players that had seemed to be in play forever at Tropicana field, with David Price leaving (got fleeced by the Tigers) and Ben Zobrist departing for the As. Much more importantly, longtime GM Andrew Friedman headed to LA after he was handed the keys to the Dodgers. Much will rest on new GM Matthew Silverman and his ability to tap into the undervalued player market in the same way Friedman was able to, as well as building expertly through the draft. The Rays promise to be an average team, with a surprising rotation, but they may be stuck in a rut of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

4. New York Yankees

2014: 84 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins Conway West: 82 wins (3rd place); JDCam: 83 wins (3rd place)

In: Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorious, Justin Wilson, Garrett Jones, Nathan Eovaldi

Out: Ichiro Suzuki, David Phelps, Martin Prado, Francisco Cervelli, Shane Greene, David Robertson, Brandon McCarthy

Things to Like: The return of Masahiro Tanaka; A better year from Carlos Beltran; I’m reaching here…

Things to Worry About: The return of Masahiro Tanaka; Michael Pineda staying healthy; CC Sabathia (just their rotation in general!)

TanakaSlider2

Last year we were looking at footage of Tanaka from Japan. Now we are wondering if he can return to his pre-injury form from 2014

Yankee fans witnessed the end of an era with Derek Jeter’s retirement after the 2014 season. This was also symbolic of the Yankees slow transition to become more youthful as they possessed one of the oldest rosters in baseball. Many questions surround the 2015 Yankees and they are genuinely hard to project. If Tanaka and Pineda can remain healthy and promising starter Nathan Eovaldi can be effective they could compete. Yankee fans should be prepared for another season that is dominated by off the field news (A-Rod), another unwelcome distraction from the teams on field play and improvement.

5. Baltimore Orioles

2014: 96 wins; Steamer 2015: 79 wins Conway West: 78 wins; JDCam: 78 wins

In: Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young

Out: Steve Lombardozzi, Nick Hundley, Andrew Miller, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis Joe Saunders

Things to Like: The return of Manny Machado; Chris Davis on Adderall; high impact pitching prospects (Gausman, Bundy)

Things to Worry About: Not really attempting to replace any lost pieces; No super human effort from Nelson Cruz; Steve Pearce will go back to being Steve Pearce

Machado GIF

Much will depend on whether Manny Machado can recover from his horrific 2014 knee injury.

There was no team that did as little this off-season as the Orioles, resting on their laurels after an impressive 96 win season in 2014. They lost two thirds of their outfield and an integral piece of their bullpen. The return of wonder kid Manny Machado and a not so inept Chris Davis should help, but the Orioles should expect some regression in 2015 after doing too little to replace their key departures.

NL Central

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 4: Its Not All About the Cubs

by JDCam 02.21.15

While the off-season dialogue around the NL Central has largely surrounded the Cubs and their aggressive rebuilding, the division promises to be highly competitive in 2015. The NL Central got far worse in 2014, particularly the exceptionally disappointing Cincinnatti Reds who had a -14 win swing. Even the division’s elite teams, the Cardinals and Pirates, dropped 7 and 6 wins respectively. The division’s less competitive teams did improve, with the Brewers and Cubs picking up 8 and 7 wins respectively. With the exception of the Cubs, NL Central teams had a relatively quiet off-season, which should lead to a three team showdown in September with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs battling for supremacy in the central.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 86 wins; Conway West: 88 wins; JD Cam: 89 wins

In: Jason Heyward, Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle

Out: Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, A.J Pierzynski, Daniel Descalso, Pat Neshek, Justin Masterson

Things to Like: Cleaning up in the Heyward trade; having a ton of underrated players; playing in a weak division

Things to Worry About: Replacing Oscar Taveras; Rotation depth; The Cubs

The Cardinals didn’t do much in the off-season, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They did ship Shelby Miller to the Braves with a package for OF Jason Heyward, a significant defensive upgrade who should continue his steady offensive improvement. The Cardinals did lose top prospect Oscar Taveras to a tragic car accident this winter, but come September, this team will be in the hunt for another NL Central crown.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

2014: 88 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 85 wins; JD Cam: 86 wins

In: Corey Hart, Steve Lombardozzi

Out: Edinson Volquez, Clint Barmes, Ernesto Frieri, Ike Davis

Things to Like: No key departures; maintaining a stockpile of solid prospects; an OF of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte

Things to Worry About: No key additions; rotational depth and consistency from Gerrit Cole

400+ ABs for Gregory Polanco should bode well for the Pirates talented outfield

400+ ABs for Gregory Polanco should bode well for the Pirates talented outfield

The Pirates are going places. After two excellent seasons under the guidance of underrated helmsman Clint Hurdle, the Pirates could be primed to take the next step and make a deep October run if all goes well in 2015. Much will depend on the consistency and development of former number 1 pick Gerrit Cole, who needs to make the jump into the upper echelon of NL starters. The Pirates starting outfield of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte is frightening, with a truly impressive combination of speed, power and defensive range. With several other underrated pieces such as Joey Harrison, Neil Walker and unknown quantity Jung Ho Kang the Pirates will be a formidable team in 2015.

3. Chicago Cubs

2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 80 wins; JD Cam: 82 wins

In: Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Jason Motte, David Ross, Chris Denorfia, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero

Out: Kyuji Fujikawa, Justin Ruggiano, Dan Straily

Things to Like: Significant upgrades at multiple positions; number 1 farm system in baseball; Joe Maddon

Things to Worry About: Consistency from Soler and Baez; a young inexperienced team

Jorge Soler is just one of a litany of talented players at Joe Maddon's disposal

Jorge Soler is just one of a litany of talented players at Joe Maddon’s disposal

Very few teams in baseball have a front office who have played their hand more brilliantly than the Cubs. In the midst of another losing season the Cubs traded away their best major league assets for prospects which boosted their farm system to the best in baseball. They picked up their prized pitching anchor in Jon Lester and resigned stalwart Jason Hammel. Chicago’s most important acquisition however may have been manager Joe Maddon, the perfect foil for the Cubs litany of young talent. There are a lot of question marks around the Cubs young and talented roster. They may not be quite ready, but this Cubs team is primed to be dominant in the next few seasons.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

2014: 82 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 72 wins (5th); JD Cam: 70 wins (5th)

In: Adam Lind, Neal Cotts

Out: Marco Estrada, Zach Duke, Mark Reynolds, Tom Gorzelanny, Yovani Galllardo

Things to Like: The better ‘Cargo’; Jean Segura improving on his .286 OBP from 2014

Things to Worry About: Ryan Braun NOT enhancing his own performance; a weak rotation; little improvements across the roster

Top prospect Orlando Arcia maybe all Brewers fans have to look forward to in 2015

Top prospect Orlando Arcia maybe all Brewers fans have to look forward to in 2015

The Brewers just scream .500 don’t they? They don’t provoke much of a reaction, either positive or negative. Several Brewers had poor seasons in 2014 after a blistering start. Ryan Braun suffered from constant niggling injuries and Jean Segura was as bad in 2014 as he was good in 2013. The Brewers will suffer this season from a lack of rotational depth (after shipping innings eating Yovani Gallardo off to the Rangers). While the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia is exciting, Brewers fans may have little else to cheer in what promises to be an underwhelming 2015 season.

5. Cincinnati Reds

2014: 76 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 77 wins (4th); JD Cam: 78 wins (4th)

In: None of note

Out: Chris Heisey, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon

Things to Like: Aroldis Chapman; Johnny Cueto; an improved year for Jay Bruce

Things to Worry About: Where did the rotation go? Mesoraco can’t reproduce 2014’s numbers

Having ace Cueto back for a whole season will be critical to the success of the Reds in 2015.

Having ace Cueto back for a whole season will be critical to the success of the Reds in 2015.

The Reds 2014 was disastrous, dropping a full 14 wins from 2013. They had several key contributors who struggled with injury and poor performance (most noticeably Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce). The Reds lost Mat Latos to a trade with the Marlins and breakout sensation Alfredo Simon to the Tigers. Tony Cingranni will need to step up if their rotation is going to be competitive. Even if Devin Mesoraco can’t continue his remarkable form from 2014 a healthy season from Cueto and Homer Bailey ought to yield a marginal improvement on 2014.

Central

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 3: Don’t Sleep on Cleveland

By JDCam 02.16.15

There was greater parity in the AL Central in 2014. A strong off-season by its poorer clubs (White Sox) and recent playoff success (Tigers, Indians and Royals have all been in the last two seasons, including an AL Central World Series representative in two of the last three seasons) has led to the division shaking the mantle of one of the weakest in baseball.

In 2014, aside from the Royals remarkable run, the hapless Twins and White Sox got a little better (4 and 10 more wins respectively), while Detroit and Cleveland got a little worse (3 and 7 more losses than in 2013). With perhaps no team having a stronger off-season than the Chicago White Sox, the Central is shaping up to a slugfest four horse race in 2015.

1.Detroit Tigers

2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 84 wins (2nd); JD Cam: 85 wins (1st)

In: Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, Anthony Gose

Out: Max Scherzer, Don Kelly, Danny Worth, Rick Porcello, Tori Hunter

Things to like: Yoenis Cespedes: a healthy Jose Iglesias; a dominant middle of the lineup

Things to worry about: Miguel Cabrera and V-Mart coming into spring off of surgery; Pressure on a rebound season from Justin Verlander; an awful bullpen.

Cespedes will bring another huge bat to the middle of the Tigers already formidable lineup

Cespedes will bring another huge bat to the middle of the Tigers already formidable lineup

With V-Mart’s torn meniscus the latest in a series of winter challenges, the Tigers may have an uphill battle to retain their AL Central crown. The addition of Cespedes, pending the health of Martinez and Cabrera, creates the most formidable 3/4/5 combination in baseball. Detroit is counting on Justin Verlander returning to ace-like form and not going the way of CC Sabathia. The Tigers did little to improve their bullpen which hamstrung them the last few season both in the regular season and playoffs. The Tigers face a lot of question in 2015 but should still have enough to top the division for the fifth straight year.

2. Cleveland Indians

2014: 85 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 88 wins (1st); JD Cam: 84 wins (2nd)

In: Brandon Moss, Gavin Floyd, Scott Downs

Out: Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Nyjer Morgan

Things to like: Underrated rotation; Solid core of young hitters; Francisco Lindor’s debut

Things to worry about: Not enough offensive production; question marks surrounding young starters.

Top prospect Lindor should make his arrival sometime in 2015

Top prospect Lindor should make his arrival sometime in 2015

The Indians didn’t do much this off-season, but then, they didn’t have to. With a core of excellent young hitters (Brantley, Kipnis, Santana) and the emergence of 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, the Indians look primed to challenge the Tigers for divisional supremacy. Much will depend on the development of Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazaar, who could combine with Carlos Carrasco and Kluber to form a dominant rotation. Cleveland fans have to be excited by the possibility of top SS prospect Francisco Lindor making his debut in 2015. Do not sleep on the Indians; they should be competing for a wild card spot at worst come September.

3. Kansas City Royals

2014: 89 wins: Steamer 2015: 81 wins; Conway West: 80 wins (4th); JD Cam: 80 wins (4th)

In: Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen

Out: Billy Butler, James Shields, Nori Aoki, Aaron Crow, Bruce Chen, Josh Willingham

Things to like: Alex Rios is due for an ‘on’ year; a dominant bullpen, high end young starters

Things to worry about: Inferior replacements for their lost pieces; not enough offense; risky rotation pieces

Will Alex Rios strengthen the Royals OF or continue his consistent inconsistency?

Will Alex Rios strengthen the Royals OF or continue his consistent inconsistency?

The Royals enjoyed a remarkable fall run hanging onto the coattails of an equally remarkable bullpen. The late inning trifecta of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland is as good as any in baseball. The Royals lost a huge part of their identity in Billy Butler in the off-season, as well as number one starter and a clubhouse leader in James Shields. They added to an already strong outfield by overpaying for Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen are worthy rotation gambles. KC caught lightening in a bottle in September last season but Royals fans should be prepared for an inevitable letdown.

4. Chicago White Sox

2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conway West: 83 wins (3rd); JD Cam: 82 wins (3rd)

In: David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Gordon Beckham

Out: Marcus Semien, Dayan Viciedo, Paul Konerko

Things to like: See ‘in’ category; no more Adam Dunn; Carlos Rodon’s fast development

Things to worry about: An average infield; not enough rotational depth

No team got better this off-season that the White Sox. GM Rick Hahn deserves a ton of credit for aggressively addressing areas of need. David Robertson will give them much needed stability at the back end of their bullpen, while a one two rotational punch of Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija is a formidable one, particularly with the emergence of Jose Quintana in 2014. The White Sox upgraded in the outfield, replacing Dayan Viciedo with Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche replaces south side legend Paul Konerko in the comfy confines of US Cellular Field which are LITERALLY made for him to mash 25-30 HR. If everything goes right for the White Sox they could challenge for the division, however a finish around .500 is more realistic and not to be sniffed at given recent seasons.

5. Minnesota Twins

2014: 70 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 69 wins ; JD Cam: 73 wins

In: Ervin Santana, Tori Hunter, Tim Stauffer

Out: Jared Burton, Jason Kubel, Anthony Swarzak

Things to like: Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes at the front end of an improved rotation; a slew of young power bats; a more progressive manager in Paul Molitor; Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer making MLB debuts in 2015.

Things to worry about: Apocalyptic outfield defense; a still weak rotation; Joe Mauer’s decline.

Dozier is one of the bright spots in a roster still lacking enough rotation arms to compete for the division

Dozier is one of the bright spots in a roster still lacking enough rotation arms to compete for the division

Coming off the back of 4 consecutive 90 loss seasons the Twins front office unusually made a few moves this off-season, adding Ervin Santana to the front end of a rotation that was anchored by a remarkably under-appreciated season from Phil Hughes in 2014. The Twins added fan favorite Hunter for some vocal clubhouse leadership and while he will contribute offensively he is a defensive liability. Minnesota had one of the most productive offenses in 2014 a trend that could continue if Brian Dozier (Kyle Seager 2.0), Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia can continue to develop and Kennys Vargas can build on an impressive debut. Look for some of the Twins vaunted prospects to make their MLB debuts in 2015. The Twins should be better, but they aren’t ready to compete for the division yet. Look out AL Central 2017.