The MLB season always surprises us. Teams and individuals often sustain excellence that we didn't think they could or change abruptly when we least expect it. These bold predictions about 2013 won't seem so far-fetched come summertime.
Read on to see why the AL Central could produce a small-market contender, which new faces will disappoint in new places and who might ride the bench despite a high salary.
Of course, share your own thoughts in the comments section below.
Upton has been on and off the trading block this winter.
Perhaps the Arizona Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton in his contract year of 2015 to recoup some value before he reaches free agency.
In the meantime, he'll remain in the desert.
Upton is coming off a disappointing season and the D-Backs could get more by waiting for his offensive numbers to rebound. Though the team has enviable outfield depth, none of the other individuals are potential All-Stars, much less a dark-horse MVP candidates.
The Atlanta Braves lost the 2012 NL Wild Card Game with Kris Medlen on the mound, but they've gone undefeated in his last 23 regular-season starts.
And there's room for that number to grow.
Medlen's incredible changeup neutralizes left-handed batters. That might be enough to guide the Braves to more victories until they oppose the Toronto Blue Jays in late May. He won't have an answer for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Machado played 51 games during his rookie season.
The 20-year-old plays the same position as established American League stars Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria. Each swings his bat much better than Manny Machado.
But it's certainly possible that Beltre begins to decline in his age-34 season or Longoria suffers another significant injury. Machado could also get in thanks to the All-Star Game rule that requires all 30 teams to have somebody selected.
He already plays outstanding defense at the hot corner. Machado's .262/.294/.445 triple-slash line is bound to improve as he fills out his 6'3" frame.
Dustin Pedroia could swipe 30 bags for the first time.
According of Chad Finn of The Boston Globe, manager John Farrell says the Boston Red Sox will be aggressive on the basepaths in 2013.
Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino are perennially active and efficient. On the cusp of free agency, a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury should be motivated to lead the league in stolen bases.
Farrell can also work with left-side infielders Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks.
This Red Sox offense will look refreshingly different from those in recent years.
Not even Edwin Jackson.
This year's Chicago Cubs starting rotation isn't built to last.
Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva each signed short-term contracts. Right-hander Matt Garza was already on the trading block. They could easily be moved at the non-waiver trade deadline for the right value.
Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija will survive the summer, but they shouldn't expect to receive much run support. The Cubs scored only 613 runs in 2013.
Dayan Viciedo tied for third on last year's Chicago White Sox with 25 home runs. A fuller season at age 24—with 650-plus plate appearances instead of 543—should push him above 30. By process of elimination, it's clear that he'll have enough to lead the team in 2013.
Alex Rios' identical total was a career high. The lanky outfielder is historically inconsistent from one season to the next.
Uncharacteristically, Adam Dunn clubbed 15 home runs against left-handers last season. In other seasons, though, they have given him a lot of trouble. One thing is certain—his bat speed won't improve as he heads toward the latter stages of his career.
Paul Konerko is already there. The captain continues to approach his craft with great discipline and Chicago doesn't have an up-and-coming prospect ready to take his job yet. Still, even matching his 2012 total of 26 is unlikely for the declining first baseman.
Of course, former closer Aroldis Chapman won't spend the entire season in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation. John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that there will be some sort of innings limit.
The Cuban Missile should continue to benefit from an impressive strikeout rate. An increased workload will surely affect his average fastball velocity, but there's no denying that Chapman possesses one of baseball's finest four-seamers. Moreover, varying his secondary pitches—pitching coach Bryan Price says Chapman uses a curveball and cutter—helps upset the timing of opposing batters.
The left-hander experienced some difficulty as a starter in the minor leagues during 2010. Since then, however, he has become more consistent with his release point.
Nick Swisher will provide an offensive boost.
Free-agent signings of Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher undoubtedly improve the Cleveland Indians offense. Both can be trusted to provide a lot of power from the middle of the lineup.
The pitching staff should be stronger, too. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, to a lesser extent, are bounce-back candidates in 2013. Cleveland inked Scott Kazmir to a minor league deal last month. Reports were that his velocity during winter league starts reached the low 90s, which is all he needs to return to his former glory.
Carlos Santana should be pivotal player. He can blossom into an MLB star by focusing his game-calling and smashing a few more balls over the fences.
Tulowtizki missed four months with a groin injury in 2012.
The closest Troy Tulowitzki has ever come to playing a full MLB season was his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, since taking the field for 155 contests in 2007, he has averaged fewer than 113 per year.
However, we ought to be attention to the nature of Tulo's injuries. In 2008, for example, the superstar shortstop split open his palm by slamming a bat against the ground in frustration. An errant pitch fractured his wrist in 2010, causing him to sit for more than a month.
Tulowitzki isn't as fragile as his frequent trips to the disabled list would lead you to believe. With some better luck this upcoming season, he'll stay healthy and re-establish himself as an elite player.
Justin Verlander has never missed an MLB start due to injury.
Not only are the Detroit Tigers unusually talented, but their stars can be trusted to stay healthy.
Prince Fielder became an everyday first baseman at the major league level in 2006. In that span, he leads the sport in games played. Similarly, Miguel Cabrera rose to regularity in 2004 and ranks second—behind only Ichiro Suzuki—in participation.
Pitchers Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have each made more than 30 starts in three straight seasons. Then there's Justin Verlander, who never knew an injury he couldn't pitch through.
It's difficult to imagine Detroit's offense sputtering like it did in 2012. This time around, the Tigers are more experienced (e.g., Torii Hunter instead of Brennan Boesch, Victor Martinez over Delmon Young).
AL Central rivals like the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals could contend for a wild-card berth. The division title, meanwhile, will go to the reigning pennant winners as they chase triple-digit victories for the first time in a generation.
Houston will spend a few April afternoons in first place.
The Houston Astros get familiar with their AL West opponents awful quickly. Right out of the gate, they play 15 straight intra-division contests.
Despite being at a personnel disadvantage, look for the Astros to surge to the top during their first three series. They begin by hosting the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics before journeying to the Pacific Northwest, where they will dodge Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (assuming he starts on Opening Day).
Of course, the good times should be faded memories by the end of April.
Jeremy Guthrie can't sustain his pitching from late 2012.
All the work the Kansas City Royals did to revamp their starting rotation won't necessarily lead to better results.
They took a huge gamble by guaranteeing $25 million to Jeremy Guthrie. His 14 previous starts with K.C. do not reflect his actual abilities. He'll be crushed during outings away from Kauffman Stadium.
James Shields is very vulnerable to the home run ball. Joining a division with so many individual power hitters will cause him to lose effectiveness. It's also unclear whether his former Tampa Bay Rays teammate, Wade Davis, can translate bullpen success into a 200-inning season.
Pujols began his Angels career in an ugly slump.
There's precedent for the individual and team disappointment Albert Pujols experienced in his first year with the Los Angeles Angels.
Remember when Alex Rodriguez began his New York Yankees career? Making a comparable salary, the slugger drove in only seven runs during his first month. He uncharacteristically finished 14th in MVP balloting and the Yankees fell short of their championship aspirations.
Now, Pujols begins anew on a team that, just like the 2005 Bombers, lacks starting rotation depth and will rely on a high-powered offense. The future Hall of Famer can reap the benefits of being surrounded by other elite batters, make a run at the AL Triple Crown and capture the award en route to a playoff berth.
We've seen this story before.
The Dodgers overpaid for the Korean lefty.
This would be a worst-case scenario for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as Kei Igawa pitched below replacement level during his time in the United States.
Similar to Hyun-jin Ryu, Igawa had impressive strikeout totals overseas despite underwhelming stuff. Both were made available to MLB teams through the posting system in their 20s.
The New York Yankees made a $46 million investment in the southpaw, only to banish him to Triple-A after 16 awful appearances. L.A. hopes to use Ryu as a starter but could opt for a similar punishment if it becomes clear that he's over-matched.
The Marlins surprisingly drew 29,709 fans on Oct. 2.
Inevitably, the 2013 Miami Marlins will become the first team since the dying Montreal Expos to fall short of a seven-figure home attendance total.
And how can you blame the fans? After funding Marlins Park with their own money, they've been duped by Jeffrey Loria. He changed course just months after seemingly making a commitment to winning and relocated all but one of Miami's star players.
Despite their depleted roster, the Fish sold a lot of tickets on Aug. 31 and Oct. 2. That's because popular knuckleballer R.A. Dickey took the mound against them. Unfortunately, he has since been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, who don't visit South Florida this coming season.
The Brew Crew has enough firepower to contend.
The Ryan Braun-led Milwaukee Brewers topped the National League with 776 runs scored in 2012.
Next season, though, they could potentially eclipse 900 (5.55 per game). It's been a decade since a member of the Senior Circuit reached that mark.
The Brew Crew will undoubtedly get more production from the middle infield. Jean Segura is going to play his first full MLB summer and Rickie Weeks, who looked like his old self in August and September, is primed to bounce back.
Braun, Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez form a mighty heart of the lineup. Milwaukee has power at the bottom, too (at least every fifth day). Rotation ace Yovani Gallardo goes deep as frequently as the typical position player!
And let's not overlook Carlos Gomez. The center fielder tapped into his immense talent last year with career bests in a bevy of offensive categories. Gomez is a Scott Boras client looking to break the bank in free agency, so he'll certainly be motivated.
Mauer will put away the catcher's mask for good.
There's a negative correlation between Joe Mauer's health and how often he catches.
Impending free agent Justin Morneau is destined to be dealt this summer, opening up space at fist base. Mauer has gained more than 400 innings of experience there during the past two years.
The Minnesota Twins will permanently plant their franchise player there to ensure that he's available on a daily basis.
According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Ike Davis benefited from 11 "just enough" bombs in 2012 that barely escaped the ballpark. Moreover, his no-doubt blasts came against pitchers like Kevin Correia, Tommy Hanson and Lucas Harrell, all of whom switched to the American League.
Davis should rebound nicely from a .227 batting average, but the power numbers won't be all that impressive.
The Yankees missed Brett Gardner last season.
Committed to lowering payroll by 2014, the New York Yankees have been unable to retain all the veterans from last year's team. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher signed elsewhere, as will Rafael Soriano.
Don't read too much into their inactivity—the Yankees will exceed 95 wins en route to a playoff berth.
Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera can compensate for the free-agent departures by returning to their previous levels of excellence. The latter, of course, needs no introduction, but Gardner should be among the MLB leaders in stolen bases and Ultimate Zone Rating.
Speed certainly affects a game.
No sophomore slump for Yoenis Cespedes.
Hampered by injuries in 2012, Yoenis Cespedes still enjoyed a productive rookie season.
With his power and on-base skills, there's little doubt that he'll rack up 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. It would be the first such season for the Oakland Athletics since Jose Canseco went 40-40 a quarter century ago.
Cespedes will be the only American League player to reach both totals as standouts like Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler and Mike Trout fall short in at least one category.
Ryan Howard is helpless against left-handed pitching.
The Philadelphia Phillies are dissatisfied with Ryan Howard, who's been signed through 2016.
The most overpaid individual in the National League had an anemic .173/.226/.378 triple-slash line against southpaws last season. He whiffed in 45 of 106 plate appearances with them on the mound.
Manager Charlie Manuel is entering the final year of his contract with Ryne Sandberg nearly ready to take over. Never mind what's popular; he will do whatever is necessary to win. That probably means starting Darin Ruf a couple times per week.
Nobody foresaw A.J. Burnett pitching 200 innings and amassing 16 wins in his debut season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, especially after injuring his eye in spring training.
Would you believe that he'll perform even better in 2013?
With Andrew McCutchen taking a step back (at least in terms of batting average), the soon-to-be 36-year-old could be his team's lone All-Star.
If Francisco Liriano can do it, why not Edinson Volquez?
Edinson Volquez is by no means a quality starter in Major League Baseball. Even his pedestrian 2012 season should prove difficult to replicate with Petco Park shrinking its dimensions.
But if the New York Mets can finally toss a no-hitter after a half-century of waiting, why not the San Diego Padres?
A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and other wild pitchers have achieved the feat, and Volquez is equally talented.
A couple postseason gems only take you so far.
Barry Zito is throwing 84-mile-per-hour junk at this advanced stage of his career. Shutting down the running game won't do him any good if opposing batters square up his soft stuff.
The San Francisco Giants need not worry about Zito's hurt feelings as he enters the final guaranteed year of his outrageous contract. They must find a strong No. 5 starter to outlast the improved Los Angeles Dodgers and Zito fails to match the description.
Bonderman will succeed in his comeback attempt.
Jeremy Bonderman hasn't been a major league pitcher since 2010 or completed a decent season since 2006.
However, undergoing elbow surgery and committing to physical fitness allowed him to regain velocity.
Bonderman fits perfectly with the Seattle Mariners. Not only is he originally from the state of Washington, but the team would love a veteran stopgap in its 2013 rotation as top prospects finish developing.
Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011.
Adam Wainwright will dominate early on next season, just as other starters have 18-24 months removed from Tommy John surgery.
Teammate Chris Carpenter had the procedure in July 2007. Baseball-Reference.com shows how untouchable he was early in 2009.
A more recent example? Stephen Strasburg. He went under the knife a couple years ago and couldn't be touched this past April.
Evan Longoria, prepare for a rough year.
Looking back on it a decade from now, we probably will declare the Tampa Bay Rays winners of the James Shields/Wil Myers trade.
But it clearly weakened the 2013 version of this team. Tampa Bay no longer has enviable starting pitching depth. Not when Roberto Hernandez is a swingman.
The catcher and designated hitter positions haven't been addressed this offseason. The Rays need power bats at one or both of those positions, not Jose Molina and Ryan Roberts. Perhaps there would be a brighter outlook if they had acquired a prototypical first baseman instead of James Loney.
This outfield will struggle without B.J. Upton, Fernando Rodney cannot continue his dominance and does anybody believe Evan Longoria will suit up for 160 games? He never has in the past.
Most importantly, the AL East has improved during their idleness. The division-winning New York Yankees retained key free agents, the Boston Red Sox filled their holes and the Toronto Blue Jays don't seem to have any weaknesses.
After five seasons of relevance, Tampa Bay is going to return to the cellar.
Profar is currently behind Elvis Andrus on the depth chart.
Right now, Jurickson Profar is hidden deep on the Texas Rangers depth chart. He'll only claim an everyday job if the team trades Elvis Andrus or convinces Ian Kinsler to switch positions.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old should eventually break through into the starting lineup.
With spectacular defense and a productive bat, Profar will conquer a relatively unheralded American League rookie class.
Dickey is coming to the AL East.
It hardly matters where R.A. Dickey pitches or against whom. The 38-year-old throws an excellent knuckleball and does so with smooth, repeatable mechanics.
If anything, the trade to the Toronto Blue Jays should help. There's now a tighter defense behind him.
His age will eventually lead to decline, but there's no reason to doubt Dickey in 2013.
The reigning NL Rookie of the Year should be much improved.
Bryce Harper can follow in Mike Trout's footsteps and contend for an MVP award during his second summer in the big leagues.
Trout's first MLB season was a struggle. In fact, he was demoted back to the minor leagues before logging enough plate appearances to qualify as a rookie.
The Washington Nationals' teenage phenom, by comparison, started and finished strong. Despite a rough patch after the All-Star break, he deservedly won National League Rookie of the Year.
Harper has more plate discipline than Trout and similar power. This budding star lacks leaping ability to help him defensively but compensates with awesome arm strength. Voters who value team success should support him as the Nationals don't have any glaring weaknesses.
The only thing that could stand in his way? An NL Triple Crown winner.