Enough of this offseason thing. Let's skip ahead and talk about who Major League Baseball's big winners are going to be in 2016.
Yes, it's a little early to be doing this, but not too early. With nearly two months gone by, the MLB offseason is actually closer to spring training than it is to the World Series. There's still much to be done, but enough has unfolded for us to have a good sense of the 2016 power structure.
Thus, what follows are projections of who the 10 playoff teams would be in 2016 if the offseason ended today. Let's start with the American League, and then head on into the National League.
AL East Champ: Boston Red Sox
Hey, sometimes a guy has to stick with his guns.
Just last week, I made the case that the Red Sox are going to pull off another worst-to-first season in 2016, and nothing has happened since then to change my mind.
The Red Sox actually finished 2015 on a strong note, going 34-26 in their final 60 games. That was mostly due to the damage wrought by Boston's youth-infused offense. That same offense will be returning in 2016, and now the Red Sox have some pitching to go with it.
After spending $217 million on David Price, the Red Sox have the ace they lacked in 2015. After trades for Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, they also have an awesome bullpen. Whereas they gambled too heavily on a strong lineup going into 2015, the Red Sox now have a truly well-balanced team.
If there's a team in the AL East that can stop them, it's the Toronto Blue Jays. They won the division on the strength of an amazing offensive attack in 2015, and they figure to hit just as well in 2016.
However, the Blue Jays lost two pretty good pitchers to free agency in Price and Mark Buehrle. They've been replaced by J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez, putting the Blue Jays in a position where they'll have to hit enough to downplay lackluster starting pitching. As you might recall, that wasn't so easy in the pre-Price days of 2015.
AL Central Champ: Cleveland Indians
As things stand now, the AL Central is probably the toughest division in baseball to figure out. It is not without some hesitation that we're siding with Cleveland.
The Tribe do have problems, chief among them being a thin outfield and iffy rotation and bullpen depth. What we do know, however, is that Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco make for an awesome rotation trio. Courtesy of a September article from Ben Lindbergh of Grantland (RIP), we also know that the Indians are returning all of the key members from a much-improved defense.
The big question is how much Cleveland is going to hit. But 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 Tribe should hit enough to support their excellent run prevention.
Ah, yes. One can already feel the anger flowing through the hearts of Kansas City Royals fans. The punditry downplayed them going into 2015, after all, and that didn't turn out so well.
True, but last year's Royals weren't missing Alex Gordon and waving goodbye to Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Also, two straight trips to the World Series make one wonder when fatigue will set in.
Elsewhere, nobody else in the division looks like a sure thing. The Detroit Tigers have bolstered their pitching staff but still look old and rickety. The Minnesota Twins made a good upside play by signing Byung-ho Park, but last year's 83 wins come off as a fluke. The Chicago White Sox did well to add Todd Frazier, but their roster still looks terribly top-heavy.
AL West Champ: Houston Astros
This is another tough division to call. The 2015 AL West race ended up being a close call between the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, and yours truly likes what the Seattle Mariners have done this winter.
But we have to hand it to Houston.
The Astros are missing some pieces from 2015, most notably Scott Kazmir and Chris Carter. But they didn't need Kazmir for their rotation to have good depth, and their lineup still has more than enough power even without Carter. It also still has plenty of speed, for that matter.
The one area where the Astros have upgraded this winter is in their bullpen. The Astros retained a good left-hander by re-signing Tony Sipp, and they gained the power arm they so needed when they traded for Ken Giles.
Houston Astros @astros
"We gave up a lot of value to get Ken; we believe Ken has a lot of value for us." @jluhnow on @KenGiles53 #Astros https://t.co/Kuc7mQzKBx2015-12-14 19:43:16
“He’s got elite stuff,” Astros skipper A.J. Hinch said of his new toy, via Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I think it starts with that. As he’s been able to harness it in the strike zone to get the swing and misses, get the soft contact, being able to utilize multiple pitches, not just a 100-mph fastball. He demonstrates that stuff very obviously to any scout or any coach that comes across him.”
The Astros will face some tough competition in 2016, but said competition comes with questions.
The Texas Rangers will benefit from having Cole Hamels for a full year and Yu Darvish for almost a full year, but their lineup has too many age potholes. The Angels did well to add Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar, but Mike Trout still needs more offensive support. The Mariners have acquired much-needed depth across the board, but they'll still need a lot to go right to contend in 2016.
Wild Card 1: Toronto Blue Jays
The 2016 Blue Jays probably aren't going to be the steamroller that the 2015 Blue Jays were down the stretch, but they should be good enough to contend once again.
This will have a lot to do with their offense, which had the highest OPS in baseball by 45 points in 2015. They just need their pitching to be good enough, and that's not asking too much. Marcus Stroman has legit top-of-the-rotation potential, and the Blue Jays could ask for worse depth than Happ, Chavez, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey.
Wild Card 2: Texas Rangers
Like in 2015, the second wild-card spot in the American League could be within reach for about a half-dozen teams by season's end. It's hard to pick one team out of the rabble.
But the Rangers and Royals are the two most likely final contenders for it, and one is inclined to lean toward the Rangers. Their offense has some cracks, but we shouldn't overlook their potential as a pitching powerhouse. In addition to Hamels and Darvish, the Rangers will also have a healthy Derek Holland and a bullpen that was nigh untouchable when it came together at the end of 2015.
NL East Champ: New York Mets
A 2015 NL East race that was supposed to be a one-horse race starring the Washington Nationals ended up being a one-horse race starring the Mets. After that, the 2016 race should be more of a traditional two-horse race.
But here's thinking the Mets will win it again.
The Nationals aren't a bad team. In fact, Mike Petriello of MLB.com pointed out how they actually project as an elite team. With a roster built around 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and a rotation consisting of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, that makes sense.
Mike Petriello @mike_petriello
Rough winter for @Nationals so far, but they're starting from a very good place anyway: https://t.co/Yk1UHR4nNT https://t.co/8u6KlnSyNC2015-12-14 15:06:09
But the Nationals are one of those teams that looks worse in reality than it does on paper. Their biggest problem is that they don't have much depth beneath their star talent. And if 2015 taught them anything, it's that such a problem could well be their doom.
Meanwhile, the Mets are arguably better in reality than they are on paper.
They're still built around their incredible rotation trio of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, and those three will have the support of Steven Matz and (eventually) a healthy Zack Wheeler in 2016. In their bullpen, all roads still lead to Jeurys Familia.
On the other side of the ball, it does stand out that Yoenis Cespedes is gone and unlikely to be replaced by an impact player. But we shouldn't overlook how Michael Conforto showed real potential as a rookie in 2015, and that the Mets' lineup overall makes up for a lack of true impact talent with pretty good depth.
NL Central Champ: Chicago Cubs
Hey, remember when predicting that the Cubs would be contenders was an act of boldness?
Times have changed since then. The last year has seen the Cubs go from a team potentially on the rise to a team definitely on the rise. And how!
The Cubs have taken a roster that produced 97 wins in 2015 and added more talent than they've subtracted. John Lackey is in to support 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the rotation. Ben Zobrist is in to play second base. Jason Heyward is in to play center field.
It's how Zobrist and Heyward fit into Chicago's offense that's especially exciting. Thanks to Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs already had lots of power. In Zobrist and Heyward, they now have two well-rounded hitters to set the table for them. That only makes it easier to believe Owen Watson of FanGraphs' conclusion that Chicago's lineup has dynasty potential.
Mind you, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are still good teams. They're just not the Cubs, who are in a class of their own.
NL West Champ: San Francisco Giants
Obviously, this has everything to do with even-year nonsense.
Also, the fact that the Giants are a pretty well-constructed team.
In Buster Posey behind the dish, a truly awesome infield, a top-tier ace in Madison Bumgarner and a solid bullpen, the Giants had about half of a great team in 2015. What they were missing was starting-pitching depth, and that was their undoing in the long run.
That undoing has since been undone. It's cost the Giants more than $200 million, but they've brought in some much-needed starting pitching depth in the form of Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Both are coming off rocky 2015 seasons, but the Giants can rest easy knowing that they should at least eat innings for them.
"We've added two significant workhorses," Giants general manager Bobby Evans said, via Chris Haft of MLB.com. "[It] addresses an area that we really struggled with last year. This gives us a lot of hope looking at 2016 and beyond."
The Giants will face some stiff competition in 2016. With Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller in town, the Arizona Diamondbacks look a lot better. And though they've failed to make big additions, the Los Angeles Dodgers are still a dangerous team.
But only the Dodgers present a real threat to the Giants, and they have the same problem as the Nationals. They're good on paper, but their almost complete lack of rotation depth and bullpen depth combined with their assorted lineup question marks make them an unfinished product in reality.
Wild Card 1: Los Angeles Dodgers
We will now go straight from that last point to saying that, yeah, the Dodgers are probably still a playoff team as things stand now.
As easy as it is to focus on what the Dodgers don't have, we shouldn't overlook what they do have. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Kenley Jansen is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner are really good hitters. Corey Seager and Joc Pederson are two high-ceiling youngsters. Yasmani Grandal, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig are good when healthy.
And so on. Though the Dodgers look too flawed to win the NL West, they're not flawed enough to miss out entirely.
Wild Card 2: St. Louis Cardinals
If we assume that the Dodgers are still a capable team, this second wild card becomes a tough call between the Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates and Diamondbacks.
Any of the four could snag a wild-card spot, but the Cardinals are the safest bet. They're not as good as the club that won an MLB-high 100 games in 2015, but they're still good. Mike Leake adds stability to a Cardinals pitching staff that already had lots of talent, and the Cardinals' 2016 offense should benefit from full seasons out of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.
And that, folks, is your not-too-early look at the 2016 postseason race. Be sure to check back in at the start of spring training, when the grand scheme of things will look notably different.