Bleacher Report's Bold Predictions for the 2016 MLB Season
The great thing about the baseball season is we know we're in for seven months of surprises. The tough thing about making "bold" predictions is if we actually knew what was going to happen, it wouldn't be a surprise.
Baseball is unpredictable enough that the boldest predictions can sound completely outrageous—and then they can come true. We're not guaranteeing all of these will happen, but we do guarantee that any of them could happen.
Joe Maddon's Chicago Cubs could even win the World Series, a prediction that doesn't sound that bold until you remember it hasn't happened in more than a century.
Maddon broke out one of his favorite Tampa Bay Rays lines this spring, when he said of the Cubs' dress code, "If you think you look hot, you wear it."
Here at Bleacher Report, we may not look hot, but we feel hot enough to make these bold MLB predictions for 2016.
Alex Rodriguez Announces He's Retiring This Year
The news Wednesday was that Alex Rodriguez told ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand he plans to retire at the end of the 2017 season—and then told the New York Post's Kevin Kernan he actually hasn't decided yet.
Only A-Rod could cause such a stir by saying he will, or might, retire when he'll be 42 and won't have a $21 million contract anymore.
But what if what he ends up deciding is that this year should be it for him?
On the surface, it seems highly unlikely. The New York Yankees owe him another $21 million in 2017. He begins 2016 with 687 career home runs, and while it's unlikely he could catch Barry Bonds even with two good years, he might need more than one year to get past Babe Ruth's 714.
Besides, A-Rod reminds us regularly that he loves baseball and missed it greatly during the year he was suspended. On that subject, most people even believe him.
He showed last season that while age has taken away his speed and ability to play in the field, he could still be effective as a full-time designated hitter.
But what if this year he can't? What if now that he's going to turn 41 in July, he gets to the point where he just can't succeed, or have fun?
We've already seen Michael Cuddyer retire from the New York Mets with a year left on his contract. We've seen Adam LaRoche walk away from the Chicago White Sox this spring.
Why not A-Rod?
Seattle Mariners Make the Playoffs for the First Time Since 2001
The Seattle Mariners shouldn't be the team with the longest postseason drought. They have true stars in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. They have the resources to rank in the upper half of MLB payrolls. They play in a division that is competitive but not filled with unbelievable teams.
But now that the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays have made it to recent Octobers, the Mariners are left with the longest drought in the game. They haven't played a postseason game since a 12-3 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 2001 ALCS, a year after Alex Rodriguez left Seattle and three years before he would join the Yankees.
The Mariners have another new general manager (Jerry Dipoto) and another new manager (Scott Servais), but they'll make the playoffs this year—mostly because they're too talented to keep having bad years. Hernandez is a true No. 1, Taijuan Walker could develop into a real No. 2, and Cano and Nelson Cruz give them true threats in the middle of the order. They're not the best team in the game, but they shouldn't be the worst either, and in baseball, those kinds of teams eventually win something.
Marcus Stroman Wins More Games Than David Price
David Price has had a fine spring with the Boston Red Sox and will likely have a good season. But while it would be crazy to say the Toronto Blue Jays won't miss him, it's equally wrong to think their rotation will struggle the way it often did before Price arrived last July.
Marcus Stroman was an impact guy down the stretch after missing most of last season with an injury suffered during spring training. The Blue Jays believed in him more than Price during October, and he justified the belief with a win in the ALCS.
Now he'll be the Opening Day starter at age 24, and he's ready for that too.
Every-Other-Year Trend Ends for San Francisco Giants
Go ahead and call me a flip-flopper. Not even two months ago, I told you the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series in 2016, just as they did in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Now I'm telling you they don't even make the playoffs.
There are just too many questions about their starting rotation, with Matt Cain's struggles to get healthy and Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto still not able to prove they can be consistent winners. And the bullpen is starting to look old.
As one Arizona-based scout pointed out, "Great manager [Bruce Bochy] and good pitching coach [Dave Righetti] usually find a way, but this could be a challenge."
Arizona Diamondbacks Win the National League West
So if the San Francisco Giants don't win the National League West, who does? The easy answer would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have won the division the last three years (the Giants were wild-card winners when they won the 2014 World Series).
The bold (and correct) answer is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who unlike their two division rivals have had a smooth and promising spring. If you don't believe me, check out what Bleacher Report colleague Scott Miller wrote about them this week.
Plenty of people criticized the Diamondbacks for giving up too much money for Zack Greinke and too many prospects for Shelby Miller. But Arizona's goal was to win now, and it says here the D-backs will.
Kenta Maeda Wins More Games Than Hisashi Iwakuma
Spring results can be horribly misleading, but it's a good sign for the Los Angeles Dodgers that Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda has a 1.32 spring ERA. Some of the big questions surrounding Maeda were about how he'd adjust to American baseball, and the results and reports suggest he's adjusting quickly.
The Dodgers nearly signed Hisashi Iwakuma before questions about his health led them to pull back and let him go back to the Seattle Mariners. There were questions about Maeda's health too, but after working out a complex contract, the Dodgers did sign him.
At least for the first year of the eight-year deal, they should be happy.
Giancarlo Stanton Hits 50 Home Runs
Spring results don't matter, so this prediction has nothing to do with Stanton's hitting home runs each of the last two days (including one Thursday that cleared the clubhouse building). OK, so maybe it has just a tiny bit to do with it, because the swings suggest Stanton is healthy.
He's healthy, the Marlins have a real chance to be revived under manager Don Mattingly (and hitting coach Barry Bonds) and they moved in the fences at Marlins Park.
Stanton's career high is 37 home runs, which was enough to win the National League home run crown in 2014. We're back in an era when a 50-homer season would be a big deal, and Stanton should have a chance at it.
Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner Lead Washington Nationals to Top of NL East Race
The Washington Nationals sent top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito to the minor leagues this week. Top shortstop prospect Trea Turner could follow him there soon.
So what? Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant began last season in the minor leagues (more on them later).
The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell wrote a column Wednesday suggesting the Nationals are still in transition but could go to the World Series in 2018. He's not necessarily wrong, but the managerial switch from Matt Williams to Dusty Baker could make a big difference, and the possible promotions of Giolito and/or Turner could give them a needed boost the way Correa did with the 2015 Houston Astros.
Carlos Correa Becomes the American League's Most Valuable Player
Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Bryce Harper made the journey from Rookie of the Year to Most Valuable Player, but not immediately. The last guy to go from Rookie of the Year one season to MVP the next was Dustin Pedroia with the 2008 Boston Red Sox.
Correa spent the first two months of the 2015 season in the minor leagues, and he still made a big enough impact that he made it onto one MVP ballot. Now he's the third-place hitter on a Houston Astros team with championship aspirations—and he's still just 21.
As talented as Correa is and as good as the Astros could be, there's no reason he can't do what Pedroia did.
Kris Bryant Becomes the National League's Most Valuable Player
You know all that stuff I just said about Carlos Correa? Well, it all applies to Kris Bryant too.
He was a supertalented Rookie of the Year, and his Chicago Cubs team figures to be very, very good (more on that later). Bryant had nearly a full season last year, debuting on April 17, and as good as he was, the year's experience should help him. Having Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist in the lineup to get on base should help, too. Of Bryant's 26 home runs as a rookie, 10 came with the bases empty and another 12 with one runner on.
If the Cubs follow through with the storyline of the winter and spring, they'll be the highest of high-profile teams this summer. And Bryant will have a chance to be in headlines and on TV screens everywhere.
David Ortiz Has One Last Huge Postseason Moment
Baseball is more and more about the kids, but it's not only about the kids. When 40-year-old David Ortiz announced that this season would be his last, he guaranteed we'll be reading and hearing plenty about him too.
Ortiz hit 37 home runs last season, so he's still an impact hitter. He's had no impact on the last two postseasons because his Boston Red Sox didn't come close to getting there. If our last postseason memory of Ortiz is of his ALCS grand slam and .688 World Series batting average in 2013, that's fine.
But the prediction here is it won't be. The Red Sox will find a way to get him back there. When they do, Ortiz will deliver, as he has so many times before.
After a Year of Chicago White Sox Turmoil, Robin Ventura Leaves as Manager
Even last year, it wasn't clear how much Robin Ventura wanted to be a manager. I can't imagine he's enjoying a spring that has been anything but smooth for his Chicago White Sox. As the Adam LaRoche story broke open last week, Bleacher Report's Scott Miller wrote about the "ugly rift in the Chicago White Sox organization."
Jerry Reinsdorf is the most loyal of owners, and Ventura has always been a Reinsdorf favorite, but if the White Sox don't win, it's easy to see Ventura may think he doesn't need (or want) this job.
Justin Verlander Wins American League Cy Young
Sometimes I do stay consistent, and I've consistently believed that if Justin Verlander could have a run of good health, he could go back to being a dominant starter. I wrote as much last June, when Verlander was just off the disabled list and wasn't that guy yet.
He got closer to being it later in the 2015 season, with a 2.27 ERA in his final 14 starts. He followed that with a normal winter and what seems to be a so-far-healthy spring. The Detroit Tigers have big talent, but also some big questions, with Victor Martinez not certain to be ready to begin the season.
For once, Verlander shouldn't be one of the questions.
Oakland A's Trade Pitcher Sonny Gray
As a rival executive said late last summer, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane "will trade anyone." So far, that hasn't included Sonny Gray, despite many reports of teams asking about the talented right-hander. Beane has consistently said Gray isn't available.
Teams will definitely keep asking, and unless the A's find themselves in contention in the crowded American League West race, he might have trouble saying no. While this summer's trade market should have plenty of sellers, most of those will be rebuilding teams that don't have a starting pitcher like Gray.
He'll be in demand, and he could make a huge difference for a team like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.
Chicago Cubs Win World Series
I know, these are supposed to be "bold" picks, and everybody's picking the Cubs. But I'll go back to what I wrote when we were just getting started, that when a team has gone more than 100 years without winning, it's bold to say this is the year they'll win.
This is the year. And if we get to November and it doesn't happen, hopefully a few of my other predictions already did.