50 Bold MLB Predictions for 2011
This offseason has already seen the three biggest free agents switch teams for the lure of a nine-figure contract and two of the biggest names in the game traded to title contenders.
As more and more free agents agree to terms, we begin to see a clearer picture of what to expect next season.
Pitchers and catchers will begin reporting in less than two months and opening day is just over three months away.
With next season rapidly approaching, let’s take a moment to stare into my crystal ball and examine 50 bold predictions for the upcoming year.
1. Albert Pujols Will Win The Triple Crown
OK, this is a seemingly unachievable feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, but if anybody could do it, it’s Pujols.
Last season, Pujols finished first in home runs (42), first in RBI (118) and sixth in batting average (.312). Considering the .312 average is the lowest of his career and the fact that Pujols is currently in his prime, a triple crown season is far from unattainable.
Carlos Gonzalez’s .336 average was good enough to win the batting title last season and Pujols sports a .331 career average.
It may not even take a career year to win the crown as Pujols' 2003 season (.359, 43, 124) would have been sufficient last season.
2. At Least Two Players Will Hit 50 Home Runs
Last season, only one player smashed 50 home runs and only two surpassed the 40 home run threshold.
This season, that power outage will come to an abrupt halt.
Adam Dunn could approach 50 dingers playing in U.S. Cellular Field, as could Adrian Gonzalez in his new digs.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard are always 50 home run threats, and Albert Pujols has often come just short of the 50 home run season.
We’re not playing in the juiced up home run era from a decade ago, but two of these sluggers will crack the 50 home run mark.
3. Brett Gardner Will Lead the League in Strikeouts Looking
Last season, 21.2 percent of Brett Gardner’s at bats ended in strikeouts, which was even higher than last year’s home run king Jose Bautista.
However, the oddest thing about Gardner is that he actually led the league in Z-contact percentage at 97.5 percent (that’s the percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone).
Brett Gardner swings at a league-low 31 percent of all pitches which leads him to take an absurd amount of strikes looking. Factor in the fact that most big power hitters are up there swinging (and missing) and there’s a high possibility that Gardner leads the league in this category.
4. Stephen Strasburg Will Pitch This Season
After Strasburg’s breathtaking rookie season was cut short by reconstructive elbow surgery, the entire baseball world was devastated.
Never before have any of us seen a young pitcher with the wide array of filthy pitches featured by Strasburg.
Although we were told Strasburg would miss the entire 2011 season, Strasburg is already getting physical therapy three times a week and could be ready to pitch after the All-Star break.
5. Jon Lester Will Win the AL Cy Young
As nasty as Felix Hernandez is, Jon Lester will keep him from repeating as the Cy Young winner.
Lester posted a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA and 225 strikeouts a season ago.
With four plus-pitches including a nasty cutter, in addition to an upgraded offense, Lester could win well over 20 games and take home his first Cy.
6. Daniel Bard Closes For the Red Sox This Season
After a report surfaced that the Red Sox had offered Mariano Rivera a contract and considered non-tendering Jonathan Papelbon, the writing was on the wall.
Not only is Papelbon tremendously overpaid at $12 million per season, but the Sox also have a fully capable closer waiting in the wings.
Daniel Bard features a 98 mile per hour fastball and a nearly unhittable sweeping slider. The 25-year-old posted a 1.93 ERA last season and should steal the closer's job from Papelbon before the season ends.
7. Jose Bautista Will Fail to Hit 30 Home Runs
Last season Jose Bautista was the feel-good story of the year.
The veteran journeyman smashed an incredible 54 home runs—12 more than second place Albert Pujols. Don’t expect that to happen again.
Bautista’s previous career high in dingers was 16 and this absurd home run tally should prove to be one of baseball’s most obvious statistical anomalies.
8. The Mariners Will Have the Worst Record in Baseball
Seattle used to be home to greats like Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson. Other than Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki, I’m not sure a single player deserves to be an everyday starter.
This team has some talented young players, but they are all at least a year away from being legitimate contributors (Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley immediately come to mind).
9. Jason Heyward Will Double His Home Run Production
Last season as a rookie, Jason Heyward emerged as one of my favorite players in baseball. The 6’5” lefty combined a massive frame with world-class bat speed and should be an All-Star for years to come.
In 2010, the Rookie of the Year runner-up batted .277 with just 18 home runs. Heyward is only 21-years old but should see a steep increase in production after adjusting to the major league game.
After hitting 18 homers as a rookie, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Heyward approach 35 blasts this season.
10. The Blue Jays Will Futilely Try to Trade Vernon Wells
Only a year-and-a-half ago the Jays placed the uber-talented Alex Rios on waivers because they didn’t want to pay his $10 million per season salary.
If they couldn’t afford $10 million, you think they can afford Vernon Wells contract?
Wells is due $86 million over the next four seasons and the Jays will try to deal Wells at every hot streak along the way.
I can’t imagine there would be any interested suitors, but if the Jays eat some of the center fielder's contract, perhaps VW will find a new home.
11. Justin Upton Will Not Be Traded
Despite rumors that Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers was shopping Justin Upton, the five-tool outfielder is not going anywhere.
The 23-year-old Upton would likely command an even bigger package of prospects than the ones received by San Diego and Kansas City for Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke, respectively.
He’s too talented and affordable to warrant a trade and should be in Arizona for years to come.
12. Albert Pujols Will Win His Fourth MVP
Perhaps the bolder statement would be saying that Pujols would not win the MVP.
The 30-year-old first baseman finished among the top four in MVP voting in nine of his 10 professional seasons, never hitting below .312 or slugging fewer than 32 home runs.
The Cardinals should make the playoffs again and Pujols should finish around .320 with 40 bombs.
13. Mark Reynolds Will Strikeout at Least 200 Times
Most of the time a 30 home run hitter helps your team. Not if that hitter is Mark Reynolds.
Last season with the Diamondbacks, Reynolds batted an atrocious .198 with 32 home runs and 211 Ks. It was Reynolds' third consecutive 200-strikeout season and spurred Arizona to deal him.
Now playing in the AL East for the Orioles, Reynolds will face pitchers like C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and David Price multiple times per year.
The current single season record holder for Ks in a season could top himself in Baltimore.
14. The Kansas City Royals Will Finally Show Signs of Life
For years the Royals have been the AL’s basement dwellers, constantly whiffing with their top draft picks.
Not any more.
Kansas City has a plethora of good-looking young prospects including Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, both of whom could make an appearance in the show this season.
Add that to the already productive Billy Butler at first base and the haul of prospects brought in from Milwaukee and there may be signs of life in Missourah.
15. The Cubs Will Once Again Fail to Make The Playoffs
After stumbling to a 75-87 finish, the Cubs big offseason move was adding Carlos Pena to a one-year deal.
Sorry Chicago fans, but that won’t be enough.
Known headcase Carlos Zambrano leads a questionable pitching staff while Pena’s signing (.196 and 28 home runs last season for Tampa Bay) is hardly an upgrade over Derrek Lee.
16. Mets Regret Signing New Coach Terry Collins
New Mets coach Terry Collins has a reputation for being a feisty and intense manager, but often times in New York that is simply not enough.
This team has a bloated payroll with massive contracts going to under-producing or injured players (Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran for example), and the former Japanese-league manager could struggle to deal with the pressure and media scrutiny that comes from coaching in New York.
17. Milton Bradley Makes A Fool Out of Himself
This is the same player who injured himself in the midst of a career season when he tore his ACL jumping up and down to argue a call at first base.
Every year he puts his foot in his mouth and alienates his fellow players and fans alike. Bet on it happening again this year.
18. Kendry Morales Has Bounce-Back Season
Team morale was low after Kendry Morales suffered a season-ending injury at home plate last season.
No, he wasn’t in a collision at the plate. He simply injured himself celebrating.
After belting a walk-off (or perhaps more appropriately, cart-off) home run, Morales fractured his lower leg celebrating with teammates.
A year removed from a breakout season featuring a .306 average and 34 home runs, Morales is ready to make up for lost time.
19. Tim Lincecum Turns In Another Less Than Dominant Season
Although Lincecum dominated during the Giants World Series run, at many times last season he did not look like a former Cy Young-winning pitcher.
The 5’11” righty went 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA in May and 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA in August.
Lincecum uses his body to create unbelievable torque, but his unorthodox delivery is not maintainable and Lincecum could eventually suffer from serious arm troubles.
It’s a tragedy too, because there are few pitchers more entertaining to watch than Timmy.
20. Texas Rangers Improve on 2010 Record
After losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies, many people may question the logic behind this slide. After all, the Rangers won 90 games last season and took down the AL West.
Still, I think the Rangers can progress even further.
Assuming Vlad Guerrero returns, the Rangers will retain their potent offense which ranked fifth in baseball in runs scored.
Despite extended absences from Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and even Josh Hamilton, this team had no trouble producing runs. And in a weak AL West, the Rangers should see a marked improvement in their record.
21. The Brewers Will Win The NL Wild Card
Adding two stud pitchers in Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke should help bring balance to a team that has survived mainly based on offense.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are potential MVP candidates while Corey Hart provides great protection behind them.
Add in the fast-improving Rickie Weeks and one of last year’s great surprise stories in Casey McGehee and the Brewers should be far better than last season’s 77-85 record.
22. Aaron Hill Has Bounce Back Season
In 2009, Aaron Hill established himself as one of the game’s premier second basemen by batting .288 with 36 home runs.
His encore? A heinous season with 26 home runs but a meager .205 average.
Expect Hill to bounce back by hitting .270 with around 30 home runs. Hill was very unlucky last season as indicated by his career low .196 BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
In fact, it was the worst BABIP in all of baseball and that misfortune should change next season.
23. B.J. Upton Will Once Again Disappoint
Every single season I go into the year thinking this may be the year that Bossman Junior finally realizes his potential.
The center fielder has unbelievable wheels plus great bat speed and a nice power stroke. While Upton doesn’t project to be a high batting average player, there is no excuse for multiple seasons in the .240s.
The 26-year-old is loaded with potential and hit 18 home runs with 42 steals, but he seems destined to be a consistent under-producer.
24. Josh Johnson Wins NL Cy Young
Although Lincecum, Halladay and occasionally Ubaldo Jimenez get the most attention among NL pitchers, Josh Johnson is arguably the best of the bunch.
Last season the flame-throwing righty recorded an 11-7 record with a 2.30 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 183 innings.
Johnson has a fastball that averages an astounding 95 miles per hour and arguably the best right-handed slider in the game.
The Marlins have lots of young talent and could have a surprisingly effective offense. If that happens, Johnson will receive the wins and recognition necessary for him to earn the Cy Young.
25. Adrian Gonzalez Will Win The AL MVP
Playing in arguably the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball, Adrian Gonzalez was able to smash 71 dingers over the last two seasons.
Imagine how those numbers will rise playing in hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
Not only will Gonzalez have more opportunities to drive in runs with a better line up in front of him, he will have protection as well, in the form of Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz.
Gonzalez has excellent power to both fields meaning the lefty will be able to take advantage of the short Green Monster in left field.
Expect a .300 average with over 40 home runs as A-Gon wins his first MVP award.
26. Carlos Gonzalez Comes Down To Earth
Allow me to present you with Carlos Gonzalez's home and away splits from last season. On the road, CarGo batted just .289 with eight home runs. Respectable, but a far cry from his Rocky Mountain high home stats.
At Coors Field, Gonzalez batted a ridiculous .380 with 26 home runs!
Even with their infamously thin mile-high air, Gonzalez would be hard pressed to emulate those home stats, meaning his MVP caliber numbers should diminish greatly.
27. Padres Go From Second to Last in NL West
Although their only substantial loss was Adrian Gonzalez, his bat was so crucial to the lineup that San Diego will fall into last place in the division.
This past season’s last-place finisher, the Diamondbacks, have plenty of offensive talent with Justin Upton, Chris Young and Stephen Drew.
The Padres best hitter is Ryan Ludwick who hit just .251 with 17 home runs last season. Mat Latos and San Diego’s pitching staff can’t win without offense and there is a dearth of thumpers in SD.
28. Cincinnati Fails to Make Postseason
After ending an epic playoff drought last season, the Reds will fail to reach the promised land in consecutive years.
Joey Votto is one of the game’s best but Bronson Arroyo is not a real ace, there are very few good average hitters and divisional foes like the Brewers have improved greatly.
The Reds will still finish above .500, but will be unable to reach the playoffs again.
29. The Yankees, Red Sox Series Will Be Amongst the Most Intense Of All-Time
Just a few years ago, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino called the Yankees the “evil empire,” for their reckless spending ways. After doling out two nine-figure contracts this offseason, perhaps Lucchino should look in the mirror.
These two teams have the highest payrolls in baseball and both have the mindset that anything less than a World Series is an utter failure.
Both the teams and the fans expect to win, meaning the 19 times these teams face off will be the most exciting to watch all season.
30. The Nationals Attempt to Stay Relevant Will Fail
Last season, fans would flock to watch the Nationals play whenever Stephen Strasburg was on the mound. The stadium would sell out and the raucous crowd would go hoarse from yelling.
The following game would find a mostly empty stadium in which fans could hear a pin drop.
In an attempt to develop a fan base, Washington overspent on Jayson Werth. The slugging outfielder batted .296 last season with 27 home runs but could see those numbers actually drop off without the protection Werth received in the Phillies lineup.
The Nats were hoping to draw fans while youngsters Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper developed, but this team will not be competitive and once again fan support will dwindle.
31. The Angels Will Make A Major Trade This Season
After failing to land Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee, the Angels only remaining free agent target is Adrian Beltre.
Assuming Beltre signs elsewhere, though, the Angels will need to make a splash in the trade market.
The Angels have plenty of intriguing young players, including outfielder Mike Trout, and could pull the trigger on a big deal as they look to stay competitive in the AL West.
32. Starlin Castro Will Record 200 Hits
Last season the Cubs 20-year old shortstop batted .300 in 463 at bats, proving to be one of the most promising rookies in baseball.
With almost a full season under his belt, Castro should be ready to take the next leap and become one of baseball’s premier shortstops.
Assuming Castro bats atop the batting order and raises his batting average slightly, this seemingly arduous task should be accomplished.
33. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver Will Continue to Be The Worst Broadcasting Tandem
Wait a second…that’s not a bold prediction: It’s a stone cold fact.
McCarver drops quotable gems like: “If you leadoff and you play every day, you’re guaranteed to bat with the bases empty at least 162 times.”
Or: “That pitch wasn’t down and in, that pitch was down and up.”
Too bad you can’t go up and down at the same time.
Better yet: “Mt. Everest erupts again!”
Please somebody take baseball away from Fox before I stop watching entirely.
34. The Chicago White Sox Will Win the AL Central
After adding Adam Dunn to an already potent offense, the White Sox may have one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball.
Paul Konerko, Dunn, Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios are all potential 30 home run hitters while Juan Pierre is one of the best table setters in the game.
Their rotation lacks a true ace, but is loaded with potential. Buehrle and Danks will do well, but if Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy can return to their old form, this team could be tough to beat.
35. The Braves Will Struggle Without Bobby Cox
For two decades, Bobby Cox was the Atlanta Braves.
As a GM, he acquired players like Tom Glavine, David Justice and Chipper Jones—the players most responsible for jump-starting the Braves playoff streak.
As a manager, Cox won a division title every year between 1991 and 2005—winning three Manager of the Year awards in that time.
With Cox retired, the Braves could struggle. The team has a solid pitching rotation but little offensive firepower behind Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla.
Philadelphia will be tough to catch in the NL East and the Braves should see a decrease from last season’s 91 wins.
36. Buster Posey Passes Joe Mauer As Baseball’s Top Catcher
Last season, as a rookie, San Francisco’s Buster Posey batted .305 with 18 home runs in just 108 games. Moreover, Posey did a phenomenal job handling the pitchers and helped the Giants to the lowest team ERA in baseball.
Posey has displayed great patience, a consistent swing and a cannon for an arm.
Although Joe Mauer has held the title of best catcher in baseball for the past few years, Posey already looks like a confident veteran and will emerge as the league’s top backstop.
37. Jeremy Hellickson Will Emerge As One of the League’s Top Young Pitchers
After destroying minor league competition (12-3 with a 2.45 ERA in AAA), Hellickson received a late season call-up from the Rays when their other pitchers had injury problems.
The 23-year old did not disappoint. Hellickson displayed poise beyond his years, a hard fastball and one of the better change-ups I’ve seen.
The Rays offense may have taken a hit after losing Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford, but with David Price, Matt Garza and Jeremy Hellickson, this young rotation should keep Tampa relevant for years to come.
38. Austin Jackson Comes Back to Earth
If BABIP is often used as an indicator of luck, the Tigers Austin Jackson could be in line for a down season.
The Detroit rookie batted a solid .293 in his first major league season, but he was aided by a league-leading .396 BABIP.
When that number normalizes, we will see what type of hitter Jackson really is—which will probably be around .270.
39. Desmond Jennings Wins Rookie of the Year
What better way to replace Carl Crawford than with a Carl Crawford clone?
The 24-year old Desmond Jennings is projected to start in left field next season for the Rays and should make an immediate impact.
Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 6 prospect before last season, Jennings batted .278 with a .362 OBP and 37 steals.
At 6’2", 200 pounds, Jennings has the frame to add some pop and has already shown gap power at times.
In 2009, Jennings batted .318 with 11 home runs and 52 steals—a mirror image of Crawford’s early production.
40. Aroldis Chapman Joins the Rotation
When the Cincinnati Reds gave Chapman a $30 million contract, they had visions of the flamethrower anchoring their rotation, not coming out of the bullpen.
Although Chapman had tremendous success last season as a reliever (2.03 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 13.1 innings), he is far more valuable as a starter.
The 22-year-old lefty has been clocked throwing a record-setting 105 miles per hour out of the bullpen, but throws an easy 97 as a starter.
Chapman has a tremendous slider and would be far more valuable to the Reds as a starting pitcher.
41. Brandon Webb Dazzles in Return
After missing most of the 2009 season and all of the 2010 campaign, Brandon Webb will finally return to the mound this season, although still unsigned (Chicago, Texas and Washington are said to be interested).
Webb is a pitcher with a great track record and great knowledge of the game. Before his injury, Webb posted back-to back seasons of at least 18 wins and a sub 3.30 ERA.
The 31-year old features three plus pitchers and could provide a surprising lift to some lucky ball club.
42. Heath Bell Will Be The First Big-Name Player Traded
Teams are always searching for bullpen help and there are few better options than Heath Bell. A season after recording 42 saves with a 2.71 ERA, Bell saved another 47 games with a paltry 1.93 ERA.
Padres GM Jed Hoyer has stated multiple times that trading away Adrian Gonzalez was a business move, but I think it was the first step in a rebuilding process.
Expect Bell to be dealt to a contender early on when San Diego falls 10 games back of first place.
43. A-Rod Dates Lady Gaga
The Billion Dollar Man has been linked to nearly every major celebrity. From Madonna to Kate Hudson to Cameron Diaz, Rodriguez is all about quantity while teammate Derek Jeter is all about quality (Minka Kelly, anybody?).
A-Rod seems to be all about big-name celebrities and right now there are few celebs with more fame than Gaga. She’s already made a scene at the Mets Citi Field. Perhaps next year she’ll do the same at Yankee Stadium.
44. 2011 World Series Will Have Higher TV Ratings Than 2010
For whatever reason, fans didn’t seem interested in tuning in to see two hardworking teams that had not won a World Series in the past half century.
Instead, fans seem to be drawn to watching the same three or four teams play each other over and over again.
If that’s the case, then the 2011 World Series should have incredible ratings as all the best teams (Boston, New York, Philadelphia) are all from big markets.
45. The Yankees Will Deal Away Top Prospect Jesus Montero
Although they have often denied Montero’s availability, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will trade away their top prospect.
The Yankees top prospects are all years away from being MLB ready with the exception of Montero, so if-and-when New York swings a deal, it will have to involve Montero.
In fact, the Yankees were reportedly involved in the bidding for Kansas City’s Zack Greinke but could not match the Brewers offer.
After losing out on Cliff Lee and seeing their rivals add Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, Brian Cashman will be unable to sit still.
When the Astros make Brett Myers available, expect the Yankees to enter the bidding and look for them to send their young catcher down south.
46. Former Governor Goes Broke Over World Series Tickets
Former New York Governor David Paterson was fined $62,125 for accepting five tickets to Game 1 of the 2009 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees.
Paterson stated that he had intended to pay the $2,125 that the tickets were worth (because you always find amazing World Series tickets for under $500 a piece), and that attending the game was state business (which means, I'm sure he was at the 2007 WNBA Finals).
Governors don’t make big money so let’s hope his time in New York yielded some beneficial relationships with…umm…waste management consultants. They’re always good to help you out of a financial bind.
47. Marlins Quickly Regret Nolasco’s Contract
The Florida Marlins recently agreed to a three-year, $26.5 million contract with pitcher Ricky Nolasco. For a team that was too frugal to pay slugger Dan Uggla, this move comes as quite a surprise.
The 28-year-old Nolasco was 14-9 last season with a 4.51 ERA in157 innings.
Nolasco features a good slider and nice curve, but constantly gets beat on his fastball. Nolasco last season had a WAR (wins above replacement) of just 2.5 compared to the 5.1 of Uggla.
If you’re going to pay to keep homegrown players, you might as well keep the better talent.
48. Red Sox Will Win The AL
After acquiring two of the top left-handed bats in baseball, in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox have arguably the best lineup in baseball.
Add in a talented young pitching staff featuring Clay Buchholz (2.33 ERA in 2010) and Jon Lester (3.25 ERA) and you can see why the Sox are 9-to-2 favorites to win it all.
49. Phillies Will Win the NL
By adding Cliff Lee to a rotation that already featured Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, World Series MVP Cole Hamels and three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt, the Phillies may have constructed the greatest rotation of all-time.
The offense will miss the presence of Jayson Werth, but incumbent starter Dominic Brown should fill the void nicely.
The 6’5” rookie is regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball and batted .327 with 20 home runs in 93 games between AA and AAA last season.
50. Red Sox Will Win World Series
If the Phillies face off against the Red Sox this season, we may be in for one of the greatest World Series of all-time.
The Red Sox feature the game’s most dynamic offense while the Phillies have arguably the greatest pitching rotation ever assembled, including four All-Star caliber starters.
For me what it comes down to is Boston’s pitching versus Philadelphia’s hitting.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are among the game’s top hitters, but the team will miss Jayson Werth’s presence and the lineup may feature too many lefties. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t produced a quality season since 2007 and Raul Ibanez may be over the hill.
As for the Sox pitching, not only do they feature two of the AL’s best young pitchers in Buchholz and Lester, they also feature one of the best postseason pitchers in recent history.
Josh Beckett was phenomenal in the 2003 playoffs, leading the Marlins to a World Series victory and winning the series MVP.