25 Fresh MLB Predictions for the 2015 Calendar Year

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2015

25 Fresh MLB Predictions for the 2015 Calendar Year

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    Is baseball back yet?

    Fans must truck through three more months before the MLB season begins April 5, but they can now get a better sense for the campaign ahead after several moves unfolded. Although a few big names hover over the free-agent and trade markets, the winter meetings represented the offseason's zenith.

    It's still early, but Opening Day is close enough to take out the crystal ball and forecast the 2015 season. Which underdogs will rise to the surface this year? Which giants will get knocked down a peg? Will any stars switch uniforms before celebrating another turning of the calendar?

    Some of these are bound to look stupid in 2016, but that's half the fun of predictions. I won't gloat (too much) about the ones that pan out if you don't laugh too hard at the missteps.


Baseball Hall of Fame Alters Voting Process

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    How long can an organization keep employing an antiquated process that everyone knows is terrible?

    Writers submitting ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame can vote for up to 10 players, a severe problem considering the logjam of deserving options that has piled up. This year, only four—Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio—got the call to Cooperstown.

    ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required) abstained from voting altogether because he could not stand to shun several players he felt deserved recognition. He explained his reasoning last month, correctly predicting that some writers would strategically leave no-doubters Martinez and Johnson off ballots.

    The same impossible math remains: I'm counting 15 worthy candidates right now for those 10 spots. Other writers are telling me they see anywhere from 12 to 20 worthy candidates, which means that in their eyes, they'll be leaving players they feel are Hall of Fame-worthy off their ballots. It means that as great as Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were -- both should be unanimous, in light of their accomplishments -- they might lose votes as writers struggle with the question of how to deal with the ballot guideline that seems completely arbitrary. (Why not a ballot limit of 11? Why not 12? Why not eight? Why not six? Is it 10 only because it's a round number?) 

    The flawed process doesn't absolve writers of blame. In what world does the best hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, not deserve the honor? Why does Jeff Bagwell and his elite .948 career OPS get punished for his peers' performance-enhancing-drug missteps? For that matter, is a shrine to baseball really complete without the all-time leader in home runs, Barry Bonds?

    Yet every year without a change means more guys crowd the picture, making it impossible for them to create separation unless they're an obvious choice in the Greg Maddux mold or someone who needlessly waits years for the call. Biggio didn't strengthen his case with an MVP campaign in 2014.

    With Olney just one of a few participants calling for change, it makes a lot of sense to reform before next year's vote.

Max Scherzer Stays with Detroit Tigers

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    Any day now. Less than three months remain before Opening Day, and free agent Max Scherzer has yet to choose his landing spot. Don't expect months of buildup to pay off with a shocking finish.

    Where else will he go other than the Detroit Tigers, who still need him around with Rick Porcello traded and Justin Verlander decaying? The Chicago Cubs signed their stud in Jon Lester. ESPN's Jim Bowden crossed off the San Francisco Giants. General manager Brian Cashman publicly balked at the New York Yankees meeting his lofty demands, and ESPN.com's Buster Olney (subscription required) labeled the Boston Red Sox as "really unlikely" to snag the righty.

    When it comes to paying a 30-year-old ace, everyone is either unable or unwilling to cough up the cost. Agent Scott Boras may not be weighing his client's options but simply waiting for someone to enter the fray.

    Barring a mystery team taking the plunge at the final hour, the Tigers will keep him around with little competition.

James Shields Becomes Free-Agency Flop

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    Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal couldn't decipher which team will end James Shields' free-agent purgatory, but he did report a massive offer on the righty's table:

    Though the front-runners for Shields are not known, a number of executives tell FOX Sports they expect the free-agent right-hander to land a contract of at least five years, $100 million.

    Two execs say it is their understanding that Shields has a five-year, $110 million offer and is looking for an even higher guarantee. But others say that if Shields actually has such an offer, he should take it.

    So, who is this mystery team? It wouldn't be a mystery if anyone had the answer, but Rosenthal wrote off the Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. He also dampened any slim chances of a return to the Kansas City Royals while listing Boston's odds as "highly unlikely."

    That doesn't leave many options—the Yankees need a durable ace, and the Tigers could eye him as a consolation price if they lose Scherzer—but anybody who obtains the 33-year-old's service for the rumored amount will regret it.

    Shields has logged 1,910.1 career frames during the regular season, and it shows in his deflating strikeout rates. Last season, he posted his worst strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio (7.1) since 2008, and 25 extra postseason frames only add to the inflated mileage on his arm.

    Five years and $110 million is far too much money for a veteran starter with noticeable warts. 

Ben Zobrist Gets Traded Before Opening Day

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    Knowing the end was near, the Tampa Bay Rays traded ace David Price at the July 31 trade deadline last year. This offseason, they dealt another big name, expelling Wil Myers after a wildly disappointing campaign.

    The next logical, notable name to move is Ben Zobrist, a criminally underrated Swiss army knife who will hit free agency next offseason. Tampa Bay routinely trades its established players before they hit the market, so there's no reason to expect a different outcome for the veteran, who turns 34 in May.

    Having played everywhere except pitcher and catcher over his career, Zobrist would fit with just about any team. Anyone can pencil in the utiltyman at second base, shortstop or anywhere in the outfield and get a plus defender with a .354 career on-base percentage.

    Now that the Rays have signed Asdrubal Cabrera, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman said Zobrist "seems very likely to go somewhere." They could slide Zobrist into an outfield slot and see how the season plays out, but they risk decreasing the pending free-agent's trade value by waiting until July.

Troy Tulowitzki Finishes Season with Colorado Rockies

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    Nothing gets more frustrating than a lingering trade rumor burning on the hot stove. Yet everyone is stuck with precisely that, as Troy Tulowitzki talks stay stagnant after months of speculation. 

    Would the Rockies dare trade a shortstop coming off a .340/.432/.603 campaign? Wouldn't a losing team be silly not to field offers for a 30-year-old who can't stay healthy? It's a complicated situation, and those don't tend to get resolved swiftly.

    Regardless of their affiliation, New York fans are shouting to acquire Tulowitzki, but they won't get their wish. The Yankees don't have the prospects to interest Colorado, and the Mets aren't rushing to lose any of their young studs. 

    Rumors will continue to swirl until July 31, but the superstar will remain in Coors Field for the foreseeable future.

A Toronto Blue Jay Leads MLB in Home Runs

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    OK, so this is a cop-out. Rather than picking one member of the Toronto Blue Jays to usurp Nelson Cruz as 2015's leader in home runs, let's just say one of three sluggers will assume the honor.

    After missing time in 2012 and 2013, Jose Bautista crushed 35 long balls over a full season. Even if he never hits 54 homers again (he won't), the 34-year-old is not done raking just yet. 

    Were he not limited to 128 games, Edwin Encarnacion would have surpassed Cruz's 40. The righty continued his revival with 34 homers during an injury-shortened season, notching a league-best .279 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). Having cleared the fence one additional time, only Miguel Cabrera has clubbed more long balls than Encarnacion since 2012.

    The third choice, and the biggest wild card of the trio, is newcomer Josh Donaldson. The third baseman moves from the Oakland Athletics' pitcher-friendly park to the Rogers Centre, a domain that will enable the righty's pull power. Last year, he earned 18 of his 29 long balls on the road.

Boston Red Sox Win AL East

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    The American League East's only non-competitive team last year, the Red Sox are poised to vault from last to first for the second time in four years.

    Murphy's Law decimated Boston's title defense, and outside of slugger David Ortiz, the entire lineup underwhelmed last year. Yet even a disappointing Dustin Pedroia amassed a 4.4 WAR, so a robust rebound will maintain his place as a premier second baseman.

    After juggling top prospect Xander Bogaerts between third base and shortstop, the Red Sox will wisely keep him at short, where he hit .266/.333/.391 during his first full season. Add Mookie Betts, who hit .291/.368/.444 through 52 games last year, and the Sox have a lethal pair of 22-year-olds ready to break out.

    In addition to their returning players improving, the Red Sox landed two impact position infielders in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, who each grabbed three or more wins above replacement in 2014. Throw in a full season of Cuban signee Rusney Castillo, and last year's No. 18 scoring offense will vault up the leaderboard.

    Although they haven't located their new staff ace to replace Jon Lester, the Red Sox filled the rotation with quality arms that generate ground balls in bunches. Rick Porcello posted a stout 3.43 ERA in 2014. Wade Miley netted a 3.17 ERA on the road, and Justin Masterson sported a 3.45 ERA and 9.09 K/9 rate in 2013 before unraveling last year.

Baltimore Orioles Finish Last in AL East

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    Trading places with Boston, the Baltimore Orioles plunge from first to worst after losing a couple of key bats.

    Viewed as a virtual lock to stay put, Nick Markakis instead bolted to the Atlanta Braves after nine years with Baltimore. Despite his deteriorating power, he won a Gold Glove and posted a .342 on-base percentage.

    Of course, his absence won't hurt as much as losing Nelson Cruz, who launched 40 of the Orioles' league-leading 211 home runs. They're still searching for replacements of any kind, which means a Chris Davis breakout and resounding Matt Wieters return are necessary to save this offense from floating to the middle of the pack.

    Given the O's patchwork rotation, that's not good enough. The starters performed above their means last season, amassing a 3.61 ERA despite a 4.18 fielding independent pitching (FIP) that forebodes a decline. Zach Britton also enjoyed a 1.65 ERA, well above his 3.13 FIP, and dominant left-hander Andrew Miller moved to their division rivals in New York.

    The Orioles won't go from winning 96 games to losing that many, but a 75-87 campaign could be enough to relegate them to last in a competitive grouping.

New York Yankees Endure First Losing Season in 20 Years

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    The Yankees had an aloof offseason for their standards. Rather than buying a Porsche, they realized that sometimes a Honda is more practical. Andrew Miller, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Nate Eovaldi and David Carpenter will help the Bronx Bombers save some face, but not enough so to avoid their first losing season since 1992.

    "Losing season" invokes connotations of 90-100 losses, but think more in terms of a 76- to 80-win campaign. Based on their minus-31 run differential last season, that's where they should have finished 2014. So even if they play better baseball, the law of averages will exact its revenge, causing them to lose more games.

    For all their solid offseason additions, all the holdovers are old and painfully regressing. Mark Teixeira can't stay upright for one week at a time. Carlos Beltran tallied a minus-0.5 WAR last year. 

    The health of New York's starting staff makes or breaks this prediction. If Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda each give the Yankees 25-30 starts, this could easily look silly in September. Considering the trio contributed 41 combined starts last year, it's not bold to anticipate more problems on the injury front.

Kansas City Royals Miss Playoffs

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    The Royals traveled all the way to Game 7 of the World Series on speed, defense, relief pitching and a little magic pixie dust. Ending aside, the ride there captivated a city that hadn't witnessed postseason baseball since 1985.

    They won't have to wait another 29 years for their next one, but Royals fans won't get spoiled by two consecutive playoff berths.

    For starters, the Royals received some good fortune to make it last time around. They survived the season at 89-73 despite a middling plus-27 run differential, and their memorable run nearly ended immediately during a bizarre play-in game against the Oakland Athletics.

    A skeptic of run differential will argue that Kansas City is built to win close. Leading the league in stolen bases and defensive WAR with a dominant back-end bullpen produced numerous one-run October victories for Kansas City, but that formula proves tougher to sustain over 162 games while ranking last in home runs.

    Even if those Royals could have repeated, they won't now without James Shields. While they made a deep playoff run in spite of the slumping ace, they only lasted that long because of his 3.21 ERA through 227 regular-season innings. Replacing that workload with the erratic Edinson Volquez will cost the Royals a few victories, a huge deal for an 89-win squad with room to decline.

Seattle Mariners Make Playoffs

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    The Seattle Mariners aren't messing around. If they didn't make that abundantly clear by sniping Robinson Cano from the Yankees last offseason, the beleaguered AL West squad drove the point home during another busy winter.

    Nelson Cruz is obviously the money move, and even though he's bound to regress in 2015, he'll still provide some needed pop to a club that slugged .376 in 2014. On a much lesser scale, Seattle also bolstered right field by adding the platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano. While Ruggiano sports a career .508 slugging percentage against lefties, Smith hit .270/.359/.454 off right-handed pitching despite calling Petco Park home.

    Throw in some maturation from Mike Zunino and a full year of Austin Jackson, and the Mariners should wield a stronger lineup. They certainly have the pitching to match, boasting a potent one-two punch in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Behind the trusted aces, top prospects James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will blossom with regular exposure, while the solid J.A. Happ rounds out the rotation.

    Although Seattle missed out on the playoffs last season, it generated a plus-80 run differential, a stellar rate that ranked sixth in baseball. The Royals and Giants ended the season with a combined plus-78 scoring margin. By far 2014's best team to miss the cut, the Mariners will climb over the hump this time around.

Chris Sale Wins AL Cy Young Award

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    Despite boasting a 2.17 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, Chris Sale watched Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez engage in a two-man duel for the 2014 AL Cy Young Award. This year, the southpaw jumps up the hierarchy.

    Had he not missed a month of action early in the season, the 25-year-old may have dampened Kluber's underdog quest to winning the hardware. Through 174 innings, Sale's 24.7 strikeouts minus walks percentage (K-BB%) ranked second among qualified starters to three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. His 55 adjusted ERA also placed second behind the National League victor.

    If Sale handles a full workload, he's well on his way to being considered the game's second-best hurler. Most voters are now smart enough not to let wins sway their ballot, but the revamped Chicago White Sox lineup and bullpen should allow him more than a dozen victories in 2015.

Cleveland Indians Will Sport AL's Best Rotation

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    Is this a bold prediction or a probable outcome? Depends on whom you ask, as the Cleveland Indians' starting pitchers placed 14th in team ERA (3.57) but second in team FIP behind the Nationals. Given their exceptional individual performance, it's not a stretch to call them the American League's best rotation last year.

    This prophecy obviously needs Kluber to maintain his ace production. While it may feel like he emerged from nowhere, the righty expanded on an unheralded 2013 that netted him a 3.30 FIP. An improved swinging-strikes percentage supports the strikeout uptick, and he didn't benefit from any significant luck that would cast his Cy Young campaign as a fluke.

    A pitcher who was electrifying under Kluber's shadow, Carlos Carrasco quietly morphed into a dynamite sidekick, registering a 2.55 ERA through 134 innings with a 9.40 K/9 rate. With Cleveland removed from the late-season spotlight, the 27-year-old broke out with a 1.72 ERA after the All-Star break.

    Danny Salazar is the real wild card, as his 10.28 K/9 rate through two years shout "ace," while his 3.89 ERA whispers "not so fast." If the electric 24-year-old continues to punch out well over a batter per frame while issuing fewer than three walks per nine, his ERA should deflate well below last year's 4.25 clip closer to his 3.52 FIP.

    Even Zach McAllister notched a 3.45 FIP despite a dreadful 5.23 ERA, while former top prospect Trevor Bauer showed signs of progress with a 4.18 ERA and 8.41 K/9 rate. If they can at least hold their own, Cleveland's young batch of hurlers will obliterate the competition.

Alex Rodriguez Hits Career Milestones, to Everyone's Discomfort

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    Alex Rodriguez should be rounding out an incredible career with similar adoration Derek Jeter received during last season's farewell tour. Instead, his use of performance-enhancing drugs and general lack of likability have everyone, especially the Yankees, wishing he would go away already.

    That's going to make it awkward for everyone when he snags a pair of noteworthy milestones as a part-time designated hitter.

    Returning from a year-long suspension, the 39-year-old needs 61 hits to reach the illustrious 3,000 plateau. That would put the polarizing star on a short list of 27 mostly beloved players, and he could kick out new Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in the top 20 with 122. At this stage of his career, he'd need 400 to 500 plate appearances to reach that feat, which is far from a guarantee with Chase Headley manning third base and Garrett Jones taking some reps at designated hitter and first with Mark Teixeira needing a lighter workload.

    If he hits his seventh home run of the season at Yankee Stadium, will they stop and honor him for passing Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time leaderboard? After all, the Yankees have never had a third baseman or shortstop who registered better numbers than Rodriguez.

Joe Nathan Loses Closing Job

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    Not everyone can go out as gracefully as Mariano Rivera did.

    Although the Tigers kept him as their closer, Joe Nathan ran out of steam during his age-39 season. MLB's active save leader—seventh on the all-time leaderboard at 376—labored to a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. A ghastly 4.50 BB/9 rate fueled the calamity, and diminished velocity led to his lowest K/9 rate (8.38) out of the bullpen.

    Hoping to avenge last year's early playoff exit, Detroit can't afford to keep Nathan in his accustomed role out of respect for his legacy and past accolades. Right now, he's just a struggling 40-year-old, and Joakim Soria is waiting to take over. The former star closer returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 2.09 FIP last season.

Kris Bryant Makes Opening Day Roster

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    Kris Bryant is ready to face major league pitching today. The third baseman was probably ready this time last year, but the Cubs are in no rush to begin the mega-prospect's service clock. Changed circumstances, however, should compel the squad to force the issue.

    MLB.com's No. 3 prospect destroyed the minors in 2014, hitting .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs. Even though his 27.3 strikeout percentage causes some concern, Bryant has proved everything he can down on the farm. Now that the Cubs can break their five-year streak of last-place finishes, they need to field an optimal roster from the start.

    They didn't sign Jon Lester to wait around and hope things get better around 2017. They even called up a significantly less polished Javier Baez last year, and he's projected to play despite hitting .169 in 52 MLB games. 

    Saving money is the only possible justification for reserving Bryant, but the Cubs are hardly a small-market victim. Besides, October baseball in the Windy City would sure attract some extra revenue. If the Cubs have any shot of making Back to the Future II a reality, they can't holster a potential All-Star in the minors for two months. 

Dodgers and Nationals Avenge Early Playoff Exits

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    Few things in life are as unpredictable as postseason baseball. After spending 162 games as the National League's clear cream of the crop, the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers unraveled during cruel best-of-five series.

    After placing No. 1 and 2 in the league in wins and run differential, Washington and Los Angeles looked poised for a star-studded National League Championship Series clash. Instead, the 88-win Giants met the St. Louis Cardinals and their plus-16 scoring margin.

    Washington will bring a nearly identical roster to the table, sliding Ryan Zimmerman to first in place of the departed Adam LaRoche. The move will benefit the oft-injured slugger, whose time on the disabled list forced new second baseman Danny Espinosa into the lineup.

    The Dodgers made several alterations, handling Hanley Ramirez's departure and Dee Gordon's pending regression by acquiring Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, while dealing Gordon. Last season, the new double-play pairing ranked sixth and fourth in WAR at second base and shortstop, respectively.

    Newly acquired catcher Yasmani Grandal will shine outside of the treacherous Petco, and Joel Peralta and Chris Hatcher give the bullpen a legitimate bridge to Kenley Jansen. Despite disappointing postseasons, the Nationals and Dodgers will again run the NL. Each contender certainly possesses an ace to set the tone, as will be seen when... 

Stephen Strasburg Challenges Clayton Kershaw for NL Cy Young

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    It'd be foolish to expect anyone other than Clayton Kershaw to walk away with the NL Cy Young honors. Baseball's undisputed top hurler notched his second straight ERA below 2.00 (1.77) while setting career bests in strikeouts (10.85) and walks (1.41) per nine innings.

    Even if he increases his Cy Young tally to four, the southpaw will receive steeper competition from Stephen Strasburg, who quietly delivered a tremendous season with the hype dissipated.

    Brandishing 10.13 K/9 and 1.80 BB/9 rates, he joined Cy Young winners Kershaw and Corey Kluber as the sole starters with over 10 punchouts and fewer than two walks per nine frames. His 3.14 ERA does not reflect such dominance, but the 26-year-old suffered a 13.1 home run/fly-ball percentage (HR/FB) that ranked sixth-highest among all qualified starters.

    Normalizing that mark to the 10.0 percent league average, he spawned a 2.56 xFIP. It's also entirely possible that we haven't seen the righty's best. After a Tommy John surgery caused the Nationals to treat him with kid gloves, he had not logged 200 frames in a single season until 2014, where he embraced his longer leash with 215 innings. 

    When Strasburg entered the league to unmatched fanfare, the world collectively held its breath and anticipated the world-beating production currently delivered by Kershaw. Don't be surprised when Strasburg takes that next leap to mythical status.

NL Central Aces Falter

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    A pair of 20-game winners operating in the National League Central will spiral far from the Cy Young conversation this year.

    Adam Wainwright is a prime candidate to become the next veteran ace to fall off the cliff. He delighted the Cardinals with a 2.38 ERA, but he also accrued his lowest K/9 rate (7.10) since 2008. After leading MLB with 241.2 innings pitched in 2013, the 33-year-old lost velocity on his offerings.

    Without a .267 batting average on balls in play or a 5.3 HR/FB percentage, the ace will feel the wrath of his diminishing strikeouts and career-high line-drive percentage

    Johnny Cueto has thwarted sabermetrics throughout his career, posting a 2.48 ERA and 3.37 FIP since 2011. In each of those years, the righty recorded an ERA below and a FIP above 3.00, submitting a 2.25 ERA last season.

    It wasn't all luck; the 28-year-old churned out a career-best 8.94 K/9 rate. While he has defied the advanced metrics with low BABIPs throughout his career, a .238 clip is tough for anyone to sustain. He'll remain a high-quality starter even if his ERA jumps a full run, but he's not a top-shelf ace on par with Kershaw and Strasburg.

Joc Pederson Has Higher WAR Than Matt Kemp

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    Matt Kemp is a household name—a former superstar who probably deserved the NL MVP hardware in 2011. His departure to the San Diego Padres has Hollywood scoffing at a lost celebrity, but the Dodgers will fare just fine without him.

    When team president Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi took over in L.A., they had an outfielder logjam in need of cleansing. Although shipping out Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford would have been preferable, Kemp restored his trade value with a colossal finish, and the front office accomplished the ultimate goal of making room for Joc Pederson.

    The 22-year-old lefty is too good to keep out of the big league lineup. Last season, he hit .303/.435/.582 with 33 homers and 30 steals through 121 Triple-A contests. Nobody should expect him to top Kemp's power immediately, but his keen batting eye and speed will help offset the difference.

    Most importantly, the rookie can restore some legitimacy on the field, where Kemp churned out an atrocious minus-23 defensive runs saved. Even with an .852 OPS, the 30-year-old finished with a 1.8 WAR. Defense matters, and Kemp has proved to be a major liability over the past few years.

    Steamer projects a 2.2 WAR from the newcomer, and Kemp's power numbers will suffer inside Petco Park. Pederson will propel the Dodgers faithful to quickly forget about their former star.

San Diego Padres Win 79-84 Games

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    Every year, one team makes significant cosmetic changes to bolster its roster on paper, but the results fall well short of the hype. The Padres are the clear choice to fill that spot in 2015.

    Backpedal a slide for more on Matt Kemp's defensive ineptitude. Wil Myers and Justin Upton aren't defensive savants either, and neither is equipped to handle center field. The trio's gloves will offset some of its offensive production, and Myers is no guarantee to help on either front after hitting .222/.294/.320 last season.

    For all their outfield moves, the Padres still own a lackluster infield. Yonder Alonso has clubbed 22 homers over the past three years, and Jedd Gyorko and newly acquired Will Middlebrooks both stumbled massively in 2014, performing at or below replacement level.

    The Padres will hit better, but they won't transition from league-worst to the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees. GM A.J. Preller's flashy moves became the talk across town, but don't expect them to spawn a title contender.

San Francisco Giants Miss Playoffs

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    After we dashed Kansas City's chances of another World Series appearance, let's now wipe out the reigning champions from the next postseason.

    The least dominant dynasty ever, San Francisco has won three titles in five years despite averaging just 87.2 victories a season since 2010. After extending the pattern of winning in even years, now the Giants will continue to fall short of the playoffs during odd campaigns.

    Typically their hallmark, San Francisco's aging rotation causes some concern heading into 2015. Matt Cain endured an ineffective and injury-plagued 2014. Jake Peavy, who turns 34 next May, recorded eight strikeouts and nine walks through 16 postseason frames.

    Tim Lincecum is better served in the bullpen, but his bloated contract and past accolades will likely cloud the organization's judgment. Tim Hudson hits the big 4-0 next year, and even postseason legend Madison Bumgarner will pay for throwing 270 innings to land San Francisco that crown.

    A lineup that fared well enough lost Pablo Sandoval, a significant contributor with his bat and glove. Casey McGehee's .357 slugging percentage won't fill the void, which puts pressure on Buster Posey delivering MVP-caliber offense at catcher.

Milwaukee Brewers Make Some Noise

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    Remember when the Milwaukee Brewers were 2014's most pleasant surprise? Everything clicked in April for baseball's hottest team, but their 20-8 start gradually faded into a 82-80 finish.

    Although the Brewers ranked ninth in team slugging percentage, their offense suffered from horrible offense at a position where most teams thrive. Milwaukee's first basemen hit a dismal .208/.299/.374, falling in the bottom five of each category.

    Adam Lind is no Prince Fielder, but his .793 career OPS represents a massive upgrade for the club's sore spot. If Aramis Ramirez stays healthy and Jean Segura finds middle ground between his breakout 2013 and dismal 2014, this is a rare NL club with stout bats saddled across the diamond.

    They possess no ace, but the Brewers have useful starters from top to bottom. If Mike Fiers extends on last year's 2.14 ERA produced through 71.2 frames, they're cooking. 

    The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates aren't going anywhere. The Chicago Cubs are no longer the NL Central's punchline, and the Cincinnati Reds will welcome back Joey Votto from a lost year. While the division is no cake walk, there's also no formidable force posed to run away with the title.

Philadelphia Phillies Finish with MLB's Worst Record

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    Things are about to get dark in Philadelphia, where the Phillies will bottom out after two 73-89 seasons.

    Finally accepting their fate, the club dealt franchise mainstay Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers and sent Marlon Byrd—who led the team in home runs and slugging percentage—packing to Cincinnati. That leaves Chase Utley as the only regular who notched a slugging percentage above .400 last season, and the 36-year-old's mark slipped to a career-low .407.

    Look around. How many other teams will contend for the dubious honor? The Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox and Padres all retooled their rosters. The Reds, Rockies and Texas Rangers just need better fortune on the injury front to crawl out of the cellar. Even the Houston Astros are no longer a pushover.

    Last year's loser, the Arizona Diamondbacks, presents the starkest opposition for 2016's No. 1 amateur draft pick. While their roster also represents a barren wasteland, they at least have Paul Goldschmidt, who missed 53 games last season.

    Even after signing Aaron Harang, Philadelphia's rotation gets scary bad after Cole Hamels and the returning Cliff Lee. Given how far the team has fallen, one or both of those aces could be dealt during the year anyway.

Weird, Unpredictable Things Happen

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    Want to ensure an accurate prediction? Predict that unpredictable chaos will occur.

    There's often no weirder sport than baseball. If I used this space last season to project a Collin McHugh breakout, that probably would have been my last byline. To anyone out there who called J.D. Martinez notching a higher slugging percentage than Miguel Cabrera, take a bow.

    Assuring down years from Votto, David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain also would not have ended well. The point is, crazy things will happen. People will wonder why nobody talked about the 28-year-old rookie and 35-year-old journeyman dominating the league, but sometimes it's better to sit back and enjoy the bizarre ride.

    All advanced statistics are courtey of FanGraphs.


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