Bleacher Report's Full 2016 MLB Season Preview and Predictions
The 2016 Major League Baseball season is nigh, so it's time to offer some predictions to the baseball gods.
We need to get them in before Sunday, when Opening Day will arrive in the form of a tripleheader highlighted by a World Series rematch between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals. And when it comes to predictions for a new season, we dare not skimp the baseball gods.
We have predictions for pretty much everything. We'll hit on who the best players will be. We'll hit on who the best teams will be. We'll hit on which players will be traded. We'll hit on which team will disappoint. And so on and so on until we have a clear picture of how the 2016 season will play out.
Spoiler: We're not going to be right about everything. The baseball gods demand predictions not so they can grant wishes but because doomed predictions are their nectar. They're jerks like that.
Anyway, better get to it...
Young Non-Rookie Breakout Stars: Franco and Severino
Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
This one is straight out of the "What Have They Done for Us Lately?" file. Franco has littered the state of Florida with home run balls this spring, slugging eight of them to go with a 1.026 OPS.
Though spring training isn't the most definitive proving ground, Franco has our breakout sense tingling. The 23-year-old teased his star potential with an .840 OPS and 14 home runs last year, and now he's making it look like he's cleaned up his one weakness.
Luis Severino, New York Yankees
Severino lived up to the hype after the Yankees called him up last year, posting a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. He notably racked up soft contact at a Dallas Keuchel-ian rate, a testament to an arsenal of wicked stuff.
Now the 22-year-old looks like he might take his dominance even further. Severino has a ratio of 19 strikeouts to three walks in 16.1 spring innings. Since Mike Podhorzer of FanGraphs tells us that spring strikeout and walk rates have some predictive power, Yankees fans should be doing the Jonah Hill fist pump.
Biggest Names Traded: Cashner, Reddick, Lucroy, Ross and Sandoval
Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres
We're past the point where we can still hope Cashner will live up to his awesome stuff. But he's still going to be a commodity on the summer trade market, as free-agents-to-be on rebuilding teams don't tend to stick around. Expect the Padres to flip him for all he's worth.
Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
The Padres will also get plenty of calls on Ross, whose 3.03 ERA over the last two years makes him a shinier prize than Cashner. Though they could choose to keep him for his final year of club control in 2017, the demand is likely to be too great for them to pass up.
Josh Reddick, Oakland A's
The A's might contend this year, in which case they'll hold on to their slick-fielding, hard-hitting right fielder. But the A's don't look up to par with the rest of the AL West, so you can expect them to find a taker for Reddick rather than wait for him to hit free agency at the end of the year.
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
All the rumors that have been swirling over the last few months suggest the Brewers wouldn't mind trading Lucroy now. But they need him to rebuild his value after a down 2015 season first. Once he does, teams will line up for a catcher who was an MVP candidate as recently as 2014.
Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox
This seemed like a bold idea upon initial release, but Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports that Sandoval has lost his job at third base to Travis Shaw. That should spell the end of Sandoval in Boston, as the Red Sox surely don't want a $95 million player riding the bench. And though his contract will make him tough to move, if anyone can do it, it's human hypnotoad Dave Dombrowski.
MLB Batting Triple Crown Leaders: Goldschmidt, Stanton and Rizzo
Batting Average: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
The easy pick here would be a guy whose name rhymes with "Ciguel Mabrera," but Goldschmidt is a pretty good pick. He's hit over .300 three years in a row, peaking at .321 last year.
And he has it in him to do better. Goldschmidt hits the ball as hard as anyone but doesn't sell out for power. His hitting excellence extends from foul line to foul line, and last year he took his discipline to a whole new level. With all the makings of a great hitter, a major league batting title would suit him well.
Home Runs: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Hey, we figure if we keep picking Stanton to lead the majors in home runs, eventually it's going to happen. He is the most powerful hitter in baseball, after all. And that may be truer than ever now.
The Marlins star slugged 27 home runs in only 74 games last season, and he truly looked like he was embracing his status as baseball's most notorious murderer of baseballs. If he comes out swinging like that again, many baseballs will die in 2016. Wherever they fall, there shall they be buried.
RBI: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
With RBI, it's half how good the guy driving in the runs is and half how good the guys in front of him are.
Rizzo looks like an RBI bonanza waiting to happen. He's turned himself into one of the best hitters in baseball with a .905 OPS over the last two years. And in 2015, he should spend most of his time in the cleanup spot behind Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant. They'll be on base a lot, which will help Rizzo in the RBI department—which some people apparently still care about.
MLB Pitching Triple Crown Winners: Keuchel and Kershaw
Wins: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
Wins are (A) silly and (B) tough to predict. That said, Keuchel is probably going to earn a lot of them. His 2014 breakout led to even more domination in 2015, as he rode a year's worth of weak ground balls to a 2.48 ERA. And because he pitched for a good Astros team in 2015, he won 20 games.
Even more wins should be in order in 2016. Keuchel is legitimately awesome, and...well, we'll have more on our Astros fetish later.
ERA: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
OK, this is an easy pick to make, but don't expect an apology for that. Because, really, who better to lead MLB in ERA than a guy who did so four years in a row between 2011 and 2014?
True, Kershaw's 2.13 ERA snapped his streak in 2015. But FIP, xFIP and Baseball Prospectus' Deserved Run Average metric agreed the Dodgers ace was still the best. Assuming he can pick up where he left off—and he can—he should once again lead MLB in ERA and allow Earth to get back to spinning.
Strikeouts: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw became the first pitcher since 2002 to strike out more than 300 batters last season. Game. Set. Match.
Besides which, that season didn't come out of nowhere. Kershaw first morphed into an elite strikeout pitcher in 2014, and only Chris Sale is close to him in overall strikeout percentage across the last two seasons. His deadly fastball, slider and curveball combination is at the height of its power, and it should once again cause a steady stream of emasculated hitters in 2016.
American League Award Winners: Park, Price and Correa
Rookie of the Year: Byung Ho Park, Minnesota Twins
Backtrack alert! Our initial pick for American League Rookie of the Year was Houston Astros first base prospect A.J. Reed. But due to assorted developments, we're jumping ship to Park.
The Twins hope the tremendous power Park showed in Korea will translate to MLB. Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com spoke to one scout who gave a thumbs-up to that notion, and Park has since looked pretty good with a .791 OPS and three homers in spring training.
It won't be surprising if the 29-year-old slugs 25 or so homers in 2016. In what could be a lean year for rookies in the AL, that could be good enough to capture the Rookie of the Year.
Cy Young: David Price, Boston Red Sox
No backtracking necessary here. In leading the AL in ERA for the second time in four years, Price arguably deserved to win his second Cy Young in 2015. That alone qualifies him as a good pick for the award in 2016.
There's also plenty to like about how Price is evolving. He still throws tons of strikes, and 2015 saw him benefit from increased trust in his cutter and changeup. Brooks Baseball can show the latter is only getting better at missing bats, which will help him make a smooth transition to pitching at Fenway Park.
MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Mike Trout is awesome, but the Los Angeles Angels likely won't be good enough to boost his MVP case in 2016. Josh Donaldson is also awesome, but repeating his otherworldly 2015 production will be tough.
Correa, on the other hand, was probably just getting warmed up in 2015. After OPS'ing .857 with 22 homers and 14 stolen bases in only 99 games as a 20-year-old rookie, the sky is the limit for his sophomore encore. If he lives up to his potential for an Astros team that will be going places, the MVP will be as good as his.
National League Award Winners: Seager, Kershaw and Harper
Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Though Seager's left knee issues can't be ignored, they don't derail what looks like a strong candidacy for NL Rookie of the Year.
The Dodgers shortstop is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by literally everyone. And he's already shown he can hack it at the majors, hitting .337 with a .986 OPS in 27 games at the end of 2016. By all accounts, that was just a tease of what's to come.
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sorry for being so predictable. It's just that, well, Kershaw is really good. The guy has won the NL Cy Young in three of the last five years, and he arguably deserved to win it all five years.
With a 2.11 ERA across the last five seasons as a whole, Kershaw is on a run that can only be described as Koufax-ian. It'll come to an end one day, but probably not in what will only be Kershaw's age-28 season in 2016.
Now then, let's all delight in a slow-motion GIF of his curveball. You know, for "Aw yeah" purposes.
MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
On his way to being named the youngest unanimous MVP ever, Harper was a dinger-hitting rage monster last season. He hit .330 with 42 home runs and led baseball in OBP, slugging and OPS.
Another season like that would surely result in a second straight MVP, and it's not crazy to think the Nationals star has another one in him. He really put it all together last year, tightening up his discipline and crushing the ball with the best of 'em. And since he did all that at 22, there may yet be another step up for him to take at the age of 23.
Cinderella Team: Seattle Mariners
With the National League split between haves and have-nots and the American League a wide-open battleground, picking a Cinderella team is difficult.
But the Mariners look like they're about ready for a glass slipper.
Nobody is talking about them as a contender after their disappointing 2015 season, but they're a more complete team than they were a year ago. New general manager Jerry Dipoto went on a hyperactive winter shopping spree, which succeeded in loading the team with depth.
It also helps that the biggest of the team's stars looks like a star again. After struggling with his health last season, Robinson Cano is knocking the crud out of the ball and feeling pretty good this spring.
"It feels good when you hit three homers," Cano told Greg Johns of MLB.com after a recent three-homer outburst. "But the best thing is, it feels good [to be at full strength]. It feels good to be able to play the game at the level you want."
A rejuvenated Cano looks stellar in a lineup that features standout slugger Nelson Cruz and the perennially underrated Kyle Seager. There's also much to like about a starting rotation headed by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle's bullpen, meanwhile, has a solid array of arms.
Baseball Prospectus' projections for 2016 peg the Mariners for 84 wins. Here's thinking that's the low end of what they're capable of.
Most Disappointing Team: Detroit Tigers
After finishing in last place in 2015, the Tigers spent roughly $270 million of Mike Ilitch's dollars over the winter.
What a waste.
Sure, the Tigers have enough talent on paper to make both the Avengers and the Justice League look like chumps. Their lineup features Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez. Their rotation includes Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez. Their bullpen, long a source of consternation, is now anchored by Francisco Rodriguez.
But to borrow a line from Cliff Corcoran of SI.com: "The yawning gap between the quality of the name on the jersey and the performance of the player within swallows this team whole."
True story: Cabrera, Martinez (Victor), Kinsler, Verlander, Sanchez and Rodriguez are well beyond the age of 30 and likely past their best days. Elsewhere, Zimmermann showed signs of decline in 2015, and Upton is showing signs of decline this spring.
The Tigers have too much talent to be a disaster this season. But in an AL Central where the Kansas City Royals are king and the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are all hungry, Baseball Prospectus is justified in predicting that the Tigers will struggle to keep up.
AL East Champ: Boston Red Sox
Oh, this is a tough one. The New York Yankees could be really good. The Tampa Bay Rays could also be really good. The Toronto Blue Jays certainly are really good.
But according to FanGraphs, the Red Sox are the favorite in the AL East.
Though the Red Sox were a last-place team in 2015, strong finishes from David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw and Rick Porcello allowed them to morph into a nightmare matchup at the end of the year. Those players are all back in 2016, and they're not alone.
The Red Sox now have David Price installed as the ace that the rotation needed. They also have Craig Kimbrel anchoring a bullpen that, so long as fellow new arrival Carson Smith's wounded forearm heals up, will be among the best in the league.
Now that Pablo Sandoval has been benched, the Red Sox only need to worry about getting bounce-back years from Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez. Pedroia is always good when healthy, and as Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports, Ramirez is generating optimism with his play at first base this spring.
All the pieces are there for a worst-to-first rise reminiscent of what the Red Sox did in 2013. And about that, this guy has to keep his word.
AL Central Champ: Kansas City Royals
Though the projections are mostly good, it's important not to become slaves to them. Which is another way of saying: "Yeah, we're not buying that crap they say about the Royals either."
"We have a lot of really, really good players," the Royals legend said, via Mark Simon of ESPN.com. "... They know how to play the game. They can catch, they can throw, they can run. We all saw how important our bullpen was. I think one of the reasons we've been so successful is that we really like each other."
The Royals do indeed have good players. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Kendrys Morales, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera are all back, and they'll help the Royals win games the way they're used to winning games—with great defense, plenty of offense, just enough starting pitching and shutdown relief pitching.
The "just enough starting pitching" part may sound like a red flag, but it's not. The Royals didn't have great starting pitching for much of 2015, but that didn't slow them down. Such is life when a team can do everything else well.
Perhaps the computers will come to understand that one day. Hopefully before they go the Skynet route.
AL West Champ: Houston Astros
The Mariners have the look of a Cinderella, and the Texas Rangers are a pretty good team in their own right. But in the 2016 AL West race, neither is going to bring down the Astros.
Though they only won 86 games last year, that underrates how good they were. Houston's lineup was a dangerous blend of power and speed that ultimately posted the league's second-highest OPS. Said lineup also played terrific defense, which was in service of a pitching staff that led the American League in ERA.
From Dallas Keuchel to Carlos Correa to Jose Altuve to George Springer to Carlos Gomez to Colby Rasmus to Collin McHugh, all the key players from last year are back. And this time, the Astros should get more than just partial seasons out of Correa, Springer and Gomez.
As for new additions, Houston's blockbuster trade for closer candidate Ken Giles looms large. The 25-year-old has posted a 1.56 ERA and struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings in his two seasons, and his upper-90s heat is just what Houston's soft-tossing bullpen was missing in 2015.
AL Wild Cards: Blue Jays and Mariners
Wild Card 1: Toronto Blue Jays
If the Blue Jays don't win the AL East, there's no way they'll miss out on a wild-card berth.
Unless anyone thinks the pitching staff won't withstand the loss of David Price, of course, but it should. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are two starters with huge ceilings. Toronto's bullpen, meanwhile, has depth and talent.
As for the Blue Jays lineup, well, it's the Blue Jays lineup. The trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion made it far and away baseball's best in 2015. And in 2016, a full season of Troy Tulowitzki will only make things worse for Toronto's opponents.
Wild Card 2: Seattle Mariners
Hey, if you're going to tab a team as a Cinderella, you have to put it in the postseason somehow.
The Mariners will face some stiff competition for the second wild-card spot. The Yankees, Rays, Indians, White Sox and Rangers should also be in the mix for it. The Indians' pitching and the Rangers' solid blend of offense and pitching make them especially dangerous.
But we'll stick with the Mariners. For reasons that were explained earlier. And for legally binding reasons that arose from those reasons.
NL East Champ: New York Mets
Barring any unrealistically high hopes for the Miami Marlins, the NL East should again be a two-horse race between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets in 2016.
But though it's a new year, it'll be the same result.
With Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer leading the way, the Nationals might be as good as the Mets on paper. But some of the question marks that existed in 2015 still persist. Of those, the biggest is whether Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and/or Stephen Strasburg can stay healthy.
The Mets are not without question marks of their own, with the biggest being whether their defense will be as terrible as it looks. And as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs highlighted, it looks terrible.
But Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz will have radar guns and opposing hitters feeling overwhelmed all year, which will help mitigate any less-than-awesome glove work. And after Yoenis Cespedes helped transform the Mets lineup into a lethal unit in the final two months of 2015, the band is pretty much all back for 2016. Only Daniel Murphy is missing, and new second baseman Neil Walker could be an upgrade over him.
NL Central Champ: Chicago Cubs
The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates topped the NL Central with 100 and 98 wins, respectively, in 2015. But both of them took steps back rather than steps forward over the winter.
Not the Cubs. They were 97-game winners last season and spent the winter getting bigger and badder by retaining Dexter Fowler and bringing in Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
"They've sent in their ring sizes already," one scout told Ben Reiter of SI.com. "I don't even know why we're playing the season!"
When the hype is this thick, typically the thing to do is look for nits to pick. But with these Cubs...uh, yeah. Not so easy.
Heyward and Zobrist bring versatile offense to a lineup that already figured to get plenty of power from Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Lackey gives the Cubs a perfect No. 3 behind aces Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. The Cubs also return a bullpen that was really good in 2015.
At the helm of the ensemble is Joe Maddon, a three-time Manager of the Year who keeps his own guys loose while also staying a step ahead of the other guys. If ever there was a manager to not screw up a collection of talent like this, it's him.
NL West Champ: Los Angeles Dodgers
Though we shouldn't ignore the Arizona Diamondbacks, the NL West will likely come down to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants.
Clayton Kershaw is better than Madison Bumgarner, at least, and there should come a time when the Dodgers' pitching injuries are healed. On the flip side, there may not come a time when Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain erase their assorted shortcomings.
In other matters, we shouldn't overlook how strong this Dodgers offense is. It has plenty of depth, stable veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick, and youthful talent to boot. That group includes not only Corey Seager and Joc Pederson but a revitalized Yasiel Puig as well.
"Supposedly [Puig's] more mature on the field and off the field," one scout told Ben Reiter of SI.com. "You would hope so. He's a freak. He could be Yoenis Cespedes, he could be Mike Trout, he could be Bryce Harper if he could play under control [and] calm down a little bit."
The wild card in Los Angeles is new manager Dave Roberts, who's a newcomer to the whole managing thing. But since he has a good head on his shoulders, he should allow the Dodgers to do what the projections expect.
NL Wild Cards: Nationals and Giants
Wild Card 1: Washington Nationals
The Nationals may not be quite as good as the Mets, but they should avoid crashing and burning for the second year in a row.
For one thing, they're due some good luck after getting none of that in 2015. New manager Dusty Baker could be the key to that, as his player-friendly style should mean good things for a clubhouse that was about as dour and depressing under Matt Williams last season as a DC Comics movie.
And just to throw one more thing out there: Top prospect Lucas Giolito will probably be this year's Noah Syndergaard.
Wild Card 2: San Francisco Giants
The Pirates and Cardinals will vie for a wild card spot if neither wins the NL Central. The Diamondbacks could also be involved. But in an even year, we dare not exclude the Giants.
And yes, they do have more than even-year magic working for them. They won 84 games in 2015 despite getting only 52 games out of Hunter Pence and having nothing behind Bumgarner in their rotation. Even if their rotation doesn't live up to its big-name, big-money billing, they should avoid that fate again in 2016.
Plus, it's an even year. Have we mentioned it's an even year yet? It's an even year.
American League Championship Series: Astros over Royals
Here's what will happen in the American League Division Series round: The Blue Jays will lose to the Royals after winning the AL Wild Card Game, and the Astros' all-around might will be too much for the Red Sox.
And so, the Royals and Astros will meet in the American League Championship Series.
That would mean a shot at revenge for the Astros, who let a chance to beat the Royals in last year's ALDS slip away by blowing a big lead in the fourth game. That was a microcosm of the series as a whole, in which Houston's many talents were no match for Kansas City's resilience.
But the Astros are no longer inexperienced, and they're even better equipped to beat the Royals than they were last year. They have better starting pitching and are at least the Royals' equal on offense and defense. And thanks to the addition of Giles, Houston's bullpen is also now just as good as Kansas City's.
The Royals are too good to go down without a fight. But go down they will, as Houston will win in seven.
National League Championship Series: Cubs over Mets
In the National League Division Series, whoever wins the NL Wild Card Game will be meat for the Cubs grinder, and the Mets' pitching will once again get the better of the Dodgers.
This would give the world the National League Championship Series rematch it wants to see: Cubs vs. Mets.
That was no contest last October. The Mets' high-velocity arms overwhelmed the Cubs' high-powered bats, as they hit just .164 with a .522 OPS in a four-game sweep.
A rematch would be a different story, though. Whereas the Mets are arguably no better now than they were last October, the Cubs are significantly better. Lackey gives them a rotation that can match up with the Mets' golden-armed trio. Also, the additions of Heyward and Zobrist will make it tougher for the Mets to put together two straight dominant efforts over the Cubs lineup.
The Cubs and Mets are too evenly matched for this October's matchup to go quickly. But in the end, the Cubs will take it in six and go to their first World Series since Harry Truman was in office.
World Series: Cubs over Astros
The Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. The Astros have never won the World Series. Clearly, they need to meet in the Fall Classic and see who wants it more.
Cubs? Yes, Cubs. This is not a drill.
This will be a damn good matchup. Both clubs have talented starting pitching staffs headed by true aces. Both clubs have deep and dangerous lineups. Both clubs have strong defenses. Both clubs have terrific bullpens. And that's just the beginning of a list labeled "Both Clubs Have."
But the one advantage Chicago will have is a big one.
Whereas the lineups and bullpens of the Astros and Cubs probably grade out as evenly matched, the Cubs have a better starting rotation. Keuchel vs. Arrieta may be a push, but Lester is better than McHugh, and Lackey is better than, well, whoever it is the Astros use as their No. 3 starter.
The Cubs' first World Series championship in 108 years will therefore be a romp. They'll win in four. The people of the north side of Chicago shall party forever, pausing only to pardon any billy goats that might wander by.
Between now and then, friends, a whole baseball season needs to be played. And enjoyed. Don't forget enjoyed.