I know, I'm cheating. The season has already started! You're right, let the record show that the Houston Astros are in first place in the American League West, a half game ahead of the Angels, A's, and Mariners, and a full game ahead of Texas. I will try my hardest not to allow this to influence my predictions.
American League East
1. Tampa Bay (91-71): They keep drafting and developing pitchers. Then they trade those pitchers for people like Wil Myers. As long as they keep drafting well, the model is sustainable. There's been a lot of talk about the parity in the division, but no team is great. Every team could win, and, yes, that includes the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays have the pitching depth to get them through a season. David Price probably didn't deserve the Cy Young over Verlander last year, but he's pretty amazing anyway. Matt Moore is my pick for the breakout player of the year. His swing and miss rates predict a much higher strikeout rate, and his control numbers predict a better walk rate. Price/Moore will be the elite 1/2 combo in the league by the end of the year.
2. Toronto (89-73): Yes, the Blue Jays made a lot of big splash additions in the offseasons. Still, as far as Dickey is concerned, it's hard to predict that level of success. Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes are injury risks. Buehrle is a great addition for them, however - the Jays have had a real problem getting pitchers to go deep into games in recent years, and Buehrle has pitched 200+ innings for 12 consecutive years. He's the prototype of the #3 starter who eats innings and keeps his team in games. Many pitchers are touted as this, but very few actually exist.
3. Boston (88-74): Ok, it's hard to know what to predict from the Red Sox. 2013 was a total disaster in every way. How good are Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz? It's hard to project a team when it's hard to gauge whether their players are declining or simply had a bad season as part of a bad situation.
4. New York (81-81): They acquired Vernon Wells on purpose. But yeah, Brian Cashman is a brilliant GM who would have no trouble winning without the Yankees massive payroll. He's developed at least one player during his tenure. Sabathia and Kuroda should keep them above water. If those two falter, it's a long, long season.
5. Baltimore (80-82): A step backward, but a temporary one. They were 20 games over .500 in one-run games in 2012. That's not just unsustainable, it's pretty much impossible. They were an 83-79 team in 2012 that happened to win 93 games, then stood pat. They could win the division though, if their young pitchers step forward. I think they're a year or two away, though.
American League Central
1. Detroit (99-63): This shouldn't need an explanation. No other team is such a prohibitive division favorite. Everyone else in the division may finish below .500.
2. Chicago? (87-75): Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn both hit in 2012. Konerko doesn't ever seem to slow down, and has put together a wonderful career. Again, there is a lot of variance in where their pitching may end up. Chris Sale's delivery looks like it could lead to injury, but that doesn't mean it will. Jake Peavy pitched 219 innings last year, which I didn't think would ever happen again. They are a contender if all breaks well.
3. Kansas City (78-84): Trading Wil Myers and other prospects for Shields and Davis was probably the most controversial single move of the offseason that didn't originate in Arizona. I wouldn't be as low on the move if the other prospects weren't involved. Anyhow, its a huge gamble by a GM who will probably be fired if it doesn't pay off. And, in fairness, he'll deserve it.
4. Cleveland (72-90): I like Terry Francona, but I'm not actually sure he's a better manager than Manny Acta. He had a ton of talent in Boston, of course. The Indians have no pitching of note right now, though I like Francona's chance to bring a guy like Bauer along. Francona seems like the type who knew how to handle a lot of different crazy personalities and get the most out of them. None of that matters without talent, though.
5. Minnesota (58-104): Expect the rebuilding to continue. Justin Morneau, who has been a fixture there for a very long time, will be dealt if he's playing well. I still think Joe Mauer should learn third base, as I think he'd be fantastic there, it would keep him healthier, and he'd be an elite hitter as a third baseman, while he's only very good as a first baseman because of his power limitations. But hey, it's not my $180 million.
American League West
1. Los Angeles (95-67): Imagine if the Yankees had signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton? People would be talking about how they only can outspend their opponents, and are ruining baseball. These are the heels, folks. Root against them. Lack of pitching depth will cause some regular season frustration and keep them south of 100 wins.
2. Oakland (90-72): They were lumped in with Baltimore in 2012 as teams that got lucky and played over their heads. The problem is, Oakland's Pythagorean record was only two games behind its actual record. Unlike Baltimore, they've made some additions that will make up for the regressions of those individuals who were playing over their head. 90 wins and the wild card is another goal.
3. Texas (86-76): This team still has championship upside. They'll miss Josh Hamilton's bat, but not at that price. They won't miss Michael Young at all, at least on the field. Still, they have holes - they need another pitcher and outfielder. It needs a longer look, but the pending Elvis Andrus extension is an interesting move - I'm not sure which side I come down on it. A year ago, this organization looked like the class of baseball, but they're having some difficulties right now. That's not surprising with so many big personalities, I guess.
4. Seattle (71-91): They'll have fun beating on Houston, at least. They have some very talented pitching in the minors, but they are, quite frankly, baseball's most boring team when Felix Hernandez isn't on the mound. While he's incurred the wrath of his fanbase, I don't know that Jack Zduriencik quite falls in the Dayton Moore category where it is a make-or-break year. Jack Z. has restocked his farm system while playing in a tough division. For Moore, graduations and the Shields trade has pretty much emptied the system - if the Royals aren't any good, it may be terminal for their core.
5. Houston (51-111): They're 1-0. Jeff Luhnow is probably the most innovated GM in the game now. He's in a position to try new things, because the downside of the failure of any one move is nil - they can't possibly be worse than they are right now. I wasn't thrilled with the Carlos Correa pick last June, but he's drawn raves this spring, so I'm still reserving judgment. The #1 pick this June will be interesting from an organizational philosophy perspective, as it's a draft with college pitchers and high school outfielders.
National League East
1. Washington (98-64): On paper, this team really doesn't have a weakness. Depth could be a problem if injuries hit, but that's true of every team. If you want to argue their starting pitchers are a bigger injury risk than another team, I suppose that's fair, but unless they get ransacked, they have the talent to overcome it. Also, Bryce Harper hits 50 this year, and 800 in his career. Strikeouts may keep him from getting into the Williams/Ruth/Bonds pantheon of Greatest Hitters Ever, as the hitch in his swing is notable. But the swing also generates a ridiculous amount of power. He'll have seasons where he slugs .700.
2. Atlanta (93-69): The Justin Upton deal was a coup. This team may not have the upside of the Nationals or Tigers or Dodgers, but their downside is probably 91 wins. I'm interested to see how good Kris Medlen actually is.
3. New York (80-82): The Dickey trade had to be kind of sad for Mets loyalists. It may well have been the best thing for the organization in the long term, but Citi Field really seemed like they'd adopted Dickey. Sandy Alderson knows what he's doing, and this team is moving in the right direction. Their rotation is better than people realize, but that outfield is pretty rough. Zach Wheeler didn't make the club out of spring training, but he's one to watch.
4. Philadelphia (73-89): I keep hearing about their window of opportunity, as though it hasn't already slammed shut. They have a great front three on the pitching staff, but their offense is so bad and management so screwy that they signed Delmon Young. For all the crud the Yankees have been taking about signing Vernon Wells, imagine if Wells was also a miserable human being, and, instead of a spring training desperation maneuver, was signed in the middle of the offseason as a way to make the team better, rather than just as a warm body. It wouldn't surprise me if nobody in their lineup has a 2.0 WAR season. On the other hand, my guess is that the reports of the demise of Roy Halladay have been greatly exaggerated.
5. Miami (57-105): An absolutely embarrassment to both baseball and government. I'd feel bad for their fans if they had any. Instead, I just feel bad for those Floridians who got extorted out of tax money to buy a ballpark for a rich owner.
National League Central
1. Cincinnati (96-66): This team reminds me of the 2011 Rangers. They have a manager whose terrible decisions don't hurt them enough to outweigh the fact they're dripping with talent. The Aroldis Chapman move is disappointing, but, Joey Votto exists.
2. St. Louis (89-73): They're a tad uneven at the major league level, with several good players but few stars. There really isn't an obvious weakness here, but several positions could be upgraded. They have baseball's best farm system, so those upgrades are coming. Shelby Miller made the team out of spring training, Oscar Taveras isn't far behind.
3. Milwaukee (80-82): They bit the bullet and signed on Kyle Lohse, giving their rotation some much-needed depth. They're planning to start Alex Gonzalez at first base, proving that some general managers didn't read Moneyball.
4. Pittsburgh (79-83): The streak continues! Without the Astros to beat on, they may actually fall below this projection. Andrew McCutchen is great, but this organization is too often uncreative, and has been stuck in a neutral sort of mediocrity for awhile now. Signing Russell Martin was a smart move, however. Barajas was among the worst players in the league last year, and Martin, despite his flaws, is an above average player at his position. Getting out of the big city life may also do wonders for his focus.
5. Chicago (68-94): There isn't much at the major league level, but about 1000 miles east, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is debuting for Boston. Bradley was Theo Epstein's last first round draft pick while running the Red Sox. From 2003-2011, no team drafted as well as Boston did. They weren't perfect, and had their share of busts, but it was an impressive run. Other teams are run more intelligently than they were in 2004, making Epstein's job harder, but, like Alderson in New York, there's a good reason to have faith in him.
National League West
1. Los Angeles (95-67): Are they paying Zack Greinke too much money? Maybe, but they have the money, so that's their prerogative. Greinke is best-suited as a #2, because he's never come close to duplicating his 2009, either before or after. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw. Expect a big bounce-back from Adrian Gonzalez. He had a miserable 2012, as he didn't get along with Bobby Valentine, then had to deal with hacks like Nick Cafardo taking Valentine's side.
2. San Francisco (90-72): Don't sleep on the Giants! We're told that every day. Nobody is sleeping on the Giants. They're good. Lincecum may end up in the bullpen, and he may end up dominating there. Without having to worry about repeating his delivery, and without having to pace himself, he'd project well in the role. They had a lot go right in 2012, but it's pretty tough to call two World Championships in three years any sort of a fluke. They're likely to be back in the playoffs, and Matt Cain makes them a good pick once they're there.
3. Colorado (75-87):Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy? Will Carlos Gonzalez produce consistently? How much does Todd Helton have left? Will we ever stop asking these questions about the Rockies? As usual, they're going to give up a lot of runs - Jon Garland could probably return to being a LAIM somewhere else, but Colorado isn't the place.
4. San Diego (71-91): This is a somewhat anonymous team, but not necessarily a bad one. Chase Headley's injury is a setback, and they could use another starting pitcher. Trading Street or Gregerson should be a consideration. If they turned down Porcello for either of them, they're fools. Between the better park, better defense, and lack of a DH he'd have a sub 3.50 ERA for them.
5. Arizona (70-92): On paper, Arizona isn't worse than San Diego. But they've had an offseason that's not just bad, but bad in a way that almost flouts the way they're doing things wrong. Trading Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Trevor Bauer for 50 cents on the dollar so that they can become more gritty is so foolishly 1992 Brewers that it's hard to believe it's happening. They traded two prospects for Tony Campana for crying out loud! Though many people who live in Arizona would probably prefer to watch a team without Justin Upton and Chris Young, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
AL Wild card: Toronto over Oakland
ALDS: Detroit over Toronto
ALDS: Tampa over Los Angeles
ALCS: Detroit over Tampa
NL Wild card: San Francisco over Atlanta
NLDS: Washington over San Francisco
NLDS: Cincinnati over Los Angeles
NLCS: Cincinnati over Washington
Detroit over Cincinnati (Hooray Midwest!)
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (He'll deserve it this time)
NL MVP: Joey Votto
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Matt Cain
AL Rookie of the Year: Jackie Bradley
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller