It's the second day of our pre-spring training power rankings. Did I mention that parity makes it really difficult to do these rankings with a high degree of confidence? I did? OK, let's move on and say this about this group of teams: All of these teams have playoff potential; I think they're all significantly stronger than Monday's six teams (Nos. 30-25). But all of them have what I believe will be a fatal flaw.
So read on, debate, argue and be glad you're not shoveling snow at the moment.
24. Cincinnati Reds
Big offseason moves: Acquired OF Marlon Byrd from the Phillies for RHP Ben Lively; traded RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins for RHP Anthony DeSclafani; traded RHP Alfredo Simon to the Tigers for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathan Crawford; signed LHP Paul Maholm; signed RHP Burke Badenhop; signed C Devin Mesoraco to a four-year, $28 million extension.
Most intriguing player: Johnny Cueto had a monster 2014, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA while leading the National League in innings and strikeouts and the majors in lowest opponents' batting average. But the right-hander, 29 later this month, is a free agent after 2015 and if the Reds don't sign him he becomes possible trade bait during the season depending on the Reds' status in the pennant race.
Due for a better year: Jay Bruce had knee surgery in early May, returned less than three weeks later and proceeded to hit .217/.281/.373. His value declined from 4.9 WAR to minus-1.1 WAR. The knee was presumably a factor as his fly ball rate dropped 10 percent from the year before, resulting in a big power decline. But keep in mind that the 2013 WAR figure was a career high, propped up by a high defensive rating that he has otherwise not matched in recent seasons.
Due for a worse year: The Reds traded Simon, the converted reliever who had a big first half and made the All-Star team and then predictably declined in the second half. He would have been the easy choice here, but let's go with catcher Mesoraco, who had a breakout season as he slugged .534. The list of catchers who have had a season at the plate at his level is short and odds are we see some regression.
I'm just the messenger: It's easy to envision how the Reds climb back into the NL Central race: Bruce bounces back, Joey Votto stays healthy and returns to being one of baseball's premier hitters, Byrd adds better production to left field, Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, Cueto comes close to his 2014 numbers and Homer Bailey makes 34 starts instead of 23. That could all happen and maybe we see a fun season in Cincy as the Reds host the All-Star Game and then make it to the postseason. But that's a lot of ifs. For every guy who may improve, there's a Cueto, Mesoraco or Todd Frazier who may decline a bit. And while trading Simon was a good idea, you still have to replace the 15 wins and 196 innings he provided last season.
The final word: The Reds have two major issues: rotation depth and getting on base. Only the two biggest keys to winning baseball games. Outside of Votto, nobody on this team draws many walks; the Reds were 13th in the NL in walks and 14th in on-base percentage. Certainly, getting 150 games from Votto will help but they still have too many low-OBP guys such as Hamilton, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart to run out a consistent offense. If Mesoraco and Frazier decline, the offense will still be one of the worst in the league. The rotation is now reliant on a comeback season from Tony Cingrani and a fifth starter to emerge from a group of mediocre candidates -- and that's aside from Cueto and Bailey both staying healthy.
Big offseason moves: Acquired RHP Jeff Samardzija from the A's for IF Marcus Semien, C Josh Phegley and two others; signed OF Melky Cabrera; signed 1B/DH Adam LaRoche; signed RHP David Robertson; signed LHP Zach Duke; released OF Dayan Viciedo; signed 2B Gordon Beckham.
Most intriguing player: Jose Abreu exceeded expectations by hitting .317 with 36 home runs, leading the AL in slugging percentage and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. What will he do for an encore? The ZiPS projection has him at .292/.371/.544.
Due for a better year: Right fielder Avisail Garcia played just 46 games with the White Sox after he tore his labrum early in the season. I'm not sure he's much better than the .244/.305/.413 line from 2014, but he'll get a chance to play every day and, considering he doesn't turn 24 until June, is young enough to make a leap forward.
Due for a worse year: Abreu is an obvious candidate, especially after his power declined dramatically in the second half, but some of that was a fatigue factor in his first season in the majors. I wouldn't bet against him. LaRoche is coming off a good season with the Nationals, hitting 26 home runs and drawing 82 walks, but he's 35, moving to a new league and wasn't as good in 2013.
I'm just the messenger: I feel like I'm raining a bit on the parade here as the White Sox had an intriguing offseason in making five major acquisitions without giving up any significant contributors from the 2014 squad. They've fortified a shaky bullpen with Robertson and Duke, who changed his slot and had a big season with the Brewers. Samardzija gives them a strong 1-2-3 with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Still ... there are holes at catcher, third base, second base and the back of the rotation with John Danks and Hector Noesi; I see OBP issues in the lineup and rotation issues unless rookie Carlos Rodon, the third pick in last June's draft, is ready for a quick rise to the majors.
The final word: There are a lot of things to like here, especially if Sale can stay healthy and post another Cy Young-caliber season. Maybe somebody emerges from the second base candidates to have a good season. Maybe Tyler Flowers surprises and has a good season. Maybe Noesi puts everything together and wins 14 games. I'm taking the under .500 due to what I perceive as a lack of quality depth on the back end of the roster. But it wouldn't shock me if everything came together and the White Sox won 90 games.
Big offseason moves: Traded RHP Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers for SS Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel and RHP Marcos Diplan; acquired 1B Adam Lind from the Blue Jays for RHP Marco Estrada; signed LHP Neal Cotts; lost LHP Zach Duke, RHP Francisco Rodriguez and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds to free agency; Bernie Brewer engaged in offseason fight with Los Angeles Kings mascot Bailey to see who could get the most Twitter followers. Yes, it was a slow offseason for the most part.
Most intriguing player: After battling a thumb injury in 2013 and 2014, plus a PED suspension in 2013, Ryan Braun had surgery in late September to help deaden the nerves around his thumb, which should help him grip the bat without pain. The Brewers are hopeful the surgery worked but until Braun starts playing every day in spring training, we won't know for sure.
Due for a better year: Besides Braun, shortstop Jean Segura has too much ability to hit .246/.289/.326 again, a line that included just 25 extra-base hits in 513 at-bats. If Segura doesn't return to his first-half form of 2013, Sardinas is a defensive whiz who could end up stealing playing time as the Brewers await for the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia.
Due for a worse year: If the Brewers had hung on to win the NL Central, Jonathan Lucroy may have won MVP honors. He finished fourth in the voting after hitting .301 with a league-leading 53 doubles, nearly as many walks as strikeouts, all while playing 153 games, 133 as the starting catcher. His OPS fell from .879 in the first half to .780, which you can credit to a hot first half or second-half fatigue. Either way, it's asking a lot for him to put up another 6.7-WAR season.
I'm just the messenger: The Brewers led the division for 150 days in 2014 before collapsing in September with a 9-17 record and finishing eight games behind the Cardinals. Overall, the Brewers faded to 29-37 in the second half primarily due to the cratering of the offense, which scored just 3.4 runs per game. But the Brewers addressed that in the offseason only by bringing in Lind, and will instead rely on Braun's comeback, Segura's improvement and Aramis Ramirez, who turns 37 in June.
The final word: The Brewers look like a classic .500 team to me -- no glaring holes but no outstanding strengths. Lucroy joined Carlos Gomez as a star and maybe Braun returns to being one, but the rotation clearly lacks a No. 1 or 2-type ace unless Mike Fiers can somehow replicate that 2.13 ERA he put up in 71 innings. Minus Gallardo there is now little depth behind No. 5 starter Jimmy Nelson and that's a concern. Like the Reds, it's easy to envision how things can go Milwaukee's way but I don't think the rotation is strong enough to get them into the postseason.
21. New York Yankees
Big offseason moves: Signed LHP Andrew Miller; re-signed free agent 3B Chase Headley and 2B/SS Stephen Drew; acquired SS Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade for RHP Shane Greene; acquired RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones from the Marlins for IF Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps; acquired RHP David Carpenter from the Braves; acquired LHP Justin Wilson from the Pirates for C Francisco Cervelli; re-signed OF Chris Young; re-signed LHP Chris Capuano; lost RHPs David Robertson and Brandon McCarthy via free agency; traded RHP Shawn Kelley; RHP Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp; Derek Jeter retired; Alex Rodriguez was reinstated. Whew.
Most intriguing player: You won't hear me say too often that a relief pitcher is a team's most intriguing player, but I'm fascinated to see what happens with Dellin Betances in 2015. Major league hitters are the best in the world and he treated them like that Little Leaguer who is already shaving pitching against kids who haven't hit a growth spurt. Batters hit .149 against him and he struck out 135 in 90 innings. Does he take over from Robertson as closer and, maybe more important, does Joe Girardi run him out there for 90 innings again in an era when relievers usually top out around 70?
Due for a worse year: Did Miller turn the corner in 2014? After averaging 5.3 walks per nine innings over his career, he lowered that to 2.5 while striking out a dominant 14.9 per nine. The Yankees forked over a lot of money to get the big lefty and now he and Betances could make for the best one-two relief punch in the majors if Miller replicates his 2014 success.
I'm just the messenger: Can the Yankees get 90 starts from Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda? Those three combined for just 41 last season, although Tanaka and Pineda pitched some sweet baseball when healthy. All are major health risks, of course, but keep this in mind as well: The Yankees are losing some quality starts from 2014. Kuroda, McCarthy, Greene and Phelps combined for 77 starts and a solid 3.68 ERA. Even if those guys stay healthy they may not be any better than that rate of production.
The final word: The Yankees have been outscored each of the past two years, although they managed to finish over .500 both seasons. While a lot of people are pointing to a healthier rotation and better seasons from some of the veterans as reasons the Yankees will contend this year, I turn that around and say: Who's a good bet to improve? The only thing I'm sure of is the Yankees will have better defense at shortstop. I'm taking the under .500 -- for the first time since 1992.
20. Miami Marlins
Big offseason moves: Signed Giancarlo Stanton to a $325 million extension that is heavily backloaded and allows Stanton to opt out after six seasons; acquired 3B Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps from the Yankees for RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones; acquired 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren and SS Miguel Rojas from the Dodgers for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes; acquired RHP Mat Latos from the Reds for RHP Anthony DeSclafani and C Chad Wallach; signed 1B Mike Morse; traded 3B Casey McGehee to the Giants for two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Aaron Crow from the Royals; signed OF Ichiro Suzuki.
Most intriguing player: Stanton. The contract. The power. The comeback from his late-season beaning.
Due for a better year: Christian Yelich. In 2014, he showed the ability to hit for average and take his walks. This year he adds some power.
Due for a worse year: Henderson Alvarez drives analysts crazy because he went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA despite a strikeout rate that ranked 83rd among 88 qualified starters. Alvarez does get ground balls -- eighth in ground ball rate -- but he also held batters to a .209 average and just one home run with runners in scoring position. Here's betting that ERA climbs over 3.00.
I'm just the messenger: The Marlins made a lot of moves and acquired some big names ... but did they really do anything but reshuffle the deck chairs? Gordon led the NL in steals and triples but also struggled to get on base in the second half. Haren has stated his preference to pitch for a California team and he hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 since 2011, so is he really an upgrade over Eovaldi? Latos had bone chips removed after 2013, had knee surgery in spring training, had a strained flexor mass in his elbow, eventually made 16 starts but his strikeout rate and velocity were down and then was scratched down the stretch with a bone bruise in his elbow. Going out on a limb, but he's not a good bet to give the Marlins 30 starts.
The final word: OK, I love the outfield: Stanton, Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Stanton is the oldest of the trio at 25 and all three have All-Star potential. I love Jose Fernandez, but he's not going to be back until late June or so and we don't if he'll be back at full throttle. I think there's a good chance they get very little out of Latos and Haren. The middle infield defense is more flash than substance, at least according to the metrics. The depth is worrisome. Young teams can take big leaps in a hurry but I wonder if the Marlins need another year to consolidate the talent.
19. Tampa Bay Rays
Big offseason moves: Lost manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs, named Kevin Cash manager; lost general manager Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, promoted Matthew Silverman to president of baseball operations; traded 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar to the A's for C/DH John Jaso, minor league SS Daniel Robertson and minor league OF Boog Powell; signed SS Asdrubal Cabrera; acquired OF Steven Souza, C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith and 1B Jake Bauers in a three-way trade for OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan and two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Kevin Jepsen from the Angels for OF Matt Joyce; acquired RHP Greg Harris and RHP Jose Dominguez from the Dodgers for LHP Adam Liberatore and RHP Joel Peralta; did not get a new ballpark.
Most intriguing player: Drew Smyly came over from the Tigers in the David Price trade and posted a 1.70 ERA in seven starts, allowing just 25 hits in 47.2 innings. He's certainly not that good; that's Clayton Kershaw kind of good. But he did make one minor change after the trade: He threw more fastballs up in the zone. The Rays love high fastballs. So maybe there's something going on here. It certainly makes him intriguing.
Due for a better year: Evan Longoria. He hit .253/.320/.404. Steamer projects .256/.334/.446. ZiPS projects .255/.330/.441. So better. But not a whole lot, top-10 MVP kind of better.
Due for a worse year: Rivera was acquired from the Padres because the Rays emphasize pitch framing in their catchers (see Jose Molina) and Rivera is a very good framer. But he also hit well in 2014, which he had never done before on the major league level. Then again, he'd never played regularly in the majors before, so you never know.
I'm just the messenger: The Rays scored 88 fewer runs than in 2013 ... and traded away their two players with the highest OBPs, Zobrist and Joyce. So ... umm ... that's my message.
The final word: I'll be honest. I wanted to pick the Rays as my surprise team of 2015. Everyone is down on them after their first losing season since 2007. They'd won 90-plus games in five of the previous six seasons, traded David Price, lost Joe Maddon and their big addition on offense is a 26-year-old rookie outfielder (granted, Souza did have monster numbers in Triple-A). The reason I wanted to pick them is the rotation has huge, huge potential. We talked about Smyly. Alex Cobb is close to a No. 1 if he can pitch 200 innings. Chris Archer had a solid first full season and I love his arm. Jake Odorizzi had a 4.13 ERA as a rookie but showed potential with 174 K's in 167 innings. Maybe they get Matt Moore back at some point. So the rotation could be terrific. In the end, though, I'm going with the more boring prediction. I may be wrong.