It's the third day of pre-spring training power rankings! We're getting to the serious playoff contenders now, teams that have more depth and few question marks. But I know fans of a couple of the teams below aren't going to agree with the ranking. But that's why we do this. Get those debates going.
Big offseason moves: I'm trying to remember if the A's made any transactions ... traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie, LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Kendall Graveman and SS Franklin Barreto; acquired 1B Ike Davis from the Pirates; traded RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Michael Ynoa to the White Sox for SS Marcus Semien, RHP Chris Bassitt, C Josh Phegley and 1B Rangel Ravelo; signed DH Billy Butler; traded 1B/OF Brandon Moss to the Indians for 2B Joe Wendle; acquired RHP Jesse Hahn and RHP R.J. Alvarez from the Padres for C Derek Norris and RHP Seth Streich; acquired 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar from the Rays for SS Daniel Robertson, C/DH John Jaso and OF Boog Powell; traded Escobar to the Nationals for RHP Tyler Clippard; lost Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson, Jason Hammel, Jonny Gomes and Geovany Soto via free agency; released Nick Punto, which probably doesn't qualify as a big offseason move.
Most intriguing player: Billy Beane certainly remains the most intriguing player in this organization after that frenetic offseason makeover.
Due for a better year: The A's traded for Lawrie certainly hoping he has a better year. The third baseman hasn't been able to stay healthy in his three seasons in the majors, going from 125 games played to 105 to 70. It's worth noting that he has hit much better in Toronto in his career than on the road -- .815 OPS versus .683.
Due for a worse year: Scott Kazmir went 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA in pitching his most innings since 2007, but also faded down the stretch. Can he stay healthy and remain productive again for 30-plus starts?
I'm just the messenger: The A's traded away their most valuable player in Donaldson and have lost essentially one ace-level of production in Lester and Samardzija (who made 27 starts for the A's). Their top three home run hitters from 2014 -- Donaldson, Moss and Yoenis Cespedes -- are gone and they hit 71 of the team's 146 home runs. A's catchers also ranked third in the majors in wOBA in 2014 and now they're counting on Stephen Vogt, who underwent foot surgery in the offseason, and Phegley, who was blown away at the major league level in 2013. The Butler signing was curious, especially because he was bad last season. On the other hand, Zobrist is a definite upgrade over Eric Sogard.
The final word: I touched on the A's last week when I wrote my A's-Giants comparison. The projection systems are actually pretty optimistic about the A's and while they do have nice depth across their 40-man roster, I worry about the power and run scoring and the rotation if Kazmir doesn't have a strong season. I'm predicting a record under .500 in a tough AL West, although it wouldn't surprise me if A's surprise us. They usually do.
Big offseason moves: Lost RHP James Shields, DH Billy Butler and OF Norichika Aoki via free agency; signed RHP Edinson Volquez; signed DH Kendrys Morales; signed RF Alex Rios; re-signed RHPs Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar; traded RHP Aaron Crow to the Marlins; signed RHP Kris Medlen.
Most intriguing player: Yordano Ventura. Now that Shields has departed, Ventura assumes the role of staff ace. How he fares after a pretty sizable workload as a rookie will be a big test.
Due for a better year: Eric Hosmer. He hit .351/.439/.544 in 16 postseason games, looking like the star everyone projected after his strong rookie season in 2011. Did he simply get hot for a few games? After all, he had just two doubles and no home runs over his final 11 postseason games. Anyway, he had just nine home runs in 2014. He's at least capable of rebounding to his 2013 numbers when he hit .302/.353/.448.
I'm just the messenger: Yes, the Royals struck out the fewest times in the American League. They also hit the fewest home runs and drew the fewest walks and managed to finish ninth in runs scored. Yes, the speed and baserunning helped a bit there, but it's tough to have a consistent offense that's built around batting average. The Royals will need real improvement from some position players to avoid an offensive decline.
The final word: No team had a less stimulating offseason than the Royals. They lost Shields and replaced him with Volquez, who was worth 2.5 WAR for the Pirates last year but minus-2.5 WAR from 2010 through 2013. They lost fan favorite Butler because they didn't want to pick up his $12.5 million option but then signed Morales -- who was even worse than Butler in 2014 -- for $17 million over two years. They lost Aoki but signed Rios -- who was awful in 2014. Is this any way to follow up your first playoff trip in 29 years? Shame on you, David Glass.
16. San Diego Padres
Big offseason moves: Named A.J. Preller general manager; acquired OF Matt Kemp and C Tim Federowicz from the Dodgers C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Joe Wieland and RHP Zach Eflin; acquired OF Justin Upton from the Braves for four minor leaguers; signed RHP James Shields; acquired OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan and two minor leaguers from the Rays for C Rene Rivera, RHP Joe Ross, RHP Burch Smith and 1B Jake Bauers as part of a three-team deal; acquired C Derek Norris and RHP Seth Streich from the A's for RHP Jesse Hahn and RHP R.J. Alvarez; traded Hanigan to the Red Sox for 3B Will Middlebrooks; traded OF Seth Smith to the Mariners for RHP Brandon Maurer; signed RHPs Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow; signed SS Clint Barmes; the only thing they didn't do was bring back the old brown uniforms.
Most intriguing player: I'm going with Kemp. Was his strong second-half performance with the Dodgers a sign that he's finally healthy from shoulder, foot and ankle injuries? Will he be extra motivated after getting traded to a division rival? Will he hit in Petco Park (he actually has a higher career OPS there than at Dodger Stadium)? How will he do on defense?
Due for a better year: Myers. He was hurt and unproductive as a sophomore, hitting a woeful .222/.294/.320. The Padres will be expecting at least 50 more points of OBP and 150 points of slugging.
I'm just the messenger: A quick little study. The projected outfield of Upton, Myers and Kemp is going to be shaky defensively unless Myers adapts to center and Kemp finds his 25-year-old legs. How the teams with the five worst defensive outfields (via defensive runs saved) have fared over the past three seasons:
Twins (-50) -- 70-92
Indians (-37) -- 85-77
Tigers (-33) -- 90-72
Phillies (-27) -- 73-89
Dodgers (-25) -- 94-68
Cubs (-25) -- 73-89
Mariners (-70) -- 71-91
Phillies (-46) -- 73-89
Twins (-35) -- 66-96
Astros (-32) -- 51-111
Rockies (-30) -- 74-88
Mets (-35) -- 74-88
Orioles (-23) -- 93-69
Marlins (-21) -- 69-93
Nationals (-20) -- 98-64
Cubs (-19) -- 61-101
Average record: 76-86.
This isn't proof of anything. For one thing, we don't know if the Padres' outfield will be bad defensively, although there certainly are reasons to expect it will be bad as opposed to good. Plus, a quarter of the 16 teams did win 90 games, so outfield defense is hardly the defining force to a team's win-loss record. But it can be an important element and it's a reason to be concerned.
The final word: Everybody's excited about the Padres. I'm excited about the Padres. That's good and I hope they're in the playoff race all season. The Shields signing was big, giving them an innings eater and extending the depth of the rotation. But right now the infield looks like a mess, even if Jedd Gyorko bounces back, and you have to worry about the injury histories of Ross and Andrew Cashner. My prediction is certainly on the low end but if the rotation stays healthy or they get surprise contributions from guys such as Morrow or Johnson, 90 wins is certainly possible.
15. Houston Astros
Big offseason moves: Hired A.J. Hinch as manager; signed SS Jed Lowrie and RHPs Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek; acquired 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily from the Cubs for CF Dexter Fowler; acquired C Evan Gattis and RHP James Hoyt from the Braves for RHP Michael Foltynewicz, 3B Rio Ruiz and RHP Andrew Thurman; signed OF Colby Rasmus.
Due for a better year: The bullpen. Gregerson and Neshek should help a pen that had the worst ERA in the majors and the second-most blown saves.
I'm just the messenger: There's an obvious concern here: It's Altuve and a Costco warehouse of strikeouts. Springer, Chris Carter and Gattis may combine for 90 home runs and nearly 600 strikeouts, which could push the lineup into prolonged slumps of whiffs and scoreless innings.
The final word: I like the Astros more than most -- calling them the surprise team of 2015 -- and pointed out that they had the worst production in the majors last year at first base, third base and left field. So improvement at those positions will be vital. Yes, a lot is riding on Keuchel and McHugh to be very good again but I believe they will be. The Astros' plan is coming together, augmented with some free-agent signings, and they're going to be competitive for the first time in years.
14. Detroit Tigers
Big offseason moves: Lost RHP Max Scherzer via free agency; re-signed DH Victor Martinez; acquired OF Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox for RHP Rick Porcello; acquired RHP Alfredo Simon from the Reds for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathon Crawford; acquired CF Anthony Gose from the Blue Jays for 2B Devon Travis; acquired RHP Shane Greene from the Yankees.
Most intriguing player: Justin Verlander. There were 149 pitchers in 2014 who threw at least 100 innings; Verlander ranked 126th in ERA. Career crisis or just a bad season after surgery on his core muscles last offseason? While he had a 4.54 ERA, he had a 3.74 FIP, suggesting his peripherals were still solid, if not Verlander-esque. On the other hand, his strikeout rate was way down and he was 135th out of those 149 pitches in OPS allowed in hitters' counts. Does the stuff come back?
Due for a better year: Well, Jose Iglesias is penciled in as the starting shortstop after missing all of 2014. The Tigers were last in the majors in wOBA from their shortstops, so as long he plays good defense the Tigers will be happy.
Due for a worse year: Victor Martinez had the best season of his career with a .974 OPS -- just the second time he's topped .900. At 36, he wasn't a good bet to hit .335 with 32 home runs again, and that was before the knee injury he suffered last week.
I'm just the messenger: Well ... 27th in bullpen ERA in 2014; 24th in bullpen ERA in 2013; 18th in bullpen ERA in 2012; 25th in bullpen ERA in 2011. "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." Edmund Burke. Or was that Dave Dombrowski? I forget.
The final word: The Tigers have won four straight AL Central titles and they'll be the favorites to capture a fifth. It's easy to see the arguments: David Price essentially replaces Scherzer, Verlander bounces back, Cespedes adds even more power, Simon replaces Porcello, even Miguel Cabrera is capable of better numbers. OK, the bullpen is shaky, but that hasn't prevented the Tigers from winning the division in the past. This is still a team that will score runs and have a good-to-great rotation. Maybe ... but I see the Tigers' window starting to close this year. There's more competition in the division, I have some doubts about Verlander and now Martinez, Simon isn't as good as Porcello was last year and the bullpen will hurt the team. At least, that's what I'm predicting.
13. Chicago Cubs
Big offseason moves: Hired Joe Maddon as manager; signed free-agent LHP Jon Lester; signed RHP Jason Hammel; acquired C Miguel Montero from the Diamondbacks for RHP Jeferson Mejia and RHP Zack Godley; traded OF Justin Ruggiano to the Mariners for RHP Matt Brazis; acquired CF Dexter Fowler from the Astros for 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily; signed OF Chris Denorfia.
Most intriguing player: Rookie third baseman Kris Bryant likely spends a few weeks in the minors to save the Cubs on service time, but there's a reason he's the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He and Anthony Rizzo are going to be a dominant 3-4 combination for years to come ... and maybe as soon as 2015.
Due for a better year: Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara both struggled in their rookie seasons, Baez with a .227 OBP and a season's worth of strikeouts in 52 games and Alcantara with a .254 OBP and a strikeout rate nearly as absurd. Alcantara was slated to be the Cubs' utility guy, playing both outfield and infield, but the acquisition of Fowler means he could battle Baez for the starting job at second base.
Due for a worse year: Kyle Hendricks went 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts down the stretch. He doesn't throw hard or strike out a lot of batters as he relies on an upper-80s sinker. The projection systems see a guy with an ERA around 4.00 -- that low K rate -- and while I like him, it's likely his ERA rises a run or so.
I'm just the messenger: Just pointing out that Lester had a 4.82 ERA in 2012 and 3.75 in 2013. Yes, big 2014, new league, no DH and more cutters instead of four-seamers and he could be even better. But you never know. He may not be as good as he was last year. And then there's Jake Arrieta, former faded prospect turned rotation anchor. He looks like the real deal but ... again ... you never know. Hey, I'm trying. I like the Cubs! I have them ranked 13th!
The final word: If I had more guts I'd predict them to win the division, but they have two strong clubs ahead of them and even the Brewers or Reds are capable of 90 wins. The Cubs are still sorting a few things out and waiting for some of the young guys to mature. Sometimes, teams do break through right away; if Bryant and Jorge Soler are 3-4 win players as rookies and Lester and Arrieta throw 400-plus innings of great baseball, the Cubs could be the big surprise of 2015.