Welcome to the third day of my preseason power rankings. These next six teams all have plenty of potential so it wouldn’t shock me if a couple of them made the postseason. Hey, that’s the great thing about the level of parity in the sport right now: Anything can happen!
OK, that’s really just an excuse when I get all of this wrong in October. Just note that I’m picking the Mariners to reach the World Series this year.
Big offseason moves: Acquired 3B Todd Frazier from the Reds in three-team deal; acquired 2B/3B Brett Lawrie from the A’s for two minor leaguers; signed Cs Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila; signed RHPs Mat Latos and Matt Albers; lost RHP Jeff Samardzija, SS Alexei Ramirez and Cs Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers to free agency.
Most intriguing player: Carlos Rodon slipped to third overall in the 2014 draft after some inconsistent results at North Carolina State but his stuff was all the way back in his rookie season. While his command was still an issue, his fastball/slider combo was lethal on left-handers, who hit .194 without a home run against him in 139 at-bats. The key, besides throwing more strikes, will be the development of his changeup to better combat right-handed batters, who hit .272/.367/.431 against him.
I'm just the messenger: At this writing, the White Sox still have obvious holes. Shortstop Tyler Saladino is just a stopgap until top prospect Tim Anderson arrives in 2017. Right fielder Avisail Garcia just isn’t good; he's a guy with a low OBP who somehow managed just 32 extra-base hits in 601 plate appearances, without the defensive range to support his bat. Melky Cabrera didn’t get on base enough, didn’t hit enough home runs and isn’t going to win any awards for his defense. Adam Eaton, by the defensive metrics, didn’t have a good season in center field. Put it this way: FanGraphs rated the White Sox 26th in the majors in outfield WAR. Yet they’re counting on the same outfield in 2016.
Where I could be wrong: The additions of Frazier and Lawrie may be enough to boost an offense that scored the fewest runs in the American League and hit the fewest home runs despite playing in a good hitter’s park. The White Sox had the lowest wOBA in the majors at both second and third base. White Sox second basemen created about 42 runs; Lawrie, in 149 games with the A’s, created about 68 runs. White Sox third basemen created about 52 runs in 2015; Frazier, in 157 games with the Reds, created about 89. So, roughly speaking, those two additions alone could lead to a 65-to-70-run improvement. Of course, assuming the same run prevention as 2015, that only gets them to around .500 (they had a minus-79 run differential). So they’ll need to add runs or prevent runs in other areas as well.
The final word: I kind of admire the White Sox. They’re never willing to commit to a full rebuild and always try to improve the roster, admirable for a mid-payroll team. The trouble is that it hasn’t worked. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and haven’t won 90 games since 2006. After winning 85 games in his rookie season as manager, Robin Ventura has now skippered three straight losing teams. The White Sox were one of the healthiest teams in the majors last year -- as they often are -- but it still didn’t translate to success. Ventura’s job is almost certainly on the line if the White Sox stumble out of the gate.
17. New York Yankees
Big offseason moves: Acquired LHP Aroldis Chapman from the Reds for four minor leaguers; acquired 2B/SS Starlin Castro from the Cubs for RHP Adam Warren; traded LHP Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two minor league pitchers; acquired OF Aaron Hicks from the Twins for C John Ryan Murphy; lost OF Chris Young and IF Stephen Drew in free agency.
Most intriguing player: Chapman will headline maybe the most intimidating late-game bullpen in MLB history, with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances setting him up. We still have to wait, however, to see if Chapman gets suspended for a domestic violence incident for which he wasn’t charged where he reportedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight shots from a handgun in his garage.
I'm just the messenger: The Yankees had the oldest average position age in the AL in 2015 and a lot of good things happened. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira combined for 64 home runs, Carlos Beltran had a bounce-back season and Brian McCann hit much better. While Teixeira fractured his leg in August and Jacoby Ellsbury missed time, the Yankees were remarkably healthy, with four players playing 150-plus games and McCann and Beltran both playing 130-plus. The middle-infield combo of Didi Gregorius and Castro are the only projected regulars under 32 (along with backup outfielder Hicks). In what has become a young man’s game, can the Yankees enjoy the same results from their 30-somethings? (And in A-Rod’s case, a 40-something?)
Where I could be wrong: Pretty simple, right? The old guys stay healthy; Ellsbury bounces back; Masahiro Tanaka's elbow ligaments continue to remain attached; Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi give up fewer hits and pitch more innings (349 in 315 innings); Luis Severino is the real deal; the bullpen dominates as expected.
The final word: The Yankees received a lot of criticism for not signing a single major league free agent. Hey, it’s not what The Boss would have done, but there may be another plan in the works. Ride it out with this roster (Teixeira, Beltran and CC Sabathia come off the books after this season and Rodriguez after 2017) and have payroll room for the 2018-19 offseason when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado become free agents. (Not to mention Mike Trout after 2020.)
16. Seattle Mariners
Big offseason moves: Re-signed RHP Hisashi Iwakuma; acquired LHP Wade Miley and RHP Jonathan Aro from the Red Sox for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias; acquired 1B Adam Lind from the Brewers for three minor league pitchers; traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to the Rays for RHP Nathan Karns and OF Boog Powell; signed RHP Steve Cishek; traded OF/1B Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser to the Orioles for C Steve Clevenger; re-signed OF Franklin Gutierrez; signed free-agent C Chris Iannetta; acquired RHP Joaquin Benoit from the Padres for two minor leaguers; acquired CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass from the Rangers for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, OF James Jones and 3B/1B Patrick Kivlehan; signed Korean 1B Dae-Ho Lee.
Most intriguing player: At the end of June, Robinson Cano was hitting .238 with four home runs. Reports surfaced in early July that he had been battling a stomach ailment since the previous August. Cano was also close to his grandfather, who had died in March. Whatever the causes and whatever the fixes, Cano was a different hitter the final three months, with a .330/.383/.536 line including 17 home runs in 82 games. If he does that for six months, he’s an MVP candidate.
I'm just the messenger: In 2014, the Seattle bullpen was tremendous, going 25-20 and leading the majors with a 2.59 ERA and ranking fifth in strikeout rate. In 2015, the pen -- well, it fell apart, even with the addition of Smith. The ERA rose to 4.15, the W-L record was 21-36 (the second-most bullpen losses), the strikeout rate fell to 20th and the number of ninth-inning leads that resulted in defeats climbed from three to eight. The Mariners went from 87 wins to 76 so new GM Jerry Dipoto remade the pen in the midst of a busy offseason. Cishek, coming off a season in which he lost his closer role with the Marlins, is in, along with Benoit, who is 38 but has a 1.98 ERA over the past three seasons. Tony Zych will get a shot at a prominent role after impressing in a September call-up. Charlie Furbush is the one holdover, although he was injured in 2015. Anyway, all that is a long way of saying there’s no way to know if the pen is playoff-caliber.
Where I could be wrong: OK, let’s say the bullpen is better. Let’s say Iwakuma makes 30 starts instead of 20. Let’s say Taijuan Walker continues to make strides (3.62 ERA, .228 average allowed from May 29 on). Let’s say Miley provides 200 workhorse innings. Heck, let’s even pretend James Paxton stays healthy. Even then, the question remains: Will there be enough offense? Nelson Cruz is an obvious regression candidate after raising his OPS 67 points from 2014, so others will have to step up to improve an offense that ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored. As Dipoto has indicated, it’s all about improving the team’s OBP, where the Mariners have ranked in the top 10 in the AL just once since 2003 (seventh, way back in 2007).
The final word: The Mariners could go either way, relying on 35-year-old Cruz and 33-year-old Cano -- along with Kyle Seager -- to carry the offense. Felix Hernandez went 18-9 but his 3.53 ERA was his worst since 2007. When he was bad, he was very bad. Mariners fans can only hope that after 10 consecutive seasons of 30-plus starts, he’s not showing a little wear and tear.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
Big offseason moves: Acquired OF Corey Dickerson from the Rockies for LHP Jake McGee; acquired SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar from the Mariners for RHP Nathan Karns and OF Boog Powell; acquired C Hank Conger from the Astros for cash; signed 1B Steve Pearce; lost SS Asdrubal Cabrera and DH John Jaso to free agency.
Most intriguing player: Left-hander Blake Snell was the 52nd pick back in the 2011 draft and had a monster breakout season in the minors, posting a 1.41 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 134 innings across three levels. In 44 innings in Triple-A he fanned 57 and allowed just 29 hits. The Rays will undoubtedly start him in the minors to preserve that extra year of service time, but he looks ready to make a big impact as a rookie.
I'm just the messenger: Have they done enough to improve an offense that finished last in the AL in runs in 2014 and next-to-last in 2015? Morrison, coming off a .685 OPS with Seattle, hardly seems like the solution at first base, while Dickerson will have to prove he can hit outside of Coors Field. Miller may be a slight upgrade over Cabrera, although he has struggled against left-handers. Evan Longoria is now two seasons removed from his last big season and Steven Souza's .225/.318/.399 line as a rookie with 144 strikeouts in 110 games was a disappointment. And the catching situation remains problematic.
Where I could be wrong: Even if the offense doesn’t improve all that much, there’s reason to believe the run prevention will improve with the addition of Snell, a full season from Drew Smyly (3.11 ERA in 12 starts) and hopefully better results from Matt Moore (5.43 ERA in 12 starts after coming back from Tommy John surgery). Staff ace Chris Archer posted a 3.23 ERA and could be even better if he eliminates some of the blow-up outings. Maybe Alex Cobb returns in late July or August from his own Tommy John surgery. But the key will be a bullpen that led the majors with 37 losses. Now, some of those were because manager Kevin Cash had quick hooks with most of his starters, but the Rays also went 2-13 in extra innings. Closer Brad Boxberger and Steve Geltz combined to allow 17 home runs in 130 innings -- way too many for two of your key relievers. (Overall, only the Oakland and Boston bullpens had a higher home run rate than Tampa.) There are some good arms down here, so an uptick in performance wouldn’t be a surprise.
The final word: Nobody is going to pick the Rays and while I’d like to see a big bat in that lineup, there is some roster flexibility and depth. Also, with maybe the exception of Logan Forsythe, you wouldn’t project any obvious regression from most of the players. The Rays are a sleeper team.
14. Texas Rangers
Most intriguing player: I’ve written a lot about Rougned Odor. The short story: Terrible start, sent to the minors in early May, came back in mid-June and tore it up the rest of the way (.292/.334/.527). Oh, he just turned 22. There are some good second basemen in the AL but Odor could be an All-Star in 2016.
I'm just the messenger: Am I supposed to love this rotation? It just seems to come with a lot of question marks:
(1) Cole Hamels went 7-1 in 12 starts but with a 3.66 ERA. Is he an ace in the AL or more of a No. 2?
(2) Colby Lewis won 17 games but with a 4.66 ERA. I get that when he’s healthy he’s been a 200-inning workhorse, but he’s also 36 and had a 5.14 ERA in 2014.
(3) Will Yu Darvish be Yu Darvish when he returns in May or June?
(4) Derek Holland gets a lot of hype for a pitcher with a 4.28 career ERA and 11 home runs allowed in 58.2 innings last year.
(5) Martin Perez remains more promise than actual production in his four seasons in the majors.
Hey, I get it, there’s some big upside here if Darvish returns at the top of his game and Perez puts it together in his second season back from Tommy John surgery. FanGraphs projected the Texas rotation as middle of the pack in the majors and I’m inclined to agree.
Where I could be wrong: But that bullpen! We saw guys like Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Keone Kela throwing smoke in the playoffs. None of those guys has a long track record but the talent and depth -- throw in Shawn Tolleson, Wilhelmsen and Sam Freeman -- means Jeff Banister won’t necessarily need his non-Hamels starters to go deep into games.
The final word: The Rangers finished third in the AL in runs, thanks in part to some surprising performances from Mitch Moreland, Delino DeShields Jr. and Robinson Chirinos. Those are three regression candidates and there are additional age concerns with the meat of the order: Adrian Beltre will be in his age-37 season and finally showed some signs of slowing (his lowest OPS+ since an injury-marred year in Seattle in 2009), Josh Hamilton will be 35, Shin-Soo Choo, 33 and Prince Fielder, 32. Still, the Rangers don’t have any glaring holes and if Odor is as good as I think he is and the older guys produce again, they’ll be back in the playoff hunt.
Big offseason moves: Signed RHP Zack Greinke; acquired RHP Shelby Miller from the Braves for OF Ender Inciarte, SS Dansby Swanson and RHP Aaron Blair; acquired SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner from the Brewers for RHP Chase Anderson, IF Aaron Hill and minor league SS Isan Diaz; signed RHP Tyler Clippard; traded RHP Jeremy Hellickson to the Phillies for RHP Sam McWilliams.
Most intriguing player: I’d say a $206.5 million contract (don’t forget that .5) makes Greinke pretty intriguing.
I’m just the messenger: The Diamondbacks are going to be a popular pick, but they still have several holes for a team with its eye on a division title. Segura and Nick Ahmed will battle it out for shortstop, and while Ahmed is a gifted defender, neither hit at all in 2015. Among 176 players with at least 450 plate appearances, Ahmed ranked 167th in wOBA and Segura ranked 171st. Oh, and second baseman Chris Owings ranked 174th. Third baseman Jake Lamb wasn’t a huge plus at the plate, hitting .263/.331/.386 with just six home runs in 350 at-bats. And Yasmany Tomas will move to the outfield to replace Inciarte; Tomas had a .305 OBP and projects as a defensive liability. Now, despite all that, the Diamondbacks did finish second in the NL runs, a testament to Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and David Peralta (plus playing in a good hitter’s park). Still, I’m not convinced it’s a championship-level lineup.
Where I could be wrong: Stars! Hey, most teams have a hole or two, but most don’t have an MVP candidate and a Cy Young candidate. And the rotation could be sneaky good behind Greinke and Miller if Patrick Corbin (3.60 ERA) and Robbie Ray (3.52) match last year’s production for a combined 60 starts instead of 39. Anderson, Hellickson and Rubby De La Rosa combined for a 4.55 ERA over 487 innings and 86 starts, so the Diamondbacks are banking on the rotation making a big improvement from its 4.37 ERA that ranked 11th in the NL.
The final word: Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart have constantly mystified the sabermetric analysts. Last year’s trade of prospect Touki Toussaint to the Braves just to essentially save the money owed on Bronson Arroyo's contract was strange and everyone believes they paid a steep price for Miller, giving up not only a good player in Inciarte, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft in Swanson plus a very good pitching prospect in Blair. Then came the big contract for Greinke. Do they know something we don’t? Look, there’s definite upside here if the rotation stays healthy, but I always worry about the stars-and-scrubs approach. I don’t think the D-backs go all Padres on us, but they fall short in a tough division.