It's one thing to build a good baseball team. Doing that is hard enough. It's another to piece together a great baseball team. There's no clear understanding of how much better it is to look great over simply good. But right now, for this coming season, three teams stand out from all other contenders. How much further ahead of the pack are these three teams, and how well will they deliver on their mid-winter promise?
Let's start with who they are, because it isn't much of a mystery after their busy couple of months. On the same day of the winter meetings, the Boston Red Sox upgraded their infield, bullpen and starting rotation, most visibly by swinging a blockbuster deal for Chris Sale. Their intention was clear: The Red Sox want to cruise through their American League competition by assembling the best team they can. As the Red Sox were busy beefing up, the Los Angeles Dodgers worked to keep themselves intact. Over the past few weeks, they've re-signed Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner. Like the Red Sox, the Dodgers are working on a superteam. The idea is to dethrone the other superteam: the world champion Chicago Cubs.
The offseason is far from over, but it's never too early to think about the season ahead. Consider what the projections say. Now, baseball projections are not without controversy. And criticism is fair, because the projections have always been far from perfect. I can tell you this much about 2017: Math loves the Cubs. It also loves the Dodgers and Red Sox. Each of these three teams is a potential juggernaut, which can get messy when baseball crowns only one winner.
Let's take a quick step back. I have in my possession team projections dating to 2005. The projections aren't all based on the same formulas, but all projections work similarly. Over this period of time, there have always been six divisions. Here is, for each year, the average of the six projected gaps between first place and second place.