Tagged: Bryce Harper

Previewing The NL East

Just as in the American League, the NL’s East is widely considered the best division. In the National’s case, I’m not sold. Granted four of the five teams are strong, but none look overwhelming, nor free of holes in the roster. The big story no doubt will be Bryce Harper… how much impact will he have on the Phillies for the beginning of his $330 million deal there, and how will Washington react and bounce back?

Team by Team:

Atlanta – How good will Ronald Acuna Jr. be in his sophomore season? I’m guessing better than last year, and his rookie season (.293, 26 HR in 111 games) was pretty spectacular. Add in Freddie Freeman, a constant MVP candidate and newcomer Josh Donaldson and you have a pretty solid middle of the lineup. Donaldson’s health is always an issue and I don’t see them getting $23M worth of output from him, but he should be fine and probably play at least 100 games. Nick Markakis was seen as having a freak break-out year last year, but really wasn’t that far off his norm… his .366 on base, for instance close to his .358 career number, and playing every day wasn’t that unusual- he’s had 6-straight years of at least 590 at bats. At 35, he may not match it but still should be pretty solid. Rotation a bit of a question mark, and they really need Mike foltynewicz to come back from his elbow injury by mid-April, as projected.

Miami Sports Illustrated isn’t alone in seeing them as the worst team in the NL. At least they have a new logo and cap to thrill fans with! In their prime, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Martin Prado were all excellent, but at rather prematurely old 38, 33 and 35 respectively, now don’t contribute a lot to the lineup beyond maturity in the clubhouse. Brian Anderson may be the best player in the lineup, Starlin castro notwithstanding, but hit just .273 with 11 homers last year and will probably be asked to man the tougher 3B positiion more than last year, when he was mostly an outfielder.

New York – A rarity in baseball these days, a team which is basically all-pitching, little-offense. Jed Lowrie is a good pickup that way, with his versatility and improving bat, and fans are looking forward to seeing power hitting rookie Peter Alonso at first. Last year he clubbed 36 homers in the minors. The rotation is second to none though, with a healthy Zack Wheeler and reigning Cy Young winner Jacob De Grom at the front. Although it is unrealistic to expect a repeat 1.70 ERA from JDG this year, he’s been remarkably solid for some years and last year improved his control without losing speed off his fastball (96 MPH avg.)

Philadelphia – It’s all about the Bryce in Liberty Bell City. For a brief couple of months, the Phils had signed on the dotted line for the biggest contract in American pro sport history, inking Harper for 13 years to come. Almost lost in the shuffle was their acquisition of star catcher JL Realmuto and veteran 5-tool outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the one-time favorite from the western part of the state. The Phils were good last year, with lots of young talent, and seemed to have gotten better. Stilll… Aaron Nola is great, Jake Arietta can still pitch (although note his last 4 season trends: 229, 197, 168, 173 innings; 1.77, 3.10, 3.53, 3.96 ERA) and at age 33 it’s unlikely he’ll reverse that trend in a major way. The rest of the rotation is iffy and as Sports Illustrated note, Philly fans are notorious for their lack of patience. A slow start from Harper could set the team off on the wrong foot and turn the standing O’s to rowdy choruses of boos quickly… something not to be written off as impossible for a guy whose own peers voted him the most over-rated player in baseball (with more than 15 times more votes than the runner-up, Toronto’s temperamental Marcus stroman) . Harper should do fine with the small park (walls about 7′ closer than Washington) and if healthy could run at 50 HR. But his average may stay below .250 and there’s the “if” in there… he’s missed more than 50 games twice in the last five years. My personal guesses for him this year: 135G, 40 HR, 98 RBI, .245 avg, .875 OPS

Washington – Lots to like in DC, even if the bearded-one isn’t part of it anymore. Adding Patrick Corbin boosts their already very good starting rotation and we’ll see young (20) Juan Soto in his sophomore season after having a pretty outstanding .292/22/70 in about two-thrids of last season. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki make a great catching duo and Anthony Rendon, entering his free agent year, keeps getting better . Max Scherzer is a no doubter but then Stephen strasburg has never quite become that despite all the hype. A litany of small injuries which have limited him to less than 150 innings over 3 of the past 4 seasons seem largely to blame, and there are no guarantees he’ll be healthier this season.

PREDICTIONS-

Atlanta 88 – 74

Washington 87 – 75

Philadelphia 85 – 77

New York 83 – 79

Miami 62 – 100

The Power Trio And Their Brinks’ Trucks

In baseball this spring, the big story as usual it seems, deals with money rather than baseball itself, which is rather unfortunate and might just be one of many factors which seem to causing attendance and TV ratings to dip of late. Anyway, the story of the spring so far is the mega-contracts… the top two Free Agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, as well as the re-signing of Nolan Arenado with his current team.

Machado of course, signed a 10-year deal with San Diego for $300M; Harper just signed on with Philadelphia for a remarkable 13 years and $330M, while Arenado stays with Colorado for another 8-years and $260M. For those not so mathematically inclined, that equals out to average annual salaries of $30M for Machado, $25.3M for Harper and $32.5M for Arenado.

The surprising thing of that is that each of the 3 players can feel like they won. And then again, shouldn’t anyone getting literally hundreds of millions to do what they like feel that? Harper gets bragging rights for the biggest-overall contract, taking home eventually $5M more than Giancarlo Stanton will on his long-term deal. Arenado gets the biggest annual takehome of the trio and didn’t have to go through the ordeal of posturing and visiting all sorts of parks all winter long to get it. Machado falls somewhere in between but has the comfort of having the biggest contract ever handed out by San Diego and getting a better payday each year than Harper, with whom he was constantly being compared all winter long. For those interested in such things, using stats from Sporttrec earlier this year, Arenado should be the 5th highest paid player in the MLB, Machado tied for 7th and Harper 15th (surprisingly Stephen Strasburg leads this year at $38.3M, followed by his teammate Max Scherzer at $37.4M then Arizona’s Zach Greinke at $34.5M.

As skyhigh salaries go, I think the owners got it right this winter. Of the elite trio, Arenado is best, followed by Machado and then Harper. Let’s look at some numbers:

ca GP 18HR HR 18BI RBI 18Av Av 18O OP WAR
Arenado 876 38 186 110 616 297 291 935 886 5.6/33
Harper 927 34 184 100 521 249 279 889 900 1.3/27
Machado 926 37 175 107 513 297 282 905 822 5.7/34

The numbers above are for (columns left to right): career games played, 2018 homers, career homers, 2018 RBI, career RBI, 2018 batting average, career batting average, 2018 OPS, career OPs and 2018 WAR/Career WAR (as measured by Baseball-Reference.

We can see there’s a strong simlarity between the 3. Last year all were 30+ HR, 100+ RBI, with a better-than-league-average OPS. There of course other factors that went into my evaluation as well as, more importantly, the thinking of the owners. For instance, Arenado isn’t quite the roadrunner on the bases as the other pair… Harper and Machado all had double digit stolen bases, Arenado only 2. Harper led the league with 130 walks, which more than compensated for his lowish batting average. However, other factors all make Arenado and Machado more exceptional than Harper. To start with, the two former ones play more valuable postions than Harper’s. And they do it better.

Arenado has won a Gold Glove every year he’s been in the majors, and at the all-important 3B. Last season was the first time in his career his defense hasn’t been listed at adding 2 or more wins to the team tally. Manny, as we’ve seen is equally proficient at Shortstop or 3B, has two Gold Gloves and has been a plus-defensive WAR every year but last year, when a poor showing in LA made him rate a neutral 0. Harper, on the other hand, plays in the outfield, and only does a fair job of that at best. He actually has a -3.2 defensive WAR. Ergo, he cost the Nationals three games over his years there by his glove, compared to if they’d had a run of the mill minor leaguer. That was surely overshadowed by his heavy bat, but is still a consideration. And while the normal trajectory would show Machado and Arenado having another two or three very good years in the infield before perhaps being shifted to a lower-stress LF or 1B position, Harper will in all likelihood have to become a first baseman, or hope that the NL adopts the dH rule soon to avoid becoming a significant sinkhole in the field for the Phils.

Worse yet, he’s the one of the three with a history of injuries. His past knee injuries are especially worrying to a potential employer, as that tends to be something that keeps coming back with age and wear and tear. While Machado played all 162 games last year (split between the two teams ), and has missed a mere 11 games over the last 4 seasons total and Arenado, just 16, Harper has missed 40+ games three times in his seven year career.

My assessment: all three teams are silly to be giving out contracts this long. Apparently the lessons of Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Felix Hernandez etc haven’t been taken to heart yet. But Colorado looks the best out of the three. First, they keep a hometown hero which is of course, good marketing. Secondly, he’s the best defensive player of the trio and is least likely therefore to become an anchor on “D” in the duration of his contract.

Machado is not going to be a Gold Glove-type infielder a decade from now, but could still be hitting 30 or more homers and having an .850 or .900 OPS. Moreover, it shows the Padre fans the team is interested in winning and building a contender in the tough NL West. Coupled with their great farm system (ranked best in baseball right now), with a good added starting pitcher or two, they could be the team to beat by 2020 and stay strong for a few years. Not a bad signing.

Then you have the Phillies. I applaud them for not giving in to Scott Boras and the pressure to give Harper more money per season than anyone else. He simply is not that good. That said, while Harper should add some “oomph” to their improving lineup for a few years, giving a defensive liablility with a wonky knee a 13-year deal is only bound to backfire, and sooner than later.

Now for our Blue Jays… rumors continue that they swept in and signed Clay Bucholz and Bud Norris at the end of last week, which if true will significantly improve their pitching staff and make them a potential .500 club this year , if nothing else. But the team has yet to confirm that, so I’ll look at that if and when …

“Lack of Interest” In Manny, Bryce, Shows MLB Is Learning

The “story” of the MLB off-season so far has really been a non-story. Just like last year, the free agent market has been a bit slow and the two players everyone seems obsessed with talking about – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – remain unsigned. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest in them as one might have anticipated. The market for Harper is, if rumors are correct, limited to the Phillies, the White Sox, the on-again, off-again Nationals (the only team he’s played for thus far) and possibly the Dodgers. The market for Machado is slimmer still – the White Sox, the Phils and if we believe his agent “a mystery team.”

This shouldn’t be as big a surprise as most people think it is. First off, both are quality, star players that could add to any lineup. However, neither is really a highest-level superstar; both also have knocks against them (albeit small ones.) Machado didn’t make any new fans when he offhandedly complained he’d never be a “Johnny Hustle” kind of guy. Perhaps that was a bit of miscommunication due to English being a second language for him, but you can bet it made owners look a bit more carefully at hours of video of every at bat he took last year to see just how much he does hustle. As for Harper, he does seem to slowly be maturing, but he didn’t make many fans with the media with his arrogance and at times flippantly worded answers early in his career. Others note that his Natonals have been the most talented team in their division for almost his whole career but for that they’ve missed the playoffs entirely three times and never advanced beyond the NLDS level. It would be unfair to blame Bryce alone for their lack of performance, but it can’t be ignored that he hasn’t yet rallied a team around him to great heights.

That said, the reasons they are attracting so little attention is obvious. Many teams can’t afford the kind of money they are looking to get and many others which could, prefer not to pay out that much over a long term. And who can blame them? Before Manny and Bryce complain and hint at “collusion”, perhaps they should go and yell at some of their counterparts. Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Albert Pujols for starters. All were in similar positions of being elite free agents and signed huge, longterm contracts (albeit all of them except Pujols with their previous team). Few of those contracts have paid off well, at least on the long-term.

Take for example, Tulowitzki. He, like Machado and Harper, was a youngish 26 when he re-upped with the Rockies prior to 2011 on a 10 year deal worth $158M. Note that after 2010, the MLB average salary was pegged around $3M even (currently it’s a shade over $4M, give or take. Exact figures vary due to different critieria about which players are counted as rostered, how to factor in bonuses etc.) Tulo was at the time one of the most promising players in the game, an All Star shortstop with a great glove and bat. the two years before his big contract (2009, 2010) he had numbers like this: .297/32HR/92RBI and .315/27/95. His OPS was 31 and 38% above league average those years and his WAR was 6.5 and 6.7. Signing him for years seemed the only thing for Colorado to do.

It didn’t sour right away. His 2011 campaign lived upto all expectations and got him another All Star spot. He hit .302/30/105 that year with an OPS again 31% better than league average and a WAR over 6. However, the injury bug kicked in in 2012, limiting him to 47 games, 8 homers, and a WAR of a mere 0.4 games better than a replacement. His numbers rebounded in ’13-14, but by 2015 (when he was traded much to his consternation, to Toronto) he’d dropped off to .280/17/70 with a .761 OPS that beat the league norm by only 7%. His WAR- 1.5. After a decentish ’16 with the Jays, he got injured again in 2017, playing just 66 games witha lacklustre .249 average, 7 homers, much reduced infield range and a WAR of a microscopic 0.1. In 2018, he collected about $18M to sit out the entire year due to surgery on his feet. As we know here, he’ll be paid about $18M again this year, mostly by Toronto, to play for the Yankees where he’s seen largely as a stopgap bench player. He’ll get over $20M next year too, no matter if he plays or not.

Or look at King Felix, the onetime heir apparent to Randy Johnson as the Mariners best-ever pitcher. Felix Hernandez had won a Cy Young when he re-signed with Seattle at age 27, for 7 years for a then unheard of $175M. He was coming off a 2010 Cy followed by two seasons in which he went 14-14/3.47 over 234 innings then 13-9/3.06 over 232 innings. His WARs those years were 3.6 and 5.3. What team couldn’t benefit greatly from a stud starter who can toss 230+ innings and add about 5 wins to the team’s total? The Mariners could and did, and for the first few years three at least, it worked out not too badly for them. 2013-15 yielded the following numbers: 12-10/3.04, 204 innings; 15-6/league best 2.14 ERA (70% better than norm), 236 innings; 18-9/3.53 over 202 innings. WARS of 5.3,6.4,4.5. that’s when the pendulum swung back against Seattle. Since then, three years of 11-8, 6-5 and 8-14 with ERAS of 3.82,4.36and 5.55. Under 160 innings each year. WARS of 1.4,0.8 and -1.2. Meaning statistically, the Mariners lost one more game by having Felix around last year for his $26.9M than if they’d used any random minor leaguer in his place. They don’t expect a lot of upside for the $27.9M they owe him this year… consider that while they jettisoned their high-paid talented players like James Paxton and Edwin Diaz this winter, they seemed to have no calls at all inquiring about the “King.”

Or perhaps the granddaddy of the bad big contracts, Albert Pujols. Pujols was arguably the best player in the game through much of the first decade of this century, so at first glance, no one could knock the Angels for signing him to a 10 year, $240M deal prior to the 2012 season. Mind you, he was already 32, around the typical peak for a position player, so there were warning flags there alone. The two last seasons he played with St.Louis were stellar, as usual: .312/42/118 with an 1.011 OPS (some 73% better thanleague average) then .299/37/99 , .906 OPS. The WAR those years were 7.5 and 5.3. Brilliant.

Los Angeles Anaheim could have looked good if they signed him to a four-year deal, even though he’s only made the All Star team once with them. 2012-15, he was still a star performer. He drove in over 100 twice, had better than average OPS each year, andwhen his batting average dipped to .244 in 2015 he compensated with 40 longballs. His WAR for the cumulative four seasons was over 13. Not bad. Even 2016, at age 36, was quite good: .268/31/119, WAR 1.3 (by this time, he wasn’t adding anything defensively, it should be noted- he was probably a below average first baseman and frequently was a DH instead.) The last two years…not so good. In 2017, he hit .241 with 23 homers, a below-average .672 OPS and actually had a negative WAR of -1.8. Oops, not pleasant for a team to pay $25M to a player who actually was losing games for them.

2018 was a tad better, but not that much- .245/19/64,WAR of 0.5. The real bad news for the “halos”… they have him under contract through 2021, and due to their questionable bookkeeping, his salary keeps going up! He’ll make $30M in 2021, when he’ll be 41 years old.

So yes, right now Machado and Harper look very good Machado’s last two years saw him miss only 6 games in total, play solid “D” at both third and short and post 33 and 37 homers, WARS of 3.4 and 5.7. Harper, although he missed 41 games due to a knee injury (something you bet owners will have in the back of their minds when looking at his long term durability) in 2017, still posted a remarkable .319 average and 1.008 OPS that year and came back with a 34 homer, 100 RBI year last season. His WAR has added to 6 over those years.

Good? Of course. And in all likelihood, they’ll both be good for the next three or four years. Beyond that… things look a bit foggier. Can you blame a team for not wanting to sign them for ten or more seasons? I can’t.

One more thing. Manny and Bryce should perhaps look at Moneyball. Because while they are almost bound to add to any team they go to; there is a point where the reward isn’t as great as the cost. Statistically, if they get into the $30M or more a year plateau they are asking for, a team could likely add more by spending it on several players. As an example, the Yanks were marginally interested in Machado. But they added pitcher JA Happ who’s had WARS of 3.4 and 3.6 over the past 2 years, for about $17M a year. That leaves them about $13M in which they could add another player. Jed Lowrie went to the Mets for a mere $10M a year and over the past two years he’s tallied an 8.8 WAR. So,unless a team can bank on a huge boost in attendance from a marquee player there’s little benefit in adding one “megastar” at the expense of missing out on two or even three above average “character players.”

Harper and Machado will play somewhere in 2019, and will probably be very good. But they might not have $300 million or more contracts in their pockets… and that is good for baseball.

National League the Nationals League This Year?

 

The Crystal Ball, Part 1 : National League

Seeing as how it’s opening day for most teams, it’s high time to throw my hat into the ring of pundits who think they can predict the season ahead. We’ll start with the league we Jays fans know a little less about and care a little less for, the NL

East:

Washington- New manager Dusty Baker has smarts and experience and should be able to get decent results. Bryce Harper came into his own last year and should continue to ascend, even if his average drops a little due to his freakishly high BABIP last year (.369) Daniel Murphy won’t hit a homer every game (unlike last October) but is a nice addition to a good offense, Ben Revere should be in scoring position often for Harper. Rotation best in division, Strasburg pitching towards free agency likely to set career highs in innings and wins. I don’t like Papelbon the loose cannon as closer, but still look to Nats to win. 89 wins

New York – good again, but not World Series good, that rabbit’s foot got rubbed raw last year. Neil Walker great addition, one of the best all-around, least-heralded second basemen in game but D. Wright and C.Granderson are on downslopes of careers, Yoenis Cespedes is pretty unpredictable beyond 25 homers. Starting rotation is good, but not that good, a lot of pressure on youngsters Syndergaard and Matz. 86 wins

Miami – good defence and speed but all-in-all a very run of the mill team beyond Giancarlo Stanton (45 homers if he stays healthy this year) and Jose Fernandez. If they trade them away mid-season it’ll be a cellar-dweller season looking ahead to 2020 for hope, but otherwise the relatively weak division should land them 80 wins

Atlanta – you’d need to be ‘brave’ to be an optimistic Atlanta fan this year. Ditching Michael Bourn shows they’re looking beyond this year but still, a team with Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis isn’t all bad and though it will make fans cry when they compare it to the 90s team, the rotation at least has 2 adequate arms atop it in Teheran and Norris. 71 wins

Philadelphia – the Phils have almost completed their makeover; little remains to remind of their glory days at the end of the last decade besides Ryan Howard who at some point will probably end up as a platoon DH somewhere in the AL at Philadelphia’s expense (financially at least.) The young crew doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence but should start to gel together and shows promise for down the road. Aaron Nola could be a break-out pitcher, he flew under the radar as a rookie last year and is getting good reviews this spring. 68 wins

Central:

Chicago – I’ll go along with the crowd – to a point. Cubs are the chic pick to win it all this year and while I’m not convinced, at least they should get to have a crack at it by making it into the post-season. Jason Heyward was a great, if pricey, acquisition and in Wrigley could have a break-out year. .300 and 35 homers wouldn’t surprise me. Ben Zobrist seems over-rated but is a good, versatile player who knows Joe Maddon well and, on that subject, the Maddon effect probably adds 3 or 4 wins a season to any team. Russell and Bryant seem sure-thing superstars-to-be but may not quite be there this year. I don’t expect Jake Arrieta to replay the second half of the season last year, but should be good for another 17 wins or so and a sub-3 ERA; Lester and Lackey not quite so much but are both still above-average. 93 wins

St. Louis – if there’s a team out there that would have benefitted from signing Justin Upton or (keeping) Jason Heyward, it’s the Cards. I like their starting rotation better than Chicago’s, in particular the addition of Mike Leake; five guys with 180 innings+ and a dozen or more wins each is realistic. But they’ll have a hard time improving on their 11th in runs scored in NL last year, especially since Matt Holliday seems to be aging a bit (at 36, no surprise his .804 OPS last season was a career low) . Pitching will keep them competitive, 87 wins

Pittsburgh – Maybe Ray Searage can help Jon Niese take it to the next level, as he did with AJ Burnett and JA Happ (the bigger question to Toronto fans, of course, is will the lessons stick with Happ?). If so the Pirates could have a rotation not far off the preceding two Central division teams; one could do worse than pick Gerritt Cole for a dark horse Cy Young winner this year. But Andrew McCutchen does not an offense make; Pirates may have trouble duplicating the NL 4th-best 697 runs of last season. 85 wins

Milwaukee – Nothing about the Brew Crew really stinks; problem is nothing really shines either. Ryan Braun and Chris Carter will hit some homers and added to Jonathans Villar and Lucroy put a decent number of runs on the board; Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Jungmann provide the nucleus of a decent rotation. But they’re about one 40 base-stealing leadoff hitter, one .300 hitter, about 4 years too late for Aaron Hill to make an impact and two 13-game winning starters away from contending. 72 wins

Cincinnati – the Queen City could probably put pictures of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips at the front of their PR material ahead of pictures of the beautiful riverfront and hills; the city must be great for them to refuse any trades to cities where they might contend and improve their careers. The team has some talent, of course, Votto is always an MVP-calibre player (I’m guessing .280/27 HR/ 90 RBI, .375 OBP if he stays in red all season; he might be a .300/ 35/110/ .400 in a number of other lineups); Billy Hamilton can run like the wind but needs to get on base more than 27% of the time to help out doing so; Homer Bailey’s great when he’s healthy but is coming off Tommy John surgery and Anthony Desclafani is a solid young pitcher many scouts are quite high on, getting a chance to develop his stuff out of the spotlight. Big Q’s for them are will Hamilton steal 75 bases and will the team be able to get rid of Jay Bruce and Phillips at All-star break? 67 wins

West:

San Francisco – who had a better off-season in California? Not San Diego, by any means. LA lost one superstar starter and added an unpredictably good one. SF added two top-flight starters and have one former ace (Matt Cain) coming back from an injury-ridden season. Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy; Casilla and Romo in a reasonably stacked ‘pen…it’ll be hard to run many runs up on the board against them. Lineup isn’t brilliant but is solid, through and through. Could be the long-awaited breakout year for Brandon Belt and last but not least, it is an even year again! 93 wins

Los Angeles – Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in the majors and, it would seem certain, the most likeable Subway sandwich spokesman ever. But beyond him, the Dodgers hardly seem like an example of how to spend over $200 million well. Joc Pederson has chance to be a great but it may take more than this year to get him to learn plate discipline and cut down on his K’s. Obviously some real talent with likes of Gonzalez and Kendrick in infield and Yasiel Puig will be a superstar if he ever matures and stops battling his manager and teammates. Big Q’s are pitching-related: will Scott Kazmir be a 10-win, 4.00 ERA guy or a 16-win, 3.10 guy? Reports of much diminished velocity don’t bode well there. And is newcomer Kenta Maeda the next Yu Darvish or the next Kei Igawa? A tough team to evaluate, but let’s say 89 wins.

Arizona – good for the Diamondbacks for going for it. The expensive addition of Zack Greinke gives them a certified ace and lets them spit at LA in the process. Giving him 17 wins seems realistic, add in Shelby Miller, the best pitcher to lose 17 any time recently (6-17 but 3.02 ERA , 202 innings last year in Atlanta), it makes a decent rotation. Paul Goldschmidt is finally getting recognition as one of the game’s best hitters but might struggle to match last year’s numbers (.310, 33/110) without other big bats to back him. An improved team, but not by enough. 82 wins

San Diego Well, they kept one Upton, but call him Melvin or call him BJ, he’s still not the right one. Still some decent talent; Matt Kemp is said to be taking better swings this spring and managed 100 ribbies last year anyway; Jon jay, Alexei Ramirez are both better-than-average but not-quite-star additions; Tyson Ross is one of the best young pitchers in NL and I still think James Shields will deliver 200 innings and a dozen wins even though there are worries about how many homers he allowed last year. Fernando Rodney is a timebomb for a closer in more ways than one, the loss of Craig Kimbrel will hurt and all things considered, the Padres aren’t bad…but aren’t very good either. 70 wins

Colorado – not much on the field for the Rockies fans to be high on. Carlos Gonzalez is great and had a big comeback season last year (40 homers, .525 slugging) which should make him a great July addition for a contending team. Nolan Arrenado is great already (89 extra base hits last season was a record for a third baseman) and at 25 should continue to progress, making the sky the limit for him by the time Colorado has matured its prospects enough to win. Jose Reyes will almost undoubtedly miss some time due to his (now dropped) domestic violence charges; seeing him first-hand last year as we Jays fans did, one suspects the Rockies wouldn’t be in any hurry to bring him back were it not for his big contract they’d love to dump. Rookie Trevor Story is said to be a much better defensive player already and hit OK in minors. Guessing they trade Gonzo, put them down for 65 wins.

Next up, we get to the real fun – the American League!