1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs winning the National League Central is the easiest no brainer of all six MLB divisions and they should make their third consecutive postseason appearance. Whether or not they win when they get there is still up for debate. The only surprise this spring from manager Lou Piniella was naming Kevin Gregg the closer over Carlos Marmol. While Marmol is the likely closer of the future for the Cubs, I don't think this affects their win shares. While Gregg was ineffective at closing games in 2008, he did convert 90% of his opportunities the season prior.
2. Boston Red Sox
The more I start thinking about the Red Sox offseason moves, the more and more I like them. This team has a solid base of both young and old that should put wins on the board. The Red Sox probably have the most depth of any team in the majors at starting pitching and that should work to their advantage. Aside from getting John Smoltz back halfway throughout the year, if any player were to go down with an injury Clay Buchholtz and Michael Bowden are waitining patiently in AAA. I still want to see whether or not Kevin Youkilis' rise in power numbers last season was a fluke or not.
3. New York Yankees
If everyone were healthy, I'd be ranking the Yankees ahead of the Red Sox here. However, that's not the case as Alex Rodriguez is slated to miss the first month and a half of the season. Couple that with the fact that April is usually Mark Teixeira worst month, and the Yankees get a lower ranking than the Red Sox. However, this Yankees pitching staff is much improved from last year and that should carry them. Joba Chamberlain will get his first full season as a starter this year and could very well emerge into an ace.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
With the Rays being the third American League East team in the first four spots of my power rankings, it should show how highly I think of this division. However, the Rays may be one of the best teams in the American League this year and still not make the playoffs. The first two weeks of the season should test them as the Rays match up against the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, and White Sox. I still don't agree with the decision to send David Price back to AAA as he has nothing left to prove at that level.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
If the Diamondbacks start the season off slow, there really is no excuse for it. The team only has four...yes, I said "4"...road games in April this year as the other eighteen games are played at home in Chase Field. The success of the Diamondbacks in 2009 will depend on how well their young position players will develop. Chris Young is my pick to emerge this year as Young hit .324 in camp with the team and has a ton of power. Couple an improved offense with Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Max Scherzer in the rotation and this team is built to compete.
6. Cleveland Indians
The Tribe was one of the hottest teams exiting 2008 and they managed to finish the year at .500 despite various injuries to their superstars and trading away their best pitcher mid-season. This season, the Indians enter 2009 rejuvinated and healthy as both Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner enter the middle of the order. The team has made great offseason acquisitions in Mark DeRosa, Joe Smith, and Kerry Wood. After a strong spring I expect Fausto Carmona to rebound to his 2007 form, and alongside Cliff Lee, lead this Indians team back into contention.
7. New York Mets
Shea no more. The Mets enter 2009 with a new season, new ballpark, and a renewed focus towards winning the National League East. I absolutely love the recent signing of Gary Sheffield as it could pay huge dividends for the team. Even though Sheffield only batted around .225 last season, he still posted an OPS+ of 90. It was well worth the risk to see if he can regain even his 2007 form, cause even if he doesn't, the contract is minimal. Couple that with the additions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz and it was a surprisingly great offseason for general manager Omar Minaya.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies may move up in my rankings a bit more this month simply because they have a fairly easy schedule in April (aside from their three game set with Atlanta). After facing the Braves in the opening series, the Philllies match up against Colorado (3), Washington (6), San Diego (4), Milwaukee (3), and Florida (3). Any easy April schedule could do wonders for the team as they can ride the early success all season long. However, if they stumble out the gate, things will only get harder as the schedule gets tougher down the road.
9. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodger have one of the best lineups in the National League with Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, James Loney and Matt Kemp all playing regularily. However, it's the pitching staff that worries me. Chad Billingsley is solid, Hiroki Kuroda showed last season that he can hold his own, and Randy Wolf is average, but Clayton Kershaw is still young and the team has an unproven James McDonald as their 5th starter. If any one of these guys go down during the course of the season, the team has no one to turn to unless Jason Schmidt miraculously learns how to pitch again.
10. Atlanta Braves
I had the Braves ranked much lower in my winter rankings over the offseason...so what's changed since then?....Nothing...except for my opinion of the team. The Braves are back to being a team deep with starting pitching. The rotatino of Lowe, Jurjjens, Vasquez, and Kawakami could be the best in the division. Meanwhile, young Tommy Hanson is going to wait patiently in the minors to get his shot and Tim Hudson could rejoin the staff in August. The key for the Braves this season though is going to be keeping Chipper healthy. If they can, they could go far this season.
11. Minnesota Twins
I have no business ranking the Twins this high right now, but I'm going to do it anyway. Joe Mauer and Scott Baker are both injured to start the season and I have no faith in this teams offense whatsoever. Unless Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young learn to take a walk, the Twins are going to have a hard time winning ballgames. Then again, I said the same thing a year ago and they were a play-in game away from making the postseason. This ranking is based on credibility, as I'm going to give this team the benefit of the doubt. However, if they struggle early on I'll have no problem moving them lower.
12. Los Angeles Angels
Under normal circumstances, the Angels would be a lock to break my top 10. However, these aren't normal circumstances. Ace John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar are all slated to miss at least the first month of the season (if not more). Their replacements? Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, and Nick Adenhart. Luckily for the Angels their schedule isn't too hard to begin the year, but if they start off slow, it could make things very interesting in the west if a team like Oakland or Texas catches fire early.
13. Detroit Tigers
Risky Business....That's what Dave Dombrowski is doing in Detroit. Waiving Gary Sheffield and eating 14 million dollars was the stupidest move I've seen a GM make this offseason. Especially because of the timing. At least wait a month into the season to see if Sheffield can regain his form from the previous season. Dombrowski is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle as he is starting the team off with Porcello in the rotation and Larish at designated hitter. This could either pay off huge dividends for the team, or be one giant mistake. Time will tell.
14. Chicago White Sox
The good news for the White Sox is that Josh Fields and Chris Getz both looked solid in camp for the club. The bad news for the team is that they still have Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras in their rotation and both have looked awful so far this spring. Colon hasn't looked good since his 2005 Cy Young season with the Angels while Contreras hasn't been much of a factor since the 2006 season. The replacements, Clayton Richard and Jeff Marquez are both two pitchers that I once projected to be career major league relievers. Meanwhile, Carlos Quentin is still a questionmark as a superstar in my book.
15. St. Louis Cardinals
So there is this rumor going around that Khalil Greene might hit cleanup for the Cardinals in 2009.....Ummmm....Intentional walk anyone? Tony LaRussa is basically taking the bat straight out of Albert Pujols hands. A career .248 hitter, Greene shouldn't be protecting anyone in the lineup. I know Troy Glaus is hurt, but at the very least, the Cardinals should at least have Ryan Ludwick or Rick Ankiel hitting behind Pujols. A make or break player on their team could be Chris Carpenter. If he can return anywhere near 2006 form, the Cardinals will still be in good shape.
16. Milwaukee Brewers
The good news? Yovanni Gallardo is legit...The bad news? The rest of the rotation and that bullpen isn't, so Ryan Braun and company have a ton of pressure to put runs on the board. The team will be tested early on with an opening week series against Chicago and will be matched up against the Mets and Phillies the following week after that. I do like the changes newly hired manager Ken Macha has done with the lineup though, and I think it will help the team put more runs on the board.
17. Oakland Athletics
Now I'm starting to question Bob Geren's decision making abilities. Explain this to me, how does a player with a ton of talent lose his starting job and get passed up by three different pitchers on the depth chart, while only having a worse spring than one of them. Such is the case with Sean Gallagher, who may find himself sitting in the Oakland bullpen, rather than starting the fifth game of the year. He is being overlapped by Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Josh Outman in the rotation and only Anderson performed better this spring (Cahill and Outman had worse era, Outman even had worse splits).
18. Toronto Blue Jays
The award for the most forgotten about team and biggest dark horse candidate for 2009 has to go to the Toronto Blue Jays. After all, who cares if a team wins 86 games the previous season when they finish in 4th....right? While the Blue Jays lost 60% of their starting rotation to injuries or free agency, their two most effective pitchers, Roy Halladay and Jesse Litsch, are still in their rotation for 2009. Meanwhile, the Jays also carry with them one of the best bullpens in baseball. The offense should be improved as well as Travis Snider will be getting regular at bats all year long.
19. Texas Rangers
With the way the other rotations look right now in the American League West, I can't rule this team out at the beginning of the season like I have in years past. Much of Oakland's pitching staff is unexperienced, whlie the best pitchers on the Angels staff remain on the shelf due to injuries. The Rangers once again have one of the best hitting lineups in the game, but their pitching staff will have to hold its own as well for this team to go anywhere. The sooner Neftali Feliz and Derrick Holland hit the big leagues, the better off this club will be.
20. Colorado Rockies
Two Words....Ryan....Spilborghs...This kid is going to make the Rockies forget all about Matt Holliday. He's been one of the most underrated players in the league and has posted solid numbers for the Rockies the past two seasons. This spring, Spilborghs hit .318/.372/.712 in 66 at bats. Sure it's a small sample size, but the talent is obviously there. Now, if the Rockies could figure out how to pitch, they could actually make things interesting in the National League West.
21. San Francisco Giants
If only this team had an impact bat, they could compete. Meanwhile, the years that the Giants have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain under control are wasting away. It will be interesting to see how well Sandoval and first basemen Travis Ishikawa do in their first full season in the big leagues as both are coming off of hot springs. The Giants will be tested early in their division as 17 of their first 20 games of the year come against National League West division rivals.
22. Cincinatti Reds
When will the Cincinatti Reds break out?...That is the question I think most baseball analysts are trying to predict and it's rather difficult to tell. The Reds have a great base of young players, featuring Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Chris Dickerson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Joey Votto. The talent is there for the team to start winning ballgames, but the players just need to mature. The team is going to be tested the first week of the season as they start out with a three game set at home against the New York Mets.
23. Houston Astros
The Astros could fall even further in my rankings if my instincts about their starting pitching staff play out. After Roy Oswalt, the Astros have a rotation that consists of Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Russ Ortiz....Wait, Russ Ortiz? Is that seriously how bad the rotation is right now? The bullpen is one of the Astros strengths but it's going to be used up after Hampton hits the DL and Moehler and Ortiz leave after 3 innings of terrible pitching. There are Triple-A teams that have better rotations than what the Astros are throwing out there this season.
24. Baltimore Orioles
I like the vision by team president Andy MacPhail. The Orioles aren't going to be good this season, but at least MacPhail isn't pretending to be a contender and is actually looking towards the future. Adam Jones should continue to develop, Matt Wieters should be up halfway through the season, and Nick Markakis is locked up long term giving the team a solid base for the future. If anything becomes of Felix Pie or Rich Hill this season, that becomes an added bonus as the team gave up nothing of value to acquire those two players from the Cubs.
25. Washington Nationals
Kudos to the Nationals for signing Adam Dunn. Even more kudos for pulling off the Scott Olsen/Josh Willingham trade over the offseason and also starting Jordan Zimmermann in the rotation....but now that Jim Bowden is gone, you don't have to act like he's still there. Austin Kearns doesn't deserve to be starting over Elijah Dukes and Josh Willingham. Heck, he doesn't even deserve a roster spot as of right now. The sooner the Nationals bench Kearns, the better their team gets.
26. Florida Marlins
I don't get it....The team is starting Emilio Bonafacio at third base, demoted Gaby Sanchez, waived Dallas McPherson, traded for Ross Gload, kept Dan Meyer in the bullpen despite the terrible spring, etc, etc, etc.....Are the Marlins trying to lose? I mean, I understand Larry Beinfest's track record at being able to find quality young players, but I can't understand a single move the Marlins made this winter. Most experts have the Marlins finishing between 1st and 3rd in this division, yet I don't see how they'll avoid a dead last finish. Is there something I'm missing here?
27. Kansas City Royals
The offseason moves of the Kansas City Royals baffle me. They traded away two main components of their bullpen to add a defensive centerfielder and a first basemen who never takes a walk. Then, they spent four million dollars, the same amount the Athletics signed Orlando Cabrera for, to sign Kyle Farnsworth, a pitcher whose era last season was almost 7. Dayton Moore might have been a breath of fresh air from the kind of deals Allan Baird was making, but he still isn't showing me much as a GM.
28. Seattle Mariners
I had the Mariners higher up in my winter rankings, but this demotion falls directly in line with Ichiro starting the season on the disabled list. With Endy Chavez now batting leadoff, the Mariners might have a hard time scoring runs early on. Meanwhile, my other ranking also was assuming that Brandon Morrow would be a starter instead of the teams closer. I'm not expecting much from the Mariners this season and Erik Bedard remains a great bet to be traded at the deadline.
29. San Diego Padres
At least the Padres still have one of the best pitchers in the league in Jake Peavy and one of the best first basemen in the league in Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres are unlikely to be a contender in 2009, but they can still win their fare share of ballgames. I don't expect them to be 100 game losers or anything, especially considering PETCO favors the talent level on the roster. If the Padres see improvements from Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff, they should be happy.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
This team is guaranteed to lose 100 games or more in 2009. Not only did they not make a single move this offseason, but the minor league system is still terrible and this year, they can't even play half of their games with Xavier Nady or Jason Bay in the lineup. They better hope the LaRoche brothers can put some fans in the seats. It's gonna be a long season for the Pirates.