MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, Indians still the best teams going in to spring training

Since I took over the internet’s most official Power Rankings in the spring of 2012, my first entry of the season has been my “Pre-Preseason Rankings” and each time I use the intro to explain what I believe is a flawed opinion. That is, the line of thinking that says “until they prove otherwise, you have to rank the defending champions No. 1.”

No, I don’t. Things change each offseason. Personnel moves. And what if the run to the title was a bit fluky? It can happen. 

I generally say something like this ...

The 2016 Chicago Cubs already got their award: the 2016 World Series championship. They got a trophy and everything. It’s just that it’s 2017 now, and that’s in the past. I’m not going to give them another award by sticking them No. 1 in 2017 just because of the result of the 2016 World Series. 

And I’m not. 

It’s just that the 2017 Cubs are the best team in baseball, again, in my view. 

The latter point is key. This is a subjective exercise and -- especially early in the season -- many opinions will vary. That’s perfectly fine. Just understand it’s my opinion and not that of all CBS Sports MLB scribes. If I’m an idiot, the proper way to frame your awesome complaint is “Matt Snyder is an idiot,” not “CBS is a bunch of idiots.” 

You can even tell me so either on Twitter (@MattSnyderCBS) or via email: matt.snyder@cbsinteractive.com. I’m open to any discussion that is above petty online screaming. 

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The Cubs won it all in 2016 and are back on top to start 2017. Getty Images

As for the Cubs, there isn’t much reason to doubt them. The significant pieces they lost from last year are leadoff man/center fielder Dexter Fowler , closer Aroldis Chapman (who was only with them for the last few months) and fifth starter Jason Hammel

On Fowler, the Jon Jay/Albert Almora combo (with some Jason Heyward mixed in) can handle center field defensively as well as Fowler did. Offensively, it’s likely to be a big negative, but that can be mitigated. First of all, Kyle Schwarber didn’t do anything last regular season, the NLDS or NLCS. Willson Contreras played essentially a half-season. Youngsters like Contreras (age 25 this season), Addison Russell (23), Javier Baez (24) and Kris Bryant (25) have the ability and young age to believe they’ll take steps forward. I also don’t think it’s possible that Heyward will be nearly as bad as he was last year. Finally, the only regular even close to a decline phase is Ben Zobrist , and he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down just yet. 

On the closer situation, the Cubs now have Wade Davis . Sure, he had a few DL stints with a forearm injury last year and that’s a big concern, but if he’s 100 percent (and he closed last season with nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings), he’s every bit as good as Chapman. 

On Hammel, he was pretty good in the first half and not very good in the second (4.35 ERA, 1.31 WHIP). Between Mike Montgomery , Brett Anderson , Eddie Butler , Rob Zastryzny , Alec Mills , a trade season in July, pitching guru Chris Bosio’s ability to get the most of his starters (see Jake Arrieta , Scott Feldman , Kyle Hendricks and Hammel himself, among others) and the Cubs’ stellar defense, I’m not too worried about them replacing Hammel. 

Are there possible pratfalls? Of course. This is baseball. It’s as unpredictable a game as we have. That’s what makes it great. 

And now that we’re in the season of perpetual hope, I have no doubt you think your favorite team (unless you’re a Cubs fan, of course) is too low. 

Biggest Movers
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1 Cubs After dominating the top spot nearly all of 2016, the Cubs won the World Series and open 2017 atop the rankings again. What world is this? -- 0-0
2 Indians The team that won 94 games and the AL pennant gets back starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, possibly a healthy Michael Brantley, an upgrade of Edwin Encarnacion over Mike Napoli and a full season of Andrew Miller. Yes, please. 5 0-0
3 Red Sox David Price will have a better season and Chris Sale will be lights out. 1 0-0
4 Dodgers I don't love them as much as all the computers do, but they're really good. A Cubs-Dodgers playoff rivalry could well be in its infancy. 1 0-0
5 Nationals So they didn't land a name closer in the offseason. Who cares? Closers often come from out of nowhere. Shawn Kelley will prove capable. 1 0-0
6 Astros They learned their lesson after a passive offseason last time around and were aggressive this time. It'll pay off with a division title. 6 0-0
7 Blue Jays Not too long ago, the Jays were all-hit and no-pitch. Now it's entirely possible that the starting rotation is the biggest strength on the team. 2 0-0
8 Mets This is mostly the same team as last year, but look at these innings pitched totals: Jacob deGrom, 148; Steven Matz, 132 1/3; Matt Harvey, 92 2/3. Better health in the rotation and they can make another deep playoff run. Of course, we haven't seen much to lead us to believe that all four of the studs (including also Noah Syndergaard) can take every turn in a season thus far. 1 0-0
9 Giants Budget constraints surely played a role, but doing nothing in left field and only signing Mark Melancon in the bullpen just left it feeling like an incomplete offseason for a very good team. 4 0-0
10 Rangers Rangers fans: Have you gotten tired of hearing about the not-very-good run differential and how the team will regress to the mean this year? Orioles fans from 2012-13 feel your pain -- but then those Orioles did regress by eight games in 2013. Then again, if the Rangers regress by eight games this year, that's still 87 wins. Let's not be too crazy about dropping them out of the playoffs in our predictions. 6 0-0
11 Orioles In truly shocking fashion, some of the computers don't like the Orioles this year. I'm done doubting them, at least in the regular season. There's power, a great back-end of the bullpen and the power of Buck. 3 0-0
12 Cardinals I had them at 10, but the Alex Reyes injury caused a two-spot bump downward. It's not just Reyes and his immense upside; it's the blow to the rotation depth as a whole, which was already in question given that Michael Wacha can't be relied upon as a long-term starter any longer. 2 0-0
13 Mariners The Mariners carry the longest playoff drought and missed the playoffs by just three games last year. They were the most active team in the offseason, so did they add enough? It's a tough call, but I love the Drew Smyly addition in particular. Most of their playoff chances come down to bounce-backs from King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. 2 0-0
14 Yankees A post-hype breakout for Luis Severino would go a long way in getting the Yankees back to the postseason, but it's hard to be very confident in that to this point. 1 0-0
15 Pirates I'm all-in on a near return to form to Andrew McCutchen at the plate this year. 4 0-0
16 Tigers Jordan Zimmermann in April: 5-0, 0.55 ERA. Zimmermann after that: 4-7, 6.84 ERA. Now, he dealt with injury and had a DL stint, but the point remains he was worthless after a huge April. The Tigers gave him a five-year, $110 million contract before last season. If they get the guy they paid for all season, it'll go a long way toward getting them back to the playoffs. 6 0-0
17 Royals They have the potential to win the World Series or completely fall apart, and nothing on the board would surprise me. 1 0-0
18 Angels Just another year of wasting an all-time great in his prime, that's all. (Oh, and you over there. Yeah, you, who thinks a baseball player can single-handedly carry his team -- do you suggest Mike Trout bat once every three times through the order and pitch? This isn't basketball. There's only so much one player can do. Oh, and to the other guy who claims Trout can't play on a winning team: The Angels won 98 games in 2014). 3 0-0
19 Rockies I like them as a possibly fringe contender, but paying Ian Desmond big money to move him to first base was a head-scratcher of a move. Maybe it works out, but his bat plays better at every single other position. 1 0-0
20 Rays Intriguing sleeper team. I picture their rotation getting the best possible versions of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (now his first full season since Tommy John surgery, which is when many pitchers return to form), Blake Snell and Jose De Leon (who came over in the Logan Forsythe deal), and it feels excellent. Obviously you can't expect the "best" version of all five, but there's high upside there. 8 0-0
21 Marlins I do really like the strong back-end of the bullpen they have built (A.J. Ramos and Kyle Barraclough now with help from Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa), but that rotation really leaves a lot to be desired as we head to 2017. 3 0-0
22 Twins They shouldn't have been nearly as good as they were in 2015 and probably not nearly as bad as they were in 2016, so we'll split the difference. 8 0-0
23 Diamondbacks There's high-end talent (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and A.J. Pollock) along with some upside potential (such as Jake Lamb, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray), but the reworking by the new administration here is likely incomplete. 6 0-0
24 Braves Only two NL teams (Cubs, Nats) had a better record after July 24 last year. Only two (Mets, Cubs) had a better record after Aug. 20. No one finished better (the Braves won 12 of their last 14). A big leap is coming, but I'm just not seeing it this year. Not yet. Let the young talent grow. 2 0-0
25 White Sox I expect them to end up lower, because they'll sell off Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and more during the season. 8 0-0
26 Athletics The next contending core needs to be the group of players featuring Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton and Ryon Healy, so any players 28 and over this year need to be dealt for a younger return. So, in a way, the first halves from Sonny Gray, Stephen Vogt, Ryan Madson and even Khris Davis (he'll be 30 this year) will determine how successful a season the A's have. 2 0-0
27 Brewers One of the players I'm most excited to see this season is Eric Thames. I'm excited because he was a career .250/.296/.431 hitter through 2012 in the majors before becoming a superstar in South Korea. Last year, he hit .317/.425/.676 with 40 homers in 121 games and it was his worst season there. In 2015, he had 42 doubles, 47 homers, 140 RBI and 40 stolen bases. 5 0-0
28 Phillies What they most need this season? Good offensive showings from young third baseman Maikel Franco and shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford. 5 0-0
29 Reds One of the most ridiculous things I saw all offseason was the number of Reds fans on Twitter saying the Reds traded their best player in the wake of the Brandon Phillips deal. If you really, honestly believe Phillips is better than Joey Votto, get your head examined. 4 0-0
30 Padres Things could be worse, San Diegans: You could live somewhere else. 3 0-0
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