MLB Preview: Bold Predictions For the 2018 Season
Key to the abbreviations is as follows: Ben Badler (BB), Teddy Cahill (TC), Carlos Collazo (CC), J.J. Cooper (JJC), Matt Eddy (ME), Kyle Glaser (KG), Kegan Lowe (KL) and Josh Norris (JN).
Which Team Will Be the Biggest Surprise Of 2018?
Wild Cards: Red Sox, Angels
White Sox: Baseball is so stratified in 2018 that true surprises are difficult, but the rebuilding White Sox are farther along than the Royals or Tigers. That should be good enough to make a move in a weak AL Central, possibly one large enough to put a scare into the Twins. —TC
Giants: Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are both past their primes, but should help improve the Giants, who had one of the worst offenses in the league. A full season from Madison Bumgarner in his age-28 season can only help as well. —CC
Pirates: Despite trading Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole in the offseason, the Pirates have more bounceback or breakout candidates than just about any team, from first baseman Josh Bell to outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco to enigmatic young arms like Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl. Plus, Pittsburgh traded for needed power in its lineup (Corey Dickerson, Colin Moran) and bullpen (Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz). —ME
Athletics: The A’s boast a power-packed lineup, a deep group of talented young starters who have shown they can succeed in the majors and a strong farm system that can provide impact reinforcements throughout the year. That’s a recipe for success, and puts the A’s in position to take a big step forward. —KG
Brewers: The Brewers paid a steep price to add Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, but the moves should pay off as Milwaukee tries for its first playoff berth since 2011. The farm system is still strong enough to make an additional deal or two during the seasons. —KL
Which Team Had The Best Offseason?
Astros: You don’t need to make splashy moves to have a good offseason—especially when you are bringing back a World Series winner. Houston upgraded its rotation by trading for Gerrit Cole without giving the Pirates much in return, and it added a pair of solid relievers in Hector Rondon and Joe Smith. —BB
Angels: Even before winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, the Angels had already found a way to keep Justin Upton from opting out of his contract and made small, but important moves to add Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart to shore up the infield. Grabbing Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto after their Braves’ contracts were voided improved their farm system. Most notably, Ohtani brings a potential superstar to Anaheim on a cut-rate deal. —TC
Twins: Other teams did more, but no one did more for less. Minnesota bargain hunted to add depth to the rotation with Jake Odorizzi, while adding Addison Reed to the bullpen and a middle-of-the-order bat in Logan Morrison. —JJC
Cubs: Chicago has one of the most talented young lineup cores in the game, but the regression of starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in 2017 impacted their win total. Arrieta is gone, but the Cubs signed four free agent pitchers—starters Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood and relievers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek—to reinforce a staff that slipped from first in the NL in ERA+ in 2016 to fourth last year. —ME
Yankees: You can’t overstate the impact Giancarlo Stanton brings, and re-signing C.C. Sabathia, acquiring Brandon Drury and signing Neil Walker as a free agent were three excellent, less-heralded moves that amplify the Yankees chances of winning the American League East. —KG
Which Team Had The Most Disappointing Offseason?
Wild Cards: D-backs, Cardinals
Blue Jays: The major league team needs a reset. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are on the way in 2019, but the front office needs to put more talent around them for the future. —BB
Reds: Baseball’s most boring rebuild continues, sort of. Cincinnati did nothing to advance its progress this winter, while division rivals in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis all strengthened. —TC
Braves: This is the team that got its general manager banned from baseball for life after a cheating scandal, lost a dozen international prospects, a 2018 third-round draft pick and did nothing to improve the team or advance a rebuild entering its fourth year. —CC
Rockies: Attracting top free agents to the thin air of Coors Field is a challenge, but Colorado’s $106 million commitment to veteran relievers Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw—not to mention Mike Dunn a year ago—offers precious little upside and fails to address their primary shortcoming: a 91 OPS+ as a team. —ME
Rangers: They badly needed starting pitching, and instead settled on a reliever convert (Mike Minor), the pitcher who allowed the most earned runs in the National League last year (Matt Moore) and past-their-prime longshots (Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon). They had to do much, more more to even remotely contend with the rest of the division.—KG
Meet The Breakout Star Of 2018
Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox: He’s gotten acclimated to the big leagues with a solid first full season. Now his power should take a leap, turning him from a solid player to an excellent one. —JJC
Byron Buxton, Twins: His defense in center field is so good that he can be a four-win player as a league-average hitter. But there’s more upside in his bat that’s starting to click, which can vault him into MVP conversations. —BB
Matt Olson, Athletics: The 23-year-old slugger is primed to become a household name after bashing 47 home runs between Triple-A and Oakland last year while recording one of the highest average exit velocities in the majors. —ME
Alex Bregman, Astros: After playing a key, but complementary, role for the Astros last year, Bregman has the talent to ascend into the upper echelon of third basemen. —KG
Luis Castillo, Reds: The righthander had a mini breakout last year, jumping straight from Double-A to Cincinnati and compiling a 3.12 ERA in 15 big league starts. Sharpening his command of an arsenal that includes an high-90s fastball and devastating changeup could help Castillo morph into an ace sooner rather than later. —KL
Which Player Will Bounce Back In 2018?
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: The 34-year-old had little luck on balls in play last year, hitting just .292 when not striking out, walking or homering. His underlying numbers tell a different story, however. He showed exceptional exit velocity and a high hard-hit percentage, so he should be back to one of the best hitters in the game in 2018. —CC
Rougned Odor, Rangers: Odor has a great swing and has defied expectations by hitting 30 or more home runs in back-to-back years. But he has to return to a more patient, disciplined approach to stay within his strengths as a hitter. At 24, he has the combination of youth and experience to find that balance. —BB
Stephen Piscotty, Athletics: A return to his Bay Area roots should help Piscotty exorcise memories of a dismal 2017 season, both on and off the field. —ME
Starling Marte, Pirates: His PED suspension last year is inexcusable, and it took him time to round into form once he returned. But Marte played very well the final month and a half (.312, .805 OPS, 13 SB in final 39 games), and he has a prime chance to regain all-star status with a full 2018 season. —KG
Dansby Swanson, Braves: The 2015 No. 1 overall pick and odds-on favorite for the 2017 NL rookie of the year award should improve in his second full season, especially now that the spotlight is off him and on to Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. —KL
Top Three Picks In The 2019 Draft Will Belong To?
No. 1: Marlins
No. 2: Tigers
No. 3: Royals
Also receiving votes: Orioles, Padres, Reds
World Series Predictions
We had a split field, with two editors going to bat for each of the following teams to win the 2018 World Series: Cubs, Dodgers, Indians and Yankees. The distribution of pennants broke down as Indians (four), Yankees (three) and Astros (one) in the AL and Cubs (three), Dodgers (three) and Nationals (two) in the NL.
Yankees defeat Nationals in six games —BB
Indians defeat Nationals in six games —TC
Indians defeat Dodgers in seven games —CC
Cubs defeat Astros in seven games —JJC
Yankees defeat Cubs in seven games —ME
Dodgers defeat Yankees in six games —KG
Dodgers defeat Indians in seven games —KL
Cubs defeat Indians in six games —JN
About Which Rebuilding Team’s Outlook Are You Most Optimistic?
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams are already in the big leagues. And with J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery entering their rookie seasons, the Phillies have a strong young core of high upside, relatively lower risk hitters ready to help in 2018. It’s a strong, balanced farm system, with the depth to deal prospects for major league help and the available payroll to make big moves in the 2019 free agent class. —BB
Padres: They are a year or two behind the Phillies and Braves in their rebuilding cycle, but the club’s growing core of young position player talent should pair with impressive pitching depth to give a payoff in 2020 and beyond. —JJC
Braves: A rebuilding effort that prioritizes young pitchers is volatile, but at least the pitcher surplus mitigates the risk of prospect attrition and also provides the Braves with in-demand trade chips. General manager Alex Anthopoulos just has to avoid trading away the next Noah Syndergaard! Of larger concern might be relying on Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley to supply all the power to future Atlanta lineups, indicating a free agent bat or two will be necessary. —ME
White Sox: No other rebuilding team can match Chicago’s mix of a young talent already in the majors. Big leaguers Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer all turned a corner at the end of last season, while potential superstars Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech and Luis Robert are on their way. The White Sox’s rebuild is both the most advanced and well-rounded of its competitors, and should see dividends soon. —KG
About Which Rebuilding Team’s Outlook Are You Most Pessimistic?
Royals: The cupboard is close to empty. —BB
Royals: This may be slightly unfair because they’re at the start of the cycle and came into it with a subpar farm system after making their World Series push. But getting the Royals back to that level is going to take some doing. —TC
Marlins: They are starting from scratch, but unless the new ownership is more willing to spend than the old one, they seem stuck on a perpetual cycle of rebuilds. —JJC
Marlins: The easy choice here is the team that just traded away all its young stars—again. Barring a commitment to raising payroll, the only way the Marlins will succeed is if they maximize their returns in the draft, the international market and on the farm. Otherwise, the franchise’s future will look an awful lot like its present. —ME
Marlins: They traded a group of excellent young players for a group of prospects who might become excellent young players they will later trade. Lather, rinse, repeat. —JN
Reds: The franchise’s recent failure to develop starting pitchers is alarming, and it’s more than enough to short-circuit their entire rebuild. What’s more, even if the Reds’ top position prospects pan out, they’ll likely still be short of the position groups of many of their division rivals. —KG
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Inside The Game
Front office executives answer key questions
It’s funny to think about the Cardinals, a model franchise, as a “surprise” team, but they’re coming of an 83-win season. Their offseason was overshadowed by the splurges made by the Cubs and Brewers, but they’re positioned as one of the most balanced teams.
Matt Olson, Athletics
It’s hard to beat signing Shohei Ohtani, but beyond that, the Angels made a few quality free agent signings (Justin Upton, Zack Cozart), traded for Ian Kinsler and managed to be opportunistic on several international amateur free agents.
The Orioles are caught in the middle of trying to compete in 2018 and rebuild for every year beyond, but to their credit, they’ve out-performed preseason projections time and time again in the recent past.
The Pro Scouting Director
The Phillies have the chance to surprise some people a little bit, especially if they make a few more additions between now and Opening Day to their pitching staff. There are some guys out there who could make a difference for them.
Ryan McMahon, Rockies
The Angels probably made the biggest dent, especially given the Ohtani signing.
It seems like the Orioles are kind of stuck in the middle, and this holding on to Manny Machado to the bitter end thing could be an issue. They’re in a position where it’d probably make the most sense to be honest with themselves and try to start cashing out on some things, but they didn’t do that.
The Special Assistant
The Athletics have a lot of good young pitchers who might take a step forward. The Sean Manaeas of the world, and A.J. Puk at some point is going to make an impact.
Lewis Brinson, Marlins
I do expect Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to live up to expectations with the Brewers—Cain in the short term at least, and Yelich is good. I think it’s enough to get them to the playoffs.
I don’t think the Pirates got a whole lot back for Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. They’ve been wild card hopefuls the last few years, but it’s hard when you lose your No. 1 starter and your franchise player.
It’s hard to have these anymore; every team signals its intentions early. I’ll pick the Padres, who are on the way up and will get a short-term boost with Eric Hosmer.
Byron Buxton, Twins
Not only did the Yankees get Giancarlo Stanton, but they got him early and sold a ton of tickets off it. A better team and more money—the two biggest goals for a franchise, right?
Major League Baseball botched the offseason totally, with a litany of bad news, ennui and gnashing of teeth that reminded us all of baseball’s flaws after a fine postseason that should have provided a jumping-off point.