Pitchers and catchers are reporting all across Arizona and Florida this week. You know what that means – MLB Spring Training is here! And with the arrival of Spring Training comes the release of the first win totals from Las Vegas casinos for the 2017.
Every year, I dig into these totals and try to find the teams that Vegas either overestimated or underestimated. Last February, I underestimated the Orioles (like everyone did), was embarrassingly optimistic about the Twins, and thought the Cubs and Red Sox would be the juggernauts they indeed were.
This year? I’m picking eight teams, and instead of putting them in confidence value buckets like I have in the past, I’ll just list them all alphabetically. Good deal? Good. Let’s do this.
Arizona Diamondbacks UNDER 78.5 wins.
In 2016, the Diamondbacks went a ghastly 69-93. They have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. This winter, they dealt second baseman Jean Segura, coming off of a .319/.368/.499 season, to the Mariners for upside-heavy starter Taijuan Walker. Starting catcher Welington Castillo walked, signing with the Baltimore Orioles.
I can’t explain the optimism regarding the Diamondbacks this season – yes, they still have all-world first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the fold, and Zack Greinke is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball when healthy. They’ll have a full year of A.J. Pollock in center field. Jake Lamb looks like a building block at third base. But what else is there with this team? There seems plenty of hope that both Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller aren’t as bad in 2017 as they were in 2016, and that Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Walker reach their potential.
There are some things to like a lot with the Diamondbacks this season, but two-thirds of the team’s lineup is below average and their bullpen looks like it could be a disaster. They might not even clear 70 wins, especially in a strong NL West, where the Dodgers, Giants, and, surprisingly, the Rockies all appear to be trying a bit this winter.
Atlanta Braves OVER 71.5 wins.
This is a dissimilar situation from the Diamondbacks, who I just talked about above. Atlanta also stunk last year, going 68-93 and finishing in the basement of the NL East. But unlike the Diamondbacks, they markedly improved this winter, adding Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia to a rotation that was their biggest problem in 2016.
The Braves will also have a full year of the now-skinny Matt Kemp in the outfield, have replaced the utterly useless Erick Aybar at shortstop with stud prospect Dansby Swanson, and even upgraded (fractionally, but obviously) at second base with the acquisition of Brandon Phillips. Are the Braves four wins better than they were last season? Absolutely. The one thing that really has me questioning this pick is their new home, SunTrust Park, and how it’s going to play. If it turns out to be a major hitter’s park, it could be a death blow to a Braves team that seems light on power and whose rotation can be quite homer-prone at its low points.
Boston Red Sox OVER 90.5 wins.
Boston won 93 games last season. They added Chris Sale, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Yes, the Red Sox lost David Ortiz to retirement, and that will hurt, but the team is markedly worse than last season’s AL East-winning club. The Sox will also roll out prospect Andrew Benintendi for the full season in left field, will have a full year of Drew Pomeranz in their rotation, and will also have the services of offseason acquisitions Mitch Moreland and Tyler Thornburg, two important bit players in 2017.
If the Red Sox do struggle in 2017, it’ll be because of their bullpen and potentially, their depth on the bench. Pablo Sandoval was a non-factor last year, and is expected to play a major role on the team this year after the trade of Travis Shaw to the Brewers as part of the Thornburg trade. Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Chris Young are going to be expected to take care of first base and DH. Sandy Leon was a revelation behind the plate last season, but he could fall off quickly, and there isn’t much in the way of established support in the organization if he does.
Helping the Red Sox is the fact that the Orioles didn’t move the needle that much this winter, the Blue Jays lost their best hitter, the Yankees didn’t spend like drunken sailors, and the Rays…well, they acted like the Rays. The division is right there for the Red Sox to dominate.
Chicago White Sox UNDER 73.5 wins.
In recent seasons, I have been very bullish on the White Sox and their hopes of contending in a mediocre AL Central. This year, I’m not letting myself fall into that same trap after a disappointing 78-84 season and an offseason that will make the team much better in the future, but not in 2017.
Chicago restocked their farm system in a big way by trading starter Chris Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton to the Red Sox and Nationals, respectively, over the winter. However, those trades have removed two of the Pale Hose’s three or four best players from their team this season, leaving Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, and David Robertson as the lone stars left standing – and all could be traded, along with Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie, over the next few months as the team likely continues its journey to the bowels of the AL Central.
Even if the White Sox do put together a strong first half and look like they might surpass their projection, it would be in Rick Hahn’s best interests to deal some of the team’s best assets, like impending free agents Cabrera and Frazier, at the trade deadline. Given how strong the Indians look, and how much better than the White Sox that both the Royals and Tigers are, it would take a lot to go right for the Sox to surpass 74 wins this season.
Cincinnati Reds UNDER 73.5 wins.
This is absurd to me. The Reds lost 94 games last year, the second-highest total in baseball behind just the sad sack Twins. They’re going into the season with nearly the identical starting lineup, only with prospect Jose Peraza replacing Brandon Phillips at second base. The team’s historically bad rotation will also largely be intact, though Scott Feldman joins as a free agent and prospect Robert Stephenson is expected to be a regular member of the starting five.
Plus, the Reds play in a division where they’re pretty clearly the worst team. The Cubs are worlds better than Cincinnati, as are the Cardinals. Pittsburgh is still a Wild Card contender, despite a down season in 2016. And then there are the Brewers, still rebuilding like the Reds, but much further along in the process. There isn’t a team that can have the bottom fall out in the NL Central to possibly compete with the Reds in the basement.
I don’t like making bold proclamations, but I can’t see any way the Reds win 74 games this season. Come at me, bro.
New York Mets UNDER 89.5 wins.
This is sort of a “gut feeling” thing. The Mets won 87 games last year. They had a quiet winter after re-signing Yoenis Cespedes. They’re bringing back almost the entirety of that 2016 team. But…that team wasn’t flawless. Bartolo Colon, a bedrock in the starting rotation, is gone. Noah Syndergaard was both durable and dominant, but neither can be said about Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, none of whom threw as many as 150 innings last year.
Lucas Duda and David Wright, who each missed significant time last year, are expected to man the infield corners. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson return in the outfield along with Cespedes. If health isn’t an issue, the Mets could win the NL East, like they did in 2015. But given that their entire lineup aside from Travis d’Arnaud (who has one 300 plate appearance season in the majors) is gong to be at least 30 on Opening Day, and that every one of their starters aside from Syndergaard has dealt with some sort of serious arm ailment during their career, it’s highly doubtful that all of those dominos fall into place once again.
Philadelphia Phillies OVER 72.5 wins.
A year ago, the Phillies won 71. But their putrid outfield will be improved by the additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, while Ryan Howard’s mediocrity has been completely removed from the roster. Throw in the addition of Clay Buchholz to (theoretically) stabilize a young rotation, and veteran duo Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek soaking up innings in the bullpen, and I think the Phillies can take that step to 75 wins or so.
That being said, it’s easy to see how the Phillies completely fall apart and lose 95 games. They don’t have a good offense and every one of their starting pitchers could have a season devoid of any and all value. After some of the team’ prospects regressed (or at the very least, didn’t progress like expected) last season, another year like that would be disastrous for the team’s rebuilding process.
Toronto Blue Jays UNDER 86.5 wins.
The Blue Jays are trending the wrong way, even though they managed to retain Jose Bautista this winter. Edwin Encarnacion left for the Indians, and was replaced at the DH spot by Kendrys Morales. Joaquin Benoit and Brett Cecil are being replaced in the bullpen mix by JP Howell and Joe Smith. The rotation loses R.A. Dickey, but last summer’s acquisition of Francisco Liriano already essentially filled that spot.
The Jays have questions at first base and in left field, where some combination of Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak, and Melvin Upton will take care of filling those spots to whatever degree of effectiveness, while the health and effectiveness of middle infield duo Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki will also be a question.
The Jays took a step back in the AL East last year, and I think they take another step back this year. Their window is coming close to closing.