The 30: Ten Toes In

The best two Major League Baseball writers out there, for my money, are Grantland’s Jonah Keri and Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus and occasionally Grantland..It’s probably not hard to guess that I devour the content these gentlemen share with the world so today I’m going to take a page out of Jonah’s book and copy one of his primary feature pieces: The 30.

Jonah sometimes ranks all 30 teams in baseball while providing 80 grade analysis and humor on every single squad but he regularly just ranks them all and goes in depth on 2-4 teams.

He already has his Pre-2014 The 30 posted so it’s time for me to give my own list a go.

(Of course, I’ve only gotten this far and feel bad about slighting Paul Cousineau and Tony Lastoria by naming JK and BL the best baseball writers out there. Paulie C. and Tony are hands down the best two Indians writers out there and will always be the guys I remember when I’m 100. Jonah and Ben top my list for MLB writers. But really, Paulie C. tops the list and Tony takes the silver overall in my biased world.)

And with that all ten toes of mine are in for this baseball season and we’re off on this lazy..

30. Houston Astros

Not to go all Captain Obvious on you, but the Astros are a poor baseball team at the moment. With a payroll of just peanuts above $26 million it was hard to say the 2013 Astros made any attempt at winning. Like the Nationals a few years back though, they’ve been able to really boost their stable of beasts down on the farm due to their tanking (planned) futility. While the Nats landed stars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the first overall picks in the Rule IV Draft in 2009 and 2010 the Astros will do them one better by landing a third consecutive top selection in this summer’s Draft with their eyes on possibly a 4th straight next summer. Carlos Rodon, anyone?

While their Under-25 talent is technically just “average” for now, look at how young that list really is. They’ve technically got a very, very nice system since their players just haven’t quite graduated to Minute Maid Park yet. Many of the players on that list are not going to be removed from it for quite some time so it’s best that we just let them marinate.

The Colt .45s have up the middle stars on the rise as shortstop Carlos Correa (1st round: 2012) and center fielder George Springer (1st round: 2011) join flamethrowers Mark Appel (1st round: 2013) and Mike Foltynewicz (1st round:2010) as the future core of the Astros. It’s unlikely this team finds a way to win enough games to bump up much on this list just yet.

This team should be awfully fun in the near future and they do play in a gigantic market. It will be fun to see them bash against the monster markets in Texas and Los Angeles while competing against the number savvy A’s and forever-inept-but-willing-to-throw-money-around Mariners.

29. Minnesota Twins

The Twinkies have surprised many by doing some reasonable things this winter but there clearly is still work to do. They hopefully will rid themselves of people in their organization like Scott Diamond, Pablo Hernandez, P.J. Walter (wait – apparently he is gone!) and Liam Hendriks (he is too!) soon because those fellas won’t be taming the Tigers anytime in the near future.

Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey and Who Knows is a decent step up from staffs of prior Twins teams but it’s hard to see that group accomplishing much. They are a team in transition waiting for their impressive tools to sharpen in the shed. I really see a little bit of a future for the Twins in a couple years but they are just not close yet. It’s unclear who is going to play the outfield for them and they have no idea if players like Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson are going to step up and become the best and most valuable asset in professional sports: an above average pre-arbitration pitcher.

For now, they’re in my AL Central cellar but the rest of the division will need to be wary if guys like Byron Buxton plans on going all Mike Trout on them 18 or 19 times per campaign.

I cannot end my Twins discussion without mentioning that Joe Mauer is still one of the most quiet superstars in the game and for some bizarre reason is hated by Twins supporters even though he’ll possibly end up as the greatest player in the history of that franchise.

28. Miami Marlins

The bleeding Marlins surprisingly have some nice pieces to build upon led by 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez and Always Nearly Traded Giancarlo Stanton. I like other youngsters in their fish tank such as Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez (and his no-no) and fellow young blood (h/t: TF) Christian Yelich.

They’ve got a potential rotation full of Under-24s and signed a pretty solid catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia over the winter but the talent on South Beach is short of what they’ll need for now to make a move in the standings.

And with all that young and volatile pitching in camp it’s hard to have much faith in them all taking that leap together as pitchers are notoriously onerous to forecast. That Fernandez kid though, he’s a pretty good bet to be a $100 million dollar man someday.

27. New York Mets

Before going any further, check out Matt Harvey burning “Mets fans” before the Midsummer Classic last season. Well played, Harvey. The Mets tossed around some cash during the days of snow bringing in the Fat Man and Curtis Granderson to shore up the Mets in the short-term.

It’s not hard to be sad when your rotation is probably going to include Daisuke Matsuzaka among other far from notable names. Travis d’Arnaud (acquired from Toronto for R.A. Dickey) has a chance to be great while David Wright is easily one of my most respected stars in the game but this team is too flawed to expect them to be a serious contender.

When Harvey returns for 2015 to join beast Zach Wheeler and prospect hopefuls Noah Syndergaard (see: Dickey deal) and Jennry Mejia the Mets may make Jerry (wait: he throws righty?!?!) stand up and cheer again. Until then though, Mets fans may as well go in search of the second spitter though because the 2014 season will not be a success.

26. Philadelphia Phillies

I’m embarrassed that I’m dropping Clifton Phifer’s boys this low but the Phillies project to be old, expensive and dreary. What is there to get excited about with this organization besides those glorious days CP takes the bump.

They’ve got the 25th best system in baseball, and the 29th best collection of Under-25 talent. I will admit that Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett forms a pretty formidable trio but I’m skeptical all three will be singing in tune. The Phillies are widely known as the least analytic franchise in the sport and it has shown on the field as they are nearing destruction mode with a train wreck at the top of their organization ladder in General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.

They did have their day though while squeaking a Fall Classic victory out of this core in 2008 and nearly again in 2009. Unfortunately, they do not look to be near those days again. I’m skeptical that Amaro will be around much longer as he’s run the big league club and the farm system into the ground.

(Cliff Lee might have one minuscule flaw but I do not hold it against the man.)

25. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox had a stealth off season for a bad team as they landed Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu. Hitters are more dependable in most cases than pitchers and the Sox acquired Eaton as the Diamondbacks once again sold low, got a potential full-time player in Davidson for a reliever and had the slugging Abreu sign for what could be a pretty reasonable deal from Cuba.

Chris Sale is remarkably so much better than anyone in the rest of their rotation although one might say that Jose Quintana is one of the biggest potential sleepers in the American League. John Danks has been fair in the past and as anyone in the industry knows, as long as you can get a couple average or slightly above and durable pitchers you’ve really got a chance to make some damage.

The 25 year-old Colombian Quintana and 27 year-old Cuban Abreu are players who have to get out of Sale’s lanky shadow for the South Siders to separate themselves from the Twins.

Paulie, you were a monster for so many years. But, it won’t be long before He Gone and it’s time for him to make that move.

24. Chicago Cubs

Baez. Bryant. Almora. Soler. Baez. Bryant. Almora. Soler. Baez. Bryant. Almora. Soler. Rinse and repeat Cubs fans. How many times have their diehards muttered those four names whenever they were watching Starlin Casto and Co. fail repeatedly throughout 2013?

The four monster bats ascending through the ranks on the North Side will buy Theo and Jed some time with the loud mouths out there who lack faith in them. As always, the winter Cubs rumors involved the topics of trading Jeff Samardzjia and the frustrating Castro.

I rate the Cubs pretty highly in my hypothetical future power rankings because of Castro bouncing back, Anthony Rizzo, the aforementioned four prospects and one other pretty important factor in a successful baseball club: money.

Yes, the Cubs are going to be able to augment their team when they feel the time is ready to do so because they have straight cash and lots of it. But for now, they are being patient and waiting for their youngsters to bust loose. The Cubs will be back shortly, folks. It’s just a matter of them developing/trading for/signing some arms.

Fear not though Cubs fans, your Fall Classics are coming.

23. Baltimore Orioles

The O’s had some magic in 2012 and almost repeated it in 2013 but fell short. Their rotation is full of guys who are just okay but some think Ubaldo is going to lift them to October again. The inherently brutal aspect of being an Oriole is that they play in that thing called the AL East. With a mediocre rotation and an  admittedly slightly improved lineup there is at least a chance they could be good. I’m just not taking that bet.

The problem is that the Chris Tillmans, Wei-Yin Chens, Bud Norrises and Miguel Gonzalezes of the league are just not talented and consistent enough to make an impact against their divisional competition. Youngsters like Manny Machado (stud – but injured), Dylan Bundy (injured) and Kevin Gausman (ready?) must give the Orioles some major contributions in 2014 because their roster is lacking.

Monster Chris Davis has still more to prove and Nelson Cruz is a stopgap (and overrated). Meanwhile up the middle, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have proven to be alright but realistically they could just fill the water bottles of Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey because they are forever in their shadows.

22. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are baseball’s easiest bounce back story as their roster was decimated by injuries and poor performance last year. I’m not sure what Jose Reyes will bring if he plays this whole season and it’s up in the air whether R.A. Dickey will return to his 2012 Cy Young form.

The Blue Jays have nothing at second base and a pitiful back half of their rotation. Their major winter move was bringing in Dioner Navarro. I guess he has had two decent seasons in the ten of his MLB career. Do they know they play in the AL Beast? Edwin Encarnacion has flat out mashed for two seasons strong and is on a super team friendly deal. What is his long-term future north of the border?

It seems to be another mediocre season is in store for Toronto but why not look at the positive? They currently are involved in my favorite GIF in Major League Baseball. Behold, Edwin Encarnacion taking a parrot for a walk.

These Jay Birds (JK) best cook up some scrumptious moments early and often or the 2014 season could become another tailspin in a hurry.

21. Colorado Rockies

In what has to be the most underrated core in recent baseball memory. The Rockies star seven boasts an impressive triple slash of bWAR/Games-IP/Age.

Troy Tulowitzki (5.3, 126, 28)

Carlos Gonzalez (4.9, 110, 27)

Nolan Arenado (3.9, 133, 22)

Jhoulys Chacin (5.8, 197.1, 25)

Jorge De La Rosa (4.3, 167.2, 32)

Tyler Chatwood (3.4, 111.1, 23)

Rex Brothers (3.1, 67.1, 25)

That is filthy stuff, ladies and gentlemen. Consider that really only Brothers and Chacin played what you can consider a full season and there’s very real upside in Colorado. That group has the potential to be boosted by young fireballers Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler. Might this be the period where the Rocks can develop and keep some real pitching?

Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau have reunited after some time away from each other and hope to rekindle some prior Twins form. The back end of the rotation could really up end this team but that isn’t even the biggest problem.

Chacin has had shoulder trouble in camp already and the club needs just about everything to be ship shape in the arms department to battle an underrated division full of foes. They have some really strong pieces and could fair well if they all stayed healthy but with the bottom half of the roster not too impressive they’re still not a serious threat to anyone.

20. New York Yankees

Honestly, the Bronx Bombers made a couple solid moves over the winter when they brought in Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. The Yankees keep digging themselves a whole even though they have the resources to be the Evilest Empire in all of American Sports. With an endless budget and a sabermetric revolution current engulfing the industry they really could be using their resources to flat out overwhelm everybody in the American League. Thankfully, they do not have the brains to accomplish that. It’s mostly their lack of patience that causes them to become this bad on paper but the brains factors in as well.

Anybody who despises the Yankees can just look at Rany Jazayerli’s top drawer piece on the decimated organization the Yankees have become. Their lineup is almost all older than Samuel Eto’o and look at that pitching depth. CC Sabathia may be showing signs of slipping and he is the only nominal ace that they have. I have no idea how to project what Masahiro Tanaka is going to give Joe Girardi but this team was not very good last year and I do not think they’re better in 2014.

To win in Major League Baseball you must possess some great depth options beyond your Opening Day rotation because it’s a near lock that you’re going to need 20+ games started to come from your 6-9 options. The Yankees project some of the first guys called up to be Michael Pineda, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

That is not good enough and they’re finally going to start paying for having such an old team (old players get injured and also regress) that lacks any type of youthful infusion that they’re better and more well constructed rivals (see; Red Sox, Boston and Rays, Tampa Bay) may have coming.

19. Pittsburgh Pirates

Those playoff games in Pittsburgh last year were really, really touching. It was fun to see how enjoyable it is when a city really gets out there for the first time in years and has playoff baseball. It would be fun to see the Pirates make another run at things in 2014 but the team just is not good enough and it’s hard to see them grinding through another long season at that pace.

The current incarnation of the Pirates has major holes at shortstop, first base and right field although they do still have the reigning NL MVP ‘Cutch patrolling center. I’m bearish on their rotation led by Francisco Liriano. Somehow they still think Jeff Locke can do a job for them over a full season. Take a look at his second half tailspin in 2013. His overall numbers weren’t terrible but he is one of the captain’s of the Bryan LaHair All-Star team (ie: how was that guy an All-Star?).

There is a certain massive positive about the Pirates and here it is:

Dreamland, folks. Dreamland.

18. Seattle Mariners

Once again the Mariners made some monster winter moves but they’ll be finding themselves right back where they left off in 2013. And that would be 4th place with little time spent truly challenging the West’s big boys.

Gone is the Atomic One and in comes the Canoe. They’ll need Robbie to steer them through the early portion of the season lacking their second and third best pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and uber-prospect Taijuan Walker.

For all the greatness Cano will bring to the King’s Court it’s not going to be much fun for them to be missing those big time arms. You’ve really got to respect Felix for how consistent, dependable and downright dominant he has been throughout his career. He’s hardly gotten much help from his teammates in his career but he’s stayed fairly humble and loyal. Now all of a sudden his club makes some short-term rash decisions, albeit with good intentions, and then other pieces of the team immediately begin falling apart around him.

The good news is the Mariners have plenty of players with much to prove and Iwakuma and Walker still should be in the rotation for most of the year it can be spun positively for the Mariners. It’s who you finish the year with, not the players you open with. For now, they’re stuck ahead of the Astros and looking over their shoulder more every year.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks

Their ranking has to take a hit with news that Opening Day hurler Patrick Corbin has ulnar collateral ligament damage and could be headed to Tommy John surgery. Sure, that’s getting ahead of ourselves but either way it seems that their presumed ace will be out frozen (get well, Beeks) for awhile. Disabled list white whale Bronson Arroyo has not kept himself fit enough for Opening Day either as he’s struggled to round into form as the season rapidly approaches.

Their backup options Randall Delgado and Archie Bradley could be rotation mainstays and they really might have to be sooner than later after the Diamondbacks shipped out the formerly highly touted Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs in consecutive offseasons.

The Addison Reed and Mark Trumbo trades don’t excite me as they gave up too much for a reliever in one of them and then seemingly overrated Trumbo’s counting stats when his career OBP is not even .300.

Even after (giving up on) trading Adam Eaton to the South Side, they still have some pretty sick outfield depth led by youngsters Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock. Maybe that combined with their infusion of youth in the rotation and adding Trumbo to mash with true superstar Paul Goldschmidt will be enough for them to finally get over .500.  A sneaky good addition to their franchise has been broadcaster Steve Berthiaume.

16. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does anyone else wonder what Mike Trout thinks about when he looks over at the corpses of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols and he realizes they have 4/$110 million and 8/$212 million left on their deals? It has to be mind boggling for him. Here he is, possibly the best young player in baseball history playing in a huge market making just about nothing while his owner goes out and shells out that kind of money for those players to surround him.

Gross. Pitiful. Inexcusable.

Trout is not helped at all by the poor rotation the Angels have lined up this season as the regressing Jered Weaver is followed by C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. And those whispers of Weaver’s decline really shouldn’t be whispers anymore. He’s slipping each year and does not have Peter Bourjos out there in center to track everything down for him this year. While there’s definitely upside involved with those later guys, especially Skaggs, their top backup plan is Joe Blanton. So, he was kind of terrible in 2013.

They even tried to bring the retired Mark Mulder from the Baseball Tonight set into their rotation. This is sad. They have Mike Trout and this is how desperate they get. And again, they owe Hamilton and Pujols $322 million. Good luck, Trouty.

15. Milwaukee Brewers

Two straight winters the Brewers have benefited from unusual market factors as they snagged Matt Garza late this winter and Kyle Lohse under somewhat similar circumstances last year. And while their roster is vastly different from their playoff teams of not so far back, they’ve got one of the top cores in baseball. The sneaky nice thing about their core too is they play by far the most important positions on the diamond – the ones up the middle.

Granted, the markets for Garza and Lohse stalled due to their inherent flaws let’s not forget that they’re pretty darn talented. The Brewers rotation could really be a surprise because even their back end guys of Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers are well above average for those spots. Fiers has to bounce back after missing most of 2013, as does Milwaukee’s starlet Ryan Braun. Can this rotation stay healthy? As a low market team they’ll need that group to give them 150+ games to ride high this season.

In addition to Milwaukee’s great up the middle trio of Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy they’ll be shifting Braun to right field as he returns from his lengthy suspension at the end of last season. At the infield corners they’ll attempt to trot out Aramis Ramirez, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. Each of those guys has been solid pretty recently so there is hope for them to boost the Brewers past the Reds in the NL Central but they’ll need to bounce back and stay healthy before we can push them up that high.

14. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have finally been set free from the shackles of former boss Dusty Baker. Shouldn’t that alone help the Reds again challenge the Cardinals for top honors in the NL Central? Well, not quite. After freakishly good health from their starting rotation in 2012 (at least until the NLDS) and 2013 can they keep their horses that healthy again? I doubt it.

New skipper Bryan Price lost the very reliable Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo through free agency but brings back the rest of their important players. Possibly the most intriguing up and comer in a few years looks set to speed out of the stable at the top of the Reds lineup in a few weeks. Billy Hamilton has made executives, scouts, and fans alike ask new and intriguing questions after his speed has transformed every team he’s been a part of.

This team simply trots out too many bad players to overtake the Cardinals again and make it deep into October. Joey Votto is somehow much maligned as it seems most Reds fans think like Dusty Baker. The answer to the Reds fans is simple: Joey does not walk too often. Move along.

13. Kansas City Royals

The Royals probably think they have to be all in this year as Big Game James Shields will only participate in Dayton Moore’s 8-10 year process for just a few more months. For being such a minor power in baseball the Royals do have some talented people who cover them. I better let them explain some of the misery that they have endured under Moore’s reign (rain?).

By bringing in Omar Infante, Jason Vargas and Norichika Aoki they have finally solidified the top of Ned Yost’s typically poor batting order and pulled in a mediocre starter at a very, very modest price for a few years. The Royals have a pesky and bullish lineup with players like Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon all in the heart of their primes. In fact, we should all be jealous of the Royals for that contract Perez inked a couple years back. Wow. You really do not get much more value than that especially at such a premium position.

Yordano Ventura is a piece the Royals can pull out of the holster at some point during the season whether it is in April or anytime later. The 22 year-old is the 12th highest rated prospect in the game and dazzled in his early innings for KC last year. Maybe he could boost his squad like Mr. Danny Salazar did for the 2013 Indians, but they’ll need to hang tight with the Indians and Tigers for that to happen.

11. San Diego Padres

Quick trivia question: What is the biggest guaranteed free agent contract the Padres have ever handed out and who signed the deal?

Answer: Joaquin Benoit put pen to paper for $15.5 million over two years (with a 2016 club option) over the winter to take the prize.

The Padres have a somewhat disillusioned fan documentary on them that I highly recommend. It is thoroughly researched but contains some carefully selected information. Still, I admire the passion and watched it twice. Top, top stuff.

I’d go to battle with Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, a very injured (again) Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy and Eric Stults and feel positive about my chances. Cashner is the Senior Circuit’s version of Jose Quintana, a young arm ready to unleash his talents on the league and become someone more casual baseball fans recognize.

Out on the field they have young rising stars in Yasmani Grandal and Jedd Gyorko not to mention a very strong left side of the infield in free agent to be Chase Headley and energizer bunny Evereth Cabrera. While Cameron Maybin will sadly miss lots of time yet again (and Carlos Quentin will too) they’ve got the underrated Will Venable helping picking up the slack. The Padres are possibly one of the most unnoticed franchises in sports as the spotlights of California aren’t all over them.

They’ve quietly assembled a club with some upside but it still will take quite a bit of health for them to move any higher than this at all.

10. San Francisco Giants

The Giants are an easy franchise to admire from afar as I respect the heck out of their fans as they routinely fill their beautiful ballpark to 99% or more of capacity each year and I like the online presence of writers they have although it’s hard to get to read about any team too often during the daily grind of baseball season.

I find it hilarious often to see what lengths their fans go to to mock the ever changing belly size of Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval. For mysterious reasons they had a poor year in 2013 after taking the Fall Classic in 2010 and overwhelmingly in 2012. Take a look at their projected squad. They’ve got most of the same group who won in 2012 but now Madison Bumgarner has truly blossomed into their best arm. They’ll send star Matt Cain, the potentially dangerous if healthy Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum to the bump plenty of times in 2014 and that could be quite scary if just some minor things bounce their way.

In the meantime while they struggled in 2013 Brandon Belt became a stud and Buster Posey just kept on raking. I really expect the Giants to be in the mix for the NL West crown very deep into September and at a minimum be a massive contender for the two NL Wild Card slots.

9. Texas Rangers

The Rangers have an infield that might just be the envy of baseball. Beltre. Andrus. Profar. Fielder. That group has elite power, defense and speed. Many people have yet to realize that Adrian Beltre is a clear cut Hall of Fame third baseman who has graced this game with such prodigious talents for numerous seasons. Beyond his impact on the field he’s the well respected leader of a powerhouse team and not really slowing down with age as he has boasted four consecutive 5+ fWAR seasons at the ripe ages of 31-34.

The payroll took on some large nine digit numbers with the additions of Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder which should benefit the team in the short-term. A big bat earns you money. The defensive skills of a player has rarely been the primary factor in earning a nine figure deal although it was probably true in Elvis Andrus’s case.

Yu Darvish has been a savior for the Rangers and in the wake of the changing NPB posting system he’s making so, so much less than the less heralded Masahiro Tanaka. Who cares though, it’s always nice to stick it to the Yankees. In his arsenal he does feature the only true challenge to Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays for baseball’s coolest GIF. I’ll let you decide the champion between the two.

8. Detroit Tigers

With Jose Iglesias set to miss at least a large chunk of this season I look at the left side of the Tigers defense and question the makeup of that group. They’re going with the youngster Nick Castellanos at the hot corner and a combination of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis in left. Wait, Dirks is out for three months due to dreaded back surgery.

By bringing in Drew Smyly from the bullpen to replace the traded Doug Fister they’ve reloaded from within by dealing from a point of pure strength to get younger and cheaper. It remains to be seen whether Smyly can be a stabilizing force for new manager Brad Ausmus but many have questioned why they let Fister go as he really was not too pricey. The pitching rotation is its nasty as usual self but they’ve finally identified a Proven Closer and brought him in, Joe Nathan.

The lineup in general is inflexible, old and an injury to Miguel Cabrera away from really capitulating. No matter how they do in 2013 can they at least stay away from the A’s in October somehow? Sheesh.

The lingering question around the Tigers all season is going to be the impending free agency of 2013 AL Cy Young victor Max Scherzer. I do not see him leaving Comerica after the season but it’s going to cost the Tigers much of the money they saved by shipping Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler to keep him around.

The Tigers are going to be the new Phillies in a couple years after they pass out ridicurous contracts to Scherzer and Cabrera.

7. Cleveland Indians

Fear the future. This Tribe’s got Tito.

6. Atlanta Braves

How can we discuss the Braves without mentioning that they’ve lost 40% of their projected rotation including would have been Opening Day starter Kris Medlen for the year to a second Tommy John surgery?

Well, we can’t. The Braves will hope Mike Minor rebounds from his manhood surgery to help cover those holes. Not only will he and young Julio Teheran need to lead the staff, but they brought in Ervin Santana recently on a one year deal hoping he could fortify that hole left especially by Medlen.

While that recent turmoil probably has many Nationals fans grinning I doubt they’re smiling at all of the recent extensions the Braves have locked many of their core players to.

Over the winter GM Frank Wren gave long-term deals to stalwarts Teheran, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Star outfielder and local product Jason Heyward bought out his final two years of arbitration eligibility but did not sign away any of his free agent years. This plan to lock up young stars to lengthy extensions due to “cost certainty” has often been cited as the works of former Indians GM John Hart who now coincidentally advises Wren.

They will not end up all being positives for the Braves but I admire their ambitions and their aggressiveness in knowing who they want to keep and getting those deals completed.

5. Oakland Athletics

The A’s were going to be the second rated team on my list before it was announced that Opening Day (I emphasize this term often because it needs to be a holiday!) starter Jarrod Parker will miss the campaign with Tommy John surgery and fellow rotation mate A.J. Griffin will miss somewhere in the vicinity of a month. So, I dropped them just a few spots but not too far down.

The A’s have very slowly evolved into the easiest neutral baseball club for me to respect from afar. With rosters every year that seem just flat out mediocre (see for yourself) and a current value and revenue stream which ranks just about at the bottom of baseball it is nothing short of remarkable what the talented Beane Counter does each year.

I’m a bit skeptical of the rotation depth now with their current injury state but Tommy Milone, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz will have to come of age to keep them at the top of the AL West for a third straight year. I kind of have a feeling the A’s will get those guys to deliver some results for them before all is said and done.

While the A’s have to be sick of getting stuck matching up with the Tigers in October, as they’ve succumbed to Detroit in five games in the ALDS in consecutive seasons, their GM knows that just getting to October is his best measuring stick. If they keep knocking on October’s door eventually even they’ll overcome their inexplicable results in the postseason.

They have lost in the ALDS 3-2 six times since 2000 and in the one postseason they did make it to the ALCS they were promptly swept by (you guessed it) the Tigers 4-0. Bizarre.

It’s easy to ignore the A’s and find them not enjoyable but Coco Crisp has bounced back time after time to become one of the most enjoyable players in the sport as he continues to grace with age. They have used players like Crisp, who had struggled elsewhere, to stabilize very crucial positions and keep their long-term success running.

This bears repeating:

They have lost in the ALDS 3-2 six times since 2000 and in the one postseason they did make it to the ALCS they were promptly swept by (you guessed it) the Tigers 4-0. Bizarre.

4. Boston Red Sox

With three championships in the past ten seasons the Red Sox have best used the resources available to them and those which have gained prominence from others to explode into a baseball beast. Each of their titles featured a miraculous run which led to stunningly memorable results and in 2013 it was their bounce back from a 69 win season in 2012 to their title in 2013.

The second favorite player ever of the Waves of Arms boss (me!) seems increasingly likely to open in center for the Red Sox after not playing a baseball game since September 22, 2011. It’s unusual for someone such as Sizemore to get a chance at a premium position for such a high revenue team but it will be so great to see him back in the sport even if it is for a team that is so disliked as the Red Sox.

Elsewhere, the Sox are incorporating youth into their squad with the talented Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks seeking to anchor the left side of the infield while old wily veterans Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy should once again get this team into the postseason.

You know all of the primary pieces on the Red Sox and they’re not that interesting to me anymore. The real story on this team just has to be Grady.

I don’t want to make too much of Sizemore coming back, but the guy has not really played much baseball since 2009. Not many players grace the cover of Sports Illustrated – especially if you are a Cleveland Indian – but let’s flash back to Sizemore’s glory days and shockingly he achieved that feat. Check it out! (Yes – I still own two copies of this magazine.)

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Get used to seeing the Dodgers near the top of power rankings because they are poised to own the NL West even if they have a 35 grade Front Office. Powered by megastar southpaw Clayton Kershaw their rotation is nasty and they’re always going to be in win now mode which makes them able to snag people such as the Ricky Nolascos of the world at the trade deadline when somebody wants to just offload some salary during the season.

They really have a roster that is the NL’s version of the Tigers as the punch packed by Kershaw and Greinke could be seen as suicide for many teams they play in those short postseason series’s. The Dodgers back them up with some rock solid middle of the rotation starters and a very good to awesome bullpen which boasts just a little bit of Pure Rage.

The Fire Don Mattingly cries have really not been too loud of late but he’ll need to keep the team winning that division pretty darn often to keep his position.

It’s fascinating to go back to that 42-8 run they had last year and just think of their somewhat overwhelming talent. They will need to eventually deal with their ego heavy four starting outfielders situation because that could cause them some turmoil and allow their division rivals to sneak up on them.

For now though they’re almost the class of the National League.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

The biggest overachievers in sports yet like the A’s they just cannot seem to get their magic to work in October. Wouldn’t it just be splendid if the Baseball Gods allowed for a couple ALCS’s between the A’s and Rays? It seems that this should be a thing pretty soon, like as in 2014.

The Rays aren’t full of monster players but they find more subtle advantages than just about anyone and that allows them to somehow find ways to compete every year in such a brutal division.

One can’t wonder who they’ll fleece next winter when they trade David Price just like they did when snagging Wil Myers from Kansas City in December 2012. It’s so difficult to do what the Rays do when the Red Sox and Yankees have so many ridiculous advantages over them but they always find ways to exploit holes in the game to their benefit and they’ve won 90+ games 5 of the past 6 seasons even playing in the AL Beast. Like the A’s they’ve struggled to get through the LDS round as they’ve succumbed to defeat the past three times in that round.

They have few household names but every single player on their roster has some unique or elite talent that allows boss Joe Maddon to use him in ways that few other managers would think of.

These guys are almost as sure of a bet as anyone to land one of those coveted October berths.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

The class of baseball, year in and year out.

The Cards have eight starters who are better than almost everyone’s number three. For now, they’ll just stash young righties Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez in the bullpen and unleash them on weaker humans in the late innings of the night.

It’s so fitting that the Cards boast perhaps baseball’s purest superstar, Yadier Molina. Long a defensive whiz, Molina has upped his offense to Herculean levels of late and thus easily become one of baseball’s most valuable players. It’s a testament to him that the Cardinals pitching staff seemingly can bring up youngster after youngster and they seamlessly make the transition to the big leagues.

In baffling news, some people do not consider St. Louis the best baseball town in the land but I think it is a clear winner. It’s fitting that the best baseball city in America has a team which does more things right than any other.

The Cardinals do lack a 35+ home run threat and won’t really run you wild on the basepaths but they are so deep and strong across the board that it kind of amazes me every day.

Wait, they also don the best uniforms in the game too. They’re stunning, really and it’s nice they finally got rid of their blue caps, trim and socks on the road.. Yep, these guys are taking the World Series this year.

John’s World Series Prediction

Cardinals 4, Athletics 1

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One thought on “The 30: Ten Toes In

  1. The project took a lot work because the subject is huge. Nice job. Predictions are easy to make,but we need to wait until next fall to see if close to the final standings. Sort of obvious which is your favorite team. The Pirates stadium looks great.

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