As spring training concludes, the hope that springs eternal at the beginning of each camp revels in its last few days before its annual clash with reality. For a few teams, the hope they break camp with will catapult them towards a post-season run, while for others a “wait till next year” motto will be embraced. The conclusion of spring also signals the last chance for prognostication! While making pre-season picks is often a silly game since so many things can happen in a 162 game season and we rarely hold prognosticators accountable anyway, but it’s a fun piece and one that sparked some strong interaction with readers last season. I’ll break this piece into two parts, an AL Predictions and a NL Predictions, and go through each division with a brief write-up of my outlook for the team’s season. In order to provide some fantasy insight along-side the predictions I’m going to highlight players for each team that fall into three categories: Overvalued, Undervalued, and Deep Sleeper. I’ll then cover why I feel a player falls into that particular category in each of the next two days player blurbs (Sunday morning I’ll be covering the AL Notes and Monday morning I’ll be covering the NL Notes). With that, let’s get to the predictions, starting in the National League.
2008 NL Predictions:
1. New York Mets
The Mets were the best team in the National League for 5 ½ months last season before the collapse. This off-season they brought in the best pitcher of this generation without losing any contributing pieces from last season’s team. Santana coupled with a healthy Pedro Martinez suddenly makes the Mets rotation a strength, after it was a weakness heading into last season. The lineup is headed by three potential MVP candidates in David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran and should score enough runs to finish in the Top 10 in baseball again. Ultimately I think they’re the class of the NL and a solid tier above the contending Phillies and Braves. I think the Mets win the division handily on their way to a low 90’s win season and home-field advantage throughout the NL Playoffs.
Overvalued: Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran
Undervalued: Ryan Church
Deep Sleeper: Angel Pagan
2. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies rode a wave of momentum along with some good fortune last year to a division title. In the off-season they replaced Aaron Rowand’s production with a Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth platoon and were able to move Brett Myers back to the rotation through the acquisition of Brad Lidge, simultaneously solidifying weaknesses in the bullpen and the rotation. Despite adding Myers back to the rotation, depth remains a problem. Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Kyle Kendrick aren’t an inspiring back-end of the rotation and the Phillies aren’t blessed with much depth in the minors. The Phillies are going to need to bludgeon their opponents offensively this season to contend for a wild-card berth and while they have the bats to do so, I think they’ll fall just short of the playoffs, finishing 2nd in the NL East.
Overvalued: Kyle Kendrick
Undervalued: Pedro Feliz, Carlos Ruiz
Deep Sleeper: Ryan Madson
3. Atlanta Braves
The Braves were a better team last year then their record indicates and their sub .500 record after acquiring Mark Teixeira last season was a bit of a fluke as well. The Braves still have some of the same concerns in the rotation that I worried about last season and they have to replace the loss of Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria offensively this year. Those losses offensively should be off-set by a full season of Mark Teixeira. The rotation has a bit more depth this year as opposed to last year with the additions of Tom Glavine and Jair Jurrjens along with the potential return of Mike Hampton, but ultimately I think the team’s depth is susceptible and the Braves will need a Herculean offensive effort this season to contend.
Overvalued: Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Yunel Escobar
Undervalued: Kelly Johnson, Mark Teixeira
Deep Sleeper: Jordan Schafer
4. Florida Marlins
The Marlins looked to be on the cusp of a finalized rebuilding process heading into 2006 with Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez and a talented young pitching staff to boot. But 2006 was un-kind to the health of the Marlins pitchers and in a market with many suitors looking for a more affordable 3B option to ARod, the Marlins decided to cash in their chips with Cabrera and invest in another rebuilding process. While many will focus on the loss of Cabrera, a future HOF, the Marlins will struggle more because of the health of their pitching than an inability to score runs this year. The Marlins should still be able to score runs with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Jeremy Hermida anchoring an underrated lineup. The problem will be pitching where Mark Hendrickson will be their opening day starter. The key to this rebuilding process will be the recovery of the young pitching talent and the development of the newly acquired prospects. This year the Marlins won’t contend but they’ll be better than most think.
Overvalued: Kevin Gregg
Undervalued: Jeremy Hermida, Josh Willingham
Deep Sleeper: Justin Miller, Matt Lindstrom
5. Washington Nationals
At least they have a new ballpark! Alright it’s not that bad for the Nationals this year as the rebuilding process a bit further along than last year. The Nationals have brought in some young talent through trades in the off-season and along with a solid 2007 draft, they’re slowly getting back towards respectability. From a fantasy standpoint the big thing to track will be how the new ballpark plays this year but from a baseball standpoint the development of some of the younger Nats will be the key for future success. The Nats new stadium filled with young players will at least bring some hope towards the future in a likely otherwise dim season.
Overvalued: Jason Bergmann
Undervalued: Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson, Shawn Hill
Deep Sleeper: Justin Maxwell, Elijah Dukes
1. Chicago Cubs
Last year I went the route of the “homer” picking my Chicago Cubs to win the division, but this year I feel like they’re true co-favorites with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs haven’t lost anyone significant from the division championship team last season and added one more free agent signing in the off-season with Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs are one of the more balanced teams in the National League and could post the best bullpen in the league. The key for the Cubs will be the production out of CF, where Felix Pie has been given at least a fair share of the playing time, and the production out of the rotation, where Ted Lilly and Rich Hill are coming off of “breakout” years. If all goes well, the Cubs have a chance to be one of the better teams in the National League.
Overvalued: Carlos Marmol
Undervalued: Kosuke Fukudome
Deep Sleeper: Jose Ceda, Donald Veal
2. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers collection of young talent is staggering. The talent should continue to take steps forward this season as they have another collective season under their belts. The key will be the bullpen, which ultimately was one of the primary reasons they slid late in the season. The Brewers had the 19th best bullpen ERA in baseball last season and enter this season without last year’s closer Francisco Cordero. I don’t have many concerns about the Brewers staff because I feel there’s ample depth there once Gallardo comes back, but the bullpen could be explosive. If the Brewers bullpen produces during the season and Ben Sheets stays healthy they have potentially the largest upside of any team in the National League and could be contending for home-field advantage.
Overvalued: Eric Gagne, JJ Hardy
Undervalued: Bill Hall, Mike Cameron, Rickie Weeks
Deep Sleeper: Manny Parra, Matt LaPorta
3. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have a plethora of young talent turning major league ready coupled with a good core of veterans and as a result should improve over their 72-90 record last season. The hiring of Dusty Baker is a questionable one given the make-up of this team but Baker has a track record of success from the get-go with new ball-clubs. The key will be his open-ness to playing younger talents like Joey Votto and eventually Jay Bruce while not overwhelming the young pitchers with huge workloads, as he did in his time with the Cubs. If Baker can learn from his past mistakes and incorporate them into his managerial style the Reds could make a playoff push as early as this season.
Overvalued: Brandon Phillips
Undervalued: Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang
Deep Sleeper: Jay Bruce, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto
4. Houston Astros
The Astros new GM Ed Wade made some curious off-season decisions that suggested a 73 win team from a year ago might be able to contend right away. As a result the Astros built a more formidable lineup with the acquisition of Miguel Tejada and brought in last year’s league leader in Saves to solidify a bullpen that had lost Brad Lidge, but on the whole I’m not sure how much better they’ve made themselves. The rotation is going to be a mess all year long as the Astros only reliable starter is Roy Oswalt. Similarly, the bullpen seems surprisingly thinned out, despite Ed Wade’s affection for middle relievers. If the Astros are going to win games this year they’re going to do it by leaning on an improved offense. I think the offense will be vastly improved (just by the departure of playing time for two black holes offensively, Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett), but they seem built like some of the Reds teams of years past that won 75-78 games.
Overvalued: Roy Oswalt, Kaz Matsui, Hunter Pence, Jose Valverde
Undervalued: Carlos Lee, Ty Wigginton
Deep Sleeper: Felipe Paulino
5. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals finally exiled their offensive reliance on the Big Three (Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen), the only problem is now it’s a reliance on a Big One and that One has a big question mark surrounding his elbow heading into this season. Outside of Pujols the Cardinals offense is filled with question marks and significantly below-average bats. It’s going to be a difficult year for the Cards from a run-scoring perspective and it shouldn’t be much easier on the pitching side where Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are the only reliable SP’s. Outside of LaRussa, Pujols, Wainwright, and an eventual Colby Rasmus promotion there isn’t a lot to get excited about in St. Louis.
Overvalued: Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel
Undervalued: Adam Wainwright
Deep Sleeper: Colby Rasmus
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates enter another year without too much hope for on the field success, but at least the hiring of Neal Huntington to the front office brings some credibility to a position that has desperately needed it for the last few years. The Pirates young pitching staff continues to gain experience and show improvement, but the big key this year for the Pirates will come from their more veteran offensive players. Both Jason Bay and Xavier Nady could provide nice deadline trade bait for contending teams but both need to perform get off to solid starts.
Overvalued: Tom Gorzelanny
Undervalued: Adam LaRoche, Nate McLouth, Matt Capps
Deep Sleeper: Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
Last year the Diamondbacks (along with the Indians) were my big sleeper pick and it turned out pretty well. A division title and an NLCS appearance later and the Diamondbacks are poised to make another World Series run this season. Much like the Brewers, the amount of young talent is overwhelming. However, unlike the Brewers, the pitching is not the question mark. Despite the loss of Jose Valverde the Diamondbacks appear to have depth at the back-end of their bullpen and the addition of Dan Haren should add another top tier SP to combine with Brandon Webb. Many of the young Diamondback hitters didn’t perform to their established minor league numbers so the room for growth offensively continues to exist. This is one of the main reasons I think the Diamondbacks can overcome the question marks about their Pythagorean Record last season, as I believe the offense will make big strides forward as the team charges toward another 90 win season.
Overvalued: Eric Byrnes
Undervalued: Conor Jackson, Randy Johnson
Deep Sleeper: Tony A. Pena, Justin Upton
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
It seems every year the question with the Dodgers isn’t one regarding talent but one dealing with whether they’re going to do everything in their power to get the most talent on the field. The Dodgers have long held one of the more impressive farm systems in baseball but the last few years lesser talented veterans have received the lion-share of the playing time. This year it appears that trend is starting to change. James Loney is locked in at 1B, while one, if not both, of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp will be locked into playing time in the OF, and Chad Billingsley is lined up in the rotation. The Dodgers have talent at every position, coupled with a deep bullpen and a solid rotation. They should be the 2nd horse in a potentially loaded NL West.
Overvalued: Juan Pierre, Chad Billingsley
Undervalued: Rafael Furcal
Deep Sleeper: Clayton Kershaw
3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies incredible late season run masked some of their flaws and seemingly covered up what was for most of the season just a .500 team. The Rockies have a tremendous amount of talent spread around the diamond, but I think the last 2 months of the season last year were an indication of their absolute peak. I still think the SP will be an issue this year and the bullpen after Corpas and Fuentes isn’t particularly inspiring either. I can see the Rockies contending for most of the year but falling down the stretch as some of their young arms fade after large workloads.
Overvalued: Jeff Francis, Todd Helton
Undervalued: Willy Taveras, Troy Tulowitzki
Deep Sleeper: Franklin Morales, Chris Iannetta
4. San Diego Padres
It pains me to put the Padres down in the 4th slot in the division because of how much admiration I have for how well-run their organization is, but I think the offense is REALLY going to be a problem this season. The Rotation and Bullpen should continue to excel but the offense outside of Adrian Gonzalez is a collection of league average or worse offensive players. The Padres are going to need to pitch extremely well to stay in the race this year or get big offensive jumps from some of their younger players like Kevin Kouzmanoff or Chase Headley.
Overvalued: Trevor Hoffman
Undervalued: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Heath Bell
Deep Sleeper: Mark Prior
5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants pose one of the more interesting paradoxes when it comes to their roster this season. The Giants have the chance to have one of the worst offensive teams of this decade, while having the chance to also have a pretty good pitching staff. The problem is the pitching is young and thus a bit inconsistent at times, so the Giants are in for a very long season.
Overvalued: Aaron Rowand
Undervalued: Matt Cain, Randy Winn, Brian Wilson
Deep Sleeper: Jonathan Sanchez, Eugenio Velez
NL Playoff Predictions:
Division Winners: New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks
Wildcard Winner: Milwaukee Brewers
Wildcard Round: New York Mets defeat Milwaukee Brewers
Arizona Diamondbacks defeat Chicago Cubs
Championship Round: New York Mets defeat Arizona Diamondbacks