The 2016 MLB season is already two days old, and here I am posting what’s probably the last season preview. You’ll have to excuse me – my university’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both made the Final Four, so I’m a little behind from all the, uh, rooting I’ve been doing.
Anyway, here’s who will end the 2016 regular season with American League division crowns and major awards.
East – Red Sox
First, while I love how the Blue Jays are built, I just can’t pick them to win the East. With the loss of David Price, their rotation is mediocre at best, and I don’t like the prospect of Troy Tulowitzki staying healthy for a full season playing on an artificial turf infield.
Besides, Boston could easily outscore Toronto and the rest of the league, even without their $95 million third baseman. Mookie Betts is the real deal, and while I think Xander Bogaerts will regress a little as his BABIP drops closer to league average, the two are probably the best pair of table setters in the MLB. I’m also counting on Hanley Ramirez finally finding a position he can play, and if he does, this could be one of the best fielding teams in the league. Their outfield in particular is fun to look at – with Rusney Castillo playing in left, they now have three true center fielders out there. Plus, having anyone other than the Panda at third is probably an upgrade.
The David Price signing was a necessity considering how weak the rotation behind him is, but even then, Clay Buchholz can be elite when healthy, and Rick Porcello will prove that last season’s 4.92 ERA was an aberration, especially if he can get his grounder rate back up to his career norm. Also, Eduardo Rodriguez provides some intriguing upside and could realistically end the season as the team’s legitimate #2 starter.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that while the Yankees will probably win almost every game in which they have a lead after six innings, their core is still just too old to trust for an entire season.
Central – Indians
As I had to do with Toronto in the East, I’ll take a couple paragraphs to talk about why Kansas City will not win the Central in 2016. This is still one of the greatest fielding teams of all time, and they can still manufacture runs despite not having any bona fide sluggers.
The problem with this team is with the rotation. Only so much can be covered up by excellent defense, and even though the bullpen is still great without Greg Holland, you have to wonder if a team can win a division with Edinson Volquez as the Opening Day starter. However, they did it last year with this pitching staff (and despite an underachieving Johnny Cueto), and Yordano Ventura could finally break out this year, so I may be eating my words in six months.
But even if the Royals succeed, there is another team in the Central that’s ready to break out. The Indians have what can be the best trio of starters in the AL, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar all coming off seasons with over a strikeout per inning. Cleveland’s defense also figures to be better with the addition of Juan Uribe and a full season from Francisco Lindor.
Their outfield is kind of a mess, but if Michael Brantley can come back at or near full strength and 2012 first round pick Tyler Naquin provides valuable time down the stretch, this team will be fine.
West – Astros
Yeah, every analyst is taking Houston in the West. But why shouldn’t they? The Rangers’ best player is 37 years old and have to rely on Yu Darvish coming back from Tommy John surgery to have any kind of rotation depth behind Cole Hamels. The Angels are a one-man band, the A’s can’t play defense, and the Mariners just can’t ever seem to take the next step.
And even if all those teams are better than expected, the Astros are definitively the best team in the division, and maybe the entire American League.
The rotation is deep behind reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, and the bullpen should be playoff-worthy now with the addition of Ken Giles. They also have the best-hitting middle infield in the majors, and outfielders Carlos Gomez and George Springer are poised to come back strong from injury-plagued seasons. This is simply the best team in the division, a slam dunk pick.
Wild Cards – Royals, Blue Jays
I’ve talked about how the Royals aren’t a perfect team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make the playoffs. Fangraphs has them finishing in dead last in the Central, but they’ve outperformed their projections the last couple years anyway. And like I said, the Blue Jays will have rotation struggles, but I think they’ll mash enough to find their way into the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year – Nomar Mazara
Predicting this award is a crapshoot, and plenty of people are penciling in Byron Buxton, but Mazara’s got legitimate power and has shown at all minor league levels that he can hit. The left-handed outfielder will benefit from the short right field fence in Arlington and will probably be in the pennant chase late in the season, when voters are paying attention most.
Cy Young – Chris Sale
Last season’s 3.41 ERA is probably the highest you’ll see from this ace until he hits his mid-30s. The .323 BABIP he allowed was due mainly to the horrendous defense behind him, and it seems the White Sox have improved in that department this year. Sale was second to only Clayton Kershaw last season in xFIP and led the league in K/9. Look for his 2016 ERA to be much closer to his 2015 SIERA (2.52) than that 3.41 mark, and for an improved White Sox club to get him those extra few wins that are somehow still so important to voters.
MVP (other than Mike Trout) – Mookie Betts
It’s too easy to just gush over how good Trout is, even though I myself am an Angels fan. Instead, it’s much more interesting to guess who can beat him. This year, I think Mookie Betts has the best chance. I could’ve easily gone with Manny Machado, who looks poised to build upon his breakout 2015, or the reigning MVP Josh Donaldson, but I’m going with the guy who was integral in my second-place finish in my fantasy league last year (I will have my revenge!).
Betts posted the 7th-highest rate of contact in the AL in 2015 and made harder contact than anyone above him. He’ll also steal double digit bases and provide excellent defense in right field, all for a team I’m predicting to win their division. The 23 year-old is due to see his 8.2% HR/FB mark to rise, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 30-30 season.