By Tony DeMarco – Tony is a long time baseball writer and offers more 2016 MLB Baseball Predictions here at Vegas Pro Insiders Daily, where he will be one of our baseball experts.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2015 record/finish: 95-67, 1st place, World Series champions
Recent history: The Royals are this-close to back-to-back World Series titles, and critics be damned, they think they can win another one this season.
Front office/manager recap: Dayton Moore and Ned Yost signed extensions at the start of spring training — just rewards for back-to-back pennants, and one World Series championship.
Payroll change: From $121 million in 2015 to $134 million in 2016
Key arrivals: RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Chein-Ming Wang, RHP Dillon Gee
Key departures: OF Alex Rios, RHP Johnny Cueto, 2B/OF Ben Zobrist
Rotation: RHP Edison Volquez, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Yordano Ventura, RHP Chris Young, RHP Kris Medlen
Relievers: Closer: RHP Wade Davis; Setup men: RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Kelvin Herrera; Middle relievers: RHP Luke Hochevar, LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Chein-Ming Wang, RHP Dillon Gee
Role players: C Tony Cruz, IF Cristian Colon, IF/OF Whit Merrifield, OF Reymond Fuentes // OF Jarrod Dyson (DL)
Rookies of impact: IF Raul Mondesi Jr. made a World Series appearance before he played in a regular-season big-league game. Longtime top RHP prospect Kyle Zimmer could get a shot later this season.
2015 run differential: +83 (724 scored, 641 allowed)
Run production: It’s hard to find a player whose transformation helped his team’s lineup construction more than Moustakas, who learned to go the other way, and became a dangerous two-hole hitter in the process. The other key is Morales’ switch-hitting RBI presence behind Hosmer. Yes, this lineup isn’t big on walks, HRs and OBP. But exceptional contact rate and situational hitting more than compensate. We’ll see if an Orlando-Fuentes-Dyson time share can exceed Rios’ 2015 production.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 3rd BA, 11th OPS, 10th Runs, 25th HR, 6th SB)
Run prevention: The scary thought is this bullpen may be the Royals’ best ever. Counting Hochevar and Duffy, whose personality and two plus pitches make him best-suited for relief duty, there are five quality late-inning options. That’s how the Royals can win despite the AL’s lowest innings total from their rotation. That, and elite defenders spread all around the field.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 4th Wins, 16th ERA, 22nd QS, 25th BB, 23rd K)
Risers: Hosmer can take another step to an MVP-level player. Ventura, Herrera
Contract years: There is probably a two-year window for the Royals as we know them, given this list: Hosmer, Volquez (2017 mutual option), Morales (2017 mutual option), Hochevar (2017 mutual option), Medlen (2017 mutual option), Davis (2017 club option), Escobar (2017 club option)
Vegas says: OU 86 wins
Predicted record/finish: 90-72, 1st place. Until proven otherwise, this is a playoff team. Lean OVER the total.
2015 record/finish: 81-80, 3rd place
Recent history: Since fashioning a 24-game improvement and winning a wildcard spot in 2013, things have been going in the wrong direction for the Tribe and Terry Francona, with 85 and 81 wins. All of which makes this an important season.
Front office/manager recap: Chris Antonetti was promoted to President of Baseball Operations in October, when Mike Chernoff was elevated to the GM role. Francona is 31 games over .500 heading into the fourth of six guaranteed seasons (with two club options). In other words, few managers are any more secure.
Payroll change: From $88 million in 2015 to $90 million in 2016
Key arrivals: IF Juan Uribe, 1B/DH Mike Napoli, OF Rajai Davis, OF Marlon Byrd, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Joba Chamberlain
Key departures: IF/OF Mike Aviles, OF Ryan Raburn
Rotation: RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Danny Salazar, RHP Cody Anderson, RHP Josh Tomlin
Relievers: Closer: RHP Cody Allen; Setup men: RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Zack McAllister; Middle relievers: RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Jeff Manship, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Joba Chamberlain // RHP Tommy Hunter (DL)
Role players: C Roberto Perez, IF Jose Ramirez, OF Collin Cowgill // OF Michael Brantley (DL), RF Lonnie Chisenhall (DL), OF Abraham Almonte (suspended)
Rookies of impact: Because of injuries, Naquin gets a shot ahead of schedule. OF Bradley Zimmer, later in the season
2015 run differential: +29 (669 scored; 640 allowed)
Run production: This may be the worst offensive outfield in the AL until Brantley returns. The efforts to improve the offense were stop-gap measures at best. Napoli, Rajai, Uribe and Byrd? Pretty nice adds in 2010, but this is 2016. There is precious little power, as Chisenhall has yet to develop, and starts on the DL. Santana needs a big contract year, Gomes needs to bounce back, and Brantley needs to get healthy in a hurry, or the rotation is going to be pitching in a lot of low-scoring games.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 14th BA, 13th OPS, 18th Runs, 22nd HR, 9th SB)
Run prevention: In a rare display of consistency and durability, the first four starters in last year’s rotation all made between 30-32 starts. The first three remain in place — and they all are in the top 12-15 in the AL. But Bauer was moved to the bullpen, as Anderson and Tomlin out-pitched him in spring training. The back three in the pen also return, as this is one of the more-stable staffs in the league. But Detwiler is the only lefty on the staff, and middle relief could be iffy. Given what looks to be a lack of offense, this staff will have to be outstanding to get the Tribe above .500.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 17th W, 10th ERA, 7th QS, 7th BB, 2nd K)
Risers: Lindor, Gomes
Regressers: Brantley, Bauer, Almonte
Contract years: Santana, Napoli, Davis, Uribe
Vegas says: OU 86 wins
Predicted record/finish: 83-79, 3rd place. The Pecota rankings have them at 92 wins? Can’t see it. Vegas’ number is more accurate. Lean UNDER.
2015 record/finish: 74-87, 5th place
Recent history: That thud you heard was the Tigers’ first-to-last fall after four consecutive division titles, one pennant and three ALCS appearances.
Front office/manager recap: Al Avila — Dave Dombrowski’s longtime top lieutenant — has taken over, and one of his first orders of business was to retain much-maligned Brad Ausmus for his third and last-guaranteed season. But make no mistake, it’s playoffs or bust for Ausmus.
Payroll change: From $173 million in 2015 to $192 million in 2016
Key arrivals: LF Justin Upton, SP Jordan Zimmermann, RP Francisco Rodriguez, RP Justin Wilson, CF Cameron Maybin, SP Mike Pelfrey
Key departures: SP Alfredo Simon, OF Rajai Davis, C Al Avila, RP Al Albuquerque
Rotation: RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP MIke Pelfrey, RHP Shane Greene // LHP Daniel Norris (DL)
Relievers: Closer RHP Francisco Rodriguez; Setup men: LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Mark Lowe; Middle relievers: RHP Drew VerHagen, LHP Kyle Ryan, RHP Logan Kensing, RHP Buck Farmer // RHP Alex Wilson (DL), LHP Blaine Hardy (DL)
Role players: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, IF/OF Mike Aviles, IF Andrew Romine, OF Tyler Collins // OF Cameron Maybin (DL)
Rookies of impact: OF Steven Moya, SP Michael Fulmer, IF Dixon Machado
2015 run differential: -114 (689 scored; 803 allowed)
Run production: This group should return to the AL’s top tier after a down year in which Yoenis Cespedes was dealt away, Cabrera missed 43 games and Victor Martinez and Iglesias missed 42 games. Upton replaces Cespedes, Cabrera had a strong spring, and Castellanos and McCann should improve. The only thing missing here is speed — unlesss Gose emerges.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 2nd BA, 2nd OPS, 4th Runs, 7th HR, 24th SB)
Run prevention: Funny thing about last season’s rotation: The leader in starts was now-departed Alfredo Simon (32), who pitched to a 5.05 ERA. Verlander made only 20 starts, David Price made 21 before he was dealt, and Sanchez 25 in between DL time. The bullpen — Dombrowski’s Achilles heel — was reconstructed, and it looked to be improved, but spring injuries to underrated Justin Wilson and Blaine Hardy cut into depth. The up-the-middle defense is strong, but the corners could be iffy.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 20th W, 22nd ERA, 21st QS, 9th BB, 29th K)
Risers: Cabrera, Castellanos, McCann
Contract years: Rodriguez, Maybin, Aviles
Vegas says: OU 85 wins
Predicted record/finish: 84-78, 2nd place. This is a veteran team that spent heavily to remain playoff-relevant, and is primed for a bounceback.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2015 record/finish: 76-86, 4th place
Recent history: Robin Ventura won 85 games in his initial season (2012) in the wake of Ozzie Guillen. But since then, the club has disappointed with 63, 73 and 76 wins.
Front office/manager recap: GM Rick Hahn is in year four since being promoted when Kenny Williams moved to the Executive VP role.
Both are secure. But Ventura is in the final guaranteed year (and fifth overall) and coming off three consecutive losing seasons, so there is some urgency here.
Payroll change: From $120 million in 2015 to $123 million in 2016
Key arrivals: 3B Todd Frazier, 2B Brett Lawrie, SS Jimmy Rollins, C Alex Avila, SP Mat Latos
Key departures: SP Jeff Samardzija, SS Alexei Ramirez, C Tyler Flowers, 1B/DH Adam LaRoche
Rotation: LHP Chris Sale, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP Carlos Rodon, LHP John Danks, RHP Mat Latos
Relievers: Closer: RHP David Robertson; Setup men: RHP Nate Jones, RHP Jake Petricka; Setup men: RHP Matt Albers, LHP Zach Duke, LHP Dan Jennings, RHP Jacob Turner
Regulars: LF Adam Eaton, 2B Brett Lawrie, 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Melky Cabrera, CF Austin Jackson, RF Avisail Garcia, C Dioner Navarro, SS Jimmy Rollins
Role players: C Alex Avila, 1B/OF Jerry Sands, IF Tyler Saladino, OF JB Shuck
Rookies of impact: SS Tim Anderson’s timetable was pushed back by the acquisition of Rollins. OF Jacob May, RHP Carson Fulmer
2015 run differential: -79 (622 scored; 701 allowed)
Run production: Frazier moves from one top hitters’ home park to another. Lawrie is on his third team in three years, which tells you something. But the move from Oakland will help his numbers. The Rollins signing has that feel of a stop-gap move by a team that thinks it can contend — but probably won’t.
(Roster Resource projections: 8th BA, 14th OPS, 12th Runs, 18th HR, 13th SB)
Run prevention: Who doesn’t like the first three in Don Cooper’s rotation? But Latos brings his baggage and bad 2015 numbers to his sixth team in eight big-league seasons, and fifth in the last three seasons. And Danks hasn’t finished a season with an ERA below 4.71 since 2011. The bullpen returns all but intact, which isn’t necessarily a great thing, but Jones is another year removed from Tommy John surgery.
(Roster Resource projections: 11th W, 12th ERA, 1 QS, 26th BB, 3 K)
Risers: Rodon, Lawrie
Contract years: Frazier, Danks, Navarro, Latos, Avila, Albers, Rollins
Vegas says: OU 80.5 wins
Predicted record/finish: 79-83 Some see this as a potential surprise team, but we’re not buying in here. Vegas seems to have this one about right.
2015 record/finish: 83-79, 2nd place
Recent history: A 13-game improvement got them back over the .500 hump after four consecutive seasons of between only 63-70 wins. It seems as if it’s been longer, but the Twins did make back-to-back playoff appearances as recently as 2009-10.
Front office/manager recap: Terry Ryan is about as safe as any GM, and Paul Molitor is in the second year of a three-year deal, and coming off an excellent first season in charge after replacing Ron Gardenhire.
Payroll change: From $107 million in 2015 to $108 million in 2016
Key arrivals: 1B/DH Byung-ho Park, C John Ryan Murphy
Key departures: OF Torii Hunter, OF Aaron Hicks, RHP Mike Pelfrey, LHP Brian Duensing, RHP Blaine Boyer
Rotation: RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Ricky Nolasco, LHP Tommy Milone
Relievers: Closer: LHP Glen Perkins; Setup men: RHP Kevin Jepsen, LHP Trevor May; Middle relievers: RHP Ryan Pressly, RHP Casey Fien, LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Michael Tonkin, RHP Logan Darnell, LHP Ryan O’Rourke
Regulars: 2B Brian Dozier, 1B Joe Mauer, RF Miguel Sano, 3B Trevor Plouffe, DH Byung-ho Park, LF Eddie Rosario, SS Eduardo Escobar, C Kurt Suzuki, CF Byron Buxton
Role players: C John Ryan Murphy, IF Eduardo Nunez, IF/OF Danny Santana, OF Oswaldo Arcia
Rookies of impact: The pipeline is full of talent here: Park and Buxton are AL Rookie of the Year contenders. Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios will make some starts at some point. OF Max Kepler.
2015 run differential: -4 (696 scored; 700 allowed)
Run production: You can see why the sabermetrics crowd doesn’t have a strong outlook for the Twins with the projections below — which seem qulte low, particularly the runs ranking. That said, improvement will have to come primarily from within, as the Korean slugger Park was the only addition. The Twins are counting on full seasons from Sano, who played in only 80 games last season, and the injury-riddled Buxton, plus upticks from Rosario and Escobar — all possibilities.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 27th Ave, 25th OPS, 20th Runs, 19th HR, 21st SB)
Run prevention: The impediment to any further improvement from the Twins likely is a rotation that doesn’t pitch enough innings or rack up enough strikeouts. The back three in the pen — Perkins, Jepsen and May — are better than you think, as the latter flourished after a mid-season move from the rotation. But the rest of the pen has some question marks, as the ranks will thinned in the off-season.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 21st W, 23rd ERA, 23rd QS, 5th BB, 27th K)
Risers: Gibson, Sano, Buxton, Murphy
Contract years: Jepsen, Suzuki (2017 vesting option)
Vegas says: OU 78 wins
Predicted record/finish: 81-81, 4th place. The Park signing was nice, but why not do something to upgrade the pitching staff? A slight fallback could occur — but do little damage to what appears to be a brighter near-future.