2016 Predictions: AL West

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I saved the best division for last, but if you feel like it check out my other division previews too:      NL East • NL Central • NL West  AL East  AL Central 

5. Los Angeles Angels of California of the West Coast of Not the Bay Area of Anaheim

This roster takes the “Stars and Scrubs” idea to the extreme, employing Mike Trout and Daniel Nava in the same outfield. Trout has some help with Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun, but I don’t think anybody else will be above a league average hitter. Johnny Giavotella and Yunel Escobar looked primed to fall victim to the BABIP gods and regress from their decent 2015 seasons. C.J. Cron has no plate discipline and has a ceiling of Mark Trumbo 2.0. Even with Trout, this offense had the 14th worse OPS in the American League last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a similar performance this season.

In the rotation, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney both look like number two starters, but the team lacks a true ace. And beyond the top two it starts getting really iffy. Any starts they give to Jared Weaver or C.J. Wilson at this point are just going to be a mistake. Hector Santiago was an all-star last year, but his 4.77 FIP makes me very skeptical about a repeat performance this year. Matt Shoemaker has mediocre stuff, and looks like nothing more than a back of the rotation filler guy. The pitching won’t be enough to carry the below-average offense to contention.

PECOTA projection: 76 wins

My pick: UNDER

This seems like a very accurate estimate, and I agree with PECOTA that they’ll be about 10 wins worse this year than they were last year. They upgraded at shortstop with Simmons, but somehow weren’t able to upgrade their horrid left field production from last year. This team also has no depth and no ability to add any pieces at the deadline. Their farm system is by far the worst in baseball, so getting any somewhat quality pickup will be a challenge. I see them winning somewhere around 75 games.

4. Oakland Athletics

I like the direction that they’re going in, and the farm system looks so much better now than it did 18 months ago. They’re not far away from contending, but the current big leaguers just don’t make up a playoff team. The roster has some quality big leaguers like Danny Valencia, Stephen Vogt,  Marcus Semien and Billy Burns, but all of those guys are just like 2 or 3 win players. That’s fine, but even with the pickups of Khris Davis and Chris Coghlan there aren’t enough big bats to make this a top tier offense. It’s still a strong, deep group though that I can see being above league average this year.

My biggest concerns with this team are on the mound. Behind Sonny Gray, there just isn’t a healthy starter capable of being a number two. Rich Hill is old and not good. Bassitt has nice stuff, but isn’t more than a four starter. Graveman looks like a back of the rotation guy, but he can probably be an innings eater. Oh and Felix Doubront is in the rotation and watching him pitch makes me hate baseball.

The rotation will get help when Henderson Alvarez comes back and top prospect Sean Manaea comes up, but that won’t be until late May or June. The two months of Hill and Doubront could dig them too deep of a hole, and they might sell their assets at the deadline like last year. Josh Reddick, Vogt and Valencia should all be valuable trade chips, along with some of their veteran relievers.

PECOTA projection: 76 wins

My pick: UNDER

There’s a chance that the rotation can hold together until June, and if they are hovering around .500 at that point I think they could make a push for a playoff spot. The bullpen is revamped, the lineup is deep and improved, and a Gray/Manaea/Alvarez/Bassitt/Hahn rotation is playoff-caliber. But if they’re 10 games under .500 in mid-June, I just don’t see them holding on to everybody. They’re better than that 68-win team last year, but they’re still another year away from contending. They’ll finish close to the Angels with around 75 wins.

3. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are looking at another year of being close to contention, but not quite there. They picked up a couple nice players in Leonys Martin, Adam Lind and Nate Karns, but didn’t make any splashy signings like the last couple of years. The Robinson Cano/Nelson Cruz/Kyle Seager heart of the order is still one of the best in baseball, and the rest of the lineup is relatively hole-free. Luis Sardinas isn’t the ideal utility guy, but Franklin Gutierrez and Nori Aoki should be a nice left field platoon, so the depth is okay.

Getting Iwakuma back was huge for the rotation. His health is still a question, but even if he gives them 20 solid starts again like last year that’s incredibly valuable. Taijuan Walker showed signs of his very high potential last year, and this could be the year that he puts it together. He’s still just 23, and has the stuff of a number one. Karns and Wade Miley are both lowkey good pickups for the back of the rotation, and Mike Montgomery is perfect in a swingman role.

PECOTA projection: 84 wins

My pick: OVER

This is another spot-on PECOTA pick. I see this team finishing in the mid-80s, but falling a little short of a wild card spot. They should be in it until late September though, as this team is better than last year’s 76-win squad. Lind is a big upgrade over Logan Morrison, and the outfield depth looks a lot better now, even if Martin can’t hit.

2. Texas Rangers

Last year’s surprise division winner looks to be competitive again. They didn’t make any big moves this offseason, but they didn’t really need to. Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara could both make a big impact on this team, and all of the key contributors on offense are returning. Adrian Beltre might finally start to regress at age 37, but Hanser Alberto is just 23 and played well in AAA last year all over the infield.

The rotation has the potential to be great if Yu Darvish comes back to full form. He and Hamels could be the best 1-2 punch in baseball. I think Martin Perez can be a good three starter, but he’ll need to improve a little from his 2015 performance to take on that role. Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Derek Holland are all decent five starters, but none of those guys are going to step up and be the three guy.

PECOTA projection: 79 wins

My pick: OVER

They won 88 games last year, and even though that was a little lucky, I don’t see this team getting nine wins worse. Their prospects coming up are so good that I’d be shocked if they don’t provide any help this year. The only major subtraction from last year’s team is Yovani Gallardo, and he’s very replaceable. I think they’ll come close to 90 wins again this year, and if Mazara and Gallo break out early they could push 95.

1. Houston Astros

This team is so well-rounded and deep that I think they’ll take their first ever AL West title this season. Carlos Correa is so damn good, and his supporting cast isn’t bad either. Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, George Springer and Evan Gattis are all above average hitters too, and Preston Tucker could join that club if he gets enough playing time. Marwin Gonzalez is a great versatile bench piece, and Jake Marisinick could be a decent starter but he’s a great fourth outfielder. The catcher spot still looks like a problem, but maybe Jason Castro can rediscover some of his 2013 all-star performance.

The rotation is strong as well, headed by last year’s Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel. Colin McHugh has a great name and isn’t a bad pitcher either. One Lance McCullers comes back those three are a strong top three. Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman are both good innings eaters, and maybe Doug Fister can figure it out and be a decent three or four starter. This is an underrated group that can help carry this team to the division title.

PECOTA projection: 87 wins

My pick: OVER

They won 86 games last year, and Carlos Correa didn’t even start the year with the big league team. A full year from him and a full year from Gomez will be a big improvement from the two months of Jed Lowrie and four months of Jake Marisinick. This team could win 95 games this year and I don’t think this division will be all that close down the stretch. They’re a legitimate title contender.

 

2016 Predictions: AL Central

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Part 5 of my prediction series. AL EastNL West • NL Central • NL East

5. Minnesota Twins

I’m surprised that this team finished over .500 last year. They really don’t have any all-around stars, but they filled their lineup with a bunch of ~2-win players. The lineup should be fine again this year, with the only special player being Miguel Sano. His defense in right field is a huge question mark though, and that may hurt more given the Twins’ subpar rotation. They didn’t make any big pickups this offseason, but Byron Buxton will have a chance to have his anticipated breakout season in center field. Trading away Aaron Hicks gives them very little outfield depth though, so if Buxton starts slowly there could be problems.

The biggest problem I see with this team is their pitching. Ricky Nolasco will probably be their fifth starter, and that’s just sad more than anything. Tommy Milone and Phil Hughes look like nothing more than back of the rotation filler, and Kyle Gibson is only slightly above that level. Ervin Santana seems like a decent three starter, but he’ll have to be the ace of this staff. The bullpen looks good in the late innings, but their depth will be tested by the weak rotation, and the Michael Tonkin/Fernando Abad duo most likely will fail that test.

PECOTA projection: 79 wins

My pick: UNDER

PECOTA sees some regression here, but I think there will be a little more than they’re predicting. While Sano and Buxton will improve on their performances last year, I just don’t think the rotation is stable enough to keep this team in games. The depth isn’t there, and I wouldn’t trust Ervin Santana to be my ace. They still have a handful of solid players though, so a mid-70s win total should be reasonable.

4. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox tried to go into contender mode before the 2015 season, but finished with a disappointing 78 wins. This offseason they added some more pieces in an effort to be competitive in one of the league’s more wide open divisions. They made a splashy move picking up Todd Frazier from the Reds, and a more lowkey one adding Brett Lawrie from the A’s. Frazier’s power won’t play as well in Chicago as it did in the Great American Launching Pad, but he should still be a solid starter. Not all-star level again, but probably around 2 or 3 WAR. I expect Lawrie to be somewhere around that level too. Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton were both great with the bat last year, but struggled defensively.

Their trio of lefties at the top of the rotation (Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon) is lit, but the John Danks/Mat Latos 4/5 combo? Ehh no thanks. Their lack of rotation depth and overall mediocre bullpen could drag the team back down to another sub-.500 year.

PECOTA projection: 84 wins

My pick: UNDER

I could see this group getting up to 84 wins, but so much of that hinges on Chris Sale’s health. He threw 200 innings for only the second time in his career last season, and he’s had a few minor injury scares in the past. The White Sox have been very cautious with him, but sometimes caution isn’t enough. If an unfortunate injury struck either Sale or another one of their big three, there isn’t even a mediocre replacement waiting in the wings. They could burn more of their farm and try to find an innings eater, but even then I’m not sure this team could contend for a wild card. I’m expecting them to be around .500 or a little bit below.

3. Cleveland Indians

Like the White Sox, the Indians have a dope top three in their rotation (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar), but they actually have two decent guys to round out the group in Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson. That rotation is one of the best in baseball, and would be lethal in a playoff series. The problem is, I think their weak lineup will hold them back and keep them on the edge of the playoff picture.

Their opening day outfield consists of Marlon Byrd, Colin Cowgill and Rajai Davis, which just goes to show how terrible their depth is. Getting Michael Brantley back will be huge, and Lonnie Chisenhall’s return will help. They’ll need Chisenhall to contribute more with the bat though, despite his surprisingly good defense in right field last year. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis should both be all stars, but there’s a big divide between them and the corner infielders (Juan Uribe and Mike Napoli). Napoli is the younger of the two at a spry 34 years old. I’d be surprised if either player is significantly above replacement level.

PECOTA projection: 92 wins

My pick: UNDER

Their pitching is so good, but there are just too many questions with their position players that I don’t see them winning 90 games. Can Yan Gomes come back healthy and be awesome again? Will Brantley be the same after he comes back from his shoulder injury? Is Jason Kipnis a sure thing, or will he show signs of his terrible 2014 season? Can Napoli and Uribe provide literally any value? The answer to all of those is I’m not sure, and it’s hard to imagine all of those potential issues not coming up and everything running smoothly. The team is still good though, and they should be in the mix for a wild card spot. I see them finishing with a win total somewhere in the mid-80s.

2. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers spent big money to be competitive this year, and after last year’s last-place finish I think they’ll turn it around. Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton could all be all-star caliber players. And their supporting cast isn’t terrible either! I think Victor Martinez will bounce back from last season’s rough performance. He doesn’t strike out much and has a great eye, and those skills translate better than others with age. James McCann looked solid last year, and Nick Castellanos is plenty young enough (24) to have a breakout year and live up to his potential.

Justin Verlander looked a lot better last year when healthy, and if that performance continues this year having him as their ace shouldn’t be a problem. Jordan Zimmermann got a huge contract, and even though it might have been an overpay he’s good as a number two starter. Anibal Sanchez really regressed last season, and a big part of that was his 29 home runs allowed. That number should come down a little bit, as his 12.1 percent HR/FB rate is ridiculously unlucky. He had the opposite of that luck the year before when he allowed just four homers, just 2.3 percent of his fly balls allowed. He should settle in somewhere in the middle and be a solid three starter.

As for the rest of the rotation, Mike Pelfrey is a decent filler back-end guy and Daniel Norris has legitimate top of the rotation stuff. He hasn’t been fully healthy and put it all together yet, but if he does, this pitching staff looks pretty sharp. They’ll need to rely on Shane Greene as their swingman and depth guy, but he had some extended big league success in 2014. Despite his horrendous 2015 season, he could be at least replacement level this season.

PECOTA projection: 79 wins

My pick: OVER

I’m expecting a big improvement from last year’s 74-win team. Even without the half-year of Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, full years from Upton and Zimmermann should roughly equal their production. I think Sanchez and V-Mart will bounce back strong, and this team could win 90 games. I can’t be sure about the lineup, but there’s a lot of star power there.

1. Kansas City Royals

Last year this was such a well-rounded, solid team that had almost no glaring flaws. I could even see some more improvement from Eric Hosmer, as I think there’s more power in his bat. Brining Alex Gordon back was huge, and if he can stay on the field more than he did last year that’ll add another win or two.

They gave Ian Kennedy a lot of money, but they only need him to be like their third or fourth best starter. He’ll be a big upgrade over Jeremy Guthrie’s 148 innings last year. Chris Young will probably regress, but Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen are both there if things go really far south. That’s a lot of quality arms, and I think Yordano Ventura has ace-caliber stuff to lead this staff. His ERA was over a run lower in the second half than the first half last year, so it looks like he figured out whatever problems he was dealing with.

This team’s biggest asset for the last few years has been their bullpen, but now Greg Holland is gone. They brought back Joakim Soria though, and Wade Davis is still the best closer in baseball. The bullpen is still well above average, and with an improved rotation that should be less of a problem.

PECOTA projection: 75 wins

My pick: WAY OVER

This is the most shocking PECOTA projection of all. So many things would have to go wrong for this team to lose 20 more games than last season. If anything they got better than last year. Sure they won’t get two months of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, but that won’t matter much at all. This team is still very much a World Series contender and I wouldn’t be surprised by another 95-win season.

 

2016 Predictions: AL East

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Part 4 of my prediction series NL WestNL Central NL East

5. Baltimore Orioles

Unlike the bottom feeders of the National League, the American League doesn’t have any teams who are clearly committed to a full rebuild for the 2016 season. The Orioles were a .500 team last year, and instead of blowing it up, they decided to re-sign most of their guys and add some smaller pieces to try to patch up their holes. Their lineup still has some problems though, namely Mark Trumbo playing defense and J.J. Hardy’s declining offense. Also, Hyun Soo Kim is a pretty big question mark in left field, and they won’t have a lot of room to test out if he’s good. Their positional depth is scarily thin, so if injuries become an issue they’re in for a really rough year.

The rotation is probably their biggest weakness, especially after losing Wei-Yin Chen. Picking up Yovani Gallardo isn’t that exciting, and I think nobody in that rotation even somewhat resembles an ace. Kevin Gausman might have ace potential, but he still hasn’t put it together at the big league level and he may just be a back of the rotation innings eater. The bullpen is still a strength though, but I could see them trading a couple of those arms at the deadline if things look rough.

PECOTA projection: 75 wins

My pick: UNDER

This seems like a reasonable projection for this group, but I think they’ll come up a little short of it. Depth is rough, and I’m not sure if Manny Machado can stay on the field for 162 games again. To be fair though, Adam Jones should bounce back and Matt Wieters should be a bigger contributor if he stays healthy. This team seems like a low-to-mid 70s win group, but if they trade a couple expiring guys at the deadline they could dip to the high 60s.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays have some great young pitchers, but their lineup looks like it will be the thing that holds them out of the playoffs. They picked up Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Steve Pearce. That’s a lot of names and not a lot of talent. Dickerson is probably the biggest name out of that group, but he comes with health issues and has a .695 career OPS away from Coors Field. Miller is barely league average with the bat and isn’t particularly good defensively at shortstop or in the outfield. Morrison and Pearce will make up a DH platoon with a loose definition of the “hitter” part of that. The Rays might be missing the offensive production from David DeJesus and John Jaso that they got last year. And that’s not a compliment to those guys.

This team still has Chris Archer though! And Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly. That’s a great top three that could go up against any team in the league. If they get Alex Cobb and Matt Moore healthy for the stretch run? Wow that’s a dangerous rotation. An underrated loss though is the departure of Nate Karns. He isn’t a dominant top of the rotation guy, but he made 26 starts and really stabilized the back of their rotation last year. If the injury plague hits, they’ll really wish they had him taking the ball every fifth day.

PECOTA projection: 88 wins

My pick: UNDER

This seemed like one of the more surprising PECOTA projection, as a pretty similar Rays team only won 80 games last year. Sure, Evan Longoria will probably bounce back, and they’ll hopefully keep Smyly healthy for more than 12 starts, but that lineup just won’t make it to 88 wins. I’m not sure if Logan Forsythe’s breakout year is sustainable, and if Kevin Kiermaier gets hurt all of a sudden their team defense isn’t that good. The pitching should carry this team to another season around 80 wins, but they’ll need some serious surprises and/or midseason pickups to reach PECOTA’s projection.

3. Boston Red Sox

The Sox have made some of the biggest signings in free agency in the last two years, but were disappointed with their last place finish last year. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval flopped in their first year in Boston, and their rebuilt rotation lead by Rick Porcello was a train wreck. But they have some bright young spots in Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, and added David Price this offseason to be their ace. They’ll probably see some improvement from Ramirez and Sandoval (they can’t really do worse than they did last year), and giving Jackie Bradley Jr. some more playing time should help. They also have some depth, with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw both projected to start the year on the bench. Both players could be starters on a good team, so the Sox are adequately prepared for injury or underperformance.

The rotation was awful last year, but if Clay Buchholz is healthy they’ll have a really good 1-2 punch with him and Price. Eduardo Rodriguez will start the year on the DL, but when he showed great signs last year and could be a good three starter when he comes back. Porcello showed enough improvement in the second half that he should still be a decent back of the rotation guy, and there are worse options than Joe Kelly to be your five starter.

The bullpen was also a major concern last year, but trading for Craig Kimbrel should add some much-needed stability. They’ll probably need another guy to step up, but replacing Alexi Ogando with Kimbrel will be a huge upgrade. The group as a whole is still average at best, but the Sox will at least be a little more comfortable in high-leverage situations.

PECOTA projection: 87 wins

My pick: UNDER

This projection seems pretty close to what I’m expecting, but just a little more optimistic. A nine-win improvement is pretty reasonable, especially if Sandoval and Ramirez come close to resembling their former selves. I’m still a little worried about their injury problems and lack of depth in their rotation. If Buchholz and Rodriguez miss extended time, which is very reasonable, they’re screwed. If not, though I could see them coming very close to this total, maybe finishing around 85 wins.

2. New York Yankees

The Yankees were kind of a surprise wild card team last year, as they looked like they were nosediving toward mediocrity, but some unexpected bounce-back performances from their veterans propelled them into the playoffs. I’m not sure if Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will combine to play close to 400 games again, and even if they do there’s no guarantee that they’ll repeat their good performances. With that being said, picking up Starlin Castro to replace Stephen Drew will be a huge upgrade. Castro started last year slowly, but it looks like he figured it out in the second half.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner should both improve after down seasons, but if they don’t the Yankees have some great depth ready. They picked up Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley, and between those two they can cover seven different positions. Hicks is a close to league-average hitter and good defender at all three outfield positions, and Ackley’s left-handed power should play much better in Yankee Stadium than it did in Seattle. Rob Refsnyder also played well in limited playing time last year, and should be a solid reserve in the infield as well.

Their pitching looks pretty good. Tanaka is a true ace, the only question is keeping him healthy. Michael Pineda and Nate Eovaldi both have great stuff, and their FIPs in low threes indicate some possible improvement from those two. Luis Severino will make more than 11 starts this year, so if he can keep up his great performance from last year those extra starts will be a huge help. They’ll have veterans CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova round out the rotation, but neither guy looks like a top of the rotation pitcher anymore. Their bullpen looks dangerous as ever, especially once they get Aroldis Chapman back from his suspension in May.

PECOTA projection: 84 wins

My pick: OVER

PECOTA probably sees more regression from the Yankees’ veteran bats, but I’m more excited by their lineup depth and quality arms. Also, not giving Stephen Drew 400+ plate appearances will be a huge help for the offense. They won 87 games last year, and I’m expecting something a little more than that this season. Castro, Hicks, Severino and Chapman should all contribute a lot, and assuming not too much regression 90 wins is a reasonable target.

1. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have probably the best offense in baseball, but their biggest questions last year were with their pitching. Adding David Price at the deadline helped, but he’s in Boston this year, so the rest of the rotation will need to step up. Luckily for them Marcus Stroman is a legitimate ace. Marco Estrada pitched like a number two guy last year, but I’m not sure if that’s sustainable given his 4.40 FIP. They’ll try to see if J.A. Happ can continue his great second half from last year, but realistically he isn’t more than a back of the rotation innings eater. Aaron Sanchez has great stuff, and it looks like he’ll start the year in the rotation, giving them another weapon.

That should be enough pitching for their offense, but if it’s not I can totally see them being all in at the trade deadline. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both free agents after this season, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki are both over 30, and Keith Law ranked their farm system 25th in all of baseball. Their window is pretty much this season only, so I’m expecting them to try to pick up the best players available at the deadline.

PECOTA projection: 86 wins

My pick: OVER

They won 93 games last year, and full seasons from Stroman and Tulowitzki should be a huge help. They won’t get those two great months from Price though, and I have to expect some regression from Chris Colabello. Regardless, their roster is very strong as is, and I’m expecting a big midseason pickup or two. Depending on who they add, this team could get to 95 wins, and might push 100.

2016 Predictions: NL West

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Part 3 of 6 of my 2016 predictions. Part 1 • Part 2

5. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies look like they’ll be in for another rough season in the NL West cellar, as they continue their struggling search for pitching.  The lineup should be fine, with Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez as a dangerous 3-4 combo, but this team will really struggle to get guys out. Jorge de la Rosa is once again their ace, but he should really be a back of the rotation guy at best. They have some promising young guys like Jon Gray who they hope can produce right now, but overall it looks like that group will struggle yet again.

PECOTA projection: 74 wins

My pick: UNDER

The Rockies won 68 games last year, and I just don’t think that they got six wins better. If anything they may have gotten worse. They traded Corey Dickerson to the Rays, and they won’t benefit from the four months of Troy Tulowitzki that they had last year. Also, I’m not convinced that Carlos Gonzalez will be healthy for 153 games again, or for that matter on the team for the whole season. I wouldn’t be surprised if either him or Charlie Blackmon gets moved before this year’s deadline. This team simply is not built to contend right now, and it may be smart to sell those assets while they still can.

4. San Diego Padres

After A.J. Preller tried to save the franchise and inadvertently turned it into a nosedive, he has slowly attempted to patch up his mess. Trading Craig Kimbrel was smart, and so was not throwing money at veteran free agents in a desperate attempt to stay in contention. This current roster isn’t anything great, and not nearly a playoff team, but it’s spotted with some quality major league talents here and there. Tyson Ross took a step back last year but still looks like a quality starter, and Corey Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte are solid starting infielders. Melvin Upton looked a lot better than the previous few years, and Wil Myers produced when healthy. All that being said though, Matt Kemp was a train wreck in the field, and Alexei Ramirez doesn’t look like a great answer at shortstop.

In addition to Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner should be quality middle of the rotation guys. Not ace-caliber as they would’ve hoped, but still fairly useful. The back of their rotation still has some question marks though, as they’ll try to see if Colin Rea or Robbie Urlin can stick at the major league level. They also might try Drew Pomeranz in the rotation, but I think he’s best suited for a bullpen role. The rest of their bullpen is iffy though, as it looks like 39-year-old Fernando Rodney will be the closer to start the year. I wouldn’t be that surprised if Kevin Quackenbush or Nick Vincent took over that role sometime this season. Losing Shawn Kelley and Joaquin Benoit will hurt this group pretty badly though, and that could cost them some close games this season.

PECOTA projection: 77 wins

My pick: UNDER

The Padres won 74 games last year, and while I can see how they’ll improve in some areas, I think overall this offseason was a net negative. Losing Justin Upton, Benoit, Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy and Yonder Alonso is just too much to make up and add an extra three wins. They’ll benefit from a full year of Spangenberg instead of Jedd Gyorko, and getting Alexei Amarista out of the lineup everyday can’t hurt (though Alexei Ramirez shouldn’t be too much better). It also looks like they might be the first team to figure out Brett Wallace, as he looked surprisingly productive at the big league level in a small sample last year. All of those incremental improvements though just aren’t enough to overcome their big losses.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks had the splashiest offseason, adding Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, but I feel like they kind of stopped short in their “all-in” process. I’m okay with those moves if they actually flush out the full roster and patch up all of their weaknesses. It seems like they didn’t finish the project they started and are now left with the problem the Padres had after last offseason. They have three of the top 10 players in the national league in Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Zack Greinke, but their supporting cast doesn’t seem like it will be enough. Yasmany Tomas looks like he can hit at the major league level, but his defense is a huge neagative in left field. Jake Lamb has potential, but below average at the plate last year (94 OPS +), and their middle infield of Jean Segura and Chris Owings is barely replacement level.

In the rotation, I’m not sure if there’s a legitimate number three starter behind Greinke and Miller. Patrick Corbin was good when healthy, but 100 innings out of him are far from a sure thing. Rubby de la Rosa and Robbie Ray looked like fine back of the rotation guys, but I’m not sure if either one is a three starter. They could also have Josh Collmenter move back into the rotation from his long relief role, but he’s not really much beyond a filler guy. The rest of the bullpen should be pretty good, as Brad Ziegler was a great closer last year, and Tyler Clippard can settle in to their setup spot.

PECOTA projection: 78 wins

My pick: OVER

Despite their flaws, there’s just too much talent here that I can’t see this team finishing three games under .500 (and one game worse than last year). Losing Ender Inciarte will hurt probably more than people think (he had 5.3 WAR last season), but they made so many other upgrades that they should be able to make up for his loss. They do have quite a few flaws, like I mentioned, but this team should finish with a win total somewhere in the low 80s, and could get to around 85 or 86 if their infielders and back of the rotation starters show some improvement.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year’s division winners should be in contention again, but I think they’ll fall just short to the Giants this year. One of the Dodgers’ biggest strengths is their lineup depth. Even with Andre Ethier out to start the year, they’ll roll out a very serviceable Carl Crawford/Scott Van Slyke platoon until he comes back. I think they’ll get strong full seasons from their young talents, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, that will really help their offense. They’ll also have quality reserves like Kike Hernandez and Alex Guerrero that can pinch hit and fill in at lots of different positions.

Their pitching, however, doesn’t have quite the same depth. Brett Anderson will miss most of the season, and I’m not exactly sure how he’ll be replaced. Kenta Maeda is one big question mark, Scott Kazmir was mediocre down the stretch last year with Houston, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is dealing with a shoulder injury. I think Alex Wood will improve, he just turned 25 and has already had some success in the big leagues, and Mike Bolsinger seems like a decent back of the rotation option. The problem is, one of those guys might have to be the two starter on this team, and that’s not a recipe for a first place team.

Their bullpen beyond Kenley Jansen was a problem last year, and they didn’t really address that this offseason. Luis Avilan will probably be better than last year, Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez had good strikeout numbers, but I don’t think any of those guys are the reliable eight inning arm that the Dodgers desperately need.

PECOTA projection: 93 wins

My pick: UNDER

The Dodgers won 92 games last year, and I think the only major upgrade that they’ll get this year is Corey Seager over Jimmy Rollins at shortstop.I could see improvement from Pederson and Puig as well, but Ethier missing the first few months is a big loss. Losing Greinke as his 10 WAR season will hurt badly, and losing Brett Anderson for most of the year will hurt too (albeit a lot less than Greinke). They’ll still be really good and could very well make the playoffs, but I think they will end up a little short of 93.

1. San Francisco Giants

Yeah, yeah even year I don’t wanna hear it. They’re still really good though, and I think they’ll edge out the Dodgers for the division title. Their infield is the best in baseball, even if Matt Duffy regresses a little bit. A full year of Hunter Pence will be a huge boost for the outfield, and adding Denard Span is an upgrade over the departed Nori Aoki. Also, Gregor Blanco is the ideal fourth outfielder, and should probably steal some starts from Angel Pagan in left field. Oh and they have Buster Posey. Their offense should be very strong.

They did have some problems in the rotation last year, as they lacked a clear no. 2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner. Chris Heston was a pleasant surprise, but he’s more of a four starter at best. Jake Peavy pitched better than expected when healthy, but the 34-year-old has dealt with a few injuries, and 100+ innings is far from a guarantee. But this year, they’ve added Johnny Cueto, who I think will return pretty close to his ace form that he had with the Reds, and Jeff Samardzija, who looks more like an innings-eater type than the ace he was with the Cubs. Regardless, Samardzija should add stability to the back of the rotation, and Cueto should fit in really nicely behind Bumgarner.

PECOTA projection: 85 wins

My pick:OVER

The Giants won 84 games last year, and I see way more spots where they’ll improve instead of regress. Full years from Panik and Pence will be huge, as will the impact of Denard Span. And of course, the rotation upgrades that they spent big for. I could see Crawford or Duffy regressing a bit at the plate, but they’re both helpful defensively regardless. It’s not a perfect team, but 90 wins seems like a reasonable target.

2016 Predictions: NL Central

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Part 2 of 6 of my 2016 Predictions. Part one

5. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are in for a rough season as they’re going through the rebuilding process in a division that sent three teams to the playoffs last year. Ryan Braun will most likely be their only all star representative, and I don’t think anyone else on the roster comes particularly close. Maybe Jonathan Lucroy, but he was a below average hitter last year (95 OPS+) and has voiced his willingness to be traded. Their opening day starter is Wily Peralta, who had a 1.53 WHIP last year and was barely above replacement level. That really says all that needs to be said about this rotation.

PECOTA projection: 78 wins

My pick: UNDER

I’m shocked at how much PECOTA believes in this group. They’ve got a nice farm system (Keith Law ranked them fifth in all of baseball) but most of their top prospects won’t make an impact on this season. Their projected starting infield hit .236 last year, and all four players were worth less than 1 win above replacement. It’s not a particularly great defensive group, and the pitching should be mediocre at best. I don’t see this group coming close to 78 wins, especially if some veterans get moved before the deadline.

4. Cincinnati Reds

Like the Brewers, the Reds will also have a rough year rebuilding in the NL Central. However, unlike the Brewers, they still have some more veteran pieces hanging around, which should propel them out of the cellar and into mediocrity. Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips will try to bounce back from recent down years as they make up Joey Votto’s supporting cast in the lineup. Zack Cozart is now 30 years old and has completed his transition from “top prospect” to “eh, I guess he’s fine.” It’ll also be interesting to see how Devin Mesoraco comes back after an injury-filled 2015. He’s going to be 28 this season, so his time as an exciting young player is winding down.

In the rotation, the Reds had five rookies going for a while last year, and they’ll try to continue their development this season. Anthony DeSclafani will probably be their best starter, and Raisel Iglesias is another exciting young arm. It doesn’t look like there’s a future number one starter in that rotation, but a few of those guys could certainly turn into quality big leaguers.

PECOTA projection: 73 wins

My pick: UNDER

This team won 64 games last year, and while I think they’ll improve I don’t think they got 9 wins better. They’ll get Mesoraco back after he basically didn’t play last year and I think Jay Bruce still has something left in the tank. But they also lost Todd Frazier and don’t exactly have a capable replacement for that level of production. They also got 40 starts from Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last year, and while their young guys will improve, I’m not sure how well those 40 starts will be filled. I think this team will finish with a win total somewhere in the high 60s and if a few things go right they’ll sneak into the low 70s.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Now on to the good teams! The Pirates finished in second place last year with 98 wins, as weird is that is to say, but I’m not sure if they’re set up to repeat last year’s success. My main concern with this team is depth. On their MLB.com depth chart, Sean Rodriguez is listed as their primary backup at four different positions. He’s not all that great to begin with, but imagine if two starters are out: Michael Morse or Jake Goebbert might get extended playing time.

The top of their rotation with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano should be very solid again, but like their lineup the bottom half can get a little dicey. Pitching coach Ray Searge is known for working his magic, but is there enough magic going around to save Juan Nicasio, Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong? Two of those guys will probably be in the rotation, and that group is just not built for a full season.

PECOTA projection: 82 wins

My pick: OVER

As pessimistic as I am about this group I don’t know about a 16-win drop. They still have arguably the best outfield in the majors, and their bullpen is very strong. This team looks like it will be worse than last year’s group, but I just don’t see them being this much worse. Also, I’m assuming that they’ll be at least around .500 at the trade deadline and they have enough farm pieces that they could add another quality piece or two for the stretch run. 90 wins might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m expecting at least 85 from this group.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals were baseball’s only 100-win team last year, but their season ended in disappointment after an NLDS loss to the Cubs. This year’s team still looks very good and has no glaring flaws. They’ve got some nice young outfielders in Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty who played well last year and their veterans like Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter are still producing at high levels. Missing Lance Lynn for the year will hurt, but the addition of Mike Leake should help offset that. Their bullpen is very deep and talented as well.

PECOTA projection: 81 wins

My pick: OVER

This seemed like one of the more surprising PECOTA projections out there. Maybe if all of their veterans fall off a cliff and Jhonny Peralta and Carlos Martinez don’t fully recover from their injuries they’ll drop to a .500 team but even that seems like a stretch. I’d place their floor much higher – probably around 87 or 88 wins. There’s so much talent here that I could plausibly see another 100-win season. They did lose Lance Lynn and Jason Heyward though, so I’d reasonably expect a win total in the low to mid 90s.

1. Chicago Cubs

This team is, on paper, the best team in baseball and it’s not particularly close. One of their main flaws last year was their depth, and they addressed that by adding one of the best free agents available in Heyward, the versatile Ben Zobrist, and surprisingly still very good pitcher John Lackey. It’s also reasonable to expect improvement from their already great young core. Kris Bryant has MVP potential, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell could be all starts, and Kyle Schwarber’s raw power is downright scary. Also btw they have the Cy-young winner who had a historically great second half.

PECOTA projection: 94 wins

My pick: OVER

PECOTA probably sees last year’s success as unrepeatable, at least a little bit, but I’d be shocked if this group doesn’t get to 94 wins. Their fifth best starter, Jason Hammel was better than everybody in both the Reds and Brewers rotations last year. Every pitching matchup against those two teams will favor the Cubs and that’s terrifying. 100 wins is a reasonable expectation for this team, and I could see them surpassing that mark and pushing 105. They’re just that good. And if things look disappointing to start the season, they have the 4th best farm system and one of baseball’s best front offices so a midseason pickup or two is very reasonable.

 

 

2016 Predictions: NL East

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Every year before opening day I like to predict how the standings will shake out. This year I’m adding the extra wrinkle of including each team’s PECTOA projection and picking the over/under. I’ll start with the NL East and go through each division before opening day.

5. Atlanta Braves

The Braves are in full-rebuild mode right now, which will make for a painfully ugly 2016 season. The team is headed in the right direction with a loaded farm system, but until some of those pieces make it to the big leagues it won’t be pretty. Their lineup has numerous glaring holes, and they’re probably going to rely on Bud Norris to give them quality starts. Freddie Freeman is great, but he’ll be surrounded by sadness and a few veterans hanging around. I wouldn’t be surprised if guys like Erick Aybar get flipped for prospects at the deadline.

PECOTA prediction: 68 wins

My pick: UNDER

This team is so flawed, and I feel like they’ll want to give playing time to young, experienced guys, especially in the second half if some veterans get moved. They’ll be nothing more than a punching bag for the top teams in the National League, and I don’t think their pitching is better than the other tanking teams. A 100-loss season certainly is reasonable.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are in a very similar boat as the Braves, but I’m slightly more optimistic about some of the talent they have there. They also showed some signs of turning the franchise around under new manager Pete Mackanin in the second half of last year. Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Jerad Eichoff and Aaron Nola all showed promise last year, and they should all be at worst competent major leaguers this year. Like the Braves though there are still lots of holes in the lineup, and this group won’t come remotely close to contending.

PECOTA prediction: 65 wins

My pick: OVER

Last year the Phillies went 37-51 under Mackanin, and 14 games under .500 for a full season seems reasonable for this group. That would put them as a slight over, and if their young core really develops I could see 70 wins as a possibility. As much crap as this team has gotten in the last few years, I don’t think this group will lose 100 games.

3. Miami Marlins

We’re continuing the theme of teams going nowhere, but at least the Marlins have multiple quality major leaguers in their lineup right now, and I’m not sure that’s the case with either of the bottom two teams. A healthy combination of Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton makes a strong foundation, and Gordon and Hechavarria up the middle should help the defense. The rotation certainly has some question marks at the back end, and with Carter Capps out for the year I’m not sure at all what’s going to happen with the bullpen.

PECOTA projection: 75 wins

My pick: OVER

If healthy, I really like this team’s lineup one through nine, and a big part of that is my belief that Marcell Ozuna can bounce back after an awful 2015. He showed his power and defense in 2014, and he’s still young enough that he could be at least a three-win player this year. Edwin Jackson might end up starting some games for this team though, and that’s certainly concerning. They’ll also need to rely on A.J. Ramos as their go-to reliever, and he’s had a dangerous history with walk problems in the past. I think they’ll beat up on the two lower teams in the division enough to barely pass this over, but I don’t think they’ll be over .500.

2. Washington Nationals

My main concern with this team is their lack of depth. I believe Rendon can bounce back and I love Trea Turner’s potential at shortstop, but they’re an injury away from playing Stephen Drew. They’re also going to rely on their veterans like Zimmerman and Werth probably more than they’d like to, and both players are huge problems on defense. I still love the top of their rotation, but again the depth just isn’t there. Tanner Roark isn’t that great, and they might have to throw Yusmeiro Petit in there for a random start or two.

PECOTA projection: 87 wins

My pick: UNDER

They won 83 games last year, and even with a bounce-back year from Rendon I think there are just too many flaws on this team for them to pick up those extra few wins. Their defense will be well below-average, and they are not ready if the injury plague strikes again. Also, their bullpen without Storen will be less reliable, and that could add to their list of concerns for this year.

1. New York Mets

Their pitching is well-known to be dominant, and I’d expect nothing less again this year. They’ll also probably get Zach Wheeler back in July, and that might end up being better than any potential trade deadline pickup. The questions last year were with their lineup, but I think a full year of Cespedes and Conforto and Neil Walker’s stability at second base will be a huge boost. I still have a couple questions about their bullpen setting up Familia, but their starters should be good enough to not make that a major concern.

PECOTA projection: 91 wins

My pick: OVER

This team gave 731 plate appearances combined to Dilson Herrera, Michael Cuddyer and Kirk Nieuwenhuis last year, and still won 90 games. Give those plate appearances to Walker, Cespedes and Conforto and the lineup is exponentially better. Also, Steven Matz only started six games last year, and he should be a key part of the rotation this year. This team should reach the 90-win mark comfortably, and could possibly push 100 if a few things break right.

 

Ranking the A’s offseason moves

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Even though this offseason wasn’t as crazy for the A’s as last year’s, there were still nine significant acquisitions that changed plenty of aspects of the 2016 A’s. I ranked them all, from worst to best, based not only on the move’s impact in 2016, but also its impact going forward.

9. J.B. Wendelken and Zack Erwin acquired from the White Sox for Brett Lawrie

I don’t know the full story here, but I feel like Lawrie may not have been well-received in the A’s clubhouse. This is obviously just a rumor, but it’s a reasonable explanation as to why the A’s jumped ship on this once-promising player after one year.

Lawrie’s decline in defensive performance at third base was disappointing, and he didn’t look like a particularly good second baseman either. In 2012, he had a gold-glove caliber 20 defensive runs saved at third base, but last year he had -3. There are lots of possible reasons for this, but again it seems a little strange that the A’s bailed on someone who performed so well at the big league level just a few years ago.

At the plate, Lawrie was fine, but nothing special, with a below-average 92 OPS+. His performance didn’t hurt the team, but the A’s definitely expected more. Lawrie is still just 26 years old though, and there’s still time for him to fulfill his all-star potential.

In terms of the A’s return, Wendelken should start the year in AAA working out of Nashville’s bullpen. He had an excellent 4.31 K/BB rate over AA and AAA last year, and could help out the A’s bullpen in the second half.

Erwin is further away, as he was drafted just last year by the White Sox, and he’s a low-level prospect right now, slotting in at 27th in the A’s system.

8. John Axford signed to 2 year/$10 million deal

Axford has had an inconsistent career to say the least. He’s had some years as an elite closer, and some years as a DFA candidate. Last year with the Rockies, he racked up 25 saves, but that’s really an empty stat. He had a disgusting 1.58 WHIP and 5.2 BB/9, which are numbers that can’t even be blamed on the Coors Field effect.

The A’s are hoping that they can channel some of Axford’s best stuff again, but now at age 33 I’m not sure how realistic that is. His problems throughout his career have been control-based, and moving to pitcher-friendly O.Co doesn’t really help that.

Best case scenario for Axford is a WHIP around 1.30 as a serviceable middle reliever. A more realistic scenario is a repeat performance of last year’s slightly above replacement level season.

Steamer projects a 0.2 fWAR over 45 innings pitched for him this year, and that’s about what I’m expecting from him. It could be worse, but that’s not a great use of $10 million.

7. Ryan Madson signed to 3 year/$22 million deal

I already said that I don’t normally place lots of value on relief pitchers, primarily because of their volatility and unpredictability. Madson was great last year, but he didn’t pitch for three years before that. He’s an incredible injury risk, and at 35 years old there’s no guarantee that he performs well.

I would’ve been fine with a one year deal, and maybe two years, but that wasn’t going to be enough to sign him after his elite performance last year. This signing is just too risky, and I’m not comfortable with allocating that much money to such a volatile position.

I understand that the A’s needed to revamp their bullpen, but this signing wasn’t the best way to do that. I would’ve much rather signed more players to smaller, cheaper deals, and seen which one performed well enough to be a middle reliever. Even by just picking relievers up off the scrap heap, the A’s probably could’ve compiled a decent supporting cast to go with Hendriks, Rzepczynski and Doolittle at the back end of the bullpen.

Madson does have a good track record though, with success both last year with the Royals and with the Phillies in the late 2000’s. It’s possible he retains his dominant form, but even then this contract isn’t much of a bargain for the next three years.

6. Jed Lowrie acquired from the Astros for Brendan McCurry

The mighty return of Jed Lowrie! My official stance on Lowrie is meh. He can hit pretty well for an infielder and play multiple positions, but his defense is lousy and he isn’t necessarily cheap for the next two years (guaranteed $15 million).

The A’s will probably use Lowrie as an everyday second baseman, and if he’s healthy he’s probably league average at the position. I’m expecting an OPS around .750, a WRC+ around 100 and somewhere around 1.5 WAR. For 7 million dollars that’s fine production.

The A’s did give up McCurry, who was the 30th ranked prospect in the organization. He’s had some success in limited time at AA, but he’s a reliever and I rarely put too much faith in relief prospects. Also, he was a 22nd round pick for a reason. This was a salary dump more than a prospect acquisition for the Astros.

This trade was fine, not great, but it gives the A’s a temporary solution at second base until Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle prove they can play at the major league level.

5. Rich Hill signed to 1-year, $6 million deal

Another buy low signing, but this one was based on an insanely small sample size. A career mediocre injury-prone lefty had four great starts with the Red Sox last year, and now he’s making $6 million. Even if his ERA from last year doubles, this would be a great bargain.

The reasonable goal for Hill this season should be roughly 100 solid innings. Maybe some of those come from the bullpen, especially if his injury problems flare up again. The worst case scenario here is that a cheap flyer didn’t work out, and the best case is a middle of the rotation cheap starter. I’m down with that, so I’m a fan of this signing.

4. Henderson Alvarez signed to 1 year, $4.25 million deal (with incentives)

I already wrote about why I like this signing, but to recap: it’s a classic buy low for a team that can’t really afford to shell out big cash for a top of the rotation guy. Alvarez was an all star just two years ago, and if he comes back from injury to be close to that level, this contract was a steal.

Also, the A’s essentially have a team option for the 2017 season, so if Alvarez comes back strong, the A’s have a solid starter on a cheap deal for next year.

3. Yonder Alonso and Mark Rzepczynski acquired from the Padres for Drew Pomeranz and Jose Torres (and rights to Rule-5 selection Jabari Blash)

I like Pomeranz more than most fans, but I’m still a fan of this deal. Pomeranz was inconsistent as a starter, but I really liked his fastball/knuckle curve combo as a reliever. The Padres might use him in the rotation, which kills most of his value, but he should have a nice career as a middle reliever.

Alonso is the big pickup here for the A’s, and even though he hasn’t lived up to his top prospect hype, he’s a serviceable big leaguer. He has lousy power for a first baseman, but he gets on base (.361 OBP last year) and he’s a good defensively (9 DRS last year). He’s also under team control for the next two years, so he could be flipped for prospects next offseason or at the 2017 trade deadline.

Rzepczynski is coming off of a down year, posting a 5.66 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, but he has had past success for multiple teams as a left-handed specialist. Over his career, lefties have a .573 OPS against him. Also, his peripherals show signs of a potential bounce-back year, with a 3.36 FIP and 10.5 K/9 last season.

Rzepczynski should fit in nicely as a lefty specialist, and assuming he bounces back even a little bit he’ll adequately replace Pomeranz. The downside for the A’s though is that 2016 is his final year under contract, so they are giving up some team control with this lefty swap.

Overall the A’s don’t downgrade much in the bullpen, and add a solid first baseman. Considering they could probably fetch a decent prospect for Alonso if/when they flip him, the A’s did pretty well here.

2. Khris Davis acquired from the Brewers for Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby

I’ve already written about Davis a few times, so I won’t go into too many details on why I like this one. Basically the A’s get four years of a cheap, powerful bat in left field. The only reason this trade isn’t number one this offseason is because of Nottingham. Even if he doesn’t stick at catcher, his bat alone is an incredible asset, and he should be a valuable big league player by 2018. Davis wasn’t going to come cheap though, and the A’s didn’t part with any of the Barreto/Olson/Chapman top tier prospects. This trade wasn’t a heist, but it will definitely help the A’s in the next few years.

1. Liam Hendriks acquired from the Blue Jays for Jesse Chavez

I don’t normally like 1-for-1 trades, and I don’t like overpaying for relief pitching, but this really seems like a steal. Hendriks was a dominant reliever last year, posting a 2.14 FIP and 6.45 K/BB, and I could reasonably see him being the best reliever in the A’s bullpen next year (yes, even better than Doolittle).

I wanted Chavez traded as part of the trade deadline purge last July, but the A’s still got decent value in return. Chavez is a fine back of the rotation starter, but in Toronto’s ballpark he’s probably a bad 4 starter or average 5 with an ERA somewhere in the mid-to-high fours.

Hendriks also comes with four more years of team control, and isn’t arbitration eligible until next season. Compare that with Chavez, who is set to make $4.7 million this year and will be a free agent after the season, and the A’s definitely come out on top.