5 MLB Teams That Could Be The 2016 Version Of The New York Mets
In recent years, we have seen teams rebound from a losing record to become successful playoff teams.
These past playoffs saw the Houston Astros improve from a 70-92 squad to an 86-win playoff team in 2015.
That team also won a wild card game against the New York Yankees, and were six outs from eliminating the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals before one of the most epic collapses you will ever see on a baseball field.
But more notable was the New York Mets, who went from 79-83 in 2014 to the World Series (and frankly, were no more than three or four plays from winning it).
Similarly, the San Francisco Giants rebounded from a disappointing 76 wins in 2013 to beat the Royals in the 2014 World Series.
The 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox quickly rebounded from their disastrous, 69-win season the year prior to have the best record in baseball (97-65).
I could go on, but the point is we will see teams who were bad this year rise up and become playoff teams next season. The only question is, which ones?
Who will be this year's New York Mets and defy expectations or rebound from a terrible 2015 season to become a playoff team?
Here are the most likely candidates:
The Diamondbacks already took a significant step forward in 2015, jumping from 64 wins in 2014 to 79 wins this season. The good news is, advanced statistics suggest they were even better than that, with an expected win/loss record of 82-80.
AJ Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt are both elite players who anchor the offense, while the D-Backs' defense was the best in the majors (yes, even better than the world champion Royals).
That defense should only get better with a full season from Nick Ahmed at shortstop, and less time from Yasmany Tomás at third.
They also have some promising pitchers, including Archie Bradley and Aaron Blair who should be able to add more innings to the staff this coming year. And if the Diamondbacks can add some arms, I could see Rubby De La Rosa being the 2016 version of Wade Davis, transitioning from a starting role to become a lights out reliever.
That's the good news.
The bad news is the pitching staff. Arms like De La Rosa and Jeremy Hellickson were not good in the rotation and could be replaced. Adding even an arm like a John Lackey would go a long way to helping both the rotation and the bullpen (as I had mentioned above with Rubby).
Additionally, with some really dominant teams in the NL Central, winning a wild card spot could be a difficult proposition. While the Dodgers are flawed, they have consistently been a 90 win team; meaning Arizona would need to make another sizable jump to get there.
With sustainable performances by Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin, and the addition of a strong starting pitcher, even if not an elite one like a David Price or Zack Greinke, Arizona could be the team most likely to jump to contender status.
And with a deep farm system, don't be surprised if aggressive General Manager Kevin Towers doesn't make his own splashy moves to get this team the players it needs to get back to playing October baseball.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox started 2015 as one of the favorites to reach the World Series, but things fell apart quickly.
After a scorchingly hot April, Hanley Ramírez was awful both at the plate and in his new home in left field. He ended up having the worst offensive and defensive season of his career.
The team's other big free agent acquisition, Pablo Sandoval, was just as bad and the pair were two of the three worst everyday players in the game.
They were colossal busts.
But the good news for Boston was that the Red Sox were still fourth in the Majors in runs scored (three runs away from being tied for third) despite both players having down years.
While there should be some bounce back coming, we should not expect them to return to their old selves either as they're both getting older.
But even small rebounds to slightly above average status (as both are currently projected according to an ESPN Insider article) would likely propel the offense to the second best in baseball behind the Toronto Blue Jays.
The reason the offense took off was the improvements from up and coming stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, and a surprisingly solid rookie season from Blake Swihart (who was not expected to see the majors this year).
As good as the Red Sox were at scoring runs, they were just as bad at allowing them.
Recent acquisitions Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly both had abysmal years.
Clay Buchholz was injured again. And, Junichi Tazawa finally wore down in the second half from years of abuse (and had to be shut down) and anyone not named Koji Uehara was a disappointment in the bullpen.
But there is hope.
Buchholz was healthy enough to try and get back on the mound at the end of the season (Red Sox management did not allow him to do so).
Wade Miley delivered about as well as could be reasonably expected and Eduardo Rodríguez looks like a budding star. And, perhaps most importantly, Porcello and Kelly dramatically improved in the second half, each shaving at least 1.90 off their ERA after the All-Star break (Porcello's was closer to 2.50).
If those improvements carry over to 2016 the rotation will be dramatically better.
And this is without the Red Sox vast resources (in both minor league prospects and cash) to add that true number one starter that they lacked last year.
I would expect them to trade for one over giving up their number 12 draft pick.
And with that addition, they could come back and win the AL East next year and party like it's 2013.
My own personal disclaimer: I picked the Indians to be the 2015 version of the Royals.
That did not go well for me. I saw their young power arms (Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco) and saw a team that could have essentially been this year's Mets. And if you had told me before the season that Michael Brantley would become a borderline MVP candidate and Jason Kipnis would have the best year of his career, I would have felt even more confident in my prediction.
But beyond Brantley and Kipnis, a lot went wrong to sink the season.
The left side of the infield was a complete disaster with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall moving to right field (where he likely extended his career by becoming a defensive asset). Bauer really struggled with a 4.55 era.
Free agent acquisition Gavin Floyd barely pitched at all (seven games, 13.1 innings) and hitters outside of Kipnis, Brantley and rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor were hopeless at the plate.
Even with all of that, keep in mind that this team gave up one less run than the Royals did. The problem was, they scored almost 60 fewer runs and need to add some pop to the lineup. However, even there they were projected by Bill James to score 698 runs, one more than the Pirates did.
While the team does not appear to have much help coming in the immediate future (maybe a second-half call-up for Bradley Zimmer if he can hit AA pitching) this team is tremendously talented and should only get better on defense. If they can find a 3B who can swing the bat this will be a dangerous team.
Tampa Bay Rays
I admit this one is probably the least amount of going out on a limb as the Rays were only one win away from reaching the .500 mark, but this team has one major reason to be excited about next year: they get their studs back.
Two of Tampa's top starters, Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly, made a combined 12 starts (all by Smyly). Just getting them back will improve the Rays pitching. The Rays rotation is going to be a strength as you could easily see the entire core starting five (Cobb, Smyly, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez) putting up sub-four ERAs.
Archer, the ace of the staff, probably has one more jump in him to get to (former Ray) David Price like levels. Yes, he is that good.
Tampa's rotation depth also allowed them to trade Nathan Karns at his peak value and pick up their new starting shortstop, Brad Miller to replace Asdrúbal Cabrera. Miller destroys right-handed pitching and while he hits about as well as a pitcher against lefties, the Rays have utility player Tim Beckham (who crushes lefties, .462 slugging percentage against lefties) to play those games.
The Rays also had the fourth most efficient defense in baseball last year and just upgraded defensively at shortstop, so this should remain a strong point for the team.
The real problem for this Rays team was the offense, which was 25th in runs scored.
The good news is, they will get a full year of Mikie Mahtook who took the league by storm in 2015. They also received strong contributions from young players Logan Forsythe, Steven Souza and Curt Casali which could lead to improvements as they develop more in 2016.
What the team really needs is a slight rebirth from third baseman Evan Longoria. Even a slight improvement in both walks and power would be huge for the offense. Additionally the team is removing some dead weight from the offense such as James Long and David DeJesus.
The Rays pitching and defense alone are good enough to keep them in the playoff race, but their front office is quite shrewd and will likely make a few bargain signings (like Cabrera last year) and add a bit more offense.
Swapping out Morrison for James Loney could be a lateral move, but don't be surprised to see Morrison have a resurgence moving from the spacious Safeco field to Tampa.
The Rays have been the model pitching and defense franchise up until the Royals success the past two years. They missed the playoffs in 2015, but don't be surprised if they are the AL East champs next season.
The Nationals were major underachievers last year.
They were the World Series favorites heading into 2015 after signing Max Scherzer to front their rotation.
Outside of a month-long slump, Scherzer was every bit as good as advertised, including almost throwing two no-hitters in a row.
Bryce Harper also became one of the best players in the game and will likely be the NL MVP. But while Harper broke out, many key hitters had down years, including Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Taylor and Wilson Ramos.
Injuries played a major part as the quartet of Span, Zimmerman, Werth and Rendon played a combined 318 out of a possible 640 games.
This unit will likely lose Desmond and Denard Span, but I would expect a bounce back from Rendon and a minor bounce-back from Werth to help take some of the pressure off.
They also have a solid starting middle infield with Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar until top prospect Trea Turner is ready. This could be Washington's best lineup in a few years.
The real surprise was the issues the pitching staff had. Doug Fister was so bad that he lost his spot in the rotation and likely won't be back. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg were not awful, but both underachieved as well.
Jordan Zimmermann also took a step back after a breakout 2014, and he will likely also be leaving as a free agent and replaced by top prospect Joe Ross, who performed admirably as a fill-in during the year.
The rotation next year is still deep and talented with Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ross, and Tanner Roark (who filled in admirably in 2014 and struggled between roles last year). Letting Zimmermann and Fister go could also allow the Nationals room to make a big free agent signing at another position.
Washington also has top prospect AJ Cole ready to fill in for a spot start when injuries crop up and arguably the top right handed pitching prospect in baseball (Lucas Giolito) looming for a second half promotion after reaching AA last year.
The good news for Washington is that many pitchers seemed to pitch below their skill level, partially due to luck and partially due to their ranking 20th in defensive efficiency. Losing Desmond and Span for Espinosa, Turner and Taylor can improve the defense.
The bullpen should be a heavy strength for the Nationals next year with a devastating combination of Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen at the back end and Aaron Barrett should be much better post-injury and with better defense behind him.
Also, getting back underrated long relief weapon Craig Stammen gives the Nationals one of the deepest bullpens in the National League.
Washington's owner Ted Lerner, is desperate to bring home a championship and with the savings from all the free agent defections, that could come this winter. The Nats could be in line for a big free agent purchase.
And since they are known to work well with super agent Scott Boras and have a big need at catcher, don't be surprised if it's Matt Wieters.
Even without a big ticket signing, Washington should be a much better team than last year. The team slightly underachieved this season with a run differential closer to an 89-win team than 83 wins.
Their run differential was only two less than the Mets', meaning those teams were much closer than the seven games between them indicated.
Despite the Mets' flame throwers, I would say the Nationals have a chance to reclaim their throne at the top of the NL East next year.