As players start to file into Arizona or Florida for spring training, the buzz surrounding all 30 teams at this juncture is off the charts. Some of it might be unrealistic, but you need to be optimistic at some point.
After an offseason of wheeling and dealing, teams are (mostly) set and just hoping to make it through the next six weeks unscathed before they start the grind of the 162-game regular season.
In honor of pitchers and catchers reporting, here is our breakdown of where each team stands right now and it will also tell you where we expect these teams to be as the season moves along.
(2012 record is in parentheses)
1. Washington Nationals (98-64)
The Nationals were the best regular-season team in baseball last year and they only figure to get better in 2013. The acquisition of Denard Span shores up the hole in center field. He is also capable of leading off, if need be.
In addition to Span, the Nationals' rotation won't have to deal with the headache of how many innings Stephen Strasburg has thrown and the offense will continue to get better with Bryce Harper taking another step forward following his Rookie of the Year season.
As long as Rafael Soriano's arm doesn't fall off, the bullpen should be outstanding because it looks a lot deeper now. They are the best team on paper in the National League right now.
2. Cincinnati Reds (97-65)
Even though the Reds don't have a center fielder—sorry, Shin-Soo Choo is not going to work out there—the offense is still among the best in the National League.
Moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation right now is the right call, as he could give them the dominant shutdown starter they have lacked in the postseason. If it doesn't work, he can go back to the bullpen.
3. Texas Rangers (93-69)
For those people down on the Rangers for losing Josh Hamilton, just note that Yu Darvish was dominant down the stretch (2.21 ERA, 39 strikeouts, 20 hits allowed in 36.2 September and October innings).
If that's not good enough, the Rangers have the top position player prospect in baseball (Jurickson Profar), a power-hitting third baseman ready to play every day (Mike Olt) and pitching depth in the minors with Martin Perez and Cody Buckel.
This team will be fine, trust me.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
The health of Evan Longoria and development of Wil Myers (assuming he starts the season in the big leagues) will determine how high the Rays climb this season. However, even after trading James Shields to Kansas City, this is still the deepest rotation in all of baseball.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)
Even putting them at No. 5, I feel like I am being conservative with the Cardinals. Their lineup, 1-8, is as good as any in baseball. The rotation, even without Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, will be terrific because Adam Wainwright looked great down the stretch coming off Tommy John surgery.
It also helps that the Cardinals can plug Shelby Miller and/or Trevor Rosenthal in the rotation when the need arises.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76)
Before we anoint the Dodgers as champions, let's beware that there are still flaws with the team. Brandon League is not an elite reliever, despite the fact he is being paid like one. Zack Greinke is a sabermetric darling, but he hasn't had an ERA below 3.48 since 2009.
Who knows what Hanley Ramirez is going to do? Adrian Gonzalez's drop in power last season is cause for concern. Keeping Matt Kemp healthy is vital to the success of the lineup. Josh Beckett is coasting by on his name right now, because his stuff is a shell of what it once was.
I don't think all the money the Dodgers have spent makes them better than Washington or Cincinnati in the National League, nor do I think they are clearly better than San Francisco. However, I will give them a slight edge because of what they could be.
7. Atlanta Braves (94-68)
Atlanta had one of the best offseasons of any team in baseball. Not only did it remake its entire outfield by adding B.J. and Justin Upton, but it managed to flip the clearly broken Tommy Hanson into Jordan Walden, who gives them another power arm to use late in games.
The battle for the National League East between Atlanta and Washington should be one of the most exciting to watch this summer.
8. San Francisco Giants (94-68)
The Giants played things safe this offseason, opting to re-sign virtually all of the big free agents who contributed to the World Series win last year. Even though the offense still relies too much on just Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, the pitching staff is still the strength of this team.
9. Toronto Blue Jays (73-89)
From a marketing perspective, the Blue Jays easily won the offseason. They took a lot of the depth they had built in their farm system, though not all of it, and turned it into the likes of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes.
I am concerned about the rotation, even with those additions, because Johnson and Brandon Morrow can't stay healthy, Buehrle walks such a tight rope out there that one of these seasons he is going to implode and Ricky Romero was a mess last year.
Because of that concern, I do put them slightly behind the Rays in the American League East. But if Dickey does what he did the last three years with the Mets and one of Johnson or Morrow can stay healthy, this is a playoff team.
10. Oakland A's (94-68)
While I was conservative with St. Louis and Toronto, I am being generous with Oakland here. A lot of the Athletics' success last season came on the strength of players like Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson, who are not going to repeat that over a full season.
Yoenis Cespedes proved to be more than worth the money Oakland gave him. Josh Reddick provided a lot more pop than anyone expected. The pitching staff, which was loaded with rookies, should continue to get better. Jarrod Parker has more upside left. If Brett Anderson can stay healthy, he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
11. Detroit Tigers (88-74)
Because the American League Central is still bad, the Tigers should have no problem coasting into the postseason. The bullpen and defense will continue to be problems, but the rotation is deep and the lineup figures to get a boost with the return of Victor Martinez.
12. New York Yankees (95-67)
I fully admit I have no idea what to do with the Yankees. They have to walk such a fine line, especially in the rotation, because of their age and lack of depth. The minors won't provide much help this season, as the top players in the system are all at least a year away.
CC Sabathia has to be healthy and pitch like the perennial Cy Young contender he is. Robinson Cano has to remain the best second baseman in baseball. Derek Jeter's offense has to stay at the same level it was last season. Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera can't get hurt again.
This is as vulnerable as the Yankees have looked in a long time.
13. Los Angeles Angels (89-73)
With the Angels, you come for the offense and hope to see some pitching beyond Jered Weaver. If I had any confidence in their rotation beyond Weaver, this team would be higher. But I don't know what C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton are going to do beyond eat up innings.
14. Boston Red Sox (69-93)
The Red Sox are not nearly as bad as their record last year would indicate, it was just a storm of everything falling apart (bad managing, injuries, etc.) at exactly the same time.
As long as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz can bounce back, and David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli provide pop in the middle of the lineup, the Red Sox should compete for a wild-card spot.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
If someone can tell me what the Diamondbacks are doing right now, please enlighten me. As baffling as a lot of it is, this is still a solid team that should flirt with .500, but will need a few breaks here and there to keep up with the Dodgers and Giants.
16. Chicago White Sox (85-77)
Chris Sale was a pleasant surprise last season, though how long he can last with that delivery is another story. Jake Peavy stayed healthy for the first time in years. Alex Rios and Adam Dunn remembered how to play baseball.
Despite all that good fortune last season, the White Sox still weren't able to get over the hump and make the playoffs. They will need those players to repeat or exceed their 2012 performance, and for a few other players to step up, if they want to make another playoff run.
17. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)
Because the Phillies have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation, they will be able to mask a lot of problems they have. But acquiring Michael Young and Delmon Young, who can't DH in the National League (not that they are good hitters, either), makes them a significantly worse defensive team.
Poor Ben Revere is going to be alone on an island in that outfield if the Phillies decide to put Young in right field and Darin Ruf in left.
18. Cleveland Indians (68-94)
Who knew the Indians were such big spenders? After signing Nick Swisher to a $56 million deal in January, the team decided that Michael Bourn would be the final piece to the position-player puzzle by signing him to a four-year deal.
However, the best deal the Indians made was acquiring Trevor Bauer in a three-team deal with Arizona and Cincinnati.
The offense will be better with Bourn and Swisher at the top. The defense will get a huge boost from Bourn. Until the Indians find starting pitching, though, they can't compete in the American League.
19. Baltimore Orioles (93-69)
I imagine this will be controversial, especially since I put Boston well ahead of them, but what happened last year with the Orioles looks like one of the luckiest seasons in baseball history. That's not an insult, as the team made the postseason and was one win away from playing in the American League Championship Series.
But that bullpen, which was comprised of a lot of spare parts, came out of nowhere to be one of the best units in baseball. The team went 29-9 in one-run games during the regular season and won 16 consecutive extra-inning games.
Help is on the way, as a full season of Manny Machado and (at some point) Dylan Bundy will make this team better. But it is hard to see this team finishing over .500 again with the kind of luck they needed last year.
20. Milwaukee Brewers (83-79)
Until the Brewers find any kind of starting pitching after Yovani Gallardo, they are going to have a hard time catching Cincinnati and St. Louis in the National League Central.
21. Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83)
Even though the franchise just missed out on a .500 record, it was a successful campaign because their farm system took a big leap forward. It's hard to be patient in the face of so much adversity, but the turnaround it coming. It might take one more year before we see the results.
22. Kansas City Royals (72-90)
The Royals had a puzzling offseason, to say the least. They traded Wil Myers, who was a superstar in Kansas City during the Futures Game, and Jake Odorizzi to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis, among others.
In a vacuum, you can see why the Royals would want Shields and Davis. Their pitching last year was horrendous and there wasn't much coming through the system, other than Odorizzi, that would be ready in 2013.
However, Shields and Davis do not make this team that much closer to a .500 team. They need Eric Hosmer to have a huge bounce-back season and hope Mike Moustakas can learn a new approach at the plate to draw a walk every now and then.
23. Seattle Mariners (75-87)
The Mariners locked up Felix Hernandez, finally! Now if they can just find some offense to help him and the rest of the rotation out, they will be ready to compete in an incredibly difficult American League West.
24. San Diego Padres (76-86)
The Padres' record is always going to look better than the actual talent on the field because their home field gives them an advantage (even though two teams have to play on it). Their roster has been built for PetCo Park.
The system is loaded with talent, though it doesn't look quite as deep as it did one year ago. Don't be concerned, as there is still plenty of help on the way.
25. New York Mets (74-88)
At least the Mets have Matt Harvey in the rotation to start the season and Zack Wheeler coming, because that offense (especially everyone in the outfield) is going to be a complete mess. David Wright is still in the middle of the lineup, though, so it won't be all bad.
26. Chicago Cubs (61-101)
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did a terrific job of adding impact talent to the farm system in their first season. The results aren't going to show on the field for the Cubs this season, but the cavalry is coming.
27. Minnesota Twins (66-96)
The Twins have built one of the best and most exciting farm systems in baseball heading into 2013. All of the impact talent is at least two years away (if not more), so Minnesota will have to stomach a few more bad seasons before things turn around.
28. Colorado Rockies (64-98)
At least the Rockies got rid of one headache when Jim Tracy resigned. Is that a good enough rallying cry to get you to watch this team? Okay, Troy Tulowitzki will be back, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler are still two of the most exciting players to watch. That isn't bad, right?
29. Miami Marlins (69-93)
As much flak as the Marlins are getting for the way they handled everything with their roster this offseason—and deservedly so—from strictly a baseball perspective, it makes sense what they did.
The team tried to spend money to compete last season as it moved into a new ballpark. It didn't happen, fans still didn't show up, so the front office did what it felt necessary to turn a profit. They also got good talent in return for all the players they dealt.
And the greatest gift of all is those people still get to watch Giancarlo Stanton hit a baseball, for now.
30. Houston Astros (55-107)
It's not going to be pretty for a long time, especially in the American League West, but what general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have done in the last 12 months with the Astros was absolutely the right call.
This franchise was horrible at drafting and developing for a long time. The farm system never produced enough talent to compete consistently. Luhnow has blown the whole thing up and said that they are going to start from scratch.
As Michael Caine told Christian Bale in The Dark Knight, "Things are always going to get worse before they get better." That is true in the case of the Astros right now, but at least the franchise is headed in the right direction.
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