Right now, everyone is caught up in the New York Mets acquiring Johan Santana for a decent package of 4 prospects, though it doesn't resemble the package that Arizona gave up for Danny Haren (though that may be attributed to a more manageable contract). I believe that the Mets are the most talented team in the National League, but that doesn't mean a thing right now. Here is an early read on who are the teams to beat as of right now. It's no surprise that the top is crowded with American League teams, but the National League has a few teams that can hang (but not slug) with the big boys.
We shall assume that Johan Santana and the Mets agree on an extension, what seems like a mere formality now. For fun, I will make the Erik Bedard trade from Baltimore to Seattle final, too, though that trade is further off. The sides have agreed, but nothing is decided yet. However, the deal should get done soon.
1. Boston Red Sox- The defending champs haven't lost since being the top team, so why take them out now? Josh Beckett is a hero to The Nation, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had adjustments to make. Curt Schilling is the definition of a warrior, and Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester offer excitement and motivation. Manny Ramirez is in his walk year, and him being unpredicatable as always, he is difficult to read. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis will continue to wear out staffs, with Papi and Manny providing the pop. Mike Lowell will be cheered rousingly each at bat. Jacoby Ellsbury is in Boston for good now that Santana is in Queens. They have a good mix of players and are the favorites to repeat in 2008 and beyond.
2. Detroit Tigers- Much hype surrounds Detroit, and deservedly so. They have the biggest sheer amount of talent. This lineup may be better than the Yankees of the last few years. Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson; I can't believe one of them has to hit 8th. Marcus Thames and Jacque Jones in LF are no slouches either. The Tigers are a threat for over 1500 runs. The pitching staff is young but sturdy, with old man Kenny Rogers teaching Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis the ropes. Willis might have a 20 win-2.9 ERA year as hitters adjust to his funky windup. The one problem area is the bullpen. A healthy Joel Zumaya would go a long way but he is out for the first few months. Fernando Rodney has to assert himself and Todd Jones must defy Father Time. An arm like Brian Fuentes may be just what the Doctor ordered for Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers have the most talent on paper, but the road to the World Series will be in LA, Boston, and New York, not on paper.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- The Angels have the best pitching staff in the majors and made the unexpected move of the offseason by seemingly coming out of nowhere to ink Torii Hunter. A rotation of Kelvim Escobar, Jon Garland, John Lackey, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver will likely throw around 850 innings, which wil lighten the load on Scot Shields and Justin Speier, not to mention superstar closer Francisco Rodriguez. Mike Scioscia will have to be creative getting Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson, Torii Hunter, Gary Matthews Jr., Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera enough rest/ABs. The Angels appear primed to get over the hump and make it to the final round.
4. Cleveland Indians- The Indians are a team that flies under the radar, but they are a force. Them (and the Lake Erie Knats) beat the Yanks in the divisional round. Fausto Carmona has phenomenal talent and appears ready to become an ace. C.C. Sabathia is pitching for money and security. They could stand to improve the back end of their rotation, but it is not one of their more pressing needs. They have a bend-don't-break bullpen, and they might benefit from giving Rafael Betancourt an even bigger role and acquiring a strikeout pitcher to complement Joe Borowski. Whatever came over Travis Hafner last year has to leave for them to make it to the World Series. Grady Sizemore is a flat-out talent, and Ryan Garko and Franklin Gutierrez are starting to get it. Victor Martinez has to play first because of his noodle arm, so they need an upgrade over Kelly Shoppach.
5. New York Yankees- I will try to remain unbiased as I am a Yankees fan. The Yankees are heading in the right direction; I never thought I'd be happy to see them not acquire Johan Santana. I want to see Joba Chamberlain stay in the pen, but most signs point to him starting. If that's the case and they do the right thing by letting Mike Mussina be a 6th starter/long man, they will have 5 home-grown starters. The city would love it and it instills pride in the team. Phillip Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba are OURS. Andy Pettite has a lot on his mind and Chien-Ming Wang looks to be a perennial Cy Young candidate. The offense should score over 850 runs. They need to keep incorporating young players to spell their older guys. I won't be surprised or that unhappy if they slide down this list, because they are building for the future while staying competitive.
6. New York Mets- Did the Mets do something? Did Omar Minaya make a trade? I haven't heard. All kidding aside, Minaya tipped the scales in the National League with his gutsy acquisition. He may have gotten assists from the Yankees and Red Sox, but he still pulled the trigger and will have to sign him to huge money. The prospects he surrendered were good, not great. Carlos Gomez was one hell of a player but in a year, if not this year, Fernando Martinez will be in the lineup. They have Ryan Church for the interim. He definetly will open up the new stadium in 2009. The Mets have the next best lineup to the Phillies, if not the best, in the NL. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are both switch hitters with many talents. Carlos Delgado is in the last year of his deal, and will open up salary for a farmhand or a free agent (Adam Dunn, anybody?). David Wright is the type of leader a championship team has. But back to the big news. Johan Santana will motivate the team and energize the city. This was just the trick to take last year's bad taste out of the Big Apple's mouth. There isn't so much pressure on Pedro to return to form, and I predict a vintage Pedro year. John Maine and Oliver Perez each slide down a spot in the rotation. The bullpen has holes but is not unsalvageable.
7. Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies have an American League offense. Have you seen Jimmy Rollins' numbers from last year? They are INSANE. Everyone knows who Ryan Howard is, and the same goes for Chase Utley. Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins are below average fielders but good bats. Shane Victorino is speedy but one-dimensional at the plate. Pedro Feliz was a solid addition at third. The problem with their AL offense is that it won't matter unless their Independent League pitching staff overachieves. Cole Hamels is going to win a Cy Young someday, but he can only make 30 starts. Brett Myers is back in the rotation after a few months in the pen. Jamie Moyer can't have much left in the tank, but they said that in 1928 too. Kyle Kendrick has talent but has yet to fulfill it. Brad Lidge could benefit from a fresh start and has Flash Gordon in support.
8. Arizona Diamondbacks- With the splashy acquisition of Danny Haren, the D'Backs established themselves as a power for the next few years, at least. Their team is incredibly young and talented, and they could afford to lose all the talent that they did in the deal. With Haren and Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson will have pressure off him and hopefully will pitch well. Doug Davis is a good complementary number 4, and it's hard to tell if Micah Owings is a better pitcher or hitter. Chris Young needs to cut down on his K's and improve his discipline, but his power is surreal for such a good athlete. Justin Upton and Eric Byrnes flank Young in the outfield and form perhaps the rangiest outfield. Stephen Drew battled inconsistency.
9. Toronto Blue Jays- Poor Jays. Poor J.P. Riccardi. This team would have a true chance to win the NL. Alas, they probably will not make the playoffs in the next 5 years. Competing with the Yanks and Sox in AL is never easy, but it's especially hard when they make up nearly a quarter of your schedule. Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett front the rotation, with Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, and Shaun Marcum following them. They have a young, hard throwing bullpen that I envy. One of my favorite baseball players is setup man Brandon League. He, Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo will hold leads for BJ Ryan, if he is able to pitch and justify his contract. The offense is loaded too, especially if Vernon Wells bounces back. Alex Rios is getting the attention he deserves, and backup OF Matt Stairs is a professional hitter. David Eckstein suits the batting order nicely. Scott Rolen should be an upgrade over Troy Glaus. With Rolen, The Big Hurt, Rios, Wells, Lyle Overbay in the middle of the order, the Jays will not be blown out.
10. Seattle Mariners- Again, I am going on the assumption that the M's have given up Adam Jones and George Sherrill by opening day. With Bedard in the fold, their rotation may be one of the deepest. Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez fit in nicely behind Bedard and Felix Hernandez. JJ Putz could be the best closer in the world right now, and the offense is well-rounded. If Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre are hot at the same time, they can score with anyone. Ichiro, as always, is a threat for 230 hits. Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt are mainstays in the infield. They will need to find a 3rd outfielder if Jones is traded, but Willie Bloomquist could play there.
11. Colorado Rockies- People will be talking about the 2007 Rockies forever, but it won't be because of their World Series performance. Granted, no team could have hung with the Sox, but the Rockies were hot and endured a long layoff because opf their dominance. Matt Holliday was an MVP candidate, and Todd Helton seemed like he was always on base. He was rejuvanted by all the young players and the excitement surrounding the team. Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Iannetta, Brad Hawpe and Willy Taveras will be in Denver for years. Garrett Atkins remains at 3rd but is being pushed by prospect Ian Stewart. The offense is dynamic and fun to watch, even without Kaz Matsui. Jeff Francis finally fulfilled his potential and made many huge starts. Ubaldo Jimenez flashed just how talented he is, and Aaron Cook pitched well. The Rocks could benefit from a deal for someone like Kevin Millwood or sign an innings eater like Livan Hernandez. Manny Corpas is at the head of the current crop of young closers.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers- Of course, the big story in Hollywood is Joe Torre being in the dugout. In my opinion, this is a match made in heaven for the aging manager. He is the perfect man to control the dynamic clubhouse, and he will unite the young players and veterans. Ned Colletti also made a splash by bringing in Andruw Jones on an economical 2 year deal. Torre can be creative in his outfield with Jones, Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp, who can all play the 3 spots with plus range. Russ Martin could be on the fast track to a superstar career, as might James Loney. Rafael Furcal is perfect for the leadoff role, and Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent can still rake. Their pitching staff is as deep as anyone's. Brad Penny and Derek Lowe are both locks for 16 wins, and a healthy Jason Schmidt could work wonders and allow the team to exceed all expectations. Chad Billingsley is a young flamethrower, and Esteban Loaiza is a tricky vet. Hiroki Kuroda is a solid pitcher from Japan. Out of the pen, Takashi Saito or sophomore Jonathon Broxton can close, and Joe Beimel, Yhency Brazoban, and Scott Proctor form as tough a setup core as there is. This team could be special. They have a could blend of veteran know-how and youthful exuberance.
13. Chicago Cubs- Though the team is righty-heavy, the Cubbies have bats that could make a difference for anyone. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez man the corner infield spots, and former LSU teammates Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot are a good double play combination. The outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Kusoke Fukudome, and Felix Pie is fast and athletic. They are sure to turn out their share of Web Gems. The pitching staff has a good base with ace Carlos Zambrano locked up long term. Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, and Jon Lieber are all innings-eater number 3 types. Jason Marquis is a wild card of the group. We will see how long a leash Sweet Lou gives closer Carlos Marmol and how much a shot Kerry Wood recieves to make a difference.
14. Atlanta Braves- You can never count the Braves out. They may benefit from the Andruw Jones situation removing itself. Mark Texeira has now had time to get acclimated. Chipper Jones is one of the underappreciated true superstars in the game. Jeff Franceour has emerged as one of the majors' 10 best outfielders, and certainly one of the top arms. You have to love how so many Braves are either braves draft picks and/or native Georgians. They have pride in their team. Tim Hudson returned from his 2 year hibernation, and they have a dual-ace staff with him and John Smoltz. If Tom Glavine and the $15 million mistake Mike Hampton return to form, the Braves will be a contender for the pennant.
15. San Diego Padres- The Padres will not finish with the 15th best record in the majors. They again will win close to 90 games, but their tremendous offensive shortcomings are just too glaring. They have one of the best staffs in the majors. Jake Peavy should be in consideration for Cy Young AND MVP year in, year out. Chris Young is the best true Number Two in the majors, and Greg Maddux is a solid mentor. Mark Prior is a worth risk taking. Trevor Hoffman is still one of the game's best relievers. However, what threats does the offense have? It is disgusting. When I've been to Padres games at beautiful Petco, the fans go crazy for Brian Giles, the now departed Mike Piazza, and Khalil Greene. Kevin Kouzmanoff needs to break out, and Jim Edmonds needs to patrol center effectively while regaining trust in his bat. The Padres should swing a deal for Adam Dunn, or should have taken a flier or someone like Elijah Dukes or Lastings Milledge. If they get some pop, they might be one of the scariest teams to play in a 7 game series.
16. Milwaukee Brewers- The Brew Crew emerged onto the scene last year, coming out of the gate as fast as anyone, but their youth overtook them. The team has a bright future with stars Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun, and Richie Weeks. They did a good job getting veterans Mike Cameron and Jason Kendall, which in turn let the glove-challenged Braun move to left. As always, Ben Sheets is a question mark. When healthy, the Brewers can roll. Yovani Gallardo came to the majors to little fan fare and mowed down opposing offenses (and my fantasy opponents). Eric Gagne is a good risk for the team to take, and Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, and Chris Capuano are solid starters.
17. Chicago White Sox- It's hard to believe the Sox were World Champs only a few years ago. Last year they had an abysmal year and stumbled to the finish line. Kenny Williams promised changes and delivered, and more could be on the way. Their powerful, rugged pitching staff has been broken up but their improvements on offense should make up for some of that. Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye are good options int he outifeld, and their new star is outfielder/1B Nick Swisher. He will play primarily CF. Paul Konerko and Jim Thome are sluggers who complement the switch-hitting Swisher perfectly. Williams peddled Jon Garland to the Angels for shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and that could prove to be an extremely even deal. Bobby Jenks is someone nobody wants to face when they're down in the 9th.
18. Houston Astros- The Astros have put together one of the game's best offenses very quietly the last few years. Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada make up a good 3-6. Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui are great options at the top of the order. The pitching staff. the former strength of the Houston teams, is now weak, with not much of a rotation backing up Roy Oswalt. Wandy Rodgriuez and Brandon Backe are more of a bad 3-4 than a 2-3. They both have the talent to make the jump, but will it happen? Jose Valverde, the NL saves leader last year, brings stability to a role that Brad Lidge could not run with. The Astros play in an up-and-coming division, and desparetly need setup help and a bonafide number 2.
19. Kansas City Royals- Most people, including me, scoffed at last year's huge contract offer to Gil Meche. Meche exceeded all expectations and performed well, and now heads a decent rotation, along with Brian Bannister and ex- superprospect Zach Greinke. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler seem like the types to anchor a lineup for years, and David DeJesus is a good table setter. Jose Guillen, a questionable signing, is a fearsome hitter when motivated. Joey Gathright offers speed, but little else. Watch out for Joakim Soria to emerge as one of the game's most electric young players.
20. Minnesota Twins- The Twins will still be respectable, even after trading the major's best pitcher. Francisco Liriano will be back, but how good will he be? Don't expect the lights-out dominance. Their offense is young and locked up for a long time, including Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Joe Mauer. Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau also are in Minnesota for the next few years. If they can get anything out of middle rotation guys like Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, and Kevin Slowey, the Twinkies could surprise people. They will most likely trade star closer Joe Nathan, but if they are in contention they will most likely be willing to let him walk at year's end.
21. St. Louis Cardinals- The Redbirds are a team that doesn't quite have a direction. They sent disgruntled third basemen Scott Rolen north of the border in exchange for Troy Glaus. Albert Pujols just needs some more help, especially with Jim Edmonds in San Diego. Adam Wainwright is a good pitcher, but the rest are all question marks, including Matt Clement, Anthony Reyes, Braden Looper, and Joel Piniero. The Cards are really gambling this year, and it may be time to think about a complete tearing down of the squad.
22. Tampa Bay Rays- The Rays are an interesting team. The new suits are changing the culture for the better in St. Pete. The team has a beautiful new stadium on the way. They have new jersies, colors, and name. "Strong" personalities Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes are now in Minnesota and DC. Delmon Young brought the Twins' top prospect, pitcher Matt Garza, in return. They have a formidable top 3 in the rotation with elite pitcher Scott Kazmir and changeup artist James Shields. David Price, the number 1 pick out of Vanderbilt, may see time in the majors this year. Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine have great upside. Their is no more athletically gifted outfield than Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and a healthy Rocco Baldelli. Evan Longoria, expected to win the 3rd base job, could be a profilic hitter. Carlos Pena probably won't repeat his monster year, but he was rewarded with a multi-year deal, which shows the steps the Rays are making toward respectability.
23. Cincinnati Reds- Aaron Harang is one of the most unsung pitchers in baseball. He is a workhorse he keeps an offensively challenged team in games. Bronson Arroyo is inconsistent but talented. Homer Bailey's developement is vital to the organization's success. The team overpaid for Francisco Cordero, but they needed a solution in the 9th inning. Brandon Phillips is the franchise player the team has waited for, and he and Jay Bruce could be cornerstones for years. Ken Griffey Jr. is still a threat. Adam Dunn, most likely in his last season in Ohio, is as big a power source as any in the majors. They may trade him mid-season.
24. Oakland Athletics- Sound familiar? Billy Beane lets Nick Swisher and Danny Haren leave via trade. The team is devastated and the fans are unsure of the team's direction. Well, Joe Blanton, Huston Street, and Rich Harden are still on the A's (for now). The team is young and inexperienced everywhere else on the field, save for Eric Chavez at third. Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, and Carlos Gonzalez were some of the top prospects not only in Arizona's system, but in baseball. Gio Gonzales and Fautino de los Santos are high end arms that they recieved for Nick Swisher. Beane will come up with something to keep them out of the 90 loss club.
25. San Francisco Giants- The Giants have an anemic offense. They will definetly struggle to put runs on the board. However, they have young pitching. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain both look to be aces. Barry Zito should bounce back this year after a horrendous season. Noah Lowry is a solid back-end lefty. Their infield is awful and old. The outfield houses the aging Dave Roberts and Randy Winn in the corners. Big money signing Aaron Rowand will be a crowd favorite and bring some excitement, but who knows how he'll hold up. Fred Lewis and Rajai Davis offer speed and youth in reserve.
26. Washington Nationals- The Nats are going with a rotation by committee this year. The only sure thing is Shawn Hill, who didn't even put together a full year. They will always be haunted by Chad Cordero trade rumors, but he's excellent as long as he's on the team. Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala are respectable setup options. Nick Johnson should offer some stability when he plays, and Dmitri Young was outstanding last season. They'll have to be creative and get both at-bats. Ryan Zimmerman is a bonafide star. Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge add talent, speed, youth, and, um, excitement to the outfield. Wily Mo Pena is running out of chances to use his immense talent. The team has Jesus Flores, Paul Lo Duca, and newly signed Johnny Estrada behind the plate. This team has some spare parts to swing a deal later in the season.
27. Pittsburgh Pirates- Matt Capps was impressive as a closer last season and comes into this year with confidence. They have 4 young starters who are potential 2-3 starters in the bigs: Tom Gorzelany, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, and Paul Maholm. Matt Morris' job is not only to pitch well, but to mentor these young guys. The offense doesn't have much hope outside of Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez. Adam LaRoche needs to step up and be the difference maker the Bucs thought they were getting.
28. Florida Marlins- Young. The Fish are young and cheap. In the offseason, they traded their two "building blocks": Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis were sent to Detroit for potential superstars Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. They also snagged Mike Rabelo, who is in line to start at catcher for them according to their web site. The rotation will not be good, but it is salvageable. If Miller, Scott Olsen, and Ricky Nolasco mature quickly, they could be difference makers. A wild card is Josh Johnson, who had a great 2006 but battled injuries last year. Hanley Ramirez is one of the best players in baseball, and Dan Uggla is a good bat. We all know Florida can recognize and grow talent, so this team may be a big surprise.
29. Texas Rangers- The Rangers easily could have manned the 30th spot. I'll be generous and call their rotation a "work in progress". Vincente Padilla and Kevin Millwood should not be the best bets in any rotation. They are a mediocre team's 3-4 men. Ian Kinsler is a tremendous young player. Michael Young is still underrated and an All-Star caliber short stop. Jarrod Saltalamachia, the main catch in the Mark Texeira swap, is a stud. Keep an eye on C.J. Wilson at closer if he can beat out Everyday Eddie Guardado.
30. Baltimore Orioles- After jettisoning Miguel Tejada and (presumably) Erik Bedard, the O's aren't left with much. Rising star Nick Markakis is in right field, but their only other legitimate offensive threat is Brian Roberts, whose status is in limbo because of a proposed deal to Chicago. The rotation is high on upside but not much production without Bedard anchoring the rotation. Danny Cabrera has incredible stuff but has never been consistent. Adam Jones in centerfield between Luke Scott and Markakis is a solid young outfield.