Six Teams That Could De-Throne Their Division Champions
Max Rosenfeld predicts that the 2018 season may very well feature a new crop of division champions around Major League Baseball.
No matter what happens for the remainder of this offseason, one thing is for sure- there will be turnover amongst the division champions from last season to next. Which team from each division has the best chance to emerge as a new champion in 2018?
National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals
After witnessing the Chicago Cubs reach at least the National League Championship Series in each of the last three seasons, it’s unlikely that the Cardinals will sit back as their rival continues to flourish. St. Louis has already agreed to a trade with Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins to acquire All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs in 2017. For Ozuna, this transaction marks a move from possibly the worst run organization in baseball to the best.
St. Louis is said to be in on the the trade discussions for Tampa Bay Rays reliever Alex Colome, though General Manager John Mozeliak has been mum on his intentions. Regardless, it’s clear that the team is making a strong effort to bolster their roster.
The Cardinals won 83 games a year ago in a down year. They will also benefit from signing reliever Luke Gregerson and bringing back star pitcher Alex Reyes who missed the entire 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. It will be incredibly difficult for any team to pass the Cubs, but the Cardinals have all the pieces in place to give them a run for their money.
American League Central: Chicago White Sox
It may be tempting (and obvious) to go with the Minnesota Twins given the rest of the Central’s landscape, but there is a case to be made for the White Sox, who carry an abundance of youthful talent.
The Cleveland Indians are clearly the favorite and should make another strong run at the American League pennant. The Kansas City Royals are in rebuilding mode as they’ll likely lose stars Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency this offseason. The Detroit Tigers just traded second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Angels, are taking offers on pitcher Michael Fulmer, and are unlikely to find themselves outside of the bottom half the league. And although the Twins reached the Wild Card game a season ago, they’ll need to build greater depth in their bullpen and rotation to compete similarly next year.
This leaves the White Sox, who are in line to make a drastic improvement if young players such as Yoan Moncada can reach their potentials. Should the rest of this mediocre division struggle, there is no reason to believe the White Sox cannot place in second.
National League East: New York Mets
It is impossible to carry over many judgments from last year’s Mets to next year’s version, especially given the extensive list of injuries the team suffered in 2017. But certainly, the pieces are in place to succeed next year.
The Mets have two bona fide aces in Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, and could very likely benefit from improvement out of guys like Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. To complement their starting pitching, New York carries two star corner outfielders (when healthy) in Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, an elite shortstop prospect in Amed Rosario, and interesting infield pieces like Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera.
New York’s bullpen must improve in order to win in 2018, but if they can stay healthy the Mets could feed off of the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies in the bottom half of the division.
American League East: New York Yankees
The Evil Empire has officially returned. Coming off a surprising ALCS appearance, the Yankees will be the overwhelming favorites to win the East and advance to the World Series given their recent acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez will provide a daunting middle of the lineup for opposing pitchers and could conceivably hit more than 130 combined home runs.
The Yankees already have the best bullpen in baseball and a young and exciting pitching rotation with Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and Masahiro Tanaka. Watch out American League.
National League West: Arizona Diamondbacks
This is contingent upon the Diamondbacks re-signing outfielder J.D. Martinez, even if that means freeing up Zack Greinke’s contact in the process. The Dodgers, rightfully so, will enter 2018 as the NL West favorites and have no reason to lose this division other than injury or severe regression.
But Arizona does have a core that won 93 games a year ago, which very well could have just been the beginning of a string of success. If Martinez returns, there is certainly enough offense on this roster to be one of the best teams in the National League once again next season.
American League West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
After trading for Kinsler, the Angels have made is abundantly clear that they are trying to compete before Mike Trout hits free agency following the 2020 season.
Shohei Ohtani’s impending injury status certainly dampens expectations, but Trout, Kinsler, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols is at the very least an intriguing collection of offensive talent. Should Ohtani be able to play in 2018, he and Garrett Richards will form an exciting 1-2 punch at the top of the Angels rotation as the Halos contend for a Wild Card berth all summer.