At the start of spring training every year, two big questions cycle through baseball media: First, who won the offseason? Second, what teams are contenders in the coming season? These lists tend to have a significant overlap. Inevitably, certain teams look quite overrated by mid-season. These are the three teams that I think are the most overrated heading into spring training.
San Diego Padres
Overrated By: Traditional baseball media.
Reason the Padres Are Overrated: The sum of their new pieces is less than their parts.
The Padres were probably the most active team in baseball this off season, making numerous trades before concluding the winter by signing starting pitcher James Shields to a 4 year deal. Individually, I liked some of these trades. I thought both the Wil Myers and Justin Upton trades were good ones. To me, though, the Matt Kemp trade is going to cause the Padres a lot of trouble, and I don’t think the Padres will get the value out of Shields that a team that doesn’t play half its games in Petco would.
Kemp can still hit, as he showed in the back half of last season, but should be left field only these days, if he should be playing the outfield at all. Considering Kemp’s negative defensive value, I thought the Padres vastly overpaid for Kemp. At their current contracts, including the amount of Kemp’s contract that Dodgers are covering, I would not have traded Yasmani Grandal, a young catcher with excellent receiving and on base skills, straight up for Kemp. Despite my belief the Padres overpaid for Kemp, had they JUST traded for him and Myers, they could have hid Kemp in left field and it would have been an overall offensive upgrade.
Then, however, the Padres signed Justin Upton, another left field only player. Reports indicate that the Padres intend on playing Upton in left, Myers in center, and Kemp in right. That is going to be an epically terrible defensive outfield playing in one of the most spacious outfields in baseball. It will also put two players who have been injury prone, Myers and Kemp, in situations where they will be more likely to get injured because they will be playing more demanding positions. The Padres could fix this by convincing Kemp to play first base and using a combination of Cameron Maybin and Wil Venable in center, but they don’t seem inclined to do this.
On Shields, my one question is if the Padres, who are able to turn a host of mediocre pitchers into guys with results that make them look like solid number 2 starters because of their home park, should spend money on free agent pitching. I have no issue with the length or dollars in the Shields contract, but just don’t know how much better his numbers will be in Petco. Clearly, if he ends up with an ERA in the low 2s with the move to the NL West and Petco, it will be a great move independent of any advantage Petco delivers.
I just have a feeling that outfield defense is just going to hurt the Padres too much, and they’ll hover around .500, which would be a huge disappointment considering the hype around the Padres seems to have them hanging with the Dodgers at the top of NL West.
Chicago White Sox
Overrated by: Traditional baseball media.
Reason the White Sox Are Overrated: Lack of depth.
I’ll admit it: I have loved what the White Sox have done since Rick Hahn became their GM following the 2012 season. In two short seasons, he’s improved the MLB product while getting rid of dead money on overpriced players and improving the farm system. And I really liked the White Sox’s moves this off season. It made the South Siders more competitive this year while not giving up any prospects who project as above average regulars. I even kind of liked the David Robertson signing, despite the fact that I pretty much never like giving big multi-year deals to relievers. The White Sox desperately needed a bullpen upgrade, and Robertson was the best reliever available with a significant track record of success.
But I just think the team is too shallow to really hang with the Royals, Tigers, and Indians for a full season. They could get essentially no value from at least second and third base, and I’m not an Avisail Garcia believer in right field either, although Garcia is definitely young enough to surprise me with some good health.
They just need so much good health, though. They don’t have good enough replacements if Adam Eaton or Melky Cabrera go down. While the front 3 pitchers in their rotation, Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana, are among the best front 3 starting groups in baseball, it’s not clear they have decent 4/5 starters, much less anyone who could fill in if one of those top 3 guys miss significant time on the DL, if Carlos Rodon isn’t ready for a starting pitcher’s workload.
The White Sox are definitely moving in the right direction, but in a tough division I see them winning just shy of 80 games, and not truly contending in 2015.
Overrated by: Segments of the fandom.
Reason the Cubs are Overrated: Expecting too much from young players.
And here we are. Cubs fans are rightly excited for the 2015 season. Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta were two of the best players in the NL in 2014. Starlin Castro returned to his career norms as a very good offensive shortstop, and perhaps a bit beyond them in the power department. Jorge Soler had a solid debut in September. The bullpen looks as well setup as anyone to be awesome. The Cubs signed Jon Lester and Jason Hammel to shore up the rotation, and vastly improved the receiving skills of their catchers. They traded for Dexter Fowler, who should put up the best numbers for a Cubs leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton’s half season with the Cubs in 2003. The waves of young position players coming to Wrigley has begun, with uber hitting prospect Kris Bryant likely to debut at the Friendly Confines in 2015.
I expect the Cubs to be significantly improved in 2015, with a prediction of an 82 win season. But I have seen a lot of Cubs fans (significantly less so at this site than others) with playoff dreams in their comments. And I by no means want to discourage that sort of excitement, but for the Cubs to be a playoff team in 2015 a lot has to go right with a high percentage of Bryant, Soler, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Arismendy Alcantara. That just can’t be predicted at this juncture.
However, I do feel my prediction on the Cubs are subject to the widest error bars of these three teams without a surprisingly high number of injuries or a big time mid-season trade occurring. That’s a good news/bad news scenario because it means I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs won 90 games this season and made the playoffs, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs lost 90.
Unsurprisingly, if you peek around at the “who won the off season” lists, you’ll see these three teams at the top. Which is a solid reminder that, to win the off season, odds are you had a lot of holes to fill and might not be that good despite spending a boatload of money or trading a lot of prospects.
One side note: Within a few days of my late piece on my view on baseball’s demographics issue posting here, Andrew McCutchen, arguably both the best current African American player and player who grew up poor in America, on a very similar issue, which can be found here and I feel is worth a read: http://www.theplayerstribune.com/left-out/