Parity has always been prevalent in Major League Baseball, but the 2018 regular season will be an interesting test for that notion. It’s early, but there already appears to be a clear hierarchy. At the top, we have the likes of the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. The Washington Nationals have a case for inclusion here, too, but their repeated playoff shortcomings are certainly a red flag. Based on talent, these appear to be the 5-6 best teams in the league by a decent margin.
After that, things get a little more murky. The next tier of teams includes the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox. Then, we have a few wild cards like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners. Few would be surprised to see any of those teams improve this season, but are they good enough to tangle with the league’s gaggle of giants at the top? That remains to be seen.
Spring training gets underway shortly, so we certainly have a long way to go before deciding which teams are capable of challenging MLB’s elite. These prognostications may look silly before long, but here are 3 teams that look like decent sleeper bets to win it all in ‘18.
Colorado Rockies +3300
The Rockies are generally one of the most unpredictable teams in baseball on a year-to-year basis. Because of the unique playing conditions that come with playing 81 games a year at Coors Field, the Rockies are typically a volatile club. They’ve historically had no problems scoring runs. The problem for them is preventing their opponents from doing the same.
Few expected the Rockies to surge into the playoffs last season, but they were able to nab the National League’s No. 2 Wild Card slot fairly easily. They were beaten by the D-Backs in the Wild Card Game, but it’s clear that this is a team on the rise.
last season. With Jon Gray at the top, the Rockies suddenly have a deep and talented rotation. Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis gives Bud Black a number of capable options moving forward. Tyler Chatwood left for Chicago, but he struggled to tame Coors Field during his time in Denver.
The team revamped the bullpen ahead of last season, and they’ve spent even more cash on the relief corps this winter. The splashiest move of all came when the Rockies handed All-Star closer Wade Davis a lucrative deal to come over from the Cubs. Colorado also lured talented set-up man Bryan Shaw from Cleveland. Last season’s closer, Greg Holland, is still a free agent, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Rockies bring him back once again.
There’s no telling how bullpens will project on a yearly basis, but Colorado looks primed to make noise in the NL West again. Oddly enough, last year’s team struggled at times with the bats. Colorado still finished third in the big leagues in runs scored (824), but they were a dismal 25th in runs scored away from home. The Rockies scored just 336 runs on the road compared to a league-leading 488 in their home yard. Finding consistency away from home is going to be key if Colorado is to improve this season.
The Rockies haven’t addressed the lineup at all this winter other than signing catcher Chris Iannetta. Iannetta is a capable offensive catcher, though he may not be an upgrade over the departed Jonathan Lucroy in that department. Still, there’s enough talent on the roster to where an overhaul wasn’t needed. Carlos Gonzalez is likely gone, but Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu gives the Rockies as potent a lineup as you’ll see anywhere in the NL.
If the young arms continue to develop and the bullpen holds up, the Rockies could be incredibly dangerous this season.
Oakland Athletics +10000
This one certainly comes with considerable risk, but hear me out. Sure, the A’s are mired in a lengthy rebuild and play in what may prove to be baseball’s best division this season, but there is reason for optimism in Oakland. Billy Beane is notoriously savvy, and the roster he’s built ahead of this season comes with some sneaky talent.
Homers were up all over baseball last season, but the A’s were quietly one of the league’s most powerful lineups. The Athletics slugged 234 home runs last season, which ranked fourth in all of baseball behind the Yankees, Astros and Rangers. Considering they play at o.Co Coliseum, which is one of baseball’s most cavernous parks, that’s no small feat. Oakland is historically known as a favorable park for pitchers, but the A’s bats made it look incredibly small at times last season.
In Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Khris Davis, Chad Pinder and Matt Joyce, Oakland has some thunder. Ryon Healy was traded, but his place in the lineup was in question with Chapman and Olson emerging as legitimate prospects last season. Olson’s power display was particularly noteworthy, as he slapped 24 dingers in just 59 games. That’s probably an unsustainable rate over the course of a full season, but his raw power is apparent.
Whether Oakland will be able to become relevant in the AL West likely hinges on how the young starting staff can perform. Kendall Graveman showed some promise as a sinkerballer last season, but he struggled with health and consistency. Scouts rave about Jharel Cotton’s raw stuff, but some of the raw numbers from last season don’t really bear that out. For example, he posted a sub-5.00 ERA in just one of the 2017 season’s 5 full months.
Sean Manaea is the , while Andrew Triggs was another guy that exceeded expectations last year. The A’s also have a number of prospects, including A.J. Puk, on the horizon. Puk likely won’t break into the big leagues this season, but he’s quickly becoming one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
The A’s likely don’t have enough established star power to seriously challenge the Astros atop the AL West, but you never know. Oakland is primed to surprise some people. The idea that they’ll realistically contend for a title this season is certainly a longshot, but stranger things have happened.
New York Mets +2000
Frankly, the Mets’ chances of contending in 2018 hinge almost completely on health. This team has endured a rash of injuries in recent seasons, most notably to the pitching rotation. Last season alone, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler each missed significant time with ailments last year. Jacob deGrom was really the only notable Mets’ starter to make it through most of the season healthy.
DeGrom and Syndergaard are bona fide aces, while Wheeler, Matz and Harvey have each flashed massive potential in the past. Harvey has looked broken for a couple of years, so his future looks the most dubious. He’s gone from being the team’s unquestioned No. 1 to one of the most hittable pitchers in the big leagues in an alarmingly short period of time.
The Mets have some question marks in the lineup, but they have already made a couple of shrewd offensive additions. They surprisingly inked slugger Jay Bruce to a 3-year deal and followed that up by landing third baseman Todd Frazier on a very team-friendly 2-year, $17 million contract. New York also brought in veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but there’s no telling what – if anything – he has left in the tank.
Still, this lineup is better than people may think. Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto are a couple of the best all-around hitters in the National League, while Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores are capable contributors. This will also mark the first full season with top prospect Amed Rosario occupying the shortstop position.
The Mets will need a lot to go right, but there’s reason for optimism. The team also . Terry Francona raved about Callaway’s influence in the Indians’ locker room, so here’s hoping he can get the best out of a mercurial Mets squad.
The Mets aren’t necessarily being undervalued here at +2000, but the profit potential is apparent. They might make for the best longshot flier on the board here to win the 2018 World Series.