One of my favorite articles to read every week for every sport, especially when my team is performing well, is the weekly Power Rankings. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox Sports, and others all offer their takes. The results of the poll are (usually) not based on standings or any formula, but simply are the author's own take on where each team ranks in the league.
So, since I'm having little luck doing my other work, I thought I'd offer a start-of-Spring-Training Power Poll, because, well, I can.
For the record, I totally make no effort to hide my biases.
30. Washington Nationals
As easy as it would be to lambast a team whose brightest prospects include Elijah Dukes, ex-GM Bowden has a few other illegalDominicansigningscandal-type worries on his mind.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates
They've been bad for most of my life, and that's saying something, since I can now imbibe legally and go to the big person's jail. There are some bright spots—Andrew McCutchen comes to mind—but it'll probably be a season or two before there are any tangible results.
28. Toronto Blue Jays
What happens when you take a team with no offense and blow up the starting rotation? What also happens when you add in the fact that the AAA affiliate of this team had 10 errors in a game I was lucky enough to attend? Yeah, you won't want to put that on your resume.
27. San Diego Padres
It seems like the 2007 team that came up one game short of a playoff spot is a distant memory. The pitching staff will always seem better than it is because of PetCo, and if you finish last in the NL West in 2008—a division where the winner had all of 84 wins—dude, that don't look good.
26. Baltimore Orioles
So the reason the Birds are here instead of back there is that unlike the other birds, the O's have already seen rock bottom. Are they going to be good in 2009? No, probably not. However, Matt Wieters might be the best prospect in all of baseball, Nick Markakis is a solid player, and Adam Jones could become a mainstay in center field. You won't see results this year, but with some legitimate pitching help, the resurgence of the O's is on the horizon. That is, until Angelos gets in the way again...
25. Seattle Mariners
Well, the good news is that Bavasi is gone. The bad news is that the good news kind of ends there. You could consider Felix Hernandez, but a starting pitcher can only win you one game out of every five.
24. San Francisco Giants
The Giants probably shouldn't be this high, but it's hard to root against Tim Lincecum (and, for kicks, Matt Cain). While much of the lineup can be described in one word ("old"), there is some really young talent buried in the farm system, like Angel Villalona, who was born in 1990.
23. Cincinnati Reds
Perhaps the Reds should be higher—with names like Cueto, Volquez, Bruce, and Votto, there's certainly talent—but in a six-team division, it won't be enough. The team's got a lot of youth and waved good bye to Griffey (so now they can find themselves a center fielder who doesn't spend most of the season on the DL), but with youth also comes inexperience. It took the Rays a couple years to be good once they figured out what they were doing, and it'll be the same here.
22. Kansas City Royals
Some are saying that the '09 Royals could be the league's Rays of '08. There's lots of young talent here and if the pitching staff can keep it together, there's certainly an upward trend to look forward to, but this is also the team that thought Jose Guillen was a good idea. Proceed with caution.
21. Houston Astros
Don't be fooled by the 2008 attempt at a miracle run to the playoffs...remember, this is the team that signed LaTroy Hawkins (then again...). Anyway, the point is, in a division with contenders like the Cubs, Cardinals, and perhaps even the Brewers, the Astros don't have a whole lot of upside outside of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, and, the team happens to be the oldest in the National League (caveat: the Yankees were the oldest AL team in 2008, so take that as you will).
20. Atlanta Braves
I guess with the departure of John Smoltz for Beantown things won't be quite the same in Atlanta any more. It's not really possible to replace the jackpot the Braves hit with the Smoltz/Maddox/Glavine combo, but they've got some great young talent in Brian McCann and Jair Jurrjens. If they develop the young talent correctly (and it's hard to believe they won't), the latter half of the 2000s will probably, in the grand scheme of things, just look like a fluke.
19. Detroit Tigers
The very first thing I ever learned about baseball, courtesy of my older brother in 1998, was that good pitching will always, in the long run, beat good hitting. The strength of the 2008 Tigers was supposed to be an offense capable of 1000 runs. Well, that's fine and dandy, but when you can't pitch worth a damn, that's not really a good thing, and if your offense doesn't produce like it's supposed to...yeah, you end up in the basement. Some of the Tigers' poor 2008 was simply luck; they should be better in 2009, but it seems more and more like the AL champion of 2006 was a fluke. Especially worrying is the year that supposed ace Justin Verlander had last season—if he can get back on track, things need not look so bleak.
18. Arizona Diamondbacks
It's been argued that the Yankees' faults the past few years all rest on an inability to get off to a fast start. The Diamondbacks, uh, don't really have that problem. They dominated all throughout April and May of last year and seemed a shoo-in for the NL West, but ended up only two games over .500. The easiest argument to make for this is simply that the Snakes are young. Like babies, almost.
There is talent galore in the lineup (I'm looking at you, Justin Upton), but it hasn't quite matured yet. Give it time—when the lineup does mature, no one's going to want to go to the desert.
17. Colorado Rockies
Well, you know, the 2007 Rockies really did come out of nowhere, and pretty much got lucky enough to have one of those seasons where everything went right. Are the 2009 Rockies necessarily a bad team or out of the running in the anyone-can-win-it-except-the-Padres-and-the-Giants NL West? Nope. Seasons where everything goes exactly to plan do happen on occasion, but you can't count on those happening often, if at all.
16. Cleveland Indians
In 2007, the Cleveland Indians rode Sabathia and Carmona to within one game of the World Series. In 2008, Carmona was...well, let's just say his ERA rose by two and a half points, and Sabathia found himself a Brewer by the deadline. If Carmona can rebound and Cliff Lee not have a drastic fall off, there's enough offensive talent to give the Indians a chance. Don't write them off just yet.
15. Texas Rangers
The team had 2008's best offense, and there's no real reason to suspect 2009 will be much different. They have perhaps the best farm system in the Majors and...the curse of not having the pitching to match. When this team figures out how to not lead the Majors in relief innings, they're gonna be scary good. LA and Oakland, watch your backs.
14. LA Dodgers
It might seem low to drop a division winner...well, this low, but one has to remember that the Dodgers won all of 84 games last year, basically rode Manny Ramirez—whom they haven't (yet) resigned—to the division title, and, oh yeah, Torre's book where he betrayed the confidences of a heck of a lot of people in the Yankees clubhouse. You can't believe that's going to sit well with a lot of the Dodgers.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
Again, it feels kind of weird having the Brewers this low, but they lost Sabathia and even if they were to resign Ben Sheets, he will miss much (if not all) of the year with elbow surgery. Granted, Sheets is never exactly healthy and the Brewers were already competitive before they got Sabathia...the issue here might simply be that the Cardinals and the Cubs are the better teams, unless Yovani Gallardo can bring a can of whoop-ass like Baseball Prospectus 2008 had predicted.
12. Florida Marlins
Hanley Ramirez. It's possible to add Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla here, for sure, but, dude, Hanley. Honestly, if he isn't your pre-ranked No. 1 player, you probably shouldn't be playing fantasy baseball (unless you're me and...well, not very good at fantasy sports). Nevermind that the 2008 Marlins showed some panache and finished with 13 more wins than 2007, and with their youth things are only looking up...dude, Hanley!
11. St. Louis Cardinals
If the pitching staff could just hold it together...I mean, you know Pujols will produce, assuming the elbow doesn't blow up, and if Ludwick is anywhere close to his 2008, and the Cardinals did manage to snag the Molina that can both hit AND catch...
10. Oakland Athletics
I've been reading posts that the Oakland A's could contend for the 2009 AL West, but outside of Giambi and Gonzalez, I have a hard time naming anyone on the roster. Then again, Billy Beane generally seems to know what he's doing. Who knows, enough things go right here, enough things go wrong in LA, and anything's possible, really, and just because I don't know anyone on the roster doesn't necessarily mean a team is good or bad—heck, I could probably give you the O's starting nine from memory (Roberts-Markakis-Millar-Jones-Huff-Mora...eh, 6/9), and the O's aren't exactly supposed to compete...
9. Minnesota Twins
I'll do my best to refrain from posting that now that Carl Pohlad has departed us, perhaps the Twins management won't be afraid to spend a penny, since such a thing would be inappropriate. Then again, if you fall one game short of the playoffs the year after you lose Johan Santana, you might not really need to open the wallet after all...
8. Chicago White Sox: These guys kind of baffle me. I mean, they were competing for the cellar in 2007 and last year made the LDS? Was that because the Sox were good or because they got lucky that the Indians and Tigers were, uh, not very good? It is possible to argue, after all, that the Twins should have won that one-game playoff and been the real AL Central champions, but what's done is done. The simple truth is that I don't know what to expect out of these guys, and there really isn't anywhere else to put them.
7. NY Mets
The 2008 Mets can be summed up in the pun-nish phrase "blow-pen." Knowing this, Minaya went and got not one but two elite closers in K-Rod and J.J. Putz. Assuming the bullpen can now, you know, do their job, this team should (hopefully) be able to avoid the September collapses of late. Caveat: Santana's recent elbow troubles should not be taken lightly.
6. LA Angels
We know this team can and will win in the regular season. We know that they'll always manage to kill the Yankees, especially in LA. We know that they can do all the little things right when needed. What the Angels haven't been able to do, however, is win in the playoffs, at least since 2002. They're still one of the better teams in baseball, and should have no problem at least contending for the AL West title, but Oakland and Texas aren't write-offs as they have been in years past, and the Halos, age-wise, are in their prime. It won't be long before it's now or never with this group.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies, the easiest way to put this, are a team where the sum is way, way greater than the parts. That's really good for this thing called team chemistry, and, well, the winning that goes along with it. Now, chemistry doesn't necessarily mean everyone loves each other (think "Bronx is Burning" here), but just that, when and where it matters, every part works seamlessly within the whole. That's what the Phillies had in 2008.
Phillies fans I know don't tend to think a repeat is likely—how much longer can Jaime Moyer keep disobeying the laws of human aging? How will the departure of Burrell hurt? However, I'd still consider them the favorites to win the NL East. Even if they don't repeat, they should still be lots of fun to watch.
4. Boston Red Sox
I know, I know, the Red Sox are better than the Yankees...well, they were in 2008...but, dude, the thing about a new season is that it's a new season. The Yankees went out and, to the dismay of the economies of most moderately sized nations, signed Sabathia and Burnett AND Teixeira.
The Red Sox signed John Smoltz and Brad Penny. Now, if and when they're healthy, those signings will be well worth it, but the Sox have some questions that I can't recall them actually addressing in the offseason. Like, for instance, the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka walks pretty much everything in sight is going to come back and bite him. Anyway, despite their flaws, the Sox do have one of the best farm systems in the league. If the prospects produce anywhere near their full potential, this is a team that *gulp* could be a dynasty to contend with for years to come. Like I said, *gulp*.
3. NY Yankees
Most teams, most years, if they win 89 games with their Opening Day lineup and rotation, well, they've got a very legitimate chance at sneaking in with the Wild Card and thus no one will complain. When the Yankees win 89 games, the world is ending.
However, if you consider that the Yankees won 89 games last year WITHOUT Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui for most of the year, without a single win from the Opening Day No. 3 and No. 4 starters (hell, the No. 5 starter, Mussina, LED the team in wins), with the No. 1 starter's season coming to an end in June with a freak foot injury, with nearly one-third of starts from Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson, with a team so hurt that Carl Pavano made pitching appearances, with Jose Molina in an every day lineup that included a Melky Cabrera who regressed badly enough to be sent to AAA, a Cano who really came and played for about a week in July and a week in September, and a Giambi that had two mustache-fueled good months amidst being more or less a lump in the lineup the rest of the time...yeah, when you consider that despite all that the Yankees still won 89 games, and then you consider that this winter they've added Nick Swisher, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia...
(Dude, this is a Yankees blog. Were you expecting objectivity?)
2. Chicago Cubs
After last season's horrid October (for the Cubs, anyway), I've come to believe that there probably is something to the curse of the Billy Goat. Ignoring that, however, this team has talent galore and it's not raw, non-matured talent, either. The team finally has seemed to realize that they will break the curse one of these days. All that's left now is to do it.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Hands down the best team in the AL last year, there's no reason to think they'll be any worse this year. They've got it all: youth, good offense, good defense, good pitching, a great farm system, and now you can add in playoff experience as well. I don't think I ever really thought I'd be saying this, but you would have to consider the Rays one of the favorites to win the 2009 World Series, assuming they stay healthy and all that. If you think Joba is good, wait till you get a load of Price.