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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions.

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Edited by Proshares - 10/21/13 at 9:06am
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Best time of year? Errrr

Appreciated tho
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Best time of year? Errrr

Appreciated tho
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Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

No more huddling by the space heaters. No more treks to the hardware store to see if the new shipment of ice-chopping implements has finally hit the shelves.

No more loading up the entire thermos arsenal with hot chocolate. No more gathering around the fireside to watch the Weather Channel for 14 consecutive hours.

That's what winter was like where I reside, in a Pennsylvania town that apparently was secretly annexed by Iceland when we weren't looking. But all that frostbitten wind-chill garbage is about to become officially irrelevant, thanks to the greatest invention since the iPad. And by that, of course, I can only be referring to …

Spring training.

So as pitchers, catchers and sleet-riddled Northerners get ready to stampede through the gates of exotic Joker Marchant Stadium and HoHoKam Park, it's time to look ahead to the people and storylines you'll be monitoring this spring, with the help of two dozen baseball sages who took part in our annual spring-preview survey:

Most Intriguing Spring Stories (AL)

New York Yankees1. YANKEE PANKY: The Yankees will play 162 games this season. I guarantee some pitcher or other will start all 162 of them. But once we get past CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the mystery of who starts all those other games is one of those sagas that makes spring training media-expense accounts worth computing. Can A.J. Burnett be salvaged? Can Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia be hypnotized into believing it's still 2005? Can Cameron Diaz command a slider anywhere near as well as she commanded a piece of popcorn on Super Bowl Sunday? Can't wait to find out.

Texas Rangers2. FOREVER YOUNG? When last we saw those Texas Rangers, they were still playing baseball in November, Cliff Lee was on the mound and Michael Young was Mr. Ranger. Amazing how much can change in a few months, huh? While the Rangers remain poised to contend, we know they'll be doing it without Lee, who bolted for Philly. But will they be able to find a taker for Young -- their disgruntled shortstop-turned-second baseman-turned-third baseman-turned-super-utility DH -- in the next week? And if not, can they all make peace this spring, find this guy 600 at-bats and get back aboard the World Series Express? Bigggg questions.

Tampa Bay Rays3. WHO KIDNAPPED THE RAYS? Speaking of how much can change in a few months, who are these mystery men about to slip on those Tampa Bay Rays uniforms this spring? We knew Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena wouldn't be working here anymore come spring. We just didn't get the memo that the Rays would also be trying to replace Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and pretty much everyone who ever hung out in their bullpen -- or that we'd find the Johnny Damon/Manny Ramirez Idiots Reunion tour passing through Port Charlotte, either. But here's the best-kept secret that folks might very well discover by the end of this spring: Incognito as they may be, these Rays are not about to go all Wayne Huizenga-%*% on you and win like 59 games. They're way too talented for that. But how high is their upside? We'll start finding out under the palm trees.

Oakland A's4. ALL A'S: Looking for a dark-horse pick to be this year's Giants? How 'bout those Oakland A's? Bet you didn't know they led the whole darned sport in quality starts last year. (They threw 103 of them -- seven more than the next-closest rotation.) Then Billy Beane and his brain trust spent the winter stocking up on bats (Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus) and bullpen depth (Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Rich Harden). And if all those pieces fit together this spring, look out. The next Bay Area World Series might be coming right up -- but not on the shores of McCovey Cove.

Baltimore Orioles5. "O" HAPPY DAY: How 'bout this for a concept: actual hope in Baltimore. And it doesn't even involve Joe Flacco. I'm not sure about the last time an Orioles spring training was a source of this much positivity, but I'm fairly certain Earl Weaver was still smoking cigars in the manager's office, whenever it was. Well, just goes to show you what a couple of big-name free agents (Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee), two intriguing trades (for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds), a major bullpen pickup (Kevin Gregg) and an injection of genuine managerial know-how (from the great Buck Showalter) can do for a team. The Orioles haven't had a winning season since Jeffrey Maier hit puberty. But this just might be the year. And if it is, that crazy AL East is about to get even more nuts.

Most Intriguing Spring Stories (NL)

St. Louis Cardinals1. CUT THE CARDS: Albert Pujols says he doesn't want to be a distraction. OK, great. So let's say he DOESN'T sign an extension with the Cardinals before he buttons his jersey and cuts off negotiations next week. Can't imagine anybody would want to talk about that over the next seven weeks or months. Heck, no. We'd much rather focus on the maturation of John Jay, or ask profound questions like "Is there life after Blake Hawksworth?" Who'd want to get distracted by a subject as trivial as the impending free agency of One of the Greatest Players of All Time? No sane person would let that happen. But on the off chance that most of the hemisphere can't get Sir Albert's contract status out of its head, the Cardinals had better get this deal done. Or it's tough to like their chances of spending another serene spring in Jupiter.

Philadelphia Phillies2. ACES HIGH: Whatever happened to the theory that no big-time pitchers would ever want to pitch in Citizens Bank Park, huh? The Phillies are turning that one into a bigger myth than Charlie Sheen's "laugh-induced abdominal pain." This spring, the Phillies will assemble a rotation that has combined for three Cy Youngs, 10 other top-five Cy Young finishes, a World Series MVP award, two LCS MVP awards, 18 Opening Day starts (by four different pitchers), six 20-win seasons and 13 trips to the All-Star Game. So can they all make it through spring training without Tommy John surgery? If so, this team should be departing scenic Clearwater, Fla., as your official NL favorite.

San Francisco Giants3. LAND OF THE GIANTS: The good news for the team that won the World Series is that it became the first juggernaut in history to ride four starting pitchers 27 and younger to the parade floats. But the bad news for the Giants is that those four young starters had to work an extra 99 high-octane postseason innings to carry all those waiver-wire all-stars around them into the winner's circle. Those innings rarely come without a price. So since this team added virtually no offense over the winter, the Year After bounceability of its rotation will be a, well, "Giant" story to eyeball this spring.

Atlanta Braves4. WHO'S THE BOSS? There's nothing more impossible in life than following a legend. And you don't even have to consult Aaron Rodgers about that. You can spend all spring asking Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez. All they have to do is walk in the tracks of two managers who won nearly 5,000 games between them: Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. Is Mattingly ready to do what the Yankees weren't so sure he was up to doing -- running the show of one of baseball's most storied franchises (in this case, the Dodgers)? And is Gonzalez -- hand-anointed by Cox himself as The Successor in Atlanta -- really the perfect, easy, no-worries choice to carry on the legacy of one of the only five men in history to manage the same team for 20 consecutive seasons? Spring training won't answer those questions definitively. But it will sure give both these guys a chance to rehearse their follow-the-legend lines.

New York Mets5. OWNING UP: We don't normally spend a lot of time dissecting owners in spring training. But this spring, we might have to make an exception. Will the Mets' legal bills be higher than their payroll by Opening Day? Is there an astrologer someplace who can extricate the Dodgers from the McCourt family civil war? And when will one of those Texas oil zillionaires finally step up to convince Drayton McLane he wants the Astros to be a champion, too, gul-darnit? We're talking three once-premier NL franchises, all of which have played in an NLCS over the past six Octobers, now virtually frozen in ownership limbo. Isn't this spring fun at its very finest?

Carl Crawford
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Red Sox spent some serious cash this offseason, and it seems they invested wisely.

Most Improved Teams (AL)

1. Red Sox
2. A's
3. Orioles

The blueprint for this defining offseason was one the Red Sox had sketched on their chalkboards for a long, long time. So when the first pitch was thrown, they were ready. Yeah, we'd all been speculating for like two years that they'd trade for Adrian Gonzalez someday. But they actually made it happen -- and then essentially hammered out the parameters of an extension that was both fair and Pujols-proof. Then, in the same December week, they zeroed in on Carl Crawford and lured him away from what seemed like an inevitable rendezvous with the Angels. Add in a couple of good-fit bullpen imports (Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler) and a little upbeat news on the health front (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury). And this shapes up as the best team out there on anybody's spreadsheet. Of course, it helps to have a few hundred million dollars sitting around to plow into the renovations. But the Red Sox continue to remind us they can splice together brains and bucks as purposefully as any franchise in the sport.

FUN POLL FACT: While the Red Sox (18), A's (9) and Orioles (6) monopolized the most-improved votes, the surprise entry was the Blue Jays, who parlayed the stunning Vernon Wells deal into mentions from three voters who were mega-bullish on their long-term future now that they don't have Wells' $86 million cluttering up their debt sheet.

Most Improved Teams (NL)

1. Brewers
2. Phillies
3. Dodgers

As I mentioned in a blog post this week, nobody will ever confuse Brewers history with Packers history. The Packers now have won 13 NFL titles in their history -- while the Brewers haven't even won 13 postseason GAMES in theirs. But this is The Year cheeseheads have been waiting for since Harvey's Wallbangers boarded up the old trot shop nearly 30 years ago. GM Doug Melvin's marching orders were to go all-in to win. And the GM apparently knew what that meant. He sure wasn't going to win with a rotation that had a worse ERA than any team in his league not known as "The Pirates." So Melvin did what he had to do, wiping out his top-prospects list to deal for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. And the folks who responded to this poll clearly liked the GM's work, since the Brewers got more most-improved votes (15) than the next three NL teams (Phillies, Dodgers, Marlins) put together (12). But here's the bad news: This had better be The Year, because it looks as if Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks will both bolt through the free-agent emergency exit next winter. All this reminds one scout of the year when the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia (in 2008): "They have a hell of a team this year," he said. "But they can't keep their team together next year. So they'd better get off to a good start."

FUN POLL FACT: Eight different NL teams got at least one most-improved vote (including the Pirates). But the only team besides the Brewers to get more than three votes was the Phillies (seven).

Most Unimproved Teams (AL)

1. Angels
2. Yankees
3. Mariners

For eight years (2002-09), the Angels dominated the AL West by such a ridiculous margin, there was only one team within 100 wins of them. And that was Oakland, which was 46 wins back. But all of a sudden, things ain't going so hot in Orange County. After his team staggered to a sub-.500 finish for the first time in seven years, owner Arte Moreno plunged into the offseason vowing to do and spend what it took to get the mother ship back on course. So how'd that work out? Hoo boy. One of our poll participants used the word "disaster" to describe the Angels' train wreck of a winter. And that was one of the gentler descriptions. They took such a hard line on the two free agents who fit their needs most -- Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre -- that they lost both of them. Then they reacted, in the words of one AL exec, with a "total panic move," by trading for Vernon Wells without even getting the Blue Jays to eat a major chunk of his money. When you consider that the Angels got almost twice as many most-unimproved votes (10) as two teams that did just about zilch this winter -- Cleveland and Seattle -- it tells you exactly how many people in this sport have spent the past few weeks asking: "What the heck were they thinking?"

FUN POLL FACTS: A sure sign of how good a winter the A's had was that the other three AL West teams got a combined 18 most-unimproved votes -- while Oakland was piling up nine most-improved votes.

Most Unimproved teams (NL)

1. Mets
2. Astros
3. Pirates

Before he took the Mets job, Sandy Alderson probably thought a Ponzi scheme was something that went down in a "Happy Days" episode he once saw on Nick At Nite. But this is one GM who has been getting an education this winter in all kinds of stuff that doesn't involve trolling for somebody who might hit more than six home runs a year in Citi Field. It sure isn't the new GM's fault that he had no money to spend and no hope of moving the Oliver Perezes and Luis Castillos who are cluttering up his roster. But the bottom line is that the Mets had a laugh track of an offseason. A two-year contract to .J. Carrasco, after he got non-tendered? A major league deal for Ronny Paulino while he was still serving a PED suspension? A bargain bin full of Boof Bonsers and Willie Harrises and Taylor Tankersleys? A hunt for inning-eating starters that led to the signings of Chris Capuano and Chris Young, two guys who have spent a combined 720 days on the disabled list over the past three seasons? Someday, when the Madoff Mess gets sorted out and the bloated contracts disappear off the payroll, the sharp minds the Mets brought in to salvage this operation will be able to make an impact. But they had no shot this winter.

FUN POLL FACT: Although the Mets blew away the field, quite a field it was. Nine of the 16 teams in the NL got at least one most-unimproved vote -- the three above, plus the Cardinals, Padres, Dodgers, Reds, Braves and your defending World Series champs, the Giants.

Least Recognizable Team

1. Pirates
2. Astros
3. Royals

I might as well retire this category. What's the point? The Pirates seem to win it every year, anyway. Here's how I know exactly how faceless this team is: I cover baseball for a living. I kept a daily log book on every team's transactions all winter. And even I couldn't correctly identify the Pirates' entire prospective Opening Day lineup this week. So there's no telling how much money you could win if you walked into any tavern not located in the 412 area code and challenged your buddies to do it -- even if you gave them Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez free of charge. It's not a good sign when more Americans can name the lineup of the 1979 Pirates than the 2011 Pirates. But I'm betting that if I commissioned a Gallup poll, that's exactly how it would turn out.

FUN POLL FACT: You know it was an action-packed offseason when eight teams get more than one vote in this competition -- our top three, plus the Indians, Padres, Mariners, A's and Rays.

Checkbook Champs

Boston Red Sox1. RED SOX: The Red Sox really made life tricky for us checkbook-champ judges. Technically, they laid out "only" $161.63 million for Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and their surrounding free-agent cast this winter. (Don't forget Matt Albers!) But you know, I know and Bud Selig's luxury-tax pinto-bean counters know that one of these weeks, as soon as it's clear Adrian Gonzalez's shoulder is still attached to his clavicle and as soon as the accountants give the thumbs-up, the Red Sox also will drop an extension on their new first baseman in the neighborhood of seven years and 150 million bucks. So we're going to ring the cash register early and award them this prestigious checkbook-champ title for approximately $311 million. But hey, if they change their minds, they should know they could have scarfed up nearly 15.6 million servings of Anna's Baked Boston Scrod down at the Long Wharf outpost of Legal Sea Foods if they wanted to lay out that kind of change.

Colorado Rockies2. ROCKIES: Here's a team that never looks in the mirror and sees a big spender staring back. But our motto here is: Follow the money. So we followed along this winter as the Rockies added six years and $119 million to Troy Tulowitzki's equity pool, and another $80 million to the Carlos Gonzalez kid, grandkid and great-grandkid scholarship fund. And yeah, it's true they were only "extensions" to players who weren't going anywhere for years. But tell it to the accounting department. Now add another $40 million for the Rockies' two big league free agents, Jorge De La Rosa and Ty Wigginton. And that's $239 million in bills that are going to land on somebody's desk over the next 10 years. That doesn't quite make this team the Yankees. But we won't be confusing the Rockies with the Pirates any time soon, either.

Washington Nationals3. NATIONALS: Even though the Reds followed the Rockies' path and locked up $151 million worth of extensions with four of their favorite local heroes this winter, I'm making an arbitrary decision to elevate the Nationals ($145.85 million spent) onto the bronze-medal podium on this stage. Yeah, that's pretty much based on the Jayson Werth signing alone. (More on that later.) But if any team tried to make a statement with the sheer muscle of its checking account this winter, this was the team. You can quarrel with the length and magnitude of that seven-year, $126 million Christmas gift the Nats laid on Werth. And trust me, pretty much everybody who participated in this poll did exactly that. But it was still a signing the Nationals utilized to announce to the world: "We're no longer the Artist Formerly Known as the Expos. We're planning to be good. And we've got the money to make it happen." So this is Spring Preview's way of saying: We heard you!

FUN POLL FACTS: Bet you didn't know that EIGHT different teams (these three, plus the Reds, Phillies, White Sox, Tigers and -- shocker alert! -- the Yankees) committed at least $100 million each in free-agent deals and/or whoppo contract extensions this winter. That doesn't even count the Dodgers, who spent $91.825 million on their 11 big league free agents and will top $100 million easy if a few of their 15 minor league free agents make the team. And it doesn't count the Angels, who spent $23 million on free agents and also took on -- stop us if you've heard this somewhere before -- another $86 million worth of Vernon Wells via trade. But the Angels subtracted just enough in salaries in that deal to slip under the magical $100 million threshold. Phew. Meanwhile, who was the biggest non-spender this winter? Gotta love those Indians. Who out there can identify their only free-agent signing this winter (at least so far)? Yessiree, that would be good old Austin Kearns, for 1.3 million big ones. Hey, you were expecting maybe Manny Ramirez?

Best Free-Agent Signings

Lee
Lee
1. Cliff Lee, Phillies (5 years, $120 million)
2. Carl Crawford, Red Sox (7 years, $142 million)
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers (5 years, $80 million)

It's actually kind of amusing that people look at the Lee signing and think the Phillies got some kind of "bargain." Uh, has anyone mentioned lately that this man will collect more dollars per season (an average of $24 million) than any pitcher has ever raked in during any multiyear contract in history? Nevertheless, the Phillies played this so coyly, so quietly, so ingeniously that not even the Yankees and Rangers saw them coming until it was too late. And now this team heads for spring training with one of the greatest, October-ready rotations ever assembled. It's STILL hard to believe this really happened -- and not just for the Yankees.

FUN POLL FACT: Would you believe 27 different free agents got at least one vote -- including (gasp) Vicente Padilla? No kidding.

Worst Free-Agent Signings

Werth
Werth
1. Jayson Werth, Nationals (7 years, $126 million)
2.
Juan Uribe, Dodgers (3 years, $21 million)
3.
Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (3 years, $16.5 million)

Werth got more votes in this category (18) than any other player got in any other department, so I guess the voters have spoken. But I'm not sure I agree with them. At least Werth has proved he can play. There isn't much chance he'll live up to his contract, since it will carry him through age 38. But there's a difference, to me, between a "bad signing" and a contract that's just flat-out too long. So I'd have voted for Benoit (whose great year literally came out of nowhere), Uribe (who couldn't even find a job until January the previous two winters), or any one of about seven setup men (whose multiyear deals boggled many a mind) before I'd have picked Werth. But as I said, the voters have spoken. And I'm the one who asked them to vote.

FUN POLL FACT: Six different players got votes in the best and worst free-agent columns -- Benoit, Rafael Soriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Fuentes, Aaron Harang and Adrian Beltre, whose magnetism in racking up big vote totals for both best and worst signing was unprecedented in the history of this poll.

Best Trades

Gonzalez
Gonzalez
1. The Red Sox get Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego for three guys (Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Raymond Fuentes) talented enough to rank as the Padres' best, second-best and seventh-best prospects, according to the Keith Law prospect-rating machine. So I'm not buying one scout's assessment that the Red Sox "stole" this man. Nevertheless, was Gonzalez born to hit in the shadow of the Green Monster or what? (And if you answered "what," boy would that be incorrect!) This guy slugged .810 on balls hit to left field last year, according to Inside Edge. He hit 42 percent of his homers to the opposite field. And ESPN Stats & Info's Justin Havens estimates that Gonzalez would have hit 18 more home runs at Fenway these past three years than he hit at Out-co Park (oops, make that Petco). So the only remaining critical question: Can Gonzalez learn to properly pronounce "chowdah"?
Wells
Wells
2. The Blue Jays find a team (your perplexing L.A. Angels of Anaheim) willing to take on pretty much all $86 million of Vernon Wells' theoretically immovable contract, then turn around and flip one of the players they got back (Mike Napoli) for their new closer (Frank Francisco). As one exec said, this might not have been "the best pure baseball trade" made this winter -- but holy schmoly. They MOVED VERNON WELLS' MONEY. One assistant GM called it "the least tradable contract in baseball." (OK, guess not.) And as another put it, by dumping so many of those dollars, what the Blue Jays really acquired was "a chance to change the mid/long-term fate of an organization." And that's a much more impactful acquisition than any prospect, any star or (for sure) any player to be named later.
Greinke
Greinke
3.The Brewers get the great Zack Greinke (and, of course, the not-so-great Yuniesky Betancourt) for a shortstop who had a .288 OBP (Alcides Escobar), a fireballer with two marijuana suspensions (Jeremy Jeffress) and two other good-but-not-star-caliber young players (Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi). OK, so they essentially blew out their whole system to do this. But when you're in go-for-it mode (and they clearly are), no point in going for it halfway. Right?

FUN POLL FACTS: If a good baseball trade is one that works for both teams, we might have set a record this winter. The votes rolled in for both sides of the Gonzalez, Greinke, Matt Garza, Shaun Marcum and Dan Uggla deals. So how 'bout for the Angels' side of the Wells extravaganza? Ehhhh, still haven't found anyone willing to endorse that one.

Best Free-Agent Bargains

Wood
Wood
BEST FREE AGENTS SIGNED TO ONE-YEAR DEALS: 1. The Cubs get Kerry Wood back for a lower base ($1.5 million) than the Pirates will pay Ross Ohlendorf ($2.3 million) for going 1-11.
2. The Twins re-sign their home run leader (Jim Thome) for less money ($3 million) than they paid Nick Punto to hit ONE homer last year.
3. For one year and $7 million, the Marlins bring Javier Vazquez back to the National League, where he was last seen two years ago nearly leading the league in strikeouts.
Saito
Saito
BEST FREE AGENTS $2 MILLION AND UNDER: 1. Have we mentioned the Cubs are getting the bargain of the century from a setup force (Wood) who had an 0.69 ERA for the Yankees last year?
2. The Brewers take a $1.75 million shot at a reliever (Takashi Saito) who has NEVER had an ERA higher than 2.83 on this side of the Pacific.
3. The Rays hold their breath and give $2 million (i.e., $140 million less than Carl Crawford got) to everyone's favorite baseball role model, Manny Ramirez.
Garcia
Garcia
BEST FREE AGENTS SIGNED TO MINOR LEAGUE DEALS: 1. Who needs Andy Pettitte or Cliff Lee? Without having to guarantee a whole lot more than meal money, the Yankees get to take a flier on Freddy Garcia, a pitcher who won more games last year (12) than Pettitte and had as many quality starts (18) as Lee.
2. The Pirates drop down and fire a sidearm minor league deal at left-on-left specialist Joe Beimel, a fellow one scout called the "Paul Assenmacher of his generation."
3. It's a tie between the let-it-fly bench-king champions of the non-roster-invitee world, Matt Stairs (Nationals) and Jason Giambi (Rockies) -- two entertaining, life-loving, free-swinging mashers whose combined six pinch homers last year somehow earned them zero guaranteed dollars.

Three Most Outrageous Contracts (Free-Agent Or Otherwise)

Werth
Werth
1. Even the panelists who didn't agree that Jayson Werth was the "worst signing" of the winter couldn't help voting for him in the "outrageous contract" competition. Look, the guy's a good player. But more millions (126) than homers (120)? A $126 million deal for a fellow who has had only two 500-at-bat seasons? A seven-year guarantee for a guy who turns 32 in May? Even an NL exec who said he "loves the player" concluded that this is "almost sure to be an albatross contract at some point in the next seven years." Then again, maybe he just likes saying "albatross."
Soriano
Soriano
2. Ever wondered what a $35 million setup man looks like? Now we know. He looks exactly like Rafael Soriano, the Yankees' new special assistant to Mariano Rivera. Hey, we all understand this dude can pitch (when healthy). He's held opposing hitters to an average beneath the Mendoza Line four years in a row. But did he deserve a deal that pays him almost $12 million a year to pitch the eighth inning -- and throws in two opt-out clauses? Boy, did that ever bug some of the folks we polled. "Well, there's one thing we know," said one of them. "He's not opting out. If he got this kind of money for 45 saves, what's he going to get for NO saves?"
Beltre
Beltre
3. Adrian Beltre is another guy who sure confuses people. He got lots of votes for best signing, AND worst signing, AND most outrageous contract. So what's up with that? Well, on his previous five-year contract (with Seattle), he produced an adjusted OPS-plus above 112 in NONE of those years. And the only two seasons of his career in which he made the top 10 in any significant offensive categories just happened to be the two contract-drive years before he locked up those five-year deals. So there ya go.

FUN POLL FACTS: So which non-free-agent deals got votes? Extensions to Dan Uggla, Troy Tulowitzki and Joey Votto. And the voters kept piling on the Angels just for trading for Vernon Wells, even though they didn't sign the guy to this contract. They just assumed what was left of it. So if you hadn't caught onto the fact that people in this sport HATED that trade, that oughta do it. Right?

Most Important Injury Comebacks

1. Brandon Webb (Rangers)
2. Justin Morneau/Joe Nathan (Twins)
3. Kevin Youkilis/Dustin Pedroia/Jacoby Ellsbury/Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox)

Rookies To Watch (AL)

1. Jeremy Hellickson (Rays RHP)
2. Mike Moustakas (Royals 3B)
3. Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays RHP)

Rookies To Watch (NL)

1. Domonic Brown (Phillies RF)
2. Freddie Freeman (Braves 1B)
3. Aroldis Chapman (Reds LHP)

Most Unlikely Names On Spring Training Rosters

Anderson
Anderson
1. MATT ANDERSON (Phillies): He was the very first player taken in the entire 1997 draft (which would be 184 picks before the A's took Tim Hudson, incidentally). So it's safe to say that if you'd told folks back then that Anderson would still be hanging out in spring training 14 years later, nobody would have been shocked. But if you'd told them how he'd get here, well, they'd have just about passed out. Anderson hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2005, hasn't even been able to hook on in an independent league since 2006 and hasn't pitched anywhere since 2008. But he hit 97 mph on the gun last December with Phillies scout Del Unser watching. So the Phillies scarfed him right up. And it was worth it just so he could shoot down the long-standing rumor that he once blew out his shoulder throwing an octopus, a tale he refuted in Jerry Crasnick's must-read profile of him last month.
Bierbrodt
Bierbrodt
2. NICK BIERBRODT (Orioles): Exactly 1,300 men have shown up on a pitcher's mound in the big leagues at least once over the past six seasons. But not one of them was named Nick Bierbrodt. Last time he was sighted on a big league mound? How about July 6, 2004 -- which was so long ago, Ichiro has had nearly 1,500 hits since then. Meanwhile, Bierbrodt's path back has taken him to Taiwan -- where he got to pitch for one of the storied franchises in sports, the Brother Elephants -- not to mention the Atlantic League, the Golden League, the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League. And now, 15 years after the Diamondbacks drafted him in the first round (10 picks ahead of Milton Bradley), Bierbrodt's old manager in Arizona, Buck Showalter, is giving him one last chance. Is spring training an awesome invention, or what?
Burroughs
Burroughs
3. SEAN BURROUGHS (Diamondbacks): Well, we've got the first round of the 1996 and 1997 drafts covered in this section. So why not the '98 draft? Burroughs was the ninth overall pick that year, taken ahead of Carlos Pena, CC Sabathia, Brad Lidge and about 1,000 other guys. And whatever happened to THEM, anyhow? As for Burroughs, he last hit a major league home run on April 30, 2005. He hasn't even shown up in a minor league box score since 2007. And the most interesting tidbit I was able to find on his Facebook community page was that he once told David Letterman he wanted to be a gynecologist when he grew up. Well, he just turned 30, so you'd think he'd have finished med school by now. Instead, he convinced his former GM in San Diego, Kevin Towers, to slip him an invite to spring training with the D-backs. Beautiful.

No. 1 Story That Summed Up The Offseason

As one AL executive quipped, history was truly made this winter, with that Cliff Lee signing -- but not how you think.

"The mystery team," he joked, "finally signed a player."



Top 100 Prospects List.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]
RANK POSITION PLAYER TEAM HEIGHT WEIGHT AGE
1 CF Mike Trout LA Angels 6-1 217 19
2 RF Bryce Harper Washington 6-2 245 18
3 RF Domonic Brown Philadelphia 6-5 200 23
4 C Jesus Montero NY Yankees 6-4 225 21
5 1B Eric Hosmer Kansas City 6-4 215 21
6 RHP Julio Teheran Atlanta 6-2 150 20
7 2B Dustin Ackley Seattle 6-1 185 22
8 C/RF Wil Myers Kansas City 6-3 190 20
9 RHP Shelby Miller St. Louis 6-1 190 20
10 CF/RF Aaron Hicks Minnesota 6-2 185 21
11 LHP Zach Britton Baltimore 6-3 195 23
12 LHP Manny Banuelos NY Yankees 5-10 155 19
13 RHP Kyle Drabek Toronto 6-1 190 23
14 RHP Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay 6-1 185 23
15 LHP Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati 6-4 185 22
16 LHP Matt Moore Tampa Bay 6-2 205 21
17 1B Brandon Belt San Francisco 6-1 210 22
18 LHP Martin Perez Texas 6-0 178 19
19 RHP Casey Kelly San Diego 6-3 195 21
20 CF Desmond Jennings Tampa Bay 6-2 200 24
21 RHP Michael Pineda Seattle 6-5 245 22
22 RHP Jacob Turner Detroit 6-5 210 19
23 3B Mike Moustakas Kansas City 5-11 230 22
24 LHP Tyler Matzek Colorado 6-3 210 20
25 RHP Jarrod Parker Arizona 6-1 180 22
26 SS Manny Machado Baltimore 6-3 185 18
27 1B/LF Jonathan Singleton Philadelphia 6-2 215 19
28 LHP Mike Montgomery Kansas City 6-5 180 21
29 3B Miguel Sano Minnesota 6-3 195 17
30 RHP Jameson Taillon Pittsburgh 6-6 225 19
31 C Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati 6-1 220 22
32 RHP Kyle Gibson Minnesota 6-6 210 23
33 C Derek Norris Washington 6-0 210 21
34 RHP Jarred Cosart Philadelphia 6-3 180 20
35 2B/SS Jean Segura LA Angels 5-11 155 20
36 RHP Zack Wheeler San Francisco 6-3 180 20
37 2B Brett Lawrie Toronto 6-0 213 21
38 1B Anthony Rizzo San Diego 6-3 220 21
39 3B Lonnie Chisenhall Cleveland 6-1 200 22
40 RHP Chris Archer Tampa Bay 6-3 180 22
41 LHP John Lamb Kansas City 6-3 195 20
42 RHP Jordan Lyles Houston 6-4 215 20
43 1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta 6-5 225 21
44 RHP Zach Stewart Toronto 6-2 205 24
45 SS Jose Iglesias Boston 5-11 175 21
46 LF/RF Jaff Decker San Diego 5-10 190 20
47 RHP Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta 6-0 189 20
48 SS Wilmer Flores NY Mets 6-3 175 19
49 SS Hak-Ju Lee Tampa Bay 6-2 170 20
50 RHP Randall Delgado Atlanta 6-3 200 20
51 SS Billy Hamilton Cincinnati 6-1 160 20
52 RHP Carlos Matias St. Louis 6-0 165 19
53 SS Nick Franklin Seattle 6-1 170 19
54 RHP Anthony Ranaudo Boston 6-7 225 21
55 3B Matt Dominguez Florida 6-1 205 21
56 2B Jason Kipnis Cleveland 5-10 175 23
57 C Travis d'Arnaud Toronto 6-2 195 21
58 SS Grant Green Oakland 6-3 180 23
59 C Yasmani Grandal Cincinnati 6-2 215 22
60 LHP Drew Pomeranz Cleveland 6-5 231 22
61 LHP Mike Minor Atlanta 6-3 210 23
62 C Hank Conger LA Angels 6-1 220 22
63 C Tony Sanchez Pittsburgh 6-0 213 22
64 RHP Simon Castro San Diego 6-5 210 22
65 1B Yonder Alonso Cincinnati 6-2 210 23
66 RHP Trey McNutt Chicago Cubs 6-4 205 21
67 LHP Chris Sale Chicago WS 6-5 170 21
68 C Gary Sanchez NY Yankees 6-2 195 18
69 C Wilin Rosario Colorado 5-11 190 21
70 SS Devaris Gordon LA Dodgers 5-11 150 22
71 CF Ben Revere Minnesota 5-9 175 22
72 3B Zack Cox St. Louis 6-0 215 21
73 RHP Dellin Betances NY Yankees 6-8 245 22
74 OF Oswaldo Arcia Minnesota 6-0 210 19
75 3B Nick Castellanos Detroit 6-4 195 18
76 RHP Brody Colvin Philadelphia 6-3 195 20
77 LHP Alex Torres Tampa Bay 5-10 175 23
78 LHP Tyler Skaggs Arizona 6-4 195 19
79 1B/OF Christian Yelich Florida 6-4 189 19
80 1B/OF Chris Carter Oakland 6-5 230 24
81 SS Jurickson Profar Texas 5-11 165 17
82 C J.P. Arencibia Toronto 6-1 210 25
83 RHP Matt Harvey NY Mets 6-4 225 21
84 SS Chris Owings Arizona 5-11 170 19
85 RHP Jordan Walden LA Angels 6-5 240 23
86 3B Matt Davidson Arizona 6-3 225 19
87 LHP Christian Friedrich Colorado 6-4 215 23
88 RHP Andrew Brackman NY Yankees 6-10 240 25
89 RHP Alex Colome Tampa Bay 6-2 184 22
90 LHP Drake Britton Boston 6-2 200 21
91 RHP Zach Lee LA Dodgers 6-4 190 19
92 3B Nolan Arenado Colorado 6-1 205 19
93 RHP Trevor May Philadelphia 6-5 215 21
94 RHP Rubby de la Rosa LA Dodgers 6-1 170 21
95 C Wilson Ramos Washington 6-0 220 23
96 SS Adeiny Hechevarria Toronto 5-11 180 21
97 LHP Jake McGee Tampa Bay 6-3 190 24
98 LHP Danny Duffy Kansas City 6-3 195 22
99 RHP Aaron Sanchez Toronto 6-4 190 18
100 OF James Jones Seattle 6-4 195 22


Top Ten Prospects by Team.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]
RANK POSITION PLAYER TEAM HEIGHT WEIGHT AGE
1 CF Mike Trout LA Angels 6-1 217 19
2 RF Bryce Harper Washington 6-2 245 18
3 RF Domonic Brown Philadelphia 6-5 200 23
4 C Jesus Montero NY Yankees 6-4 225 21
5 1B Eric Hosmer Kansas City 6-4 215 21
6 RHP Julio Teheran Atlanta 6-2 150 20
7 2B Dustin Ackley Seattle 6-1 185 22
8 C/RF Wil Myers Kansas City 6-3 190 20
9 RHP Shelby Miller St. Louis 6-1 190 20
10 CF/RF Aaron Hicks Minnesota 6-2 185 21
11 LHP Zach Britton Baltimore 6-3 195 23
12 LHP Manny Banuelos NY Yankees 5-10 155 19
13 RHP Kyle Drabek Toronto 6-1 190 23
14 RHP Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay 6-1 185 23
15 LHP Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati 6-4 185 22
16 LHP Matt Moore Tampa Bay 6-2 205 21
17 1B Brandon Belt San Francisco 6-1 210 22
18 LHP Martin Perez Texas 6-0 178 19
19 RHP Casey Kelly San Diego 6-3 195 21
20 CF Desmond Jennings Tampa Bay 6-2 200 24
21 RHP Michael Pineda Seattle 6-5 245 22
22 RHP Jacob Turner Detroit 6-5 210 19
23 3B Mike Moustakas Kansas City 5-11 230 22
24 LHP Tyler Matzek Colorado 6-3 210 20
25 RHP Jarrod Parker Arizona 6-1 180 22
26 SS Manny Machado Baltimore 6-3 185 18
27 1B/LF Jonathan Singleton Philadelphia 6-2 215 19
28 LHP Mike Montgomery Kansas City 6-5 180 21
29 3B Miguel Sano Minnesota 6-3 195 17
30 RHP Jameson Taillon Pittsburgh 6-6 225 19
31 C Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati 6-1 220 22
32 RHP Kyle Gibson Minnesota 6-6 210 23
33 C Derek Norris Washington 6-0 210 21
34 RHP Jarred Cosart Philadelphia 6-3 180 20
35 2B/SS Jean Segura LA Angels 5-11 155 20
36 RHP Zack Wheeler San Francisco 6-3 180 20
37 2B Brett Lawrie Toronto 6-0 213 21
38 1B Anthony Rizzo San Diego 6-3 220 21
39 3B Lonnie Chisenhall Cleveland 6-1 200 22
40 RHP Chris Archer Tampa Bay 6-3 180 22
41 LHP John Lamb Kansas City 6-3 195 20
42 RHP Jordan Lyles Houston 6-4 215 20
43 1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta 6-5 225 21
44 RHP Zach Stewart Toronto 6-2 205 24
45 SS Jose Iglesias Boston 5-11 175 21
46 LF/RF Jaff Decker San Diego 5-10 190 20
47 RHP Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta 6-0 189 20
48 SS Wilmer Flores NY Mets 6-3 175 19
49 SS Hak-Ju Lee Tampa Bay 6-2 170 20
50 RHP Randall Delgado Atlanta 6-3 200 20
51 SS Billy Hamilton Cincinnati 6-1 160 20
52 RHP Carlos Matias St. Louis 6-0 165 19
53 SS Nick Franklin Seattle 6-1 170 19
54 RHP Anthony Ranaudo Boston 6-7 225 21
55 3B Matt Dominguez Florida 6-1 205 21
56 2B Jason Kipnis Cleveland 5-10 175 23
57 C Travis d'Arnaud Toronto 6-2 195 21
58 SS Grant Green Oakland 6-3 180 23
59 C Yasmani Grandal Cincinnati 6-2 215 22
60 LHP Drew Pomeranz Cleveland 6-5 231 22
61 LHP Mike Minor Atlanta 6-3 210 23
62 C Hank Conger LA Angels 6-1 220 22
63 C Tony Sanchez Pittsburgh 6-0 213 22
64 RHP Simon Castro San Diego 6-5 210 22
65 1B Yonder Alonso Cincinnati 6-2 210 23
66 RHP Trey McNutt Chicago Cubs 6-4 205 21
67 LHP Chris Sale Chicago WS 6-5 170 21
68 C Gary Sanchez NY Yankees 6-2 195 18
69 C Wilin Rosario Colorado 5-11 190 21
70 SS Devaris Gordon LA Dodgers 5-11 150 22
71 CF Ben Revere Minnesota 5-9 175 22
72 3B Zack Cox St. Louis 6-0 215 21
73 RHP Dellin Betances NY Yankees 6-8 245 22
74 OF Oswaldo Arcia Minnesota 6-0 210 19
75 3B Nick Castellanos Detroit 6-4 195 18
76 RHP Brody Colvin Philadelphia 6-3 195 20
77 LHP Alex Torres Tampa Bay 5-10 175 23
78 LHP Tyler Skaggs Arizona 6-4 195 19
79 1B/OF Christian Yelich Florida 6-4 189 19
80 1B/OF Chris Carter Oakland 6-5 230 24
81 SS Jurickson Profar Texas 5-11 165 17
82 C J.P. Arencibia Toronto 6-1 210 25
83 RHP Matt Harvey NY Mets 6-4 225 21
84 SS Chris Owings Arizona 5-11 170 19
85 RHP Jordan Walden LA Angels 6-5 240 23
86 3B Matt Davidson Arizona 6-3 225 19
87 LHP Christian Friedrich Colorado 6-4 215 23
88 RHP Andrew Brackman NY Yankees 6-10 240 25
89 RHP Alex Colome Tampa Bay 6-2 184 22
90 LHP Drake Britton Boston 6-2 200 21
91 RHP Zach Lee LA Dodgers 6-4 190 19
92 3B Nolan Arenado Colorado 6-1 205 19
93 RHP Trevor May Philadelphia 6-5 215 21
94 RHP Rubby de la Rosa LA Dodgers 6-1 170 21
95 C Wilson Ramos Washington 6-0 220 23
96 SS Adeiny Hechevarria Toronto 5-11 180 21
97 LHP Jake McGee Tampa Bay 6-3 190 24
98 LHP Danny Duffy Kansas City 6-3 195 22
99 RHP Aaron Sanchez Toronto 6-4 190 18
100 OF James Jones Seattle 6-4 195 22


Just missed top 100.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Because the prospect depth in the minors right now is shallow compared to the last three years in which I compiled my Top 100 ranking, I changed this year's list more times than I remember doing in any previous year. Some names on early drafts just didn't add up once I reviewed notes and video and made some calls, while I also added names of players I overlooked. A handful of players hung around the revisions until the very end, including eight of the names here. It wasn't by design, but four different Cubs prospects fit in the near-miss category, including two players who were on last year's top 100 but fell off because of their 2010 seasons.

Here they are, the near-misses for the Top 100:

Position players


Brett Jackson, CF, Chicago Cubs: In effect, Jackson is player No. 101 this year, as he was for the last cut. He projects as an average big league regular at this point, solid across the board but lacking a plus tool. He tore apart the Florida State League and hit the ground running in Double-A, but after those first four games in the Southern League he hit .258/.352/.426 the rest of the way, striking out in more than a quarter of his at-bats. He's a big leaguer, and a prospect, but I have always swung this list toward higher-risk upside guys.

Austin Romine, C, NY Yankees: He can throw and hit for power, but has struggled with basic receiving tasks every time I've seen him in the past six months, something I've confirmed with other pro scouts. And I'm not sold on the hit tool.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs: Swing is still beautiful, and in the Fall League he played third base as well as I've ever seen him play. But he doesn't walk or even work the count -- he sees a pitch he likes and lets 'er rip -- which won't work in the big leagues. And he's not making any progress on that front.

Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago White Sox: He missed the year with an ankle injury and looked rusty (but in excellent physical shape) in the Fall League. He has to show how much of his pre-injury speed he retained after the injury to see how well he projects, because his legs were a significant part of his game.

Pitchers


Chris Carpenter, RHP, Chicago Cubs: If I was sure he could start, he'd have been on the list, and not in the 90s. It's big stuff, up to 99 mph in relief in the Fall League and in the low to mid-90s as a starter with a four-pitch mix including a slider that flashes above-average. He has been healthy for two-plus years, but the Cubs have kept him that way by being cautious with his workload, and he may not be able to handle 180 innings a year. In relief, though, he could have an impact this year as a setup man or seventh-inning guy.

Chris Dwyer, LHP, Kansas City: Pretty strong consideration not just for the Top 100 (he'd be No. 102 after Jackson) but also to put over Danny Duffy within the Royals' system; his changeup improved this year and the high walk total masks a tweak to his delivery that saw him walk nine men in his past 50 innings in high-A. Dwyer finished the year with a minor back issue and he's topped out around 100 innings each of the past two years.

Jay Jackson, RHP, Chicago Cubs: One of my favorite starter prospects before 2010, Jackson saw his velocity dip at the end of the summer, a malady that also helped knock Dodgers prospect Chris Withrow off the list.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Kansas City: Athletic and projectable with a very clean delivery, but lack of a solid-average breaking ball kept him off the list.

Alex White, RHP, Cleveland: Two-pitch starters end up as relievers more often than not. White could miss a ton of bats in relief with just the splitter, but I don't see an average breaking ball yet and am not certain that it's coming.

Luis Heredia, RHP, Pittsburgh: Heredia received a $2.6 million bonus from Pittsburgh, a record for a Mexican amateur player, and will sit in the low 90s already with a good feel for the fastball. He's very well-developed physically for a 16-year-old, with a big frame and the potential to get heavy, which is more of a long-term concern, but the lack of pro experience and questions about the quality of the off-speed stuff kept him off the list.

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No more huddling by the space heaters. No more treks to the hardware store to see if the new shipment of ice-chopping implements has finally hit the shelves.

No more loading up the entire thermos arsenal with hot chocolate. No more gathering around the fireside to watch the Weather Channel for 14 consecutive hours.

That's what winter was like where I reside, in a Pennsylvania town that apparently was secretly annexed by Iceland when we weren't looking. But all that frostbitten wind-chill garbage is about to become officially irrelevant, thanks to the greatest invention since the iPad. And by that, of course, I can only be referring to …

Spring training.

So as pitchers, catchers and sleet-riddled Northerners get ready to stampede through the gates of exotic Joker Marchant Stadium and HoHoKam Park, it's time to look ahead to the people and storylines you'll be monitoring this spring, with the help of two dozen baseball sages who took part in our annual spring-preview survey:

Most Intriguing Spring Stories (AL)

New York Yankees1. YANKEE PANKY: The Yankees will play 162 games this season. I guarantee some pitcher or other will start all 162 of them. But once we get past CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the mystery of who starts all those other games is one of those sagas that makes spring training media-expense accounts worth computing. Can A.J. Burnett be salvaged? Can Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia be hypnotized into believing it's still 2005? Can Cameron Diaz command a slider anywhere near as well as she commanded a piece of popcorn on Super Bowl Sunday? Can't wait to find out.

Texas Rangers2. FOREVER YOUNG? When last we saw those Texas Rangers, they were still playing baseball in November, Cliff Lee was on the mound and Michael Young was Mr. Ranger. Amazing how much can change in a few months, huh? While the Rangers remain poised to contend, we know they'll be doing it without Lee, who bolted for Philly. But will they be able to find a taker for Young -- their disgruntled shortstop-turned-second baseman-turned-third baseman-turned-super-utility DH -- in the next week? And if not, can they all make peace this spring, find this guy 600 at-bats and get back aboard the World Series Express? Bigggg questions.

Tampa Bay Rays3. WHO KIDNAPPED THE RAYS? Speaking of how much can change in a few months, who are these mystery men about to slip on those Tampa Bay Rays uniforms this spring? We knew Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena wouldn't be working here anymore come spring. We just didn't get the memo that the Rays would also be trying to replace Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and pretty much everyone who ever hung out in their bullpen -- or that we'd find the Johnny Damon/Manny Ramirez Idiots Reunion tour passing through Port Charlotte, either. But here's the best-kept secret that folks might very well discover by the end of this spring: Incognito as they may be, these Rays are not about to go all Wayne Huizenga-%*% on you and win like 59 games. They're way too talented for that. But how high is their upside? We'll start finding out under the palm trees.

Oakland A's4. ALL A'S: Looking for a dark-horse pick to be this year's Giants? How 'bout those Oakland A's? Bet you didn't know they led the whole darned sport in quality starts last year. (They threw 103 of them -- seven more than the next-closest rotation.) Then Billy Beane and his brain trust spent the winter stocking up on bats (Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus) and bullpen depth (Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Rich Harden). And if all those pieces fit together this spring, look out. The next Bay Area World Series might be coming right up -- but not on the shores of McCovey Cove.

Baltimore Orioles5. "O" HAPPY DAY: How 'bout this for a concept: actual hope in Baltimore. And it doesn't even involve Joe Flacco. I'm not sure about the last time an Orioles spring training was a source of this much positivity, but I'm fairly certain Earl Weaver was still smoking cigars in the manager's office, whenever it was. Well, just goes to show you what a couple of big-name free agents (Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee), two intriguing trades (for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds), a major bullpen pickup (Kevin Gregg) and an injection of genuine managerial know-how (from the great Buck Showalter) can do for a team. The Orioles haven't had a winning season since Jeffrey Maier hit puberty. But this just might be the year. And if it is, that crazy AL East is about to get even more nuts.

Most Intriguing Spring Stories (NL)

St. Louis Cardinals1. CUT THE CARDS: Albert Pujols says he doesn't want to be a distraction. OK, great. So let's say he DOESN'T sign an extension with the Cardinals before he buttons his jersey and cuts off negotiations next week. Can't imagine anybody would want to talk about that over the next seven weeks or months. Heck, no. We'd much rather focus on the maturation of John Jay, or ask profound questions like "Is there life after Blake Hawksworth?" Who'd want to get distracted by a subject as trivial as the impending free agency of One of the Greatest Players of All Time? No sane person would let that happen. But on the off chance that most of the hemisphere can't get Sir Albert's contract status out of its head, the Cardinals had better get this deal done. Or it's tough to like their chances of spending another serene spring in Jupiter.

Philadelphia Phillies2. ACES HIGH: Whatever happened to the theory that no big-time pitchers would ever want to pitch in Citizens Bank Park, huh? The Phillies are turning that one into a bigger myth than Charlie Sheen's "laugh-induced abdominal pain." This spring, the Phillies will assemble a rotation that has combined for three Cy Youngs, 10 other top-five Cy Young finishes, a World Series MVP award, two LCS MVP awards, 18 Opening Day starts (by four different pitchers), six 20-win seasons and 13 trips to the All-Star Game. So can they all make it through spring training without Tommy John surgery? If so, this team should be departing scenic Clearwater, Fla., as your official NL favorite.

San Francisco Giants3. LAND OF THE GIANTS: The good news for the team that won the World Series is that it became the first juggernaut in history to ride four starting pitchers 27 and younger to the parade floats. But the bad news for the Giants is that those four young starters had to work an extra 99 high-octane postseason innings to carry all those waiver-wire all-stars around them into the winner's circle. Those innings rarely come without a price. So since this team added virtually no offense over the winter, the Year After bounceability of its rotation will be a, well, "Giant" story to eyeball this spring.

Atlanta Braves4. WHO'S THE BOSS? There's nothing more impossible in life than following a legend. And you don't even have to consult Aaron Rodgers about that. You can spend all spring asking Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez. All they have to do is walk in the tracks of two managers who won nearly 5,000 games between them: Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. Is Mattingly ready to do what the Yankees weren't so sure he was up to doing -- running the show of one of baseball's most storied franchises (in this case, the Dodgers)? And is Gonzalez -- hand-anointed by Cox himself as The Successor in Atlanta -- really the perfect, easy, no-worries choice to carry on the legacy of one of the only five men in history to manage the same team for 20 consecutive seasons? Spring training won't answer those questions definitively. But it will sure give both these guys a chance to rehearse their follow-the-legend lines.

New York Mets5. OWNING UP: We don't normally spend a lot of time dissecting owners in spring training. But this spring, we might have to make an exception. Will the Mets' legal bills be higher than their payroll by Opening Day? Is there an astrologer someplace who can extricate the Dodgers from the McCourt family civil war? And when will one of those Texas oil zillionaires finally step up to convince Drayton McLane he wants the Astros to be a champion, too, gul-darnit? We're talking three once-premier NL franchises, all of which have played in an NLCS over the past six Octobers, now virtually frozen in ownership limbo. Isn't this spring fun at its very finest?

Carl Crawford
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Red Sox spent some serious cash this offseason, and it seems they invested wisely.

Most Improved Teams (AL)

1. Red Sox
2. A's
3. Orioles

The blueprint for this defining offseason was one the Red Sox had sketched on their chalkboards for a long, long time. So when the first pitch was thrown, they were ready. Yeah, we'd all been speculating for like two years that they'd trade for Adrian Gonzalez someday. But they actually made it happen -- and then essentially hammered out the parameters of an extension that was both fair and Pujols-proof. Then, in the same December week, they zeroed in on Carl Crawford and lured him away from what seemed like an inevitable rendezvous with the Angels. Add in a couple of good-fit bullpen imports (Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler) and a little upbeat news on the health front (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury). And this shapes up as the best team out there on anybody's spreadsheet. Of course, it helps to have a few hundred million dollars sitting around to plow into the renovations. But the Red Sox continue to remind us they can splice together brains and bucks as purposefully as any franchise in the sport.

FUN POLL FACT: While the Red Sox (18), A's (9) and Orioles (6) monopolized the most-improved votes, the surprise entry was the Blue Jays, who parlayed the stunning Vernon Wells deal into mentions from three voters who were mega-bullish on their long-term future now that they don't have Wells' $86 million cluttering up their debt sheet.

Most Improved Teams (NL)

1. Brewers
2. Phillies
3. Dodgers

As I mentioned in a blog post this week, nobody will ever confuse Brewers history with Packers history. The Packers now have won 13 NFL titles in their history -- while the Brewers haven't even won 13 postseason GAMES in theirs. But this is The Year cheeseheads have been waiting for since Harvey's Wallbangers boarded up the old trot shop nearly 30 years ago. GM Doug Melvin's marching orders were to go all-in to win. And the GM apparently knew what that meant. He sure wasn't going to win with a rotation that had a worse ERA than any team in his league not known as "The Pirates." So Melvin did what he had to do, wiping out his top-prospects list to deal for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. And the folks who responded to this poll clearly liked the GM's work, since the Brewers got more most-improved votes (15) than the next three NL teams (Phillies, Dodgers, Marlins) put together (12). But here's the bad news: This had better be The Year, because it looks as if Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks will both bolt through the free-agent emergency exit next winter. All this reminds one scout of the year when the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia (in 2008): "They have a hell of a team this year," he said. "But they can't keep their team together next year. So they'd better get off to a good start."

FUN POLL FACT: Eight different NL teams got at least one most-improved vote (including the Pirates). But the only team besides the Brewers to get more than three votes was the Phillies (seven).

Most Unimproved Teams (AL)

1. Angels
2. Yankees
3. Mariners

For eight years (2002-09), the Angels dominated the AL West by such a ridiculous margin, there was only one team within 100 wins of them. And that was Oakland, which was 46 wins back. But all of a sudden, things ain't going so hot in Orange County. After his team staggered to a sub-.500 finish for the first time in seven years, owner Arte Moreno plunged into the offseason vowing to do and spend what it took to get the mother ship back on course. So how'd that work out? Hoo boy. One of our poll participants used the word "disaster" to describe the Angels' train wreck of a winter. And that was one of the gentler descriptions. They took such a hard line on the two free agents who fit their needs most -- Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre -- that they lost both of them. Then they reacted, in the words of one AL exec, with a "total panic move," by trading for Vernon Wells without even getting the Blue Jays to eat a major chunk of his money. When you consider that the Angels got almost twice as many most-unimproved votes (10) as two teams that did just about zilch this winter -- Cleveland and Seattle -- it tells you exactly how many people in this sport have spent the past few weeks asking: "What the heck were they thinking?"

FUN POLL FACTS: A sure sign of how good a winter the A's had was that the other three AL West teams got a combined 18 most-unimproved votes -- while Oakland was piling up nine most-improved votes.

Most Unimproved teams (NL)

1. Mets
2. Astros
3. Pirates

Before he took the Mets job, Sandy Alderson probably thought a Ponzi scheme was something that went down in a "Happy Days" episode he once saw on Nick At Nite. But this is one GM who has been getting an education this winter in all kinds of stuff that doesn't involve trolling for somebody who might hit more than six home runs a year in Citi Field. It sure isn't the new GM's fault that he had no money to spend and no hope of moving the Oliver Perezes and Luis Castillos who are cluttering up his roster. But the bottom line is that the Mets had a laugh track of an offseason. A two-year contract to .J. Carrasco, after he got non-tendered? A major league deal for Ronny Paulino while he was still serving a PED suspension? A bargain bin full of Boof Bonsers and Willie Harrises and Taylor Tankersleys? A hunt for inning-eating starters that led to the signings of Chris Capuano and Chris Young, two guys who have spent a combined 720 days on the disabled list over the past three seasons? Someday, when the Madoff Mess gets sorted out and the bloated contracts disappear off the payroll, the sharp minds the Mets brought in to salvage this operation will be able to make an impact. But they had no shot this winter.

FUN POLL FACT: Although the Mets blew away the field, quite a field it was. Nine of the 16 teams in the NL got at least one most-unimproved vote -- the three above, plus the Cardinals, Padres, Dodgers, Reds, Braves and your defending World Series champs, the Giants.

Least Recognizable Team

1. Pirates
2. Astros
3. Royals

I might as well retire this category. What's the point? The Pirates seem to win it every year, anyway. Here's how I know exactly how faceless this team is: I cover baseball for a living. I kept a daily log book on every team's transactions all winter. And even I couldn't correctly identify the Pirates' entire prospective Opening Day lineup this week. So there's no telling how much money you could win if you walked into any tavern not located in the 412 area code and challenged your buddies to do it -- even if you gave them Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez free of charge. It's not a good sign when more Americans can name the lineup of the 1979 Pirates than the 2011 Pirates. But I'm betting that if I commissioned a Gallup poll, that's exactly how it would turn out.

FUN POLL FACT: You know it was an action-packed offseason when eight teams get more than one vote in this competition -- our top three, plus the Indians, Padres, Mariners, A's and Rays.

Checkbook Champs

Boston Red Sox1. RED SOX: The Red Sox really made life tricky for us checkbook-champ judges. Technically, they laid out "only" $161.63 million for Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and their surrounding free-agent cast this winter. (Don't forget Matt Albers!) But you know, I know and Bud Selig's luxury-tax pinto-bean counters know that one of these weeks, as soon as it's clear Adrian Gonzalez's shoulder is still attached to his clavicle and as soon as the accountants give the thumbs-up, the Red Sox also will drop an extension on their new first baseman in the neighborhood of seven years and 150 million bucks. So we're going to ring the cash register early and award them this prestigious checkbook-champ title for approximately $311 million. But hey, if they change their minds, they should know they could have scarfed up nearly 15.6 million servings of Anna's Baked Boston Scrod down at the Long Wharf outpost of Legal Sea Foods if they wanted to lay out that kind of change.

Colorado Rockies2. ROCKIES: Here's a team that never looks in the mirror and sees a big spender staring back. But our motto here is: Follow the money. So we followed along this winter as the Rockies added six years and $119 million to Troy Tulowitzki's equity pool, and another $80 million to the Carlos Gonzalez kid, grandkid and great-grandkid scholarship fund. And yeah, it's true they were only "extensions" to players who weren't going anywhere for years. But tell it to the accounting department. Now add another $40 million for the Rockies' two big league free agents, Jorge De La Rosa and Ty Wigginton. And that's $239 million in bills that are going to land on somebody's desk over the next 10 years. That doesn't quite make this team the Yankees. But we won't be confusing the Rockies with the Pirates any time soon, either.

Washington Nationals3. NATIONALS: Even though the Reds followed the Rockies' path and locked up $151 million worth of extensions with four of their favorite local heroes this winter, I'm making an arbitrary decision to elevate the Nationals ($145.85 million spent) onto the bronze-medal podium on this stage. Yeah, that's pretty much based on the Jayson Werth signing alone. (More on that later.) But if any team tried to make a statement with the sheer muscle of its checking account this winter, this was the team. You can quarrel with the length and magnitude of that seven-year, $126 million Christmas gift the Nats laid on Werth. And trust me, pretty much everybody who participated in this poll did exactly that. But it was still a signing the Nationals utilized to announce to the world: "We're no longer the Artist Formerly Known as the Expos. We're planning to be good. And we've got the money to make it happen." So this is Spring Preview's way of saying: We heard you!

FUN POLL FACTS: Bet you didn't know that EIGHT different teams (these three, plus the Reds, Phillies, White Sox, Tigers and -- shocker alert! -- the Yankees) committed at least $100 million each in free-agent deals and/or whoppo contract extensions this winter. That doesn't even count the Dodgers, who spent $91.825 million on their 11 big league free agents and will top $100 million easy if a few of their 15 minor league free agents make the team. And it doesn't count the Angels, who spent $23 million on free agents and also took on -- stop us if you've heard this somewhere before -- another $86 million worth of Vernon Wells via trade. But the Angels subtracted just enough in salaries in that deal to slip under the magical $100 million threshold. Phew. Meanwhile, who was the biggest non-spender this winter? Gotta love those Indians. Who out there can identify their only free-agent signing this winter (at least so far)? Yessiree, that would be good old Austin Kearns, for 1.3 million big ones. Hey, you were expecting maybe Manny Ramirez?

Best Free-Agent Signings

Lee
Lee
1. Cliff Lee, Phillies (5 years, $120 million)
2. Carl Crawford, Red Sox (7 years, $142 million)
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers (5 years, $80 million)

It's actually kind of amusing that people look at the Lee signing and think the Phillies got some kind of "bargain." Uh, has anyone mentioned lately that this man will collect more dollars per season (an average of $24 million) than any pitcher has ever raked in during any multiyear contract in history? Nevertheless, the Phillies played this so coyly, so quietly, so ingeniously that not even the Yankees and Rangers saw them coming until it was too late. And now this team heads for spring training with one of the greatest, October-ready rotations ever assembled. It's STILL hard to believe this really happened -- and not just for the Yankees.

FUN POLL FACT: Would you believe 27 different free agents got at least one vote -- including (gasp) Vicente Padilla? No kidding.

Worst Free-Agent Signings

Werth
Werth
1. Jayson Werth, Nationals (7 years, $126 million)
2.
Juan Uribe, Dodgers (3 years, $21 million)
3.
Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (3 years, $16.5 million)

Werth got more votes in this category (18) than any other player got in any other department, so I guess the voters have spoken. But I'm not sure I agree with them. At least Werth has proved he can play. There isn't much chance he'll live up to his contract, since it will carry him through age 38. But there's a difference, to me, between a "bad signing" and a contract that's just flat-out too long. So I'd have voted for Benoit (whose great year literally came out of nowhere), Uribe (who couldn't even find a job until January the previous two winters), or any one of about seven setup men (whose multiyear deals boggled many a mind) before I'd have picked Werth. But as I said, the voters have spoken. And I'm the one who asked them to vote.

FUN POLL FACT: Six different players got votes in the best and worst free-agent columns -- Benoit, Rafael Soriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Fuentes, Aaron Harang and Adrian Beltre, whose magnetism in racking up big vote totals for both best and worst signing was unprecedented in the history of this poll.

Best Trades

Gonzalez
Gonzalez
1. The Red Sox get Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego for three guys (Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Raymond Fuentes) talented enough to rank as the Padres' best, second-best and seventh-best prospects, according to the Keith Law prospect-rating machine. So I'm not buying one scout's assessment that the Red Sox "stole" this man. Nevertheless, was Gonzalez born to hit in the shadow of the Green Monster or what? (And if you answered "what," boy would that be incorrect!) This guy slugged .810 on balls hit to left field last year, according to Inside Edge. He hit 42 percent of his homers to the opposite field. And ESPN Stats & Info's Justin Havens estimates that Gonzalez would have hit 18 more home runs at Fenway these past three years than he hit at Out-co Park (oops, make that Petco). So the only remaining critical question: Can Gonzalez learn to properly pronounce "chowdah"?
Wells
Wells
2. The Blue Jays find a team (your perplexing L.A. Angels of Anaheim) willing to take on pretty much all $86 million of Vernon Wells' theoretically immovable contract, then turn around and flip one of the players they got back (Mike Napoli) for their new closer (Frank Francisco). As one exec said, this might not have been "the best pure baseball trade" made this winter -- but holy schmoly. They MOVED VERNON WELLS' MONEY. One assistant GM called it "the least tradable contract in baseball." (OK, guess not.) And as another put it, by dumping so many of those dollars, what the Blue Jays really acquired was "a chance to change the mid/long-term fate of an organization." And that's a much more impactful acquisition than any prospect, any star or (for sure) any player to be named later.
Greinke
Greinke
3.The Brewers get the great Zack Greinke (and, of course, the not-so-great Yuniesky Betancourt) for a shortstop who had a .288 OBP (Alcides Escobar), a fireballer with two marijuana suspensions (Jeremy Jeffress) and two other good-but-not-star-caliber young players (Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi). OK, so they essentially blew out their whole system to do this. But when you're in go-for-it mode (and they clearly are), no point in going for it halfway. Right?

FUN POLL FACTS: If a good baseball trade is one that works for both teams, we might have set a record this winter. The votes rolled in for both sides of the Gonzalez, Greinke, Matt Garza, Shaun Marcum and Dan Uggla deals. So how 'bout for the Angels' side of the Wells extravaganza? Ehhhh, still haven't found anyone willing to endorse that one.

Best Free-Agent Bargains

Wood
Wood
BEST FREE AGENTS SIGNED TO ONE-YEAR DEALS: 1. The Cubs get Kerry Wood back for a lower base ($1.5 million) than the Pirates will pay Ross Ohlendorf ($2.3 million) for going 1-11.
2. The Twins re-sign their home run leader (Jim Thome) for less money ($3 million) than they paid Nick Punto to hit ONE homer last year.
3. For one year and $7 million, the Marlins bring Javier Vazquez back to the National League, where he was last seen two years ago nearly leading the league in strikeouts.
Saito
Saito
BEST FREE AGENTS $2 MILLION AND UNDER: 1. Have we mentioned the Cubs are getting the bargain of the century from a setup force (Wood) who had an 0.69 ERA for the Yankees last year?
2. The Brewers take a $1.75 million shot at a reliever (Takashi Saito) who has NEVER had an ERA higher than 2.83 on this side of the Pacific.
3. The Rays hold their breath and give $2 million (i.e., $140 million less than Carl Crawford got) to everyone's favorite baseball role model, Manny Ramirez.
Garcia
Garcia
BEST FREE AGENTS SIGNED TO MINOR LEAGUE DEALS: 1. Who needs Andy Pettitte or Cliff Lee? Without having to guarantee a whole lot more than meal money, the Yankees get to take a flier on Freddy Garcia, a pitcher who won more games last year (12) than Pettitte and had as many quality starts (18) as Lee.
2. The Pirates drop down and fire a sidearm minor league deal at left-on-left specialist Joe Beimel, a fellow one scout called the "Paul Assenmacher of his generation."
3. It's a tie between the let-it-fly bench-king champions of the non-roster-invitee world, Matt Stairs (Nationals) and Jason Giambi (Rockies) -- two entertaining, life-loving, free-swinging mashers whose combined six pinch homers last year somehow earned them zero guaranteed dollars.

Three Most Outrageous Contracts (Free-Agent Or Otherwise)

Werth
Werth
1. Even the panelists who didn't agree that Jayson Werth was the "worst signing" of the winter couldn't help voting for him in the "outrageous contract" competition. Look, the guy's a good player. But more millions (126) than homers (120)? A $126 million deal for a fellow who has had only two 500-at-bat seasons? A seven-year guarantee for a guy who turns 32 in May? Even an NL exec who said he "loves the player" concluded that this is "almost sure to be an albatross contract at some point in the next seven years." Then again, maybe he just likes saying "albatross."
Soriano
Soriano
2. Ever wondered what a $35 million setup man looks like? Now we know. He looks exactly like Rafael Soriano, the Yankees' new special assistant to Mariano Rivera. Hey, we all understand this dude can pitch (when healthy). He's held opposing hitters to an average beneath the Mendoza Line four years in a row. But did he deserve a deal that pays him almost $12 million a year to pitch the eighth inning -- and throws in two opt-out clauses? Boy, did that ever bug some of the folks we polled. "Well, there's one thing we know," said one of them. "He's not opting out. If he got this kind of money for 45 saves, what's he going to get for NO saves?"
Beltre
Beltre
3. Adrian Beltre is another guy who sure confuses people. He got lots of votes for best signing, AND worst signing, AND most outrageous contract. So what's up with that? Well, on his previous five-year contract (with Seattle), he produced an adjusted OPS-plus above 112 in NONE of those years. And the only two seasons of his career in which he made the top 10 in any significant offensive categories just happened to be the two contract-drive years before he locked up those five-year deals. So there ya go.

FUN POLL FACTS: So which non-free-agent deals got votes? Extensions to Dan Uggla, Troy Tulowitzki and Joey Votto. And the voters kept piling on the Angels just for trading for Vernon Wells, even though they didn't sign the guy to this contract. They just assumed what was left of it. So if you hadn't caught onto the fact that people in this sport HATED that trade, that oughta do it. Right?

Most Important Injury Comebacks

1. Brandon Webb (Rangers)
2. Justin Morneau/Joe Nathan (Twins)
3. Kevin Youkilis/Dustin Pedroia/Jacoby Ellsbury/Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox)

Rookies To Watch (AL)

1. Jeremy Hellickson (Rays RHP)
2. Mike Moustakas (Royals 3B)
3. Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays RHP)

Rookies To Watch (NL)

1. Domonic Brown (Phillies RF)
2. Freddie Freeman (Braves 1B)
3. Aroldis Chapman (Reds LHP)

Most Unlikely Names On Spring Training Rosters

Anderson
Anderson
1. MATT ANDERSON (Phillies): He was the very first player taken in the entire 1997 draft (which would be 184 picks before the A's took Tim Hudson, incidentally). So it's safe to say that if you'd told folks back then that Anderson would still be hanging out in spring training 14 years later, nobody would have been shocked. But if you'd told them how he'd get here, well, they'd have just about passed out. Anderson hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2005, hasn't even been able to hook on in an independent league since 2006 and hasn't pitched anywhere since 2008. But he hit 97 mph on the gun last December with Phillies scout Del Unser watching. So the Phillies scarfed him right up. And it was worth it just so he could shoot down the long-standing rumor that he once blew out his shoulder throwing an octopus, a tale he refuted in Jerry Crasnick's must-read profile of him last month.
Bierbrodt
Bierbrodt
2. NICK BIERBRODT (Orioles): Exactly 1,300 men have shown up on a pitcher's mound in the big leagues at least once over the past six seasons. But not one of them was named Nick Bierbrodt. Last time he was sighted on a big league mound? How about July 6, 2004 -- which was so long ago, Ichiro has had nearly 1,500 hits since then. Meanwhile, Bierbrodt's path back has taken him to Taiwan -- where he got to pitch for one of the storied franchises in sports, the Brother Elephants -- not to mention the Atlantic League, the Golden League, the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League. And now, 15 years after the Diamondbacks drafted him in the first round (10 picks ahead of Milton Bradley), Bierbrodt's old manager in Arizona, Buck Showalter, is giving him one last chance. Is spring training an awesome invention, or what?
Burroughs
Burroughs
3. SEAN BURROUGHS (Diamondbacks): Well, we've got the first round of the 1996 and 1997 drafts covered in this section. So why not the '98 draft? Burroughs was the ninth overall pick that year, taken ahead of Carlos Pena, CC Sabathia, Brad Lidge and about 1,000 other guys. And whatever happened to THEM, anyhow? As for Burroughs, he last hit a major league home run on April 30, 2005. He hasn't even shown up in a minor league box score since 2007. And the most interesting tidbit I was able to find on his Facebook community page was that he once told David Letterman he wanted to be a gynecologist when he grew up. Well, he just turned 30, so you'd think he'd have finished med school by now. Instead, he convinced his former GM in San Diego, Kevin Towers, to slip him an invite to spring training with the D-backs. Beautiful.

No. 1 Story That Summed Up The Offseason

As one AL executive quipped, history was truly made this winter, with that Cliff Lee signing -- but not how you think.

"The mystery team," he joked, "finally signed a player."



Top 100 Prospects List.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]
RANK POSITION PLAYER TEAM HEIGHT WEIGHT AGE
1 CF Mike Trout LA Angels 6-1 217 19
2 RF Bryce Harper Washington 6-2 245 18
3 RF Domonic Brown Philadelphia 6-5 200 23
4 C Jesus Montero NY Yankees 6-4 225 21
5 1B Eric Hosmer Kansas City 6-4 215 21
6 RHP Julio Teheran Atlanta 6-2 150 20
7 2B Dustin Ackley Seattle 6-1 185 22
8 C/RF Wil Myers Kansas City 6-3 190 20
9 RHP Shelby Miller St. Louis 6-1 190 20
10 CF/RF Aaron Hicks Minnesota 6-2 185 21
11 LHP Zach Britton Baltimore 6-3 195 23
12 LHP Manny Banuelos NY Yankees 5-10 155 19
13 RHP Kyle Drabek Toronto 6-1 190 23
14 RHP Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay 6-1 185 23
15 LHP Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati 6-4 185 22
16 LHP Matt Moore Tampa Bay 6-2 205 21
17 1B Brandon Belt San Francisco 6-1 210 22
18 LHP Martin Perez Texas 6-0 178 19
19 RHP Casey Kelly San Diego 6-3 195 21
20 CF Desmond Jennings Tampa Bay 6-2 200 24
21 RHP Michael Pineda Seattle 6-5 245 22
22 RHP Jacob Turner Detroit 6-5 210 19
23 3B Mike Moustakas Kansas City 5-11 230 22
24 LHP Tyler Matzek Colorado 6-3 210 20
25 RHP Jarrod Parker Arizona 6-1 180 22
26 SS Manny Machado Baltimore 6-3 185 18
27 1B/LF Jonathan Singleton Philadelphia 6-2 215 19
28 LHP Mike Montgomery Kansas City 6-5 180 21
29 3B Miguel Sano Minnesota 6-3 195 17
30 RHP Jameson Taillon Pittsburgh 6-6 225 19
31 C Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati 6-1 220 22
32 RHP Kyle Gibson Minnesota 6-6 210 23
33 C Derek Norris Washington 6-0 210 21
34 RHP Jarred Cosart Philadelphia 6-3 180 20
35 2B/SS Jean Segura LA Angels 5-11 155 20
36 RHP Zack Wheeler San Francisco 6-3 180 20
37 2B Brett Lawrie Toronto 6-0 213 21
38 1B Anthony Rizzo San Diego 6-3 220 21
39 3B Lonnie Chisenhall Cleveland 6-1 200 22
40 RHP Chris Archer Tampa Bay 6-3 180 22
41 LHP John Lamb Kansas City 6-3 195 20
42 RHP Jordan Lyles Houston 6-4 215 20
43 1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta 6-5 225 21
44 RHP Zach Stewart Toronto 6-2 205 24
45 SS Jose Iglesias Boston 5-11 175 21
46 LF/RF Jaff Decker San Diego 5-10 190 20
47 RHP Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta 6-0 189 20
48 SS Wilmer Flores NY Mets 6-3 175 19
49 SS Hak-Ju Lee Tampa Bay 6-2 170 20
50 RHP Randall Delgado Atlanta 6-3 200 20
51 SS Billy Hamilton Cincinnati 6-1 160 20
52 RHP Carlos Matias St. Louis 6-0 165 19
53 SS Nick Franklin Seattle 6-1 170 19
54 RHP Anthony Ranaudo Boston 6-7 225 21
55 3B Matt Dominguez Florida 6-1 205 21
56 2B Jason Kipnis Cleveland 5-10 175 23
57 C Travis d'Arnaud Toronto 6-2 195 21
58 SS Grant Green Oakland 6-3 180 23
59 C Yasmani Grandal Cincinnati 6-2 215 22
60 LHP Drew Pomeranz Cleveland 6-5 231 22
61 LHP Mike Minor Atlanta 6-3 210 23
62 C Hank Conger LA Angels 6-1 220 22
63 C Tony Sanchez Pittsburgh 6-0 213 22
64 RHP Simon Castro San Diego 6-5 210 22
65 1B Yonder Alonso Cincinnati 6-2 210 23
66 RHP Trey McNutt Chicago Cubs 6-4 205 21
67 LHP Chris Sale Chicago WS 6-5 170 21
68 C Gary Sanchez NY Yankees 6-2 195 18
69 C Wilin Rosario Colorado 5-11 190 21
70 SS Devaris Gordon LA Dodgers 5-11 150 22
71 CF Ben Revere Minnesota 5-9 175 22
72 3B Zack Cox St. Louis 6-0 215 21
73 RHP Dellin Betances NY Yankees 6-8 245 22
74 OF Oswaldo Arcia Minnesota 6-0 210 19
75 3B Nick Castellanos Detroit 6-4 195 18
76 RHP Brody Colvin Philadelphia 6-3 195 20
77 LHP Alex Torres Tampa Bay 5-10 175 23
78 LHP Tyler Skaggs Arizona 6-4 195 19
79 1B/OF Christian Yelich Florida 6-4 189 19
80 1B/OF Chris Carter Oakland 6-5 230 24
81 SS Jurickson Profar Texas 5-11 165 17
82 C J.P. Arencibia Toronto 6-1 210 25
83 RHP Matt Harvey NY Mets 6-4 225 21
84 SS Chris Owings Arizona 5-11 170 19
85 RHP Jordan Walden LA Angels 6-5 240 23
86 3B Matt Davidson Arizona 6-3 225 19
87 LHP Christian Friedrich Colorado 6-4 215 23
88 RHP Andrew Brackman NY Yankees 6-10 240 25
89 RHP Alex Colome Tampa Bay 6-2 184 22
90 LHP Drake Britton Boston 6-2 200 21
91 RHP Zach Lee LA Dodgers 6-4 190 19
92 3B Nolan Arenado Colorado 6-1 205 19
93 RHP Trevor May Philadelphia 6-5 215 21
94 RHP Rubby de la Rosa LA Dodgers 6-1 170 21
95 C Wilson Ramos Washington 6-0 220 23
96 SS Adeiny Hechevarria Toronto 5-11 180 21
97 LHP Jake McGee Tampa Bay 6-3 190 24
98 LHP Danny Duffy Kansas City 6-3 195 22
99 RHP Aaron Sanchez Toronto 6-4 190 18
100 OF James Jones Seattle 6-4 195 22


Top Ten Prospects by Team.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]
RANK POSITION PLAYER TEAM HEIGHT WEIGHT AGE
1 CF Mike Trout LA Angels 6-1 217 19
2 RF Bryce Harper Washington 6-2 245 18
3 RF Domonic Brown Philadelphia 6-5 200 23
4 C Jesus Montero NY Yankees 6-4 225 21
5 1B Eric Hosmer Kansas City 6-4 215 21
6 RHP Julio Teheran Atlanta 6-2 150 20
7 2B Dustin Ackley Seattle 6-1 185 22
8 C/RF Wil Myers Kansas City 6-3 190 20
9 RHP Shelby Miller St. Louis 6-1 190 20
10 CF/RF Aaron Hicks Minnesota 6-2 185 21
11 LHP Zach Britton Baltimore 6-3 195 23
12 LHP Manny Banuelos NY Yankees 5-10 155 19
13 RHP Kyle Drabek Toronto 6-1 190 23
14 RHP Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay 6-1 185 23
15 LHP Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati 6-4 185 22
16 LHP Matt Moore Tampa Bay 6-2 205 21
17 1B Brandon Belt San Francisco 6-1 210 22
18 LHP Martin Perez Texas 6-0 178 19
19 RHP Casey Kelly San Diego 6-3 195 21
20 CF Desmond Jennings Tampa Bay 6-2 200 24
21 RHP Michael Pineda Seattle 6-5 245 22
22 RHP Jacob Turner Detroit 6-5 210 19
23 3B Mike Moustakas Kansas City 5-11 230 22
24 LHP Tyler Matzek Colorado 6-3 210 20
25 RHP Jarrod Parker Arizona 6-1 180 22
26 SS Manny Machado Baltimore 6-3 185 18
27 1B/LF Jonathan Singleton Philadelphia 6-2 215 19
28 LHP Mike Montgomery Kansas City 6-5 180 21
29 3B Miguel Sano Minnesota 6-3 195 17
30 RHP Jameson Taillon Pittsburgh 6-6 225 19
31 C Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati 6-1 220 22
32 RHP Kyle Gibson Minnesota 6-6 210 23
33 C Derek Norris Washington 6-0 210 21
34 RHP Jarred Cosart Philadelphia 6-3 180 20
35 2B/SS Jean Segura LA Angels 5-11 155 20
36 RHP Zack Wheeler San Francisco 6-3 180 20
37 2B Brett Lawrie Toronto 6-0 213 21
38 1B Anthony Rizzo San Diego 6-3 220 21
39 3B Lonnie Chisenhall Cleveland 6-1 200 22
40 RHP Chris Archer Tampa Bay 6-3 180 22
41 LHP John Lamb Kansas City 6-3 195 20
42 RHP Jordan Lyles Houston 6-4 215 20
43 1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta 6-5 225 21
44 RHP Zach Stewart Toronto 6-2 205 24
45 SS Jose Iglesias Boston 5-11 175 21
46 LF/RF Jaff Decker San Diego 5-10 190 20
47 RHP Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta 6-0 189 20
48 SS Wilmer Flores NY Mets 6-3 175 19
49 SS Hak-Ju Lee Tampa Bay 6-2 170 20
50 RHP Randall Delgado Atlanta 6-3 200 20
51 SS Billy Hamilton Cincinnati 6-1 160 20
52 RHP Carlos Matias St. Louis 6-0 165 19
53 SS Nick Franklin Seattle 6-1 170 19
54 RHP Anthony Ranaudo Boston 6-7 225 21
55 3B Matt Dominguez Florida 6-1 205 21
56 2B Jason Kipnis Cleveland 5-10 175 23
57 C Travis d'Arnaud Toronto 6-2 195 21
58 SS Grant Green Oakland 6-3 180 23
59 C Yasmani Grandal Cincinnati 6-2 215 22
60 LHP Drew Pomeranz Cleveland 6-5 231 22
61 LHP Mike Minor Atlanta 6-3 210 23
62 C Hank Conger LA Angels 6-1 220 22
63 C Tony Sanchez Pittsburgh 6-0 213 22
64 RHP Simon Castro San Diego 6-5 210 22
65 1B Yonder Alonso Cincinnati 6-2 210 23
66 RHP Trey McNutt Chicago Cubs 6-4 205 21
67 LHP Chris Sale Chicago WS 6-5 170 21
68 C Gary Sanchez NY Yankees 6-2 195 18
69 C Wilin Rosario Colorado 5-11 190 21
70 SS Devaris Gordon LA Dodgers 5-11 150 22
71 CF Ben Revere Minnesota 5-9 175 22
72 3B Zack Cox St. Louis 6-0 215 21
73 RHP Dellin Betances NY Yankees 6-8 245 22
74 OF Oswaldo Arcia Minnesota 6-0 210 19
75 3B Nick Castellanos Detroit 6-4 195 18
76 RHP Brody Colvin Philadelphia 6-3 195 20
77 LHP Alex Torres Tampa Bay 5-10 175 23
78 LHP Tyler Skaggs Arizona 6-4 195 19
79 1B/OF Christian Yelich Florida 6-4 189 19
80 1B/OF Chris Carter Oakland 6-5 230 24
81 SS Jurickson Profar Texas 5-11 165 17
82 C J.P. Arencibia Toronto 6-1 210 25
83 RHP Matt Harvey NY Mets 6-4 225 21
84 SS Chris Owings Arizona 5-11 170 19
85 RHP Jordan Walden LA Angels 6-5 240 23
86 3B Matt Davidson Arizona 6-3 225 19
87 LHP Christian Friedrich Colorado 6-4 215 23
88 RHP Andrew Brackman NY Yankees 6-10 240 25
89 RHP Alex Colome Tampa Bay 6-2 184 22
90 LHP Drake Britton Boston 6-2 200 21
91 RHP Zach Lee LA Dodgers 6-4 190 19
92 3B Nolan Arenado Colorado 6-1 205 19
93 RHP Trevor May Philadelphia 6-5 215 21
94 RHP Rubby de la Rosa LA Dodgers 6-1 170 21
95 C Wilson Ramos Washington 6-0 220 23
96 SS Adeiny Hechevarria Toronto 5-11 180 21
97 LHP Jake McGee Tampa Bay 6-3 190 24
98 LHP Danny Duffy Kansas City 6-3 195 22
99 RHP Aaron Sanchez Toronto 6-4 190 18
100 OF James Jones Seattle 6-4 195 22


Just missed top 100.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Because the prospect depth in the minors right now is shallow compared to the last three years in which I compiled my Top 100 ranking, I changed this year's list more times than I remember doing in any previous year. Some names on early drafts just didn't add up once I reviewed notes and video and made some calls, while I also added names of players I overlooked. A handful of players hung around the revisions until the very end, including eight of the names here. It wasn't by design, but four different Cubs prospects fit in the near-miss category, including two players who were on last year's top 100 but fell off because of their 2010 seasons.

Here they are, the near-misses for the Top 100:

Position players


Brett Jackson, CF, Chicago Cubs: In effect, Jackson is player No. 101 this year, as he was for the last cut. He projects as an average big league regular at this point, solid across the board but lacking a plus tool. He tore apart the Florida State League and hit the ground running in Double-A, but after those first four games in the Southern League he hit .258/.352/.426 the rest of the way, striking out in more than a quarter of his at-bats. He's a big leaguer, and a prospect, but I have always swung this list toward higher-risk upside guys.

Austin Romine, C, NY Yankees: He can throw and hit for power, but has struggled with basic receiving tasks every time I've seen him in the past six months, something I've confirmed with other pro scouts. And I'm not sold on the hit tool.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs: Swing is still beautiful, and in the Fall League he played third base as well as I've ever seen him play. But he doesn't walk or even work the count -- he sees a pitch he likes and lets 'er rip -- which won't work in the big leagues. And he's not making any progress on that front.

Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago White Sox: He missed the year with an ankle injury and looked rusty (but in excellent physical shape) in the Fall League. He has to show how much of his pre-injury speed he retained after the injury to see how well he projects, because his legs were a significant part of his game.

Pitchers


Chris Carpenter, RHP, Chicago Cubs: If I was sure he could start, he'd have been on the list, and not in the 90s. It's big stuff, up to 99 mph in relief in the Fall League and in the low to mid-90s as a starter with a four-pitch mix including a slider that flashes above-average. He has been healthy for two-plus years, but the Cubs have kept him that way by being cautious with his workload, and he may not be able to handle 180 innings a year. In relief, though, he could have an impact this year as a setup man or seventh-inning guy.

Chris Dwyer, LHP, Kansas City: Pretty strong consideration not just for the Top 100 (he'd be No. 102 after Jackson) but also to put over Danny Duffy within the Royals' system; his changeup improved this year and the high walk total masks a tweak to his delivery that saw him walk nine men in his past 50 innings in high-A. Dwyer finished the year with a minor back issue and he's topped out around 100 innings each of the past two years.

Jay Jackson, RHP, Chicago Cubs: One of my favorite starter prospects before 2010, Jackson saw his velocity dip at the end of the summer, a malady that also helped knock Dodgers prospect Chris Withrow off the list.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Kansas City: Athletic and projectable with a very clean delivery, but lack of a solid-average breaking ball kept him off the list.

Alex White, RHP, Cleveland: Two-pitch starters end up as relievers more often than not. White could miss a ton of bats in relief with just the splitter, but I don't see an average breaking ball yet and am not certain that it's coming.

Luis Heredia, RHP, Pittsburgh: Heredia received a $2.6 million bonus from Pittsburgh, a record for a Mexican amateur player, and will sit in the low 90s already with a good feel for the fastball. He's very well-developed physically for a 16-year-old, with a big frame and the potential to get heavy, which is more of a long-term concern, but the lack of pro experience and questions about the quality of the off-speed stuff kept him off the list.

post #7 of 78685
Spring Training is the greatest prelude to any professional season. Here are my predictions:

AL East:

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Tampa Bay Rays
3. New York Yankees
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toront Blue Jays

AL Central:

1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

AL West:

1. Texas Rangers
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Los Angeles Angels
4. Seattle Mariners

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros

NL West:

1. Colorado Rockies
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

AL/NL Wild Card:

Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago Cubs

ALCS:

Boston vs. White Sox

NLCS:

Philadelphia vs. St Louis

WS:

Philadelphia over White Sox

AL/NL MVP:

AL - Carl Crawford
NL - Albert Pujols

AL/NL Cy Young:

AL - David Price
NL - Cliff Lee
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #8 of 78685
Spring Training is the greatest prelude to any professional season. Here are my predictions:

AL East:

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Tampa Bay Rays
3. New York Yankees
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toront Blue Jays

AL Central:

1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

AL West:

1. Texas Rangers
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Los Angeles Angels
4. Seattle Mariners

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros

NL West:

1. Colorado Rockies
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

AL/NL Wild Card:

Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago Cubs

ALCS:

Boston vs. White Sox

NLCS:

Philadelphia vs. St Louis

WS:

Philadelphia over White Sox

AL/NL MVP:

AL - Carl Crawford
NL - Albert Pujols

AL/NL Cy Young:

AL - David Price
NL - Cliff Lee
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #9 of 78685
The White Sox, huh?
post #10 of 78685
The White Sox, huh?
post #11 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?

Well, I don't want it to happen, but there's something about that team that makes me think they'll go on a nice run this year.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #12 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?

Well, I don't want it to happen, but there's something about that team that makes me think they'll go on a nice run this year.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #13 of 78685
The Rockies offense is still well situated but outside of their #1 starter hard to have them on the top
...and the Golden State would never paper hate...
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...and the Golden State would never paper hate...
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post #14 of 78685
The Rockies offense is still well situated but outside of their #1 starter hard to have them on the top
...and the Golden State would never paper hate...
Reply
...and the Golden State would never paper hate...
Reply
post #15 of 78685
Is it too early to throw in the towel on the season yet?
post #16 of 78685
Is it too early to throw in the towel on the season yet?
post #17 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?


Make it to October and anything can happen.


  
post #18 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?


Make it to October and anything can happen.


  
post #19 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stringer Bell 32

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?

Make it to October and anything can happen.


smiley: eek Never thought about like that. Sagacious. smiley: smokin
post #20 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stringer Bell 32

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

The White Sox, huh?

Make it to October and anything can happen.


smiley: eek Never thought about like that. Sagacious. smiley: smokin
post #21 of 78685
anyone running a fantasy league????????
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Reply
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Reply
post #22 of 78685
anyone running a fantasy league????????
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Reply
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Reply
post #23 of 78685
30 Clubs in 30 Days on MLB Network, when does this start airing?
post #24 of 78685
30 Clubs in 30 Days on MLB Network, when does this start airing?
post #25 of 78685
i think the padres can surprise again this year. pitching is solid once again and management actually made some moves that fit PetCo (i.e, better speed and defense up the middle) with that said, they'll have to win a lot of 1-0, 2-1 type games because there isn't 1 bat in our entire line up that can change a game with 1 swing
post #26 of 78685
i think the padres can surprise again this year. pitching is solid once again and management actually made some moves that fit PetCo (i.e, better speed and defense up the middle) with that said, they'll have to win a lot of 1-0, 2-1 type games because there isn't 1 bat in our entire line up that can change a game with 1 swing
post #27 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Statis22

Is it too early to throw in the towel on the season yet?


i already did.
wake up in 3 years for the astros
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
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TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
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post #28 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by Statis22

Is it too early to throw in the towel on the season yet?


i already did.
wake up in 3 years for the astros
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
Reply
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
Reply
post #29 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul

AL East:


2. Tampa Bay Rays

AL/NL Cy Young:

AL - David Price



you gotthat much faith in the Rays finishing 2nd?

they're staring  4th place in the face

  
WHIPPIN.WHITNEY
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WHIPPIN.WHITNEY
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post #30 of 78685
Quote:
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul

AL East:


2. Tampa Bay Rays

AL/NL Cy Young:

AL - David Price



you gotthat much faith in the Rays finishing 2nd?

they're staring  4th place in the face

  
WHIPPIN.WHITNEY
Reply
WHIPPIN.WHITNEY
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