It's that time of year again. With Spring Training just around the corner, I offer you 14 bold predictions for the 2014 baseball season. You heard 'em here first!
1. Prince Fielder hits 40 home runs
Why this is bold: Fielder has not left the yard 40 times in a season since 2009, when he was 25 and in the heart of his prime. Soon-to-be 30 and coming off his worst season since his rookie year, Cecil Fielder's son seems unlikely to add 15 (or more) homers to last season's total of 25.
2. The Yankees finish last
Why this is bold: The Yankees revamped their roster by dropping close to half a billion dollars on pricey free agents such as Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Full seasons from holdovers Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alfonso Soriano can only help.
3. Miguel Cabrera spends time on the Disabled List
Why this is bold: The two-time MVP has never had a DL stint in his 11 year career. A model of health for more than a decade, Cabrera has played at least 148 games in each of the past ten years, averaging 157 per season during that time.
4. The Nationals will win 100 games
Why this is bold: The Nats and their former incarnation, the Montreal Expos, have never had a 100-win season in their 45 year existence, topping out at 98 in their out-of-nowhere 2012. They fell back to Earth a bit in 2013, winning "only" 86 games. Plus, parity is making it harder for teams to win 100 games these days, and they'll have plenty of competition from Atlanta within their division.
5. Alfonso Soriano hits less than 20 homers
Why this is bold: Soriano hasn't failed to reach the 20 homer benchmark since 2001--his first full season. What's more, his home run totals have increased in each of the past four seasons. Soriano smashed 32 dingers in 2012 and 34 in 2013--17 each with the Cubs and Yankees. His power stroke has held up into his late-30s.
6. The Pirates revert to their losing ways
Why this is bold: Pittsburgh won 94 games last year, and while they clearly overachieved, their Pythagorean record was still a pretty good 88-74. On top of that, they have the league's reigning MVP--Andrew McCutchen--about to enter his age-27 season surrounded by several talented young position players such as slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez, speedy outfielder Starling Marte and the always solid/perennially underrated Neil Walker. The rotation is fronted by 23 year-old Gerrit Cole who looks poised to blossom into an ace.
7. Ryan Braun returns to form
Why this is bold: Braun is 30 and coming off a 65 game PED suspension for his involvement in last summer's Biogenesis scandal. Even before the suspension wiped out the second half of his season, he wasn't playing up to his usual standards. The former MVP had missed a month and struggled to hit for power, going deep only nine times in 61 games.
8. The Phillies win more games than they lose
Why this is bold: The Phillies lost 89 games last year, but it could (should?) have been worse: their Pythagorean record says they should've lost 96. They kept getting older this offseason instead of acquiring the young talent they so desperately need. Oh, and Roy Halladay, probably the best pitcher of the past ten years, retired.
9. Curtis Granderson becomes the next Jason Bay
Why this is bold: Injuries ruined Granderson's 2013, but he was an All-Star each of the two years before that. He topped 40 home runs, 100 runs and 100 RBI both years, the only player in baseball to do so. He's not far removed from being an elite slugger, and at 33 is still young enough that a big bounce back could be in the cards.
10. Yasiel Puig will be the National League MVP
Why this is bold: Puig is 23, and only seven position players in baseball history have ever been named MVP at that age or younger. One was Hank Aaron. Another was Willie Mays.
11. Nobody on the Tigers receives Cy Young votes
Why this is bold: Even without Doug Fister, Detroit still boasts one of the best rotations in baseball. Max Scherzer won the award in 2013. Justin Verlander won the award in 2011 and was second in 2012, when voters opted for David Price rather than let Verlander (rightfully) repear. Anibal Sanchez, 2013's AL ERA champion, placed fourth last year. In fact, at least one Tiger has earned consideration in each of the past five years.
12. The Astros have a better record than the Marlins
Why this is bold: Houston plays in the tougher division (AL West) and the tougher league in general. As bad as the Marlins were last year (100 losses), the Astros were significantly worse (111 losses). Plus, Miami has one of baseballs's best pitchers in Jose Fernandez and better sluggers in Giancarlo Stanton.
13. Jackie Bradley Jr. has a better season than Xander Bogaerts
Why this is bold: Everybody's predicting big things from Bogaerts, who shined during Boston's World Series run and appears to be on the brink of stardom. Not as much is expected from Bradley, who struggled in his first taste of the major leagues last year and was left off the postseason roster.
14. The Blue Jays win the American League East
Last year I went against the grain by saying the Blue Jays wouldn't win the World Series, when everyone had them ticketed for postseason glory. Coming off 88 losses and a disappointing last place finish, they hardly look like playoff contenders, especially after a quiet winter in which they didn't do much to improve their team. So why am I expecting a big turnaround in 2014? Like the 2012 Red Sox, Toronto suffered the double-whammy of injuries and under-performance from most of its stars last year, so they'll be better by simple positive regression to the mean. They pretty much have the same team intact--the one everybody picked to win the World Series last year--so I say they right the ship and win it all (one year late).