Your inaugural Power Rankings

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The only thing sillier than predictions about who wins each division several months before the season ends is judging which team is the best before any games are played.  But hey, that’s never stopped me before, so let’s have a Power Ranking, shall we?

And yeah, there is that big of a gap between the AL and the NL. It’s just astounding how much better the top teams in the junior circuit are.

1. Yankees: A 97-win team with rotation problems adds a couple of really good starters. Yeah, I think that plays.

2. Rangers: The two-time defending AL champs lose their top starting pitcher but add another one who, in my view anyway, will be better.  That plays too.

3. Angels: Huge additions in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, obviously, but they also had ten games to make up from the Rangers.

4. Tigers: Fielder and Cabrera are gonna be awesome to see. But there are holes in the lineup and, while still awesome, Justin Verlander can’t match 2011’s numbers again because, really, no one can do that. Right?

5. Rays: The deepest rotation in baseball means that if they have any problems — say Luke Scott is a bust and the bullpen falters — they have the chips to make some deals.

6. Red Sox: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somethin’ to say, but nothin’ comes out when they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish, and motherf***ers act like they forgot about how good this team was until September last year.

7. Phillies: Infielders on this team have a worse life expectancy than the drummer for Spinal Tap. But having Halladay, Hamels and Lee hanging around makes up for a lot of stuff. The 1990s-early 2000s Braves won division after division with dudes like Mark Lemke and Keith Lockhart in the infield. I think  the Phillies will be fine.

8. Diamondbacks: Will Ian Kennedy have a repeat year? Exceedingly doubtful. But Trevor Cahill has joined up, I’m curious about an entire year of Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Upton is still awesome and I don’t think the Giants will be substantially better than they were last year. Ergo, the Dbacks.

9. Braves: If Freddie Freeman’s spring training is any indication of how he’ll do this year the perpetual offensive problems this team has will be somewhat mitigated.

10. Giants: Whether you think this team will return to 2010 form has a lot to do with whether you think Melky Cabrera’s 2011 season was indicative of some new normal for him and that he’ll repeat it in AT&T Park. I kinda think it was a fluke.

11. Cardinals: I’m feeling kinda shaky about this given the Carpenter and Furcal injuries, but man, I JUST picked them to win the Central an hour ago, so I have to stick with this a bit longer, no? UPDATE: I have no idea why I thought Rafael Furcal was hurt. I haven’t slept a lot lately.

12. Brewers: Prince Fielder gone, but Aramis Ramirez in (and Casey McGehee out) is pretty decent compensation.

13. Blue Jays: The rotation is kind of a mess and the lineup is depending on a handful of bounceback years. But I could see this team competing and even winning the NL West or Central. Unfortunately, they play in the AL East.

14. Marlins: A bigger deal than all of their offseason additions is the return of a healthy Josh Johnson.  But more than this team’s prospects, I’m curious to see if Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen can avoid their particular brand of performance art this season.

15. Reds:  I’d feel better if not for the bullpen injuries, but the Reds are going to be pesky and, if things break right — or wrong for St. Louis and Milwaukee — they could take the division.

16. Nationals: Still a year away, methinks, but they’re not that far behind Atlanta and Florida. Injuries to those two teams could push Washington toward second place.

17. Indians: They’re gonna do what they always do: surprise for a nice long stretch, disappoint for a nice long stretch and finish fairly far back of the Tigers. Then next winter we’ll all talk about how they’re underrated again.

18. Rockies: Jamie Moyer is a great story, but it is telling that a 49 year-old soft-tosser made this rotation.

19. Royals: So many people’s sexy, breakout pick. Still a year — and a couple of starters – away in my view. Especially in light of the Soria and Perez injuries.

20. Pirates:  A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard and James McDonald could — if they all hit the top end of their potential — make this team a potentially dangerous one. Still, the most realistic goal here is breaking the streak of sub-.500 finishes, not going to the playoffs.

21. Dodgers: Kershaw and Kemp, then a whole lot of nothing, all mitigated by optimism about the new owners.

22. Twins: If Mauer and Morneau are both really back this will look like a really low ranking in hindsight. But they gotta show me first.

23. Athletics: It’s probably going to be more fun to watch the farm system this year — which is stocked — than the big club.

24. Padres: Same here, really. They got a lot of talent back in the Mat Latos deal.

25. Cubs: The future is pretty darn far from now. How long will Theo and Jed’s honeymoon last?

26. White Sox: On the early stages of a rebuild. There will not be any sneaky contention here.

27. Mets: The legal cloud over the team has lifted. Johan Santana appears to be healthy again. Beyond that, I’m kind of at a loss as to where to find optimism here.

28. Mariners: They’ll score more runs this year. But that’s not saying much. They should still have one of the worst offenses in baseball, even with some dramatic offensive improvement.

29. Orioles: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: how they do will depend on young pitching taking a step forward.

30.  Astros: I think they’re gonna settle in this position for the long haul.

Report: Braves not expected to pursue Bryce Harper

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Thanks in part to a rebuilding effort that got ahead of schedule, the Braves in 2018 had their best season in five years, finishing 90-72 and winning the NL East. They were stopped in the playoffs by the Dodgers, falling in five games in the NLDS. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Brian Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year Award. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis even got some down-ballot love in NL MVP voting, finishing 18th behind teammates Freddie Freeman (fourth) and Acuña (12th).

Markakis is now a free agent and there happens to be a very talented and still-young outfielder available in free agency this offseason who could replace him and then some. He goes by the name Bryce Harper. You might have heard of him. David O’Brien of The Athletic initially said to not be surprised if the Braves became players in the Harper sweepstakes, but quickly retracted it as a source he trusts assured him the Braves are not, in fact, in on Harper and added that he thought there would be no way Braves ownership (Liberty Media) would sign off on a 10-year deal.

Since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ Opening Day payroll has been in the $60 million to $137 million range, according to USA TODAY Sports. On average over that period of time, the Braves have had the 18th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams. The Braves increased payroll to a franchise-record $137 million on Opening Day in 2017, but cut that all the way back to $83 million in 2018, dropping their rank in baseball from 13th to 27th. In April, the Braves disingenuously played service time games with Acuña, then an uber-prospect who was undoubtedly major-league ready, in order to cheaply get another year of team control over him.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote in March this year that Liberty Media has $42 billion in assets. This corporation is not hurting for cash. Yet the Braves cried poor in order to bilk taxpayers of $400 million to fund the totally unnecessary new ballpark that moved the Braves’ home from Atlanta to Cumberland (Cobb County). The stadium is not as easily accessible by way of bus or subway, hurting a lot of the Braves’ poorer fans and those who live in the city, sans car. As Meris Lutz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, Cobb County found itself in a $30-55 million budget shortfall, even after “raiding $21 million in rainy-day funds to plug a gaping hole in the 2018 budget.” Liberty Media, of course, doesn’t lose anything from this.

The Braves were one of 13 teams in baseball to see an attendance increase from 2017 to ’18, seeing over 50,000 more fans go through the turnstiles. Braves ownership had said that a spike in revenue — from increased attendance as well as from leasing offices and retail space — would lead to increased payroll. Instead, the Braves’ payroll was cut by approximately $54 million and now the organization has reportedly already taken itself out of the running for Harper, unarguably the best free agent outfielder to hit the open market in quite some time. Adding a talent like Harper (or Manny Machado) would solidify the Braves’ legitimacy in the NL East and it would, at minimum, be a show of good faith to Braves fans, whose tax dollars are on constant display during all 81 home games in Cobb County.

This is in stark contrast to Phillies owner John Middleton, who recently said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.” This confirms what everyone already knew: the Phillies are major players for elite free agents Harper and Machado. Heck, they might even get both. Either player could exceed the record for the largest contract in baseball history, currently held by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins in 2014.

This past season, the Phillies fell flat on their faces in the second half while the Braves continued to press forward with a better-constructed team. The Phillies didn’t have an Acuña or a Freddie Freeman and their minor league system still doesn’t quite match up with the Braves’. Sniping Harper from the Phillies would seem almost critical, then. Or at least keeping up with the Phillies by signing other free agents to fill the gaps left by Markakis and others.

Sadly for Braves fans, it seems like Liberty Media got what it wanted, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and is happy to keep the Braves near the bottom-third of the league when it comes to payroll. If the Braves finish behind the Phillies in 2019 and beyond, fans and the players will have only ownership to blame.