Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
Adam Wainwright got hurt last spring and basically missed the entire season. Yet, the Cardinals – as they seem to always do – were able to fill the hole that Wainwright left. And I am sure they somehow would manage to have another good season without Wainwright, but the Cardinals need their ace back — especially with the Chicago Cubs loading up this offseason. I have no doubt in my mind that Wainwright will be the ace he was before his injury. The Cardinals just need to hope that he can stay healthy and that it does not take him too long to get back into the groove of things. The Cubs might be the favorites, but never count out Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals.
Cubs: Jon Lester
The Cubs made a flurry of moves this offseason including signing Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. Their offense should be dynamic this season, but their rotation depth is questionable at best. Jake Arrieta had a career year last year. He dominated. But one has to wonder if he regresses at all. It will be incredibly hard season to top, but even if he does regress a little bit he will still be their ace. Nevertheless, the Cubs will need more than Arrieta to pitch well if they are going to live up to expectations. Jon Lester is getting paid like an ace and he needs to pitch like one this season. A lot was made about Lester’s inability to throw over to first base, but as long as he can throw well to home plate I do not think that Cubs and their fans will care. He needs to pitcher well for the Cubs to avoid failing expectations for the 109th year.
Pirates: Francisco Cervelli
When the Pirates acquired Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees for Justin Wilson not much was made of it. It just seemed like a move made out of necessity because they lacked depth at catcher. However, the move for Cervelli turned into much more than a depth move for the Pirates. Much was made about how Cervelli was the Pirates MVP and their unsung hero in 2015. He really did have a great season and was an important part of the Pirates 2015 season. The Pirates need Cervelli to have a repeat performance and prove that last season was the real deal. Whether he can sustain the pace he played at last season remains to be seen. The Pirates and their fans certainly hope so.
Reds: Devin Mesoraco
The Reds are rebuilding and are not expected to compete this season. I was going to anoint Rasiel Iglesias as the Reds x-factor, but I instead elected to go with Devin Mesoraco, who missed most of last season due to injury. Heading into the 2015 season, before Mesoraco’s injury, he was was seen as a crucial part of the Reds future. He is a catcher who can flat out hit, and hit for power. With the Reds entering full rebuild mode, they have to decide if Mesoraco is going to be part of their future.
The hope is that he can return to form and become an integral part of their rebuilding plan. Whether he can or not remains to be seen. This season might not be about wins and losses, but instead about figuring out what pieces fit. And it is important for the Reds to figure out whether Mesoraco does fit with their new plan going forward.
Brewers: Domingo Santana
The Brewers are also in rebuilding mode and, thus, do not expect to compete this season. But, like the other rebuilding teams, that does not mean that 2016 will be a lost season. The Brewers are hoping that the prospects they acquired in recent deals will continue to develop into the players they believed they were acquiring. One of those guys is Domingo Santana, who they acquired last season from the Houston Astros in the Carlos Gomez deal. With the Brewers dealing Khris Davis over the winter, their outfield got a lot less crowded and opened the door for Santana to make an impact in the majors in 2016. The Brewers will be keeping a close eye on how Santana develops this season. How he does will go a long way in determining how close their future really is.