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5 MLB Teams That Could Disappoint in 2016

Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer

As spring training winds down, expectations are low for several MLB teams that have fully committed to rebuilding in 2016 and beyond, including the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies. If those teams lose 90 games or more, it will be disappointing to fans, but not unexpected.

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Related: 5 MLB Teams on the Rise in 2016

However, there are several teams that are expected to compete for division and league titles that could cause major disappointment this year should players regress or fail to develop, or should injuries and age take their toll. We take a look at five teams expected to contend for championships that could fall short of expectations in 2016.

Kansas City Royals

(95-67, 1st in AL Central, World Series champions)

Kansas City surprised many by reaching the World Series in 2014, then repeated as American League pennant winners last season before taking down the New York Mets in the Fall Classic. The Royals’ offense ranked sixth in the AL in runs scored (724), and next to last in home runs (139), but Kansas City’s winning formula consisted of great defense, outstanding team speed, and arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball and it paid off (ahem) royally. The defending champs made only a few offseason moves, most notably adding Ian Kennedy to bolster the starting rotation and grabbing a few bargains mined from the scrap heap, so the recipe for success in 2016 is the same – and so are the projections.

Kansas City Royals logo

Projections are rarely perfect – and several of the statistical projection systems expected KC to take a step back in 2015 instead of win the franchise’s first World Series in a quarter of a century – but both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA are bearish on the Royals this season. In both instances, Kansas City is expected to fall all the way into last place in the AL Central. It could be that the statistics-based models simply don’t give the Royals enough credit for their strengths: specifically their defense and bullpen. Or, it could be that KC wildly overachieved in 2015.

Aside from Kansas City itself, the division as a whole should be stronger with Detroit and Cleveland expected to compete again for the top spot, as well as a young and talented Minnesota team, which started fast in 2015 before falling out of the race late. Even the Chicago White Sox have legitimate playoff hopes. Therefore, 95 wins and a third straight World Series appearance seem highly unlikely, but by now, the Royals are used to surprising us.

Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL Central Teams for 2016

New York Mets

(90-72, 1st in NL East, NL pennant winner)

Speaking of surprises, no one expected the Mets to make it to the World Series this time last year. But, now that New York can boast one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball, has graduated key prospects to the big leagues like Michael Conforto, and was able to keep late-season hero Yoenis Cespedes – who hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games with the Mets – over the winter, this team (and their fans) expects to make another run at a title.

New York Mets logo

There were a few adjustments to the Mets’ roster over the offseason: The club traded veteran starter Jon Niese for Neil Walker to replace departed postseason hero Daniel Murphy at second base, and Asdrubal Cabrera (currently nursing a minor knee injury) is expected to beat out Wilmer Flores for the everyday duties at shortstop. Niese was expendable because the Mets still have Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and the ageless Bartolo Colon to take the mound in rotation, as well as Jeurys Familia to close the door in the ninth inning. New York posted a 3.43 team ERA last season and could be even better in 2016 because the club expects to have Zack Wheeler (Tommy John surgery) back in the fold in July.

As for the projections, both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus expect the Mets to win the division in a close race with the Washington Nationals, who will certainly pose a threat with Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer and MVP Bryce Harper leading the way and a lineup that aims to stay much healthier than it did a year ago. The rest of the division is far weaker, though the Miami Marlins are optimistic they can improve under first-year manager Don Mattingly, and even the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are capable of overachieving in 2016 and playing spoiler.

Of course, it’s possible that 2015 was a one-off. After all, the franchise hadn’t posted a winning record since 2009. The pitching staff was brilliant last season, but it’s possible that Conforto, Syndergaard or Matz suffers a sophomore slump, and the offense may take a hit without Murphy, with outfielder Curtis Granderson turning 35, and with team leader David Wright coming off a season in which he was limited to just 38 regular season games due to injury.

Everything went right for New York in 2015, and 90 wins were enough to win a watered-down division. Expect the road to a second straight division title to be much tougher this year.

Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL East Teams for 2016

Los Angeles Dodgers

(92-70, 1st in NL West in 2015)

Most analysts and projections systems (including both FanGraphs and PECOTA) expect the Dodgers to win the NL West again in 2016, and there is certainly plenty of reason to be optimistic about the team’s chances. Clayton Kershaw is still arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet, Adrian Gonzalez is about as solid as they come in the middle of the lineup, and there’s a ton of young talent already on the roster, such as Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager, who all have All-Star potential. Plus, even more talent is on the way. Pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon are the team’s top two prospects and each could make his big league debut this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers logo

However, there are reasons to be concerned. Kershaw’s running mate Zack Greinke now pitches for a division rival, and the Dodgers will rely heavily on Scott Kazmir (who washed out of baseball in 2011 before making a miraculous comeback) and Kenta Maeda (who has never pitched in a MLB game because he has spent his entire professional career in his native Japan) to provide Kershaw with support in the rotation.

Injuries also are an issue. Andre Ethier is expected to miss 10-14 weeks due to a fractured tibia and Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner are both recovering from offseason surgeries while numerous pitchers are either hurt or still on the comeback trail. Also, Dave Roberts is in his first major league managerial role, and it’s a tough one given the size of the payroll (and accompanying egos) in Los Angeles and the high expectations for the franchise.

The Dodgers should be good – and they could even be great if the powers that be decide to use a deep farm system and even deeper pockets to make improvements to the roster over the course of the season. But, Los Angeles could also be a disappointment if Puig and Pederson don’t improve, the other young talent doesn’t pan out, or injuries take their toll.