Royals or Mets? Who has the better chance to return to the World Series in 2016?
With pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training in just two weeks, it's time for every fan base to dream big -- even if contending is merely a dream for some of them.
For the two teams that played into November, however, there are legitimate reasons to believe they can return to the postseason and even to the World Series. But which team is more likely to do so: The Kansas City Royals, or the New York Mets?
The case for and against both pennant winners returning to the Fall Classic:
Why the Royals can return to the World Series
1. Roster retention. Re-signing left fielder Alex Gordon was huge, and the Royals also brought back righty Chris Young. Former KC closer Joakim Soria can replace Greg Holland, though the loss of the versatile Ben Zobrist will hurt.
2. The defense. Other than second base (see below), there isn't a weakness. If you put the ball in play, the Royals' have a fantastic chance of recording an out.
3. Ian Kennedy. He has ace potential (9.3 K/9 the past two seasons) and can at least replace Johnny Cueto. Kennedy is a former 21-game winner that should flourish in a spacious park with Gold Glove defenders.
Why the Royals can't return to the World Series
1. History. The last team to win three consecutive pennants was the Yankees (1998-2001). Repeating is hard; three-peating is nearly impossible. At some point, physical and mental fatigue has to set in.
2. Second base. Omar Infante hit .220 in 124 games last season and was bumped from the starting lineup by Zobrist after Gordon reclaimed left field. How much does Infante, 34, have left?
3. Right field. Alex Rios remains an unsigned free agent, with the Royals planning to use a combo of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando -- both of whom are better suited for backup duty.
Strength of division: A case can be made that every team (except the Indians, perhaps) will be better, but no team has improved enough to close what was a 12-game gap between the Royals and the second-place Twins. The Tigers will be the biggest threat to the Royals, but won't dethrone them as AL Central champs.
Strength of league: Can one ace sway the balance of power in the AL East? It's possible David Price will do just that. But the Royals' biggest threat should come from the AL West in the forms of the Astros, who nearly KO'd them in the 2015 ALDS, and the Rangers, who will welcome back Yu Darvish.
Why the Mets can return to the World Series
1. Yoenis Cespedes. Had the slugger not re-upped, the lineup likely would have returned to its pre-Cespedes doldrums from 2015. In addition, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera provide offensive upgrades at second base and shortstop, respectively.
2. The rotation. These dominant young arms only will get better with more experience, and Zack Wheeler eventually will join them after missing the 2015 season. This is the best starting five in the majors.
3. The bullpen. Jeurys Familia was lights-out in his first season as closer in 2015, and an already solid unit will be boosted by the addition of Antonio Bastardo and the healthy returns of Jerry Blevins and Josh Edgin, and a full season of Addison Reed.
Why the Mets can't return to the World Series
1. Yoenis Cespedes. For several weeks, there wasn't a hotter hitter on the planet. But Cespedes finished the regular season without a homer in his final 56 at-bats and had one extra-base hit in the NLCS and World Series combined.
2. Health issues. David Wright played in only 38 games last season, and catcher Travis d'Arnaud appeared in just 67. New York has tremendous depth but can't lose two of its most important players for long periods again.
3. Sophomore slump. Michael Conforto was as good as advertised after jumping from Double-A to the majors in late July. Some regression is likely, though, and safety net Michael Cuddyer retired during the offseason.
Strength of division: The Nationals have plenty of issues after striking out with several high-profile free agents and suffering some free-agent losses. The Marlins should be better, if healthy, and the Phillies and Braves are in full rebuild mode. The Mets are the heavy favorites in the NL East.
Strength of league: Here's where it gets dicey. The Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs and Dodgers all won more games than the Mets last season, and all remain playoff-caliber. The Giants and Diamondbacks will join that list. And it's the Cubs who are the biggest threats to the Mets.
THE RULING: As crazy as it is to count on a groundhog to forecast the weather in February, it might be crazier to forecast the baseball in October right now. But on paper, the Royals are more likely to return to the Fall Classic.