Christian Cieri, Illustrator

Even though it’s still snowing in Rochester, it’s green pastures and bright futures for 30 teams across the country this week as the 2015 MLB season kicks off. After one of the wilder postseasons in recent memory, the league feels a little more wide-open than it’s been in a long time. The Royals look to build on last year, the Giants try to break the odd-year curse and the Padres try to break out of their decades-long malaise. Let’s make some predictions.

1. Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley: two of those three will be on new teams by the trade deadline.

After trading longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers earlier this offseason, there have been persistent whispers about a long-overdue fire sale in Philadelphia. Hamels is one of the ten best pitchers in the game, and there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t love to take him and his contract for a few years.

Utley remains of the best second basemen in the league, but his age and injury history probably restrict his possible trade destinations to playoff contenders looking to mortgage the future for a late push. Howard is nearly untradeable, but he’s been earmarked for the American League since he entered the league, and he’ll get there soon enough.

2. The Miami Marlins will challenge Washington for the division title, but make it into the playoffs as the first wild card. 

The amount of young talent on this team is, as they say, too damn high. Between Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria (props to me for not needing to look up the spelling on that one), Michael Morse (not that young, but bear with me), Dee Gordon, Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos, the team is poised for a few nice years. And of course Giancarlo Stanton, one of the five best players in baseball, ties it all together. When this team gets Jose Fernandez back around June, they’re going to be scary good.

3. Mike Trout will make a return to form.

It’s crazy to say this, but Mike Trout’s MVP season last year was the worst of his career. His defense wasn’t as strong as it was during his first two seasons, he struck out 184 times, his stolen base numbers were way down and his averages were down across the board. Don’t get me wrong—he’s still the best player in baseball. I just think that last year was Mike Trout’s “The Blueprint 3”—incredibly good, but we all know he can do better, because we’ve seen it.

4. Defensive shifts will become an even louder issue.

New commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments about defensive shifts this offseason represent a changing attitude (notice I refrained from calling it a shift) to the oft-deployed maneuver. Offense has been down in recent years, and Manfred need only look back to the ‘90s to see what happens to baseball when offense is up; namely, it’s far more popular. He stepped back a little for his proposed ban on shifts that essentially take away an entire side of the field for pull hitters, but now that the conversation has been started, I think it’s going to persist for longer than people think.

5. The Los Angeles Dodgers will win the World Series.

You probably didn’t hear it here first, but just pretend you did—for me. The Dodgers are the strongest team in the league top to bottom, deeper than any championship contender and with the pockets to make the necessary changes when problems arise. Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw lead a team that’s rattled off 94 wins last season while fighting through injuries to nearly every major contributor. Matt Kemp is gone, but Joc Pederson will try to show the world why the Dodgers’ brass chose to part with one of the better center fielders in baseball for a largely­­­­­­-untested rookie. Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick form one of the best two-way middle infields in the league, and their veteran leadership will do a young team good. Though the new pitching staff has some injury questions, a little luck in that department could power this team all the way through October.

Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.

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