Early projection: Indians No. 1 in '06

The White Sox may be the defending champs, but the Indians are the early No. 1 pick in ESPN.com's Power Rankings for '06.

Originally Published: November 2, 2005
ESPN.com

The Chicago White Sox just won the World Series. Free agency hasn't even started yet. We're five months from the next major-league game. Yet it's never a bad time to project how teams will look when they suit up on Opening Day in 2006. And for now, ESPN.com's early front-runners are the Cleveland Indians.

How would you rank the teams going into 2006? Here's your chance.

POWER RANKINGS
Indians 1. Cleveland Indians: Can they sign Kevin Millwood? That'll be the key. Other than closer Bob Wickman, the rest of the team is locked up. The Indians may be baseball's best team from top to bottom. They are young, loaded and hungry from their final-week collapse in '05. Cleveland could earn its first Series title since 1948.
White Sox 2. Chicago White Sox: Here's believing the White Sox will sign free agent Paul Konerko. They'll also add young Brandon McCarthy to an already solid staff. And with Bobby Jenks in the closer role for an entire year? Watch out. The Sox could be even better in '06. At the same time, it's tough to continue one year's glory into the next.
Cardinals 3. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards will have to replace Larry Walker (retirement) and likely Reggie Sanders (free agency). But Scott Rolen will be back. Couple his return with Pujols and Edmonds in the middle of the order, a strong staff led by Chris Carpenter, and the excitement over the new Busch Stadium, and an NL pennant is highly possible.
Athletics4. Oakland Athletics: There will be little offseason movement in Oaktown. But then again, all the A's need is a bit more maturity from their young players. The pitching is there; now the offense needs to catch up. And with Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson a year older, they should score enough to win the AL West crown.
Yankees 5. New York Yankees: The Yankees haven't missed the playoffs since '93, so here's betting they'll make it again. The lineup will be set, once they re-sign Hideki Matsui. They'll most likely fill their hole in center field. Their fortunes, once again, will rise or fall on the legs of an old staff, aside from Chien-Ming Wang.
Mets 6. New York Mets: The Amazin's could be the team to beat in the NL East. Their rotation is aging, but strong with Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine. Don't expect Carlos Beltran to have another year like '05. David Wright is a rising star. Look for Rafael Furcal to join Jose Reyes at the top of the order and in the middle of the infield.
Angels 7. Los Angeles Angels: The Angels will lose starter Jarrod Washburn and catcher Bengie Molina. But pitcher Ervin Santana is ready to step up. The offense needs a big jolt. And if Manny Ramirez doesn't come to Anaheim, Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson or Kendry Morales could provide support for superstar Vladimir Guerrero.
Braves 8. Atlanta Braves: OK, they lost Leo Mazzone. But don't cry for the Braves, who were blessed in '05 with a boatload of contributing rookies. Jeff Francoeur and company will be a year older, to go with vets Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz. They'll compete for a 15th straight NL East title, but it has to end sooner or later.
Phillies 9. Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard or Jim Thome? Here's thinking they'll somehow deal Thome. They may have to eat part of his big contract, but they need pitching help, especially since they'll lose Billy Wagner through free agency. And the Phils are unlikely to add more payroll. The Phils were close in '05 ... and will be just as close again.
Red Sox 10. Boston Red Sox: While Theo is gone, there's a distinct possibility they'll lose Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez as well. That would be a huge blow to a team that relied heavily on offense to compensate for its mediocre pitching. Boston needs its young pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen) to develop in a hurry.
Brewers 11. Milwaukee Brewers: Who's at first, Lyle Overbay or Prince Fielder? It'll be one or the other for the up-and-coming Brewers. New owner Mark Attanasio is expected to increase payroll and could add Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn. With a healthy Ben Sheets and a burgeoning young lineup, the Brewers will rise to second in the NL Central.
Astros 12. Houston Astros: Roger Clemens' future is uncertain. Plus, he's 43, with back and leg problems. It's unlikely Andy Pettitte will pitch as well as he did in '05. And the Astros may hope that Jeff Bagwell, owed $17 million next season, wishes to retire instead of coming back. The 'Stros also need offense. A full year of Lance Berkman helps, but another playoff berth may be too much to ask.
Marlins 13. Florida Marlins: A.J. Burnett won't be back, and the Marlins could also lose Alex Gonzalez, Juan Encarnacion and Jeff Conine. But new manager Joe Girardi still inherits a strong team on paper, with Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett in the rotation and a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado and young Jeremy Hermida in the middle. That's not bad.
Twins 14. Minnesota Twins: Look for the Twins, who have pitching to burn, to make a trade to improve their lackluster offense, the AL's worst in '05. They could lose Jacque Jones to free agency, so they'll need a bold move for an explosive bat or two to keep up with Chicago and Cleveland in their own division.
Giants 15. San Francisco Giants: The Giants will greatly benefit from Barry Bonds' presence, even if it's only for 120 games. They have a nice blend of old-timers and youth, especially with Noah Lowry and Matt Cain in the rotation. If they don't lose a key player like Jason Schmidt or -- of course -- Bonds to injury again, the Giants may win the NL West title.
Blue Jays 16. Toronto Blue Jays: Will A.J. Burnett come to Toronto? It's possible due to his relationship with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. The Jays will spend for either Burnett or Jarrod Washburn. They also need one more big bat. But with Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay back to go with a strong, young nucleus, the Jays are on the rise.
Diamondbacks 17. Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks made progress in '05, and they should make more in '06. Brandon Webb and Javier Vazquez make a nice 1-2 punch, if Vazquez returns. And the lineup has potential with Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin ready to help Troy Glaus, Chad Tracy and Luis Gonzalez. Watch them battle the Giants for the NL West.
Tigers 18. Detroit Tigers: Jim Leyland has landed a team with tons of promise. The Tigers will add pitching to a staff led by blossoming young ace Jeremy Bonderman. Hot prospect Justin Verlander should join the rotation. They should get a full season from Magglio Ordonez, and Chris Shelton is a masher. Keep an eye on the Tigers.
Rangers 19. Texas Rangers: The question: Will new, young GM Jon Daniels pull the trigger? As always, the Rangers need pitching in the worst way. Kenny Rogers, their best pitcher in '05, won't be back. Unless they trade from their surplus of bats (Soriano?) for an established starter or two, Texas will struggle again to reach .500.
Orioles 20. Baltimore Orioles: The O's would love to forget '05, and adding pitching coach Leo Mazzone was a huge boost. He has talent to work with in starters Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard, although they'll lose closer B.J. Ryan. The lineup still has Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Javy Lopez. Expect better results and less controversy.
Nationals 21. Washington Nationals: Somebody will own the Nats by Opening Day, and the front office situation will be settled. But on the field, the Nationals, who played over their heads in the first half of '05, should get little help through free agency or trades. Rookie Ryan Zimmerman will make a big impact, but the Nats should take a step back in '06.
Cubs 22. Chicago Cubs: First, the Red Sox. Then, the White Sox. Is it the Cubs' turn? Not yet, unless Mark Prior and Kerry Wood can both remain healthy. Given their histories, don't bet on it. And don't count on the Cubs signing Nomar Garciaparra. But Prior and Wood are all that matter. Without either of them, the Cubs will have to wait another year.
Padres 23. San Diego Padres: The Padres won the woeful NL West in '05, but more by default. It will be even harder for them to stay above .500 in '06. Expect Brian Giles, Ramon Hernandez and longtime closer Trevor Hoffman to leave Southern California. They still have ace Jake Peavy and Khalil Greene, but not much else to predict another division crown.
Devil Rays 24. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The GM and manager will be in place soon. In the meantime, the Rays are brimming with talent; they were 39-34 in the second half. They'll trade Aubrey Huff to make room in their outfield for someone like Delmon Young. And players like Jorge Cantu, Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford give the D-Rays a reason to hope.
Mariners 25. Seattle Mariners: Much hope rests on the mighty right arm of young Felix Hernandez. King Felix will be expected to pitch like a staff ace in '06. But where's the pitching beyond Felix? And a lineup with Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson and Raul Ibanez was 13th in the AL in runs scored. Expect another season in the AL West basement.
Pirates 26. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates' rich, young talent is surfacing just in time for Jim Tracy's arrival in the Steel City. Zach Duke was brilliant in his '05 debut, and there's more where that came from. Still, the Pirates will lack offensive firepower around Jason Bay, one of the game's unsung performers. The Bucs are built more for '07 and beyond.
Dodgers 27. Los Angeles Dodgers: A manager like Bobby Valentine could coax a few more wins out of this team, and Eric Gagne's return is a big plus. Still, the starting pitching is suspect, and so is the lineup beyond Jeff Kent. Look for the Dodgers to draw from their deep and talented farm system. That'll be great for 2007, but not 2006.
Reds 28. Cincinnati Reds: There's no doubting the Reds' offense. They hammer the ball, leading the NL in runs scored in '05. But like the Rangers in the AL, the Reds are all bats, no arms. Dealing offense (Dunn? Griffey? Kearns?) will return pitching, but the uncertain ownership situation complicates matters -- and keeps the Reds in the same spot as '05.
Rockies 29. Colorado Rockies: The thin air did a number again on the Rockies' pitching. Jeff Francis looks like an ace, and was better on the road than at home. But can they surround Francis with more quality arms? Uh, no. And despite the emergence of Barmes, Atkins and Holliday to go with Helton, the offense still won't be good enough to compensate.
Royals 30. Kansas City Royals: Dead last in pitching. Dead last in wins -- 12 lower than the next worst team. Is there any reason to expect a different scenario in '06? The Royals will have to take their lumps for at least another season before Zack Greinke and the rest of their young players can start producing on the major-league level.