MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, Indians still the best teams going in to spring training

Since I took over the internet’s most official Power Rankings in the spring of 2012, my first entry of the season has been my “Pre-Preseason Rankings” and each time I use the intro to explain what I believe is a flawed opinion. That is, the line of thinking that says “until they prove otherwise, you have to rank the defending champions No. 1.”

No, I don’t. Things change each offseason. Personnel moves. And what if the run to the title was a bit fluky? It can happen.

I generally say something like this …

The 2016 Chicago Cubs already got their award: the 2016 World Series championship. They got a trophy and everything. It’s just that it’s 2017 now, and that’s in the past. I’m not going to give them another award by sticking them No. 1 in 2017 just because of the result of the 2016 World Series. 

And I’m not.

It’s just that the 2017 Cubs are the best team in baseball, again, in my view.

The latter point is key. This is a subjective exercise and — especially early in the season — many opinions will vary. That’s perfectly fine. Just understand it’s my opinion and not that of all CBS Sports MLB scribes. If I’m an idiot, the proper way to frame your awesome complaint is “Matt Snyder is an idiot,” not “CBS is a bunch of idiots.”

You can even tell me so either on Twitter (@MattSnyderCBS) or via email: I’m open to any discussion that is above petty online screaming.

The Cubs won it all in 2016 and are back on top to start 2017. Getty Images

As for the Cubs, there isn’t much reason to doubt them. The significant pieces they lost from last year are leadoff man/center fielder Dexter Fowler , closer Aroldis Chapman (who was only with them for the last few months) and fifth starter Jason Hammel .

On Fowler, the Jon Jay/Albert Almora combo (with some Jason Heyward mixed in) can handle center field defensively as well as Fowler did. Offensively, it’s likely to be a big negative, but that can be mitigated. First of all, Kyle Schwarber didn’t do anything last regular season, the NLDS or NLCS. Willson Contreras played essentially a half-season. Youngsters like Contreras (age 25 this season), Addison Russell (23), Javier Baez (24) and Kris Bryant (25) have the ability and young age to believe they’ll take steps forward. I also don’t think it’s possible that Heyward will be nearly as bad as he was last year. Finally, the only regular even close to a decline phase is Ben Zobrist , and he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down just yet.

On the closer situation, the Cubs now have Wade Davis . Sure, he had a few DL stints with a forearm injury last year and that’s a big concern, but if he’s 100 percent (and he closed last season with nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings), he’s every bit as good as Chapman.

On Hammel, he was pretty good in the first half and not very good in the second (4.35 ERA, 1.31 WHIP). Between Mike Montgomery , Brett Anderson , Eddie Butler , Rob Zastryzny , Alec Mills , a trade season in July, pitching guru Chris Bosio’s ability to get the most of his starters (see Jake Arrieta , Scott Feldman , Kyle Hendricks and Hammel himself, among others) and the Cubs’ stellar defense, I’m not too worried about them replacing Hammel.

Are there possible pratfalls? Of course. This is baseball. It’s as unpredictable a game as we have. That’s what makes it great.

And now that we’re in the season of perpetual hope, I have no doubt you think your favorite team (unless you’re a Cubs fan, of course) is too low.