COLUMN: Baseball is in the air

As with most off-seasons, several of professional baseball's best free agents hit the lottery with multi-year, multi-mega million dollar deals. But for some, free agency wasn't at all what they had hoped for.

Commonly, most all free agents reject their former team's qualifying offer. This year, that figure was $15.8 million. Several free agents who rejected the QO ended up signing contracts with new teams for less than they could have gotten to stay in places they already knew - and to continue playing for coaches who already knew them.

Not sure I agree with my friend Darrell, who dropped the C-word - collusion.

With Zack Greinke getting $206.5 million from the Diamondbacks, Jason Heyward getting more than $180 million from the Cubbies, and former Diamondback Justin Upton getting a big haul from Detroit, and David Price getting a seven-year deal in Boston, it's hard to see any collusion going on.

What is happening, however, is teams are less willing to drop mega-deals in the laps of complimentary talent. Big deals should go to difference makers, team leaders, the sport's icons. Not to aging or flawed players.

Collusion is what happened in the mid-1980s when stars such as Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Kirk Gibson, among others, were stiffed by all teams.

Sure is great that baseball is back. And it's time to make my baseball picks for the year.

American League

West- Astros

Central- Royals

East- Blue Jays

Wild Card- Angels

Wild Card- Red Sox

National League

West- Diamondbacks

Central- Cubs

East- Mets

Wild Card- Nationals

Wild Card- Pirates

I will save my post-season picks until the post season. A lot of people seem to think that this is the year the Cubs finally win it all. And they could be right. A lot of people are also anointing the Red Sox as the team to beat. And I think they are wrong.

The main point behind my picks is the teams I say will not make the post season. I think the Rangers were lucky last year and are just not very good. The teams in the AL Central are slowly improving, but also, not enough to play in October. The Yankees I believe are primed to begin another run of sub-mediocrity much like 1965-1974. And that warms my heart like little else.

Every so often, a group of baseball schmoes insists that Seattle is ready to take a giant step forward. Most of the time, that step is right off a cliff. This year will be the same, as the spreadsheet pseudo-baseballists insist that Jerry DiPoto and Scott Servais will lead the Mariners to the WOBA, BABIP and WAR promised land.

If it weren't for Oakland and their recent hair-brained moves, starting with a few years ago when they traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, the Mariners I think would have a one-way ticket for last place.

Not that I think the Angels are all that. They aren't. But other than Houston, which (gasp) is an elite team, the American League West is mediocre. And any team with Mike Trout and its mostly-young starting pitching staff ought to at least make the wild card game.

The Diamondbacks last year were darned good - when they outscored the other team. That may sound like rhetoric, but all the team needed last year was a decent pitching staff and the D-Backs could have overtaken the Giants for second place.

With the Dodgers and their '80s Yankee-esque all-star team of players who do not know their role, the Diamondbacks can fly past them into the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks are not the league's best team, but they will be good. Quite good. I expect about 93 wins out of them. The real improvement, not just bringing in Greinke and Miller, is that Corbin will be one of the best #3 starter in the game this year, the other starters are more than good enough for the back end of the rotation, their hitters are very good and their defense is one of the best.

Yes, yes, yes. The Cubs are that good. Mostly, because of Joe Maddon. But wow, this team has good, young, grinding players. Where is their weakness? Well, the only dumb thing they have done in the past year is dumping Wellington Castillo (who the Diamondbacks are more than thrilled to call their catcher).

It's really a toss-up between the Cardinals and the Pirates. I chose the Pirates, because they are younger and still getting better. Not a fan of their pitching, I figure they will get thumped by the Nats in the wild card game.

The Cards have some terrific pitching, but not much else. Matt Holliday will show a huge drop-off this year, the kind that convinces most folks that he is ready to become a platoon DH.

The Mets have awesome pitching, solid hitting, but a dolt for a manager and if it weren't for their bad defense, they might have no defense. No way I would play Cespedes in center when I could have him in left, with Juan Lagares in center.

Lagares was hurt last year. If healthy, he should be in center, and would likely hit as well as he did in '14, which was pretty decent.

That is bad managing right there. Good pitching needs good defense backing it. Bad defense helps good pitching lose games.

And dumb managers need to be fired.

The statements above were the rantings of Bill Helm, known by friends as the Rainman of Baseball.

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