Heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, here are 10 stories to follow.
1. Repeat contenders?
No team has successfully defended their World Series title since the 2000 New York Yankees. Nonetheless, the current Chicago Cubs look built to become perennial championship contenders. Their young core players should continue to improve. The only potential weaknesses are in centre field and at the back end of the pitching staff, where the team will look to improve during the year.
2. No more Mr. Papi
The Boston Red Sox will have to replace David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz’s production both on the field–where he hit .315 with 38 home runs last year–and off the field where he was a vocal leader of the team. If second baseman Dustin Pedroia can take the reigns of the team, the acquisition of Chris Sale should help ease the burden on the offence.
3. Jays looking for a slugger
Expecting designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion to sign a mega-contract elsewhere, the Toronto Blue Jays brought in designated hitter Kendrys Morales to replace their long-time slugger. The market for power hitters failed to materialize and Encarnacion settled for a 3 year, $60 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. Morales might lack Encarnacion’s upside, but with a bounce-back season from right fielder Jose Bautista the Jays could be back in October.
4. A young man’s sport
Rookie shortstops Trevor Story and Corey Seager burst onto the season last year in the National League while Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer became an ace. This year, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson look to take the league by storm.
5. Time’s ticking
Commissioner Rob Manfred has made a concerted effort to decrease the duration of games. The two most significant rule changes for 2017 are the start of a no-pitch intentional walk and a 30-second limit for managers to decide whether to challenge a play. Will it work? Only time will tell.
6. The Young Yankees
At last season’s trade deadline, the Yankees re-loaded their farm system with a plethora of young prospects. Catcher Gary Sanchez tore up the league down the stretch and New York re-signed pitcher Aroldis Chapman to bolster their bullpen. They may not challenge Boston or Cleveland this season, but their championship window should reopen soon.
7. New rules with new CBA
Two changes to the new collective bargaining agreement may affect trade deadline strategy. With steeper penalties for surpassing the Competitive Balance Tax (“Luxury Tax”) thresholds, teams may be more inclined to trade away their star players. However, with lower penalties on teams looking to sign top-tier free agents, winning teams might be willing to wait until the offseason to bring the reinforcements.
8. Bounce back candidates
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer, and Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke were three of the biggest disappointments in 2016. Don’t expect the same this season—all three look poised for bounce-back campaigns in 2017.
9. More baseball than ever
A longer spring training and this year’s World Baseball Classic means more innings and probably tired players when September rolls around. Last year, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts looked fatigued at the end of the 2016 season, so the Boston Red Sox probably aren’t thrilled that their young star is tallying innings for the Netherlands national team.
10. Brave new world in Atlanta
The SunTrust Park era begins this season in Atlanta and with it comes increased pressure to return to the postseason. They probably won’t reach that goal in 2017, but with 23 year-old shortstop Dansby Swanson and arguably the most talented farm system in baseball, the future looks bright for the Braves.