- The Astros need to win it all, the Angels need to get Mike Trout to the playoffs, the Yankees need some power and more points of emphasis for all 15 AL clubs.
The start of 2017 brings with it our annual look at each team's New Year's Resolution. This year, Jon Tayler (American League teams) and Jay Jaffe (National League; coming Thursday) have analyzed what all 30 clubs should be doing to ensure a better season ahead. Teams are presented in alphabetical order by city:
And by that, I mean “Do something more than go into the season with second-year players Hyun-soo Kim and Joey Rickard starting in the corners.” Last year’s regular rightfielder, Mark Trumbo, is a free agent, and the Orioles never really settled on a leftfielder. As it stands, the team’s only current outfield options on the 25-man roster are Kim, a lefty swinger who went 0-for-17 on the season against lefthanded pitchers; Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who batted just .268 with a .319 OBP overall; and Aneury Tavarez, who turns 25 in April and has yet to play in the majors. Whether it’s bringing back Trumbo (who barely qualifies as an outfielder) or dipping into the free-agent waters for the likes of Michael Saunders or Rajai Davis, Baltimore needs to do something to lock down those positions with better talent.
There’s no question that the Red Sox will come into 2017 as a favorite to defend their AL East title after their big off-season trade with the White Sox for perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. But while the lanky lefty will be a big boost to the rotation, Boston has yet to find a similar player to fill the Ortiz-sized hole in the lineup. The team was oddly uninterested in Edwin Encarnacion before he signed as a free agent with Cleveland, and the hitter they did sign, 31-year-old Mitch Moreland, is an uninspiring addition to the first base/designated hitter group. So why not reach out to Ortiz and see what it would take to bring him back into the fold? Sure, he’d have to return all the lovely gifts he got last season on his retirement tour, but getting back the hitter who led the AL in RBIs (127) and the majors in OPS (1.021) while bashing 31 homers would make the Sox a real World Series favorite.
Dealing ace southpaw Chris Sale (to the Red Sox) and outfielder Adam Eaton (to the Nationals) for big prospect packages was a good start to Chicago's off-season, but there’s plenty left to do on the South Side. Outfielder Melky Cabrera, third baseman Todd Frazier, starter Jose Quintana and closer David Robertson—among others—all seem ripe to be moved, particularly Frazier (a free agent after the season) and Robertson (a closer for a team that will struggle to reach 65 wins as currently constructed). If team president Kenny Williams and general manager Rick Hahn going to tear the team down, they should go all the way; there are no half measures in rebuilds.
With slugger Edwin Encarnacion now in the fold after signing a three-year, $60 million contract in late December, the reigning American League champion Indians boast a terrific lineup, a strong rotation led by annual Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber and a bullpen headed by postseason Swiss Army Knife Andrew Miller. What will really take them over the top is a return to form from Brantley, the dynamic leftfielder who finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2014 but has seen his career stall out thanks to persistent shoulder injuries. Brantley missed all but 11 games last year because of those shoulder troubles, and while his rehab is reportedly going well, Cleveland could ensure a successful return by crafting him a cyborg shoulder that would make Steve Austin jealous. Plus, imagine how many Statcast-breaking throws you’d get out of a robot arm.
The Tigers have an enviable veteran core featuring first baseman Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, closer Francisco Rodriguez and ace Justin Verlander to go with younger stars like outfielders Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez, third baseman Nick Castellanos and righty Michael Fulmer, last year's AL Rookie of the Year. But amid rumblings that the team is willing to move Verlander and J.D. Martinez, it’s unclear what Detroit’s plan for the future is. The farm system is weak, there isn’t much youth beyond Castellanos (who turns 25 next March) and Fulmer (24 that same month) and there’s little room in the payroll for big free-agent additions. Would the Tigers, coming off an 86-win season, be better served by dealing away their veterans and restocking their roster, or should they forge ahead with their existing core? It’s a tough choice for general manager Al Avila and company—and one Detroit will have to make sooner rather than later.
You may have read about a certain sports magazine—let’s call it “S. Illustrated”—pegging the Astros as baseball's next up-and-comers and anointing them as the 2017 World Series winners way back in June of 2014—despite the fact that they were en route to a 92-loss season at the time. Houston almost made that prediction look conservative in 2015, surging to 86 wins and a playoff spot, which helped convince us to move up our prediction and tab the 'Stros to win the 2016 World Series before that season began. Alas, despite an MVP-caliber season from second baseman Jose Altuve (an AL-best .338 average, 24 home runs and 96 RBIs), Houston regressed to 84 wins and fell short of the postseason entirely.
Apparently looking to defend SI’s honor, the Astros have spent this off-season loading up on offense, adding catcher Brian McCann in a trade with the Yankees while signing outfielder/DH options Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick. If Houston can bolster its rotation, too—say by swinging a deal with the White Sox for southpaw Jose Quintana—then it would go a long way toward making that 2014 prediction a reality after all.
The Royals' run of success seems to be coming to a halt. After emerging as a contender with an 86-win season in 2013, reaching Game 7 of the World Series in '14 and winning their second-ever world championship in '15, Kansas City finished just .500 in '16, missing out on the playoffs entirely. That lost season is all the more problematic given that the majority of the team’s core—including centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar—will hit free agency after this season, as will burgeoning staff ace Danny Duffy and speedy reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
Given the Royals’ small-market status, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to retain all or even most of that group. This year will be the time, then, for Kansas City to make one last run at a title with those players. If Kansas City looks to be falling short of a return to the playoffs at mid-season, it will have to be willing to make whatever moves are necessary to ensure they avoid another two-decade long stay in baseball's wilderness like the one they endured until just a few years ago.
He’s the best baseball player in the world, but for the five full seasons Trout has spent with the Angels, the team has rewarded him and his brilliance with just one playoff appearance—one that ended with a Division Series sweep at the hands of the Royals in 2014. Last year, Los Angeles lost 88 games despite Trout’s MVP-winning campaign. The superstar is still just 25 years old, but it’s a crime to see the Angels wasting some of the best seasons we’ve ever seen a player produce. This off-season, following a 74-88 season, has seen Los Angeles actually try to improve some of its problem areas—notably the outfield and second base—albeit with less-than-inspiring options (making separate trades to get Cameron Maybin from the Tigers and Danny Espinosa from the Nationals). The Angels need to keep that up, at least for Trout’s sake. He will be a free agent after the 2020 season but the team may have to explore trading him before then if it can't build a contender.
The Twins were surprising wild-card contenders in 2015, winning 83 games. That raised hopes for even better in 2016, especially given the presence of exciting young players like outfielder Byron Buxton, DH Miguel Sano and pitching prospect Jose Berrios. As it turns out, neither Minnesota nor those under-25 prospects were ready for primetime: Buxton, Sano and Berrios (among others) all battled injuries and poor performance, and the Twins collapsed to a 59-103 record, the most losses in the majors and the franchise's most since it moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season.
Any improvement from that dismal figure will rely again on that trio, as well as outfielders Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario and the development of a ragtag pitching staff. A potential trade of All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier, who seems a lock to be dealt after his 42-homer season, would add to that depth. But all of that concentrated top-100 talent means nothing if manager Paul Molitor and his coaches can’t turn it into results. This year might represent their last chance to do that.
Gary Sanchez can’t do it all. The Rookie of the Year runner-up bashed 20 homers in the final two months of the season after his promotion from the minors, but with the Yankees stripping their lineup of its veteran parts at the trade deadline and in the off-season, he’s one of the few players who can be expected to play regularly and produce power typical of the Bronx Bombers. New York will rely heavily on youngsters like first baseman Greg Bird, outfielder Aaron Judge and the versatile Tyler Austin to pick up some slack and back Sanchez and shortstop Didi Gregorious, who had a breakout year at age 26.
Bird (11 homers in games as a rookie in 2015 before missing all of last season with a shoulder injury), Judge (four homers after a mid-August call-up) and Austin (five homers in 31 games) have all shown flashes of power. But if they can’t produce consistently in larger roles and need more time in the minors, then the Yankees will need to lean on their pitching staff to carry them in 2017, a dicey proposition considering the question marks of age (CC Sabathia, 36) and performance (would-be future ace Luis Severino was demoted last year after starting 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA) there behind ace Masahiro Tanaka.
The A’s went 69-93 in 2016, their second straight season with 90 or more losses, but their biggest problem remains that they have long been saddled with one of baseball’s worst stadiums, and it’s now clear that MLB has grown tired of the team’s slow search for a new park. For proof, see the league’s decision in the new collective bargaining agreement to cut the A’s out of revenue sharing payments—something they’d been receiving solely because of the competitive disadvantage that is the Oakland Coliseum—in an attempt to spur a move to a new stadium. The franchise’s attempts to move elsewhere in the Bay Area have been stymied by both the Giants and local governments, but it’s clear that the situation in Oakland has become untenable. Perhaps 2017 will be the final year that the sewage-stained walls of the Coliseum host Athletics baseball.
After missing the postseason for the 15th straight season in 2016—this time by just three games—the Mariners look poised to end baseball’s longest playoff drought in 2017. But as opposed to the decade previous, it seems as if Seattle will have to try to summit the mountain without Hernandez, idol of Safeco Field's "King's Court" section, leading the way. The longtime staff ace finished in the top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting six times in seven years from 2009 to '15, winning the award in 2010, but he he had his least productive season in a decade at age 30 in 2016, accompanied by a dip in velocity, while being limited to just 153 1/3 innings due to injury troubles. Hernandez finished 11-8 witha 3.82 ERA, a 106 ERA+ and career-worsts in Fielding Independent Pitching (4.63) and K/9 (7.2).
Hernandez has three more guaranteed seasons remaining on his contract worth a total of $79 million. Seattle’s goal for 2017 is clear: Locate the Fountain of Youth and restore Hernandez to his prime so that both player and team and reach the promised land together.
Quick: Name the most memorable moment from the Rays’ 2016 season. Struggle to come up with anything? You’re not alone; Tampa Bay has been more or less a black hole when it comes to interesting or exciting baseball in the last three years, bottoming out with last season’s 94-loss pile of blandness. Stuck playing in front of sparse crowds—the club finished last in the majors in attendance for the second straight season, at just shy of 1.3 million—in a warehouse of a stadium with one of the game’s weakest offenses, there’s little to recommend about Rays baseball.
Maybe they should try something crazy in 2017: Shoot off fireworks after every inning; have every player wear a full tuxedo for one game; sign Jose Canseco and have him play every position at least once. More likely will be that they try something that would have once seemed crazy: trade Chris Archer. The team's ace righthander was reportedly dangled at last year's deadline, but after a mediocre season that included a major-league-worst 19 losses and a 101 ERA+, the potential return will no longer be as great as it might have been, even though he's still just 28 and has three years and $18.5 million guaranteed left on his contract. A return to relevance is going to be hard to come by for a team with no money and a deficit of talent, so ownership might as well try something to kickstart the rebuilding effort.
The Rangers have won the AL West the past two year and are pretty well set for a three-peat in 2017, thanks to an offense that led the AL in runs and a pitching staff headed by stars Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. Texas, then, should look to the future and give us something we all want: more Adrian Beltre. The 37-year-old defensive wizard is already signed through 2018 thanks to a two-year extension he inked last year, but given what a joy he is to watch play—from his odd couple partnership with shortstop Elvis Andrus to his dazzling glove work at third base to his head-touching quirks and check swing appeals—it’s clear that ’18 shouldn’t be the final year of Beltre.
He'll probably keep producing too. In 2016 Beltre hit .300 with 32 homers and 104 RBIs and won another Gold Glove while finishing seventh in the AL MVP race. He enters 2017 just 58 hits away from 3,000 which will make him a lock for election to the Hall of Fame—if he ever retires. So let’s hope Texas gives him a 10-year contract, then watch him bring happiness into the baseball world through his 40s. Who’d be against that?
The Blue Jays have already lost one half of the dynamic home run duo that helped propel them to back-to-back postseason appearances the last two years when Edwin Encarnacion joined the Indians on a three-year, $60 million deal last month. Bautista, meanwhile, is lingering on the free-agent market thanks to his age (36), injury history, draft pick compensation and rather sizable contract demands (multiple years and $100 million or more). That last issue, however, may no longer be an impediment: Bautista is reportedly now willing to accept a one-year pact.
If that’s the case, a return to Toronto is the most sensible move for both parties. The Jays need his power (22 home runs in 116 games last year) with Encarnacion gone, and a year of production and good health for the team that turned him into a star could only help Bautista land a long-term deal next winter in another bad free-agent market—and maybe give him a chance to launch another ludicrously great bat flip for the good fans of Toronto.