- The Cubs need to think repeat, the Dodgers need to get Yasiel Puig going and the Mets need to stay healthy, plus more points of emphasis for all 15 clubs in the NL.
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) have analyzed what all 30 clubs should be doing to ensure a better season ahead. Teams are presented in alphabetical order by city:
The December 2015 trade that brought starting pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona from Atlanta in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte and shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in that year's draft, likely won't ever look good even if the new regime—general manager Mike Hazen, manager Torey Lovullo and pitching coach Mike Butcher—can restore the 26-year-old Miller to working order after a season in which he was torched for a 6.15 ERA and spent seven weeks in Triple A. For competitive purposes, the bigger impact will come by reversing the slides of Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray and Braden Shipley, all of whom were lit up for ERAs of 4.90 or higher themselves. All of them are between the ages of 24 and 27 and most of them have more remaining years of club control than Miller. At a time when the free agent market for starters is barren, having a surplus to trade from could be a key to this franchise’s turnaround.
VERDUCCI: Top 10 storylines to watch for in 2017
Shortstop Dansby Swanson, the number one pick in the 2015 draft who was stolen from the Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller heist, made his debut late last year, but fell exactly one at-bat short of exhausting his rookie status. He now becomes the marquee attraction and the franchise's premier building block as the rebuilding Braves open their new stadium, SunTrust Park. Although the parallel isn’t perfect, the situation calls to mind one from the past of Atlanta's president of baseball operations, John Hart: In 1994, while he was the general manager of the Indians, the team moved into Jacobs Field, put rookie Manny Ramirez in the lineup and a year later began a run of five straight division titles. The Braves don't have nearly as much talent around Swanson now as Cleveland did around Manny then, but was clear in Swanson's 38-game cameo, in which he hit .302, that the Georgia native is ready for a larger role and could soon become the face of the franchise.
You may have heard that the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years last season, but that's just the start. With second baseman Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Addison Russell, leftfielder Kyle Schwarber and pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester all under club control through at least 2020, Theo Epstein and company have assembled a core that not only should continue to contend for the next few years but goes into the 2017 season as the favorite to repeat. Backing up their 2016 World Series win with a second one won't be easy; not since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000 has a team repeated as champions, and of course, no Cubs team has repeated since 1097 and '08.
The rebuilding Reds aren’t likely to deal first baseman Joey Votto or starting pitcher Homer Bailey, their two most expensive players; the former has a full no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go anywhere and the latter has a long way to go to get back to where he was before the injuries started to mount. Still, Cincinnati can take the next step toward its new look by opening space for second baseman Dilson Herrera (acquired from the Mets last summer in the Jay Bruce trade) and shortstop Jose Peraza (brought in from the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier three-team deal before last season). To do that, the Reds will need to trade shortstop Zack Cozart, a defensive whiz who has a year of club control remaining, and second baseman Brandon Phillips, who’s expensive (owed $14 million) and has no-trade rights that he may be more willing than ever to waive. Herrera and Peraza, both headed into their age-23 seasons are the infielders of the future. That future might as well start now.
In isolation, inking shortstop-turned-centerfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal to play first base makes little sense, given that his arm strength and athleticism will be squandered there; already, his bat (career 100 OPS+) is light for the position. Mark Trumbo, a terrible outfielder (-23 DRS since 2014) but an adequate first baseman (+4 DRS in 371 career games), led the majors with 47 home runs last year for Baltimore, and he could put up 50 bombs a year while calling Coors Field home. Given that the Rockies have already burned their first-round pick in this year's draft by signing Desmond, adding Trumbo will only cost them a second-rounder. Failing that, a less expensive signing like Mike Napoli or Adam Lind would still allow Desmond to be put to better use.
In his first two seasons, 2013 and '14, the Cuban defector was one of the most exciting players in baseball, hitting for a 151 OPS+ with 10.2 WAR and generating a highlight reel play seemingly every day. Injuries and bad habits have turned him into a merely average player over the past two seasons (105 OPS+, 2.5 WAR in jut 183 games), part of the reason the Dodgers outfield ranked 12th in the league in OPS. Even with Justin Turner returning to Los Angeles after briefly become a free agent, the team could use another middle-of-the-order threat, and Puig is still just 26 years old and under team control for three more years. He also hit four home runs and posted a .900 OPS after returning in September from a mid-season demotion to the minor leagues.
As his record-setting Home Run Derby performance at Petco Park last July showed, Stanton’s light-tower power takes a back seat to no one. Injuries to his wrist, groin and knee, however, have limited him to 193 games combined over the past two seasons, and he’s averaged just 115 games per year over the past five seasons. Somehow, though, he’s managed to hit 30 homers a year under those conditions. With better health, he could increase his workload and home run total by 40%, which translates to 40% more fun for all of us watching and could help Miami build on its surprising 2016 season, in which it improved by eight wins, to 79, from the year before.
One easy way for a rebuilding club to add talent to its system is to let a setup reliever prove his mettle in the ninth inning, then flip him to another team. In 2016 alone, two players who had never notched a big league save entering the season generated solid trade returns for Milwaukee: Jeremy Jeffress had 27 saves for the Brewers before going to Texas and helping sweeten the package from the Rangers in the Jonathan Lucroy deal at the Aug. 1 deadline, while Tyler Thornburg (13 saves) netted third baseman Travis Shaw and two prospects from the Red Sox last month. The Brewers have a few in-house options who could compete for the closer job in spring such as Jacob Barnes, Corey Knebel and Carlos Torres (above), who combined for five saves last season. Alternately, they could sign a retread like Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz or Sergio Romo and hope that he pitches well enough to be traded in July.
By the end of 2016, the Mets were decimated by the losses of so many key players—starting pitchers Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet surgery), Jacob deGrom (surgery to alleviate ulnar nerve irritation) and Steven Matz (surgery to remove bone spur in elbow); third baseman David Wright (neck surgery); second baseman' Neil Walker (back surgery) and shortstop Wilmer Flores (bone bruise in wrist)—that it's a minor miracle they even got to the NL wild-card game. Harvey made just 17 starts with a 4.86 ERA before going under the knife, while Wright has played in just 75 games over the past two seasons. The team was deep enough to overcome their losses in 2016, but they'll need better health to retake the NL East, especially from their vaunted pitching staff.
Ranked as the game’s No. 2 prospect by MLB.com, Philadelphia’s 2013 first-round pick struggled at Triple A last year, finishing at .244/.322/.318 in 87 games. To be fair, at 21 years old he was still young for that level, and scouts are hardly down on him, as his prospect ranking attests; he’s an outstanding defender who could compete for Gold Glove awards, and his advanced approach at the plate gives him top-of-the-lineup potential. A few months of polish and a midsummer major league debut in a lineup that also features core pieces such as catcher Jorge Alfaro, third baseman Maikel Franco and centerfielder Odubel Herrera would bode well for the Phillies' rebuilding effort.
The 30-year-old former MVP is coming off the worst year of his career both at the plate (103 OPS+) and in the field (-28 DRS, due largely to overly shallow positioning), but he's still affordable, under contract for $14 million in 2017 with a $14.5 million option for 2018. Given that the Pirates intend to move McCutchen out of centerfield already and have prospect Austin Meadows waiting in the wings, a change of scenery would be best for Cutch. He’s had interest from teams such as the Nationals, Blue Jays and Mariners, and should generate a solid haul of prospects that Pittsburgh can put to work.
From 2000 to '15, the Cardinals won nine NL Central titles, three wild card berths, four pennants and two World Series championships. Their 86-win 2016 season marked the first time they'd missed the postseason in six years. The talent to reclaim their annual October reservation is there, but St. Louis is in particular need of better health and performance from its rotation, where mainstay Adam Wainwright, free agent addition Mike Leake and former phenom Michael Wacha all turned in ERAs of 4.62 or worse last season. Rooke Alex Reyes, considered by some to be the top pitching prospect in the game, should help, as should the return of Lance Lynn from Tommy John surgery.
San Diego's best-known pitcher last year wasn't even real. Ginny Baker, the fictional pitcher played by Kylie Bunbury of the Fox show Pitch, generated more headlines than the no-names who filled the real Padres' rotation last year. On paper, San Diego's starting staff for 2017 projects to be some combination of Jhoulys Chacin, Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart, Christian Friedrich, Luis Perdomo and Clayton Richard, of whom only the last was anywhere close to league average last year, and he made just nine starts. Perhaps they can re-sign Tyson Ross and nurse him back from thoracic outlet surgery, or add a stabilizing mid-rotation piece such as Jason Hammel.
You know the story: The Giants are the only team besides the Red Sox with three titles in the new millennium, having won the World Series in 2010, ‘12 and 14. They advanced as far as the Division Series in 2016 before falling to the Cubs, but they haven’t played a postseason game in an odd-numbered year since 2003. To change that, San Francisco will not only need improved work from a bullpen now anchored by closer Mark Melancon, it will also need to keep second baseman Joe Panik and rightfielder Hunter Pence on the field and in working order to aid a lineup that ranked just ninth in the NL in runs scored last season. The pair, so vital to their 2014 championship, have played a combined 385 games and delivered just 7.3 WAR over the past two seasons amid a variety of injuries.
The Nationals are loaded with frontline talent, from 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and promising shortstop Trea Turner to pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Yet three times in the past five years, they’ve won the NL East (with 98, 96 and 95 wins in 2012, ‘14 and ‘16, respectively) then fallen in the Division Series to the Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers, respectively. Washington desperately needs to take the next step, particularly if it is to have any shot at retaining Harper after he reaches the open market in 2018. The additions of outfielder Adam Eaton and catcher Derek Norris should help, but the bullpen remains a question mark after they failed to sign Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon, the top three closers on the free-agent mark. A big key would be to get a full season from Strasburg, who made the All-Star team last year amid a stretch in which he won his first 13 decisions, but then went on the DL with elbow soreness in early August and made just one brief relief appearance, in early September, the rest of the season.