- Whether it's the chance to witness history, see a superstar in his prime or get a first look at a rookie full of promise each club offers a compelling reason to tune in all season long.
As Opening Day approaches, the one thing every team can count on for the long season ahead is hope, whether to make the postseason this year or to build toward a brighter future in days ahead. Yet no matter how competitive they are, all 30 teams will have at least one reason for their fans to stay interested for the next six months. Before the season kicks off, SI.com explores the best reason to watch each team in 2017. Jay Jaffe wrote about the AL East, the NL East and the NL West; Jeremy Fuchs examined the AL Central, Jon Tayler took the AL West and Stephanie Apstein broke down the NL Central.
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Whether he's at the plate or at the hot corner, Machado is simply one of those players you can't take your eyes off of. Last year, he hit a career-high 37 homers (up from 35 the year before) and served as a human highlight film at third base—routinely making spectacular plays by charging to barehand grounders or backhanding and then throwing from foul territory. For good measure, he more than held his own in 45 games at shortstop, his natural position. The scary thing is that at 24 years old, Machado may still be getting better.
Even with David Ortiz's retirement, there's no shortage of reasons to watch the defending AL East champions. Their rotation features a pair of AL Cy Young Award winners (reigning honoree Rick Porcello and 2012 recipient David Price), and they offer strong candidates for AL MVP (rightfielder Mookie Betts) and Rookie of the Year (leftfielder Andrew Benintendi). That said, the arrival of Sale in a blockbuster off-season trade with the White Sox offers something new. Sale will be pitching for a contender for the first time since 2012, and the side-arming southpaw will be battling to avoid the first-year struggles that have plagued Porcello, Price and many other hurlers upon arriving in Boston. He's finished in the top-six of AL Cy Young voting for five straight years; a sixth would help ensure the Red Sox return to October.
The Yankees have transformed their lineup from one weighted down by aging stars to an exciting group of potential cornerstone pieces. The most promising pair are 24-year-olds Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. Despite not arriving for good until early August, Sanchez took over the starting catching job and nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors by launching 20 homers in 53 games last season. Bird, a first baseman, hit 11 homers in just 46 games in late 2015 and is back after missing all of last year due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Add in 6'7" outfielder Aaron Judge, the versatile Tyler Austin and perhaps even top prospect Clint Frazier, and New York appears to be laying the foundation of its next championship club.
The Rays are at a low point, coming off a 68–94 season that marks their worst record since they exorcized the Devil from their name after the 2007 campaign. Still, Tampa Bay has a solid foundation in its rotation and secured a piece of its future this month by signing Kiermaier to a six-year, $53.5 million extension. The wall-scaling–27-year-old centerfielder is perhaps the game's most entertaining fly chaser and one of its most valuable, according to defensive metrics: He has led all outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (81) and Ultimate Zone Rating (60) over the past three seasons. He's even provided solid offensive contributions (105 OPS+) as well.
Stroman's first full season in the rotation was not a stellar one, as he finished with a 4.37 ERA and 3.71 FIP with 7.3 strikeouts per nine, but he was much stronger in the second half (3.68 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 8.4 strikeouts per nine) than the first. This year has already gotten off to a strong start, as he earned MVP honors at the World Baseball Classic by tossing six no-hit innings in Team USA's finals win over Puerto Rico. The pint-sized–26-year-old righty still has the talent to be a frontline starter, and he brings a special energy to the mound every time he pitches that can both electrify fans and teammates and help move baseball into a more exciting era.
In time, the core of the White Sox will feature Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada in the lineup and Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon anchoring the rotation. That might not be until 2018 or perhaps even '19. Until then, enjoy Abreu's power, take delight in the five-tool promise of Moncada and salivate over the potential of those young pitchers, none of whom are older than 24. This season will be like a trailer before the movie starts, but at least it’s a preview of something that looks to be great.
The Indians may have built the bullpen of the future, but it happened purely out of necessity. After starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were shelved by injury late last season, manager Terry Francona was forced to navigate the postseason by trying to get five innings out of his starters before turning games over to his lights-out bullpen trio of lefthander Andrew Miller and righties Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. It worked so well that Cleveland made it to Game 7 of the World Series despite getting nearly as many innings from its relievers (64 2/3) as its starters (69 1/3) in its 15 postseason games.
With a 162-game schedule and the return of Carrasco and Salazar, that structure isn't likely to be sustainable. But Francona has seen how effective it can be to not hold his relievers, especially a weapon like ALCS MVP Miller, to predetermined roles. The same amoeba-like structure—Miller in the fifth! Miller in the eighth!—could be a difference-maker for the Indians this summer and get them another chance at a title in the fall, to say nothing of the impact it could have on how games are managed and rosters are constructed across baseball in years to come.
Detroit has other pieces who will have to play key roles if the Tigers are to return to the postseason in 2017 after a two-year absence, such as slugger Miguel Cabrera, second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Michael Fulmer, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. But their chances at reaching October will increase if ace Justin Verlander and outfielder Justin Upton can show the kind of consistency that made both of them stars but has eluded them in recent seasons. Verlander rebounded from a pair of down seasons to go 16–9 with a 3.04 ERA and a league-best 254 strikeouts, helping him to a (controversial) second-place finish in the Cy Young voting. He's entering his age-34 season, his 13th in Detroit. Upton, meanwhile, played his first year in Motown in 2016 and, at 29, still has time to be an impact player for years to come. And while his OPS+ declined for the second straight year last season, he hit 13 homers and drove in 28 runs in the season's final month and is entering what could be the walk-year of his contract.
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are all free agents after this season. It is unlikely the Royals will sign all four (a humble prediction: they lock up Cain and Hosmer and let Escobar and Moustakas walk), so this will almost certainly be the last run for the group that helped Kansas City win the AL pennant in 2014 and the World Series the next year. After slumping to a .500 finish last season, do the Royals even have one more title chase in them? With uncertainty surrounding the health of catcher Salvador Perez, who hurt his knee in the World Baseball Classic, and with the tragic loss of pitcher Yordano Ventura, it's unclear if Kansas City will even make it through the July 31 trade deadline with all those pieces in place. Catch them while you can.
The No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, Byron Buxton was ranked as the game's top prospect by Baseball America prior to the '14 season before tumbling all the way to No. 2 in both '15 and '16. Yet in 138 major league games over the past two years, he has hit just .220 with a .672 OPS and 12 home runs. He hit nine home runs in 29 games in the final month of last season, however, and at 23, this could finally be his breakout year. The Twins don’t have a lot going for them, and their pitching—featuring an AL-worst 5.08 ERA last year—is atrocious. Watching the development of Buxton and dreaming about where he might one day lead this team might be the only reason for Minnesota fans to tune in after the All-Star break.
In retrospect, too much may have been expected of Carlos Correa in 2016, but he set a high bar in '15, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award after batting .279/.345/.512 and bashed 22 home runs in just 99 games; not bad for a 21-year-old. By comparison, last year’s .274/.361/.451 line and 20 homers in 153 games can’t help but look like a disappointment. But keep in mind that he doesn’t turn 23 until September and that his power at the plate, speed on the bases and defense at shortstop help make him one of the most complete players in baseball already. He'll start this season looking to prove everyone who doubts him wrong; that’s worth the price of admission.
Here is why you buy an MLB.tv subscription and stay up later than you probably should to watch a team that won 72 games last year and isn't likely to crack .500 this year: Michael Nelson Trout, the American League's reigning MVP and the closest this game has seen to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays since both were in their prime more than half a century ago. Trout's game lacks the panache of Bryce Harper, or even Ken Griffey Jr., and his personality is muted to the point of silence; his biggest hobby is talking about the weather, for crying out loud. But when you watch him play, you see someone who does everything—from hitting to fielding to running the bases—as close to perfect as a player can. Don’t pass up your chance to watch him, even if it means getting a little less sleep.
If you squint just so, it’s possible to look at the latest collection of little known names that the Athletics have on their roster and imagine them flirting with contention. More likely, however, is a sub-.500 team of moving parts, many of which will be discarded or dealt as Billy Beane continues to defy convention in hopes of a title that has eluded the A's since 1990. Focus, then, on the one player who seems as likely as any to stick around Oakland all year: outfielder Khris Davis, who quietly bashed 42 homers last season (tied for third in all of baseball). That included this monster shot against the Royals back in September, when he sent a Dillon Gee offering 473 feet deep into the fountains in Kauffman Stadium’s centerfield. That power will play.
Mariners fans have endured 16 long, sad, frustrating years since their team last reached the postseason. The franchise's glory days—Griffey and the Big Unit, A-Rod and Ichiro—resulted in four playoff appearances from 1995 to 2001, but since then Seattle has mostly been a blip on the radar, with only six winning seasons in that time. But after finishing 86–76 last year, this season's edition looks like one that is finally ready to break through. With sluggers Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the lineup, an offense that led the AL in runs last season, the all-around excellence of third baseman Kyle Seager, a strong rotation fronted by longtime ace Felix Hernandez and a bullpen anchored by the electric arm of Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning, Seattle's drought may be coming to an end.
There’s no doubting Beltre’s Hall of Fame worthiness; the Dominican star will, once he retires, go down as one of the greatest defensive third basemen ever and a consistently excellent hitter, particularly in his later years. Thankfully, we’re still a few years away from Beltre hanging up his spikes, but 2017 will see him hit a milestone that will make his Cooperstown induction all but automatic: 3,000 career hits. Beltre begins this season, his 20th in the majors, just 58 hits shy of the mark, so if he stays healthy he should get there well before the All-Star break. So come for the history and stay for Beltre’s dazzling glove work, his delightful if unusual swings at the plate and his tussles with Elvis Andrus, the shortstop who functions as the Costello to Beltre’s (occasionally scowling) Abbott.
The 2017 Braves may not be good, exactly, but they should improve upon last year’s 68 wins and offer several reasons to watch, including migratory cult hero Bartolo Colon, aging knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, staff ace Julio Teheran, defensively dazzling centerfielder Ender Inciarte and potential franchise cornerstone/Rookie of the Year candidate Dansby Swanson. But the most consistent reason to tune in is the one lineup regular who was part of the last two Braves squads to make the postseason (in 2012 and '13): Freeman. The 27-year-old first baseman is coming off a career year in which he set highs for home runs (34, fifth in the NL), WAR (6.5, third), on-base percentage (.400, fourth), slugging percentage (.569, third) and OPS+ (157, second). While there's an argument to be made that the team should have furthered its rebuilding effort by trading him, with production like that, one can certainly understand general manager John Coppolella's resistance to doing so.
The Jeffrey Loria-owned Marlins have shown themselves to be capable of all kinds of nonsense, including a wavering commitment to competitiveness, but one thing the nefarious owner got right—possibly the only one during his tenure—was the $2.5 million spent on artist Red Grooms's sculpture in Marlins Park's centerfield. Informally known as the Dinger Machine (or the Marlinator), the colorful animatronic fountain comes to life every time a member of the home team homers—which, alas, was less often than any other NL team except the Giants in 2016. Still, there are few things more satisfying in all of baseball than a towering Giancarlo Stanton drive that's punctuated by this carnival of flashing lights, rotating marlins and water. Bonus: Marlins Park will host the 2017 All-Star Game, which means hosting the Home Run Derby, too.
Cespedes was a talented player before he came to New York, but since the July 31, 2015 deadline deal that brought him to the Big Apple, he's taken his game to a new level both quantitatively—a 122 OPS+ and a homer every 24.6 plate appearances before the deal, a 140 OPS+ and a homer every 16.5 PA since—and qualitatively. Whether it's showing off his unique collection of cars, punctuating his home runs with epic bat flips, or signing the winter’s biggest free-agent deal, the 31-year-old Cuban slugger carries himself with a swagger not seen in New York baseball since Reggie Jackson. Now that he won't be playing out of position in centerfield (where he’s 24 Defensive Runs Saved below average in 178 career games), he should be more valuable and more available, since leftfield will take less toll on him physically.
It's a rare day that a Rule 5 pick turns into a foundational piece, but Hererra has been one of the most pleasant surprises amid the Phillies' long-overdue rebuilding effort, going from being buried in the Rangers' organization to becoming an All-Star centerfielder inside of two years. In 2016, Herrera hit .291/.353/.419 and showed off significantly more power (15 homers, up from eight in '15), speed (25 steals, up from 16) and patience (an 8.6% walk rate, up from 5.2%); including his above-average defense in centerfield, he was worth 4.2 WAR. He'll be an important part of the next contending Phillies squad; in December, the 25-year-old Venezuelan signed a five-year, $30.5 million extension that includes a pair of club options covering 2022 and '23.