It’s not an MLB offseason without the #MysteryTeam. As Twitter has become the de facto home of baseball rumor mongering and news breaking, top free agents and trade targets will invariably be linked not just to their most public suitors but also usually the aforementioned mystery team. Shrouded from view, the Mystery Team raises the stakes and intrigue around the winter’s most wanted.
To be clear, the Mystery Team is sometimes just that: a mystery, and one that can’t be solved. Agents and front offices alike want to create an illusion of desire around their players, and unnamed interested squads serve that purpose. But it’s also fun for fans to imagine a more active market than the one we’ve gotten—one in which an unexpected team swoops in to create fresh hot stove drama. So in that vein, let’s pair up the offseason’s still available stars with their best #MysteryTeam partner. — By Jon Tayler
Bryce Harper: Indians
The biggest spenders—the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees—all appear to be out on Harper, for whatever reason. That opens the door for smaller-market contenders to take advantage of a depressed market. Few teams could use the help as much as Cleveland, which has a terrible outfield and a guaranteed playoff spot atop the awful AL Central. Harper would go a long way toward making the Indians real World Series contenders as they look to snap the longest title drought in the majors.
J.T. Realmuto: Athletics
The A’s won 97 games last year, but they can’t sit complacent in a division with the powerhouse Astros. Getting Realmuto—baseball’s best catcher—would be a big shot across Houston’s bow, and he’d be a massive upgrade, too, over the tandem of Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann. Oakland may not have to pay a huge price, either: Miami asking for the moon for its All-Star backstop seems to have scared away most of the best and most serious suitors.
Corey Kluber: Brewers
There’s a golden opportunity, given the Cubs' quiet offseason, for Milwaukee to strengthen its position in the NL Central. If the Indians do decide to move Kluber, then GM David Stearns should jump at the chance. He’d give the Brewers a bonafide ace to lead a thin pitching staff and take the pressure off a bullpen that was worked to the bone last year.
Dallas Keuchel: White Sox
In the chase for both Harper and Machado, Chicago has shown a willingness to flex some financial muscle amid its rebuild. But even if it lands one or both stars, the team should clear space for a starting rotation upgrade, too. There’s no real point in landing Harper if your fifth starter is Manny Bañuelos or you're counting on Ivan Nova on a regular basis. Enter Keuchel, who can helpfully eat innings as Chicago's pitching prospects develop.
Manny Machado: Padres
It’s strange that Machado has interest from the White Sox—a rebuilding team with a ton of good prospects, plenty of payroll space and a hole on the left side of the infield—but not the Padres, a rebuilding team with a ton of good prospects, plenty of payroll space and a hole on the left side of the infield. San Diego splurged last winter on Eric Hosmer in a deal that general manager A.J. Preller probably already regrets. He’ll have no such buyer’s remorse with the 26-year-old Machado, who improves the team both today and tomorrow.
• "Andy’s on the field! At the Coliseum! 'It was so surreal.'” A look back at the incredible feats of Young Andy Reid, including the 1971 Punt, Pass & Kick competition. (By Tim Rohan)
• Lamar Hunt called it “buzzard’s luck”—the kicking woes, miscues and injuries that fueled years of postseason failure in Kansas City. This season feels different. (By Greg Bishop)
•If Bryce Harper ends up in Philadelphia, he’s on track to produce the way Ken Griffey Jr. and Hank Aaron did before him. (By Tom Verducci)
• With nothing to prove and little to gain, why is Manny Pacquiao still fighting? (By Greg Bishop)
• The NFL is in the midst of a coaching diversity crisis. (By Robert Klemko)
Story Behind the Photo: Hazed and Confused
As far as strangeness goes, the wild finish between the Eagles and the Bears in this year's wild-card round has nothing on their playoff matchup 30 years ago, on New Year's Eve, 1988. Late in the second quarter Philly QB Randall Cunningham completed a 65-yard pass to Keith Jackson. Cunningham hoped that would be a harbinger of some more big plays in the second half. "Then I looked for him again," said Cunningham, "and he'd completely disappeared."
The problem? Fog. It began rolling in off of Lake Michigan late in the first half. By the third quarter, Soldier Field was socked in. TV cameramen had to venture out onto the field—as far as the hash marks—to get a usable image. The P.A. announcer was fed information from field level over a walkie-talkie. Eagles kicker Luis Zendejas hit a 35-yard field goal despite the fact that he couldn't see the goalposts. "One time on the sideline I watched a sweep start, then both teams disappeared," said Chicago defensive end Al Harris. "I expected to see Sherlock Holmes come out of the fog with his pipe and trench coat: 'Watson, was that a hound I heard?'"
The fog also forced photographers to adapt. "When you're shooting through fog, you need to get the exposure down, so I switched to a wide-angle lens in hopes that action would be close to the camera," says Heinz Kluetmeier. "The field goal was close to the camera and the posts provided the perfect frame for the photo." And the conditions did more than provide an interesting backdrop. "I was in a place I wouldn't normally have been allowed," says Kluetmeier. "The fog made it possible for me to move around in usually restricted areas."
Listen Up: Bill Walton Joins the SI Media Podcast
The ever-entertaining voice of Pac-12 basketball on ESPN, Bill Walton joins Jimmy Traina in the latest episode of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. The self-proclaimed Dead Head drops life philosophy, discusses his broadcasting career and talks about being pain-free after contemplating suicide because of back issues. Then he waxes poetic about the Grateful Dead and reveals why he doesn’t like being interviewed.
From the Vault: Happy Birthday to The Greatest
No athlete has been chronicled more richly in SI's history than Muhammad Ali. He graced the cover 40 times (only topped by Michael Jordan) and had nearly every step of his illustrious career photographed by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Neil Leifer captured many of the magazine's iconic Ali images, including the snapshot above when Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in May 1965. The late, great Ali would have turned 77 this week.
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