One of the best things about counting down the days before pitchers and catchers report is that fans of every team have some reason to be hopeful. Well, almost every team. And then there are fans that experience an equal level of optimism and gloom.
These are the great unknowns – the franchises that could just as easily find themselves in the playoff picture as in fire-sale mode before the first All-Star ballots are distributed. Presenting seven such examples:
USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
The list of pending free agents – Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar – has been well-documented, and Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson already have been dealt. And even before the tragic loss of Yordano Ventura, Kansas City needed to boost its rotation. In addition, the Royals lost their OPS (.795) and home run (30) leader when Kendrys Morales signed with Toronto.
There’s still plenty of talent here, but another slow start – KC won 14 fewer games in 2016 than in its World Series championship 2015 season – likely would lead to an early exodos of talent via trade.
USA TODAY SportsPeter G. Aiken
Colorado’s 75 wins last season were its most since 2010, and the front office has been aggressive this offseason. Instead of dealing Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies added Ian Desmond, Greg Holland and Mike Dunn. There’s a tremendous offensive core that also includes Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu and a healthy Trevor Story, and there’s finally reason for optimism in the rotation with Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis.
However, the team still pitches at Coors Field and plays in the same division as the Dodgers and Giants.
USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
Detroit seemingly was set to tear it down and rebuild when the offseason began, as everyone from J.D. Martinez to Miguel Cabrera to Justin Verlander was mentioned as trade bait. They’re all still around, as are Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Victor Martinez. And that’s not a bad thing since the Tigers won 86 games last season, have the reigning AL Rookie of the Year (Michael Fulmer) and play in a weak division.
Still, this is an aging team with questions in center field, at the back end of the bullpen and in the depth department. The sell-off merely might have been delayed.
USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
With the exception of Matt Wieters, this group looks remarkably similar to the squad that won 89 games and a wild card – its third playoff berth since 2012 – last season. With Mark Trumbo rejoining the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones, Baltimore should continue to bash with the best of them. Unfortunately, with Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez at the back end of the rotation, it also should continue to get bashed with the best of them.
On the plus side, the Orioles still have Zach Britton anchoring a superb bullpen, and a case can be made that the Blue Jays and Yankees have just as many questions entering the season in the AL East.
USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
The loss of Edwin Encarnacion will be felt, but Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales can make up for some of that offense. In addition, Jose Bautista is back and motivated (see: contract) in a lineup that also includes Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Toronto’s rotation quietly is among the best and deepest in the majors, and Kevin Pillar is a human highlight reel in center field.
The glaring concern lies in the bullpen, which features solid young closer Roberto Osuna but loses Brett Cecil. The seventh and eighth innings – and the lack of a lefty – could cost the Blue Jays plenty of wins.
USA TODAY SportsNick Turchiaro
Assuming Andrew McCutchen puts the offseason trade rumors behind him – and perhaps uses the ordeal as motivation – Pittsburgh again will have one of the majors’ best outfields (Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco). If healthy, Gerrit Cole has No. 1-starter stuff, and Tony Watson was reliable after taking over the ninth-inning role when Mark Melancon was traded.
However, the Pirates took a major step backward in 2016 after three consecutive playoff appearances, are dealing with serious off-the-field issues with Jung Ho Kang and could use at least one more starter even after re-signing Ivan Nova. And then there are the Cubs and Cardinals …
USA TODAY SportsDavid Kohl
After tragically losing ace Jose Fernandez late last season, Miami is in the same unfortunate and unforeseen situation as Kansas City. Replacing a homegrown ace and team leader is impossible, especially for a team that already needed rotation help. The Marlins have a potent, in-its-prime lineup, especially if Giancarlo Stanton stays healthy, as well as a deep bullpen after adding Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa.
Miami came within three victories of its first winning season since 2009 last year, but its chances this season will rest on the shoulders of a questionable starting five.