MLB: One Storyline to Look Forward to For Each Team in 2017

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 MLB regular season is right around the corner with five weeks until America’s pastime begins. Let’s take a look at one thing that each team can look forward to this season.

The 2016 baseball season supplied us with some fantastic highlights throughout all 30 MLB clubs. An absolute stellar end to the season happened when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years in dramatic, extra-inning fashion.

Now the focus shifts to the 2017 season. Players have reported to Spring Training and games have already begun. Whether it is the World Baseball Classic or Spring Training contests, the regular season is inching closer and closer.

Each team enters the season with the hope of winning as many games as possible, but not all teams win enough to compete for the playoffs. Nonetheless, each team has something to look forward to in 2017.

Whether it’s winning a certain amount of games, watching a young player develop or any other exciting factor that comes during the season, the baseball season never seems to disappoint.

Let’s take a glance at each individual team and one storyline to look forward to from them in 2017.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

AL East

Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale in Beantown

The Red Sox won 93 games in 2016. This offseason, they lost David Ortiz but gained left-handed ace Chris Sale.

Sale didn’t come at a cheap cost. Boston traded away five prospects including third baseman Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech for Sale.

Sale now joins a rotation with 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, David Price, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz. It should be fun to see Sale pitch in Boston. Perhaps 2017 will be the first time baseball fans can see Sale pitch in the playoffs.

Baltimore Orioles: Can they continue to win without a strong pitching staff?

The main question about the Orioles in 2016 was: How do they keep winning with that pitching staff? The Orioles have Chris Tillman as their ace but that isn’t saying much.

The Orioles have a powerful offense. They hit the most home runs in 2016 and re-signed slugger Mark Trumbo. They also have a great bullpen with relievers Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and closer Zach Britton.

Buck Showalter made the rotation work last year. The Orioles made the playoffs but the division rival Blue Jays knocked them out in the Wild Card Game. Baseball fans can look forward to seeing how that rotation does this season.

Toronto Blue Jays: Let that rotation go to work

The Blue Jays’ starting rotation is one of the best in baseball. Aaron Sanchez exploded onto the map in 2016, and the team expects good things to come from Marcus Stroman. J.A. Happ had the best season of his career, and veteran Marco Estrada has also been strong the past two years.

The team lost two key pieces on the offensive side in Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, but the pitching staff should make up for that in 2017.

New York Yankees: Gary Sanchez’s sophomore season

Last season, 24-year-old Gary Sanchez burst onto the scene for the Yankees. He hit 20 home runs and knocked in 42 runs in just 53 games.

Now as the Yankees’ full-time catcher, it’ll be interesting to see how Sanchez fares in his first full season in New York. Is a sophomore slump in store or is Sanchez going to explode on offense again? We’ll find out soon enough.

Tampa Bay Rays: Who’s next to go?

The Rays dealt Matt Moore at the trade deadline in 2016. During the offseason, they traded both Drew Smyly and Logan Forsythe. It’s clear in a tough division that the Rays are the weakest link.

The real question is, who will they trade next? Will it be veteran Evan Longoria, ace Chris Archer or somebody else? If the Rays get off to a rough start in 2017, they’ll more than likely ship off quite a few players.

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AL Central

Cleveland Indians: No more “Party at Napoli’s” but Edwin is here

So, the Indians were one one win away from claiming a World Series in 2016. They failed to do so but added one of the most powerful bats in the game in Edwin Encarnacion. The 34-year-old finished 2016 tied for third in home runs with 42 and tied for second in RBI with 127.
Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are healthy again and the offense got deeper. Bank on the Indians going back to the playoffs and possibly the World Series in 2017.

Detroit Tigers: Time to win or rebuild

Word spiraled at the Winter Meetings about whether the Tigers planned on trading away some key pieces or not. The biggest trade they made was Cameron Maybin to the Angels.

This Tigers team isn’t getting any younger, though. If they don’t do well in the first half, perhaps they sell some players at the deadline.

Another missed trip to the postseason may result in a rebuild for Detroit.

Royals: The Moose is back

After a devastating collision with outfielder Alex Gordon, third baseman Mike Moustakas missed a majority of the 2016 season. He was a catalyst for the Royals during their two trips to the World Series in 2014 and 2015.
Without Moustakas, the Royals struggled in 2016 and failed to finish above .500. He’ll be back for the start of 2017.
Can the Royals make a run at another World Series before some big-time names become free agents next season? Moustakas gives them a better shot.

Chicago White Sox: Waiting for the prospects

The White Sox made some big moves in the offseason. They traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Victor Diaz and Luis Alexander Basabe. They also traded Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

Sure, they won’t compete in the AL Central right now, but give them a few years and they’ll be up top. MLB.com’s 2017 Pipeline Prospect Watch ranks Moncada at No. 2, Giolito at No. 11, Kopech at No.16 and Lopez at No. 46.

Expect to see Moncada, Giolito and Lopez all join the White Sox at some point in 2017.

Minnesota Twins: How long will Dozier last?

The Twins put second baseman Brian Dozier on the trade block during the offseason but didn’t get an appealing offer.

The Twins set out to show that 2015 wasn’t a fluke year. If they struggle like last season, expect them to deal Dozier before the 2017 trade deadline.

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AL West

Texas Rangers: Light tower power

Glance at the Rangers’ lineup, and you’ll see the power that they possess. Last season, Texas hit the seventh-most home runs in the league with 215.

A majority of the lineup didn’t change, but the team added powerful slugger Mike Napoli. This is Napoli’s third stint in Texas. After a career-high in home runs last season (34), the Rangers might hit the most combined homers in 2017. The summer months should see plenty of long balls in Texas.

Houston Astros: All-in to win

The Astros have some of the best young talents in baseball with the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman.

The team got off to a slow start in 2016. To avoid that, the Astros brought in multiple veterans and the team looks stronger than ever.

Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki join the youth of the Astros. The front office spent a lot of money this offseason, and anything short of an AL West crown would disappoint.

Seattle Mariners: Can Felix Hernandez return to “king form”?

Felix Hernandez struggled a bit in 2016. He also suffered a nagging calf strain injury last season. He certainly didn’t look like King Felix.

Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs in the Hernandez era. They currently have the longest playoff drought in MLB.

Was it a mix of struggles and injuries that caused the down year or are the Mariners’ struggles getting in the head of Hernandez? Hopefully, it’s the former.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The return of G-Rich

Just six starts into the 2016 season, Garrett Richards exited with an elbow injury. He suffered a tear in his UCL. Instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery, Richards banked on stem-cell therapy.

Flash-forward to 2017 and the stem-cell therapy worked. The Angels need him to return to 2014 status, where he was a Cy Young candidate.

Similarly, Matt Shoemaker is ready for 2017 too. He suffered a scary head injury from a line drive comebacker that caused a fractured skull and internal bleeding. The Angels need all the pitching help they can get.

Oakland Athletics: The rise of Ryon Healy

Another rough season is ahead for the A’s. They’ll struggle in a tough AL West division. A lot of players go unnoticed out in Oakland.

Two players impressed there last season. One was Khris Davis and the other was Ryon Healy. In 72 games, Healy hit 13 home runs and drove in 37 RBI with an average of .305.

Healy will more than likely act as the A’s DH this season. Big numbers are in store for Healy in 2017 and future seasons too.

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NL East

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper bounces back?

After winning NL MVP in 2015, Bryce Harper‘s 2016 season started off great. After April, Harper failed to put anything together. An injury-plagued season seems like the reason for his struggles.

2017 is a big season for the Nationals. With an extremely talented roster, there’s no reason they cannot make a run at the World Series.

If the Nationals want a championship, they need Harper to bounce back in 2017. They traded away their No. 1 prospect in Lucas Giolito. It’s win-now time in Washington.

New York Mets: A healthy pitching rotation

Last season, the Mets couldn’t catch a break with their young and talented starting rotation. Looking healthy heading into 2017, opposing batters should watch out.

The combo of the Dark Knight and flowing locks in Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard makes for fun times in New York. We all saw what happened when the rotation was healthy in 2015.

Pitching can take a team a long way. The Mets are a sneaky-hot team in 2017, even without Bartolo Colon.

Miami Marlins: The post-Jose Fernandez era

In one of the most tragic events in sports history, the Marlins lost their ace Jose Fernandez to a September boating accident. The Marlins plan to honor Fernandez throughout the season.

Can the Marlins rally together and win the NL East for Fernandez? It’s unlikely, but don’t ever count out a team with a motive.

The starting rotation is without an ace now. It doesn’t look like anyone in the current rotation is ready to take that step forward.

Philadelphia Phillies: The rise of a young rotation

Outside of Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz, the rest of the Phillies’ starting rotation is young and ready to take over.

Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez all pitched for the Phillies in 2016 in limited roles. And at certain moments, all three pitchers shined.

The future is bright for the Phillies and perhaps they’ll do better this season than expected.

Atlanta Braves: The rise of Dansby Swanson

After watching Shelby Miller melt down last season in Arizona, the trade of him for Dansby Swanson looks like an absolute steal for the Braves.

Now fans get to watch Swanson grow in Atlanta. 2017 will be the first full season for the Braves’ young shortstop, and in a new stadium, no less.

The 23-year-old hit for a .302 average in 38 games in 2016. The former 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick seems destined for stardom.

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NL Central

Chicago Cubs: World Series hangover?

What’s next for the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs? (That still feels weird to type.) After a 108-year World Series drought, the Cubs celebrated the greatest moment for the franchise in over a century.

The Cubs don’t look satisfied with one. They want more and a potential dynasty. But will they struggle in 2017? Many World Series winners struggle to make the playoffs the following season.

Let’s not forget, this Cubs team isn’t like most other World Series teams. An unbelievable amount of talented players mixed with Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein equals a lot of success.

St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler on a different NL Central team

Last year, Dexter Fowler played a huge role in the Cubs’ championship. In the offseason, Fowler signed a deal with the division rival Cardinals. The exact opposite of the previous season when Jason Heyward left the Cardinals for the Cubs.

The Cardinals are hoping Fowler performs better in his first season with the team compared to Heyward’s first season in Chicago.

Fowler joins Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the St. Louis outfield. Don’t sleep on the Cardinals in 2017.

Pittsburgh Pirates: What happens with McCutchen?

In the early part of the offseason, the Pirates made it clear that Andrew McCutchen was on the trade block. The Pirates decided not to trade McCutchen and instead they plan to move him to right field.

Earlier in February, McCutchen wrote a touching piece to the city of Pittsburgh. Clearly, he doesn’t want to leave the team that drafted him in 2005.

If the Pirates struggle again in 2017 like they did in 2016, will they trade McCutchen? A lot weighs on the shoulders of GM Neal Huntington.

Milwaukee Brewers: The underrated acquisition of Jett Bandy

In the offseason, the Brewers traded catcher Martin Maldonado to the Angels for catcher Jett Bandy. They deal makes sense for both sides.

The Brewers need offensive help, which Bandy provides. The Angels and manager Mike Scioscia like a defensive-minded catcher and they received that with Maldonado.

At 26 years old, Bandy doesn’t become a free agent until 2022. The Brewers won this trade.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto never disappoints

The Reds don’t have much going for them in 2017. They’re in a tough division and possess a young rotation.

They do have Joey Votto, though. He’s one of the most underrated players in baseball and a true gamer. Reds fans can enjoy Votto’s success while the team struggles again in 2017.

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NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw’s healthy

A herniated disc in Clayton Kershaw‘s back caused him to pitch the least amount of innings in a season since his rookie year. Kershaw returned for the playoffs and pitched well.

Rest assured, Kershaw is healthy again and ready to help the Dodgers defend the NL West crown.

A preseason projection: Kershaw wins the Cy Young award for the fourth time in his career. Only four pitchers have ever achieved that feat. He’d join Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux.

San Francisco Giants: Watch out! They have a closer

The Achilles’ heel of the 2016 Giants was the ninth inning. Without a good closer, the Giants blew the most saves in baseball and it ultimately led to their exit in the 2016 playoffs.

San Francisco addressed its closer issue in the offseason. The team signed closer Mark Melancon and ended its ninth-inning woes.

The rest of baseball should fear the Giants in 2017. The only thing holding them back from winning in 2016 was their closer situation.

Colorado Rockies: Who needs pitching when you can hit?

The Rockies signed Ian Desmond in the offseason and added him to an already powerful lineup. Perhaps the goal is to out-hit opponents?

It’s hard for a pitcher at Coors Field to succeed because of the altitude. With the Rockies’ lineup, it looks like they’ll win some games based on offense alone.

They also picked up Greg Holland. No questioning who the closer is in Colorado.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Try again, Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller

Remember when the Diamondbacks were going to win the NL West in 2016? That’s a distant memory now. Both new to the team in 2016, Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller struggled mightily.

Miller cost the team Dansby Swanson. That move cost Dave Stewart and Chip Hale their jobs.

On the bright side, 2017 is a new year. It’s unlikely that Greinke has another down year and Miller could easily bounce back too.

San Diego Padres: Youth, youth, youth…

The Padres are pretty much all youth. They won’t compete in the NL West in 2017, or 2018 for that matter. But at least fans can watch the team develop as a unit.

Although they won’t win many games, players like Hunter Renfroe and Travis Jankowski make them worth watching.

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