Can Chicago become first repeat winners since 2000? Or will new contender dethrone champs?
By Andrew Simon
The book is closed on the 2016 season, which means it's now officially time to turn our attention to the '17 campaign.
Will the Cubs become baseball's first repeat champion since the 1999-2000 Yankees? Or will a new club be taking home the Commissioner's Trophy at the end of the season? Much will depend on what the Hot Stove brings over the next four months or so, as teams look to add through free agency and the trade market. But with the World Series now in the rearview mirror, it's not too early to take a first look at how things stack up heading into next season.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the top World Series contenders for 2017.
Offseason questions: After landing Chapman this summer, the Cubs will have to decide whether to make a run at retaining him, sign a different free-agent closer or stick with their solid in-house options. With Fowler set to decline his half of a mutual option, a similar issue looms in center field.
2016: 94-67, lost in World Series
Offseason questions: Will Brantley be back at full strength in 2017? The Tribe's opinion on the matter could determine how much work is needed on the outfield with Davis and Crisp free agents. The Indians also may need to re-sign or replace Napoli and bolster the depth of their rotation.
Boston Red Sox
2016: 93-69, lost in American League Division Series
Offseason questions: How confident are the Nats in Stephen Strasburg's health, plus the ascension of rookies Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez? If the answer is less than "very confident," some rotation reinforcements are in order. Washington also must replace Ramos and find a closer if Melancon signs elsewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2016: 91-71, lost in NL Championship Series
Why they could win: They have the best starting pitcher in the game (Clayton Kershaw), a superstar shortstop going into his age-23 season (Corey Seager) and plenty of other solid pieces. Financial might and a creative front office don't hurt, either. A full season of 20-year-old southpaw Julio Urias also would help in the drive for a fifth straight division title.
Offseason questions: The Dodgers must decide whether to pay to keep Jansen, replace him with another big-name closer such as Melancon or use lower-profile options to fill the role. The same sort of question applies to third base, with the highly productive Turner a free agent.
Offseason questions: A 36-11 record in one-run games isn't likely to happen again in 2017, so how will Texas improve its roster to compensate? Decisions loom on whether to bring back Desmond or Gomez to man center field and whether to pick up Holland's option.
Toronto Blue Jays
2016: 89-73, lost in AL Championship Series
Why they could win: Even if Bautista and Encarnacion both leave, the lineup has a perennial AL MVP Award candidate in Josh Donaldson and a strong double-play duo in Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. A rotation that excelled in 2016 brings back everyone except Dickey, and closer Roberto Osuna leads the bullpen.
Offseason questions: It seems unlikely both big free-agent sluggers will be back, but can Toronto retain one of them? Either way, the Jays could stand to balance their lineup with a potent left-handed bat, especially if Saunders leaves.
Offseason questions: The most pressing concern is a rotation that posted a 4.37 ERA (up from 3.71 in 2015). Will Houston dip into the free-agent or trade market or hope for a combination of a Dallas Keuchel rebound and contributions from youngsters such as Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove?
Offseason questions: The Cards appear poised to decline Holliday's option and improve their outfield defense by acquiring a true center fielder while shifting Randal Grichuk to left. Does the club believe better things are ahead from starters Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, each of whom posted an ERA higher than 4.60?
2016: 89-73, lost in AL Wild Card Game
Why they could win: Manager Buck Showalter has been able to coax three postseason appearances in five years out of a team that has never been seen as a favorite. Superstar third baseman Manny Machado leads a dangerous lineup, Zach Britton just enjoyed one of the best seasons ever by a modern closer and former top prospect Dylan Bundy had an encouraging 2016.
Offseason questions: The Orioles can try to retain Wieters again, but if he leaves, catcher becomes a significant question mark. Baltimore also must decide whether to re-sign Trumbo or attempt to strike gold with yet another low-cost option. But the biggest issue once again will be fortifying a rotation that largely struggled in 2016, despite Bundy's progression and solid years from Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman.
New York Mets
2016: 87-75, lost in NL Wild Card Game
Why they could win: Health remains a major concern, but the Mets' rotation still possesses as high a ceiling as anyone's, led by Noah Syndergaard. Given the chance, 23-year-old Michael Conforto should provide a lot more offensive production than he did in 2016.
Offseason questions: Even if the Mets believe Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz will be ready to go next April, installing a Plan B (for Bartolo?) and even a Plan C makes sense. Given Cespedes' plan to opt out, can the club still manage to retain him? Sizable question marks also hover over second base (Walker's free agency) and third base (David Wright's health).
The 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals might have one more run in them before a group of key players reaches free agency. Better health for Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas could make a big difference, but Kansas City must figure out a way to supplement its starting rotation and decide if it's time to deal closer Wade Davis for help elsewhere.
After a rare sell-off this summer, the New York Yankees could return to the postseason soon behind talented young players such as catcher Gary Sanchez. But will the club look to make splashy additions to speed up that process or take a more patient approach?
On the heels of a disappointing 2016, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to get Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen back in top form, supplementing their stars with emerging prospects such as Jameson Taillon and their usual under-the-radar additions.
Another busy offseason may be ahead for Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who could seek to address issues in the corner outfield, at shortstop and in the starting rotation as he tries to snap Seattle's 15-season playoff drought.
The typically aggressive Detroit Tigers were slated to bring back most of their roster after falling just shy of an AL Wild Card berth. However, GM Al Avila has suggested the club wants to get "younger" and "leaner," with Thursday's trade of Cameron Maybin to the Angels providing evidence of that approach.