Every year during MLB preseason, fans and experts begin making predictions for the coming season. Everyone wants to know which teams will be on fire and which teams will be struggling to make their mark. For the 2017 spring season, there are a few major teams to watch. The Chicago Cubs, the Seattle Mariners, and the Atlanta Braves are all experiencing some unique opportunities and challenges for the coming year.
Fresh off their incendiary victory at the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs are favored to be one of the best MLB teams of 2017. As of early January, Vegas Insider gives the Cubs15/4 odds to win the World Series. Many experts are expecting the Cubs to join an elite group of teams who have managed to secure consecutive World Series victories. Although the Cubs lineup will be missing a few key players, including Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, and Travis Wood, there is still plenty of talent to help bring the Cubs to victory. Wade Davis (who is replacing Chapman) and Koji Uehara will be joining the ranks as right hand pitchers. Left hand pitchers Brian Duensing and Caleb Smith will also be on the lineup. Jon Jay will be filling the center field gap left by Fowler. So far, it appears that the Cubs have the right players and staff to repeat last year’s victory.
The Mariners have been struggling through some tough years and the last time they made it to the postseason was back in 2001. However, the 2016 showed some signs of improvements under new managers Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais. The Mariners ranked seventh in the American League winning percentage and fourth in run differential. Key players with guaranteed contracts for 2017 include starting pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, relief pitcher Steve Cishek, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, second baseman Robinson Cano, and third baseman Kyle Seager. However, uncertainty remains about who will fill other key positions, leaving a lot up in the air for the Mariners. For instance, the Mariners have tried to replace short stop Ketel Marte with Zack Cozart of the Reds, but negotiations have so far been unsuccessful. Overall, Dipoto has indicated that he wants a younger group of position players for 2017, so he may be playing the long game by developing talent for seasons to come.
2017 is not predicted to be the best season for the Braves. During the 2016 season, the Braves finished in last place in the National League East Division with a record of 68-93. Despite adding free agent Kevin Maitan and trading other players for additional talent, the Braves were unable to turn it around in 2016. Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Nick Markakis, and Matt Kemp are some of the players contracted past 2017, giving the Braves a lot of gaps to fill in the roster during the 2017 preseason. On a more positive note, the Braves will be moving from Turner Field to their new home stadium at Sun Trust Park. The major obstacle faced by the Braves this season is not a lack of funds to acquire talent, but rather a lack of quality free agents to stack the roster.
Even for the most seasoned baseball experts, predicting the future of the season is no easy task. One thing can be predicted, though: the strong position of the Cubs, the uncertainty faced by the Mariners, and the struggles plaguing the Braves will all contribute to an exciting season for fans and players alike.