The further we step into 2017, the closer we get to the start of Spring Training.
The closer we get to Spring Training, the fewer days we’ll have to mark between now and Opening Night.
Until then, let’s gather around and catch up on what’s happening around the NL Central and the rest of baseball.
- The hot stove hasn’t been too hot during the holiday season, but things should pick up in the new year. As a refresher, here is a look at the top 10 remaining free agents on the market, according to Craig Calcaterra. Sluggers such as Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo still don’t have a home, and lost a potential landing spot with Edwin Encarnacion signing with Cleveland. Jason Hammel, the best starting pitcher on the free agent market, doesn’t have a home either, and Calcaterra suggests he could wind up with a one-year deal. A report discussed in the latest Lukewarm Stove indicated the same.
- Adding Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil to an 86-win team is good on paper, but how much does it trim the 17.5 game gap between the Cardinals and the Cubs? St. Louis is facing five tough questions (Cardinals.com) ahead of the 2017 season, among the players expected to help answer those questions are Alex Reyes, Randal Grichuk, Kolten Wong (will the trio of youngsters step up and establish themselves), and Adam Wainwright (bounce back season coming?).
- The Pirates have their own set of questions (Pirates.com), too. Remember when Andrew McCutchen was on the brink of being dealt? Adam Berry writes “a McCutchen trade now feels more possible than ever.” Even if he isn’t moved to another team, he may move to a new position in right field. Gerrit Cole isn’t going anywhere, but how will he rebound from an injury plagued 2016? More youth is on the way in Pittsburgh, but will it be enough to keep Pittsburgh from being a trade deadline seller?
- The Brewers are in rebuild mode, but it remains to be seen how much longer will Ryan Braun be a part of the mix. It is one of the questions Milwaukee will try to answer (Brewers.com) at some point in 2017. GM David Stearns clears up any questions about what the Brewers’ goals are: “We need to acquire and develop as much young talent as we possibly can. That’s true at the Major League level, that’s true at the Minor League level, and we can continue to develop a competitive environment at the Major League level while we’re doing that.”
- The Reds signed Drew Storen in their first free agent signing of the offseason, immediately improving their wretched bullpen situation (although Storen struggled in Toronto, he rebounded in the second half with the Mariners). Cincinnati has an odd sense of optimism heading into 2017, as questions about Jose Peraza, Billy Hamilton and the starting rotation (seriously, who’s going to pitch?) are prevalent as the new year begins (Reds.com).
- If you’re starving for something Cubs-related, the updated ZiPS projections for the Yankees feature some familiar faces. Starlin Castro (2.1 zWAR) is one of five Yankees regular projected to produce 2.0-2.2 wins and has an interesting comp in Bret Boone. Aroldis Chapman (1.4 zWAR) isn’t even projected to be the Yankees’ best reliever. Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney make cameos, though neither project to have big league-ready bats.
- Not quite ready to let go of 2016? Me either. So, let’s take a look back at some of the year’s oddest moments via SI.com. This top-10 list features the craziness that was in 2016 including Shelby Miller playing the field, Bryce Harper hitting a home run into the bathroom, Bartolo Colon’s legendary home run, and Theo Epstein’s not-so-subtle disguise.
- Toronto’s baseball renaissance and recently re-kindled love affair with the Blue Jays could turn out to be short-lived. The Blue Jays are in the midst of an identity crisis and their success in 2015 and 2016 turned new president Mark Shapiro’s plan on its ear. Now, Shapiro finds himself balancing the old regime’s win-now ways with an aging core, while also trying to build for the future.
- The Twins are a team definitely building toward the future and there aren’t too many building blocks with as much upside as Byron Buxton, who hit one of the most extreme homers in 2016. You’ll want to check out his record-setting home run and the rest of the best blasts over at Baseball Is Fun.
- The Diamondbacks’ skirmish with Maricopa County has escalated into a lawsuit, as the team seeks to break its lease with the county so they can seek financing to renovate Chase Field (19 years old) or construct a new stadium. The county owns the stadium, and the lease, which runs through 2028, prohibits the Diamondback from speaking to outside investors about the park until 2024.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.