By Will Keyse
The month of March was a big for baseball, with the United States national team bringing home the nation’s first World Baseball Classic championship, but the coming of April marks the closing of Spring Training and the beginning of Major League Baseball’s 148th season.
The past offseason, as is quite often the case, was a whirlwind of teams releasing and acquiring some of the biggest names in baseball, and there will be plenty of familiar faces sporting unfamiliar jerseys in the 2017 season.
The Boston Red Sox landed one of the premier pitchers in the league this offseason with the acquisition of the former White Sox ace Chris Sale. The addition of Sale bolsters an already robust starting pitching rotation for the Sox, as they also have reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and former AL Cy Young winner David Price.
Another big splash in the offseason market was the New York Yankees’ re-acquisition of the flame-throwing Cuban closer, Aroldis Chapman. Chapman was traded to the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs midseason last year, and was a crucial part to the Cubs’ championship run, but has signed a new, lucrative contract to once again close out games in the Bronx.
The Cubs subsequently replaced Chapman with former Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis, giving up the hard-hitting rightfielder Jorge Soler. Davis was a critical cog in the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 runs to the World Series, and has posted the lowest Earned Run Average (ERA) among all relief pitchers since the 2014 season.
The Cubs look to defend their title this season, the franchise’s first since 1908, with much of their league leading defense intact and reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant still entering his prime. The Cubs notched a 103-58 record last year in manager Joe Maddon’s second season at the helm, and could potentially post an even higher figure this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest free agent snag of this past offseason was the reigning American League Champion, Cleveland Indians landing slugger Edwin Encarnacion, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays. Encarnacion strengthens an Indian offense that finished fourth overall in the MLB, and complements a strong pitching staff now fully recovered from late-season injuries.
The hometown Seattle Mariners come off of a strong season in which they barely missed securing an American League Wild Card spot and finished with an 86-76 record, good for second place in their division. Key offseason acquisition for the M’s include former Rangers’ starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, and former Diamondbacks’ second baseman Jean Segura. Seattle plays its first game of the season in Houston on Monday Apr. 3 for a series with the Astros.
There are three games slated for Opening Day: The Yankees will be in Tampa Bay facing off with the Rays, the San Francisco Giants will square off with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, and the defending champion Cubs will be in St. Louis for a nightcap with the Cardinals.