Peter Gammons: 2017 Predictions (Part II)

Back in time when the Red Sox held spring training in Winter Haven, Florida, on the banks of Lake Lulu in the land of Goat Milk Fudge and the Fossil Museum, a great Boston television sportsman named Bob Lobel would annually drive a player to Lakeland to Madame Christine’s House of Palmistry to try to predict that season for the player, and that Red Sox team.

Madame Christine was probably more reliable than ZIPS. After this election, Nate Silver might venture to Polk County’s Memorial Boulevard every four years. And that goes for most of us in the baseball media leading up to April Fool’s Day, when we try to make predictions and in so doing document why we do the things we do, like when I was on a Sports Illustrated staff that picked the Indians to win the 1987 World Series; by the time the season mercifully ended, the only starting pitcher with a winning record was 24 year old John Farrell (5-1), and the rotation included Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Phil Niekro, who, obviously, did not get to Cooperstown based on this season.

Therefore, having done the predictions column two days ago, now this is what I think I see as the sun rises on the Wing’s Neck Lighthouse. Now, if Rick Hahn had dropped by for coffee, he might be looking out at the fishermen heading out into Buzzard’s Bay hoping the Yankees are indeed a very dangerous sleeper in the American League East and, knowing the Astros are a frontline starter and lefthanded reliever away from a long run, he could turn Jose Quintana into either Clint Frazier or Kyle Tucker and appetizers.

This is what I think I see:

I. THE SHUTTLE RUN

Fortunately, the LaGuardia Shuttle flies to Washington as well as Boston, and the Mets and the Nationals may be the Yankees and the Red Sox of another time.

This has all the makings of a war, with great theater. Both teams have dominant, colorful starting pitching, and the personalities from Noah Syndergaard to Max Scherzer to Matt Harvey are must-watches.

They have two of the most flamboyant stars, Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes, who are made compelling by the fact that they don’t need to be loved, just need to be really good. The Nats have Trea Turner, who may be a thunderstorm of offensive ability.

And they’re constructed to play in October.

In an era between Branch Rickey and Theo Epstein, Pat Gillick was baseball’s premier general manager. Part of his genius was his understanding that depth, not headliners, made great teams. Gillick won two World Series in Toronto, went wire-to-wire in first place with the ’97 Orioles, won a 2008 championship with the Phillies, and in-between went to Seattle, let Griffey and ARod go, won 115 games and that was the last time the Mariners played in the post-season.

New York is a city of stars, but while the Mets have names, flamboyant starting pitchers, what makes this 2017 team so dangerous is its Gillickesque depth. So there is an issue with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler or Steven Matz? They have Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. Jeurys Familia misses 15 days? They can get by with Reed, Salas and a six man pen for two weeks in April.

For the concerns about being too lefthanded—and the thought of Michael Conforto starting in triple-A should be a blessing—Wilmer Flores plays every infield position and had a 1.081 OPS against lefties, while Jose Reyes and Walker are switch-hitters who both had OPS numbers over 1.000.

Not only that, but Amed Rosario, Garin Cecchini and Dominic Smith might be the best prospect infield in triple-A.

Maybe Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are elders, but they’re extraordinary team people. The biggest question raised since the end of last season is the closer position.

The Nationals tried on the proven power closers like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, without luck, and while one White Sox official told me “we’re trying to get them interested in David Robertson, but they’re not,” a bad April might change their minds. There are concerns about Robertson’s price–$25M for the ’17 and ’18 seasons, and another prospect. But Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker seem content to go with three big-armed kids, plus the death of Joe Blanton, Sammy Solis and friends.

Koda Glover has the biggest arm and least experience, but a lot of young Jonathan Papelbon. They believe Blake Treinen’s elite stuff works at the back end, but Baker sees his ground ball double play potential and believes he’s best suited for the seventh and eighth innings, while Shawn Kelley is good and tough, he’s had two Tommy John Surgeries and needs to be watched.

Rizzo has always been a stuff guy. With the Nats rotation—right down to being able to work in Erick Fedde in mid-season—he believes Glover, Treinen and Kelley will be fine.

 

II. THE FASCINATING UNDERCARDS

–Boston, Toronto, and New York (Y)–

This was going to be the Red Sox division, without David Ortiz, with run prevention. After acquiring Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg this winter, the Red Sox thought they were the team to beat in the American League. But all of a sudden they have some far-reaching injury concerns.

We know as much about the 2020 election as we do about when David Price will pitch again. They traded one of the best prospects in the game for Drew Pomeranz, who turned out was hurt and is still working through issues. Steven Wright is pitching with a knee brace. Thornburg, who appeared to be a valuable eighth inning bridge to Craig Kimbrel with his dominating 45-11 strikeout-walk and .112 batting average against lefthanded hitters, has shoulder problems and in flight delay. Not only that, but other than veteran Kyle Kendrick, they have no viable fill-ins if more goes awry with the Chris SaleRick Porcello-Wright-Eduardo Rodriguez rotation.

And Hanley Ramirez has a shoulder issue and can’t play first base against lefthanded pitching, as planned. Mookie Betts is an MVP waiting to happen, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is a master defender, Andrew Benintendi has unlimited Fenway potential and, yes, when you see Pablo Sandoval get low on ground balls, you know how hard he’s worked. And they’ll be there. But if they cannot add $10M without going over the tax threshold, there may be a lot of stress on Yawkey Way.

Meanwhile, In contrast to the more than $60M Boston is paying its front three starters, the Blue Jays had the best starting pitching in the American League, and this spring, late season pickup Francisco Liriano was a major subject among scouts in Florida; hey, in 8 starts after being acquired from Pittsburgh, Liriano down the stretch flashed his Pittsburgh prime, 8 starts, a 2.66 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings. Now they march out Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and the two big kids, ERA leader Aaron Sanchez and WBC star Marcus Stroman. Sure, they’ll miss Edwin Encarnacion, bujt they open the season with the most certain rotation in the AL East. Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Franklin Morales are veterans waiting to win. 

If Michael Pineda is consistent and the Yankees can get production out of Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury, with the best bullpen in the division this side of Baltimore, they can be contenders. With Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez already in place, Aaron Judge almost there and arguably the best farm system in the business, the Yankees might get to the gate far ahead of their schedules arrival time.

–St. Louis and Pittsburgh–

The Cardinals are the Cardinals. Dexter Fowler makes the offense a lot better, Stephen Piscotty may be in for a monster season, Yadier Molina makes the pitching as good as anyone could hope. Adam Wainwright is the soul of the pitching staff, Carlos Martinez is an ace, and Mike Leake, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn are solid. The surgery on Alex hurts; Sandy Alcantara may fit into the pen in months, but it’s a lot to ask Jack Flaherty to be rushed. The defense has to be better than it was last year.

While the Pirates may be better than many think. Starling Marte in center makes their defense better, and Adam Frazier may be a surprise at second base.

If Ivan Nova replicates 2016 and Gerrit Cole is the no. 1 starter, healthy, he looked so this spring, with Jameson Taillon ready, the eventual arrival of Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl could begin another run, at least until Andrew McCutchen leaves. Built into this rivalry is the fact that these are two franchises with baseball conscience.

–Arizona and Colorado–

It is extremely unlikely either can catch the Giants or the Dodgers, and having to play 45 games against those two teams and nine on the road in either Phoenix or Denver makes any post-season dreams difficult.

That said, the Rockies may have the best position players in the sport. Nolan Arenado is a perennial MVP candidate, scouting director Bill Schmidt maintains an assembly line of young talent and GM Jeff Bridich built a deep bullpen to allow Bud Black—a master of handling bullpens—to avoid blowing anyone out in a venue where recovery is extremely difficult.

They had a rash of unfortunate injuries in spring training, but what they need is for Jon Gray to be healthy and continuing his rise to elite. If a youngster like Jeff Hoffman can step in for the last two months free of the wear of pitching in Mile High, that would be huge.

But do not underestimate Arizona. The new regime is nothing short of brilliant. Torey Lovullo is fresh air, and passionate. Phoenix is a difficult place to pitch, but Zack Greinke, Taijuan Walker, a renewed Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray is a very good rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock are stars. The infield may be good for more than 80 homers, and getting better.

 

III. THE ROAD TO OCTOBER INCLUDES THE JULY 31 TRADE

Jose Quintana is now on the block, and if the Astros will deal Kyle TuckerShawn Green Redux?—or the Yankees will move Clint Frazier, they could get him.

It’s clear the Cubs, with Jake Arrieta eligible to leave at the end of the season, would love to bring Chris Archer in, with organizational depth and money. Alex Cobb is a free agent, and he is very good, very tough, very respected by his peers.

The future of Sonny Gray depends on how he performs. Ervin Santana will be a July piece. Maybe Bartolo Colon, to make room for Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. Maybe Jeremy Hellickson. Or Chris Tillman, although the Orioles probably will be in it.

Here’s a thought: would the Yankees, Giants, or Mets do a package deal for Evan Longoria?

 

IV. MVP RACES OFTEN ARE PART OF THE ROAD TO OCTOBER

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Mookie Betts

Mike Trout

Manny Machado

Edwin Encarnacion

Carlos Correa

Jose Bautista

Gary Sanchez

Josh Donaldson

Kyle Seager

Jonathan Lucroy

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Buster Posey

Kris Bryant

Bryce Harper

Yoenis Cespedes

Giancarlo Stanton

Freddie Freeman

Corey Seager

Brandon Crawford

Paul Goldschmidt

Trea Turner

 

V. UNLESS YOUR NAME’S BEEN FELIX HERNANDEZ, THE CY YOUNG RACES ARE ON THE ACCESS ROAD TO OCTOBER

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Corey Kluber

Chris Sale

Chris Archer

Masahiro Tanaka

Yu Darvish

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Clayton Kershaw

Madison Bumgarner

Jacob deGrom

Gerrit Cole

Noah Syndergaard

 

VI. ROOKIES OF THE YEAR DON’T HAVE 60 GAME INTERNSHIPS

Andrew Benintendi, Bos

Dansby Swanson, Atl

Yulieski Gurriel, Hou 

Jesus Aguilar, Mil

Carson Fulmer, Chi

Manuel Margot, SD

 

VII. PLAYERS WHO LOOKED COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COMING BACK THIS SPRING

Yasmani Grandal

Greg Holland

Pablo Sandoval

Matt Kemp*

 

*Wonder why Kemp is so well liked by Freddie Freeman? Kemp went to Atlanta at the trade deadline last July.

Freeman without Kemp in lineup :.284/.367/.514 450 PA 18 HR

Freeman with Kemp 340/.461/.680 2453 243 PA 16 HR

 

VII. ALL OF A SUDDEN, KYLE HEDRICKS, JAKE ARRIETA AND COREY KLUBER WERE BREAKOUT PLAYERS THIS YEAR? MR. BREGMAN’S ALREADY BROKEN OUT. THE BREAKOUTS:

Greg Bird, Yankees

Byron Buxton, Twins

Nomar Mazara, Rangers

Dylan Bundy, Orioles

Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox

Daniel Norris, Tigers

Christian Vazquez, Red Sox

Derek Law, Giants

German Marquez, Rockies

Brandon Drury, Diamondbacks

Orlando Arcia, Brewers

James Paxton, Mariners

Justin Nicolino, Marlins

Austin Hedges, Padres

 

VIII. AND SOMETIME LATE ONE SUMMER, FERNANDO VALENZUELA APPEARED. SUMMER STOCK

Gleyber Torres (SS) Yankees 

Jorge Alfaro (C) Phillies

Austin Meadows (OF) Pirates

Dillon Peters (LHP) Marlins

Sam Travis (1B) Red Sox

Greg Allen (CF) Indians

Chance Sisco (C) Orioles

Erick Fedde (RHP) Nationals

James Kaprielian (RHP) Yankees

Yoan Moncada (INF) White Sox

J.P. Crawford (SS) Phillies

Cody Reed (LHP) Reds

Bradley Zimmer (CF) Indians

Josh Hader (LHP) Brewers

Brian Anderson (3B) Marlins

Cody Bellinger (OF-1B) Dodgers

Max Fried (LHP) Braves

Sean Newcomb (LHP) Braves

Ronald Acuna (OF) Braves

Tyler Beede (RHP) Giants

Walker Buehler (RHP) Dodgers  

 

IX. AND THE BEST INFIELD IN BASEBALL IS…

  1. Cubs: Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, Russell, Zobrist
  2. Astros: Gurriel, Altuve, Bregman, Correa
  3. Rockies: Desmond, LeMathieu, Arenado, Story
  4. Dodgers: Gonzalez, Bellinger, Forsythe, Turner, Seager
  5. Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt, Drury, Lamb, Ahmed, Owings
  6. Mariners: Valencia, Cano, Seager, Segura

Comments

  1. Greg Harper says:

    I think Peter Gammons is a national treasure for MLB fans. I wish him the best of health in 2017 and beyond. Keep up the fantastic work, Peter.

  2. GhostOfFenway says:

    AL east will continue to be the SEC of the MLB in 2017 and beyond. Sure they play baseball in other parts of the country, but its just not the same.

  3. It’s not baseball season without reading a little Peter Gammons. I am not sure that you want take his predictions as gospel, but he has always had a way of making the whole picture make a little more sense. Here is to another season in the sun.

  4. Marc Vachon says:

    I think I’ve been reading his articles since I could read. Always interesting and can be critical without harshness. Truly a Hall of Famer.

  5. Michael Matteo says:

    Always enjoy your incite. Wishing you a healthy year!