Having checked with some league sources, I can confirm that, in the wake of the Cubs' World Series win, baseball will actually still go on as scheduled in 2017. Though they're still ironing out the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the game as we know it has not been irrevocably altered by that seemingly Earth-shattering outcome in Game 7.
So that's nice.
And as we've seen with the Braves signing some old geezers for their rotation and the Blue Jays possibly planning for the post-Edwin Encarnacion and/or post-Jose Bautista era with the Kendrys Morales signing and some other moves of various levels of intrigue, the Hot Stove season is absolutely underway.
Every team has its own offseason objective, but for my money, these are the most fascinating teams from each division as the winter wheeling and dealing begins.
American League East: Orioles
The questions about the Orioles evolved over the course of 2016, from "Do they have enough starting pitching?" to "How are they winning with this starting pitching?" to "Did Zach Britton disappear before the AL Wild Card Game and, if so, why didn't anybody tell us?"
What was never in question was the offense.
But the O's are now faced with offseason questions about the O. They led the Majors with 253 home runs last year, and 34 percent of that tally came from Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez and Matt Wieters -- free agents all. Going for broke on Chris Davis last year has ensured that the O's will have just shy of $100 million committed to only eight players in '17, and that's before you start adding in the arbitration raises owed to Britton, Chris Tillman, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and others.
So while the AL East is always a division loaded with interesting subplots and this winter is no different, my particular emphasis on the O's here rests in the fact that they've allowed their payroll to climb consistently in the Dan Duquette era and the knowledge that it's going to have to climb considerably yet again just to simply maintain their offensive strength.
Oh, and did I mention there are questions about the starting pitching?
National League East: Mets
They are either going to re-sign the consensus No. 1 position player available on the open market (just to be clear, this is a reference to Yoenis Cespedes, not James Loney) or, um, well, I have no idea. The Mets already lost a prized power bat when Bartolo Colon defected to another NL East team (the Braves). They sure as heck can't afford to lose another, and a market particularly replete with DH types doesn't do them a heck of a lot of good in that regard. But if Cespedes were to walk, you do wonder if the "B" in Plan B might stand for Bautista.
The Mets obviously have the young pitching depth to contend for a crown, and the second half of '16 taught us that their depth was even better than we thought. But the Mets had the lowest runs per game output (4.14) of any October entry, and they really can't afford to reduce their offensive output any further.
Given the market conditions, you can see the Cespedes asking price possibly escalating out of their comfort zone, but the Mets have to operate with a YOLO mentality and not low-ball Yo.
AL Central: White Sox
The Indians are trying to build off their AL pennant on a budget. The Royals are trying to get back to that level of pennant prowess after overspending on '16 and weighing the benefits of moving one or more expiring assets versus staying the course and maximizing a window that might be closing after '17. The Tigers are cutting costs, and that could mean a mega-trade involving Justin Verlander or maybe even Miguel Cabrera.
But I'm picking the White Sox here as the most interesting team in this division. As we saw last winter, starting pitching still drives the offseason market, and the objectively awful free-agent market for starting arms puts special emphasis on trades. No team has the potential to reshape that trade market more than the White Sox, because of their possession of not one but two cost-controlled, peak-level, Cy Young-caliber arms in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
The Sox seemed to suffer from an ideological struggle in the recent past, and that led to a short-term emphasis that the Major League club and the Minor League depth proved unfit to honor. Now, the rebuild hints dropped by general manager Rick Hahn are stronger than ever. That still doesn't make it a lock that Sale and/or Quintana get moved, but it does up the suspicion, and these market conditions are ripe for the Sox to dictate much of the direction of the trade traffic in the coming days and weeks.
NL Central: Cardinals
The changing of the NL Central guards that was hinted at in the 2015 Division Series became a more definable reality in the '16 standings, and the fascination here is what the Cards do in response to that reality amid an equally real evolution of their core. Matt Holliday is gone, and given the alignment of the infield, Jhonny Peralta could be next. We're seeing a process in which the Cards' competitive chances begin to rest more prominently on the shoulders of, say, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Carlos Martinez than those of Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. But the Cards obviously aren't conceding anything to the Cubs, and their World Series hopes will remain as relevant as ever.
So what happens next? General manager John Mozeliak has talked about "refreshing" a roster that needs better defense and more athleticism, but as it stands, the only place to really refresh the lineup is in the outfield, particularly in center. The Cubs stole Jason Heyward from the Cards a year ago (and if you love your baseball with a side of dubious narratives, he apparently single-handedly won Game 7 by giving a pump-up speech in the weight room during a rain delay). Perhaps the Cards can return the favor by swiping Dexter Fowler. Otherwise, they might have to get creative on the trade front. They also need to patch up their 'pen.
AL West: Astros
They're going to spend money. That's what general manager Jeff Luhnow tells us, so right away, that makes the Astros interesting. Because people spending money is always interesting. The Astros are loaded with young talent, but they are also loaded with needs, and the flexibility they've "bought" themselves by, you know, not spending much money in recent years means they can address those needs -- at first base, at catcher, in the outfield and, I would argue, in the rotation -- in meaningful, eye-catching ways.
Though April of 2016 drowned out a lot of that preseason Houston hype, you don't have to squint too hard to see this being a World Series-caliber club -- as one prominent publication predicted -- in 2017, but Luhnow and Co. have to get it right. They can do it the so-called easy way, by simply doling out the dollars it would take to land Encarnacion or Cespedes, and they can do it the creative way by using their still-strong system to pry Brian McCann from the Yankees or Miggy from the Tigers.
You'll see a blend of both approaches as the Astros shake off the sting of their '16 step backward and make an earnest (and expensive) effort to chase the Rangers.
NL West: Dodgers
They let Zack Greinke walk and made it to the NL Championship Series, anyway. Of course, they also lost the NLCS, so there's that. But the point is, they showed -- 1,857 starting pitchers later (this is a rough estimate) -- that while their payroll will remain astronomical by default, their front office can piece together a competitive club without totally going for broke.
So now what? Even if the Dodgers just retain their prominent free agents (Kenley Jansen, Rich Hill and Justin Turner), that would qualify as a pretty productive offseason. But it's not that simple and never is. You've heard the rumors about the Dodgers pursuing Verlander to pair with Clayton Kershaw or pursuing Evan Longoria to replace Turner, and they certainly have the pockets and the prospects to pull off such swaps (if they landed them both, the Dodgers would be a model franchise… and that's just in the wives' section of the stands). Hey, while we're at it, let's ship Yasiel Puig to Pittsburgh and bring back Andrew McCutchen. Let's turn Julio Urias into Sale.
The Dodgers might spend this winter boring us with basic retainment and more subtle, depth-building maneuvers, but their roster needs and their resources fire up the imagination in a way that no other clear contender quite can.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.