Pitchers and catchers report in less than two months, but we're already thinking about fresh starts with the New Year upon us. Here is one 2017 resolution for every Major League ballclub, listed here in order of 2016 finish.
Cubs: Be a run-of-the-mill, boring-as-can-be dynasty. Hey, 2016 was fun, right? The death of the Curse of the Billy Goat, Bill Murray and Eddie Vedder spraying champagne in the clubhouse, five million people(?!) attending the parade, everybody pulling for the Cubbies as the feel-good story of the year. But that's all over now. Now the Cubs are just your standard, high-spending juggernaut with a loaded roster and a ridiculous precedent to live up to. When they get back to October -- and they will -- they won't be the lovable losers but the standard-bearers, aiming to make the nation at large as sick of them as we once were of the late 1990s Yankees.
Nationals: Enjoy every possible remaining minute of the Bryce Harper Era. He's two years from free agency and reportedly (and not at all stupidly) floating a $400 million figure. With teams like the Yankees and Phillies making a concerted effort to stay financially flexible for the end of '18, it's not hard to imagine Harper leaving. And that's where a bold move like the Adam Eaton trade -- robbing the upper reaches of the prospect pail for an instant upgrade -- emanates from.
Rangers: Get full seasons from Yu and Choo. Yu Darvish returned from Tommy John surgery in '16 to make 17 starts, and, if history holds, should more closely resemble his old self in his first full season back in business. Choo, meanwhile, played just 48 games last year due to myriad trips to the disabled list. Darvish is a free agent at year's end, so this is a big year for the Rangers.
Indians: Keep the starters healthy. With the White Sox blowing it up, the Twins in transition and the Royals and Tigers financially hamstrung, the Indians have baseball's clearest path to a division title, and they've seized the moment with the Edwin Encarnacion signing. But after seeing their 3-1 lead in the World Series wither in large part because their rotation was whittled down to Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin and just nine of Trevor Bauer's fingers with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar on the shelf, the Indians have added incentive to not only nail down that division but go into October at full strength.
Red Sox: Win their first World Series title without David Ortiz in 99 years. Dave Dombrowski's biggest winter move wasn't to replace Big Papi's production, but to add another left-handed ace to the Red Sox rotation in Chris Sale. It's incumbent upon Mitch Moreland, Pablo Sandoval and Andrew Benintendi to ensure the production against right-handed pitching doesn't dip after Ortiz's exit.
Dodgers: Get their money's worth. In four completed seasons of ownership, the Magic Johnson group has spent just north of one billion dollars on player payroll, which would be staggering enough of a sum if the Dodgers had actually reached and/or won a World Series in that span. This is a really dangerous franchise in terms of its current potential and its deep system that rates as one of the best in the sport, but that doesn't change the bottom line, which is that the Dodgers, now 28 seasons removed from their last title, have yet to get what they paid for. Remember: Clayton Kershaw is two years from his opt-out clause.
Blue Jays: Advance past the American League Championship Series. Well, sure, they want to win it all, too, but one step at a time. Toronto has come up empty in consecutive entries in the ALCS, and so fan demands and expectations could not be higher for a team that, one way or another, is going to look a whole lot different than it did in '15, with Encarnacion gone and Jose Bautista's status still in question.
Orioles: Prove you wrong. Again. Even if you're bullish on Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, you have to be looking at that O's rotation and wondering if it'll be enough. The offense is in flux with Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez in free agency and Wellington Castillo counted on to replace Matt Wieters. This team has reached the postseason three times in the past five years but, as usual, likely won't be a popular pick to get back in '17. That hasn't bothered Baltimore before.
Giants: Have a functional bullpen. The 'pen ran out of ink -- or outs, as it were -- in 2016, and that was a significant distinction from even-years past. None of the other postseason entrants were rooting for the Giants to beat the Mets in the NL Wild Card Game, because they know too well that this club operates on another level in October. And were it not for a ninth-inning meltdown in Game 4 of the NLDS, the Giants were about to present the Cubs with the worrisome scenario that was Johnny Cueto in Game 5. Sixty-two million dollars to Mark Melancon later, the Giants are expecting to be more strongly aligned in the late innings this year.
Mets: Eliminate inconsistency on offense. The lineup in the first half of 2015 was unwatchable, largely as a function of roster construction. The lineup for the vast majority of 2016, even with Yoenis Cespedes aboard, wasn't much better, and that came down to poor health and poor performance in the clutch. The Mets re-upped with Cespedes and will have Neil Walker back from back surgery and are hoping for better things from Travis d'Arnaud, etc. Bottom line is they can't simply hope their rotation depth is enough to sustain them in another bid for October, because we saw in '16 how quickly such depth can wither.
Cardinals: Restore The Cardinal Way. All we're really suggesting is that the Cards stop booting the ball around, stop running the bases like they're drunk and get back to basics -- and October. They are conceding nothing to the Cubbies.
Tigers: Get under the luxury tax threshold. They just ponied up their $4 million penalty -- 17.5 percent of their overage -- for '16, and the penalty will rise to 30 percent if they offend again in '17. Though the monster contracts of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera aren't likely to go anywhere, this is clearly a transitional time in Motown as the Tigers look to get younger and leaner.
Mariners: End the game's longest October drought, which dates back to 2001. Stop us if you've heard this before, but Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz won't be around forever, and that's why the M's have taken aggressive, albeit cost-effective, action in trying to make this roster postseason-worthy after coming up three games short in '16.
Astros: Prove Sports Illustrated right. The magazine dubbed them the 2017 World Series champs … way back on June 25, 2014. Much organizational momentum was put on pause by the awful April that ruined the '16 effort, but Jeff Luhnow has been one of this Hot Stove season's most aggressive GMs in upgrading his roster and, with an eye on improving the rotation further, he might not be done.
Yankees: Rebuild without a single losing season. Think about that. It's a tough trick, but even in a year in which they dealt many big names away at the Trade Deadline, the Yankees managed to finish six games over .500. The return of Aroldis Chapman, the arrival of Matt Holliday and the upside of a system bringing us Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and others means the Yanks, who haven't had a losing year since '92, are a good bet to remain competitive even as they reform their roster.
Royals: Make a bunch of walk years count. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas are all pending free agents, and so the Royals find themselves on the precipice of a major makeover -- one they tried to get a leg up on with the Wade Davis trade that reeled in long-term control Jorge Soler. A trade of Cain or Dyson is a good possibility, too. So the Royals, like the Yankees, are trying to simultaneously rebuild and contend, as the window on their 2015 championship core begins to close.
Marlins: Show resolve. It's difficult to articulate or contextualize just how difficult this upcoming season is going to be for the Marlins, because the wound of losing Jose Fernandez is still fresh and the absence of both his spirit and his stats is going to have an unavoidable impact. But the Marlins are charging ahead with a beefed-up bullpen, some innings-eaters in the rotation and the hope that their overall upward momentum will continue.
Pirates: Figure out this whole Andrew McCutchen thing. Staying? Going? Raking? Regressing? What's happening here? Is Cutch still an MVP-caliber player? In a related question, is this club still a contender? Is there a scenario in which that last question is answered in the affirmative but Cutch still gets dealt before the deadline? This is going to be interesting.
White Sox: Keep the rebuilding effort going. Even if they stand pat from here to Spring Training and report to Glendale, Ariz., with Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Jose Abreu, et al. in tow, they'll be clear candidates to be active during the summer swap season. Already, the Sox have positioned themselves to be a big threat in the not-too-distant future, but there's sure to be more swapping in store between now in August.
Rockies: Be this year's turnaround team. Colorado had a losing record (75-87) last year, but the team believed enough in the strides made by its young starting staff to invest heavily (and surprisingly) in Ian Desmond and to beef up the bullpen with Mike Dunn. It will be interesting to see what comes next (if has been speculated that the Rox could still land a first-base bat, move Desmond back to the outfield and deal Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez for pitching help), but, whatever the case, the intent is clearly to make a great gain in the NL West standings.
Angels: Never read another, "They're wasting Mike Trout's prime years!" think piece ever again. It's likely going to take health in the rotation from Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs, Albert Pujols fighting off Father Time and -- oh yeah -- the continued excellence of Trout himself for the Halos to rise again, but the additions of Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa and Ben Revere were all solid, low-profile moves for a club trying to contend with a top-heavy roster.
Brewers: Be competitive. Did you know the Brewers were responsible for 13.8 percent of the Cubs' losses in 2016? A team projected to be a total disaster was, in fact, merely bad. There were some really pleasant surprises from Javier Guerra and Carlos Torres and Jonathan Villar, but most importantly Domingo Santana improved and we got our first taste of Orlando Arcia. In '17 more young guys are going to infiltrate the roster, as the Brewers climb back into coherence.
Phillies: Stay payroll-flexible. Everything the Phils have done this offseason -- the re-signing of Jeremy Hellickson, the acquisitions of Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick and Pat Neshek, the signing of Joaquin Benoit, etc. -- has been geared at making this club incrementally better without impacting the 2018 budget. The Phillies know what's up. Some enticing free-agent talent (most notably Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, after '18) is looming, and they're going to be in key position to pounce and build on an emerging core.
A's: Get the most out of Sonny Gray. That could mean an offseason or midseason swap, though current interest in a blockbuster trade for Gray has been understandably tepid after his injury plagued, subpar '16. Or it could just mean getting Gray back to his 2014-15 level, because that's the primary prerequisite it'll take for the A's to climb out of the AL West cellar.
D-backs: Be better-looking. And not just because they've reduced some of the more quirky elements of their uniforms (pour one out for those weird little diamonds at the bottom of the pants, because they're gone). Last year was a mess basically from the moment A.J. Pollack got hurt, but this club still has a ton of talent. The new front office is revamping the bullpen, which could be the key to an Arizona ascension in the NL West.
Braves: Pack the new park. Obviously, there is an attendance bump that accompanies a move to a new facility, but what about a bump in wins at SunTrust Park? The Braves have loaded up on
old established arms in their rotation, and their lineup made some serious strides when Dansby Swanson came up, Matt Kemp arrived, Ender Inciarte became a legit leadoff presence and Freddie Freeman turned into Lou Gehrig late last year. So they could be frisky.
Reds: Get more length from their starters. Their average of 5.3 innings per outing was a Major League-low. And it's not like the Reds were trying to get to their bullpen -- that group had an ERA north of 5. The Reds centered their rebuild on pitching acquisitions, and they simply need more from their young guys not named Anthony DeSclafani.
Padres: Repair relations with the other 29 clubs. It would be understandable if GM A.J. Preller's 30-day suspension for failing to disclose medical information to the Red Sox in the Drew Pomeranz trade makes other clubs leery of dealing with the Friars in the future. The Padres did not diminish Preller's power in this front office, so it's ultimately on him to move things forward.
Rays: Be as good as they look on paper … or, rather, a computer. PECOTA projected the Rays to win an AL Wild Card spot in 2014, and they lost 85 games. It had them winning the East outright in 2015 and '16, and they finished 13 games back and 25 back, respectively. Clearly, this is a club that presents a disconnect between analytics and actuality, especially in a rotation often touted for its youth and depth but with little in the way of consistent results. They need that to change in '17.
Twins: Get with the times. Up to and including 2016, this was as old-school an organization as you could find, and Terry Ryan had a great deal of success in Minnesota. But the well ran dry this decade, and it was clearly time for a change. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine bring the Twins belatedly but necessarily into the 21st Century at a time of roster transition.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.