Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wake Up With Felix Hernandez Throwing A Perfect Game In 2012

It was announced last week that King Felix will pitch on Opening Day for the Mariners in 2017. This, of course, comes as no surprise. Since coming into the league in 2005 as a 19-year-old Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. His best season came in 2010 when he led the league in ERA, innings pitched, and hits per nine en route to winning the American League Cy Young. His stats were so good that he won despite winning just 13 games.

Yet incredibly Hernandez has never pitched in a postseason game. The Mariners haven't made the playoffs since their 116 win season in 2001 and are in serious danger of completely wasting their franchise player's prime.

As a 30-year-old in 2016 Felix suffered his highest ERA in a decade. Over the past three seasons his K/9 has dropped every year while his BB/9 has risen each year. You never want to bet against a pitcher with the talent of Hernandez but there's a chance his best days are behind him. He'll have to make some adjustments this year to remain one of the league's elite starting pitchers.

Monday, January 30, 2017

MLB Network Ranks Andrew Benintendi As The Number One Prospect In Baseball

One of the first signs of the baseball off-season that we are getting closer to spring is when top prospect lists start coming out. While the crown jewel of prospect lists, Baseball America, doesn't come out for a few more weeks it's great to get the MLB.com rankings at a time when there isn't much other baseball news happening. Typically the biggest conversation to come from these rankings is who came in at number one. This year is no exception as Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi surprisingly landed the top spot.

2016 couldn't have gone much better for Benintendi. He began the season in single A before getting called up to AA after a little over a month. In 97 games between the two levels he batted .312 with 31 doubles, nine homers, and 16 steals. He somewhat surprisingly got called up to the bigs in early August. In 34 games with Boston Benintendi would go on to hit .295/.359/.476 with 11 doubles, two homers, and a stolen base. All the doubles are a great sign for a young hitter since they usually translate to homers once the player fills out his body. Since he didn't exceed 130 plate appearances in the majors he was able to retain his prospect status heading into 2017.

Benintendi' success at the major league level must have been the determining factor for MLB.com to rank him over former teammate Yoan Moncada. In 2016 Moncada arguably had the better minor league season than Benintendi. He hit .294 with 15 homers and 45 stolen bases to win minor league player of the year for Baseball America. However, he went just 3-19 with 12 strikeouts in the majors. While his future remains bright Benintendi has already shown the ability to hit major league pitching.

Perhaps the most positive development of Benintendi's season was the fact that he didn't look overmatched in the playoffs. While most of the Red Sox lineup struggled against Cleveland, Benintendi went 3-9 with a home run in game one. Heading into 2017 he is going to be the favorite for AL rookie of the year and Sox manager John Farrell is reportedly considering batting him second. He has also added 20 pounds of muscle this winter, which should help him hit for more power in the heart of the Boston lineup for years to come.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Giancarlo Stanton Is Joining An Already Loaded Team USA Lineup In The World Baseball Classic

Perhaps the last thing Team USA needed to add was more offense. The roster is already stacked with all star position players coming off the bench. Yet when someone with the ability of Giancarlo Stanton wants to play you don't say no. He figures to slide right into the heart of the USA lineup and will also carry a leadership role on the team thanks to his participation from the 2013 tournament.

Entering 2017 Stanton is one of the five most talented players in baseball but hasn't been able to stay healthy. In his last full season, 2014, Stanton led the league in homers and slugging to finish second in the MVP voting. The issue, of course, has been stringing together consecutive healthy seasons. The most games he has ever played in a season is 150 and he has topped 123 just once since 2011. Now 27 years old Stanton is still owed $299.5 million over the next 11 seasons as part of his record setting contract signed back in 2014. 

While his addition is great news Team USA still needs to improve the pitching staff if they wants to compete for the WBC championship.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Backyard Baseball 2017 Player Representatives: American League Edition

Backyard Baseball is one of those games that if you played it as a kid you're going to have great memories of it, whereas if you never played then I genuinely feel bad for you. Without question the best game of the series is the 2001 version, which was the first to feature pro players as kids and had Cal Ripken Jr. on the cover. The 2003 game (Mike Piazza cover) used the same formula just with updated MLB players. It was a great sequel but for some reason just not the same as '01. After that they started making the games for other systems besides PC and it only got worse. From 2001 to 2010 Pablo Sanchez went from this:

 to this:

Gross. Anyway I've always wondered what players would represent teams for a hypothetical present day installment of the franchise. There are two rules, though. First is you need a couple of pitchers (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001, but somehow Frank Thomas had 10/10 pitching and I'm Still confused as to why). There also has to be one team that has two representatives. Why this is the case I have no idea but 2001 featured both Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey from the Reds while 2003 featured both Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi from the Yankees. So keep those things in mind as we break it down team by team:

Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore is one of the teams with a clear choice. Manny Machado is a top six or seven young player in all of baseball and is coming off a career year. He has always been known for his defense but in 2016 he hit for career highs in home runs, batting average, slugging, and OPS. This led to his second straight top five finish in the AL MVP voting. Incredibly Machado would be even more valuable had he stayed at shortstop, which teams will factor in as they prepare for his 2018 free agency.

Boston Red Sox: You could go a lot of different ways with Boston. Xander Bogaerts was hitting .350 in mid season last year. Dustin Pedroia is the face of the franchise and would make for a great backyard character. They have two aces. But this has to go to the runner up in the AL MVP voting, Markus Lynn Betts. He had an incredible season, hitting .318/.363/.534 with 31 homers and 26 stolen bases en route to leading the Sox to baseball's number one offense and the division title. His combination of power, speed, and fielding would make him one of the best players in the game.

Chicago White Sox: Three months ago this spot would've belonged to Chris Sale. However, the White Sox seem to borrowing a play from their crosstown rival's playbook and are hitting the full reset button. This winter they have also traded Adam Eaton while Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and Jose Abreu remain on the trade block. Abreu hasn't had that one monster season we seemingly predict every year, but he has been an absolute bargain since signing a six year, $68 million deal out of Cuba in 2014. He has a chance to become one of the best Cuban hitters we've ever seen.

Cleveland Indians: There's so many different directions to go here. Francisco Lindor is one of baseball's brightest young stars. Corey Kluber cemented himself as one of the games elite starting pitchers with a dominant postseason. Yet I thought this would be a good chance to highlight one of the games biggest changes from this past year and go with Andrew Miller. The 2001 and 2003 games never had a reliever but Terry Francona's usage of Miller in 2016 might be the start of a new era for relief pitchers. This past offseason saw the highest contract for a reliever get surpassed three different times. That tells you all you need to know about the state of relievers in today's game.

Detroit Tigers: While Miguel Cabrera isn't the same hitter he was during his 2012-13 apex (that included the first triple crown in 45 years), he is still one of the best hitters in baseball and the clear representative from Detroit. Miggy is one of five active players who should be considered future hall of famers. From 2005 to 2016 Cabrera hit at least .313 in every season but one, a streak that included four batting titles along the way.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve is the perfect player to picture as a backyard character thanks to his height. It's easy to forget now but entering September of 2016 he was the AL MVP favorite thanks to an absolutely monsterous year that saw him hit 24 homers with 30 stolen bases. Over the past three seasons he has led the league in batting average twice, stolen bases twice, and hits three times. He has become the best second baseman in baseball and at 26 years old is only getting better. 

Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer has to be considered one of the most underrated players in baseball right now. He doesn't have major power for a first baseman but does literally everything else you would want from a cornerstone franchise player. He posted career highs in home runs (25) and RBI (104) this past season. Hosmer has also won Gold Gloves in three of the past four years.

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout. Enough said.

Minnesota Twins: It's almost sad to have to pick Joe Mauer as their representative. That 2009 AL MVP season feels like forever ago. That season Mauer hit 28 homers, which is more than he has hit in the last three seasons combined. He has since transitioned full time to first base while eating the majority of Minnesota's player budget thanks to an eight year, $184 million deal he signed back in 2010. That being said the Twins have a couple potential stars in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, but Mauer is still their most recognizable player and deserving of being Minnesota's representative.

New York Yankees: All I have to say for the Yankees is thank goodness for Gary Sanchez because before him they didn't have a young, recognizable star. Sanchez is a lock to come back down to earth after hitting 20 homers in just 53 games as a rookie, but his season was so good that even if he plays at 75% of his 2016 production he will be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. He is going to be an integral part of the next great Yankees team.

Oakland Athletics: Some of these teams just don't have a good option. This must be how Marty Fucking Cordova ended up in the 2001 game. Sonny Gray is Oakland's best player but he's not a top pitcher in the league. Khris Davis quietly hit 42 homers in 2016 and is their most deserving position player. A year from now I will probably question myself for not choosing Gray but it's not like Oakland left us with any great option.

Seattle Mariners: Its tough to ignore King Felix but we are only choosing a few pitchers and realistically it looks like his best days are behind him. In 2016 he posted his highest ERA since 2007. For two straight year he has seen his walk rates rise and strikeout rates fall. That leaves the spot for Robinson Cano, owner of one of the prettiest swings the sport has to offer. In 2016 Cano hit a career high 39 homers.

Tampa Bay Rays: This is another easy one. I actually have no idea who we would select from Tampa if not for Evan Longoria. Chris Archer? He's good but we are only choosing a couple pitchers and he isn't even a top ten guy. While Longoria isn't the same player he was five years ago he is still an above average third baseman and the face of the Rays. Unfortunately for him he will probably go down as someone who was too loyal to the team that drafted him. 

Texas Rangers: Its time Adrian Beltre receives some love. In 2017 he is going to become just the 31st player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits. He also has a shot at 500 homers before his career ends. Add in the superb defense and 90.2 career WAR (higher than Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jeff Bagwell) and we are talking about a hall of fame player. He's been underrated for too long to ignore.

Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has had a couple of rough offseasons the past two winters by losing David Price and Edwin Encarnacion to free agency. However, their window to win isn't totally shut. They retained Jose Bautista, have an underrated pitching staff, and still have the 2015 AL MVP under contract for two more years. Donaldson followed up his MVP season with a just as impressive 2016. He is one of the league's premier player right now and square in his prime.

National League selections coming next week.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wake Up With Ryan Howard Hitting Two Home Runs In The 2008 World Series

Only five players in the history of Major League Baseball have ever hit 60 homers in a single season. In 2006 Ryan Howard fell just two short, finishing with 58 homers and a .313/.425/.659 triple slash line. In a four year span from 2006-2009 Howard was one of the game's most dominant offensive players. During that time he averaged a whopping 50 home runs and143 RBI while finishing in the top five in MVP voting every year.

Unfortunately he hasn't been the same since suffering an Achilles injury on the Phillies' final at bat of 2011. Save for one season he hasn't hit over .229 since 2011 and in 2016 he batted just .196 (although with 25 home runs). It was reported this past week that he's open to a part time, DH role. While there's a glut of platoon/DH types currently on the market, including guys like Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter, it would be surprising if Howard isn't in a camp come Spring Training.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Checking In On Team USA's World Baseball Classic Roster

Baseball is a sport usually played in a series of games. Regular season contests are played in sets of two, three, or four. Postseason matchups are either best of five or seven showdowns. What makes the World Baseball Classic unique is that each "series" lasts just one game. As we were reminded in the 2016 MLB playoffs a shorter series or an individual game favors the team with pitching and a strong bullpen. So while Team USA looks to be fielding its most competitive WBC roster yet, it's still lacking in the arms department.

If all the best players played then pitching wouldn't be a problem for USA. I mean just imagine a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, David Price, and Max Scherzer. Throw in a bullpen featuring Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, and Craig Kimbrel and the next best pitching staff in the tournament wouldn't come close to matching us. Scherzer was actually supposed to participate but a minor injury is going to sideline him. Miller is playing and if manager Jim Leyland uses him the way Terry Francona has used him recently than he will be an invaluable weapon out of the pen. But as of right now Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman will be leading the rotation. While they're good they don't exactly separate the US rotation from the rest of the pack.

Team USA will therefore rely on a potentially dominant lineup listed above. The list looks even better when you consider the elite defenders the team has landed. Arenado, Posey, Crawford, and Hosmer are some of the best at their respective positions. Add in the offense of Goldschmidt, Murphy, Jones, and McCutchen and the US becomes an instant tournament contender.

Yet despite the lineup, defense, and addition of Miller team USA won't enter the tournament as favorites. The Dominican Republic are the defending champs. Japan has won it all twice already. There are a bunch of other countries that have better starting pitching than the US. Still, until we see who else is added to the roster we can't fully judge it yet. There's also the rumor that Kershaw and Bumgarner could become available should Team USA advance to the second round. Hopefully that happens because we haven't finished higher than fourth in any of the three previous classics. The roster is off to a promising start but it still needs help as we get closer and closer to Spring Training.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Discussing Some More MLB Off-Season Takeaways

--As we inch closer and closer to Spring Training be prepared to start hearing a lot of love for the Houston Astros. It's easy to forget, since Boston and Cleveland have stolen offseason headlines as of late, but it was Houston who won the first wave of the winter. The Astros signed Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran in addition to trading for Brian McCann. Add in the young (and underrated) core of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, and you have a championship contender. Only two things could get in their way. One is the fact that out of all those players I just named none are pitchers. Dallas Keuchel regressed after his Cy Young campaign in 2015 and the team ERA rose from 3.59 to 4.07. The other worry for them is that winning the offseason means nothing. We have seen teams time and time again win the offseason only to bust in the regular season. Still this winter has been big for Houston. They have an unbelievably bright future ahead of them.

--Perhaps no player in baseball has more to prove this upcoming season than Nationals superstar Bryce Harper. Yes, Bryce is still a superstar. People seem very eager to forget that he is just one year removed from being the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of Major League Baseball. In 2015 Harper hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers. His 9.9 WAR that year is the fifth highest total in a single season since 2002 according to baseball-reference. Unfortunately he followed that up with a 2016 season that can only be described as less than ideal. He started hot in April before regressing majorly over the final few months of the season and ultimately finished with a .243/.373/.441 line and 24 long balls. Part of this can be blamed to playing through a shoulder injury as well as being unlucky in the BABIP department, but he is going to need a couple of monster seasons if he wants that $400 million deal as a free agent in 2018.

--I don't think people realize exactly what we are witnessing with Clayton Kershaw right now. In the five year span from 2011 to 2015 he won three Cy Youngs, led the league in ERA four times, WHIP four times, strikeouts three times, and won a MVP award. What is scary is that until getting injured 2016 was going to be his best season yet. This past year in just 21 starts he had a 1.69 ERA with an unholy 15.64 strikeout to walk ratio, which would have been the highest of all time. For context the single season record is 11.62. He also overcame some of his postseason demons by coming out of the bullpen to clinch the NLDS over the Nationals. Kershaw doesn't play on the East coast, doesn't have a polarizing personality, and has never been to a World Series so perhaps his numbers don't get the national craze they deserve. However, he is still the unquestioned best pitcher on the planet and is in the middle of a run we haven't seen since Pedro. There's no telling when his skills will diminish so be sure to enjoy his games while we still can.

--The World Baseball Classic is never going to be the World Cup. It's never even going to be what the Olympics are for hockey or basketball. But it's a tournament with games that matter played during a month where the games don't matter. That's something worth getting excited about. Additionally it looks like Team USA will be fielding its most competitive roster yet. In the first three tournaments it's fair to say USA has severely underachieved since they have finished no higher than fourth. The problem with the tournament as a whole will always be that not all the best players play. So far though USA has gotten commitments from Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer, Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy, Andrew McCutchen, Andrew Miller, and Chris Archer. It's their best chance since the 2006 team at making a deep run and generating national interest. The WBC begins on March 6th and will run through March 22nd.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Discussing The Biggest Takeaways From The MLB Off-Season So Far

We are officially less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting. With a lot of major signings and trades already in the books it's time to look back at the winter that was. Below we go over the major takeaways so far from the 2016-17 MLB offseason:

--Make no mistake. The Red Sox are worse off without David Ortiz than with him. But they head into 2017 with a better team than they had in 2016. That's because last year's biggest strength (the offense) is still a strength. A full season of Andrew Benintendi plus the continued development of the young core should help with the loss of Papi. Perhaps they won't have the number one offense again, but it'll still be a top unit. The reason they are better now is, of course, because of Chris Sale and the super rotation they formed. When your number three starter just won the AL Cy Young award you know you're in good shape. I would say no team wants to face the trio of Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello in the playoffs but until Price wins a playoff game that's a lie. Sale has never pitched in the postseason but one has to assume he will succeed there. If, and it's a big if, Price looks like his regular season self come October this team could cruise to the World Series.

--Boston's biggest challenger to the American League pennant will be the team that won it in 2016. On paper the Tribe got even better this offseason when they signed Edwin Encarnacion to a three year, $60 million contract. But Cleveland already had a good offense last season. EE is virtually replacing Mike Napoli, who hit 34 homers last year. Encarnacion is an upgrade but he isn't going to be what propels the Indians to a championship. If the Tribe win the World Series this year it'll be more because of a healthy starting rotation come playoff time. Add Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to the 2016 Indians and you have to figure they close out their 3-1 series lead over the Cubs. Baseball fans should be salivating over a possible Red Sox-Indians ALCS where every pitching matchup will feature guys with ace like stuff. 

--One of the major storylines from the 2016 playoffs was the way managers were using their bullpens. It started in the ALDS with Terry Francona's usage of Andrew Miller and was eventually copied by Joe Madison and Aroldis Chapman to give the Cubs their first championship since 1908. This, combined with how few quality starters were on the open market, meant that the record for the highest contract ever given to a reliever was surpassed three times this offseason. Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Chapman himself all cashed in. Whether or not Francona's strategy gets used more often in regular season games remains to be seen but this is almost certainly what teams will do in playoff games from now on. Another key to this strategy is whether or not some closers will buy into it. Miller is so valuable to the Indians because he is willing to pitch the sixth inning if need be. Chapman, meanwhile, has said he didn't like how Maddon used him in the World Series. As long as relievers get paid for performance and not for saves this should be a shift in ideology we continue to see in 2017.

--Even with the additions made by both Boston and Cleveland there is no question who the World Series favorite entering the season will be. That title belongs to the Chicago Cubs as they attempt to become baseball's first repeat champion since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000. So far this offseason the Cubs have lost Chapman, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, and Jason Hammel. They have replaced them with Wade Davis and Jon Jay. Add in a full season from Kyle Schwarber and the offseason additions and subtractions result in a near push. That means the biggest challenge facing the defending champs will be complacency and the innings burden on their pitchers from making two straight deep playoff runs. Ending the championship drought was a major rallying cry for the team they no longer have. However, they still have a dominant core of all stars that must realize they have a chance to become a modern baseball dynasty. There will be signs of a championship hangover throughout the season but it isn't a big enough worry for any of the Dodgers, Nationals, or Cardinals to be considered favorites over the Cubs. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Making The Case For Mike Mussina For The Hall Of Fame

Voting for the Hall of Fame is hard. Take out the steroid stuff and it's still difficult. That's because nobody really knows how we are supposed to be evaluating these resumes. Should a collection of individual awards decide who makes it to Cooperstown? How many championships they won? How long they played for? How good their prime was? Whether or not they reached a magical number for a stat, such as 3,000 hits? 

It's a lot to consider but it wasn't always this way. Back in the day we used nice, round numbers to make it simple. 500 home runs? You're in. 300 wins? You're in. You were a pretty good player that won a bunch of rings? You're in. However, we now have advanced stats that tell us a lot more information about players. For example, why should pitchers get penalized for pitching in a predominantly hitters park? The problem now is that we have two ways of thinking and neither is perfect.

This all brings us to Mike Mussina, who has one of the unluckiest candidacies on this year's ballot. Let's start with the case against "Moose". He never won a World Series, never won a Cy Young, didn't win 300 games, and has no real career defining moment that writers look for when casting their vote. Basically he lacks the WOW factor. But now let's ask was any of this really his fault? He pitched on some great Yankee teams but it just so happens he got to New York the year after a three peat and left the year before their next championship. While he never won a Cy Young he finished top six in the voting eight times during a 10 year stretch and had to go up against Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens during those years. If he wins one championship and one Cy Young award would history view him differently?

Mussina finished in the top five in ERA seven times to go along with five all star selections and seven gold gloves. While he didn't reach 300 wins he still compiled a career record of 270-153 with a .638 winning percentage, which would become the sixth best ever among Hall of Fame pitchers. With Mussina we should be focusing on what pitchers can actually control, which is striking batters out and limiting their free passes. For his career Moose compiled a 3.58-1 strikeout to walk ratio that is good for second best all time among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. This is despite the fact that he pitched in two hitter friendly parks at the height of the steroid era. 

During his career Mussina accumulated 82.7 WAR according to baseball-reference, which is good for 24th all time. WAR is not a perfect stat but it's noteworthy that someone like Tom Glavine (74.0 WAR) was elected to the Hall on his first try while Moose received only 43% of votes in 2016, his third year on the ballot. Take away Glavine's two Cy Young awards (subjective) and 300 wins (influenced heavily by the team around him) and it's a different story. Make no mistake Glavine is still a HOF pitcher but by using advanced stats it appears Mussina is actually the superior of the two. Put him on those 1990s Braves teams and he wins 300 games and becomes a first ballot Hall of Famer. Don't let the nice, round numbers fool you. Vote Moose.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Much Better Does Edwin Encarnacion Make The Indians?

In 2016 the Cleveland Indians came seemingly out of nowhere to advance all the way to the seventh game of the World Series. While their season ended in heartbreaking fashion Cleveland fans have a lot to look forward to for the first time in a while. Although the franchise typically shies away from big free agent acquisitions they were able to land arguably the top bat on the open market. However, while the signing of Edwin Encarnacion improves the Indians championship odds, it's actually the healthy return of some key players that will help get them over the hump in 2017.

Encarnacion is no joke. Although he signed for "just" three years and $60 million guaranteed Edwin is one of the most dangerous right handed batters in all of baseball. Since 2012 he has averaged 36 home runs and 110 RBI. Make no mistake the Indians are better with him that without but there's a case to be made that he doesn't dramatically improve the lineup from last year's version. That's because he's replacing Mike Napoli, who surprisingly had an extremely productive year for Cleveland. Encarnacion rated better than Napoli in virtually every offensive category last season but it's not as if he's replacing some huge hole in the lineup. 

That huge hole in the lineup will be filled by Michael Brantley after he appeared in all of 11 games for the Tribe in 2016. This is a player who in 2014 finished third in the AL MVP voting and among American League leaders that year he ranked fifth in WAR, third in batting average, fourth in on base percentage, seventh in OPS, second in hits, and third in runs created. He followed it up with a productive, but not as spectacular, 2015 season where he finished fourth in the AL in batting and third in OBP. In this two year stretch Brantley was one of the best and most underrated players in the game. He has undergone three surgeries on his shoulder in the last twelve months but is expected to be close to 100 percent for Spring Training. His healthy return to the lineup, combined with the upgrade of Edwin over Napoli, gives Cleveland one of the better lineups in baseball.

While Encarnacion and Brantley will help drive the Tribe to a potential second straight AL Central crown it'll be the return of healthy starting pitching that will win them a championship. It's already easy to forget but Cleveland was down both Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco for the majority of the 2016 playoffs. Plus Trevor Bauer was pitching with an injured thumb. Despite this they still managed to build a 3 game to 1 lead in the World Series. You have to figure they're able to close it out if all those guys are healthy. As we inch closer and closer to Spring Training the Tribe can also count on a full season of Andrew Miller and continued development from franchise player Francisco Lindor. These factors, more so than the signing of Encarnacion, make the Indians the team to beat in the American League heading into 2017.