Players are starting to roll into spring training to shake the rust off, which means baseball (and spring) are right around the corner. The regular season officially begins on April 2. Before we move up to Opening Day, here is an early look at the World Series futures.
The defending champion Chicago Cubs are tied with the Boston Red Sox as the favorites at +450. Both teams lost major players as Dexter Fowler left Chicago to sign with the rival St. Louis Cardinals and David Ortiz retired despite having a phenomenal 2016. However, both teams have a lot of players that can step in for those players with the Cubs counting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to keep progressing, and former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta leading a formidable staff.
For the Red Sox, Mookie Betts was a revelation last year but the revival of Pablo Sandoval could replace some of Ortiz' production. Early reports is that he is in better shape. The Red Sox also added Chris Sale to the rotation, which means they now feature three former Cy Young winners in their starting five.
The next tier has the Cleveland Indians who come in at +800, the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at +1000, the San Francisco Giants at +1200 and the Houston Astros at +1400. The Indians' run to the World Series was overshadowed by the Cubs, but they added another bat by picking up Edwin Encarnacion from Toronto. Offense was seemingly the only thing that held them back last postseason, so they're hoping to have addressed that.
The Nationals and Dodgers are both perennial contenders, but both have failed to deliver in the playoffs. The Nationals need Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to stay healthy, and Bryce Harper has to be more consistent at the plate. The Dodgers could be on the downside unless Clayton Kershaw has another Cy Young season in his arm. The Giants have a monster of a pitching staff led by Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner, and they're well managed by Bruce Bochy, so they're expected to be neck-in-neck with the Dodgers. And the Giants seem to show up as a World Series contender every other year, so after falling short of the playoffs last season, they will be on the radar in 2017.
The Astros struggled late last year, but they're a relatively young team, led by Jose Altuve. They added a number of veterans like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick to supplement a young roster, so the expectations are high.
The New York Mets are the only other team inside of 20/1 as they're posted at +1800. They're followed by the Toronto Blue Jays at +2000, St. Louis Cardinals at +2500, New York Yankees at +2500 and Texas Rangers at +2800. The Mets need their star pitchers to stay healthy, and need to find a way to generate more offense. They ranked 26th in the Majors last year in runs scored.
Speaking of offense, the Blue Jays lost Encarnacion, but Jose Bautista is back and they still have former MVP Josh Donaldson. But Bautista is fading and the loss of Encarnacion could really hurt. The Blue Jays led the Majors in runs scored in 2015 but tapered off to ninth place in that category last season. Another dip could put a lot of pressure on the pitching staff.
The Cardinals had a down year in 2015 by their standards, but they should be back to challenge the Cubs, led by a quality pitching staff. The Yankees are reloading but figure to have an excellent bullpen with the re-addition of Aroldis Chapman. However, they need to be more efficient at the plate as their .252 team batting average ranked them 20th in the Majors last season.
Finally, the Rangers are the defending American League West champs, but Houston is hot on their heels and Texas might have overachieved last year. They'll be banking on big ticket free agents like Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Carlos Gomez paying off, but most experts view those moves as gambles.