The youth of the Cubs, epitomized by the selection of Kris Bryant as the National League Most Valuable Player, has many people discussing a return to the World Series next year and beyond for the team from Chicago’s North Side. In actuality, it seems that their opponents in this past Fall Classic are more likely than the Cubs to reach it again in 2017.
Several key members of the Cubs are facing free agency, most notably closer Aroldis Chapman and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. Postseason pitching hero Jon Lester will return, but veteran battery mate David Ross has retired. The loss of his personal long time catcher, who was brought over from Boston to Chicago primarily at Lester’s request, may cause the left hander to be less effective in 2017.
Cleveland, on the other hand, will be adding a star player to a lineup that managed to somehow win the pennant without him. Outfielder Michael Brantley, the team’s M.V.P. in 2015, will return after missing nearly all of last season due to injury. They will also get back catcher Yan Gomes, who missed much of the season as well. The path to the playoffs promises to be easier for Cleveland next season. Two of the perennial powers that rival the Indians in the American League Central division, Detroit and Chicago, are going to be considerably weaker as they enter rebuilding mode. The Tigers are looking to trade veterans such as Julio Iglesias and Ian Kinsler in hopes of getting top prospects, and the White Sox are marketing ace left hander Chris Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton.
Also weaker are the teams the Indians breezed through in the playoffs, which saw Cleveland win seven of the eight games in the two rounds. Boston, who was swept in three games by Cleveland, will very likely miss the presence of “Big Papi” David Ortiz. The perennial All-star and likely Hall of Fame designated hitter retired after the season.
Toronto, who was dispatched by Cleveland in five games in the Championship Series, will be losing at least one of its key sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Both All-Stars are free agents this winter, and each will command contracts so large that it would be impossible for the Blue Jays to sign the duo.
On the other hand, the Cubs’ most probable playoff opponents are likely going to be stronger. Washington, which finished behind Chicago for most victories last season, is seeking to acquire Sale from the White Sox. That acquisition would strengthen an already formidable starting rotation, anchored by Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The Nationals are also on target to sign Fowler away from Chicago. The Dodgers, who came just two games from wresting the pennant from the Cubs, are actively pursuing several power hitters that could push them over Chicago in the playoffs. Milwaukee outfielder and former National League M.V.P Ryan Braun continues to be linked in possible trades with Los Angeles.
While there is no doubt that the Cubs will be the favorites to win the pennant again in 2017, Cleveland might be an even better bet to repeat. After all, they won it last year without two of its best players, both of whom should be healthy in the spring.