This weekend, as the games that don't count blend with those that do, we make predictions -- a national pastime within the national pastime.Of course, we're usually wrong. At least, I am. One year ago, I was certain the Seattle Mariners would win the World Series. But they couldn't manage
This weekend, as the games that don't count blend with those that do, we make predictions -- a national pastime within the national pastime.
Of course, we're usually wrong. At least, I am. One year ago, I was certain the Seattle Mariners would win the World Series. But they couldn't manage to win more games than they lost.
So just in case the Chicago Cubs fail to defeat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series -- that's my pick, in case you'd like to know what won't happen -- here's one forecast with a better chance to come true: baseball's 16 biggest newsmakers in 2016.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Strasburg is an all-in player on an all-in team, four years after an innings cap curtailed his lone All-Star season. If the Nationals are going to have a Commissioner's Trophy to show for their caution, they must win it before Strasburg files for free agency in the fall.
Strasburg, who turns 28 in July, is equally invested in this season's outcome: If he maintains his usual strikeout rate and throws 200-plus innings -- which he has done once before -- he'll enter the offseason as the most coveted free agent in baseball.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Circle the date: May 9. That's when Correa and Lindor play against one another for the first time this year, the next installment of a friendly rivalry between charismatic and supremely talented shortstops from Puerto Rico.
Correa and Lindor, who finished first and second in the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, are part of their homeland's baseball renaissance. The next question: Who's moving to second base on the 2017 World Baseball Classic team?
Jason Heyward, OF, Cubs
Heyward is at the center of (for now) baseball's most intriguing rivalry. He left the Cardinals to sign an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs -- and explained the move, in part, by saying he preferred Chicago's young core to St. Louis' veteran (read: aging) nucleus.
Those words might be remembered during the teams' 19 meetings this year.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays
Here's what you need to know about Stroman: He wasn't supposed to pitch at all in 2015 after tearing the ACL in his left knee during Spring Training. He decided to rehabilitate after surgery at Duke University, where he took classes to finish his degree. Stroman improbably returned to the Blue Jays' rotation in September, won all four of his starts and earned a victory in the AL Championship Series. Now he's the staff ace following David Price's departure -- a 5-foot-8 righty with one of the biggest personalities in baseball.
Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals
Over the 2013 and '14 seasons, Mike Trout outshone Harper on the mythical scoreboard of the sport's young standard-bearers. That changed in 2015, as Harper won his first National League MVP Award and thrived in the spotlight. Harper's aspirations of dominating and changing the sport are palpable, as evidenced by his offseason comments to ESPN The Magazine about baseball's need to further embrace its best personalities. His bat and words will be loud again in 2016. The sport will be better for it.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
Red Sox fans showered Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter with heartfelt ovations during their final games at Fenway Park. Now we're about to learn if the same will be true for Ortiz in the Bronx. (Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia are on record as saying that should be the case.)
Big Papi is entering his final season with much fanfare, and his comments during his final game at Yankee Stadium (Thursday, Sept. 29) are certain to be memorable. Never shy with his opinions, Ortiz could become even more candid in the final months of his playing career.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Marlins
Ichiro, 42, is older than Ortiz but has given no indication that he plans for the 2016 season to be his last. After all, he has a major milestone to achieve: He's 65 hits away from becoming the first Japanese player to record 3,000 hits in Major League Baseball. Ichiro's Hall of Fame worthiness was cemented long ago, but some Japanese baseball observers believe he'd like to play for several more seasons.
Rob Manfred, Commissioner, Major League Baseball
Tony Clark, Executive Director, MLB Players Association
MLB and MLBPA officials are in the early stages of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (The current deal expires Dec. 1). From revenue sharing to free agency to amateur spending to international operations to the possibility of expansion to 32 teams, the particulars of baseball's new CBA will shape the game's direction at a crucial point in its evolution.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees
Tanaka is the Yankees' Opening Day starter -- but not convincingly so, after manager Joe Girardi waited until the final week of Spring Training to make the news official (the reason: a 7.36 ERA over four Grapefruit League starts). Tanaka's resilience is to be admired; he has pitched through a partially torn UCL, and he returned on schedule after October surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. But he probably needs to be a true No. 1, if the Yanks are to win a playoff series for the first time since 2012.
Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners
By any measure, Hernandez is one of the great starters of his generation. But he never has thrown a postseason pitch. Perhaps that will change this year after the Mariners fell short of immense expectations in 2015. Still, it's noteworthy that Mariners officials monitored Hernandez's innings closely during Spring Training. He's coming off his worst season since 2006 and turns 30 in early April. Watch for signs of wear. Hernandez is the key to ending the longest playoff drought in the Major Leagues, which dates back to 2001.
Zack Greinke, RHP, D-backs
With one stroke of his pen, Greinke might've shifted the balance of power in the NL West. The Dodgers' co-ace for the past three seasons is now a chief rival. And based on the spring showings of Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller, the distinction of pitching for the division's top rotation might've followed Greinke from L.A. to Phoenix.
David Price, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Price is accustomed to the small ballparks and thunderous lineups of the AL East. After all, he won an AL Cy Young Award in the division in 2012 while pitching for the Rays, then helped the slugging Blue Jays reach the postseason with precision pitching throughout August and September last year. Price has thrown the most innings in the Major Leagues over the past two seasons, and he must continue that trend for a rotation that lacks depth.
Dave Roberts, manager, Dodgers
Roberts is widely respected in the baseball industry and beloved for his positivity. He will need to draw upon both traits in a challenging scenario for any manager, let alone a rookie: The massive payroll and three consecutive division titles say Roberts should win right away, but the wounded roster suggests otherwise. The Dodgers have 13 players listed on the MLB.com injury report -- the most, by far, of any team.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs
Over the past three seasons, Goldschmidt has made three All-Star teams, collected two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers and finished second in NL MVP Award voting twice. Still, America's First Baseman isn't a household name among casual fans. That should change in 2016. The D-backs are poised to reach the playoffs for the first time since Goldschmidt's rookie year of 2011.
Jon Paul Morosi is a national reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.