Impactful dozen: Names to watch in 2017

Rather than listing the best players in the game and pairing them up with the appropriate award or rattling off the five best teams in an attempt to forecast the postseason picture, here’s a look at a dozen figures around the Majors who will make their share of news during the 2017 campaign.

Edwin Encarnacion

The defending AL champion Indians will benefit from the return of Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar from injury, but the biggest addition is the thunderous swing of Encarnacion, who averaged 39 homers, 110 RBIs and a .912 OPS over the past five seasons in Toronto. Encarnacion’s Blue Jays fell to the Indians in last year’s AL Championship Series, so his move certainly shifts the power — namely, his bat — to Cleveland as the Tribe looks to get back to the World Series.

Francona on Encarnacion's impact Francona on Encarnacion’s impact

Francona expects big impact from Encarnacion

Indians manager Terry Francona discusses the signing of Edwin Encarnacion and the impact he brings to the club

Paul Goldschmidt / Nolan Arenado

In case you haven’t noticed — and judging by last year’s list of most popular jerseys, you haven’t — neither Goldschmidt nor Arenado are receiving their due as two of the top 10 players in the game. Both were chosen by their peers to the NL All-Star team, but if they continue to rake at the pace they have in recent years — Goldschmidt has a .949 OPS and two NL Gold Glove Awards in the past four seasons, while Arenado has led the NL in both homers and RBIs in each of the last two years and won four straight NL Gold Gloves — the two NL West superstars should begin catching the eyes of fans everywhere.

Arenado's barehanded stop Arenado’s barehanded stop

COL@SD: Arenado makes barehanded play on chopper

Nolan Arenado makes a barehanded play on a high chopper and fires a strong throw to first base to nab Dusty Coleman in the 2nd inning

Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees’ ace showed last year that his elbow should no longer be much of a concern, but Tanaka still didn’t get to that vaunted 200-inning mark in 2016, falling short by a single out. Tanaka would certainly like to blow past that milestone this season, especially since he can opt out of his contract next winter and become a free agent at the age of 29. With three years and $67 million remaining on his original seven-year, $155 million contract, a big season by Tanaka would likely thrust him onto the free-agent market, joining fellow Japanese hurler Yu Darvish as the top available pitchers.

Feinsand on Tanaka Feinsand on Tanaka

Feinsand on big year for Tanaka, possible free agency

MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand discusses the potential for Masahiro Tanaka to pass the 200-inning limit and test free agency in 2018

Giancarlo Stanton / Christian Yelich

All eyes will be on Marlins Park this summer when the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard comes to Miami, and after dominating the Home Run Derby at last year’s event in San Diego, Stanton will try to defend his title in front of the home crowd. But it’s his 25-year-old teammate Yelich drawing raves this spring, leading many scouts and talent evaluators to tab him as a top candidate as 2017’s breakout star. If these two can anchor a talented, deep lineup, the Marlins could find themselves playing meaningful games long past the All-Star break.

Yelich's RBI single Yelich’s RBI single

USA@PUR: Yelich chases Lugo from game with RBI single

Christian Yelich lines a single to right field, plating a run to put Team USA up 3-0 and force opposing starter Seth Lugo out of the game

Rick Hahn

The White Sox general manager began the rebuilding process over the offseason with the trades of Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals, but he’s just getting started. With a clear plan unfolding on the South Side, Hahn has several more deals up his sleeve, with Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera all potentially on the move between now and the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Sox tab Quintana for Opening Day Sox tab Quintana for Opening Day

Quintana gets the ball for White Sox on Opening Day

White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana will be on the bump for Chicago on Opening Day 2017

Dayton Moore

Hahn won’t be the only GM making news this season, though Moore isn’t necessarily going to be in fire sale mode like his AL Central counterpart. The Royals are facing a mass exodus after the season — Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar are all set to become free agents next fall — leaving Moore with an important decision to make this summer.

Does he try to bolster the roster and take a run at a second World Series title in three years? Or will the Royals be too far behind to consider such a scenario, leaving Moore with several attractive pieces to sell at the deadline? Time — and the standings — will tell.

Hosmer's clutch two-run homer Hosmer’s clutch two-run homer

VEN@USA: Hosmer belts go-ahead, two-run home run

Eric Hosmer gives Team USA a 4-2 lead in the 8th inning with a clutch two-run homer to right-center field

Felix Hernandez

King Felix hasn’t been his typically regal self during the past two years, averaging 178 innings with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.232 WHIP after pitching an average of 232 frames with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.099 WHIP in the preceding six seasons. Hernandez will be 31 on April 8, though with more than 2,400 career big league innings, it’s possible that his best years are behind him. Given the Mariners’ solid lineup, they need their ace to step up and lead a staff that will determine whether Seattle ends its 15-year postseason drought — the longest in the Majors.

Feinsand on King Felix Feinsand on King Felix

Feinsand on Felix being key to Mariners success

MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand discusses Felix Hernandez’ success being key to the Mariners’ 2017 postseason hopes

Bryce Harper

Harper continues to find his name mentioned on lists of the best players in baseball, though his 2016 season has at least raised questions as to whether he still belongs there. An NL MVP Award winner at 22, Harper’s age-23 season saw a major drop-off in virtually every category, including a nearly 300-point plummet in OPS (1.109 to .814). Yet at 24, the Nationals’ four-time All-Star is still at an age where most players are just finding their way to the Majors.

Many have projected Harper’s next contract — he’s set to be a free agent after the 2018 season — as the biggest in the game’s history, but he’ll have to look more like the ’15 version over the next two years for that to happen. Oh yeah, and he’s also one of the keys to Washington getting back to the postseason for the fourth time in six years and trying to advance beyond the Division Series for the first time ever.

Feinsand on Harper's potential Feinsand on Harper’s potential

Feinsand discusses Harper’s potential in 2017

MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand discusses the potential for Bryce Harper to have another MVP-type season in 2017

Chris Sale

David Ortiz is gone, taking his Big Papi-ness into retirement after a brilliant career. The Red Sox have plenty of players to pick up the pieces, but it’s newcomer Sale who will be expected to step in as the ace of the rotation, especially while David Price waits for his tender elbow to heal. Sale was brought to Boston to be the type of game changer on the mound that Ortiz was at the plate, and Boston fans are known to be tough on those that don’t immediately live up to expectations. As long as Sale doesn’t have any problems with the exalted Boston jerseys, they should be off to a good start.

Sale K's 10 vs. Yankees Sale K’s 10 vs. Yankees

BOS@NYY: Sale strikes out 10 over six strong innings

Chris Sale holds the Yankees to two runs over six strong innings, allowing just four hits with 10 strikeouts

Mike Trout

This isn’t about whether Trout will win a third AL MVP Award — history tells us he’s destined to finish no worse than second in the vote — but rather whether Trout’s Angels can get back to the postseason. GM Billy Eppler bolstered the team’s defense with the additions of Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa, while the return of Garrett Richards should help the rotation. Whether that’s enough to put Trout back on the big October stage remains to be seen. His name is sure to come up in Herschel Walker-like trade scenarios, though there’s no reason to think Eppler will move the best player in the game any time soon.

Trout's solo home run Trout’s solo home run

TEX@LAA: Trout blasts his first homer of the spring

Mike Trout leads off the bottom of the 7th inning by launching his first homer of Spring Training, a solo shot to pull the Angels within one

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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