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Predicting Los Angeles Dodgers Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training

As of this writing, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a glaring hole at second base. Hence the persistent trade rumors surrounding the Minnesota Twins‘ Brian Dozier.

Whether the Dodgers acquire Dozier or someone else, the odds are good they’ll add a middle infielder of note before the start of spring training.

For now, though, let’s run down the existing depth chart and look at some key players waiting in the wings.

In addition to second base, there are question marks at the back end of the rotation and some uncertainty in the outfield. However, this roster looks strong enough to compete for a fifth straight National League West crown and the Dodgers’ first championship in more than a quarter-century.

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Why the Home Run Has Lost Its Luster on the MLB Free-Agent Market

Chicks, they tell us, dig the long ball. The question is, do MLB offseason shoppers?

So far this winter, the answer has been a resounding “meh.”

Edwin Encarnacion, arguably the best pure power hitter on the market, signed with the Cleveland Indians for three years and $60 million with a $25 million team option and $5 million buyout.

That’s a decent payday, but it’s well below the four years and $92 million MLB Trade Rumors projected. 

At least Encarnacion (42 home runs in 2016) found a home. As of this writing, a busload of sluggers remain unemployed with just over a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Between Mark Trumbo (47 home runs), Chris Carter (41 home runs) and Mike Napoli (34 home runs), two of 2016’s top-seven home run hitters and three of the top 18 are flapping in the free-agent breeze.

Add Brandon Moss (28 home runs), Michael Saunders (24 home runs), Jose Bautista (22 home runs), Pedro Alvarez (22 home runs) and Adam Lind (20 home runs), and you’re looking at 238 unsigned homers.

“It’s a slow-developing market this year,” Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said in a contender for understatement of the offseason, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Part of the issue is supply and demand. In addition to those names, there are an array of power hitters potentially available via trade, including the Minnesota Twins’ Brian Dozier (42 home runs), the Chicago White Sox’s Todd Frazier (40 home runs) and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun (30 home runs), to name three.

What about the “demand” part of the equation, though? Aren’t we living in the post-steroid era (or at least the steroid-testing era), when the ability to launch the ball over the fence is a notable, marketable skill?

Up until recently, yes. The last two seasons, not so much.

In 2000, at the apex of the steroid era, there were 5,693 home runs hit across both leagues. By 2014, that number had plummeted to 4,186, the lowest total in nearly two decades.

Then, in 2015, the four-bagger came roaring back to the tune of 4,909 homers, a 17.3 percent jump. Last season, the total rose to 5,610, just shy of the 2000 high-water mark.

If it was juiced players then, could it be juiced baseballs now?

“Some playersnot just on our team, we were talking to other players in generalwe wondered if the cork was different,” Orioles closer Zach Britton said in July, per Jerry Crasnick and David Schoenfield of “I know MLB wanted to get more offense in the game, so you can do that without changing a strike zone or something in general? You can somehow change the cork maybe.”

Or maybe performance-enhancing drugs are still prevalent, with newer PEDs outpacing MLB’s testing protocols?

Commissioner Rob Manfred dismissed both notions at his 2016 All-Star Game press conference. 

“We think it has to do with the way pitchers pitch and the way hitters are being taught to play the game,” Manfred told reporters. “You’ve seen some unusual developments in terms of home run hitters being up in the lineup to get them more at-bats. So we think it has more to do with the game this time around, because we’re comfortable we’re doing everything we can on the performance-enhancing drugs front.”

Whatever the cause, the trend is undeniable. Home runs are surging in a big way. Home runs hitters, by extension, are no longer a prized commodity.

It’s telling that Yoenis Cespedes is the only player to land a nine-figure deal this winter. You could argue the Mets were desperate to rescue a dubious offense when they re-upped Cespedes for four years and $110 million. You’d be right.

But Cespedes (31 home runs) is more than a basher. The 31-year-old Cuban is an excellent overall athlete with a strong arm who grades as an above-average left fielder. He can even play center field in a pinch, though his skills there have diminished.

Trumbo, Carter, Napoli and most of the other names listed above are one-dimensional sluggers with minimal defensive skills. Encarnacion, likewise, is a designated hitter who can be stashed at first base. That almost assuredly accounts for the disparity between his and Cespedes’ contracts.

Free-agent position players in general have fallen behind their mound-straddling counterparts, as Cafardo noted:

The priority for most teams is pitching, both starting and relief, so teams tend to take care of what they deem most important first. Teams try to promote from within on offense as much as they can. They’d rather take a chance on a kid than pay a small fortune for a veteran. This isn’t always the best way to go about it, but it’s how it is done.

Every hitter mentioned here will be employed before Opening Day. Prevalence aside, a home run is still the best outcome a big league hitter can hope for in any given at-bat. Chicks probably still dig ’em.

When it comes to maximizing a paycheck in today’s MLB, though, the long ball alone isn’t enough.


All statistics courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Fresh MLB Offseason Winners and Losers One Month from 2017 Spring Training

With slightly more than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, there’s theoretically time for every MLB team and unsigned free agent to rescue their offseason.

Let’s get real, though. Some clubs and players have aced the winter, while others are sifting desperately through the hot-stove coals or looking back with regret.

We’re not going to highlight every offseason winner and loser, but here’s a fresh batch from the last few weeks to hold you over till actual baseball begins.

In some cases, losers could still reverse their plight. In others, well, not so much.

Tap the clay off your cleats and proceed when ready.

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The One Area Every MLB Contender Must Still Improve Before 2017 Season

Spring training is on the horizon—squint and you can see it through the winter haze. Still, every MLB contender has weaknesses to address before bats and balls start cracking and the smell of cut grass wafts on the breeze.

For some, it’s minor tinkering. For others, it’s a glaring hole to be filled. Everyone needs something, however. It’s the nature of the offseason.

As we wait for the hot stove to kick out more sparks, let’s run down the list. Again, we’re focusing only on legitimate contenders, not sellers or franchises in the midst of a rebuild. (There were admittedly a few borderline cases; sorry, Arizona Diamondbacks fans.) Also, to reiterate, we’re picking one pressing need per club.

Tap some pine tar off your helmet and step into the box when ready.

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Early Predictions for Top 2017 Spring Training Position Battles

We’re several cold, soggy weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. Baseball remains an abstraction—a distant, beautiful dream.

Still, it’s not too early to gaze through the winter haze toward a few key spring position battles and make some premature predictions.

We’ll stay away from bullpen and fifth-starter skirmishes since the remaining free-agent targets are sure to reshape many of those. Instead, let’s zero in on three high-profile playoff hopefuls with question marks and logjams in the outfield and at the hot corner, keeping in mind that injuries and trades can quickly change the calculus. 

Until the hot stove crackles again, warm your hands with the following.


The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Outfield Glut

From a quantity standpoint, the Los Angeles Dodgers are set in the outfield. Their depth chart includes Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier, Trayce Thompson and Scott Van Slyke.

Pederson, who turns 25 in April, hit 25 home runs last season and has the speed and on-base capabilities to evolve into a star player despite his .224 career MLB average.

After that, it’s a disconcerting jumble.

Puig is just 26 years old and possesses five-tool potential, but he’s a mercurial enigma whose future with the Dodgers was recently in grave danger

Toles is a great story, but he’s got a grand total of 115 big league plate appearances under his belt and was briefly out of baseball and working in a grocery store in 2015.

Ethier broke his leg in spring training and wound up posting a .208/.269/.375 slash line in 16 games. Thompson showed flashes in an 80-game stint but dealt with a back injury and hit .225. Van Slyke posted an identical .225 average in 52 games.

“There are only so many at-bats to go around,” Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said, per’s Doug Padilla. “As we sit here with six or possibly seven guys who are major league players, those at-bats are hard to divvy up right now.”

Assuming Los Angeles doesn’t deal away and/or trade for an outfielder before the start of spring, who emerges?

Toles looks like the front-runner in left field, provided his .314/.365/.505 slash line wasn’t a mirage. 

In right, it’ll likely come down to Puig and Ethier. The latter turns 35 in April but was a solid contributor in 2015, hitting .294 with 14 home runs.

Don’t count out Puig, however. He posted a .900 OPS with four home runs in the season’s final month. The Dodgers would also benefit from his success no matter what.

Either Puig starts raking again and helps them win or he puts up strong numbers and they trade him for a significant haul at the deadline or next winter.

Prediction: The Dodgers begin the season with Toles in left, Pederson in center, Puig in right and Ethier and Thompson as the fourth and fifth outfielders.


The Boston Red Sox’s 3rd Base Gamble

The Boston Red Sox are rolling the dice at third base. They sent Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers in the deal that netted reliever Tyler Thornburg. They shipped out top prospect Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale blockbuster.

That leaves Pablo Sandoval as the front-runner to win the job. It makes sense from a financial perspective; Sandoval is owed at least $59.8 million over the next four seasons. Boston wants him to succeed.

Whether he will is another matter. 

Sandoval was an unmitigated disappointment in 2015, his first year with Boston, slashing .245/.292/.366. Last season, he showed up to spring training notably out of shape and made just seven plate appearances before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

The Kung Fu Panda appears to have slimmed down. He’s just 30 years old and only a few seasons removed from All-Star-level production with the San Francisco Giants.

As Boston seeks to repeat as division champion and atone for last season’s division series sweep, however, a little competition at third seems like a good idea.

Enter Brock Holt, who made 11 regular-season starts for the Red Sox at third base in 2016 but started all three of Boston’s playoff games at the position. 

The 28-year-old hit .255 last season with seven home runs in 94 games. He may be best suited for a utility role. That’s undoubtedly where Boston will stick him if the svelte Sandoval delivers.

A scalding spring from Holt, however, coupled with further decline from Sandoval, could force the Red Sox’s hand.

Prediction: Sandoval wins the job, but Holt keeps nipping at his heels.


The Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber Conundrum

The Chicago Cubs are the World Series champs and one of the most complete teams in baseball.

They’ve also got some things to unravel in the outfield, particularly surrounding young slugger Kyle Schwarber.

It begins at second base, where Javier Baez is ready to take over. That pushes versatile veteran Ben Zobrist to left or right field and creates a traffic snarl at the other two outfield spots.

Center field could be a righty-lefty time-share between Albert Almora Jr. and newly signed Jon Jay. Despite his offensive futility, Jason Heyward checked in as the best defensive right fielder in the National League last season.

Where does that put Schwarber?

The 23-year-old grades out as a below-average defender at both corner outfield spots. He’s also had experience behind the dish but sits behind Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero on the depth chart.

Schwarber’s stick, however, is too stout for a part-time role. He hit 16 home runs in 69 games as a rookie in 2015 and returned from a devastating knee injury to post a .971 OPS in the 2016 World Series.

As Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune put it: “He’s dangerous to himself and his team in the outfield, but oh, that bat.” 

The obvious answer is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to mix and match, so all the players mentioned will get time.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, however, someone will get squeezed.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein gave Heyward, who is owed more than $28 million in 2017, a vote of confidence. 

“We believe in Jason Heyward and his ability to tackle things head-on and make the necessary adjustments,” Epstein said, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “And I think you’re going to see a much different offensive player next year.”

Heyward can also play center field. He logged 171 innings there for the Cubs last season and posted four defensive runs saved. 

Again, Maddon will shuffle his chess pieces. If we’re betting on an Opening Day alignment, however…

Prediction: Zobrist will start in right field, Heyward in center and Schwarber in leftwith ample mixing and matching.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of

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Los Angeles Dodgers’ Top Free-Agent, Trade Targets Post New Year

The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent the offseason getting the band back together, re-signing closer Kenley Jansen, left-hander Rich Hill and third baseman Justin Turner.

There’s nothing wrong with that. The trio were key contributors in 2016 and among the top free agents at their respective positions.

If the Dodgers are going to secure a fifth straight National League West crown, however, and win their first title since 1988, they need to keep shopping. Specifically, Los Angeles has holes to plug in the bullpen, the outfield and, most glaringly, at second base.

Let’s examine a few realistic trade and free-agent targets, with the operative word being “realistic.” Not all of these deals will happen, but they’re tied to credible rumorsor at least informed speculationand a sense of the Dodgers’ needs and resources.

We’ll begin with a right-handed reliever formerly employed by the Dodgers’ hated rivals and end with a power-hitting second baseman who simply makes too much sense to ignore.

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Hall of Fame Class 2017: Breaking Down Each Candidate’s Case and Chances

The deadline for voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to submit their 2017 Hall of Fame ballots was Dec. 31. In the interest of keeping us all in suspense, however, the results won’t be announced until Jan. 18.

In the meantime, here’s a final look at this year’s candidates, their HOF cases and the chances they’ll punch a ticket to Cooperstown.

We have some data to go on. First, there are past vote totals for players who have been on the ballot before. Second, and even more revealingly, there’s the count of public ballots compiled by the indefatigable Ryan Thibodaux.

This year’s class is a fascinating one, populated by a number of borderline cases sure to spark debate, two titans of the steroid era who are gaining momentum and one worthy but long-spurned leadoff man on the verge of breaking through.

Note that we’re only discussing players who have a statistical shot at reaching the 75 percent threshold needed for induction based on the public count. Here’s a list of some notable names who’ve been eliminated for this year, though all appear likely to get the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot with the exception of Lee Smith, who is in his final year of eligibility:

  • Jeff Kent, INF
  • Fred McGriff, 1B
  • Jorge Posada, C
  • Manny Ramirez, OF
  • Gary Sheffield, OF
  • Lee Smith, RHP
  • Sammy Sosa, OF
  • Billy Wagner, LHP
  • Larry Walker, OF

Feel free to cast your votes in the comments and proceed when ready.

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Andrew Benintendi Poised to Become MLB’s Next Rookie Superstar

This winter, most Boston Red Sox-related headlines have focused on prospects on their way out of town. Most notably, the Red Sox shipped a gaggle of young talent to the Chicago White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, including five-tool Cuban Yoan Moncada.

There are still blue chips left on Boston’s table, however. One of them appears poised to win a starting job out of spring training and become MLB‘s latest rookie star.

I’m speaking, in case that headline and photo up there didn’t give the game away, about Andrew Benintendi.

In 34 games with the Red Sox last season, Benintendi flashed big-time potential, posting a .295/.359/.476 slash line with 11 doubles, a triple and two home runs.

He also provided one of the few bright spots in Boston’s division series sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians when he homered in Game 1:

The seventh overall pick in 2015, the 22-year-old looks like the odds-on favorite to claim the Sox’s starting left field gig. Since he kept his rookie status intact, he’s also among the favorites for American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves based on a small sample? Possibly. The list of highly rated prospects who raked on a short audition only to struggle over a full season is long. Somewhere right now, a big league pitcher is studying film of Benintendi’s swing and figuring out how to exploit it.

Benintendi, however, has the tools and temperament for sustained success.

In August, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America called him “one of the most polished hitters of the past few drafts.” That was before Benintendi’s successful big league debut but after he’d slashed .312/.392/.540 while rocketing through the minors.

He showed excellent plate discipline in his MLB stint, swinging at just 25.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to the league average of 30.3 percent. He barreled up many of the pitches he did swing at, making hard contact 32.9 percent of the time. That compares favorably to fellow Red Sox outfielder and AL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts’ hard-contact rate of 33.4 percent.

Skeptics can point to Benintendi’s admittedly robust .367 batting average on balls in play, but patient hitters who make loud contact tend to have higher BABIPs. They might also note that the lefty swinger hit .179 against southpaws, though that came in a scant 33 MLB plate appearances.

Steamer projects a .282/.338/.439 slash line with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 2017. Boston would take that, but Benintendi’s ceiling is much higher.

The mental aspect of the game is harder to quantify, but it’s equally essential for success. In lieu of stats, we’ll turn to Red Sox manager John Farrell, who had this to say to reporters during the division series:

[He’s] in the Major League postseason, and much like we talked about what makes a guy wired to perform in postseason, he’s calm. Even before the postseason started, he’s been a guy that’s never really panicked, even when he’s been in a disadvantaged count at the plate. It’s almost like you watch, his athletic movements are graceful. It’s almost like a window into what his mind is going through. It’s even, it’s under control, and he plays like that.

Benintendi made the bulk of his minor league starts in center field, but that position is taken by All-Star Jackie Bradley Jr. Rather, Benintendi will continue to learn the nuances of the Green Monster and join Bradley (age 26) and Betts (age 24) to form one of the most athletic outfield troikas in the game.

They can dance, too.

The Red Sox didn’t sign or trade for a top-tier slugger to replace retired franchise icon David Ortiz. Instead, they added ancillary pieces such as Mitch Moreland, gilded the rotation with Sale and are putting their faith in this young core to carry the offense.

They’ve got Big Papi’s stamp of approval.

“Those are the players you want on your ballclub,” Ortiz said to reporters of Benintendi, Bradley, Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (the new Killer B’s?). “Young, talented, and with that mentality, that’s on another level.”

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: Imagine if Benintendi dukes it out with Moncada for ROY honors. It’s no guarantee, but it’s far from far-fetched.

If it happens, Beantown fans will doubtless feel the sting of watching the stud who changed his Sox. At the same time, they’ll be able to take solace in the one who stuck around.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and unless otherwise noted.

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New York Yankees’ Top Free Agent, Trade Targets Post New Year

The calendar may have flipped to 2017, but we’re still a couple of cold months away from baseball. That’s actually good news (hear me out) for many MLB clubs with unfinished items on their to-do lists.

Like, say, the New York Yankees, who have holes to plug in the starting rotation, the bullpen and behind the dish.

Let’s examine a few realistic trade and free-agent targets, with the key word being “realistic.” Not all of these deals will go down, but they’re tied to credible rumorsor at least informed speculationand a sense of the Yankees’ needs and resources.

They could hypothetically use Mark Trumbo’s pop, for example, but he’s not in the budgetary plans. Plus, where would they put him?

We’ll begin with a veteran backup catcher and work our way to a left-handed All-Star. Tap the (frozen) clay off your (proverbial) cleats and dig in when ready.

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How Good Can Cubs Offense Be If Jason Heyward Returns from Dead in 2017?

Last winter, the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Less than 11 months later, they won their first World Series since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Here’s the rub: They did it as much in spite of Heyward as because of him.

Heyward played 142 games in his first season on the North Side and won a Gold Glove for his work in right field. His exploits in the batter’s box, however, defined abysmal.

He hit .230 and set career lows in on-base percentage (.306) and slugging percentage (.325). It’s not as if his stat line was undone by one cold stretch, either.

Heyward spread his mediocrity across the season, hitting above .250 in only one calendar month (June, when he hit .257) and posting an especially anemic .213/.270/.308 slash line after the All-Star break.

He did little to redeem himself in the postseason, going 5-for-48 with 13 strikeouts and starting the first three games of the World Series on the bench.

It was a disastrous season for the former All-Star. After getting paid like a superstar, Heyward hit like a scrub.

At the same time, he’s still just 27 years old. In 2015, he slashed .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases for the St. Louis Cardinals. On the strength of his bat and superlative glove work, Heyward ranked 13th in baseball with 14.6 WAR between 2013 and 2015, according to FanGraphs‘ measure. 

There’s a reason the Cubs gave him all that cash.

Now, the question becomes: Can Heyward bounce back? And if he does, how much more dangerous can this already potent Chicago lineup become?

Even though Heyward swung a soggy chicken strip, the Cubs ranked third in MLB in runs scored (808) and OPS (.772). 

After leading both leagues in strikeouts in 2015 with 1,518, they cut that number to 1,339 in 2016 and fell to ninth. 

The bats went cold for a worrisome stretch in the National League Championship Series, but stars such as first baseman Anthony Rizzo found their stroke in time to exorcise the billy goat. 

The Cubs will return with nearly the same lineup intact. Rizzo joins National League MVP Kris Bryant, shortstop Addison Russell, second baseman Javier Baez and veteran Ben Zobrist to form an enviable core.

The Cubs can also look forward to a full season from Kyle Schwarber, who was lost to a knee injury in early April and didn’t return to action until the Fall Classic, when he provided an inspirational boost at the plate.

Schwarber alone should move the offensive needle northward. He flashed big-time power in his 2015 rookie campaign, cracking 16 home runs in 69 games, and is entering his age-24 season.

That means the Cubs could probably endure another anemic year at the plate from Heyward. Even after trading Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis, they have a crowded outfield depth chart that features Schwarber, Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and newly signed Jon Jay. 

Heyward‘s serving as a $28 million-and-change part-time defensive specialist strains credulity, though. The Cubs want more out of him.

It’s safe to assume Heyward wants more, too. He has an opt-out after 2018; a couple of strong seasons could equate to an even bigger payday. 

Cubs mental skills coordinator Darnell Howard showcased Heyward’s new, more upright swing in an Instagram post. Here’s a look at it next to Heyward‘s swing from last season, via Corey Freedman:

Will it yield better results? We won’t know until Heyward deploys it against big league pitching, but at least it shows he’s trying something.

It’s worth noting that Heyward has done this disappearing act before and rebounded. In 2011, after an All-Star rookie year, he hit just .227. The following season, he hiked his average to .269 and set career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (82).

The projection systems are bullish. Steamer foretells a .269/.348/.415 line with 14 home runs. The Cubs would take that with a smile.

Speaking of smiles, Heyward apparently kept his chin up through his 2016 struggles and famously delivered a rain-delay pep talk in Game 7 of the World Series. 

After the season, he earned optimistic praise from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago:

He’s got a great attitude about everything. It’s just hard to make the kind of adjustments for some players in-season, because things are going so fast and you’re trying to compete.

But the offseason is a great opportunity to take a deep breath, slow things down, look at video, work with your coaches, really think about the swing. Think about the bat path and make some adjustments and develop some muscle memory, work on your feel and then take it into games.

We believe in Jason Heyward and his ability to tackle things head-on and make the necessary adjustments. And I think you’re going to see a much different offensive player next year.

None of this means anything until Heyward proves it between the lines. If you’re the glass-half-full type, however, there are reasons to swill the Kool-Aid.

Imagine a reinvigorated Heyward and healthy Schwarber mixed with a Cubs lineup that lost leadoff man Dexter Fowler but retained everyone else of significance. Factor in the possibility that young hitters such as Baez and Russell could make a leap forward.

Heck, even Bryant, who turns 25 in January, may be climbing toward his ceiling.

There’s a scenario where this offense goes from very good to scary great. More hitting from Heyward would be a key piece of that puzzle.

Chicago already won a title without much from him. Now, he has a chance to contribute to trophy No. 2.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and unless otherwise noted.

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