Burns Column: Clayton Kershaw, Jose Altuve Lead Award Predictions

We made it. After one of the best game sevens in MLB history, we were forced to sit through the dog days of winter in what felt to be a quieter offseason than usual.

Opening Day is 13 days away as of this writing. We’ve had a few weeks to watch teams in spring training, though that’s mostly meaningless.

Throughout the next several weeks, members of our Dodgers Nation staff will make their season predictions. I’m going to start with my awards and notable results for both leagues.

This piece won’t predict the standings. That’s coming later.

Without much further ado, my thoughts on the 2017 award races and teams who may surprise – in good and bad ways.

National League:

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

Yes, it’s a boring pick. It’ll probably be a boring pick until the day he retires. Kershaw is not only the best pitcher in the game, but he’ll be extra motivated. The southpaw was a Cy Young-lock last season before missing more than two months with back problems. If he’s healthy, expect a season similarly dominant as pre-injury 2016.

If Kershaw misses time again, Noah Syndergaard and Jon Lester will have phenomenal years that earn them serious Cy consideration. The National League is much deeper than the American League candidate-wise. Kershaw is listed as the favorite, per Bovada.

Ultimately, the award is Kershaw versus the field in 2017. Give me Clayton.

MVP: Yoenis Cespedes, New York

I’m tremendously interested and intrigued by this Mets club. The fate of the 2017 Mets undoubtedly falls on the rotation’s health. But the offense will pick up some of the slack, largely from a career-year by Cespedes.

Cespedes has been a star since arriving in New York two deadlines ago. As hero David Wright’s health has stalled him, Cespedes has stepped in to become the team’s offensive juggernaut. After bouncing around with the A’s, Red Sox and Tigers, Cespedes found the right fit in New York. He re-signed in Queens this winter, and seemingly had little interest in pursuing another opportunity.

While the now 31-year-old truly emerged after the 2015 deadline, he’s hit .286 with 66 homers across the past two years. The Mets made the postseason both times, including the World Series in his first several months there. New York lost in the wild card game last year, with Cespedes finishing eighth in MVP voting.

Cespedes worked hard to build himself up this winter. He’s a monster physically, and so far, he’s annihilated the opposition in spring training. Cespedes said he wants the MVP trophy.

“That’s what I want,” Cespedes said. “The first thing is to stay healthy, but these are things that I’ve always thought about. It’s any ballplayer’s dream.”

I’ll say he breaks through with his best season yet, carrying the Mets to the playoffs again and being recognized as the most valuable player in the National League.

Corey Seager finishes top three, but the balance of the Dodgers’ lineup and Cespedes’ excellence holds him back from winning his first MVP. Justin Turner places in the top 10 as well.

ROY: Tim Tebow, New York


But really …

Dansby Swanson, Atlanta

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Swanson hit .302/.361/.422 in 129 at-bats last season after being promoted in August. He flashed defensive potential to become one of the best two-way players at shortstop – all while helping the Braves to an impressive second half.

Swanson is a former No. 1 overall pick who won a championship at Vanderbilt. He just barely played under the requirement to qualify as a rookie last year. His experience makes a difference as he takes his game to another level and develops into one of the better players on a surprisingly competitive Braves team.

If you’re looking for which rookie may make the All-Star Game, Swanson would be a fair gamble. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger will impress after his call-up, but he’ll enter 2018 the favorite for the honor.

Comeback: Matt Harvey, New York

Bryce Harper is the easy pick here, so I’ll go a different direction. It’s rare a player wins two comeback awards, but it’s a feasible mark for Harvey. He was maybe the best pitcher in the NL in 2013. It’s been injury after injury since, with the most recent coming in 2016. Harvey threw 92.2 innings, but it was a season-long struggle until he was again shutdown. 2013 and 2015 were the lone seasons Harvey stayed healthy, and he dominated in both. It’s been a largely miserable spring thus far, but Harvey is regaining velocity – and apparently enjoying a new love interest. I’m betting on a midseason resurgence.

Andrew McCutchen is another logical candidate here. If Andre Ethier overcomes his current minor issues and wins a majority of the at-bats in left, the Dodgers vet could be a sneaky pick. But his season isn’t off to a great start.

Manager: Bud Black, Colorado

Bud Black is back in the NL West, and he’s positioned to have plenty of present and future success. The Rockies’ glaring weakness was their bullpen, so adding one of the sport’s better managers in that department will help. More on that below.

Biggest Surprise(s): Colorado, Atlanta

I love this Rockies team. They’ll be one of the popular “surprise” teams, and justifiably so. The Ian Desmond signing screams win-now (he’ll miss six weeks with a broken hand), but the natural progression of the roster is what’s appealing. The Rockies are loaded with youth and will see more high-end talent rise in the coming years. This season, playing in Coors is going to be a cage match. Colorado’s offense will slug it out with anybody, and while the pitching isn’t up to par just yet, the team has enough to hang around. Mike Dunn and Greg Holland, if they both perform to their capabilities, might be the key to the team’s wildcard hopes. Take the over on Colorado’s 80.5 wins.

For Atlanta, the surprise won’t equal playoffs. But the Braves are a couple of good breaks away from hitting 80 wins, which would be a tremendous accomplishment given the state of the roster two years ago. Atlanta adopted Chicago and Houston’s rebuilding model, but after a second half resurgence (which included winning 20 of the final 30 games), the Braves may have accelerated the plan, which could set a new precedent for rebuilds across baseball.

Gabe Burns compares the Dodgers’ and Braves’ farm systems

Atlanta has arguably the best overall farm system complemented by the MLB roster with veterans such as Matt Kemp, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Freddie Freeman will be a top three finalist for MVP. I like Atlanta to break 75 wins, and wouldn’t be surprised if the team surpasses 80.

Pittsburgh and Miami could be worth watching too. But I’m not comfortable enough with either to make proclamations.

Biggest Disappointment: St. Louis

After missing the postseason a year ago, looking at the Cardinals roster, I’d be surprised if they flipped their luck and returned to the playoffs. It was the first time St. Louis missed since 2010.

The Cards added Dexter Fowler, which will make the top of their lineup one of the senior circuit’s best, but the roster is mediocre. Their steady success was a result of their ability to avoid attrition through supreme player development. The problem is: Those players have left or are aging, and the farm isn’t supplying immediate replacements. Alex Reyes is a future Cy Young winner, but he’ll miss the season with Tommy John surgery. It’s simply a transition phase for the Cardinals.

I don’t like counting the Cardinals out – and I won’t – but logic says in a division with the Cubs, plus several wild card teams who look much better on paper, St. Louis will watch the playoffs from home again.


American League:

Cy Young: Aaron Sanchez, Toronto

Sanchez’s odds are at +2000. Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are the heavy favorites, but after watching Rick Porcello win last season, sometimes the darkhorse is a better bet than it looks.

The 24-year-old Sanchez forced Toronto’s hand and won a rotation spot last season. In 192 innings, he led the American League in ERA, averaged 7.55 strikeouts per nine and posted a 3.9 WAR. He has a sinker that can bail him out of sticky situations, producing a 61 percent ground ball rate. His command can still be erratic, but the tools are there for him to step into an ace role immediately. There will not be an innings limit on Sanchez for the first time in his career.

He’ll pair with Marco Estrada to create a fierce duo. While Sale, Kluber, Justin Verlander and others are the big names, Sanchez will clinch the award.

MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston

We may look back on this era the same way the NBA looks back at the 90s and ask “How was Mike Trout not the MVP every year?” As great as Trout is, the Angels will be below-average, and I think the voters will favor the better team this time.

Trout and Mookie Betts will be finalists again, but I’ll take Altuve. I liked Houston’s offseason and felt they underperformed in 2016. The Astros not only have a star-studded roster, but they have the assets to go out and grab a Jose Quintana this summer. There’s going to be an abundance of attention on that franchise in 2017. Altuve is the best player on a team that’ll compete for homefield.

Altuve is a bit underrated. Understand he had a 40-game road stretch last season in which he hit over .500 (you read that correctly). He is the definition of an on-base machine. He’s the best player in the sport when it comes to hitting for average, but also possesses plus power and speed. Altuve is the complete package, and shining on the AL West-winning Astros (teaser!) propels him into the MVP award.

ROY: Andrew Benintendi, Boston

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Boston might be the World Series favorite. If its pennant hopes come to fruition, Benintendi’s success will be a major reason why. The Red Sox declined to include him in the Chris Sale trade. Understandably so: Benintendi hit .295/.359/.476 with gold glove-level defense in 34 games last year. Benintendi projects as a potential five-tool player. His pairing with Betts gives Boston perhaps the best outfield duo in the bigs for what may last a decade.

Comeback: Michael Brantley, Cleveland

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This may be wishful thinking. Brantley was injured late in 2015 and missed the Indians’ World Series run last season. It’s easy to forget how productive he was: A year before his injury, Brantley was an MVP finalist. He may have been the best overall offensive player in the game that season. Cleveland can afford patience, and Brantley has just returned to action this week. I like the Indians to win the Central comfortably, with Brantley’s comeback serving as a touching story along the way.

Manager: A.J. Hinch, Houston

It should be obvious now that I’m very high on this Houston club.

Hinch earns the award because his team is in complete control from the early going and has homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Astros have supplemented their core with vets, but it’s still a young team. Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer and others are just beginning. Taking a less-seasoned group to the postseason will win Hinch enough votes.

By the same logic, Joe Girardi fights him for the honor. The Yankees, led by several pre-arb players, will once again have a winning season. If they sneak into the playoffs, Girardi wins Manager of The Year. That’s just going to be a tough chore in one of the MLB’s best divisions.

Biggest Surprise: Seattle Mariners

The Mariners over/under is set at 85.5. Seattle being good may not be surprising, but I’ll take them anyway. The American League, in my eyes, will shape out similarly to how we expect. But Seattle snatching a wild card berth is modestly unexpected.

Seattle hasn’t played in the postseason since 2001. In fact, last season’s second place finish was the first time in that span it was within 10 games of first. Adding Robinson Cano hasn’t been the contractual disaster some predicted; in fact, he’s been a solid addition. Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager are studs. They’re also older players who are due a playoff run.

Jean Segura, who had the best year of his career in 2016 with Arizona, probably won’t keep up that pace, but makes Seattle better nonetheless. Carlos Ruiz, Jarrod Dyson, Drew Smyly and Danny Valencia are among the veterans added this winter. Even with the additions, Seattle will live and die by the two-five spots in its lineup.

The team clearly wants to win now. If it disappoints, a fire sale may not be acceptable. How can a team have an older core of talented players yet never make a playoff run? The organization won’t want to ask for fans’ patience.

Because of that, Seattle is a candidate to be a serious buyer in July if it’s within striking distance of the playoffs. Another starter would be logical, given the age and talent level of the current crop. If I’m Tampa Bay, Minnesota or another deadline seller, Seattle would be my preferred trading target. Desperation could be on its way.


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Biggest Disappointment: Baltimore Orioles

The city of Baltimore is fantastic. That area of the country might be my favorite – absolutely beautiful. The baseball team, however, is questionable.

After watching Toronto shift parts, Boston acquire a star ace and the Yankees bring back Aroldis Chapman to add to their youth, the Orioles were content with the status quo. Baltimore is at a crossroads: Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman, among others, hit the market in the next two seasons. Buck Showalter isn’t sure how long he’ll continue coaching. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are now signed to contracts financially comparable to their power. The minor league system is poor.

It’s do-or-die in Baltimore, and the team sat back in perhaps its most pivotal offseason. That’s inexcusable if it wants to win in the toughest division in the MLB. The Orioles’ best case is third place. If the season starts off slow, Machado trade rumors will gain momentum heading into July.

Kansas City fits similar criteria. It is about to be pillaged by free agency, so it makes sense to sell barring an unexpected place atop the standings.

We analyze the 2017 Dodgers schedule

Gabe Burns

Gabe Burns is an award-winning journalist. He serves as a reporter and editor at the DodgersNation news desk. He additionally works as editor-in-chief of The Spectator, Valdosta State University's student paper. Gabe's work has been featured on a number of platforms, including Draft Breakdown and Pro Football Spot. His byline has been cited in media such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. Aside from covering Dodgers baseball, Gabe enjoys watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Orlando Magic and Tampa Bay Lightning. He can be followed on Twitter at @GabeBurns_DN.

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