2017 Outlook: Just as he was voted unanimous National League Most Valuable Player in 2015, Harper's follow-up campaign might be unanimously declared the year's greatest disappointment. That's how high a bar he set when he tallied 9.9 Wins Above Replacement, third-most in history by a player aged 22 or younger, the most fantasy points among hitters and the fourth-best Rotisserie campaign among hitters in 2015, and it's why his prospective owners remain so optimistic about his return to glory. Despite those accomplishments, however, Harper's name brand has exceeded his results through this stage of his career, as 2015 was the only one of his five big-league seasons in which he appeared in as many as 150 games or had as many as four WAR. At the same time, he's still 24 years old with plenty of time to pad his résumé, and if a 2016 season during which he was the 65th-best overall player using points scoring and 93rd-best using Rotisserie constitutes a worst-case scenario, what does that say about his ceiling? He's one of a handful of candidates for "best player in real and fantasy baseball," and the longer he lingers in drafts -- preferably not much beyond the first round -- the greater the value.
2017 Outlook: He was worth the wait. Though it took until after the 2016 All-Star break for it to happen, when Turner finally arrived, he appeared in 70 of 72 Nationals games and batted .340 with 33 stolen bases, ranking sixth and second in those categories and resulting in arguably the most impactful second-half performance in fantasy baseball. Most unexpectedly, he chipped in 13 home runs (for a 4.0 percent rate) and .225 isolated power, both of those easily the greatest rates in his professional career. How much of Turner's outburst is sustainable? Some regression is inevitable, but his skill set seems like that of a .280-hitting, double-digit power, which is enough to fuel a run at 40-plus stolen bases, and as the No. 2 hitter between Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, Turner's counting numbers (runs/RBIs) would experience quite a boost. It feels awkward to describe him a candidate for a first-round pick, but the truth is that his upside makes him a legitimate one.
2017 Outlook: For the first time in their nine big-league seasons in 2016, Scherzer finally outperformed Clayton Kershaw, the man whose shadow in which he has had to live in fantasy leagues, on both the Player Rater and in terms of standard points scored. That's not to characterize Scherzer's remarkable run of production the past four seasons as second-rate. During that time, he won two Cy Young awards, one in either league, and had three seasons of a sub-3 ERA, sub-1 WHIP and at least 240 strikeouts, which makes him one of only five pitchers in history to have at least that many such campaigns in a career. In fact, the only thing that really separates Scherzer and Kershaw in terms of value is Scherzer's penchant for giving up home runs, and some of the cause for his career-high 31 home runs allowed in 2016 was the league-wide power spike. If we're to label aces and call Kershaw the best "per-start" pick, then Scherzer is the "safe" pick of the two, the 1A to Kershaw's 1.
2017 Outlook: Apparently, Murphy's adjustment to his swing, made during the summer of 2015 while working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, paid as many long-term as immediate dividends. Remarkably, this previously contact-oriented, line drive hitter enjoyed a roughly eight-percent increase to his fly-ball rate as well as a nearly 40 point boost to his well-hit average beginning at almost precisely the 2015 All-Star break, and he accomplished it at absolutely no cost to his contact rate. The result was a new, higher-upside skill set, Murphy's power upside leaping into the 20s to go along with his already great likelihood of a .300-plus batting average. Considering he'll be the Nationals' cleanup hitter, batting behind the newly acquired Adam Eaton, Trea Turner for a full year and a potentially rebounding Bryce Harper, RBIs could be plentiful for Murphy. He might not feel like a good bet to repeat a top-25 Player Rater finish, but he has excellent odds of doing so.
2017 Outlook: He's perhaps the game's most risk/reward pitcher, having averaged 27 starts and 163 innings pitched the past three seasons, while joining Clayton Kershaw as the only pitchers with at least 20 starts of a sub-three FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching score) in each of those years. Strasburg possesses elite command, his 5.13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that time span ranked 11th, and an arsenal of four heavily used, quality pitches, and a compelling case could be made that he has pitched better than his surface numbers during his seven-year big-league career. The problem, however, is the injuries: He ended 2016 prematurely with a partial tear of the pronator tear in his elbow, and while it's not supposed to delay his start to 2017, that Strasburg has suggested he'd ease off his slider to decrease the stress on his elbow raises further questions about his durability. With full health, he'd be one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in fantasy, and maybe more in a points league. The risk of missed time, however, makes him a dicey pick in the early rounds.
2017 Outlook: The National League's defending Comeback Player of the Year, Rendon's 2016 looked quite a bit like his 2014 in the end. Predictably, better luck in the health department was behind it, though his strong finish was an encouraging sign for the future, as he batted .291/.357/.508 in the second half. Rendon possesses the same five-category potential he has always had, but his injury past shouldn't be completely ignored. He's best valued a borderline top-10 third baseman in Rotisserie leagues, but more of a sure thing to join that group in points leagues.
2017 Outlook: Eaton's 2015 and 2016 statistics were eerily similar, and seem to set a safe, predictable baseline. With his trade to the Nationals, however, he might be in the best circumstance yet of his now-sixth year big-league career. Eaton's balanced 2016 splits -- righty/lefty and home/road -- and .360 on-base percentage baseline make him an ideal choice to lead off the Nationals' strong top of the lineup, and under Dusty Baker, it's conceivable he'll be given the green light to steal bases more often than he did in Chicago. Eaton was roughly a top-100 overall player during his recent White Sox career, and top-80 or so using standard points scoring, but there's slight, role-related growth potential in his new digs.
2017 Outlook: Despite less-than-stellar peripherals -- his career FIP is a so-so 3.73 -- Roark has benefited from quite a bit of wizardry during his four-year-to-date major league career. In two of his three full seasons, he has finished a top-20 fantasy starting pitcher, though his modest strikeout rate and walk-rate increase last season casts regression doubt upon his 2017. Bear in mind that, as a member of the National League East, Roark has routinely benefited from one of the lighter schedules of any pitcher, and he also got a boost from having Wilson Ramos, who departed as a free agent, framing his pitches. The downside here is a forgettable stat line like his 2015, though it's certainly conceivable he could split the difference and be a plenty serviceable mid-round option.
2017 Outlook: He hasn't yet become the future superstar scouts predicted, but Wieters has settled in as a serviceable big-league regular, and a borderline top-10 fantasy option at the thin position of catcher. Now with the Nationals, Wieters no longer has the benefit of a homer-friendly home ballpark, so much of his underlying power metrics probably shouldn't be overrated. If he stays healthy -- something that has been an issue in recent years -- he could provide a .270 batting average and 20-plus home runs, but he's the type of catcher who might be more name than true value.
2017 Outlook: Ross got off to a great start last season, posting a 3.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his first 15 starts, but shoulder inflammation derailed his year in July, affording him only five more turns all year (one an ugly one during the postseason). He's a command specialist who should improve in time, health-willing, but at the same time, he's also severely lacking in pitches to get out left-handed batters -- they've hit .302/.372/.446 against him thus far. At this stage, Ross is more of an NL-only than mixed-league target, due to his injury risk and need to examine his individual matchups.
2017 Outlook: Gonzalez's career numbers are trending in the wrong direction: Since his 2.89-ERA, third-in-the-Cy-Young-balloting campaign in 2012, he has seen his ERA rise every year, resulting in a 4.57 mark that was his worst in any full big-league season. A rising walk rate contributed, and let's not overlook that he faced one of the easier schedules of any pitcher, not to mention fattened his stats by dominating opposing pitchers (more than 10 percent of his outs came against pitchers). As a firm member of the Nationals' rotation and backed by a productive offense, Gonzalez could rebound with a healthy win total and high-threes ERA, but he requires more matchups analysis than ever.
2017 Outlook: Despite lackluster peripherals, Madson served as the Athletics' closer for much of last season, resulting in only the second 30-save campaign of his career. Unfortunately, he's no longer the dominant force he was the last time he got there (2011), as his 18.2 percent strikeout rate was his lowest since 2007, resulting in a bloated 4.06 FIP. It's no surprise, then, that the Athletics entered spring training undecided on their closer. Madson's experience could initially earn him the gig, but he's one of the fantasy closers most at risk of losing his grip in-season.