The MLB offseason is almost over. Pitchers and catchers will soon report to Arizona or Florida for spring training. And before the regular season begins, a number of burning questions linger.
The Boston Red Sox enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in MLB history in 2018. But with 2019’s season right around the corner, they have a clear flaw that needs to be fixed. Another top team, the Houston Astros, has some questions around its starting rotation, which was an unquestioned strength a season ago. Additionally, a number of star free agents remain unsigned and other elite players could be traded.
While the season is fast approaching, a number of key MLB questions still need to be answered as we turn our focus to spring training.
Where will the big names go?
In November, it would have been inconceivable that so many top free agents would still be available in February. Obviously, this starts with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the list of impact free agents is by no means limited to that duo. Others include Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Harrison and Adam Jones. These are some big names. If even an average team can sign at least a couple of them, it can turn into a contender in a heartbeat. Imagine what happens if an already established contender brings any of these guys in.
What will the starting rotation in Houston look like?
The starting rotation was anything but a question for the Astros in 2018. But 2019 is a different story. Keuchel remains a free agent. Charlie Morton is now with the Tampa Bay Rays. Lance McCullers Jr. will miss the season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. After Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, there are a lot of questions. Is Wade Miley ready to anchor the bottom half of the rotation? How will Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock handle returns to the rotation? And if any of that can’t happen, who steps in? What happens in spring training will go a long way towards answering those questions.
Will the plight of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez continue?
Imagine being at a dive bar on a random weeknight and seeing a Grammy winner performing. You’d enjoy the show. But you’d also know the person belongs on a much bigger stage. That was what having Guerrero and Jimenez in the minors was akin to in 2018. They were Major League talents. But while their teams will never admit this, they were kept down to delay their service time clocks. Both will be in the majors in 2019. But starting the season in the minors remains in play. Spring training might give us some insight as to what the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox want to do.
Are the Cleveland Indians really standing firm?
One of the pervasive storylines through the offseason has been Cleveland’s apparent desire to deal star pitchers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. That was always a little perplexing. Given the state of the AL Central, no team is more of a lock for the postseason than the Indians. That makes Cleveland a real World Series contender, even if other teams in the league are objectively more talented. The more recent buzz has been that at least Kluber will be retained. But of course, that can change in a heartbeat. If it does, at least one team will land a superstar and the AL Central will become a wide open division.
Can Cody Bellinger become a full-time player?
Bellinger is capable of extraordinary things. He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, setting the NL rookie record for home runs in the process. In 2018, he won the NLCS MVP. But Bellinger’s inability to hit lefties kept him from starting in three of five World Series games. We’d expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to start prized youngster Alex Verdugo and the newly signed A.J. Pollock in two starting outfield spots. With Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp both gone, the third spot is Bellinger’s to lose. But he needs to show that he can reliably hit lefties. Spring training will go a long way towards easing or furthering any doubts.
How do the Yankees sort out the infield?
Not including Didi Gregorius, who will return from injury sometime around midseason, the New York Yankees have five infielders. Obviously, there are only four starting spots. Gleyber Torres will occupy one of those spots. Miguel Andujar will, as well, assuming he’s on the team (more on that later). That still leaves Luke Voit and new signings D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to battle it out. The DH is something of an option, especially for an injury prone Tulowitzki. But we’d expect Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Sanchez to both log quality time there. This will be a very interesting camp to watch.
Will any young players play too well to be ignored?
Again, we’re going to see Guerrero and Jimenez in the majors in 2019. As long as they stay healthy, that’s a foregone conclusion. But what other youngsters are ready to make their marks. Remember, while they were highly touted, nobody expected that Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto would make that kind of impact in the majors. Not in 2018, anyway. Will 2019 have any stories like that? If so, from who? Prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr., Nick Senzel, Brendan Rodgers, Keston Hiura, and Bo Bichette are all prime candidates. Spring training is the perfect chance for other youngsters to show what they can do.
How will the Brewers rotation sort itself out?
Like the Astros, the Milwaukee Brewers enter spring training with a handful of question around the starting rotation. But unlike Houston, Milwaukee doesn’t have anyone like Verlander or Cole holding down either of the top-two spots, let alone both. How this rotation will sort out is a real question. What would be ideal would be for someone to emerge as a top-tier starter in spring training. But if these guys struggle through the Cactus League and the Brewers rotation remains a huge question, then a trade becomes a very distinct possibility.
How does the Boston bullpen shake out?
While the Red Sox were close to a perfect team in 2018, they had a persistent flaw. The bullpen. With Kimbrel now a free agent (though he could still be re-signed) and Nathan Eovaldi returning to the starting rotation, we’re still not sure how good this group is. If Kimbrel isn’t brought back, someone will have to step up in the closer’s spot. Even if that spot gets filled, the rest of the bullpen is a question mark. The rest of the team offers very little to worry about. Assuming they all stay healthy, the biggest issue in spring training will be the development of the rest of the relievers.
What trades are left to be made?
Even with J.T. Realmuto off of the trade block, a number of potential big trades can still be made. Madison Bumgarner’s name has been floated, with the Brewers having previously emerged as a potential destination. It’s quite realistic to think that Andujar might be moved, especially if New York’s other infielders look good. A top-tier starter (like Bumgarner) could be a part of that. There are a number of big name free agents that can and will sway some power rankings when they sign. But there are other potential moves that we must consider, as well.