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Eight biggest questions heading into spring training

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 MLB season is just around the corner

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While it might seem like we saw Chris Sale strike out Manny Machado to clinch the 2018 World Series just yesterday, the 2019 MLB season is just around the corner. As spring training nears, many questions remain about key aspects that will define the 2019 season.

Many fans were excited for the offseason with tons of excellent talent, including two young stars, available. While a few have come off the board, Machado and Bryce Harper remain free agents with dream landing spots still possible that could shake up the playoff race this season.

Of course, there are many unsolved questions left that can’t be solved through free agency. Spring training gives young players and castoffs a chance to prove themselves with the opportunity to earn a spot on a 25-man roster or even the lineup. So as the time draws closer, plenty of questions could very well be answered in the next two months.

Here are the eight biggest questions heading into spring training.

 

When and where will the top free agents sign?

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A year after free agency dragged on until spring training, it is happening once again. The waiting game continues for many premium free agents as they wait for the superstars to come off the board and create a domino effect.

This year’s group of remaining free agents offers the potential to swing odds and create new favorites in divisions and contenders for the World Series. Whether it’s a stud closer like Craig Kimbrel, a strong mid-line starter like Dallas Keuchel or a top outfielder, a big swing can change everything. Now we just have to sit and wait to see when it all shakes out.

 

Who steps up to fill vacancies in Houston’s rotation?

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Houston’s rotation played a critical role in its success during 2017 and 2018, but significant change now makes it a bit of a question mark. Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel departed in free agency, while Lance McCullers Jr. is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Collin McHugh, who posted a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts during the 2017 season before being a reliever in 2018, will slide in as the No. 3 starter. Meanwhile, rookie Josh James is considered a favorite for a rotation spot after he dominated the minors last season then excelled with Houston after a promotion in the second half.

Both players have shown they can be very successful as starters, however, they come with extreme risk and the possibility of real inconsistency for a contender that can’t afford it. Houston will be hopeful Forrest Whitley, the top pitching prospect in baseball, can thrive in spring training. If he can’t, then one of Framber Valdez, Brad Peacock or Cionel Perez need to step up and prove they can be the No. 5 starter.

 

What do the Indians do with Corey Kluber?

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One of the game’s best pitchers has also been one of the most discussed trade candidates this winter. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds are hot in pursuit of Kluber, now it all comes down to Cleveland’s willingness to move him.

Even if the Indians aadd some MLB talent in a deal, it wouldn’t be enough to make up for the loss of their ace. While a weak A.L. Central would still allow them to compete for the division, dealing an ace rules out Cleveland as a serious contender for the pennant.

 

Does the future begin now for the Blue Jays?

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The Blue Jays have no shot at competing for a playoff spot this season, so the eyes naturally turn towards the farm system and what the future is for this team.

Specifically, fans want to know when they’ll see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in Toronto’s starting lineup this season. Both deserve a chance to earn a spot in the Opening Day lineup and while it might ultimately come down to service time as the reason to keep them in the minors. Fans will get the chance to see both players in spring training and potentially Vlad Jr. may do just enough to make Toronto’s roster.

 

How does Boston’s bullpen shake out?

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Boston’s bullpen played a deciding role in its World Series title last year, but it is now a glaring question mark as the team prepares for spring training.

Many of their top arms either left or are in new roles. Craig Kimbrel remains a free agent, while Joe Kelly left in the offseason and Nathan Eovaldi is now in Boston’s rotation. This is a glaring problem right now and one that, if not addressed through free agency, then will require hope and extreme good fortune that someone emerges in spring training.

This team can’t make it to another World Series with its current bullpen, every October has shown that teams without strong relief options get exposed. Someone needs to step up, whether it’s an unknown player or someone like Tyler Thornburg.

 

Does Kyler Murray show up for spring training?

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Even after he declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, the door is still open for Murray to return to the Oakland Athletics. While money will be a key aspect to watch, whether or not he shows for spring training is also critical.

Even if Murray arrives for spring training, he still has to prove himself and shake off a lot of roster given he last played baseball in May. He is a phenomenal athlete with some raw power, but his first taste against professionals could be rough if he does show up.

While so many of these questions can impact playoff races, this is the one MLB cares about the most. If Murray chooses baseball, expect the league to market Murray like it never has for any other player before. Of course, that doesn’t equate to success on the diamond.

 

Are the White Sox ready to challenge the Cubs for Second City supremacy?

Eloy Jimenez

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After reigning supreme as the only competitive baseball team in Chicago, the Cubs could potentially face competition this season. While it would require some big moves by the White Sox, things might get interesting quickly in The Second City.

The White Sox have already made a huge offer to Machado and a player of his caliber would greatly improve this team. Star prospect Eloy Jimenez will also be competing for a spot with the club and showed he was more than ready for the majors after he slashed .355/.399/.597 with 12 home runs in 55 games at Triple-A last season.

Pairing these two with a developing lineup and a strong bullpen has the makings of an exciting team. If the young starting pitchers show improvement, the White Sox could take even greater steps forward this season. While it might not all come together immediately, the Cubs shouldn’t feel quite as safe as the top draw in Chicago.

 

How does the Dodgers’ rotation shake out?

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Even if the Dodgers can’t land Kluber, they will have no shortage of options for their 2019 rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill are locked into rotation spots, the final two should be up for grabs.

Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Hyun-Jin Ru and Ross Stripling will all be competing during spring trading. All four could start in plenty of MLB rotations, which shows just how flush with pitching the Dodgers are.

It could also open the door for Los Angeles to trade one of the two who doesn’t make a rotation. Though keep in mind, this is also a team that loves flexibility and to mix up its rotations regularly. No matter what happens, the battle should be fun to watch during spring training.

 

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