Answers to MLB's 50 Burning Questions of the 2013 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2013

Answers to MLB's 50 Burning Questions of the 2013 Season

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    The 2013 season is underway, and while the offseason is the time when teams look to address the biggest question marks surrounding their rosters, there are still a number of major questions entering the season.

    Can a player match a breakout performance last year? Will a big-name signing prove worth his hefty contract? When will a team's top prospect be ready to make an impact in the majors?

    Those are just a few of the types of questions that teams face as the season kicks off. Here is a look at my answers to the 50 burning questions of the 2013 MLB season.

    Note: All stats taken from unless otherwise noted.

Was Didi Gregorius Worth Trevor Bauer?

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    The Facts

    The Diamondbacks held one of the market's top trade chips this offseason in frontline pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. The No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer fell out of favor in Arizona, but remained a potential ace long-term.

    They eventually pulled the trigger on a three-team trade with the Reds and Indians, landing slick-fielding 23-year-old Didi Gregorius in hopes of shoring up the shortstop position long-term.

    My Answer: No

    A .265/.317/.370 hitter over five minor league seasons, Gregorius remains a raw talent offensively, and as a result, he'll likely spend a good deal of 2013 in the minors.

    He could be pushed by fellow prospect Nick Ahmed, who was acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton deal.

    Meanwhile, Bauer opens the season in the minors for the Indians but will likely find himself in Cleveland before too long. With a vast arsenal of pitches and high ceiling, one can't help but think the Diamondbacks could have gotten more for him.

Can Kris Medlen Duplicate His 2012 Second Half?

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    The Facts

    Coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011, Kris Medlen opened last season in the bullpen and after making 38 appearances in relief, he joined the rotation on July 31.

    He then proceeded to go 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 9.0 K/9, as he was statistically the best pitcher in the game down the stretch. 

    My Answer: Yes, to a point.

    I think Medlen is for real, as the 27-year-old was always a talented, high-upside arm even before he broke out last year.

    However, to expect him to pitch like he did at the end of last season is absurd. With an aging Tim Hudson atop the staff, I expect Medlen to emerge as the ace of the Braves staff by season's end.

Will a Change of Scenery Mean Big Things for the Upton Brothers?

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    The Facts

    With Michael Bourn gone in free agency, the Braves shelled out a five-year, $75.25 million deal to sign the dynamic B.J. Upton to replace him in center field.

    Then, two months later, the team pulled off a blockbuster deal to acquire his brother Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks for a package of players built around Martin Prado and Randall Delgado.

    My Answer: Yes

    The 28-year-old B.J. has always had some of the best tools in the game, and he's coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 28 home runs and swiped 31 bases. However, he's failed to hit over .250 in each of the past four seasons and is no doubt capable of more.

    Justin, who is still just 25, had the best season of his career in 2011 but took a step back last season. Both have been on the trade block throughout their careers, and should benefit greatly from a change of scenery.

When Will Dylan Bundy Join the Starting Rotation?

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    The Facts

    The No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma, Dylan Bundy is as advanced as any high school pitcher in recent memory.

    After throwing 30 innings in Single-A without allowing an earned run, Bundy moved up two more levels before earning a September call-up in Baltimore. He enters the 2013 season as the top pitching prospect in the game.

    My Answer: June 1

    Bundy didn't win a rotation spot out of spring training, and really wasn't given much of a chance to with just eight innings pitched in big league camp.

    That said, he'll be part of the Baltimore rotation before the 2013 season is over. I expect him to get the nod before the All-Star break, and he may be the Orioles best starter by season's end.

Will the Red Sox Offseason Spending Spree Be Money Well Spent?

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    The Facts

    Last August, the Red Sox pulled off the grand daddy of all cost-cutting moves when they shipped Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers.

    As a result, they had a ton of payroll room freed up entering the offseason and with it, they added a bevy of mid-level veterans to fill out their roster.

    Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara were all signed as free agents for a combined $53.1 million in total salary in 2013.

    My Answer: No

    The Red Sox filled a number of holes on their roster with these signings, and it should help them avoid another 93-loss season in 2013.

    However, I still expect them to be on the outside looking in come October, so at the end of the day, was it money well spent? No.

Is Will Middlebrooks a Future Star?

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    The Facts

    Will Middlebrooks got his chance last season when Kevin Youkilis went down with an injury, making his big league debut on May 2.

    The rookie looked like a seasoned veteran right out of the gates, prompting the Red Sox to deal Youkilis to the White Sox shortly after he returned from the disabled list. 

    All told, Middlebrooks hit .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI over 267 at-bats before a broken wrist ended his season on Aug. 11.

    My Answer: Yes

    After his breakout rookie campaign, Middlebrooks enters the 2013 season as the Red Sox everyday third baseman and No. 5 hitter. 

    His minor league track record suggests his numbers last season are for real, and I fully expect him to be among the top third basemen in all of baseball when the 2013 season comes to a close.

Will Javier Baez See Chicago in 2013?

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    The Facts

    The Cubs' first round pick in 2011, taken with the No. 9 overall pick, Javier Baez was impressive in his first full pro season last year with a .294/.346/.543 line, 16 home runs and 24 steals between Single-A and High-A.

    The 20-year-old shortstop has perhaps the best bat speed in all of the the minor leagues, and he'll likely get a taste of the high minors early on in 2013.

    My Answer: Yes, in September.

    With Starlin Castro entrenched at shortstop, Baez will likely be a third baseman long term, so that's a transition he'll have to begin before he finds an everyday job in the majors.

    That said, he has a dynamic offensive game and as long as he handles Double-A pitching well, there's no reason to think the Cubs won't give him a September call-up.

Is Jeff Samardzija a True Staff Ace?

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    The Facts

    An All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame, the Cubs drafted Jeff Samardzija in the fifth round back in 2006 and gave him a $7.25 million signing bonus to convince him to choose baseball over football.

    After pitching mostly in relief for the first four seasons in the big leagues, Samardzija was given a rotation spot out of camp last year and he ran with it.

    Over 28 starts, he went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts over 174.2 innings of work, showing front-line stuff and giving the rebuilding Cubs another piece to build around.

    My Answer: Yes

    If his first start of the year was any indication (8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K), last season was no fluke for Samardzija and he is in fact capable of much more.

    The 28-year-old could set himself up for a huge extension if he keeps it up, and for the pitching-strapped Cubs having him emerge as their ace would be a big step in their rebuilding process.

Can John Danks Return to His Pre-Injury Form in 2013?

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    The Facts

    From 2008-2010, John Danks quietly emerged as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, going 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA and 203 innings pitched per season.

    Despite a down 2011 season in which he went 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA, the White Sox locked him up with a five-year, $65 million extension.

    He took the ball on Opening Day last year, but made just nine total starts before shoulder surgery ended his season. Looking to get back on track, he was absolutely shelled this spring (11 IP, 27 H, 20 ER) and shoulder inflammation has him on the DL to kick off the 2013 season.

    My Answer: No

    With his velocity down and his pitches flat this spring, Danks was throwing glorified batting practice over his four spring starts.

    He still has a ways to go as far as building up his shoulder strength and shaking off the rust, and my guess is 2013 winds up being more or less a lost season for the 27-year-old.

How Much Will Shin-Soo Choo Help the Reds Offense?

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    The Facts

    Last season, the leadoff spot in the Reds' lineup (namely Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs) hit a combined .208 with a .254 on-base percentage (h/t MLB) and scored the second-least runs at 83 despite a solid offense behind them.

    As a result, the Reds No. 1 priority this offseason was to find a center fielder to replace Stubbs who was capable of getting on base at a respectable clip. They found their guy in Shin-Soo Choo, who was acquired in a three-team trade.

    Choo has a .289/.381/.465 line over his eight-year big league career, and is a perennial threat for 20 home runs and 20 steals.

    My Answer: A lot.

    Though he's not a prototypical lead-off hitter, and has spent the bulk of his career playing right field, Choo was exactly the type of player the Reds needed to add.

    He should have a great chance at scoring 100 runs, and with him and Brandon Phillips setting the table for slugger Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, the Reds offense should be potent in 2013.

Will the Veteran Newcomers Make the Indians Legitimate Contenders?

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    The Facts

    Expected by most to be sellers this offseason, the Indians were instead as busy as anyone this offseason, signing a number of veterans to fill out their roster.

    Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Jason Giambi and Scott Kazmir were all signed as free agents and as a result, the Indians appear poised to improve on their 68-94 showing from a season ago.

    My Answer: No

    The Tigers are without question the best team in the AL Central, and after them the Royals with their new-look rotation and even the White Sox, who finished a surprise second last year, may have a better chance in 2013.

    In the end, I think the Indians finish third, behind the Tigers and Royals, as they lack the horses in their rotation or the firepower in their offense to be serious contenders.

Can Veterans Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez Rebound?

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    The Facts

    For the second straight season, the Indians rotation will be led by the veteran duo of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson.

    Jimenez, who took the baseball world by storm in the first half of the 2010 season with the Rockies, as gone 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA since coming over in a trade at the deadline in 2011. He was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA last season with a 1.613 WHIP.

    Masterson was unable to build off of a breakout 2011 season (12-10, 3.21 ERA) and went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA and 1.454 WHIP after getting the ball on Opening Day.

    My Answer: No

    Neither pitcher threw particularly well this spring, and in reality both are better served as innings-eating veterans at the back end of a rotation at this point.

    I expect one or both to be traded if they pitch well, but my guess is neither will have much trade value when the July deadline rolls around.

Will Troy Tulowitzki Be His Superstar Self in 2013?

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    The Facts

    Most would have agreed that Troy Tulowitzki was the top all-around shortstop in the game entering the 2012 season.

    In the three seasons prior, he hit .304 and averaged 30 home runs and 97 RBI at the plate and won a pair of Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess.

    However, a nagging groin injury limited him to just 47 games last season and he enters 2013 looking to regain his place among the game's elite.

    My Answer: Yes

    Tulowitzki appeared to be at full strength this spring, hitting .283 with three home runs and 14 RBI over 53 at-bats. As long as he's over last season's injury, there is no reason to think the 28-year-old won't be right back to where he was.

The Rockies Pitching Staff Can't Be Worse, Right?

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    The Facts

    Last season, Rockies starters went a combined 29-68 with a 5.81 ERA while averaging all of 4.7 innings per start. Needless to say, they were dead last in more or less every significant pitching category.

    Some of that can be attributed to the fact that their top three starters, Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio combined to make just 28 starts.

    My Answer: Right

    There is no way the Rockies staff will be as horrendous as they were last season, and the return of that trio will go a long way in making sure that's true.

    They're still not good, and will likely hold back one of the league's better offenses from being anything but an also-ran, but they won't be as awful as last year.

Can Victor Martinez Return to His 2011 Form Coming off of Injury?

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    The Facts

    The Tigers signed Victor Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal prior to the 2011 season, and the move paid immediate dividends as he hit .330 and drove in 103 runs in his first season in Detroit.

    Expected to provide much of the same last year, his season was instead over before it started, as he tore his ACL during offseason conditioning.

    The injury resulted, or at least helped push the Tigers to sign slugger Prince Fielder last offseason, and now with the return of Martinez, a great lineup should be even better.

    My Answer: No, but close.

    A .303 career hitter, Martinez should once again hit for a high average as he returns to the Detroit lineup, but expecting him to hit .330 again is a stretch.

    The 34-year-old is on the wrong side of his prime, but he's a dangerous hitter nonetheless and as long as he can stay healthy, the numbers will be there.

    Something like a .290 average and 85-90 RBI seem like reasonable expectations for Martinez in 2013.

Can a Closer-by-Committee Really Work for Detroit?

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    The Facts

    A year after saving an AL-high 49 games, Tigers closer Jose Valverde fell off drastically in 2012 and wound up losing the ninth-inning job down the stretch and in the postseason.

    As a result, the team opted to let him walk in free agency and rather than signing a free agent they chose to address the vacancy in-house.

    Top prospect Bruce Rondon was viewed as the front-runner for the job, but after an up-and-down spring, he was optioned to the minors to start the season and the team will go with a closer-by-committee to start the year.

    My Answer: Yes

    With veteran guys like Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel as well as impressive youngsters Bryan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque, the Tigers have plenty of options with which to play the hot hand.

    The Giants employed a closer-by-committee after Brian Wilson went down last season, and things eventually worked themselves out when Sergio Romo stepped forward.

    My guess is Rondon won't be in the minors for long, and the team will ease him into the closer's role once he's called up. By midseason, the job will be his and the committee will be a distant memory.

Will the Astros Surpass the 1962 Mets as Worst Team of the Live-Ball Era?

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    The Facts

    Last season, the Astros paced the MLB in futility when they lost 107 games to finish last in the NL Central, just behind the 101-loss Cubs.

    This season, they make the move to the AL West, where the competition appears on paper to be even stiffer and they'll have a hard time avoiding another 100-loss campaign as they continue to rebuild.

    The question, however, is whether they will approach the 1962 Mets and the 120 losses they piled up, setting a Live-Ball Era record.

    My Answer: No

    Funny as it may sound, the Astros may actually be a better team than they were last season. Adding Phil Humber and Erik Bedard to the rotation and Chris Carter and Carlos Pena to the middle of the lineup were far from blockbuster moves, but they'll help.

    The move to the AL West will likely result in at least a few more losses, but the improved roster should offset that. My guess is they still lose 100, but they improve on last year's record, if only by a game or two.

Are the Royals Contenders with a Revamped Pitching Staff?

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    The Facts

    With a solid core of homegrown position players (more on them in a minute), the Royals needed to look outside the organization to improve their starting pitching if they hoped to take the next step.

    That's exactly what they did this offseason, re-signing Jeremy Guthrie and acquiring Ervin Santana from the Royals before pulling of a blockbuster deal with the Rays to get ace James Shields and Wade Davis.

    My Answer: Fringe contenders

    The Royals are no doubt a much-improved team, and getting a workhorse like Shields to anchor your staff is huge for a young team.

    However, a lot will have to break right for the 2013 Royals to wind up in the playoffs. Crazier things have certainly happened, but they're still at least a year away in my mind.

Can Homegrown Core of Hitters Take the Next Step?

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    The Facts

    With a shiny new rotation, the Royals now need their collection of former top prospects in the lineup to take the next step this coming season.

    Namely, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez. 

    Hosmer took a big step back last season after a phenomenal rookie year in 2011, Moustakas had 20 home runs and 73 RBI in his first full season last year but hit just .242, and Perez was limited by a knee injury but managed to hit .301 with 11 home runs in 289 at-bats.

    My Answer: Yes

    Hosmer, in roughly the same number of plate appearances, saw his OPS plummet 136 points from his rookie campaign. Even if he doesn't make it all the way back to his rookie production, it's hard to imagine the 23-year-old not improving.

    Moustakas hit .394 with five home runs this spring, and he opens the season in the cleanup spot. If he can cut down on his strikeouts and make more solid contact, an average around .275 and 30 home runs is well within reach.

    The real star, though, could be Perez. Still only 22, his offensive approach is incredibly advanced for a catcher. He's capable of putting up the numbers he did last year over a full season, and he could end the year as one of the top catchers in the game.

Will Mike Trout Win AL MVP in His Sophomore Season?

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    The Facts

    If nothing else, the rookie season of Mike Trout put sabermetrics front and center in the argument over who the best player in the game was last year.

    Edged out for AL MVP honors by Miguel Cabrera, who achieved the Triple Crown, Trout posted a 10.0 WAR (h/t FanGraphs) while Cabrera clocked in at 6.9 (h/t FanGraphs).

    The real question now is, what will the 21-year-old Trout do for an encore?

    My Answer: No

    Whether or not you think he deserved the MVP, there is no denying Trout was phenomenal last season. He hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs and 49 steals, and he did that while playing terrific defense in center field.

    However, my pick for AL MVP is actually Trout's teammate Albert Pujols, who got off to a slow start during his first season in Los Angeles, but looked like the Pujols of old once he got things going.

    With Josh Hamilton protecting him in the lineup and Trout setting the table with what should still be another terrific season, I expect a big season from Pujols in 2013.

Can the Reworked Angels Rotation Lead Them to the Playoffs?

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    The Facts

    After failing to make the playoffs despite sky-high expectations entering the season, the Angels overhauled their rotation this offseason in hopes of better positioning themselves in 2013.

    Zack Greinke walked in free agency, and they declined options on Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, leaving Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson as the only remaining starters from last year's staff.

    In place of the departed, the team signed Joe Blanton as a free agent and acquired Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas in separate trades.

    My Answer: Yes

    While none of them are front-line starters at this point, all three of the pitchers they acquired are veteran innings-eaters capable of winning double-digit games and throwing 200 innings.

    With an improved bullpen, stacked lineup and slightly clearer path to the postseason given the Rangers offseason losses and A's potential to regress, the Angels are my pick to win the AL West.

When Will Albert Pujols Join the 500 Home Run Club?

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    The Facts

    The greatest hitter of our generation and one of the best of all time, Albert Pujols enters the season with 475 career home runs.

    The 30 long balls he hit last season represented the lowest total of his 12-year career, and he managed to reach that mark despite going homerless in his first 108 at-bats.

    My Answer: July 7

    Pujols has homered once every 14.6 at-bats during his career, so at that pace it would take him roughly 365 at-bats to reach the 25-home-run mark this coming season.

    At four at-bats per game that would put his 500th home run in the team's 92nd game of the season.

    However, I'm expecting Pujols to have a big second season in Los Angeles and I think he'll homer at a rate about a half-an-at-bat better than his career average.

    That would put the milestone home run in game No. 89, which is on Sunday, July 7 against the Boston Red Sox in Los Angeles.

Will the Dodgers' Big-Name Talent Result in a Postseason Berth in 2013?

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    The Facts

    Since the July trade deadline last year, the Dodgers have piled up big-name talent and they look poised to make a serious title push as a result.

    After acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins, the team picked up Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox in a massive August deal.

    Then, they signed Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to bolster their pitching staff this offseason.

    That crop of recently added talent joins the incumbent trio of Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to give the Dodgers one of the most star-studded rosters in the game. Now the question is, can they turn the name recognition into wins?

    My Answer: Yes

    As many of you know from my weekly power rankings, I still think the Giants are the team to beat, not only in the NL West but in all of baseball.

    That said, the Dodgers will be the team to push them in the division and even if they don't catch them for the title, they should have a great chance to earn a wild-card spot.

    In the end, I think they make their way into the postseason this year, and once they reach October, a staff led by Kershaw and Greinke could carry them.

Can Zack Greinke Prove Worth the $147 Million Deal He Received?

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    The Facts

    The Dodgers No. 1 target this offseason was to add a front-line starter to slot behind ace Clayton Kershaw in the team's rotation.

    They found their man in Zack Greinke, the best arm on the market, and signed him to a six-year, $147 million deal.

    He'll make $19 million this coming season, and then either $25 million or $26 million in each of the following five seasons. So is he really worth that?

    My Answer: Yes

    Though he won the AL Cy Young with a dominant season for the Royals in 2009, I think most would agree that Greinke is not part of the elite starting pitchers in the game today.

    Despite that, he is now one of the highest paid pitchers in the history of the game. So why do I say he'll be worth his hefty salary?

    For one, the Dodgers essentially have an infinite amount of money to spend with their new billion-dollar TV deal (h/t New York Times).

    On top of that, there is no denying the price of pitching has continued to rise. When guys like Anibal Sanchez are getting five-year, $80 million deals, paying someone like Greinke $147 million over six years seems a bit more reasonable.

    He fills the team's biggest need, and even if he doesn't pitch like an ace, he'll earn his money in L.A. barring injury.

How Many Home Runs Will Giancarlo Stanton Hit in 2013?

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    The Facts

    While most 23-year-old outfielders find themselves in the high minors, Giancarlo Stanton already has three big league seasons and 93 home runs under his belt, and he's just getting started.

    Last year, the towering slugger launched 37 home runs over just 449 at-bats, and if he can turn in a full slate of at-bats in 2013, the sky is the limit for his power potential.

    My Answer: 47

    I fully expect Stanton to lead all of baseball in home runs this coming season, even with little-to-no protection in the lineup behind him and a healthy Jose Bautista to give him a run for his money.

    He's going to hit 50 at some point in his career, perhaps on a regular basis, but for now we'll say he tacks another 10 home runs onto last year's total.

With an Improved Pitching Staff, Can the Brewers Reach the Postseason in 2013?

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    The Facts

    Last season, the Brewers had the highest-scoring offense in the National League. However, they also had the worst bullpen ERA in the league, and as a result they found themselves on the outside looking in come October.

    Gone from last year's rotation are Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf, and as a result, the team signed Kyle Lohse to join Yovani Gallardo atop a talented, albeit inexperienced rotation.

    In the bullpen, the team added Mike Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop and Tom Gorzelanny in hopes of improving on last year's 4.66 ERA.

    My Answer: No

    The improved bullpen will certainly help keep them in the thick of things, but I don't think the Brewers will be the league's highest scoring offense again this season.

    With the Reds clearly the best team in the NL Central, and the Cardinals looking tough once again, I have the Brewers picked to finish third in the division and out of the playoffs.

Will Rookie Aaron Hicks Be a Difference Maker as a Rookie?

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    The Facts

    After trading Denard Span and Ben Revere in the offseason, the Twins entered spring training with a pair of open spots in their outfield.

    With a .370 average, four home runs and 18 RBI, top prospect Aaron Hicks did everything he could to win one of those jobs and walked away as the team's everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.

    Now the question is, can Hicks be a difference maker atop the Twins lineup as they look to improve on a disappointing season last year?

    My Answer: Yes

    I don't think he'll win AL Rookie of the Year, as many have predicted, but Hicks should be good enough to hold onto his spot all season and give reason for excitement moving forward.

    With a .379 on-base percentage in the minors, he has the discipline to be a plus leadoff hitter, even if he puts up a relatively high strikeout rate.

    My best guess is something like a .270/.355/.410 line with 10 home runs and 20 steals, and with guys like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham hitting behind him, he could score a good deal of runs with those numbers.

How Much Better Will the Twins Rotation Be After Their Offseason Acquisitions?

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    The Facts

    Twins starters combined for a 5.40 ERA last season, the worst mark in the American League and second only to the Rockies (5.81) in all of baseball.

    As a result, they focused on shoring up their staff this offseason, acquiring Vance Worley from the Phillies and signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey as free agents.

    They join incumbents Scott Diamond (currently injured), Liam Hendriks and Cole DeVries to make up the Twins rotation, and that group could be joined by top prospect Kyle Gibson at some point.

    My Answer: Not Much

    Worley is a nice addition, but he's far from a staff ace and profiles better as a No. 3 or 4 starter on a contender like he was in Philadelphia.

    Correia has won 46 games over the past four years, but he's put up a 4.51 ERA (83 ERA+) while doing it and is nothing more than a fifth starter on most teams.

    Pelfrey is coming off Tommy John surgery, and if his 6.38 ERA this spring is any indication, it could be a tough season for the 29-year-old right-hander.

    Diamond was solid last season, but he underwent minor elbow surgery in December, while the rest of their arms are nothing more than organizational depth.

    They may improve a tick over last year and avoid being the worst staff in the AL this season, but above average is a stretch. 

Can Ike Davis Take the Next Step Towards Stardom?

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    The Facts

    Last season, Mets' first baseman Ike Davis got off to a horrible start, hitting just .170/.228/.296 with five home runs and 21 RBI over the first two months of the season, as he was in danger of being demoted at one point.

    He eventually turned things around, hitting .253/.341/.536 with 27 home runs and 69 RBI over 360 at-bats the rest of the way, but there is still potential for much more.

    Davis hit .302 with 7 homers and 25 RBI over 36 games in 2011 before an ankle injury ended his season, and those are the type of numbers Mets fans are looking for over a full season.

    My Answer: Yes

    Davis was one of the few bright spots for the Mets in the second half last year, and as long as he can avoid another early slump (though he was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts on Opening Day), there is no reason he can't improve his numbers across the board.

    I expect him to hit somewhere in the .260-.270 range with 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI as he joins David Wright as an offensive building block moving forward. 

When Will Zack Wheeler Join the Mets Rotation?

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    The Facts

    The Mets have two of the best young arms in the game in Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and while Harvey made his big league debut last season and has established his spot in the rotation, Wheeler has yet to see big league action.

    Acquired from the Giants for Carlos Beltran at the deadline in 2011, Wheeler went 12-8 with a 3.25 ERA and 8.9 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season and he'll no doubt join the Mets rotation at some point in 2013. But when?

    My Answer: June 15

    Harvey made his debut last season on July 26, and I fully expect Wheeler to be called up well before that date this year.

    My guess is he gets the call sometime before the All-Star break, so we'll go with the middle of June for the 22-year-old right-hander to join the Mets rotation.

    From June 14-16 the Mets square off against the Cubs in New York, and that seems as good a time as any for Wheeler to get the call. He'd get to pitch at home against one of the worst teams in the league, so that's a nice way to ease him into the mix.

Will Robinson Cano Be Extended Midseason, and for How Much?

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    The Facts

    In the final option year of his current deal, Yankees star Robinson Cano will make $15 million this season, and to this point he is without a contract for 2014.

    The two sides have already begun talks on an extension, and according to a tweet from Bryan Hoch of, the Yankees have made a "significant offer" to Cano.

    With stars Justin Verlander and Buster Posey both signing huge extensions in the past week, that could get the ball rolling on keeping Cano in the Bronx long-term.

    My Answer: Yes, on a six-year, $144 million deal

    Cano turned 30 in October, and given the current state of the franchise, the last thing the Yankees probably want is another long-term deal on the books.

    Still, Cano is too valuable to not lock up at this point, and if they can keep his deal to no more than six years, it should be a decent signing for the Yankees.

    A $24 million annual salary seems reasonable given his production and the fact that he plays a premium position. Expect some thing to get done within the next couple months as the two sides continue to hammer out terms.

What Will the Yankees' Record Be at the End of May?

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    The Facts

    Already an aging group expected to be on the down swing in 2013, the Yankees opened the season with the likes of Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Phil Hughes all on the disabled list.

    All but Rodriguez are expected back sometime in May, but for the time being, a rag-tag group of veterans will be asked to hold down the fort and keep the team from slipping too far out of contention.

    My Answer: 24-31

    The team will have 55 games in the books when the month of May comes to a close, and barring any set backs or further casualties, the team should be at full strength heading into June.

    With the current lineup they're trotting out, the team will have a hard time playing .500 baseball until they get their big names back, but I don't expect them to fall insurmountably far out of things.

    A 24-31 record seems reasonable given their talent level right now, and that should keep them close enough that they'll have an opportunity to make a second-half push.

Can Someone Step Forward to Shore Up Second Base?

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    The Facts

    When Jemile Weeks hit .303 over 406 at-bats as a rookie in 2011, the A's appeared to have a future star on their hands at second base.

    However, he hit just .221 last season and spent much of the year in the minors, and that's where he'll begin the 2013 season as well.

    In his place, Eric Sogard and Scott Sizemore will both see time at second base, but neither is much of a long-term option. In the short-term, can someone step forward as a viable option?

    My Answer: Yes, Eric Sogard

    Sogard won the starting nod by hitting .444 this spring, but he's hit just .188/.238/.298 over 181 big league at-bats.

    However, he's a .298/.382/.418 career minor league hitter over six seasons, and he hit .331 during his time in Triple-A last season.

    He's by no means a star, and at 26 he doesn't have much in the way of upside at this point, but Sogard has the modest tools to shore up the position in the short term.

Will a Healthy Veteran Core Result in Postseason Trip for the Phillies?

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    The Facts

    Last season, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay all missed significant time for the Phillies and as a result, they finished the year a disappointing 81-81.

    They went 29-19 to close out the season, proving they were still a dangerous team when all of their pieces were in place, and now they're looking to build off of that performance to perhaps make one last run at a title in 2013.

    My Answer: No

    The Phillies are still a dangerous team, but they'll be hard pressed to finish ahead of the Nationals and Braves in their own division.

    Throw in the Reds, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers, and the playoff picture is simply too crowded in the National League for them to make it in my mind.

Can Roy Halladay Return to Ace Form?

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    The Facts

    After going a combined 40-16 with a 2.40 ERA in his first two seasons in Philadelphia, Roy Halladay had one of the worst seasons of his illustrious career last year.

    The usually durable Halladay was limited to just 25 starts by a strained lat, and he went 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA when he was on the field.

    He was knocked around this spring, allowing 21 hits and 11 earned runs in 16.1 innings of work, and he simply hasn't looked like the Halladay we grew accustomed to.

    My Answer: No

    Halladay will be 36 in May, and he's piled up 2,351 innings over the past 11 years, so his struggles last season may be the beginning of the end for him.

    He's still a gamer and solid veteran arm, but my guess is his days of being one of the elite starters in the game are behind him.

Is This the Year the Pirates Finally Finish Above .500?

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    The Facts

    Not since 1992 when they went 96-66 have the Pirates finished a season over .500, and they'll be looking to end that drought this year after back-to-back late-season collapses.

    The team was 47-43 at the All-Star break in 2011 and 48-37 at the break last year, but they finished those seasons 72-90 and 79-83, respectively.

    My Answer: No

    Sorry to say it, Pirates fans, but the 2013 season won't be the year the Bucs get over the hump, though the future looks bright, and 2014 may be the year.

    As of now, they simply don't have enough offensive consistency around Andrew McCutchen or enough proven pitching behind A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez to finish with a winning record.

Can Rookie Slugger Jedd Gyorko Be an Impact Player?

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    The Facts

    A second-round pick in the 2010 draft, Jedd Gyorko has topped the 100 RBI mark in each of the past two seasons in the minors and is a .319/.385/.529 hitter during his time on the farm.

    A third baseman by trade, he has been shifted to second base with Chase Headley blocking his path, and he used a strong spring to break camp with the big league club.

    My Answer: Yes

    Gyorko had the offensive tools to be a plus bat at third base, but at second base he has the potential to be one of the most productive players in all of baseball at the position.

    The 24-year-old should be able to approach 20 home runs as a rookie while continuing to be an above-average run producer, and if things break right, he could be among the front-runners for NL Rookie of the Year honors. He's the real deal, and a key part of the Padres future.

Is Chase Headley as Good as His 2012 Numbers Suggest?

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    The Facts

    Entering the 2012 season, Chase Headley was known as an above-average on-base guy with double-digit home run power and a decent glove at third base.

    That's exactly what he was over the first half of the season, before he exploded to hit .308/.386/.592 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in the second half last year on his way to an NL-high 115 RBI.

    At 28, he was in prime position for a breakout year, but is Headley really as good as his 2012 numbers suggest?

    My Answer: No

    Don't get me wrong, I think Headley is a solid player, and there is no question he took a major step forward last season.

    However, I don't think he's a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI player long-term and the Padres were wise in not giving him an extension this offseason until they see what he does for an encore.

    I think he's a solid .280 hitter with 20-home-run power, but that's markedly short of the fantastic numbers he put up last season. 

Can Tim Lincecum Bounce Back in 2013?

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    The Facts

    A two-time Cy Young winner who entered the 2012 season as one of the game's elite arms, Tim Lincecum struggled through a rough season last year in going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA.

    That kept him out of the team's rotation in the playoffs, though he pitched phenomenally in relief, and he was roughed up again this spring to the tune of a 10.57 ERA over 15.1 innings of work.

    My Answer: No

    In what is a contract year for Lincecum, he'll no doubt be motivated for a big year, but to this point he has shown nothing to suggest he's the same pitcher he was a few years ago.

    A long-term move to the bullpen could be his next course of action if he struggles once again, but I don't expect to see the 28-year-old re-emerge as a staff ace in 2013.

Can the Pitching Staff Once Again Lead an Average Offense to the Postseason?

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    The Facts

    Last season, the Giants scored 718 runs as a team, ranking them 12th in baseball and sixth in the National League. 

    NL MVP Buster Posey had a lot to do with that, and joined by Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence in the middle of the order, the Giants lineup is average at best.

    However, their pitching staff once again ranked among the best in baseball and their bullpen was lights out even with the loss of Brian Wilson. So can their arms once again carry their bats in 2013?

    My Answer: Yes

    The Giants return essentially the same team that won the World Series last season, and even with the big question mark that is Tim Lincecum, the pitching is among the game's best.

    Led by ace Matt Cain and emerging stars Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo, I expect to see the Giants playing in October once again this season.

When Will the Reinforcements Arrive?

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    The Facts

    The Mariners have finished no higher than third in the AL West each of the past five seasons, and have ranked dead-last in the AL in runs scored the past three years.

    However, they have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and a number of players are on the cusp of making a big league impact.

    Starting pitchers Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, infielder Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino are all expected to make their big league debuts in 2013.

    My Answer: They'll all be up by the end of July.

    The first to be called up will likely be Hultzen and Zunino, and I could see them joining the club by mid-June as long as they perform well in the minors.

    Franklin's offensive skills will likely push the all-glove Brendan Ryan at shortstop by the All-Star break and Paxton should be called up sometime around there as well.

    Walker is the wild card, as he has perhaps the highest ceiling of all of them, but is still relatively raw at 20 years old. Still, I think he thrives in his second go-around in Double-A and earns a late-summer call-up.

How Will Top Prospect Shelby Miller Perform as a Rookie?

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    The Facts

    With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter likely out for the season, the Cardinals' No. 5 starter spot was up for grabs this spring in a competition between Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly.

    Miller emerged victorious, posting a 3.94 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 16 innings of work, and he enters the season as one of the favorites for NL Rookie of the Year.

    My Answer: Really well

    Miller has as much upside as any pitching prospect in the game, and the 22-year-old pitched well in Double-A last season after struggling early.

    He has legitimate ace stuff, and I expect him to be the team's No. 2 starter by the end of the season and to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Just How Good Can Allen Craig Be?

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    The Facts

    A valuable utility player in 2011, Allen Craig stepped into the everyday first-base job once he returned from knee surgery and he quickly emerged as the Cardinals' best run producer.

    All told, he had 22 home runs and 92 RBI over just 469 at-bats, and entering the season with a full-time job locked down for the first time in his career, he could be in store for a huge season.

    My Answer: MVP candidate good

    Craig is a late-bloomer of sorts, as he turns 29 in July, but there is no question he has the offensive tools to deliver a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI season this year.

    He finished 19th in NL MVP voting last season, and I fully expect him to finish inside the top 10 and perhaps even top five this coming season.

Will David Price Be Moved in 2013?

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    The Facts

    One of the harsh realities low-budget teams like the Rays have to deal with is the knowledge that they likely won't be able to re-sign their superstar talent.

    As a result, the team has to determine when the best time to trade their star players is, as they look to restock their organization with young, cost-effective talent.

    Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price is under team control through 2015, but with an arbitration salary of $10.1 million this year, it remains to be seen how much longer the Rays can afford him, so this may be the year he's moved.

    My Answer: No

    As Buster Olney tweeted, following the Justin Verlander extension, it is as clear as ever that the Rays won't be able to re-sign Price.

    That said, the Rays are in a position to contend for a playoff spot this season, and as long as they are in the thick of things at the deadline, they'll likely hold onto Price.

    My guess is they'll move him this coming offseason, rather than giving him another substantial raise in arbitration, but that he'll finish 2013 in a Rays uniform.

How Big of an Impact Will Wil Myers Make in 2013?

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    The Facts

    The Rays have long been a pitching heavy, offensively challenged team and they finally opted to use their pitching depth to add some offense this offseason.

    Workhorse James Shields and Wade Davis were shipped to the Royals for a prospect package built around Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers.

    Myers, an outfielder, hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI last season, and while he didn't break camp with the team, he likely won't be down for long.

    My Answer: Huge

    Myers will likely be called up as soon as the date hits that his arbitration clock will be pushed back a year, and he'll likely take over as the everyday right fielder while hitting somewhere in the middle of the order.

    I wouldn't be surprise at all to see him make a Ryan Braun/Evan Longoria type impact as a rookie and capture Rookie of the Year honors even after he spends the first couple months of the season in the minors.

    He gives the team the second impact run producer alongside Longoria that they've needed for years now, and the trade should be one that works out for both sides.

Can the Rangers Make the Playoffs After Losing so Much Offensively?

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    The Facts

    After ranking as one of the most feared lineups in all of baseball the past few seasons, the Rangers parted ways with Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli this offseason.

    They were replaced with rookie Leonys Martin, and aging veterans Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski in what is clearly a downgrade for the team.

    There is still a solid core of hitters, with Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz all plus bats, but will that be enough for the team to make a fourth consecutive postseason appearance?

    My Answer: No

    The A's came out of nowhere to win the AL West last season, and the Angels are looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2012 season saw them fall short of the postseason.

    I have the Angels winning the division and the Rays and A's capturing the two AL wild card spots, putting the Rangers at home come October. 

    They're still a solid team, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see them make the postseason, but I think the league has improved around them and they've taken a step back.

Where Does Jurickson Profar Fit into the Rangers' 2013 Plans?

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    The Facts

    The consensus top prospect in the game entering the season, 20-year-old Jurickson Profar will open the season in the minors but should push for playing time before too long.

    A slick-fielding shortstop who hit .281/.368/.452 with 14 home runs and 16 steals as one of the youngest players at the Double-A level last year, Profar is currently blocked by Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Ian Kinsler at second base.

    My Answer: Everyday second baseman in the second half

    Andrus isn't going anywhere after signing an eight-year, $120 million extension earlier this week (h/t ESPN) so the more likely solution will be moving Kinsler.

    Whether it is by trading him, or by shifting him to either left field or first base, moving Kinsler off of second appears to be the most logical move for Texas.

    Profar won't be recalled unless he's got a shot at everyday at-bats, and a strong first half will force the Rangers to provide him with those at-bats.

Can R.A. Dickey Repeat His 2012 Performance with Move to the AL East?

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    The Facts

    Little more than a journeyman when he joined the Mets in 2010, R.A. Dickey reinvented himself when he added the knuckleball to his repertoire and he took things to another level entirely last season.

    The 37-year-old went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and NL-best 230 strikeouts to claim NL Cy Young honors, as he was one of the biggest stories of the 2012 season.

    Unable to come to terms on an extension, the Mets opted to deal him to the Blue Jays when his value was highest, netting an impressive prospect package in return.

    My Answer: No

    It's not very often that a player breaks out in his late-30s, but then again there hasn't been much that could be considered normal about Dickey's career.

    He'll assume the role of staff ace on a Blue Jays team that enters the season with huge expectations following a busy offseason of additions.

    In the end, I think Josh Johnson emerges as the ace of the Jays staff and Dickey settles in as the No. 2 starter. My best guess for him in 2013 is 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.25 neighborhood, which are good numbers but not quite the numbers he had last year.

Are the Blue Jays a Serious Title Contender?

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    The Facts

    Expected to have an outside shot at contention last season, the Blue Jays were instead decimated by injuries and wound up finishing a disappointing 73-89 on the season.

    With a talented core to build around that included Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Brandon Morrow, the Blue Jays used one of the league's best farm systems to pull off a pair of blockbuster deals this winter.

    They acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio from the cost-cutting Marlins, then landed reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.

    My Answer: Yes

    With a high-powered offense that really has no holes, provided Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus can put up at least average numbers, and a veteran pitching staff, the pieces are all there for the Blue Jays to contend.

    Spending money and throwing talent together doesn't always translate to wins, just ask the 2012 Marlins, but the Blue Jays don't have to deal with things like Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano sabotaging the team from the inside out.

    They're my pick to win the AL East, and if their pitching can perform up to their potential, they could have as dangerous a staff as any team in baseball come October.

Are the Nationals the Best Team in Baseball Entering 2013?

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    The Facts

    Last season, the Nationals led all of baseball with 98 wins, as they used a dominant pitching staff and surprisingly productive offense to rank as the top team in baseball.

    This offseason, they filled their biggest offensive hole when they acquired Denard Span to serve as the team's center fielder and lead-off hitter.

    They also added Dan Haren to replace Edwin Jackson in the No. 4 spot in the rotation, and Rafael Soriano to serve as closer.

    My Answer: No.

    The Nationals have one of the most complete rosters in baseball top-to-bottom, with a dominant trio of starting pitchers, deep bullpen and solid if not spectacular offense.

    However, to this point they have proven nothing, as they were bounced from the postseason by the Cardinals in the NLDS last year.

    An unleashed Stephen Strasburg could certainly be the difference maker come October, but with a good Braves team to contend with in their own division and teams like Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Francisco and Los Angeles also looking strong in the NL, I'm not quite ready to crown them as champions just yet.

    The Reds are my pick to win the NL pennant this season, and I think their roster is just as complete top to bottom as the Nationals.