MLB Teams with Big Questions to Answer During Spring Training
Now that the Cam Newton hot takes from the Super Bowl are out of the way, Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a week.
Yeah, the season is approaching as fast as you think.
There are some new faces in new places—including Zack Greinke in Arizona—and many teams have some intriguing questions entering spring training.
If you forgot what happened with Greinke because of the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes (won by the New York Mets), the NL Cy Young runner-up from last season left the Los Angeles Dodgers for a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks.
Greinke wasn't the only player to leave for greener pastures. Fellow aces Johnny Cueto and last year's AL Cy Young runner-up David Price both bolted their previous teams for San Francisco and Boston, respectively.
Those are some names who are affiliated with organizations that not only have intrigue entering spring training but some lingering questions to answer before the season begins on April 3.
With that said, here's a glance at a few teams that have some items on their to-do list heading into the 2016 season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: What Will They Look Like Without Greinke?
Even with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw forming the most formidable one-two punch in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers still couldn't reach their first World Series since 1988.
With Greinke gone and the highest payroll in the game, the Dodgers made a splash and signed 27-year-old Kenta Maeda and 32-year-old Scott Kazmir in the offseason.
Maeda spent seven seasons with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan Central League and inked a deal worth up to $90.2 million, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
Kazmir had a solid start to his 2015 season with the Oakland Athletics before being traded to Houston last July and tailing off a bit toward the end of the year. He's proved to be a reliable option in the middle of a rotation, which can work when Kershaw is at the top of your rotation.
Here's the thing with the Dodgers: With Kazmir and the Maeda signings, you only have one right-hander (Maeda) between Kershaw, Maeda, Kazmir, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and Hyun-jin Ryu (who is coming off shoulder surgery) entering spring training.
Right-hander Brandon McCarthy will return off Tommy John surgery this season as well, but the Dodgers are basically looking at an all-lefty rotation and Maeda.
The Dodgers aren't shy of making moves, and that's just what we could see.
Arizona Diamondbacks: How About the Team That Has Greinke?
After a 79-83 season and a third-place finish in the NL West last season behind the two California powers, the Arizona Diamondbacks made the biggest news of the MLB offseason.
Zack Greinke, last year's NL Cy Young runner-up, signed a $200-plus million deal, and suddenly, the landscape of the division is a little more intriguing.
The San Francisco Giants (more on them in a second) appear to be the preseason favorites to win the division, but Greinke's signing and Arizona having the eighth-best team batting average in baseball last season could affect how things play out.
Hardcore fans have been singing the praises of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt for years now, and with Greinke in the mix, the baseball world might pay a bit more attention to the best right-hander of the last handful of years and possibly the game's most underrated hitter.
Here's the question surrounding the Diamondbacks as spring training approaches: Do they look good on paper, or are they actually going to be good?
Greinke wasn't the only one to move to the desert. Shelby Miller will join the Arizona rotation as the No. 2 starter behind Greinke and will provide a one-two duo that won't be easy to hit on many nights.
Did the Diamondbacks give up a lot to acquire Miller? Yeah, you could say that.
Baseball in Arizona hasn't been exciting since 2011, the last time the Diamondbacks made the playoffs.
Can Greinke, Miller and Goldschmidt change that?
San Francisco Giants: It's an Even-Numbered Year After All
Per the rules of Major League Baseball since 2010, the San Francisco Giants are to be crowned World Series Champions in even-numbered years.
Reminder: It's 2016.
The Giants have won titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and could be in a fantastic position to win another one in 2016 after this past offseason.
After missing the postseason in 2015, the Giants will enter spring training as the NL West favorites. That's due to their signings of Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto; the latter won a title with the Kansas City Royals last season.
On top of making their rotation one of the most lethal in all of baseball with Samardzija, Cueto and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants signed Denard Span this offseason and locked up Brandon Belt on Wednesday on a one-year, $6.2 million deal to avoid arbitration, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
On paper, the Giants look like one of the best teams in baseball. They have a three-headed monster atop their rotation with quality players at every position, including the best catcher in the game in Buster Posey.
The biggest question entering spring training is: What Samardzija are they getting this season?
If it's the Samardzija from the 2014 season—when he made his first All-Star Game—then the Giants are clearly one of the NL favorites.
If it's the Samardzija from the 2015 season with the Chicago White Sox, then the rotation looks more vulnerable after Bumgarner and Cueto.
New York Mets: Can They Bounce Back from a World Series Loss?
The New York Mets looked like the team of the future after advancing all the way to the World Series last season.
With stud arms in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the rotation, the Mets looked virtually unhittable before their five-game defeat against the Kansas City Royals last fall.
Their biggest offseason question was answered in the best way possible: Yoenis Cespedes re-signed on a deal worth up to $75 million over three years, including an opt-out clause after the 2016 season if Cespedes chooses to exercise it.
The lineup will take a hit after the hot hitting of Daniel Murphy led to a new deal with the division rival Washington Nationals in the offseason. However, with the newly acquired Neil Walker and their MVP candidate in Cespedes back in the middle of the lineup, the Mets look as formidable as they did late last season.
The big question for them entering spring training is: What's their mentality after being relatively handled in the World Series by the Royals?
Since 2010, two teams—the 2011 Texas Rangers and the 2015 Kansas City Royals—have been able to reach the Fall Classic after losing the series the previous season. Before that, you'd have to go back to the 1992 Atlanta Braves.
This is relatively the same roster that beat Kershaw, Greinke and the upstart Chicago Cubs.
The spring could go a long way in terms of telling us what the Mets will be in 2016.
Chicago Cubs: Is This "The Year"?
Speaking of those upstart Chicago Cubs, it's been 107 years since the Cubs were World Series champions.
That drought could come to an end very soon.
Not only were the Cubs a juggernaut in the postseason against their two toughest rivals in the NL Central—the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals—but they advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003 with each position player in their everyday lineup younger than 26 years old.
Although their bats went quiet in the NLCS against the Mets' fireballers, the future of the Cubs is bright, and everyone around the game knows it.
Three people who knew that: Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward.
The Cubs signed Zobrist off his title with Kansas City and stole Lackey and Heyward away from their division rival and biggest threat in the NL Central, St. Louis.
With Zobrist's versatility, Heyward's all-around game and Lackey solidifying the middle of the rotation behind Jon Lester and NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, the Cubs look like a 100-win team.
With such high expectations entering spring training, are the expectations getting almost too high?
Last year felt like the Cubs were too young to really understand what they were doing and how far ahead of schedule they were.
Chicago is desperate for a World Series title on the North Side, and the pressure is on for these kids to produce after such a fun run in 2015.
Baltimore Orioles: From .500 to the Playoffs Again?
The Toronto Blue Jays took over the AL East, while the New York Yankees overachieved and played in the AL Wild Card Game last October.
It appeared that the 81-win Baltimore Orioles were completely forgotten in 2015, but things could change in 2016.
Toronto will be its usual high-powered self again this year on offense, and despite losing David Price in the division to the Boston Red Sox, it will be the AL East favorite.
However, the Orioles were able to keep Chris Davis this offseason on a huge, Bobby Bonilla-like seven-year deal. They still have an awesome trio of bright young stars in Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop.
The key question heading into spring training for the O's will be their rotation. Per ESPN's Buster Olney, will the rumored Yovani Gallardo deal come to fruition to give Baltimore a proven right-handed arm in a rather mediocre rotation?
Baltimore has the bats to compete with anybody in baseball (only eight teams scored more total runs than the Orioles did last year), but can its starting arms provide enough good innings to compete with the Blue Jays and Yankees of the world?
Detroit Tigers: Can They Compete with Kansas City?
The Kansas City Royals won the AL Central last season and appear to be the gold standard of the American League for many years to come.
But, one team can compete with the Royals in the division: the Detroit Tigers, the winners of the division in 2014.
On paper, the talent of Detroit's roster is that of a 90-win team. With the hard-hitting punch of all-world sluggers Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez and former AL MVP Justin Verlander atop their rotation, the Tigers are about as good as any team in the American League.
And, they just added the underrated Jordan Zimmermann to the rotation on a five-year, $110 million deal back in November.
Here's the question to consider during spring training: Can the Tigers stay healthy enough to compete with the best team in baseball?
Outside of Detroit, the AL Central is atrocious. The Tigers are the one team that can put up a solid fight against the Royals.
But, the Tigers can't keep pace if Verlander is the shell of himself he's been since 2013 and Cabrera can't stay in the lineup. Without those players, the Tigers aren't close to being the same team.
Washington Nationals: More Than Hype?
Bryce Harper is among the must-see players in baseball.
Max Scherzer is a former Cy Young winner and has made three straight All-Star Games.
The Washington Nationals also signed NLCS hero Daniel Murphy in the offseason.
So, why is there still hesitation over placing the Nationals among the National League's best teams? The simple answer would be that they've been the most disappointing team since Game 5 of their National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.
How did a team with Scherzer, Harper and Stephen Strasburg win just 83 games and miss the postseason last year?
Granted, Strasburg hasn't been the same pitcher since being shut down before the 2012 postseason, but the Nationals have had enough talent to produce in October.
And yet, it felt like Harper was carrying this team through a playoff push all by himself.
The question for the Nationals entering spring training is: Will this be the year the Nationals finally surpass their 96-win season in 2014?
Losing a consistent arm in Jordan Zimmermann will hurt Washington this season, but outside of the Mets, there's no real competition in the NL East.
With the NL Central being the best division in baseball and having three legit playoff contenders, the Nats have to make a strong push to win the East behind a healthy Harper and Scherzer.
Toronto Blue Jays: Can They Go a Step Further Behind Their Big Bats?
Whenever a team's rotation loses a star like David Price, you can expect that team to take a step back the next season.
It's hard to look at the Toronto Blue Jays and think that, though.
A lineup that has AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion is just a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Donaldson and the Jays avoided salary arbitration with a two-year deal worth up to $28.65 million on Wednesday, per Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
With their MVP back and two of the most dangerous right-handed power hitters in the game, the Jays are going to be frightful on offense again this year.
And that's not even including Troy Tulowitzki, who the Jays also acquired at the trade deadline with Price.
The question for Toronto surrounds the pitching staff.
An injury kept Marcus Stroman out of action for most of 2015, but with him back for a full campaign in 2016, he becomes the face of the rotation. Stroman was a grinder in some tough outings in the postseason last year, and it'll be interesting to see how he accepts the ace role in 2016.
If Toronto can keep teams off the board with solid innings from Stroman and guys like Marco Estrada and J.A Happ behind him, the Jays could take that next step and reach their first World Series since 1993.
Houston Astros: Was Last Year a One-Year Thing or a Sign of Things to Come?
The Houston Astros were up 6-2 in the eighth inning (and 2-1 in their best-of-five American League Division Series) against defending AL Champion Kansas City in Game 4.
Then, more than the wheels fell off.
The engine blew up.
The Royals scored five runs in the eighth and then tacked on two more in the ninth inning to win, 9-6. Houston was lifeless in Game 5 and was eliminated by the eventual champs.
Despite a heartbreaking playoff collapse, the Astros were back in the postseason after an 86-win season with a bunch of unfamiliar names.
The Astros did acquire Carlos Gomez for their playoff push, but with reigning AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, youth in George Springer and last year's AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, and base-hit overlord Jose Altuve, last year might not be an outlier in Houston's rebuild.
Just like most of the other organizations on this list, the rotation is a concern outside of Keuchel and Collin McHugh.
Along with rotation depth behind their two stars, can the bullpen help lock down games better than it did in October and throughout 2015?
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