Updating the Hottest Questions of MLB Spring Training Week 1
We wait all winter for pitchers and catchers to report to Florida and Arizona. Then, at long last, they do—and we wait some more.
We wait for the final free-agent pieces to fall off the board, for any remaining trades to be consummated, for injury updates and for exhibition games to start. Then we wait for the contests that actually count.
That's a whole lot of waiting. Which means a diversion is in order.
Like, say, updating five of the hottest questions currently sprouting from the fertile spring soil of the MLB landscape.
We have a pair of unemployed former All-Stars, a Cincinnati Reds slugger possibly on the trading block, a third baseman's much-scrutinized waistline and a flame-throwing New York Yankees closer facing suspension.
Intrigued? Do some stretches, take a few hacks in the cage, slather on the SPF 30 and proceed when ready.
Does Anybody Want David Freese?
It was a slow-developing market for hitters in general this winter. But for third baseman David Freese, it's been a glacier inching through a molasses factory.
It's not just that Freese—an All-Star in 2012 who was good for 2.3 WAR last season, per Baseball-Reference.com—is still looking for work. It's that he's been virtually absent from the rumor mill all offseason. That's especially odd considering Freese didn't get a qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Angels and thus won't cost the club that nabs him a draft pick.
The problem, as SB Nation's Grant Brisbee outlined, is that the majority of teams are either set at the hot corner, stuck with an expensive player they can't reasonably jettison or rebuilding and thus uninterested in a serviceable 32-year-old.
Serviceable isn't an insult. In many cases, it's an asset. Supply and demand, however, is driving interest in Freese way down.
He'll sign somewhere at some point. But as the days tick by, the odds that Freese will be forced to accept a cheap, short-term show-me contract and potentially less playing time increase. As an affordable bench bat, he's attractive to any number of teams.
The good news? Next winter's free-agent class is weak overall, so another serviceable season could lead to a bigger payday.
Can Pablo Sandoval Succeed Despite His Gut?
Hey, not sure if you've heard, but Pablo Sandoval's weight is an issue. Which means, basically, that it's spring.
Virtually every year, the Panda's waistline gobbles up at least a few headlines. It's been that way since he broke out with the San Francisco Giants, and it's followed him across the country to Beantown.
Sandoval, of course, had a disappointing inaugural season with the Boston Red Sox in 2015, posting an anemic .245/.292/.366 slash line after signing a five-year, $95 million deal.
So when he showed up to camp with a noticeable girth, media wags and anxious fans dug in.
"Mercy," Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe eruditely opined. "Get a load of that gut."
Sandoval hit back, claiming to have dropped his body fat from 23 percent to 17 percent during the offseason, per MLB.com's Ian Browne.
In the end, his performance at the plate matters more than his habits at the buffet table. No one asked Kirby Puckett or Tony Gwynn to step on a scale at the height of their powers.
But until he starts hitting consistently and with authority, Sandoval's belly will be the biggest story.
Will the Reds Trade Jay Bruce?
As of this writing, Jay Bruce is on the Cincinnati Reds. Whether that will still be true when the regular season kicks off is an open question.
On Monday, Bruce was nearly shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-team deal also involving the Los Angeles Angels that fell apart because of concerns about the health of a prospect coming back to the Reds, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans.
"I'm a human being. I pay attention to the stuff," Bruce said after the swap went south, per Rosecrans. "It is what it is. It hasn't happened yet. That's the bottom line. I'm here until I'm not. We'll see what happens."
Bruce, who clubbed 26 home runs last year and is entering his age-29 season, would offer a boost to any lineup. And it makes sense for the rebuilding Reds to shed the minimum $13.5 million he's owed over the next two seasons (including a $1 million buyout for 2017).
With the trade to the Jays seemingly dead, the Baltimore Orioles look like another possible suitor. The O's just whiffed on Dexter Fowler, who spurned a three-year offer to return to the Chicago Cubs, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com.
Bruce would be a fine consolation prize. Then again, the Orioles own the third-worst farm system in baseball, per ESPN.com's Keith Law, so a match might be tricky.
Somewhere, however, there's a suitor who can make this happen. And it says here it will be before Opening Day.
Who Will Sign Ian Desmond?
With Fowler and right-hander Yovani Gallardo falling off the board, Ian Desmond is the last qualifying-offer free agent standing in the unemployment line.
The QO matters, make no mistake. The Chicago White Sox were rumored as a possible landing spot for Desmond, but they appear to be going with Tyler Saladino and a Jimmy Rollins contingency plan.
"The draft-pick stuff, certainly the 27th, 28th pick in the draft—whatever it'll wind up being—has real value to us," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post.
More than anything, though, Desmond was hurt by a down contract year. After winning three straight Silver Slugger awards, Desmond posted a career-low .233 average and .290 on-base percentage in 2015.
Still, he clubbed 19 home runs and is just 30 years old. Surely someone is willing to take a flier, draft pick be damned.
The Colorado Rockies are sniffing around, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. That sounds odd on both ends. But the Rockies might need a shortstop if Jose Reyes is suspended under the league's new domestic-violence rules. And Desmond could look to pad his stats and boost his value in the rarefied air of Coors Field.
Will MLB Suspend Aroldis Chapman?
Speaking of MLB's new domestic-violence policy, Aroldis Chapman could soon become the unwilling poster boy.
The Cuban closer allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired a handgun in the garage of his Florida home during an Oct. 30 incident. That derailed a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Reds were able to ship Chapman to the Yankees.
He's in camp with them, though he left Thursday to attend to a "personal matter," per ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews.
The question now is whether Chapman, like Reyes, will miss any games. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, according to Matthews, is likely to delay any suspension until "the first day of the regular season."
So we'll almost certainly see Chapman in the Grapefruit League. We'll find out if baseball's domestic-violence rules have teeth.
And, concurrently, we'll witness how much of a distraction this will cause a Yankees squad that's already toting Alex Rodriguez.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.