Updating the Hottest Questions of MLB Spring Training Week 2
On Thursday, New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez launched a home run over the left field wall at Steinbrenner Field in the first inning of an exhibition showdown against the Philadelphia Phillies.
And with that one swing, A-Rod exemplified spring training in all its meaningful meaninglessness.
On the one hand, his homer meant nothing. It doesn't count in the record books, and few will note or long remember the outcome of that frivolous 13-4 Phillies win.
On the other hand, Yankees fans are invited to dream about another season of turn-back-the-clock production from Rodriguez, as we'll get into shortly.
The point for now? This is spring, when hopes and questions abound like dandelions in a windswept meadow.
Speaking of questions, let's update a few of the hottest ones from around MLB as Grapefruit and Cactus League action enters its second week.
In addition to the aforementioned polarizing Bronx basher, we've got a snakebitten Los Angeles Dodgers rotation, a Texas infielder-turned-outfielder, a Toronto Blue Jays slugger seeking an extension and Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things.
Slap on some pine tar, knock the doughnut off your bat and dig in when ready.
Will the Los Angeles Dodgers Rotation Fall Apart?
When the Los Angeles Dodgers lost co-ace Zack Greinke to the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks, the plan was to patch the hole with quantity.
The Dodgers inked lefty Scott Kazmir. Then they landed Japanese stud Kenta Maeda. That left them, seemingly, with a surplus of starters.
Now? Not so much.
Lefty Brett Anderson, who accepted the Dodgers' qualifying offer for one year and $15.8 million, is suddenly facing back surgery that will sideline him for three to five months, per ESPN.com's Doug Padilla.
Meanwhile, Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn't thrown off a mound in over a week because of "discomfort" in the surgically repaired shoulder that cost him the entire 2015 season, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com (h/t CBSSports.com).
Then there's Maeda, whose incentive-laden contract was predicated on concerns about his durability.
Yes, Clayton Kershaw still reigns as an ace among aces. Kazmir is a passable No. 2. And the Dodgers have back-of-the-rotation options, including Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger, plus a stockpile of arms in the minors, headlined by 19-year-old Julio Urias.
At the moment, however, a presumed area of depth looks like a possible liability for the three-time defending National League West champs. And Greinke is long gone.
Can Ian Desmond Play Left Field?
Ian Desmond is already the bargain of the offseason after he rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals and ultimately inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
Now, we get to find out if he's a capable—or even passable—left fielder.
That's where the Rangers intend to play Desmond, who has logged 7,938 big league innings at shortstop, 7.1 in right field and exactly zero in left.
"There is no easy position," Desmond said of his new role, per T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. "Every position is a challenge. I understand I am way behind. I am asking as many questions as I can. There is no shame in reaching out and asking, what am I doing?"
Desmond's most important task is bouncing back with the bat. After winning three consecutive Silver Slugger awards and emerging as one of the top offensive middle infielders in the game, he posted an anemic .233/.290/.384 slash line last season, though he did club 19 home runs.
A move to hitter-friendly Arlington could help—provided the position switch doesn't scramble his wiring.
Will the Toronto Blue Jays Extend Edwin Encarnacion?
And so the Toronto Blue Jays, baseball's biggest boppers, can turn their attention to Edwin Encarnacion.
A key cog in an offense that led baseball in runs, home runs, OPS and a host of other categories, Encarnacion is apparently willing to negotiate an extension this spring before he hits the open market after the season.
The Jays and Encarnacion held a "preliminary meeting" Wednesday, according to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi. An important wrinkle, Davidi added, is that if this doesn't get ironed out before the season, Encarnacion will test free agency.
Assuming he replicates the 30-homer, 100-RBI production that has been the norm for him since 2012, the 33-year-old slugger should have suitors lining up in a weak 2016-17 class.
The Jays know this and will likely make a good-faith effort to bring back Encarnacion, given his stated desire to remain north of the border.
These deals don't always work out, and this is a case where the player might be wise to bide his time. But, in contrast to the Bautista impasse, this feels like a negotiation that's headed in the right direction.
Will Alex Rodriguez Keep Raking?
We already talked about A-Rod's meaningful/meaningless home run. Now, the bigger question: Can baseball's most controversial active player keep the mojo going?
Lest you forget, Rodriguez started 138 games last season for the Yankees. He hit 33 home runs, his highest total since 2008. And he would have made the All-Star team if he wasn't, well, A-Rod.
Now, entering his age-40 season with more than 3,000 hits and 687 career home runs, he has a chance to continue his assault on history.
Can he do it? That exhibition dinger provides some early optimism if you're on Team A-Rod. On the other hand, he hit just .216 in the second half of 2015 and appeared to lose steam faster than a cup of chamomile in the Arctic Circle.
However, as ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews noted, "The hope is that whatever ailed Rodriguez at the end of last season was cured by his coming to camp this year without the stigma of the longest drug-related suspension in baseball history and by the gradual repair of relations among A-Rod, the league and his own team."
A-Rod will always be A-Rod, an enigma soaked in the stain of the steroid era. But he's also, even at this stage of his career, a gifted ballplayer. If the Yankees and skipper Joe Girardi manage his innings carefully and use him exclusively as a designated hitter, it's more than possible Rodriguez could eclipse 30 dingers again.
How meaningful will that be for the Yankees and especially the game? That's a thornier question.
Can Mike Trout Actually Get Better?
Hey, not sure if you've heard, but Mike Trout is good at hitting baseballs. Catching them, too.
In his first exhibition action Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder went 3-for-3 and made a diving grab in the field.
A strong spring showing is nothing new for Trout, a career .388 hitter in the Cactus League.
"Last year he led off the spring with a homer," Halos pitcher Garrett Richards said, per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. "Guys who have been around here a little bit just kind of laugh about it, because when he does things like this it's just kind of like, 'There he goes again.'"
Still, it's worth asking if Trout—arguably the best all-around player in the game—can get better. He's just 24 years old, after all, an age when many future stars are scarcely rounding into form. And he's already got a Rookie of the Year and MVP trophy in his case.
In fact, the idea of Trout morphing from great to otherworldly feels more like an inevitability than a possibility.
The only hang-up could be the team the Angels have constructed around him.
Veteran Albert Pujols is recovering from offseason foot surgery, and it's "unclear" whether he'll be ready to start the season, per Steve Fryer of the Orange County Register.
After that, Los Angeles is relying on a cast of serviceable but uninspiring names like Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron to protect its franchise player.
Trout may well rise above. He's Trout, after all. But if the Angels find themselves floundering in the American League West come summer, the intentional walks could begin to pile up, and that seemingly insane trade talk might even resurface.
All statistics current as of March 3 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.