1 Burning Question for Yankees, Dodgers and Every Other MLB Team

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 17, 2020

1 Burning Question for Yankees, Dodgers and Every Other MLB Team

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    As teams across Major League Baseball prepare for the grind of a 162-game season, plenty of questions need answers.

    Rather than list every one of them, we narrowed down the biggest question facing each of MLB's 30 teams. These cover such things as how clubs will resolve roster issues, what can be expected from certain players and broader issues concerning teams' paths to relevance or contention.

    We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Which Prospects Will Impact 2020?

    Though the Baltimore Orioles are likely in for a third straight 100-loss season, it shouldn't be a disaster. They're due to assimilate some of the best prospects from their 12th-ranked farm system. The only questions are who and when.

    Adley Rutschman, a catcher who ranks as MLB.com's No. 4 prospect, probably won't debut this year. However, the O's are set to begin the season with Austin Hays in center field. At some point, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna should join him.

              

    Boston Red Sox: Are They Ready for Life After Mookie Betts and David Price?

    Mookie Betts and David Price are gone, and the Boston Red Sox are worse for it. This is especially true now that Alex Verdugo, who was Boston's big prize in the deal that sent Betts and Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day because of a lingering back injury.

    Kevin Pillar, who just came aboard Friday on a $4.3 million deal, will likely take Betts' place in right field. Sans Price, the Red Sox might fill their rotation opening with Matt Hall, Hector Velazquez or even right-handed prospect Mike Shawaryn. But in either case, all the Red Sox will be doing is putting warm bodies in spaces formerly occupied by stars.

                          

    New York Yankees: Who's Filling in for James Paxton?

    With Gerrit Cole signed to a $324 million deal and Luis Severino healthy after an injury-marred 2019, the New York Yankees began the year with a star-studded rotation. But it lost one when the team announced James Paxton will be out three to four months after spinal surgery.

    Fellow left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who's recovered from Tommy John surgery, has first dibs on Paxton's spot. But he might be pushed by right-handers Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga and Deivi Garcia, the latter of whom is MLB.com's No. 92 prospect.

              

    Tampa Bay Rays: Do They Have the Bats to Compete with the AL's Elite?

    The Tampa Bay Rays look well equipped to repeat or even improve on their 96-win surge from last season. They have plenty of talented arms both in their rotation and bullpen, and their offense is built upon depth and versatility.

    But for the Rays to be elite, their offense may have to keep up with the run-scoring machines of the Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. That'll only happen if they get more than they bargained for from a handful of stars, including newcomers Hunter Renfroe and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.

                           

    Toronto Blue Jays: What Can They Expect from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.?

    For the Toronto Blue Jays, there was perhaps no bigger storyline on the eve of 2019 than the impending arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He debuted amid extraordinary hype in April, yet he arguably disappointed with a modest .772 OPS with poor defense at third base.

    If the Blue Jays are going to take a big first step out of their rebuild in 2020, it would help if Guerrero lived up to his billing as a once-in-a-generation hitter. Surely, it can't hurt that he got in better shape over the offseason. Otherwise, the Blue Jays can only hope for the best.

American League Central

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: Will Any of Their Young Hurlers Emerge?

    The Chicago White Sox remade themselves over the winter. But in so doing, they focused on their offense by re-signing Jose Abreu, signing Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion, trading for Nomar Mazara and extending top prospect Luis Robert.

    Otherwise, a rotation that posted a 5.30 ERA last year only got Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. They'll help, but the White Sox won't have a functional rotation unless Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech or, when healthy, Carlos Rodon fulfill their potential.

            

    Cleveland Indians: Is Francisco Lindor on Borrowed Time?

    All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is still a member of the Cleveland Indians, and they're acting like that'll be the case for a while. As manager Terry Francona said on MLB Network Radio in January: "I can guarantee you we're not trying to trade Lindor."

    Yet Lindor has been a regular in trade rumors in part because he's gotten expensive (he'll make $17.5 million in 2020), and in part because his free agency is looming after 2021. The only question is whether the Indians will trade him sooner or later.

                 

    Detroit Tigers: When Will Casey Mize Be Ready?

    Like the Orioles, the Detroit Tigers are likely in for yet another dismal season. But they also have some top prospects who are nearing their major league debuts, and none carries as much promise as right-hander Casey Mize. 

    The 22-year-old was Detroit's No. 1 pick in 2018. He ranks as MLB.com's No. 7 prospect after he dominated with a 2.55 ERA and 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors last season. He almost certainly won't break camp with the Tigers, but the clock on his promotion is ticking.

                   

    Kansas City Royals: Do They Have Any Hidden Gems?

    The Kansas City Royals also have exciting prospects in the wings, including pitchers Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar. Yet an arguably more interesting aspect of their upcoming season involves the 20-something former prospects on their roster.

    Namely, third baseman Maikel Franco (27 years old), outfielders Bubba Starling (27) and Brett Phillips (25) and right-hander Chance Adams (25). If any of those four can make like Jorge Soler did last year and pull off a long-awaited star turn, both the Royals' present and future will look that much brighter.

                       

    Minnesota Twins: What Can They Expect from Byron Buxton?

    It must be a year ending in a number, because the Minnesota Twins are once again hoping this will be the season Byron Buxton becomes a superstar. He has all five tools for the task, yet the former No. 1 overall prospect is as big of an enigma as ever.

    It's still not clear how far along Buxton is in his recovery from shoulder surgery. And even if he is ready to go for Opening Day, there's still the matter of whether he'll fulfill his MVP-caliber upside or if he'll remain prone to both injuries and offensive slumps.

American League West

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: Now What?

    It's been a rough couple of months for the Houston Astros. They lost the World Series last October and are Public Enemy No. 1 because of a sign-stealing scandal that won't go away. If anything, they're only making it worse.

    So where do the Astros go from here? Probably not back into the good graces of their peers or the public. Those ships have sailed. So, they might as well own being the bad guy and aim to prove they don't need to steal signs to be one of Major League Baseball's best teams.

                

    Los Angeles Angels: What Can They Expect from Dylan Bundy?

    Dylan Bundy was a top prospect for the Orioles once upon a time, but that was before he had Tommy John surgery and got traded to the Los Angeles Angels after a string of disappointing seasons. 

    The Angels are hoping Bundy can help cure a rotation that was baseball's worst in 2019. They could be on to something, as his peripherals indicate he was unlucky in Baltimore. They can also hope that the right tweaks might unlock the full potential of his fastball/slider/changeup combination.

             

    Oakland Athletics: What Can They Expect from Khris Davis?

    The Oakland Athletics somehow won 97 games in 2019 even though one of their best hitters fell apart. After averaging an .857 OPS and 44 home runs through his first three seasons with Oakland, Khris Davis mustered only a .679 OPS and 23 homers last season.

    In fairness, Davis was banged up for much of the year. If he's 100 percent healthy, he might revert to his old form and lead the A's to yet another stellar season. If not, they might have to succeed in spite of him again.

               

    Seattle Mariners: Can They Put a Core Together?

    The Seattle Mariners won't be good this year, but they might at least put themselves in a position to contend in future seasons. They have one of baseball's best farm systems, plus a handful of 20-somethings waiting to show they belong in the majors.

    Specifically, shortstop J.P. Crawford (25 years old), second baseman Shed Long Jr. (24), first baseman Evan White (23), outfielder Kyle Lewis (24) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (23) are due to break camp with Seattle. If all five find their footing in the majors, the Mariners will have a solid foundation.

                     

    Texas Rangers: What Can They Expect from Corey Kluber?

    Given their subpar offense, the Texas Rangers will probably have to pitch their way into contention this year. Fortunately for them, their rotation of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles looks darn good on paper.

    However, much depends on what Kluber is. Even if he's healthy after making only seven starts for the Indians in 2019 before he broke his arm in May, he still has to overcome his diminishing velocity and peripherals. It's up to him to prove he's not over the hill.

National League East

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    Atlanta Braves: Are They Ready for Life After Josh Donaldson?

    Though the Atlanta Braves were plenty active during the offseason, they suffered a blow when they lost Josh Donaldson to free agency in January. He was one of the National League's best players in 2019 by way of his outstanding production on offense and defense.

    Depending on how the duo plays this spring, the task of replacing Donaldson at third base will fall to Johan Camargo or Austin Riley. Regardless of how that pans out, the Braves might need newcomer Marcell Ozuna to account for Donaldson's absence in the middle of their lineup. In any case, nothing is certain.

                      

    Miami Marlins: Which Prospects Will Impact 2020?

    The Miami Marlins are yet another team that might redeem an otherwise dreary season by graduating a bunch of talented prospects to the majors. Indeed, their farm system is one of baseball's best.

    It's possible that shortstop Jazz Chisholm and right fielder JJ Bleday will force their way to the majors this year. If not them, the Marlins at least figure to hear from right-handers Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera and outfielders Jesus Sanchez and Monte Harrison. The only unknown is when.

               

    New York Mets: What Can They Expect from Their Bullpen?

    The New York Mets were good enough to win 86 games last season and would have been even better if their bullpen hadn't been a near-constant problem. All told, Mets relievers were worth just 1.0 WAR in 2019, per Baseball Reference (rWAR).

    And yet the Mets can have high hopes for their bullpen this year. All they need is for former All-Stars Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances to be healthier and more consistent than they were in 2019. If they are, New York's pen could emerge as one of baseball's best.

              

    Philadelphia Phillies: Can Joe Girardi Be a Difference-Maker?

    Though the Philadelphia Phillies are slated to have the most expensive roster in the NL East this year, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system nonetheless projects them for a fourth-place finish. That's not gospel, but it does get at the general volatility of the Phillies roster.

    The additions of Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius will help, but the Phillies will need new manager Joe Girardi to get more out of their incumbents than Gabe Kapler did. It can only help that this isn't Girardi's first rodeo with an expensive, star-studded roster.

                  

    Washington Nationals: Are They Ready for Life After Anthony Rendon?

    As the Braves look to move on from Donaldson, the Washington Nationals are in for no less of a challenge in moving on from Anthony Rendon. The Nats waved goodbye to a 1.010 OPS, 34 home runs and slick defense at third base when he accepted a seven-year, $245 million contract from the Angels.

    Asdrubal Cabrera seems like the favorite to fill Rendon's shoes at the hot corner. But that could change if Carter Kieboom, who's MLB.com's No. 21 prospect, seizes the position with a hot spring. It might also not be too late for a blockbuster trade for Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Is Kris Bryant on Borrowed Time?

    When Kris Bryant arrived for spring training Saturday, he immediately clarified for reporters that he held no ill will toward the Chicago Cubs for winning his service-time grievance or for putting him on the trading block over the winter. 

    But while there's no hurry for the Cubs to trade Bryant, who'll be a free agent after 2021, moving his $18.6 million salary would get them under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold. In theory, trading him is also a means to a much-needed influx of young talent. So, he might not want to get too comfortable.

                

    Cincinnati Reds: How Does Their Offense Fit Together?

    Following the additions of Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama in free agency, the Cincinnati Reds can look forward to a more effective offense than the one they had in 2019. To wit, only three National League clubs scored fewer runs than they did.

    However, it's not clear how they'll line up. The Reds must determine if either Eugenio Suarez or Nick Senzel is healthy enough to play third base, as both are recovering from shoulder surgery. They also need to figure out how five capable outfielders—Castellanos, Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino and Phillip Ervin—will share three spots.

                    

    Milwaukee Brewers: Where Will Ryan Braun Play?

    Considering how much turnover they had during the winter, the Milwaukee Brewers will have a different look in 2020. The season may also bring a new role for veteran slugger Ryan Braun, who's been tasked with handling more versatility on defense.

    Hypothetically, Braun could platoon with Eric Sogard at third base and Justin Smoak at first base. But if he's not up to par at either position on defense, he might not be able to fall back on a regular gig in left field. After all, the Brewers didn't sign Avisail Garcia so he could be a $20 million backup.

               

    Pittsburgh Pirates: What Difference Can Their New Leaders Make?

    The Pittsburgh Pirates' dreadful 93-loss season in 2019 did have major consequences. They carried out a top-to-bottom leadership change, notably through hires of Ben Cherington as their general manager and Derek Shelton as their manager.

    However, the Pirates didn't do much to overhaul their roster. It's largely the same group that had trouble winning games last season, not to mention getting along. If their new leaders can't cultivate a healthier clubhouse and more wins, this season could be just as ugly as the last one.

                    

    St. Louis Cardinals: Is It Too Late to Add a Big Bat?

    Though it didn't stop them from winning 91 games or the NL Central title, the St. Louis Cardinals were often undermined by their below-average offense in 2019. And it did them in during the National League Championship Series, in which they scored only six runs in four games.

    But rather than remake their offense, the Cardinals made it worse by failing to retain Ozuna and adding nobody of consequence. They might want to reinvigorate their interest in Arenado, lest they head into 2020 with an offense that's doomed to fail.

National League West

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Who's in Their Starting Rotation?

    Barring injury, left-handers Madison Bumgarner and Robbie Ray will occupy the top two slots in the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting rotation. Otherwise, there's much to be determined this spring.

    Veteran righty Mike Leake might not be ready for Opening Day because of a fracture in his left wrist. If he is, then the D-backs will have to choose between righties Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen for the final two spots in their rotation. Because all three have talent, that's a classic case of a good problem to have.

                  

    Colorado Rockies: Is Nolan Arenado on Borrowed Time?

    More so than Lindor or Bryant, a trade of Arenado seems inevitable. Things between him and the Colorado Rockies got testy in January. More recently, neither Arenado (see here) nor general manager Jeff Bridich (here) has wanted to talk too much about what happened.

    Because it includes $234 million, a no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2021, Arenado's contract is a massive hurdle in the way of a deal. But unless the Rockies can get back on track after losing 91 games in 2019, he may go from merely hinting he wants out to demanding it.

                  

    Los Angeles Dodgers: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    In the wake of their trades for Mookie Betts, David Price and Brusdar Graterol, the Los Angeles Dodgers are going into 2020 as the National League's apex predator. If all goes according to plan, they might even exceed the 106 games they won last season.

    Still, it's possible to find potential pitfalls. Price, 34, and fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw, 31, both come with age and durability questions. A hole will materialize at second base if Gavin Lux, who is MLB.com's No. 2 prospect, isn't ready for his close-up. Such things could ensure the Dodgers' season isn't free of hardship.

              

    San Diego Padres: What Can They Expect from Their Big-Money Guys?

    The San Diego Padres are hoping 2020 will be their first winning season since 2010. They have plenty going for them in this respect, including a reservoir of young talent that hasn't yet been drained. For instance, top-ranked lefty MacKenzie Gore should debut soon.

    But for the Padres to go anywhere this season, nothing would help more than if Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers live up to the $75.5 million they're due. A repeat of the 2.4 rWAR they combined for last season won't cut it. The Padres will need them to at least triple that.

                       

    San Francisco Giants: When Will Joey Bart Be Ready?

    Though the San Francisco Giants surpassed expectations by winning 77 games last year, a fall back to earth seems inevitable following the departures of Bumgarner and future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy.

    On the bright side, top prospect Joey Bart should make his major league debut in 2020. There's no way he'll break camp with the Giants, but he could leap directly from Double-A to the majors later in the summer. When he does, Buster Posey's heir at catcher will have arrived.

                     

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Payroll and salary data courtesy of Roster Resource, via FanGraphs.