Halloween came and went. We stuffed our faces during Thanksgiving and celebrated the season at Christmas. We rang in the New Year and let Valentines go to the wayside. Pretty soon the unofficial holiday of Opening Day will be upon us and there are always a ton of questions as to what the new baseball season will bring us. I only have ten, but they are the ten most important and burning questions going into Spring Training.
1. Does Boston’s offseason put them atop the AL East?
Headlined by the free agent signings of 3B Pablo Sandoval and now an outfielder, Hanley Ramirez, the Red Sox put themselves in a good spot. They have a good influx of young talent with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. Now with Sandoval and Ramirez the Red Sox have a lineup that can rival the entire division and quite possibly the entire American League. A productive David Ortiz and a healthy Dustin Pedroia would do wonders for this team. But with all that money invested in Sandoval and Ramirez what about the pitching staff? That is their biggest weakness, but they think they solved that problem with the trade acquisitions of Wade Miley and Rick Porcello from Arizona and Detroit respectively. The bullpen is still solid with Koji Uehara closing games and chemistry shouldn’t be a problem with Sandoval being added to the mix. He’s one of the most liked players in the game and should succeed with that Green Monster in left to hit off of.
2. Which Miguel Cabrera will Detroit get this season?
They can only hope for the one that won back-to-back MVP awards. The Tigers don’t need the one that won the Triple Crown, but getting the Cabrera who could easily hit 35-40 home runs and drive in over 130 RBI would be a welcoming sight. His .313, 25 HR, 109 RBI season last year was solid, but it’s not what the Tigers need to keep pace with the resurgent Royals, revamped White Sox and competitive Indians on their heels. The Twins have a lot of young talent ready to make an impact and the Tigers roster looks older with every passing year. Cabrera was slowed last year with nagging injuries, which he had offseason ankle surgery to help fix that this year. While playing in 159 games last year his postseason performance fell flat. Look for a bounce back year from the 2-time MVP.
3. Are the Chicago White Sox this years Kansas City Royals?
Besides Boston, Chicago went all in this offseason. They acquired Jeff Samardzija via trade with Oakland. Then they signed closer David Robertson and 1B Adam LaRoche to four and two year deals respectively. Signing OF Melky Cabrera wasn’t a publicized signing, but it’s a big deal for the White Sox who need more production out of the top of their lineup. You put those moves with already established starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have a pretty good staff. Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez get some protection with LaRoche in the middle and when Avisail Garcia is healthy another productive bat in the lineup. Getting Samardzija was a steal and the White Sox should be able to use that to propel them into postseason contention. While Chicago is poised to be what the Royals were last year. Seattle and even Kansas City will have something to say about that this year.
4. What will Mike Trout do for an encore?
His first three years in the big leagues he has finished in the top two in MVP voting. He finally won his first MVP award last year with relative ease. His batting average took a dive because of the strikeout numbers, but look for him to improve on that number this year. For his age he still has a lot of patience at the plate looking for his pitch and when he finds it, sayonara. There is no doubt that he will be a MVP candidate as long as he continues to put up these kinds of numbers (.305, 98 HR, 307 RBI, .945 OPS). Those are his career totals so far. His speed is what kills teams though and I don’t see that going away anytime soon. His run totals are astonishing; 129, 109, 115 in his first three seasons. He’s only 23 and getting better which is scary.
5. Is the AL West the best division in baseball?
You’d hard pressed not to say yes. Consider that the Texas Rangers had a banged up team last year. All those young players they had to call up actually did pretty good all things considered. Put them together with a healthy Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and you have a potent lineup. Yu Darvish now has Yovani Gallardo as a one-two combination in the rotation. Texas should be better. Houston has an abundance of young talent and now they made some shrewd moves to bring in Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis and Jed Lowrie to help mesh with Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and George Springer. Oakland took a few steps backwards, but they still can surprise a lot of folks with their pitching staff. Especially when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin return from injury. Signing Billy Butler and trading for Ben Zobrist helped keep the Athletics in the conversation to be contenders. The Angels finishing last year with the best record in baseball was no fluke. They did so without the likes of Josh Hamilton, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and a fractured bullpen for most of the season. Richards and Hamilton will be healthy hopefully for a full season and now the Angels have Huston Street for an entire year as well. Seattle is going for it this year with the addition of Nelson Cruz in a solid lineup with an established pitching staff that had a phenomenal 2014 season. Put all that together and tell me the AL West isn’t the best division in baseball.
6. The Nationals are all in, but who will finish second?
The favorites are the New York Mets or the Miami Marlins. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies seem to be going in the opposite direction, but crazier things have happened. The Mets and Marlins are favored largely because of their pitching. The Mets have a lot of depth in the starting rotation and the Marlins when they get Jose Fernandez back with boast a good staff with newly acquired Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez at the top. Giancarlo Stanton is the head honcho in Miami and will have help with Dee Gordon setting the table and Mike Morse providing protection. The Mets had a breakout year from Lucas Duda, but they need a healthy David Wright in order to make any headway in the NL East. Figure on the Nationals taking this division, but the Mets and Marlins should provide an interesting race for second place.
7. Will Joe Maddon and Jon Lester be enough to put the Cubs back in the postseason?
Short answer, no it won’t be enough, but they are going in the right direction. If they do manage to get into the postseason this year, that only exceeds expectations into next year; World Series or bust. That isn’t a problem for Maddon who feeds off the expectations. This team is solid in almost every aspect except in the bullpen, but we’ve seen Maddon work his magic in his days in Tampa Bay. Jon Lester immediately give the Cubs an ace who has won multiple titles and solidifies a rotation with a reacquired starter in Jason Hammel, a career year from Jake Arrieta and a promising youngster in Kyle Hendricks. The talent waiting in the minors is oozing with potential. Kris Bryant will be here shortly as will Addison Russell. Jorge Soler will be a starter from day one and Javier Baez should be able to make the adjustments needed to stay in the majors with his power potential. Maybe it happens this year, but there should be no doubt next year.
8. Where do the Dodgers go from here?
It’s a fair question seeing as their last two offseasons have put them in position to win a World Series only to see it taken away from them by the St. Louis Cardinals both times. This one was controlled by new President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman who worked his magic like he did in Tampa Bay only this time with a huge bank vault backing him up. Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick are the new double combo and that will help the overall defense immensely. Getting Yasmani Grandal in the Matt Kemp trade was a great addition as the Dodgers were struggling to get production out of the catcher spot for a while. The bullpen leading up to closer Kenley Jansen is still a big question, but they don’t have many aging veterans to try to fill in those holes this time around. They are certainly contenders still with other trades coming down the line to help with the bullpen problem, but this team must win now or even bigger moves will be coming next offseason to clean house.
9. Will all those offseason trades amount to a postseason berth for the Padres?
Most will say no because we’ve seen it before with the New York Yankees who tried to buy a World Series almost every year after 2001. All that offseason maneuvering only netted the Yankees one title. This doesn’t mean that the Padres will now become the Yankees of the west, but it puts them on the radar. That was the goal of the new ownership group and the new General Manager A.J. Preller who came over from the Texas Rangers. He didn’t gut the deep farm system, but dealt guys who would bring in the likes of Wil Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. Netting Will Middlebrooks who was out of options in Boston and getting a solid catcher in Derek Norris were the less heralded moves, but could prove to be the best considering what the Padres had at third base and catcher respectively. The starting pitching was already solid with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, but you add James Shields late in the offseason and now you are a formidable rotation. Their bullpen still has some holes, but there is no doubt like with the Dodgers that the Padres will make moves to shore that up this season. If they don’t make the postseason it will be labeled as a disappointment, but if they stay in contention all year that will be a big improvement from the last four seasons.
10. Since it’s an odd year, should we expect the Giants to be contenders?
Saving the best for last we should consider the Giants to be a contending team. Winning three out of the last five World Series is no fluke. They have had the pitching to do it and they still do going into 2015. If Matt Cain returns to form with the already established Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson that will only help the Giants have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. When Jake Peavy is your fifth starter that’s saying something. Tim Lincecum will be given opportunities to start I’m sure, but he might be best as a reliever which is sad for a guy who won two Cy Young awards in his career as a starter. The bullpen remains intact and while they don’t have the flashy names, they get the job done night in and night out. The real problems come in the lineup with the departure of Pablo Sandoval. While his impact and importance to this team will never be questioned, the Giants don’t seem to be too distraught about it. Enter Casey McGehee who isn’t like Sandoval in any way shape or form, but is a solid third basemen who makes consistent contact. That bodes well for his new spacious ballpark at AT&T Park. Expect the same out of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence who don’t shy away from the spotlight. That helps the rest of the team be themselves without any big light shining on them when they do something no one has seen before. It’s just how manager Bruce Bochy likes it. Stay under the radar until the postseason begins.