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. Will Mike Trout and Bryce Harper not have MVP seasons?
Harper was the unanimous choice for MVP last year and Trout finished second for the third time in the last four seasons. Pretty insane to think that Trout could have had four MVP awards right now. This will be the trend going forward as both players are arguably the faces of baseball right now. The scary thing is that they technically aren’t in the prime of their careers yet. If anyone thinks that these two won’t be at least in the top three of MVP voting for the foreseeable future, please tell me who else could possibly do that if these two continue to put up amazing seasons.
2. Can the Kansas City Royals repeat as World Series champions?
They have represented the American League the last two seasons now. Winning it all this past year in dominating fashion has many believing they can certainly do it again and why wouldn’t they? The core has remained in Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. They brought back Alex Gordon and signed Ian Kennedy to bolster their rotation. Their bullpen hasn’t changed and the fan base is craving for more banners to be raised at Kauffman Stadium. Their division isn’t getting any easier with Cleveland and Minnesota improving rapidly. Chicago and Detroit can surprise some this year, but too many questions remain on the pitching side for them to remain competitive. There are a few others, but Kansas City remains atop until someone else can knock them off.
3. It’s an even year, so will the San Francisco Giants win another title?
History says that they should win another title. Reason being is that they won in 2010, ’12 and ’14. Until history changes can you really count them out? Adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to an already stacked starting rotation just isn’t fair for the rest of the National League. Adding Denard Span for the outfield was a smart move and if they can have Hunter Pence healthy for an entire year, they will certainly stay in contention with the Dodgers for the division title. All the kidding aside about it being an even year, you can’t count out the Giants this year.
4. The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are the talk of the AL West, but can they sustain that early success?
Not a single person had both Houston and Texas in the playoffs last year. Of course, no one expected the Rangers to go and acquire Cole Hamels from Philadelphia and Houston to get Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez. The Astros young talent began to bloom at the right time and they nearly beat the Kansas City Royals to clinch a spot in the Championship Series. Texas had a blistering stretch run through the summer and held of the rival Angels on the last day of the season to clinch their spot in the postseason. Both teams stayed intact with Houston acquiring a legitimate closer in Ken Giles from the Phillies during the offseason. Texas hopes their youngsters can continue to emerge with the veterans they have in place for a longer run towards the World Series. The American League West will be interesting to watch if someone can get past Texas and Houston.
5. Will the Arizona Diamondbacks be like the 2015 San Diego Padres?
The Padres were the talk of baseball last year will all of the flurry of moves they made and they finished a dismal 74-88 last year in the NL West. Arizona hopes that doesn’t happen to them and on paper it shouldn’t because they were more calculated in their offseason spending spree. Getting Zack Greinke away from the rival Dodgers was a modern day coup for them and they followed that with the acquisition of Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves. Pairing those two at the top of the rotation with one of the best offenses in the National League can’t be a bad thing. Signing Tyler Clippard to shore up their late inning relief and trading for Jean Segura brings a superb shortstop who can solidify their defense up the middle. They made two big splashy moves, but they were smart and not an example of overreaching for a franchise trying to get back into contention.
6. The AL East was Toronto’s last year, but will it be a toss up this year?
Toronto lost David Price who signed a massive contract with the rival Boston Red Sox. Before that, Boston traded for Craig Kimbrel to be their closer. New York acquired Starlin Castro from the Cubs and Baltimore kept Chris Davis and Matt Wieters in house. Tampa Bay made some shrewd moves, but their pitching is still among the best in this division that is starving for more. Essentially it could be a quagmire this year with the Blue Jays having the best offense in baseball and every other team in the division, aside from Tampa Bay able to match them on any given day. Boston is the sexy pick to win the division this year, but until Toronto shows that their pitching can recover from the loss of David Price they should be considered the favorites. New York and Baltimore have a lot more question marks about their pitching and with that it leaves the Tampa Bay Rays flying under the radar to possibly surprise some folks. A lot can happen in a seven month season, but right now this division will certainly be up for grabs for a good majority of it.
7. Is the NL Central the best division in baseball?
Three teams made the playoffs in the central last year. That trend probably won’t change this year given that the NL East only has two teams that could contend and the NL West with two, possibly three if Arizona lives up to their potential. St. Louis at some point should start to regress, but that pitching staff is among the best in baseball. Chicago only got better with Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist now aboard. Pittsburgh has one of the deepest rosters in baseball and they don’t seem to miss a beat if one player goes down to injury. Cincinnati and Milwaukee are in rebuilding mode, but the trend in baseball for that means you’ll be back in the mix at a minimum two year time limit. Last year I thought the AL West was the best, but clearly the NL Central is until those three teams I mentioned don’t win 90 games or more.
8. Can the New York Mets remain atop the NL East?
The only team at their heels are the Washington Nationals and there is no guarantee that they will respond this year to Dusty Baker. He is a great manager, but it will take another year to get the Nationals out of their recent funk. The Miami Marlins hiring Don Mattingly as their manager is a good sign, but we said that before when they hired Ozzie Guillen. That doesn’t mean Mattingly is a bad choice, just that the franchise has a long history of disfunction. Atlanta and Philadelphia know that they won’t be considered contenders this year and are looking forward to the 2017 season to breakout. The Mets are clearly the favorites and with a deep pitching staff like theirs, they shouldn’t have a lot to worry about other than complacency. Terry Collins does a good job to avoid that in his past managerial jobs. This time coming so close to a World Series title could change the Mets outlook and how much more they have to work on if they want that trophy for themselves.
9. Who will be the surprise team this season?
We’ve mentioned the Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. Those two are certainly worthy of being a surprise team, but you could argue that it’s expected for them to contend this year. What about the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays? Those four have a lot going for them. Minnesota could certainly build off their solid footing in the AL Central. Detroit fell down to earth, but a bounce back season is certainly in the cards with a healthy Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The Angels were in the race up to the last day of the regular season. Having the best player in baseball keeps them in the fold. Tampa Bay’s pitching is making a lot of teams envious and everyone hopes that they don’t stay in contention so they could possibly make deals for that pitching wealth. Lots of teams could surprise a lot of people this year, but the list will probably remain relatively short.
10. Does Major League Baseball have a problem with teams tanking?
It’s being brought up with the Philadelphia Phillies getting the first pick for this years draft. They have one of the largest payrolls in baseball and some are accusing them of tanking this past season to get the pick. Well, I hope those same people were brining it up with the Houston Astros who had the number one pick from 2012-14. Having the number one pick doesn’t guarantee success either. There’s plenty of risk involved with having the first pick. Philadelphia waited far too long to start the rebuilding process and they are paying for it now. It’s time to see if they can get out of it and this past offseason they have done a pretty good job at that by rebuilding a farm system into one of the best in baseball. My definition of a team tanking in baseball is one that doesn’t do much in free agency and ends up squandering their farm system for short term solutions. If my memory serves me right, there really aren’t any teams that do both of those things. They’ve either done one or the other, not both. The next collective bargaining agreement might address this supposed issue, but if the current rules don’t change, then why are we even having this conversation if you didn’t change the rules when you had the chance to?