Believe it or not, we’re only a little more than one month away from Spring Training. The onset of the new season continues to draw near, and at a rapid rate. Yet even with rosters beginning to manifest, goals taking a clearer scope and aspirations running high, there is still plenty to be sorted out this offseason.
There’s at least one question each club is likely asking itself before beginning camp. MLB.com canvassed its 30 beat reporters to address those inquiries.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
BLUE JAYS: Has Russell Martin played his final game in a Blue Jays uniform?
Martin has been on the trading block for months and yet his name barely gets mentioned in rumors. His $20 million salary isn’t helping matters, but the Blue Jays are willing to eat a large chunk to facilitate a deal. The 35-year-old was never going to be a primary target for an opposing team but as catchers continue to go off the board, some organizations will be left looking for a competent back-up/platoon. The Blue Jays might be starting to feel a time crunch because ideally there will be a resolution one way or the other before the start of Spring Training so the pitching staff can be prepared accordingly.
Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and Luke Maile offer alternatives behind the plate and Martin should still have enough left in the tank to help a contending team in a part-time role. The sooner this situation gets resolved the better it will be for everyone involved, especially since Martin was benched for all but two games last September.
ORIOLES: To what extent will the O’s address their current roster?
The Orioles’ new regime has made no secret that they don’t expect to compete in 2019. New executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has repeatedly called their rebuild a process “with no shortcuts,” while planning to focus heavily in the months to come on behind-the-scenes hires and improving through the Draft.
But with their priorities set so squarely on the future, what about this year’s team? No one expects the O’s to make any major splashes in free agency, but the current roster remains full of significant holes at key positions. None more so than in the rotation, which features just three established big league starters, all coming off career-worst seasons. Questions also abound at catcher, in the outfield, and in the bullpen.
RAYS: Will the Rays add an arm to the back end of the bullpen?
With the unique way the Rays utilize their bullpen, it becomes even more important for Tampa Bay to have a lot of quality arms available. The Rays return most of the bullpen that ranked sixth in all of baseball last season with a 3.80 ERA, but are losing free agent Sergio Romo and his team-leading 25 saves. Romo played a key role in the club’s utilization of an opener last season, but the 35-year old also served as manager Kevin Cash’s most reliable option in the ninth inning due to his late-game experience. Now that Romo is no longer with the team, the Rays will be looking into ways to improve the back end of the bullpen before pitchers and catchers are set to report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for Spring Training on Feb. 13.
Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe could all get opportunities to close next season, but the trio lacks experience in such situations, combining for just nine career saves. The Rays won’t shell out top money for a marquee free agent arm, but they will be looking for ways to add a veteran reliever, preferably one that has experience in close game situations. The Rays, however, could elect to wait and see what prospects Ian Gibaut and Colin Poche, who shined in Triple-A Durham last season, bring to the table during Spring Training before ultimately making any decision on a free agent.
Red Sox: Who is the closer?
For a team that is otherwise loaded, it is somewhat surprising the Red Sox have no idea at this point who their closer will be in 2019 than they did the day after the World Series ended. This could be by design, as president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is waiting to see if the market can come down for an established closer, be it Craig Kimbrel or someone else.
David Robertson, Zach Britton, Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia and Andrew Miller are among the top late-inning arms who have already found new homes in free agency. But Dombrowski still has options beyond Kimbrel, who has yet to find a deal to his liking. Perhaps most intriguing among them is Adam Ottavino, who had a tremendous 2018 season in Colorado. Cody Allen, who struggled last season after some strong years with the Indians, is still out there. The other option for the Red Sox would be to promote an internal candidate. Matt Barnes is the top choice there after notching 96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings last year for a 14 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio. If Barnes is promoted, the Red Sox would likely need to add a setup man from outside the organization.
YANKEES: Can they deal Sonny Gray?
In the non-Manny Machado department, the Yankees would love to resolve Gray’s situation before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13. General manager Brian Cashman candidly said in October that he planned to “relocate” Gray to a different club, believing that the right-hander’s performance will not live up to expectations in New York.
Eleven clubs showed interest in the right-hander, including the Braves, Brewers, Mariners, Padres and Reds, but the Yanks’ lofty asking price has kept a deal from being reached. Cashman also said that CC Sabathia‘s December health scare halted negotiations, and that it remains possible Gray could open the spring or the regular season in pinstripes. More likely, someone will eventually snap up Gray, who is eligible for free agency after 2019.
IndiaNS: Will the Tribe move Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer?
After acquiring catcher Kevin Plawecki on Sunday, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the organization hopes to add a few more players over the next couple of weeks. But the big question remains: Will Kluber or Bauer be involved in any trade?
Antonetti said he has never felt a need to trade either of the starting pitchers, but given the Indians’ talent, he does not expect the phone calls from other teams to end. Keeping both Kluber and Bauer obviously keeps the team’s rotation as strong as possible, but dealing either arm could address some areas of need elsewhere on the roster.
The Indians could use at least one quality starting outfielder, relievers and/or another big bat in the middle of their lineup. Moving a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner like Kluber or a hurler coming off a career season like Bauer would demand a large return. This could be Cleveland’s easiest and quickest way to gain strength throughout the roster. But is the team willing to take that hit on its rotation?
If not, they will need to find ways — like making other trades or signing a free agent — to acquire Major League talent. Antonetti said that conversations around the league have “intensified” since the New Year began, so more moves could be soon to come. Whether those include Kluber’s or Bauer’s name remains to be seen.
ROYALS: The bullpen remains a big question mark
As the Royals draw nearer to Spring Training next month, they will have open competition for the right-field spot, and perhaps a spot or two in the rotation. The big question that needs to be answered before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12 is if they can still improve the weakest part of the 2018 team: the bullpen.
General manager Dayton Moore said he believes part of the solution to improving the bullpen will come from whomever doesn’t make the rotation — perhaps someone like Jorge Lopez, Heath Fillmyer, Eric Skoglund or Glenn Sparkman transitions to the bullpen. The Royals re-signed Wily Peralta, who could close, but outside of Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill, the Royals are a bit short on setup men. Look for Moore and his staff to find some free-agent bargains to help out.
TIGERS: Will Nicholas Castellanos be traded this offseason?
With Castellanos entering his contract year and The Tigers still in the midst of a rebuild, the slugging right fielder’s days in Detroit are clearly numbered. With a slow free-agent market clogging up potential trade discussions, however, it’s unclear whether The Tigers can trade him by Spring Training for the prospect package they want.
Castellanos is The Tigers’ best chance left to restock the farm system with more quality prospects, and general manager Al Avila is putting a correspondingly high price on Castellanos, who is up for arbitration one more time this month. If Detroit deals Castellanos in the coming weeks, it’ll have a big void to fill in right field as well as the middle of the lineup, though Miguel Cabrera‘s return from an injury-shortened season will help on the latter. If The Tigers hold onto Castellanos, they’ll put him back on the trade market in the summer ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline at the end of July.
TWINS: Who will be Minnesota’s closer?
After both David Robertson and Zach Britton inked deals in the last several days, Minnesota is still in the market for a proven relief arm that might plug in at closer. While the Twins are reportedly nearing a deal with former Angels reliever Blake Parker and have internal options for the back end of the bullpen in Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Addison Reed and perhaps Fernando Romero, there’s still no clear anchor to a bullpen that finished 22nd in the Majors with a 4.45 ERA in 2018.
The Twins likely won’t land Adam Ottavino or Craig Kimbrel, but there are still several options on the market with closing experience, including Brad Brach, who struggled to begin 2018 with the Orioles but recorded a 1.52 ERA with the Braves following a midseason trade. Cody Allen, a former division rival, could also be a bounceback candidate following a difficult 2018 campaign.
WHITE SOX: Can they land the big fish?
The White Sox have serious interest in outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado, the two premium free agents. The team’s rebuild is not at its finishing point, when the White Sox would be looking for players of this ilk, but general manager Rick Hahn has talked about being opportunistic in the open market in knowing his team has to strike when these sort of high-end talents become available.
There’s payroll flexibility for the White Sox to sign Harper and Machado, although the White Sox currently seem more involved with Machado, who visited the team the Monday after the Winter Meetings. The White Sox have made other offseason moves to improve the team, but Hahn has talked about the team being able to wait for an elite player such as these two to decide.
ANGELS: How should the Halos handle Shohei Ohtani?
Before Spring Training, the Angels must create a hitting plan for Ohtani, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Oct. 1, and will be limited to designated hitter duty in 2019. General manager Billy Eppler has been hesitant to give a timeline on when Ohtani will return to action, but manager Brad Ausmus said at the Winter Meetings he doesn’t expect Ohtani to be ready for the start of the regular season.
Ohtani, the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year, is scheduled to meet with Dr. Neal ElAttrache in late January, which will help the Angels get a better sense of Ohtani’s progress before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. Ohtani figures to get plenty of playing time at DH once he’s healthy, but the Angels have to manage his workload because he’ll also be rehabbing his elbow to return to pitching in 2020. It’s a unique situation and the Angels know how important Ohtani is to them in both the short term and the long term.
ASTROS: What will the rotation look like beyond Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh?
The Astros have a wealth of young pitching that they love, beginning with top prospect Forrest Whitley. He’s not going to be in the rotation to start the year, though. That’s more likely to be hard-throwing Josh James and/or lefty Framber Valdez, who showed promise last year when he was in the strike zone. Beyond that, there’s up-and-coming prospects Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas.
The Astros envision 2019 as perhaps their best last chance to try to win another championship because they have a young offensive core still intact, and Verlander, Cole and McHugh are in the final year of their contracts. That’s why adding another veteran starting pitcher to slide into the rotation is so tantamount. The Astros say they would be OK with a rotation of Verlander, Cole, McHugh, James and Valdez, but having one youngster at the end of the rotation and another veteran arm between now and the start of camp would be ideal.
ATHLETICS: Who will be behind the plate?
The December signing of veteran backstop Chris Herrmann to a one-year deal marked progress in the A’s push for depth behind the plate, but they still seek a full-timer. Last year, they held out until mid-March to find one, snagging Jonathan Lucroy on a one-year, $6.5 million deal. Lucroy is already off the board this time around, having latched on with the Angels, but options remain for the patient A’s.
Matt Wieters is still out there, and so are Devin Mesoraco and Martin Maldonado. The A’s have also not ruled out a scenario in which they stand pat and have Herrmann platoon with Josh Phegley when the season opens. Chances are, though, they get their upgrade as they look to build upon an impressive 97-win campaign.
MARINERS: Who’ll replace Edwin Diaz as closer?
While general manager Jerry Dipoto has made a bundle of moves this winter, the one area that remains in flux is the back end of the bullpen. Seattle traded away Edwin Diaz, Alex Colome and Juan Nicasio and released Nick Vincent, who have 217 career saves between them. Of the current group of relievers, the only ones who’ve ever saved a Major League game are Anthony Swarzak (six) and Shawn Armstrong (one).
Dipoto’s primary goal has been landing younger players with long-term control, but he’s still looking to add a veteran arm or two through free agency to help bridge the gap in this year’s bullpen. Though the Mariners aren’t in line for a top-end closer, they’ll look to add to their mix and then see who steps up when given the opportunity.
RANGERS: How much more are they willing to trade?
After trading Jurickson Profar, the Rangers have to decide how far they are willing to go in trading key players for young pitching that won’t be ready this year. Among the candidates who could be dealt are starter Mike Minor, reliever Jose Leclerc and outfielder Nomar Mazara.
All three should be a big part of the Rangers 2019 team. But the Rangers have shown that rebuilding their Minor League inventory of young pitching — especially starters — is their No. 1 priority this off-season. The Phillies have shown interest in Minor, the Mets like Leclerc and the Braves are looking for outfield help. All three teams have had trade discussions with the Rangers this offseason.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
BRAVES: Who will fill the outfield void?
Unless the Braves want to gamble on Adam Duvall as an everyday player, they must fill the outfield void created by Nick Markakis‘ presence on the free agent market. As long as A.J. Pollock‘s ask remains above Atlanta’s comfort level (in both years and dollars), Markakis seemingly stands as the most likely free-agent option. But filling this need via trade seems more likely when you account for Markakis’ second half regression and the resulting hesitance to give him a multi-year guarantee.
Along with having the necessity to have a warm body round out their outfield trio, the Braves could use another capable bat to place behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman in their lineup. Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos is a fit from an offensive perspective, but you have to wonder if Ender Inciarte‘s great range is significant enough to minimize Castellanos’ defensive woes. Duvall is just two years removed from consecutive 30-homer seasons and he has always graded as an above-average defender. But while spending the final two months of 2018 with Atlanta, he was an average defender and substandard offensive performer.
Acquiring a front-line starting pitcher might be the most influential move the Braves could make to enhance their World Series hopes for 2019. But given they have an abundance of high-upside arms already within their system, acquiring an outfielder seems to be the more definitive need.
METS: Who makes the bullpen? Who starts at first base?
Plenty of competition awaits the Mets upon their arrival in Port St. Lucie, Fla. But even before heading down to sunny Florida, team officials must determine who will play center field for them.
It’s clear Yoenis Cespedes won’t be ready to contribute until midseason, if he even returns from heel surgery at all. That leaves the Mets with just four healthy outfielders on their 40-man roster: Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, oft-injured Juan Lagares, and newly acquired Keon Broxton. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has talked about letting Lagares start in center every day, but the club could take a long look at Broxton or make a run at free agent A.J. Pollock. Or, the new GM could acquire a corner outfielder such as Nick Markakis, pushing Nimmo to center.
MARLINS: Will they trade J.T. Realmuto?
The most pressing question heading into the offseason remains the Marlins’ hottest topic heading into Spring Training. Will Realmuto be traded before pitchers and catchers start working out on Feb. 13?
Still with two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining, the Marlins are standing pat on their high demands for arguably the best catcher in the game. At this point, the Dodgers, Astros, Padres, Rays and Reds are believed to have the most interest, with other teams, like the Braves, at least monitoring the market for Miami’s coveted catcher.
For much of the Hot Stove season, speculation has been mostly “when, not if” Realmuto gets moved. That may no longer be the case, because Miami is prepared to carry Realmuto into Spring Training, which would create more gossip that he could be dealt either by Opening Day or at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Either way, the Realmuto saga promises to be at the forefront of the club for a while.
If he is dealt, then Miami will have to figure out who will catch? Chad Wallach is the only other catcher in the organization on the 40-man roster.
NATIONALS: Will Bryce Harper be back?
The Nationals offseason got off to an aggressive start, as they swiftly addressed their needs at catcher, reliever, backup first baseman and starting pitcher before the start of the New Year. Yet, the biggest question mark at the start of the winter remains unanswered. Harper’s free agency has been the biggest story in D.C. for years and it continues to loom over the organization as he remains unsigned.
And recently the Nationals have emerged as perhaps the front-runners once again. Even more so since news broke of a reported meeting just before Christmas between team owner Ted Lerner, Harper and Harper’s agent Scott Boras. Washington has put itself into position to remain competitive even without it’s homegrown star in what is shaping up to be a four-team race in the NL East and the outfield of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton should still be a strength. Still, the Nationals never ruled out a reunion with Harper, even when their moves suggested the opposite. Perhaps by now they hoped there would be more clarity to this situation, but with a little more than a month before the Nationals head to West Palm Beach, Fla., Harper’s future remains uncertain.
PHILLIES: Machado or Harper? Or neither? (The horror!)
The Phillies signed David Robertson to a two-year contract last week, and sources told MLB.com that the front office has shifted its focus squarely to the two biggest prizes in free agency: Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The Phillies met with Machado just before Christmas. They could meet with Harper this week. They hope for a decision regarding one of them soon, although they have no inclination when either might make a decision.
There are plenty of reports out there that suggest: A) The Phillies will sign one of the two; and B) neither player has Philly atop their wish list. In the end, it almost certainly will come down to money. If The Phillies make the best offer to Machado or Harper, they should get one of them. The best bet remains they will.
BREWERS: Who will play second base?
It won’t be Mauricio Dubon or Keston Hiura on Opening Day. General manager David Stearns has made that clear. The in-house options are Hernan Perez and Tyler Saladino — or perhaps Travis Shaw if the Brewers acquire a third baseman instead. But Stearns’ preference is to return Shaw to third and bring in a second baseman from a deep pool of free agents and trade targets. That market began to move right before Christmas, but plenty of candidates remain to bridge the gap to the Brewers’ prospects.
CARDINALS: Jose Martinez — Will he stay or will he go?
The Cardinals still must decide whether Martinez brings more value coming off the bench or as a trade chip. Though he was the team’s most consistent offensive performer in 2018, Martinez’s defensive limitations have pushed him out of the projected 2019 starting lineup and left his long-term fit uncertain. It’s also prompted the organization to field offers for Martinez this offseason.
Martinez would offer some insurance behind right fielder Dexter Fowler if he stays, but the Cardinals do need to alleviate some of the position player logjam on a right-handed-heavy roster. That leaves the club at a crossroads: Can they better balance their roster and fill another area of need by dealing Martinez? Or are they best hanging on to a proven hitter over whom they still have four years of control?
CUBS: Who will join the bullpen?
Brandon Morrow was effective when healthy last season, posting a 1.47 ERA in 35 appearances around a pair of stints on the disabled list. His second trip to the DL in July effectively ended his season and the late-inning arm underwent a right elbow procedure in November that will likely keep him sidelined into April. Chicago hasn’t been playing at the top of the relief market, but is hoping to add some value pieces to the back-end options for the season ahead. Closing experience would be a plus, but not necessarily a requirement. Adding some left-handed depth would help balance out the bullpen alignment.
PIRATES: Who’s the shortstop?
The Pirates moved on this offseason from their longtime middle-infield duo of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison. They have a ready-made replacement at second base in Adam Frazier, but it’s less clear who will take over at shortstop.
They have expressed confidence in Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman, currently their top options at shortstop, but GM Neal Huntington has continued to explore the market for upgrades. They were interested in Troy Tulowitzki. They asked the D-backs about Nick Ahmed. They reportedly like free agent Freddy Galvis.
The Pirates entered last spring with an unanswered question in left field and wound up acquiring Corey Dickerson, a Gold Glove Award winner, who hit .300 in 2018. Maybe they’ll take their time before deciding on a shortstop, too.
REDS: Will they add an ace starting pitcher?
The Reds have been busy this offseason trying to make upgrades, with most of their focus on the rotation. Through trades, they added right-hander Tanner Roark from the Nationals and lefty Alex Wood from the Dodgers. Both seem ready to slot in the middle of the rotation. But president of baseball operations Dick Williams noted the club wasn’t done trying to improve in the starting five and that the Reds have both payroll space and prospect capital that can be used. If they want to aim high, Dallas Keuchel remains available on the free agent board. However, Keuchel’s asking price is high and the amount of years is long.
On the trade front, either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer from the Indians would provide an instant jolt but come with an expected hefty return required. Also seemingly available are Sonny Gray from the Yankees and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays, with both being in need of bounce-back seasons. Free agents like Derek Holland, Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez are also still on the market. Other than the two Cleveland pitchers and Keuchel, few of the other options would likely provide one of the National League’s worst rotations the past couple of seasons with any more tangible credibility.
D-BACKS: Do they acquire a first baseman, second baseman or someone to play center?
The D-backs have to replace first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and they will also likely need to do so with free agent center fielder A.J. Pollock. They have talked about moving Jake Lamb from third base to first and using Eduardo Escobar at third. That would mean they still need a center fielder. If they move second baseman Ketel Marte to center then either Escobar would need to play second with Lamb going back to third, or the D-backs would need to add a second baseman.
However they end up configuring it the D-backs are going to need to add someone. It’s just a matter of which position it is.
DODGERS: If Not J.T. Realmuto, then who will the Dodgers team with Austin Barnes behind the plate?
Yasmani Grandal, who passed on four years and $60 million from the Mets, already rejected the club’s $17.9 million qualifying offer. They only need short-term coverage until their plentiful catching prospects mature, so a free-agent signing like Nick Hundley could be the answer unless the Marlins stop asking for Cody Bellinger in a Realmuto deal.
GIANTS: How will they fortify their outfield?
The Giants currently have six outfielders — Steven Duggar, Austin Slater, Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw, Mike Gerber and Drew Ferguson — on their 40-man roster, but none of them have experience being an everyday player in the Majors. Duggar is expected to get a shot to start in center field, but the Giants are hoping to add a couple of more seasoned options to help shore up the corner infield spots this offseason.
Bryce Harper is likely holding up the outfield market to some degree, so the Giants may have to wait for him to sign before addressing their holes. Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Dietrich and Avisail Garcia are among the free agents who could be fits for San Francisco.
PADRES: What to do with Wil Myers?
Three months into the offseason, there’s still no clear plan for one of the Padres’ best hitters. Myers spent the final month and a half of the 2018 season at third base, allowing Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes to see regular time in the outfield.
The move made sense, with San Diego extremely deep in the corner outfield and extremely thin at third. But Myers’ defense was shaky, to say the least. Over the next month and a half, the Padres need to decide whether third base is an available option for Myers. If it’s not, they’ve got a problem on their hands — too many outfielders and no starting third baseman.
Of course, it’s still possible Myers is dealt this offseason. The Padres have have six outfielders who have served in a starting role over the past two seasons. It’s hard to envision all six on the roster at the start of camp. In that group, Myers seems likeliest to be traded.
ROCKIES: Establish clarity with Nolan Arenado
Arenado is in his last year of arbitration, and the Rockies have hopes of reaching a multi-year contract. Last year, the sides talked but agreed to end discussions before the regular season, and Arenado is not one to let any distractions affect his regular season. The Rockies also have not let off-the-field issues intrude on the season, either. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon‘s six-year, $108 million deal was completed just days into the 2018 season.
If he doesn’t sign, it increases the likelihood that it’s his last year in a Rockies uniform, which means staying in contention is the best way to keep contract issues from having an outsize influence within the clubhouse. Not only that, but the only signing so far this offseason has been a club-friendly, two-year deal for Daniel Murphy to play first base. The Rockies would hate to miss out on players they could have had, and face losing Arenado.