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Inbox: Is Realmuto impacting FA pursuits?

Beat reporter Joe Frisaro answers questions from Marlins fans
MLB.com

Is the Marlins' front office working toward signing any free agents, or is it waiting to figure out what will ultimately happen with the J.T. Realmuto situation?
-- @DillonTuttle8

The impression I am getting is there is a bit of a domino effect going on regarding Realmuto. The industry is waiting to see where free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado land. If, for example, Harper signs with the Phillies, that may motivate the Braves to make a stronger push for Realmuto. Or what if the Yankees -- or another club that has backed away in recent weeks -- feel more compelled to pick up negotiations? How the marquee free agents play out will also drive the market.

Is the Marlins' front office working toward signing any free agents, or is it waiting to figure out what will ultimately happen with the J.T. Realmuto situation?
-- @DillonTuttle8

The impression I am getting is there is a bit of a domino effect going on regarding Realmuto. The industry is waiting to see where free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado land. If, for example, Harper signs with the Phillies, that may motivate the Braves to make a stronger push for Realmuto. Or what if the Yankees -- or another club that has backed away in recent weeks -- feel more compelled to pick up negotiations? How the marquee free agents play out will also drive the market.

The latest Realmuto rumors

There are many moving parts going on with Realmuto, which has moved free agency for the Marlins to the back burner.

:: Submit a question to the Marlins Inbox ::

The Marlins being in on DJ LeMahieu was interesting, and there were even some rumblings about being the mystery team on Machado. That aligns with what you've said about this rebuild not being a long one. Have you heard any other interesting names being linked to Miami?
-- @mpicardi

I saw MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal's report that the Marlins explored signing LeMahieu before the Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman agreed to a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees. In general, I'm not surprised when any team checks in on any free agent. The contract LeMahieu signed with New York is affordable, so if you're Miami, why not see if there is a fit?

Keep this in mind with players like LeMahieu and other free agents who have been to the postseason and have offers from multiple teams: Their first priority -- aside from money -- is to be a part of a winner, not a team building.

I have noted that this build is more a three- to five-year plan, and not five and above. If Realmuto is dealt before Spring Training starts, which I expect will happen, that sets the build back another year, in my opinion.

As for Machado, the timing this year hasn't been right to place such a long-term investment into a superstar player. Miami has two years remaining on its current local TV deal, which is the lowest of all 30 big league teams. A year from now, I believe the team will be better positioned to sign high-profile free agents.

Hot Stove Tracker

Do you think Martin Prado would be a good candidate to join the organization's coaching staff?
-- Jose T., Miami

I'm confident in saying that once the 35-year-old is done playing, Prado would be a terrific coach on any club's staff. But we're not there yet. The veteran third baseman has one year remaining on the three-year, $40 million contract he signed in 2016. Prado is set to make $15 million in '19. He has endured his share of injuries the past two seasons, and his focus now is being healthy and in the lineup in '19. Depending on how this season pans out for Prado, he will make a call on whether to play again in '20.

To your point about Prado as a coach with the Marlins: Once he gets done playing, that would be up to him, depending on whether he wants to spend more time with his family.

Just speculating, I think Prado would have plenty of post-playing options. I wouldn't be surprised if the Braves, the club he broke in with, seek to hire Prado. More than just being a coach, I could see Prado in a player development role, perhaps being heavily involved on the international end.

There are ways to stay involved without immediately entering the grind of being with a big league club every day.

What is the projected progression in the Minor Leagues for Victor Victor Mesa before he is called up to the Majors?
-- @ZachGluck

Earlier this week, I was able to see Mesa take part in a three-day Marlins hitters camp for nine invited prospects. The 22-year-old shows plenty of promise, but remember, he hasn't seen game action since defecting from Cuba last year. Mesa spent the offseason training with his younger brother, Victor Mesa Jr., who also signed with Miami in October. Mesa is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, which means he will report and work out with the big league club starting next month. He isn't on the 40-man roster, so he is expected to open in the Minor Leagues, either at Class A Advanced Jupiter or Double-A Jacksonville. Best guess, the earliest Mesa could reach the big leagues is late in 2019 or '20.

Video: Victor Victor Mesa, Gary Denbo discuss expectations

Who is a dark-horse candidate to make the Marlins' Opening Day roster?
-- @WilliamBlasL

There's going to be plenty of attention in Spring Training to prospects like Mesa, Monte Harrison and Isan Diaz. All three project to be a big part of the organization, but there's a strong chance each starts off in the Minor Leagues. An under-the-radar candidate is left-handed reliever Jose Quijada. The 23-year-old from Venezuela was added to the 40-man roster earlier in the offseason, and he has a chance to win a left-handed reliever role. The Marlins are thin in that area, besides Adam Conley and Jarlin Garcia. In 63 Minor League innings last year, Quijada struck out 81, while walking 29.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins, Victor Victor Mesa, Martin Prado, Jose Quijada, J.T. Realmuto

Inbox: Could Camargo play LF in 2019?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields fans' questions
MLB.com

Do you think the Braves will use Johan Camargo in left field if they can't find a deal to their liking?
-- @BayAreaBrave

Looking back on last year's National League East race, you can't discount the fact that while the Braves ranked fourth in the Majors with 59 Defensive Runs Saved, the Nationals (25th with -55 DRS), Mets (27th with -77 DRS) and Phillies (30th with -146 DRS) fielded some of the game's worst defenses. Now in exchange for placing an MVP-caliber bat (Josh Donaldson), Atlanta's best defensive infielder (Camargo) will not be used on an everyday basis.

Do you think the Braves will use Johan Camargo in left field if they can't find a deal to their liking?
-- @BayAreaBrave

Looking back on last year's National League East race, you can't discount the fact that while the Braves ranked fourth in the Majors with 59 Defensive Runs Saved, the Nationals (25th with -55 DRS), Mets (27th with -77 DRS) and Phillies (30th with -146 DRS) fielded some of the game's worst defenses. Now in exchange for placing an MVP-caliber bat (Josh Donaldson), Atlanta's best defensive infielder (Camargo) will not be used on an everyday basis.

For the record, a much wiser man named Ron Washington makes sure to remind me of Dansby Swanson whenever I refer to Camargo as the organization's best infielder. Regardless, as the Braves plan to utilize Camargo in a super-utility role, it must be remembered how valuable his bat was last year.

Braves Weighted Runs Created Plus from May 20 (Camargo's first day as the everyday third baseman) through the end of 2018
1. Ronald Acuna Jr., 151
2. Freddie Freeman, 127
3. Johan Camargo, 117
4. Nick Markakis, 100
5. Tyler Flowers, 91
6. Ender Inciarte, 90
7. Ozzie Albies, 86
8. Swanson, 76

Camargo produced similar splits, generating an .803 OPS from the left side of the plate and an .813 OPS from the right side. This sets up the possibility for him to see time at each of the infield positions. But if an outfielder is not acquired, there's certainly reason to utilize him in left field on more than an occasional basis.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

Is Craig Kimbrel still a possibility for the Braves?
-- @Liam Filipowski

As we get closer to Spring Training, there's now at least more reason to think Kimbrel's market might drop to the point where it's more feasible to think about a reunion. The Braves would likely not offer more than three years, but the financial component (likely above $16 million per season) could still prove to be a deterrent.

Atlanta has the financial resources necessary to afford Kimbrel next season. But if the Braves were to commit $16 million to $18 million to him, they would limit their flexibility to address their greater needs to add an outfielder or enhance the rotation.

If we reach the point where Atlanta would be adding an outfielder or a starting pitcher just to plug a hole, then it would certainly make more sense to use the available funds to gain the value of adding one of the game's top closers. But for now, it seems like the focus remains on the outfield and the rotation.

Hot Stove Tracker

Are the Braves interested in Adam Jones as a possible outfield fit?
-- @Cantstopchoppin

Jones has expressed interest in playing for Atlanta. But the Braves have not pursued the veteran outfielder, who ranked 63rd among qualified outfielders with the 4.3 fWAR (Fangraphs' WAR Model) he produced from 2016-18. The 0.5 fWAR he produced last year ranked 52nd out of 56 qualified outfielders.

Taking a chance on trading for Nicholas Castellanos' defensive shortcomings seems to be a better option than pursuing Jones or Carlos Gonzalez, whose value was diminished by his 2018 numbers outside of Coors Field. If the Braves are going to sign a free-agent outfielder, Markakis seems to be the most likely option.

Video: Anthopoulos discusses Braves' offseason on MLB Now

Why do the Braves seem to be holding onto all of their pitching prospects rather than "blowing another team away" with a trade offer to fill the outfield void or get an ace? There's not enough room in the rotation for all these young guys.
-- @ElderLD

There's plenty of room as long as they all still have options, allowing for the possibility for them to be shuttled between the Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett rosters. The greater concern comes from the reality that inevitably a few of these highly regarded prospects will eventually diminish in value.

If you were to deal Luiz Gohara or Kolby Allard right now, you wouldn't get the same value you would have via a trade involving them at this point last year. With that being said, Allard still has time to physically mature and a better conditioned Gohara could quickly restore his value this year.

Yes, the Braves have an abundance of riches with seven pitchers listed among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects. And yes, it might make sense to use two of those assets to gain three years of Corey Kluber or include one in a package used to acquire two years of J.T. Realmuto. But so far, the right deal has not materialized for general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has never shied away from making significant trades.

Anthopoulos also has to remain cognizant of the fact that until Sean Newcomb proves himself, there is uncertainty beyond Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman in Atlanta's potential rotation for 2020. Waiting another season to determine which of these prospects should be considered long-term fits could prove costly as some could lose value this year. But preserving much of this depth could prove quite valuable beyond the upcoming season.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Johan Camargo

Inbox: Are Phils shopping Franco, Herrera?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Are the Phillies shopping Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera? Does the possibility of them being traded increase if we sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper?
-- Don B., Bradley Beach, N.J.

If the Phillies sign Machado, they will try to trade Franco, because there simply would be nowhere for him to play. Franco can play first base, but Rhys Hoskins will play there almost every day. Franco is not a shortstop, second baseman or outfielder. It just makes sense to move him.

Are the Phillies shopping Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera? Does the possibility of them being traded increase if we sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper?
-- Don B., Bradley Beach, N.J.

If the Phillies sign Machado, they will try to trade Franco, because there simply would be nowhere for him to play. Franco can play first base, but Rhys Hoskins will play there almost every day. Franco is not a shortstop, second baseman or outfielder. It just makes sense to move him.

If the Phils sign Harper, I think Nick Williams or Herrera could be traded. Williams might be the first choice because he is a corner outfielder, and in this scenario, Harper and Andrew McCutchen will have the majority of playing time at the corners. Herrera provides Philadelphia with depth in center field, so there are reasons to keep him. Plus, the Phillies seem to believe Herrera will bounce back after struggling much of last season.

:: Submit a question to the Phillies Inbox ::

Would the Phillies be better off getting A.J. Pollock for the outfield and Mike Moustakas for third base, giving them more flexibility and depth? That might leave enough money for Dallas Keuchel and make them a better all-around team.
-- Jay S., York, Pa.

Instead of letting superstars dictate mega-contracts, why not sign more players for the same money and impact your roster in a greater aggregate? You can also sign each for shorter contracts. Signing Machado or Harper is great, but they are only one batter and one fielder. Going after Pollock, J.T. Realmuto, Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Moustakas would benefit the team more.
-- Bob B., Pottstown, Pa.

So there are folks out there that are not keen on Machado or Harper. I get it. It's a risk. But we are talking about two Hall of Fame-caliber talents that are just 26. Players like this are not available very often. In fact, they are almost never available in free agency. If the Phils can land a talent like this, I think it is the right play.

Hot Stove Action

When will the Phillies host an All-Star Game?
-- Gloria R., Turnersville, N.J.

I bet it happens in 2026, the 250th birthday of this fine nation.

What is the fuss about having a mixture of left-handed and right-handed pitchers? I realize that it's hypothetical, but suppose I could field a rotation that looked like this: 1. Curt Schilling; 2. Greg Maddux; 3. David Cone; 4. Justin Verlander; and 5. Roger Clemens; with Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Mariano Rivera in the bullpen. All right-handers. I'm just trying to make a point. The same goes for a starting lineup consisting of all left-handed or right-handed batters.
-- George S., Gloucester City, N.J.

Sure, but this is like saying, "Why is everybody so obsessed about centers in the NBA? I bet I could put Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the same team and win a title." Of course you could. But there are no perfect teams. In the real world, you want balance in a rotation, bullpen or lineup, if possible. It's not a requirement, but it's preferred. The Phillies have not had a left-handed starter in the rotation since 2016 because they have not had one they consider an upgrade over their right-handers. If they find one, they will. Otherwise they will stick with what they have.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera

Inbox: What will the Mets' starting OF look like?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
MLB.com

With the signing of Jed Lowrie, the Mets appear mostly done making offseason acquisitions. While general manager Brodie Van Wagenen freely acknowledges there is room to supplement a few spots on the roster, and while Van Wagenen may still make another transaction or two, the big stuff appears finished.

Still, the questions keep on coming. With less than a month to go until the start of Spring Training, let's take another batch of Mets questions and answers:

With the signing of Jed Lowrie, the Mets appear mostly done making offseason acquisitions. While general manager Brodie Van Wagenen freely acknowledges there is room to supplement a few spots on the roster, and while Van Wagenen may still make another transaction or two, the big stuff appears finished.

Still, the questions keep on coming. With less than a month to go until the start of Spring Training, let's take another batch of Mets questions and answers:

Submit a question to Mets Inbox

If the Mets do nothing else to address the outfield this offseason, who is the starting center fielder? What does the entire outfield look like?
-- @strngebedfellow via Twitter

That depends on how committed the Mets are to using Jeff McNeil in the outfield, which itself depends at least partly on McNeil's Spring Training performance. I totally understand folks consider it unfair that the Mets have buried McNeil on the depth chart, offering him little chance to receive regular playing time at second or third base. But this is reality. For McNeil to play, he's going to need to play outfield.

That means it's entirely possible the Mets enter the season with, say, McNeil in left, Michael Conforto in center and Brandon Nimmo in right (or vice versa on the latter two). Certainly, that would be their best offensive lineup.

On days when the Mets prefer defense, and on days when they're facing a left-handed pitcher, Juan Lagares or Keon Broxton can start. Those two can also earn additional work with strong springs. I'd consider outfield very much a Spring Training competition for the Mets at this point, with only Conforto and Nimmo guaranteed starting jobs.

What are the chances of trading Todd Frazier for either another reliever or outfield option? Is anyone out there interested in him?
-- @erikrlucas via Twitter

Call it slim. Asked this question on Wednesday, Van Wagenen said he fully expects Frazier to be a starter at third or first, even after adding Lowrie to the fold.

While some part of that may be posturing, the reality is that Frazier is more valuable to the Mets than he would be in a trade. Dealing a 32-year-old coming off a career-worst season, in which he twice landed on the disabled list, wouldn't net the Mets much of a return. But hanging onto Frazier and hoping he can rediscover the 40-homer talent he displayed in 2016 could potentially be lucrative. There's little risk in keeping him, considering his contract is guaranteed and his trade market is nonexistent.

How much money can we assume is left in play for Van Wagenen to use?
-- @zissers14 via Twitter

When asked that exact question this week, Van Wagenen declined to answer. But reading between the lines, it appears the Mets are at least close to their budget ceiling heading into Spring Training. After signing Lowrie, they're a few million north of the $151 million payroll they had on the books last Opening Day. I suspect a few million more may be hiding under couch cushions somewhere, but it's not enough wiggle room for another major move.

When is a Jacob deGrom extension most likely to happen: before, during or after the season?
-- @KonSeanneryy via Twitter

Neither the Mets nor deGrom has publicly set any parameters regarding an extension, but I imagine both parties would want to get something done before the regular season. If they can't agree to a deal in the coming months, it's hard to imagine they'll be able to do so a year from now, with deGrom just one season shy of free agency at that point.

Is Daniel Zamora the favorite to be the lefty out of the 'pen?
-- @GiraffeNeckMarc via Twitter

Yes and no. I'd give Zamora a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster after impressing Mets officials down the stretch last season. But Van Wagenen has made it clear he considers veteran Luis Avilan a favorite to make the club as well. As such, I'd expect Avilan to be the Mets' primary lefty specialist, with Zamora serving as a second option.

That leaves Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and one or two other young right-handers to round out the bullpen.

Van Wagenen talks about Peter Alonso breaking camp with the team. Do you think that is just standard GM talk around a touchy subject, or do you think he can earn a spot with a strong spring?
-- @Dickbobby3307 via Twitter

Do I believe Alonso deserves a chance on the Mets' Opening Day roster? Yes, absolutely. Do I believe he'll make it? No, I don't. The reality is, it's probably not worth it for the Mets to sacrifice an extra year of team control just to have Alonso on the roster two weeks earlier than they otherwise would. So no, I don't ultimately expect him to be there.

Who do we have left in the Minors that can have an impact on 2019 besides Alonso?
-- @KhudNY via Twitter

Does Tim Tebow count? (I'm half-kidding.)

Before the Mets traded away Justin Dunn, I would have led this list with him. Instead, you have to dig deeper for impact prospects. Most of the Mets' most intriguing pitchers are at least a year away. It wouldn't surprise me to see Will Toffey, the third baseman they acquired for Familia last July, or David Thompson make an impact this summer. Relievers Stephen Nogosek, Eric Hanhold and Ryder Ryan could do the same.

Mets' Top 30 Prospects

Also keep an eye on Walker Lockett, one of the pitchers the Mets acquired for Kevin Plawecki. Lockett stands a good chance of starting games in the Majors quite soon.

How about signing Big Sexy Bartolo Colon to do a few fill-in starts? He can chew up some innings. And he is fun and entertaining. #bringbackbigsexy
-- @Cdog92704 via Twitter

I wouldn't rule it out. Colon reportedly wants to keep pitching at age 45, though he wasn't particularly effective last summer. If Colon is willing to accept little to nothing in the way of guarantees, I'm sure the Mets would consider extending him a Spring Training invite.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Peter Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Todd Frazier, Jeff McNeil, Daniel Zamora

Inbox: Is this lineup Crew's best ever vs. RHP?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy fields offseason questions from fans
MLB.com

Will next season be the Brewers' best lineup yet versus right-handed pitchers? Interestingly, outside of the Cubs' rotation, it seems as though the starting pitching in the NL Central is predominantly RHPs.
-- @CreamCityPro on Twitter

Pretty good question in the wake of the addition of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who does most of his damage batting lefty against right-handers. His arrival comes after left-handed-hitting Christian Yelich rode a huge uptick in offensive production to the National League MVP Award in 2018, Eric Thames hit 31 home runs in his return to MLB in '17, and Travis Shaw delivered back-to-back seasons of 30-plus homers after coming to Miller Park from Boston. The Brewers love acquiring lefty bats, and with Grandal in the fold, there could be days next season when all of them are in the lineup against a right-hander. And we have yet to see what the Brewers will do at second base.

Will next season be the Brewers' best lineup yet versus right-handed pitchers? Interestingly, outside of the Cubs' rotation, it seems as though the starting pitching in the NL Central is predominantly RHPs.
-- @CreamCityPro on Twitter

Pretty good question in the wake of the addition of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who does most of his damage batting lefty against right-handers. His arrival comes after left-handed-hitting Christian Yelich rode a huge uptick in offensive production to the National League MVP Award in 2018, Eric Thames hit 31 home runs in his return to MLB in '17, and Travis Shaw delivered back-to-back seasons of 30-plus homers after coming to Miller Park from Boston. The Brewers love acquiring lefty bats, and with Grandal in the fold, there could be days next season when all of them are in the lineup against a right-hander. And we have yet to see what the Brewers will do at second base.

:: Submit a question to the Brewers Inbox ::

The most potent season of offensive production in franchise history vs. right-handers surprised me, because it wasn't from the Miller Park era. It was 1996, when the Brewers posted an .803 OPS against righties. In fact, the top seven OPS totals in club history against righties were produced at County Stadium before the 2010 club showed up to break the streak:

1996: .803
1979: .796
1987: .785
1982: .784
1999: .781
1980: .772
1978: .765
2010: .764

If we're just talking home runs, however, Miller Park (which opened in 2001) rules. Here are the figures for team homers against right-handers:

2017: 184
2018: 166
2007: 158
2003: 155
2001: 155
2012: 146
2000: 144

The 1996 team was next on the homers list, hitting 141 against right-handed pitching. So who were those murderers of "northpaws?" By plate appearances that season, it was Jeff Cirillo, John Jaha, Jose Valentin, Fernando Vina, Kevin Seitzer, Dave Nilsson, Greg Vaughn and Matt Mieske. Switch-hitter Chuckie Carr did notable damage against right-handers that year, and left-handed slugger Jeromy Burnitz came over in a midseason trade from Cleveland. But Nilsson led the way, posting a 1.035 OPS against right-handed pitching.

Anyway, the answer to the original question -- Could this be the Brewers' best lineup yet against right-handed pitching? -- is yes. Look at those power numbers the past two years and then add Grandal.

Video: CIN@MIL: Miley tosses 5 scoreless to earn the win

Wade Miley still on the Brewers' radar?
-- @SillyA on Twitter

Yes. Miley really liked Milwaukee, his agent Tom O'Connell said at the Winter Meetings, and Milwaukee loved Miley's work when he was healthy. The question, however, is cost. The Brewers picked up Miley on a Minor League deal that only paid if he performed. Now, after posting a 2.36 ERA in 95 1/3 innings including the postseason, he's looking for a multiyear deal that would guarantee every dollar. The Brewers already have a deep pool of starting-pitcher candidates (you'll find the names on the Brewers depth chart, including pitchers like Junior Guerra and Adrian Houser who are listed in the bullpen but could also start), so it's logical that general manager David Stearns would only invest in additional arms if he perceives good value.

We'll see. For a while, Miley was waiting for some of the left-handers ahead of him to sign. Some did, including Patrick Corbin (Nationals), Yusei Kikuchi (Mariners) and J.A. Happ (Yankees). But the big name still out there is Dallas Keuchel. Once Keuchel signs, the market should crystalize for Miley.

Video: MIL@CHC: Chacin lets up 1 run, 1 hit in 5 2/3 innings

Is Jhoulys Chacin the best bet to be the Opening Day starter?
-- @thenilesriver on Twitter

Yes, if the Brewers make that choice the traditional way. Chacin was far and away their most reliable starting pitcher last season, giving him two straight years of a well-above-average adjusted ERA. He looks like a no-brainer choice to take the ball against the Cardinals on March 28 at Miller Park.

But perhaps the Brewers will try something different this year in an effort to change their luck. It's been a running joke that the first question on the first day of Spring Training is, "Who's going to be your Opening Day starter?" -- even though I know full well that manager Craig Counsell isn't going to answer until much deeper into the spring. It was funny, until those Opening Day starters began to endure lousy years. Wily Peralta in 2016. Guerra in 2017. Chase Anderson in 2018.

"It's almost like you've cursed our Opening Day starter," Counsell said at the Winter Meetings. "That's where I feel like we're at because we're on this running joke for three years. And you have cursed the Opening Day starter. We'll name this curse in Spring Training. It will be a central part of our morning interviews; the Adam McCalvy curse will be discussed."

Sorry.

Video: MIL@STL: Albers strikes out Fowler, collects save

Will Matt Albers have an ERA under 9.00 next year?
-- @BLightell on Twitter

Wow, tough crowd. Albers was awful last year after his right shoulder started barking in June. There's no other way to say that. But for the first two months of the season, he was as effective as any pitcher on the team -- a 1.08 ERA, .198 opponents' average in his first 21 appearances spanning 25 innings. He signed a two-year deal, so it is in the Brewers' interests to see if Albers can bounce back in 2019.

"Look, I think people [forget]. Matt had two drastic seasons last season," Counsell said last week. "We shouldn't forget about the first half of last season Matt had, where he was a very, very valuable piece. Look, relievers' seasons can be pretty volatile. Matt has a pretty good track record. I'm very optimistic and I'm very open to Matt making the same contribution he made in the first half of last year."

Give the man a chance. If he's good, think about how deep that bullpen can be.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers

Inbox: How will Maddon construct batting order?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Do you foresee the Cubs going with more of a set batting order this season? Do you think that plays into any slumps, hot streaks, etc.?
-- Ryan

Over the years, I have heard from plenty of players that there is some mental comfort in knowing where their name will be on the lineup card. Then again, there are many hitters whose numbers look a lot better when a team is mixing and matching to maximize the offensive production. That approach tends to lead to a lineup taking on a different look on a game-by-game basis.

Do you foresee the Cubs going with more of a set batting order this season? Do you think that plays into any slumps, hot streaks, etc.?
-- Ryan

Over the years, I have heard from plenty of players that there is some mental comfort in knowing where their name will be on the lineup card. Then again, there are many hitters whose numbers look a lot better when a team is mixing and matching to maximize the offensive production. That approach tends to lead to a lineup taking on a different look on a game-by-game basis.

Submit a question to Cubs Inbox 

Trying to gain a platoon advantage to generate more offense has been a constant in Cubs manager Joe Maddon's approach, and I don't see that changing in 2019. Now, there will be everyday players, and in an ideal world they will find a home in a batting order. As other players are slotted in and out, though, the order might be tweaked here and there.

One thing you can bank on is that the Cubs' best hitters will be in a position to garner the most at-bats. So, while Maddon flipped through 152 different lineups last season, you consistently saw Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist within the first three or four spots. That won't change, even if the exact order does from time to time.

I get the desire by many fans to see their team run with the same lineup game in and game out, but it's not always the best approach. When someone like Kyle Schwarber posts a 121 wRC+ against righties vs. an 85 wRC+ against lefties -- like he did last season -- it only makes sense to limit his exposure to left-handed pitching. That is where versatile players like Ian Happ, David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Zobrist can come in handy.

As for how lineup position can impact hot or cold spells, I think you can find evidence to support both sides of the argument.

The best hitters don't alter their approach much based on where they are in the lineup. Just like you can find examples of slumping hitters, there are plenty of batters who have bounced around a lineup and been just fine. There are also plenty of hitters who learn to embrace being a platoon-style player and thrive, especially when their stats get a boost. It's not for everyone, though. First and foremost, a manager needs buy-in from his players and I think Maddon has done well in that regard.

Tweet from @KrisScheider: Will the @Cubs Cubs have enough bullpen arms to compete for a championship? #cubsinbox

First, they need to get Brandon Morrow healthy and back as soon as possible in the first half. Then, the Cubs need to avoid overusing Steve Cishek (who logged 80 appearances in 2018) and Pedro Strop, especially early on. I do think Chicago needs to add some more experienced depth to the relief corps, but it helps (in theory) that the rotation is built to log a lot of innings.

The bullpen, even with an assortment of issues last season, finished with the National League's best ERA (3.35), opponents' average (.223) and home run rate (0.78 per nine innings). Concern about sustainability creeps in when looking at the strikeout rate (22.6 percent), walk rate (11.0 percent) and workload (588 1/3 innings). The good news is that the Cubs are built to contend for a championship due to a lot more than their bullpen situation.

If the Cubs do eventually get Bryce Harper, where would they put him? The starting lineup is filled with great players.
-- Bryan D., Chicago

I mean, it's obligatory to include a Harper-related question until he signs elsewhere, right? Winter Storm Harper came to Chicago, but it sure doesn't seem like the superstar outfielder will be going to the Cubs. At a charity event in Chicago this week, Maddon was asked about the possibility of adding Harper and the manager replied bluntly with, "Not going to happen." That said, no matter what a team's roster looks like, you make room for a player of Harper's ability. He'd look very good in right field for the Cubs, but that appears more like a dream than reality.

Who will be the non-roster invitees this spring?
-- Tim C., Beardstown, Ill.

As of now, the Cubs have not officially announced a list of non-roster spring invites. I'd expect something to arrive on that front later this month. Three that have come out via various reports are catcher Francisco Arcia, outfielder Jim Adduci and infielder Phillip Evans.

The Cubs built their core through the Draft and have paid a hefty sum to acquire pitching. With two aging starters and a constant search for a closer, are there any pitching prospects in the Cubs Minor League system for us to get excited about in the next few years?
-- Steve K., Warsaw, Ill.

On the starting pitching front, right-hander Adbert Alzolay (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) and lefty Justin Steele (No. 8) are two to keep an eye on this season. Alzolay might've worked his way onto the MLB radar last season had a right lat injury not sidelined him in May. Steele was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. On the relief side of things, righty Dillon Maples (No. 28) is certainly intriguing. He had a taste of the big leagues last year, and posted 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings (75 in 38 2/3 frames) at Triple-A. Another lefty to monitor is Conor Lillis-White, who came from the Angels in the Tommy La Stella trade. Lillis-White had 98 strikeouts vs. 32 walks in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

In how many years do you see Nico Hoerner on the big league squad?
-- James L., Chicago

That's always difficult to predict, but Hoerner (No. 6 on the Cubs' Top 30) is 21 years old and topped out at Class A South Bend last season. That probably puts him at least two years away from the Majors. The young shortstop certainly turned some heads with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League earlier this offseason. In 21 games, Hoerner hit .337 with nine extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and an .867 OPS.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Inbox: Will Miller solve Cards' bullpen issues?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans' questions
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- This isn't my farewell Inbox, but it is likely one of only a few more you'll see here on Cardinals.com. For those who may have missed my announcement on Twitter earlier this week, I will soon be moving off the Cardinals beat and into a role on MLB.com's editorial management team. That transition will take place once my replacement has been found.

Until then, I'll continue to field your questions as we count down the days until camp. Let's get started here:

ST. LOUIS -- This isn't my farewell Inbox, but it is likely one of only a few more you'll see here on Cardinals.com. For those who may have missed my announcement on Twitter earlier this week, I will soon be moving off the Cardinals beat and into a role on MLB.com's editorial management team. That transition will take place once my replacement has been found.

Until then, I'll continue to field your questions as we count down the days until camp. Let's get started here:

Does Andrew Miller really solve all our bullpen problems? Seems like we had a lot more issues (long relief/setup/overuse) than one person can solve.
-- Molly M. (@stlgrl85)

• Submit a question to the Cardinals Inbox

Does Miller solve all of the problems? No. But if he's anything like the 2012-17 version of himself, Miller will go a long way toward completing a bullpen makeover. If the Cards want to be serious World Series contenders, their 'pen has to be better than the one that posted the second-highest walk rate and the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the National League in 2018.

Also, adding Miller doesn't preclude the Cardinals from doing more before this Hot Stove season comes to an end. The bullpen market is still deep, and with it being slow moving, bargains can be found. And remember one way in which the Cardinals hope to solve other bullpen deficiencies is by tapping into the organization's starting pitching depth. John Gant, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson and Alex Reyes would be considered bullpen options if they don't crack the Opening Day rotation.

What's the plan for Jordan Hicks this year?
-- David J. (@thedjcoolfire)

Staying on the topic of bullpens ... Hicks is projected to be utilized as a late-inning arm -- perhaps even an occasional closer -- for the Cardinals this season. The addition of Miller gives the club flexibility in how it lines up relievers at the end of games. I'd expect Miller to get a bulk of the save opportunities, but manager Mike Shildt also won't hesitate to deploy Miller earlier in games if he sees a critical spot for the lefty. That could leave the ninth to Hicks. Most likely, though, Hicks will fill the same eighth-inning role he did in 2018.

How do you solve a problem like Michael Wacha?
-- @ToffeeCardinal

What exactly is the problem? Before an oblique injury sidelined him in June, Wacha was on track to be a first-time All-Star. He entered that June 20 start against the Phillies tied for second in the NL with eight wins and 10th in ERA (3.24). He was averaging 5 2/3 innings a start and he was an obvious asset in the rotation.

If the problem you're referring to is his spotty injury history, that's a tough one to solve. Fortunately, Wacha hasn't had a recurrence of the right shoulder injury that was an issue in 2014 and '16. Ideally, the Cardinals can get a healthy and productive year out of Wacha this season, because he's likely to walk as a free agent once it's over.

Who starts Opening Day?
-- @STLMattinals

It's got to be Miles Mikolas, right? I can't see the Cardinals going in any other direction given the breakout year Mikolas had to anchor this rotation in 2018. The sentimental candidate would maybe be Adam Wainwright, though if he has a strong spring and is part of the rotation, perhaps lining him up for the home opener would make more sense.

Who from the Minors will make their MLB debut at Busch this year?
-- Brandon D. (@LyleDozier)

This is always a fun one to predict so far in advance. But let's take some educated guesses. Looking at the 40-man roster, I bet you'll see left-hander Genesis Cabrera, right-hander Ryan Helsley and outfielder Lane Thomas break into the Majors this season. Catcher Andrew Knizner seems a strong callup candidate -- even if only for September -- as well. I'd also keep an eye on infielders Tommy Edman and Max Schrock, as well as pitcher Jake Woodford.

What was the best Cardinals game that you covered?
-- Ryan M. (@morrisseyra)

Great question, and one that has me really digging into the mental archives. A few instantly come to mind: Pete Kozma's DC moment (2012 NL Division Series), Wacha's masterpiece in Pittsburgh (2013 NLDS), that incredible comeback against Clayton Kershaw (2014 NLDS), and the infamous obstruction call in the 2013 World Series rank among the top postseason moments I documented.

Several regular-season games still stand out, too, from the grand slam Aledmys Diaz hit upon returning from Jose Fernandez's funeral to Matt Holliday's sendoff pinch-hit home run and Matt Carpenter's historic day at Wrigley Field last summer. Then there were the stories I wrote about the Cards being on the wrong side of history -- including Johan Santana's no-hitter, Scooter Gennett's four-homer game and that crushing swing by Travis Ishikawa.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks, Andrew Miller

Inbox: Will Reds trade an outfielder for pitching?

Beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers questions from fans
MLB.com

With the addition of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, will the Reds trade any of their outfield chips away for starting pitching?
-- Noah F., Lansing, Mich.

The Reds certainly would be working from an area of depth. It also depends on whether another team wants or need the outfielders Cincy has. I don't see the Reds dealing Puig already, because his addition has certainly brought a level of excitement around the club. I imagine they will market him a lot as a way to draw fans. I'd be a little surprised if Jesse Winker got moved. He was on pace for National League Rookie of the Year Award consideration last summer before he needed season-ending right shoulder surgery.

With the addition of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, will the Reds trade any of their outfield chips away for starting pitching?
-- Noah F., Lansing, Mich.

The Reds certainly would be working from an area of depth. It also depends on whether another team wants or need the outfielders Cincy has. I don't see the Reds dealing Puig already, because his addition has certainly brought a level of excitement around the club. I imagine they will market him a lot as a way to draw fans. I'd be a little surprised if Jesse Winker got moved. He was on pace for National League Rookie of the Year Award consideration last summer before he needed season-ending right shoulder surgery.

Submit a question to Reds Inbox

Kemp is an interesting situation. Yes, he's making $21.5 million in the final year of his contract, but the Reds are not on the hook for all of it. The Dodgers included $7 million in the trade that sent him to Cincinnati. Another of his previous clubs, the Padres, are also still paying some money. There's also Scott Schebler, but at the moment he could be a center-field option. The Reds are also weighing whether they should deal prospects and players to get a starter or spend the money for a free agent. They don't appear to be leaning in one direction yet.

Maybe I don't understand MLB contracts, so maybe you can help. Why did the Reds have to go to arbitration with Puig since they just got him in a trade?
-- Nathan D., Madison, Miss.

All players are under club control for six years -- with each being a one-year contract unless a multiyear deal is done. For the final three of those six years, rules allow players to file for a raise via arbitration -- no matter which club they're with. Just because he moved from one team to the other, Puig still maintained that right. However, there will be no hearing for Puig since he signed a one-year, $9.7 million contract to avoid arbitration last week.

Has there been any thought towards extending Puig? He does seem pretty pumped to be with the Reds and to rejoin his old batting coach, Turner Ward.
-- Justin W., Detroit, Mich.

Just like how Puig has the right to arbitration, after six years he is eligible to be a free agent. It's the one time the player truly has the right to choose his future and explore his options, which can often bring a big payday. I don't see Puig giving that up, but I wouldn't be stunned if both sides are happy with how things go in 2019 and they don't at least discuss a contract to extend his stay.

President of baseball operations Dick Williams had stated that the Reds still had moves to make, hinting at an even bigger move after the blockbuster trade that brought Kemp and Puig to Cincy. Have those moves fallen to the wayside? Or is there another move coming before Spring Training starts? I feel, along with most of the Reds community, that we are so close to contention, but we need some more help out of the bullpen and/or an ace in the rotation.
-- Matt M., Cincinnati

Just before shoving off for Reds Caravan Thursday, Williams said he and general manager Nick Krall are still active in talks to add a starting pitcher and possibly a center fielder. Lots of good options remain on the open market for starters, namely the best one still available in Dallas Keuchel.

What is Ted Power doing these days? I thought he should have been given the opportunity to be Cincinnati's pitching coach after spending many years with great results for the Reds organization in the Minors.
-- Steve L., Bellbrook, Ohio

Power, the Reds' bullpen coach since July 4, 2016, was not retained after the season, like several other coaches from the previous staff. He also won't remain in the organization. I have not heard anything about his future plans.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds

Inbox: How is the bullpen's southpaw situation?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado answers fans' questions
MLB.com

The Giants seem to be intent on trading Will Smith and Tony Watson. Smith was one of their few bright lights last season and Watson was generally solid. If they are dealt, do the Giants have capable lefties to take their place in the bullpen?
-- Gerald L., Columbus, Ind.

The Giants currently have seven left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster, so they'll have quite a few options to turn to if they decide to part with Smith and/or Watson this offseason. In addition to the aforementioned duo, the Giants also have switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, Steven Okert, Ty Blach, Josh Osich and Rule 5 Draft pick Travis Bergen in their stable of bullpen arms.

The Giants seem to be intent on trading Will Smith and Tony Watson. Smith was one of their few bright lights last season and Watson was generally solid. If they are dealt, do the Giants have capable lefties to take their place in the bullpen?
-- Gerald L., Columbus, Ind.

The Giants currently have seven left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster, so they'll have quite a few options to turn to if they decide to part with Smith and/or Watson this offseason. In addition to the aforementioned duo, the Giants also have switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, Steven Okert, Ty Blach, Josh Osich and Rule 5 Draft pick Travis Bergen in their stable of bullpen arms.

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Venditte has historically had more success from the left side, holding left-handed hitters to a .186 average, while Okert allowed only one run over 7 1/3 innings (1.23 ERA) and struck out eight after receiving a September callup last year. Blach profiles as a potential multi-inning reliever or spot starter, and Bergen will likely be given the opportunity to win a job out of Spring Training.

Video: SD@SF: Okert freezes Guerra to get out of trouble

That depth is one of the reasons the Giants feel they can afford to trade one of their veteran relievers and still field an effective bullpen this year.

"If we keep this group intact, I think it's going to be one of the best groups in the National League," said president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, during the Winter Meetings in December. "If it makes sense for us to move somebody to fill needs on the position player side or in the rotation, I think we're still going to go into next year with a pretty good core."

Have the Giants looked into signing Marwin Gonzalez as a free agent from Houston?
-- Ed M., Crown Point

I'm sure San Francisco has at least checked in on Gonzalez as the club has canvassed the market for free-agent outfielders this offseason. Gonzalez's defensive versatility -- he played seven positions for the Astros last year -- and pop would make him a very good fit for the Giants, though the same could be said for almost every other Major League team. He'll likely have a healthy range of suitors, which could ultimately keep his price tag above San Francisco's comfort level.

Video: Justice on Marwin Gonzalez's appeal as a free agent

Why haven't the Giants signed Nick Hundley? He's everything we could want in a backup catcher, plus he has some power … which the Giants sorely need.
-- Joe G.

I don't think a reunion with Hundley should be ruled out, but it's worth noting that Zaidi has expressed a desire to acquire a backup catcher who can offer more defensive versatility. With the Dodgers, Zaidi had two backstops -- Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer -- who could play the infield in addition to catching. That push for a more flexible roster has left Hundley's future with the Giants a bit unclear.

Do you expect the Giants to add more pitching help this offseason now that they've re-signed Derek Holland?
-- Vincent Y., San Mateo, Calif.

Even with Holland back in the fold, San Francisco remains interested in improving its rotation depth, so I think there will be some more additions over the next few weeks. One of Zaidi's aims is to ease some of the pressure off younger pitchers like Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez this season, which makes the need for more rotation options key. The Giants won't necessarily need to seek out splashy acquisitions to accomplish this goal. After all, Holland and Rodriguez became two of the Giants' most valuable pitchers after joining the club on Minor League deals last year.

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.

San Francisco Giants, Will Smith, Tony Watson

Inbox: Do Rox need big move for WS push?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Why are the Rockies so reluctant to trade prospects, particularly at positions where they have a surplus, during this contention window? At some point you have to make bold, all-in moves to be a true championship contender, right?
-- @DWilsonsports

It's tough to make a blanket statement, since a trade like that is based on timing, not simply the desire to be "bold."

Why are the Rockies so reluctant to trade prospects, particularly at positions where they have a surplus, during this contention window? At some point you have to make bold, all-in moves to be a true championship contender, right?
-- @DWilsonsports

It's tough to make a blanket statement, since a trade like that is based on timing, not simply the desire to be "bold."

The Royals made the Johnny Cueto deal at the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and the Astros made a deal for Justin Verlander at the 2017 Deadline.

The Rockies did fill needs at the 2017 Deadline for relief pitching (Pat Neshek) and catching (Jonathan Lucroy), and shored up a leaky bullpen at last season's Deadline (Seunghwan Oh). The moves didn't result in a World Series, but helped lead to postseason appearances.

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Need has to line up with player. For example, last season, the player teams thought would bring home a championship was Manny Machado. While a title didn't happen for the Dodgers -- who have a high enough payroll to acquire a veteran if the farm system doesn't have an answer -- was Machado really in play for the Rockies? Nolan Arenado mans third base and Trevor Story plays shortstop.

And, yes, the Rockies are reluctant to deal young players, mainly because they use them. Theoretically, had those deals been made in recent years, they would not have David Dahl, who is expected to be part of the 2019 lineup. And while they've had relative health with starting pitching in recent years, they need to be protected in case of injuries.

The projected 2019 Rockies lineup has homegrown players at four of the eight positions, with three others having legitimate hopes as starters. In other words, those players are more necessities than surpluses. It's difficult to lose several of those players for one piece before a season starts.

Right now, the big name on the trade market is Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, but getting him would mean giving up young, club-controlled players, like Story and Dahl. And the Rockies would rather have Kyle Freeland and German Marquez throwing to someone else than Realmuto catching a staff without either of them.

The Deadline may or may not be different. If a team is clearly in the postseason chase and the answer is out there, like it was for the Royals and the Astros, then the Rockies' willingness to make that move will be tested.

Hot Stove Tracker

1. Do you see the Rockies making a move at catcher or do you think they stand pat? 2. Do the lack of moves signal a long term contract in the works for Nolan?
-- @Parsons_T13

The answers are connected. As for catching, I've laid out the Realmuto situation, and the Rockies never put themselves in play for Yasmani Grandal, who cost the Brewers $18.25 million for one season, plus their third-highest pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.

The Rockies will be spending at least $24 million for the arbitration-eligible Arenado this year, and the hope of a multi-year deal meant even if they fancied Grandal they were not going to tie up funds in multiple years to outbid the Brewers.

Are the Rockies going to make a move to strengthen the rotation? A Shelby Miller-type signing would be perfect for the Rox and the player.
-- @dannyterao

The Rockies have tried using down-on-their-luck pitchers, with mixed results at best. They've now built the best rotation in their history from within. That said, if an ace-level pitcher in his prime became available at the Deadline, that would be worth considering.

What's Bryan Shaw's status? His control was nonexistent and he paid dearly last year. Any tweaks coming for 2019?
-- @bobdewy

I talked to bullpen coach Darren Holmes and detailed the plights of Shaw (4-6, 5.93 ERA, 61 games) and Jake McGee (2-4, 6.49, 61 games) for my article Thursday. Holmes is big on Shaw as a competitor.

"He's a little geeky, a little quirky," Holmes said. "But I love him because that guy wants the ball. He never shied away from going into a ballgame."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies

Inbox: Could Dodgers use one more starter?

Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Would you agree with me that we need a reliable starter who will help us to the top? If so, who?
-- CUB 213 @kdizzin

Every team needs another reliable starter. The Dodgers already might have the best rotation in the National League, but they reportedly targeted Corey Kluber when it appeared the Indians might entertain offers. A right-hander would help balance a rotation that is overly left-handed.

Would you agree with me that we need a reliable starter who will help us to the top? If so, who?
-- CUB 213 @kdizzin

Every team needs another reliable starter. The Dodgers already might have the best rotation in the National League, but they reportedly targeted Corey Kluber when it appeared the Indians might entertain offers. A right-hander would help balance a rotation that is overly left-handed.

:: Submit a question to the Dodgers Inbox ::

I have referred to the Dodgers in my thoughts as "the great experiment" for the last couple of years -- build a roster of very good players and have them put on the face that it is OK to sit a lot of games because of sabermetric matchups. That can work in the regular season, but it seems to be a failure in the playoffs. On the surface, it seems L.A. lost the World Series because L.A. didn't hit, but I think the season philosophy of sitting players was the major contributor to the problem. Except for players who are totally into amounts of money paid as opposed to their legacy, why would a superstar in their prime sign with the Dodgers?
-- Steve Perry, Concord, N.C.

Not sure analytics can quantify whether platooning during the regular season reduces a player's performance in the postseason, when the competition level is greatly elevated. Rare is the player who isn't looking for the most money. But it's also a rare player who gladly accepts sitting on the bench. Any player joining the Dodgers should expect to be subject to matchups and platooning and factor that into contract decisions.

Is Bryce Harper still an option?
-- Ashley Ann Wilson #BryceHarperADodger? @AllTTV2015

Not any more or less than he's been. The Dodgers seem to have no appetite for 10-year-contract bidding wars. Harper seems to have no appetite for a short-term deal. If those positions don't change, there's no fit. Maybe the market convinces Harper to soften his position. I don't see the Dodgers softening theirs.

Video: Collier discusses latest news with Harper, Nationals

What do you believe the Dodgers will address through free agency from this point forward? Any particular names beyond Bryce or Manny Machado to watch out for/known connection to L.A.?
-- Ben Haber @HaberBen

If you look at president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's history with the Dodgers, almost all key acquisitions have been through trades. He generally targets second-level free agents like Joe Kelly and steers clear of bidding wars for top-tier talent. The Dodgers seemingly need a right-handed outfield bat and possibly a right-handed starting pitcher. Considering the amount of unsigned free agents remaining, maybe that's where they will wind up. But the trade pool is deeper.

Are the Dodgers rolling with Alex Verdugo at right field this upcoming season? 1988 & counting.
-- @LAconfiDent1al

If he wins the job in Spring Training. Keep in mind that he was virtually a non-factor down the stretch last year and wasn't on the postseason roster. Being the organization's "top" prospect does not mean a guaranteed job. Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez are proven Major Leaguers. Verdugo has potential, but is unproven.

Is it a possibility that the Dodgers are still in the mix for J.T. Realmuto even though we traded for Russell Martin?
-- Eric Lee @EricLee99073430

Not if Miami continues to insist on Cody Bellinger in return. For all of the Realmuto trade rumors, the Marlins don't seem interested in dealing him unless somebody overpays, and that's not likely to be the Dodgers.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Sonny Gray

Inbox: What to expect from Wilmer

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Is Wilmer Flores going to fill more of a "Daniel Descalso" role in 2019, bouncing around the infield, or is he going to play every day at second base, moving Ketel Marte to center field every day?
-- Nick V., Philadelphia

It appears that the D-backs' plan is to play Flores primarily at second base, which would allow them to move Marte to center, where he would replace free agent A.J. Pollock -- assuming, of course, that Pollock signs with another team. I think one thing to keep in mind is that the D-backs are still working on constructing their roster, so nothing is certain yet, but that does seem to be the plan.

Is Wilmer Flores going to fill more of a "Daniel Descalso" role in 2019, bouncing around the infield, or is he going to play every day at second base, moving Ketel Marte to center field every day?
-- Nick V., Philadelphia

It appears that the D-backs' plan is to play Flores primarily at second base, which would allow them to move Marte to center, where he would replace free agent A.J. Pollock -- assuming, of course, that Pollock signs with another team. I think one thing to keep in mind is that the D-backs are still working on constructing their roster, so nothing is certain yet, but that does seem to be the plan.

Submit a question to the D-backs Inbox

Flores has also played all around the infield so he could, in theory, fill multiple roles depending on if the D-backs add another player before the start of the season. Also, like many teams these days, the D-backs are big proponents of giving their players rest during the season, so with guys like Eduardo Escobar and Tim Locastro, who can both play multiple positions, along with Flores, you could see manager Torey Lovullo doing a lot of mixing and matching depending on who needs a day off.

Video: Hazen, Flores talk about new deal, playing in Arizona

Big fan! I have a quick question regarding the sustainability of success for a team like the D-backs. We all know the big-market teams are generally able to sustain success for longer periods of time due to their financial dominance over smaller-market teams. You look at teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs and it feels like nowadays (Cubs history excluded) they may have one or two bad years every now and then, but then bounce right back due to added financial flexibility they have. It seems as if when a small/mid-market team is down in the dumps that they are there for a prolonged period of time unless they 1) have multiple players who happen to have career years to provide a temporary boost or 2) draft well and develop homegrown talent (Astros). However, as we know, option two takes a while to develop. If a small/mid-market team doesn't draft well they are toast.

So, here is the question: For a mid-market team like the D-backs who don't have the financial flexibility (i.e., sign Zack Greinke and limit ability to sign other players), if/when smart free-agency moves and drafting goes right, how long do you think that realistic window is for success before those top talent players leave on to greener pastures? If I were a Red Sox fan looking forward to the next decade, I could be optimistic and expect success for each of the next 10 years. As a D-backs fan, I don't feel like I have that luxury. Hopefully you know what I'm getting at here.
-- Jack D., Phoenix

Jack, you used a word that general manager Mike Hazen has uttered often since his introductory press conference -- sustainability. While the D-backs have had success on the field the past two years in terms of contention, the front office has held off on trading some of their top prospects, while at the same time being aggressive internationally both at the amateur level and the Major League level such as with the Yoshihisa Hirano and Merrill Kelly signings. What they are hoping to do is to build that farm system over the next couple years to where it can consistently produce the talent needed to replace whatever they might lose at the big league level as players age and become too expensive. The next couple of years could be bridge years as they wait for some of that younger talent to be ready, but they are still trying to be competitive by not doing a complete teardown. It's a tough balancing act and time will tell how successful they are with it. If some of the prospects do pan out, then you could see them build up some sustained success over the next decade. How big that window is will always depend on how well they do with the Draft, which is the lifeblood for an organization like theirs.

Video: Kelly discusses agreeing on 2-year deal with D-backs

How is Clay Buchholz's flexor strain recovery going? And, what are the chances the D-backs bring him back?
-- Ashley, Tucson, Ariz.

I'll be honest, Ashley, I haven't followed Buchholz's recovery that closely because it seemed like the D-backs moved on from him early in the offseason when they traded for Luke Weaver and signed Kelly out of Korea.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Clay Buchholz, Wilmer Flores, Yoshihisa Hirano

Inbox: Who will start in Padres' crowded outfield?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from fans
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Outfield and third base -- for very different reasons -- have been the focus of the offseason in San Diego.

The Padres are overflowing with outfielders, with six players who have spent significant time as starters over the past two seasons. Naturally, that's led to plenty of trade speculation.

SAN DIEGO -- Outfield and third base -- for very different reasons -- have been the focus of the offseason in San Diego.

The Padres are overflowing with outfielders, with six players who have spent significant time as starters over the past two seasons. Naturally, that's led to plenty of trade speculation.

They're also devoid of an obvious starter at third, and it's clear they want to find a long-term solution there. That's fueled the speculation even more.

Submit a question to Padres Inbox

Pitchers and catchers report to Peoria, Ariz., in less than a month, and with the rest of the lineup mostly set, this week's Padres Inbox centers around those two spots.

Who do you see in the Opening Day outfield?
-- Tom H.

Among those six outfielders, none has a starting spot locked up right now. In the corners, Wil Myers, Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe are fighting for two places. Each has drawn trade interest, and it's hard to envision the Padres opening the season with all three on their roster. They already have plenty of depth, with the lefty-hitting Franchy Cordero returning from right elbow surgery.

But for the purposes of the question, let's rule Cordero out -- and Travis Jankowski, too -- because the Padres are likely to face Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner in the opener. They'll presumably load the lineup with righty hitters, putting Manuel Margot in center.

In the corners, it's anyone's guess. Renfroe has torched Bumgarner in the past, and Reyes is returning from offseason surgery on his right knee, so let's go with Renfroe-Margot-Myers.

The big wild card in the whole outfield logjam seems to be Franchy. What do you see happening with him?
-- Julian S.

No kidding. Cordero is an extremely underrated component of the Padres' current outfield situation. He injured his elbow last May and played through a bone spur for a couple weeks. Understandably, his numbers took a nosedive while he played with that pain.

But Cordero was hitting .281/.349/.500 on May 10. Imagine if he could sustain that pace -- or something close to it -- over a larger sample size. And he just might have the tools to do it. His 92.6 mph average exit velocity was 14th in the Majors last year, on par with Shohei Ohtani, and he made huge strides with his plate discipline and pitch recognition.

Cordero is the kind of guy who could quickly prove himself worthy of everyday playing time. The question is: Where? If the Padres don't trade a corner option, I'd expect Cordero to seriously press Margot for playing time in center. Margot is worlds better defensively. But the Padres are in dire need of offense, and Margot took a step back with the bat last season.

I think the likeliest scenario sees either Myers or Renfroe traded before Opening Day. Cordero could then receive regular playing time in a four-way platoon for three spots. He'd sit against lefties, but against right-handed pitching, he could slot in anywhere -- giving Margot, Myers, Reyes or Renfroe a breather.

Before letting go of Christian Villanueva, was there talk of using him as a platoon option in 2019? He was notably bad against right-handed pitchers, but he was the best hitting third baseman in baseball against left-handed pitchers in '18.
-- Ridley L.

Ridley's right on the money with that stat. Against lefties, Villanueva's wRC+ -- an all-encompassing hitting metric that adjusts for ballparks and league -- was 198 last season. That means he was 98 percent better than league average, just above Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant for tops in the Majors. Given that Ty France is the likely starter at third right now, Villanueva seems like a substantial loss -- despite his poor numbers against righties.

But it's worth noting that Villanueva's departure for Japan's Yomiuri Giants was his own decision. He approached the Padres and made it clear he wanted the opportunity. They granted his request.

So, yes, the Padres discussed using Villanueva as a platoon option. As of last September, he was squarely in their 2019 plans. But the team's primary goal is to find a long-term solution at third base. It might be the biggest organizational question mark right now. The Padres didn't believe Villanueva to be the answer, so they let him walk.

What are the Padres more likely to address before Spring Training -- starting pitching or third base? Is it possible they go into spring without making any more additions?
-- Christopher W.

It's still possible the Padres stand pat. It's just very unlikely. There's a good chance they add to both areas before camp begins, but they probably aren't going to make a major splash with either of those moves. (Think: rotation depth and a replacement-level utility infielder.)

Around the horn: Padres face tricky 3B situation

If there's one area that's more pressing, though, it's third base. The front office seems content to start the season with the current pitching staff, if need be. The rotation has major holes. But there are, at least, potential answers in-house -- like Logan Allen (a prospect on the cusp of the big leagues), Dinelson Lamet (who should return from Tommy John surgery midseason), or Matt Strahm (who will attempt to make the transition from a reliever to a starter).

At third base, the hole is more glaring. Even if France or Esteban Quiroz wins the job with a big-time Spring Training, the Padres would like to have an experienced option as a back-up plan or platoon partner.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres

Inbox: Who'll be Pirates' next star player?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com

I see the Cardinals get Paul Goldschmidt and the Brewers get Christian Yelich and the Cubs have all their guys, and it makes me miss when we had a STAR player like Andrew McCutchen. Who do you think could be our next star player?
-- Matt M., New Castle, Pa.

That's a great question, Matt, and it's something I've touched on the past few years. Everyone has an explanation for the Pirates' step back since 2013-15, but I'll point to a pretty obvious one: They're not getting that all-caps STAR-level production like they did during that run.

I see the Cardinals get Paul Goldschmidt and the Brewers get Christian Yelich and the Cubs have all their guys, and it makes me miss when we had a STAR player like Andrew McCutchen. Who do you think could be our next star player?
-- Matt M., New Castle, Pa.

That's a great question, Matt, and it's something I've touched on the past few years. Everyone has an explanation for the Pirates' step back since 2013-15, but I'll point to a pretty obvious one: They're not getting that all-caps STAR-level production like they did during that run.

Over the last three years, the Pirates have had two players put together a 4-Wins Above Replacement season, per Baseball Reference: Starling Marte in 2016 (4.9) and Jameson Taillon (4.4) last year. Trevor Williams (3.8), Corey Dickerson (3.8) and Marte (3.7) were all close last season, for what it's worth. From 2013-15, they had 11 different 4-bWAR seasons -- three in 2013, four in '14 and '15. And I don't need to remind anyone that McCutchen was one of the best players in baseball before 2016.

Look at last year's postseason teams, and you'll see stars on every roster -- from Mookie Betts, Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez with the Red Sox to Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. with the Braves. It's not all about star power, obviously. You need a deep roster to get through a 162-game season. The best teams have both.

So, I think this is an important question to answer on the field, and it matters off the field as well in a face-of-the-franchise sense -- a player who creates excitement and an identity. Maybe someone will step up and be that guy this year. For now, I'd bet on the guys who have played at that level here before: Taillon and Marte.

:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::

Chris Archer is their most recognizable player and most experienced starter, but my colleague Matt Kelly recently made the case for Taillon as an emerging ace. He improved last season with a newly developed slider and some pitch-usage tweaks -- in a year finally uninterrupted by physical issues -- and I won't be surprised if he takes another step forward in 2019.

I share the Pirates' belief that Marte can be the best player on the field any given night, but he'll be 30 years old this season and inconsistency remains an issue. He has that kind of talent, though, and it showed as he averaged 5 bWAR from 2013-16.

Video: PIT@CIN: Marte crushes his 20th homer of season

I don't want to slap the "star" label on anyone who hasn't reached the Majors yet, but the biggest names on the farm are Mitch Keller and Ke'Bryan Hayes. Keller is one of the top pitching prospects in the Minors (No. 16 overall, per MLB Pipeline), and Hayes' bat started catching up to his phenomenal glove last season. Cole Tucker has the pedigree and personality of a star. And I am fascinated by the unique upside of Oneil Cruz, a towering 20-year-old who played shortstop in Class A last year.

We've been waiting all offseason for the Pirates to do something at shortstop. Will they?
-- Ron G., Pittsburgh

I think they're waiting out the market. Their belief in Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman is real, and they seem to be comfortable with that duo if nothing else works out. But we've also seen them do their due diligence in pursuit of an upgrade. They asked about Nick Ahmed, who remains in Arizona, and they were interested in Troy Tulowitzki before he chose the Yankees.

Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria remain unsigned, and there aren't many teams in need of a shortstop. The New York Post reported that the Pirates have interest in the durable Galvis, and we know they liked Hechavarria enough to claim him last August.

I think they could use more certainty there, but I also wouldn't panic if they report to Pirate City without making a move. They signed Matt Joyce to a Minor League deal early in Spring Training in 2016, and obviously they landed Dickerson (after acquiring a handful of other outfielders) during Spring Training last year.

Lot of big lefty bats in the division. Do we have a left-handed relief pitcher, besides the closer, who can get them out?
-- Will V., Upper St. Clair, Pa.

We'll see how the spring plays out, but the Pirates have a few left-handed options in front of Felipe Vazquez. The first one is Steven Brault, if he doesn't crack the rotation. Last season, Brault held lefties to a .213/.344/.296 slash line; the on-base percentage is certainly higher than you'd like, but the average and slugging percentage are encouraging.

There's also non-roster veteran Tyler Lyons, who will have to prove that he's healthy and back to his old form in Spring Training. If he does, the Pirates can add a quality left-hander to their bullpen. In his career, Lyons has limited lefty hitters to a .203/.286/.320 slash line. That'll play.

Video: CIN@STL: Lyons whiffs Gennett to strand a pair in 6th

I've pointed this out before, but it's worth repeating: Right-hander Richard Rodriguez held lefties to a .155/.233/.207 slash line last season. If there's a high-leverage inning with a couple lefty hitters due up, manager Clint Hurdle could call on Rodriguez to handle it.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

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