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Inbox: Could Salazar replace Miller and Allen?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
MLB.com

This will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout this offseason and during Spring Training. Right now, the Indians' goal is to get Danny Salazar healthy, while weighing whether it makes sense to tender him a contract through the arbitration process.

Tweet from @AndyMees216: With the likely exits of C Allen & A Miller, is Danny Salazar a possibility to be a late inning reliever to bridge the gap to closer Brad Hand? Andy Mees, Sandusky #IndiansInbox

This will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout this offseason and during Spring Training. Right now, the Indians' goal is to get Danny Salazar healthy, while weighing whether it makes sense to tender him a contract through the arbitration process.

:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::

Salazar avoided arbitration with a $5 million contract last season and -- considering he did not throw a pitch in the Majors in 2018 -- it stands to reason that his '19 salary would be in the same range. If the Indians think Salazar can contribute next season, then I would think that would be a worthwhile gamble, especially given the cost of pitching on the open market.

If Cleveland returns with its rotation intact, the cast is five strong between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. Adam Plutko is next in line at the moment. The depth behind that group is thin, making Salazar and fellow righty Cody Anderson potentially important alternatives. Anderson is coming back from Tommy John surgery (March 2017), but should be unrestricted come Spring Training.

During a season-end sit-down with reporters, manager Terry Francona noted that both Salazar and Anderson would head into the preseason with the plan of being built up as starting pitchers. Then, if there is a need in the bullpen, both right-handers could then be considered for that type of role. It is worth noting that Salazar has no Minor League options remaining, while Anderson has one.

Salazar underwent an arthroscopic debridement and bursectomy on his right shoulder on July 2 and, barring any further setbacks, could resume throwing by November. When he's been healthy, Salazar has boasted an elite fastball and split-change combination, making the righty one of baseball's best in terms of missing bats. If Cody Allen and Andrew Miller indeed leave via free agency, a healthy Salazar would be a very intriguing bullpen weapon.

Tweet from @nathan_carder: #IndiansInbox What are the realistic chances Michael Brantley is back next year? He was a steady force in a shakey outfield. Nathan CarderPaw Paw, WV

Michael Brantley, Allen and Miller are the free agents that Cleveland will need to mull extending a one-year Qualifying Offer ($17.9 million for 2019) to this offseason. Given the season Brantley just turned in, I could see the Indians floating that one-year deal for the left fielder. The Indians rolled the dice on his $12 million club option last winter and Brantley posted 3.5 WAR (per Fangraphs). In terms of free-agent dollars, that showing was valued at $28 million, according to Fangraphs. The Indians have question marks at all three outfield spots, so trying to retain Brantley, who has been with Cleveland for parts of 10 seasons, makes a lot of sense.

Tweet from @oldwriter1: Any thoughts on an outfield of Brantley, Martin and Andrew McCutchen with Greg Allen as fourth outfielder?

Greg Allen can switch-hit, play all three outfield spots and offers speed, so I do think he fits the roster well as a fourth outfielder. As noted in the previous question, I also think it makes sense to try to retain Brantley. As for Leonys Martin, Cleveland needs to weigh whether going to arbitration with him makes sense, considering the serious health scare he had in the second half.

If Martin continues to recover well this winter, then keeping him in the fold via arbitration would seem like a logical decision. The extra year of control, after all, was a part of what made Martin an attractive acquisition for the Tribe. Bradley Zimmer (recovering from right shoulder surgery) might not be ready until mid-season and Tyler Naquin might be sliding to right field now that Lonnie Chisenhall is hitting free agency.

As for Andrew McCutchen, I like where your head's at, Tim. It's not a given that Cleveland will pick up Brandon Guyer's $3 million club option. If he is not retained, the Indians should target a right-handed complement for their outfield. McCutchen fits the mold, can offer depth at all three positions (while best utilized in the corners) and his 128 OPS+ against lefties indicates that he was 28 percent better than league average against left-handed pitching.

Tweet from @cday2626: Any chance Indians keep Miller/Allen? #IndiansInbox

Given the subpar season he just had, Allen does not seem like a candidate for the one-year Qualifying Offer. It could also be risky to extend that offer to Miller, even though he seems like a safer bet to have teams overlook his health issues of '18 when considering a multi-year contract. Either way, I seems very unlikely either is back with Cleveland in 2019.

Tweet from @CAD_Alaska: #IndiansInbox I���ll play devil���s advocate: trading for Machado would have been better than Hand/Cimber in light and hindsight of, the DS results. Agree or disagree?

Disagree. Part of the reasoning behind acquiring Brad Hand and Adam Cimber was to guard against Allen and Miller leaving via free agency this offseason. It was not only with the 2018 postseason in mind. On top of that, Cleveland acquired Josh Donaldson for the stretch run and playoffs. That was the Tribe's "Machado," so to speak. Now, did Donaldson hit in October? No, he went 1-for-11, but the Tribe's lineup as a whole went ice cold against Houston's overpowering pitching. I liked how the Indians went about those trades. Alas, results do not always align with process.

Tweet from @HattMuml: With all due respect to him, why is VanBo still around? Cubs fired their hitting coach. It seems a shakeup is necessary after our offense collapsed in back to back playoffs. #indiansinbox

First, let's run "VanBo" through the Terry Francona translator. That's the manager's nickname for hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo, who has held that role since Francona came to Cleveland in 2013. After the playoffs, Francona said Van Burkleo, along with the rest of the coaching staff, were in the plans for 2019, barring anyone leaving for jobs with another team.

Francona's reasoning for standing pat and standing by Van Burkleo was looking at the season's body of work -- not just three October losses. In the regular season, the Indians ranked third in the Majors with 818 runs scored, while ranking fourth overall in weighted on-base average (.330), fourth in OPS (.766), sixth in home runs (216) and tied for sixth in weighted runs created plus (105). Cleveland's strikeout rate as an offense (18.9 percent) was also the best in baseball in the regular season.

Tweet from @GODEVLS: #IndiansInbox What do you think the future holds for Jason Kipnis? - Ryan in Tempe, AZ

Well, as things currently stand, Jason Kipnis is set to earn $14.7 million in 2019 with Cleveland. If the Indians are unable to trade him this offseason -- the team nearly had a deal with the Mets last winter -- then the question will be how to handle Kipnis' place on the field. If Kipnis is in the plans for center, maybe the Indians won't tender a contract to Martin. If Brantley isn't in the plans, maybe Kipnis will slide over to left field.

Francona made a point in his season-end gathering to mention that the team needs to find a way to get a good look at Yandy Diaz in 2019. The easiest way to do that would be to hand him the keys to third base, meaning Jose Ramirez would stay put at second. That would seal Kipnis' fate as an outfielder, if he stays.

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

Cleveland Indians

Inbox: What's Pittsburgh's solution at shortstop?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com

The rotation and bullpen look solid. The outfield and two-headed monster behind the plate are top three in the NL. If Josh Bell and Colin Moran, both young and learning, can make reasonable growth with power, we're set there. Adam Frazier has got second base, and Jung Ho Kang is your veteran infielder. That leaves shortstop as the only variable, and therein lies my question. What to do? -- Jeff F., Erie, Pa.

I wouldn't say shortstop is the Pirates' only question mark in that scenario. Gregory Polanco's recovery is critical to their outfield composition and offensive upside, and you're betting a lot on Bell and Moran. It's nearly impossible to make definitive statements this early in the offseason, but let's take a look at some possibilities at shortstop.

The rotation and bullpen look solid. The outfield and two-headed monster behind the plate are top three in the NL. If Josh Bell and Colin Moran, both young and learning, can make reasonable growth with power, we're set there. Adam Frazier has got second base, and Jung Ho Kang is your veteran infielder. That leaves shortstop as the only variable, and therein lies my question. What to do? -- Jeff F., Erie, Pa.

I wouldn't say shortstop is the Pirates' only question mark in that scenario. Gregory Polanco's recovery is critical to their outfield composition and offensive upside, and you're betting a lot on Bell and Moran. It's nearly impossible to make definitive statements this early in the offseason, but let's take a look at some possibilities at shortstop.

:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::

1) Give Kevin Newman the job. I don't see him being the primary shortstop on Opening Day, but I think he'll play a part, perhaps as a utility infielder. The Pirates drafted him in the first round in 2015 and pushed him through the system, believing in his contact-oriented approach, speed and steady defense. But he struggled in his debut, batting .209 with a .478 OPS and four errors in the field. He could play his way into a bigger role, and fellow shortstop prospect Cole Tucker may not be far behind.

2) Sign a free agent. Take a look at the list of shortstops expected to be available, and you won't find a game-changing player beyond Manny Machado, who will inspire a big-market bidding war. Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria would upgrade Pittsburgh's infield defense, though, and a strong glove should be the priority at shortstop.

3) Explore the trade market. It's hard to say in October who will or won't move this offseason, so we're left to speculate. If the D-backs rebuild, for instance, perhaps slick-fielding Nick Ahmed would be available. Would the Orioles consider flipping base-stealing threat Jonathan Villar? What would it take to pry former top prospect Jurickson Profar from the Rangers?

4) Re-sign Jordy Mercer. There's something to be said for the safe route. Mercer is a known quantity on the field and a veteran leader in the clubhouse, but he's earned the right to see what other opportunities are out there as a free agent. Interestingly, GM Neal Huntington said the Pirates believe Mercer, whether he's in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, can unlock more power later in his career by learning from the adjustments made this year by veterans like David Freese and Francisco Cervelli.

With the subtractions of their biggest contracts like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Mercer and a few select others that freed them up a couple million, do the Pirates have enough money to go after a significant free agent this offseason? If so, who would be the best fit if the price was right? -- Cody W., Pittsburgh

The Pirates' Opening Day payroll was down this year after trading McCutchen and Cole. They dealt Freese in August, and they'll be clear next season of their obligations to Mercer and Sean Rodriguez. They will create additional space if they decline Harrison's option.

However, they added to their future commitments by acquiring Corey Dickerson, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $8.4 million in arbitration next year; Chris Archer, who is due $7.5 million (plus one-sixth of his $1 million signing bonus) through the extension he signed with the Rays; and Keone Kela, projected to make $3.2 million in 2019.

On top of that, the guaranteed contracts of Starling Marte, Cervelli, Polanco and Felipe Vazquez call for modest raises. By my back-of-the-notebook math, their estimated 2019 payroll at this moment projects to be about $75 million.

Pittsburgh began this season with an Opening Day payroll of $84,585,833, according to USA Today, but spent closer to $90 million on the Major League roster by the end of the season. We don't know what the budget is heading into next season, and it's worth noting attendance at PNC Park dropped for the third straight year. But let's use those numbers as a guidepost.

If the Pirates begin 2019 in roughly the same place they finished '18, without subtracting any significant salaries, they'll have about $15 million to address their needs. They'll consider bringing back Kang, for one. Picking up his option would bump their projected payroll to around $80 million, or they could try to negotiate a new deal.

We covered their need for a shortstop above, and they'll likely need a replacement right fielder while Polanco heals. Could they pursue good players at those positions? Sure, and I suspect they will. Are they going to be involved at the top of the market? Don't bet on it.

As ever, they must make smart acquisitions, be creative and get the most out of what they have in order to succeed.

Why couldn't they use Bell in right until Polanco comes back and put Cervelli at first? That would free up space on the roster for Jacob Stallings. -- Jason G., Munhall, Pa.

Bell played some right field in 2016 but hasn't worked there on a consistent basis since the '14 season. If they were going to move him, it would have made a lot more sense to do so when they were scrambling to find three outfielders following Marte's suspension in 2017. They didn't, because they wanted him to focus on improving at first base. The same holds true now.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Inbox: Did 'extreme' flexibility hurt the Cubs?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
MLB.com

While the extreme flexibility in the Cubs' lineup is pretty impressive -- from players like Kris Bryant (third base, left field, right field) and Javier Baez (second base, shortstop, third base) being slotted into multiple positions on the field and in the batting order -- do you think not having a relatively settled lineup or batting order is a contributing factor to the team's lack of consistency? -- Joe S., Henderson, Nev.

During exit interviews, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said some players did express some frustration over the constantly changing lineups. However, Epstein added that the players understood why manager Joe Maddon changed things up.

While the extreme flexibility in the Cubs' lineup is pretty impressive -- from players like Kris Bryant (third base, left field, right field) and Javier Baez (second base, shortstop, third base) being slotted into multiple positions on the field and in the batting order -- do you think not having a relatively settled lineup or batting order is a contributing factor to the team's lack of consistency? -- Joe S., Henderson, Nev.

During exit interviews, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said some players did express some frustration over the constantly changing lineups. However, Epstein added that the players understood why manager Joe Maddon changed things up.

Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox

"They look around and see the talent here," Epstein said. "That's how players talk about it -- it's like, 'Hey, we have so many talented players who deserve to play, and that's what makes us great and really good. But here's how sometimes it makes me feel and here's how if we could communicate about it, it could make things easier.'"

According to Baseball Reference, the Cubs used 152 different batting orders. By comparison, the Brewers used 137 different batting orders and the Dodgers used 155.

In case you were wondering what the most common batting order for the Cubs was: Albert Almora Jr., Baez, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and the starting pitcher

Maddon used that lineup for five games.

What's the possibility that Kris Bryant will need shoulder surgery this winter? -- Wayne C., South Bend, Ind.

Not likely. At the end of the season, both Bryant and Epstein said the third baseman did not need surgery on his left shoulder.

Once Kris Bryant returned from his second DL stint, he started to keep two hands on the bat, and it appeared he was not "staying through" the baseball as well as he did not trying to keep two hands on the bat. Does Kris plan to swing natural next year or work with keeping two hands on the bat? -- Tyler B., Gilbert, Ariz.

Bryant used the two-handed approach during batting practice and when he was hitting in the cage to avoid putting more stress on his left shoulder. You may have felt he wasn't "staying through" his swing, but Bryant seemed to like the switch and compared it to a golf swing.

"It feels -- and I feel -- a lot more powerful. I feel like I'm hitting the ball further," Bryant said in late August.

He'll most likely experiment this offseason.

I've been wondering the whole season whether David Bote might have a permanent position on the active roster rather than bouncing back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues. -- Denise M., Yorkville, Ill.

Bote did shuttle back and forth early, but was stayed with the big league team from July 26 through the end of the year. His versatility on defense and .455 batting average as a pinch-hitter certainly make him an attractive player to have on the active roster. It will depend on the roster makeup next year, but he definitely opened some eyes.

Tyler Chatwood can't pitch. To even suggest including him as a starter for 2019 is ludicrous. The upper management must own up to the fact that they spent money on him and figure out a way to get rid of him. -- Judi M., Barrington, Ill.

Chatwood did finish the season as the Major League leader in walks. He also held right-handed hitters to a .150 average and .219 slugging percentage. Let's see what happens after an offseason to reboot. When the Cubs signed Chatwood last December, I heard from more than one scout that it was a great pickup. I'm optimistic that he can get back on track.

Is there any concern regarding the Cubs batting with runners in scoring position? I heard many comments that we had such a low average for that during the season. -- Haley S., Vero Beach, Fla.

The Cubs finished 10th in the National League with a .247 batting average with runners in scoring position. By comparison, they also ranked 10th in 2016 with a .252 batting average with RISP and 11th in 2017 at .253. It's something the Cubs would like to improve on, which will likely be a hot topic for the new hitting coach.

What is the current number of players (past and present) with any connection (Major or Minor Leagues) to the Texas Rangers? (Asked by a Texas Cubs fan who went to the same high school as Kerry Wood and currently lives four miles away from where the Rangers play) -- Stanley K., Grand Prairie, Texas

According to Baseball Reference, 68 pitchers pitched and 141 players played for both the Cubs and Rangers. I'm not going to list them all (not enough room here), but the list does include a variety, including Don Zimmer (who played and managed the Cubs and also managed the Rangers from 1981-82).

Players on the 2018 Cubs with ties to both included Anthony Bass, Eddie Butler, Jesse Chavez, Yu Darvish, Chris Gimenez, Cole Hamels, and Pedro Strop. Kyle Hendricks was drafted by the Rangers in 2008, and Carl Edwards Jr. was drafted in '11.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Inbox: What's the deal with Victor Victor Mesa?

Beat reporter Joe Frisaro answers questions from fans
MLB.com

How soon to do you see Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston signing? Is it possible the Marlins get the brothers or all three?
-- @CraigShoupNH

Major League Baseball recently declared all three as free agents, meaning they can sign whenever a deal is reached. So it could technically happen quickly. But this is a business, and it's a matter of establishing the market for all three to measure which clubs are the most serious. That can take a little while. As MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported, about 75 scouts attended their showcase on Friday at Marlins Park.

How soon to do you see Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston signing? Is it possible the Marlins get the brothers or all three?
-- @CraigShoupNH

Major League Baseball recently declared all three as free agents, meaning they can sign whenever a deal is reached. So it could technically happen quickly. But this is a business, and it's a matter of establishing the market for all three to measure which clubs are the most serious. That can take a little while. As MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported, about 75 scouts attended their showcase on Friday at Marlins Park.

Submit a question to the Marlins Inbox

I can say the Marlins have serious interest in all three and are aiming to sign all three. The Marlins have the second-highest amount of international bonus pool money, with only the Orioles ahead. Miami had $4.3 million before adding to that number when they dealt right-hand prospect Ryan Lillie to the Reds and right-handed reliever Kyle Barraclough to the Nationals, both for undisclosed amounts of international bonus money.

Victor Victor Mesa, a 22-year-old outfielder, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the top international player on the market. His brother, outfielder Victor Jr., is 17, and Gaston, a right-hander, is a 16-year-old and ranked No. 16 on the international market by MLB Pipeline. Along with touting Miami's large Cuban community, the Marlins also are pitching the organization's commitment to building from the Minor Leagues on up. Another advantage the Marlins feel they have is that vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo has a strong track record in developing prospects. He previously did so with the Yankees.

Putting away the wins and losses of the season, did the Marlins complete their goals for the year?
-- @kevinsantos1212

Last October, when Derek Jeter was introduced as chief executive officer, he preached the importance of building from the Minor Leagues up. The fact was there was not enough organizational depth to have sustainable success with the way the roster was constructed in 2017. The trades that were made during the last year brought in nearly 30 new players to the system. While the Minor League system added more quality depth, the big league club suffered the most, reflected by the 63-98 record.

From a development standpoint, the biggest takeaway from the Major League roster was that 24 rookies got a chance to play at some point. Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez and others showed signs of promise. Even though some players struggled, like Lewis Brinson, getting him a full season in the big leagues also helps the organization in its evaluation process.

Where do you see Monte Harrison starting next season, and when do you feel he realistically could be called up to the Marlins?
-- @fsutoby

One of the centerpiece players in the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers, Harrison is a power-hitting outfielder who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 1 prospect. The 23-year-old outfielder hit 19 home runs and drove in 48 runs at Double-A Jacksonville. The concern is his high strikeout rate, as he fanned 215 times with the Jumbo Shrimp. How quickly he reaches the big leagues will depend largely on his ability to make more contact, because when he does, he has the chance to be extremely impactful.

According to the Marlins' advanced data, 20 percent of the balls Harrison put in play had an exit velocity of more than 105 mph. That was the seventh-highest of more than 400 hitters at Double-A. Keep in mind, the 2018 season was a transitional one for Harrison. In Spring Training, he was reworking his swing, so having some struggles wasn't entirely unexpected in a season of development. Harrison will participate in the Arizona Fall League, which should give an indication of how he handles higher-level pitching.

I've seen rumors that Derek Dietrich might get non-tendered. Is there substance to this? If so, why would they non-tender rather than trading to the highest bidder?
-- @jason_beland

The speculation is raised because Dietrich, 29, will be entering his third year of arbitration, and his salary likely will jump at least a couple million more dollars from the $2.9 million he made in 2018. The Marlins explored trade possibilities for Dietrich in July, but no team showed serious interest. In the offseason, Miami likely will explore trade possibilities with more teams. If there isn't a trade fit, non-tendering Dietrich is certainly possible. Dietrich had 16 home runs and drove in 45 runs, but finding a position for him has been an issue. He is not a true outfielder, but played a lot of left field. Perhaps first base could be an option if he stays.

Do you see the Marlins signing a free agent closer or do they already have their closer on the roster?
-- @patrick_rotella

Closing out games was obviously a struggle for the bullpen: it converted 30 saves to 22 blown saves. But not all of them were in the ninth inning by the closer. That accounts for any late-inning lead surrendered by the bullpen. To address it in free agency, when the team is still building, isn't likely where the organization will allocate its resources. Internal candidates are Drew Steckenrider and Kyle Barraclough. Both had their ups and downs in the closer role and are still under club control. Adam Conley is another internal candidate. I do think the Marlins could bring in someone with closing experience, but I just don't think it will be a high-priced free agent at this time.

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

Miami Marlins

Inbox: What is the Royals' deepest position?

Beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan answers fans' questions
MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- Coming off a strong finish by their young core, the Royals' offseason is upon us.

There are rosters decisions to be made, Rule 5 Draft eligible players to be protected, and work to do to shore up the Royals' bullpen.

KANSAS CITY -- Coming off a strong finish by their young core, the Royals' offseason is upon us.

There are rosters decisions to be made, Rule 5 Draft eligible players to be protected, and work to do to shore up the Royals' bullpen.

With that, let's get to your questions in this week's Royals Inbox:

At what position are the Royals deepest?
-- Michael, Overland, Kansas @MichaelJMally1

I don't recall saying this in many years about a Royals team, but I'd probably say starting pitching. Danny Duffy (if he bounces back), Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Ian Kennedy, Jorge Lopez, Eric Skoglund, Heath Fillmyer and Glenn Sparkman provide plenty of depth. And you never know if someone like Trevor Oaks or Scott Barlow or Arnaldo Hernandez or Foster Griffin wows the staff in camp.

Ned Yost has agreed to stay for 2019. Who might be his replacement?
-- Jenny, @jennysrc

Well, there's a chance Yost could be back in 2020 as well. He has stated repeatedly he wants to get this group competitive before he steps aside -- he wants his replacement to have a fighting chance at success. And once Yost steps away from the dugout, he likely will remain in a more advisory role. Dale Sveum would seem the logical choice to replace him. The players respect him. And Pedro Grifol merits strong consideration as well. Those would be the internal choices right now.

What are the chances that Frank Schwindel fights for a DH spot?
-- Nathan, @Best4Business15

Video: KC@CLE: Schwindel slugs a long solo homer to tie game

I think Schwindel will absolutely compete for a roster spot next spring. And to answer another question about Frank the Tank that I get asked quite often, I'm guessing the Royals leave him unprotected again before this December's Rule 5 Draft. They survived last year without protecting Schwindel or Ryan O'Hearn, simply because it's hard for teams to stash a backup first baseman on the 25-man roster.

Could you ever see the Royals experimenting with an "opener" or "bullpenning" the way other teams have?
-- Max, @maxrieper

Interesting question. We chatted with Yost about it numerous times this season. At first, he seemed skeptical -- he didn't want to spend his best bullpen arms in the first two innings of a game. And in his defense, it's not like he had his 2013-15 bullpens this year that were deep enough to employ the tactic. But Yost is more open-minded about these matters than he lets on. He simply wants results. I wouldn't be shocked with their rotation depth if they try it in '19.

Is there any talk about turning Duffy back into a reliever? He hasn't been able to stay healthy as a starter. With the late-season emergence of other rotation candidates, Duffy could help bolster a weak bullpen.
-- Jeff, @JeffBachman1

Video: DET@KC: Duffy strikes out 6 in 6 innings of work

Possible, but certainly Duffy will get a long look as a rotation candidate early on. He has vowed to devote this offseason to building strength in his rotator cuff and shoulder area. He's aware he has broken down too much lately and he is aware his fastball velocity has dipped. He believes he can get it back.

Jorge Bonifacio didn't perform well after returning from his PED suspension. Where does Bonifacio fit in the Royals' outfield plans?
-- Joey V., @Yay4Sportsballs

From the coaching staff to the front office, everyone was puzzled by Bonifacio's season -- just four homers once he came back from suspension with a .672 OPS. The general feeling is he's more like the 17-homer, .752 OPS guy he was in 2017. But he needs to impress in spring, not just offensively, but as a defender as well.

Who do you think will be the starting third and first basemen?
-- David, @BaltuskaDavid

The corners should be Hunter Dozier and O'Hearn after the way they performed in the final six weeks. Dozier made huge strides defensively and should keep getting better. O'Hearn needs to take that leap defensively as well. He is aware of it.

The closer on opening day is ... ?
-- Chris, @bballkansas

Video: KC@CIN: Peralta leaves the bases loaded for 14th save

Wily Peralta. Just a $3 million team option for 2019 -- that's cheap. He had to do a lot of dancing out of trouble at times, but he wound up 14-for-14 in save opportunities. Good guy in the clubhouse as well.

Opening Day lineup for next season?
-- BBJ, Gardner, Kansas, @Bbjkc

A very, very early guess:

2B Whit Merrifield

SS Adalberto Mondesi

LF Alex Gordon

DH Jorge Soler

C Salvador Perez

1B O'Hearn

3B Dozier

RF Bonifacio

CF Brett Phillips

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals

Inbox: Who are the Phillies' offseason targets?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from fans
MLB.com

What's the backup plan if the Phillies don't get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
-- @Ryanmac818

That is an interesting question as the Phillies enter their most highly anticipated offseason since they signed Jim Thome in December of 2002. I still expect the Phillies to sign Harper or Machado. They have been building for this moment too long not to land somebody.

What's the backup plan if the Phillies don't get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
-- @Ryanmac818

That is an interesting question as the Phillies enter their most highly anticipated offseason since they signed Jim Thome in December of 2002. I still expect the Phillies to sign Harper or Machado. They have been building for this moment too long not to land somebody.

Submit a question to the Inbox

If they don't? Oh boy. It would upset and likely infuriate some fans, but the Phillies would have options. They could change course and sign somebody like left-hander Patrick Corbin, although Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has made his feelings clear about the starting-pitching market. Corbin, though, would make up for the Phillies' lack of offensive punch. They could pursue an elite closer like Craig Kimbrel, athough they might consider a true closer a poor use of resources. (But just imagine Kimbrel and Seranthony Dominguez pitching the late innings next season.)

If the Phillies beefed up the rotation and bullpen, they could sign second-tier free agents to improve the offense and defense. Third baseman Mike Moustakas makes sense, unless the Phillies would prefer to punt and take a run at Nolan Arenado in 2019. The Phillies could get ultra-aggressive in the trade market, too. They have the resources to make a few deals.

But in the end, the preference is obvious: Harper or Machado. Neither of them will solve all of the Phillies' problems, but it would give them a slugger in the middle of the lineup for the next decade, a slugger who arguably has not reached his prime yet.

Will Roman Quinn be roaming center field next season and will Odubel Herrera still be on the roster?
-- @Any2Cards302

Quinn brings too much energy to the field not to be on the Opening Day roster. Defensively, his four Outs Above Average ranked 34th out of 295 outfielders, according to Statcast™. His sprint speed (30.2 ft/sec) ranked third. The only question is how much do the Phillies trust him?

Everybody knows Quinn's extensive injury history. It would be unwise to enter Spring Training assuming he could play 100-plus games in center field. (He has played more than 92 games just once in seven professional seasons.) Plus, while Quinn hit .362 with a .945 OPS in his first 71 plate appearances this season, he hit .145 with a .495 OPS in his final 72. He played with a broken toe most of September, which likely explains some of the struggles, but there are still concerns.

The Phillies could bring back Herrera, betting he will bounce back following a bad year. They could bet on Aaron Altherr rebounding from a bad year, too. Herrera or Altherr would provide insurance in center field if Quinn is hurt or struggles.

Free-agent outfielders like Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Curtis Granderson might make some sense, if they are willing to take a reduced role. Yes, Jones, McCutchen and Granderson are not the defenders they once were, but the Phillies have been unafraid to play players out of position. In theory, they could put somebody like Jones, Granderson or McCutchen in the outfield when a pitcher with a high groundball rate (i.e. Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Corbin, etc.) is on the mound. Plus, there is the added bonus that all of them are regarded as good people to have in the clubhouse, giving the Phillies more veteran leadership.

Will Phillies manager Gabe Kapler manage more from his gut rather than analytics?
-- @JoshuaZlatkin

Kapler is probably watching the postseason, saying, "See?!?!" The A's used a relief pitcher as their "opener" in the AL Wild Card Game last week. They lost. The Brewers bullpened Game 1 of the NL Division Series. They just swept the Rockies in the best-of-five series.

"There aren't going to be hard and fast rules to how we use any of our pitchers," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said before Game 1. "Largely, we're trying to get away from what the word 'starter' and 'reliever' means. That's how we're going to get through the postseason, I think."

When I first read that quote last week I said, "Imagine if Kapler said that."

But Brewers fans aren't complaining, because the Brewers are winning and headed to the NLCS. I suspect complaints about analytics and how Kapler uses them would diminish if the Phillies won, too. But I think some fans' (and players') frustrations comes from the feeling that the Phillies go to extremes at times and that perhaps some of the data is not used effectively. The Phillies dispute this, of course. But the best thing for Kapler might be baseball fans in Philly watching an "opener" or two in a World Series filled with four-man outfields, frequent pitching changes and other unconventional moves.

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

Philadelphia Phillies

Inbox: What will Angels' 2019 infield look like?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado answers questions from Angels fans
MLB.com

General manager Billy Eppler laid out what he's looking for in the next Angels manager during his end of season press conference at Angel Stadium last week.

Tweet from @joeflorkowski: Mike Scioscia received a lot of flak for being seen as "old school" whether that was true or not - any idea on what qualities the Angels front office is looking for in the next skipper?

General manager Billy Eppler laid out what he's looking for in the next Angels manager during his end of season press conference at Angel Stadium last week.

"What we're looking for in that next manager is connectivity with the players," Eppler said. "We're looking for somebody who can think with a probability-based mindset. We're going to look for someone who is eager to grow and evolve. Someone that can develop a culture that will put the welfare of the team above any singular person."

Prior managerial experience will not be required, so I think the Angels could lean toward younger candidates who are well-versed in analytics. More >>

:: Submit a question to the Angels Inbox ::

Tweet from @LSittig: Eppler says he���s looking for durable arms. Any discussion of changing medical staff, trainers or pitching coaches to avoid the huge number of injuries to pitchers��� arms we���ve seen?

Eppler said there will be some changes made regarding the Angels' approach to injury prevention next season, but I don't think he was referring specifically to personnel changes.

"We are going to utilize newer technology to supplement what we have been doing," Eppler said. "There have been new measures introduced in the last few months that we are going to explore."

One Angels pitcher told me he feels like the club's medical staff is actually very proactive when it comes to treating injuries, so I don't think it's fair to blame the trainers for all of the health issues that have befallen the team recently.

Tweet from @Albyers77: What do you think the opening day infield will look like for the Angels?

It's tough to project what the infield will look like right now because there are a lot of question marks at various positions. Andrelton Simmons will undoubtedly be at shortstop. Zack Cozart will flank him at either second or third base, depending on which young player wins a starting job during Spring Training. Third baseman Taylor Ward, second baseman Luis Rengifo and David Fletcher, who can play second or third, will be among the contenders for that spot. If Shohei Ohtani is available to hit by Opening Day, I would expect Albert Pujols to be at first base. If not, Pujols will likely serve as the designated hitter, leaving a potential opening for Jose Fernandez, Matt Thaiss or Jared Walsh at first.

Video: LAA@OAK: Simmons and Cozart turn two in the 5th

Tweet from @Razzball: Will Ohtani get 500+ ABs in 2019?

That number seems a little high, especially since Ohtani's availability for Opening Day has been put in question by Tommy John surgery. The Angels will also have to occasionally start Pujols at DH to give him a break from playing first base, so that could also infringe on Ohtani's at-bats next year. I think his total at-bats will end up being somewhere in the 400 range.

Tweet from @jaydieguez: Which pitching prospects should fans look forward to reading about for spring training?

I suspect you'll hear a lot about left-hander Jose Suarez and right-hander Griffin Canning, both of whom shot from Class A Advanced Inland Empire to Triple-A Salt Lake this season. Suarez, 20, logged a 3.92 ERA in 26 starts with 44 walks and 142 strikeouts over 117 innings. Canning, 22, posted a 3.65 ERA in 25 starts with 44 walks and 125 strikeouts over 113 1/3 innings in his first professional season.

Video: Top Prospects: Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels

Tweet from @BrianWanta: Did the Angels reach 3 million in attendance this year?

Yes. They drew 3,022,216 fans this year, marking the 16th consecutive season in which they've reached 3 million in attendance.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels

Inbox: What changes should Cards make?

MLB.com

Another October sans baseball in St. Louis leaves the fanbase forced to think about next year earlier than everyone had hoped. And given all the questions submitted, there are a lot of topics on your minds. Let's get to a few of them in our first offseason Inbox:

What area (bullpen, infield, starting pitching) do you think needs to be focused on the most this offseason so that St. Louis can improve next year?
-- Nick T. (@nicktrip444)

Another October sans baseball in St. Louis leaves the fanbase forced to think about next year earlier than everyone had hoped. And given all the questions submitted, there are a lot of topics on your minds. Let's get to a few of them in our first offseason Inbox:

What area (bullpen, infield, starting pitching) do you think needs to be focused on the most this offseason so that St. Louis can improve next year?
-- Nick T. (@nicktrip444)

First, let's consider the gap the Cardinals have to close in the National League Central. They finished with 88 wins. The Cubs had 95. The Brewers tallied 96. I mention that to make this point: The Cardinals have a sizeable deficit to make up. Some of that can come from internal improvement, but much of it is going to have to happen through roster turnover. And there are plenty of deficiencies to address.

:: Submit a question to the Cardinals Inbox ::

I'd list the offense (impact bat) and bullpen (multiple late-inning arms, including at least one reliable left-hander) as 1A and 1B, respectively. These needs aren't all that different from the ones we were discussing 12 months ago. That impact bat would best fit in right field or third base, and the Cards do need to balance all their right-handed hitters with some left-handed options. Furthermore, improving the defense (particularly down the lines) will be a necessity for a team building around its pitching.

Aside from Machado and Harper, this free agent class isn't great. Should we take care of arbitration-eligible players that we plan to keep and then make a run at 2019 free agents?
-- Kevin H. (@TheRealHuff8)

Before we get to the question, let me note that I disagree with your premise. Indeed, the focus of this free-agent class will be Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. But behind them, the market is deep in talent. There are impact pitchers available, including Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller. And below Machado/Harper are plenty of intriguing position player possibilities: Josh Donaldson, Eduardo Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Jose Iglesias, A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis, Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, among them.

I mention these players to make the point that even if the Cardinals do not land Machado or Harper, there is no reason why they can't improve their club by signing other free agents. To sit out of free agency this year with the intention of going all-in next season is a strategy I wouldn't expect the Cardinals to employ. They have the financial flexibility to go big now and still not be handcuffed to add again next winter when theyn could lose Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas and Marcell Ozuna to free agency.

What are the chances the Cardinals move on from Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Dexter Fowler this offseason?
-- Aaron H. (@Hammy_282)

When it comes to complicated contracts, these are a few of them. Not so much Gregerson, who will be owed $5 million in 2019. He dealt with a plethora of injuries this year, but the Cardinals might as well let that contract play out and see if a healthy Gregerson can be an effective one next year.

Cecil and Fowler are different cases. I would expect the Cards to explore interest for Fowler, though it's unlikely there's much given that he's coming off a career-worst year and has $49.5 million still due on his contract. The fact that he's recovering from another lower-body injury would give potential suitors pause, too. Oh, and there's the whole no-trade clause thing. Perhaps the Cardinals could entice him to accept a trade elsewhere if they sign another starting right fielder, though even that is uncertain.

Cecil, whom the Cards signed to a four-year, $30.5 million contract in Nov. 2016, has given the club no return for that investment. He has no trade value, which means the Cards could eat the $14.5 million remaining on the deal or bring him back for one more try. If the Cards go the latter route, they'd be wise to cut ties with Cecil during Spring Training if it's once again evident that he's not a valuable arm for the 'pen.

How likely is it that the Cardinals re-sign Matt Adams, given how happy the fans were to see him return this year?
-- Stephen H. (@ephesossh)

Not likely. I know Adams was thrilled to rejoin the organization and would welcome a longer stay. But where would he fit? The Cardinals already have a left-handed hitting first baseman in Matt Carpenter, and Adams' lack of defensive versatility means he'd be returning to be a bat off the bench. The Cardinals have plenty of other options for that role.

Though he did contribute a few key hits down the stretch for St. Louis, Adams slashed an underwhelming .158/.200/.333 and posted a .533 OPS in 27 games after the mid-August trade.

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

Inbox: Does Kopech's injury stall Sox rebuild?

Beat reporter Scott Merkin answers fans' questions
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- With the White Sox 2018 season in the rearview mirror, it's a good time to go through the latest batch of your Inbox questions on the future of the organization.

Does the Michael Kopech injury set back our time to compete by a full year at least?
-- Joe, Milwaukee, @jnez50

A healthy Kopech is an important component for a successful White Sox future, and his innings were being counted upon for 2019. But one player injury, albeit an injury to a crucial player, shouldn't set back an entire process.

CHICAGO -- With the White Sox 2018 season in the rearview mirror, it's a good time to go through the latest batch of your Inbox questions on the future of the organization.

Does the Michael Kopech injury set back our time to compete by a full year at least?
-- Joe, Milwaukee, @jnez50

A healthy Kopech is an important component for a successful White Sox future, and his innings were being counted upon for 2019. But one player injury, albeit an injury to a crucial player, shouldn't set back an entire process.

:: Submit a question to the White Sox Inbox ::

Kopech will be back in 2020 and most believe he will be as strong as ever, but this injury really postpones a valuable first full season of Major League experience for the right-hander. The White Sox were going to be in the market for pitching, so Kopech's situation might change their focus on the sort of pitcher they pursue.

At the right price after the buyout, don't the Sox need to bring back James Shields?
-- Jim, Gilberts, @jimtrots

Shields knows the staff, already has positively influenced a number of the young pitchers and was one of 13 Major League hurlers to throw at least 200 innings in 2018. The White Sox certainly won't pick up his $16 million option for '19, but I wouldn't think he's completely out of the mix.

Video: CLE@CWS: Shields fans Lindor to escape jam in 6th

Do you see the White Sox making a run at one or more of the big-name free agents in the offseason?
-- Matt, Livingston, Scotland, @Glangon

The names Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were quite prevalent in this week's batch of questions, which makes sense considering the financially flexibility built up by the team for the next five years. The White Sox aren't at the finishing stage of their rebuild in which they would most likely have to go outside the organization, per general manager Rick Hahn. But Hahn added that they also will be opportunistic in this market, which could include even bigger ticket players.

Remember, even if all the stars align, a player still must want to come to the team in pursuit. So, it's always a complicated dance. The White Sox won't rush matters this offseason, but they will be smart and aggressive when the situation dictates.

What does the 2019 White Sox outfield/designated hitter spot look like? Will Daniel Palka or Matt Davidson DH? Avisail Garcia will play right field, but what about center field? Left field?
-- Joseph, @JJHantsch

Garcia is one of the more interesting questions entering the offseason. I don't expect him to get an extension coming off an injury-plagued season, but he could enter 2019 anywhere from the White Sox starting right fielder to playing for another team. The White Sox have another year of contractual control over Garcia, and as of now, I believe he should be back.

Video: CLE@CWS: Garcia clubs a 2-run homer in the 1st

Palka firmly put himself in the '19 picture, while Davidson also is in play. Adam Engel looks to be the team's center fielder, at this point, and let's not forget Eloy Jimenez, the No. 3 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, who will be with the team for the bulk of '19 and beyond. But it's too early at this point to make ironclad predictions.

If Yoan Moncada changes positions, where do you think he moves to and why?
-- Mike, Warrenville, Ill., @MikeSox56

My guess would be third base, although he has the athleticism to play center field. Moncada regularly took ground balls at shortstop and third base down the stretch during batting practice, but he had a strong finish defensively at second base. Look for him to be the team's second baseman moving into '19.

Video: CWS@MIN: Moncada fields ground ball with backhand

How do the Sox stop striking out so much?
-- Joel, Crown Point, Ind., @jvickers75

Feature more contact hitters would be my best guess. But let's use the example of Moncada, who struck out 217 times but clearly has a strong working knowledge of the strike zone. It was his first full season in the Majors, so there are bound to be growing pains. He also talked later in the season about needing to take steps this next season to cut down that total. It's all about making adjustments.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Michael Kopech

Inbox: Is Bumgarner still a No. 1 starter?

Beat reporter Chris Haft answers questions from fans
MLB.com

I may make many of my fellow Giant fans mad with this question, but here goes. Madison Bumgarner is not a legitimate No. 1 starter. He's maybe a No. 2 and, in a worst-case scenario, a No. 3. What are the chances we can either land a No. 1 via free agency or even trade for a No. 1? Also, Jeff Samardzija is not even a No. 3. All I can say for him is that he is an "innings eater" when healthy, but definitely not someone who can be relied on to consistently get batters out. Is there a possibility we trade or even release him without it affecting our purse too much?
-- James J., San Antonio, Texas

You said a mouthful, James. Whether Bumgarner remains an ace-quality pitcher should stir debate. Granted, he's not as dominant as he once was. His 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings was his lowest since 2010 (7.0), his rookie season. But his 3.26 ERA indicated that he remains capable of muting the opposition. I'd still take him over virtually anybody in a postseason game.

I may make many of my fellow Giant fans mad with this question, but here goes. Madison Bumgarner is not a legitimate No. 1 starter. He's maybe a No. 2 and, in a worst-case scenario, a No. 3. What are the chances we can either land a No. 1 via free agency or even trade for a No. 1? Also, Jeff Samardzija is not even a No. 3. All I can say for him is that he is an "innings eater" when healthy, but definitely not someone who can be relied on to consistently get batters out. Is there a possibility we trade or even release him without it affecting our purse too much?
-- James J., San Antonio, Texas

You said a mouthful, James. Whether Bumgarner remains an ace-quality pitcher should stir debate. Granted, he's not as dominant as he once was. His 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings was his lowest since 2010 (7.0), his rookie season. But his 3.26 ERA indicated that he remains capable of muting the opposition. I'd still take him over virtually anybody in a postseason game.

Submit a question to the Giants Inbox

As you know, the possibility of a trade involving Bumgarner is a hot topic this offseason. He might be able to fetch the Giants some offensive help. But I doubt that the Giants would seek another No. 1 starter if Bumgarner left. They'd probably try to bide their time until Johnny Cueto returns from Tommy John surgery.

Samardzija is virtually untradeable until he proves he has recovered from his season-long shoulder problems.

I would be happier for the Giants to pursue more moderately-priced bats with good potential to breakout in 2019. I have some concern that Bryce Harper's personality doesn't fit very well with the Giants organization. Do you think they will go after Harper?
-- Hugh W., Lovettsville, Va.

Those burgeoning hitters with economical salaries are in short supply in free agency. If they were plentiful, few would be likely to make AT&T Park their destination of choice. The Giants must resort to trading for such players if they hope to obtain one, and it won't become clear until early next month who's available.

Harper is an exception due to his youth (he turns 26 on Oct. 16). As for his personality, let's put it this way: Is he sometimes brash? Sure. So was Brian Wilson. Does he rub others the wrong way on occasion? Yes, but so does Madison Bumgarner. Does he want to win? Anybody who runs the way Harper does -- as if his life depended on reaching the next base -- yearns for a championship ring. Harper has attitude, which the Giants have lacked the last few years. He'll be overpriced, but he'd be great for them to bring aboard.

Why is Buster Posey not considered as a potential third baseman? He played shortstop in college as a freshman. The Giants converted Pablo Sandoval to third from catcher. Why not Buster?
-- William C., Rio Vista, Calif.

There's that little matter of Evan Longoria's contract, which is guaranteed through 2022. There's also the common-sense reality which dictates that if Posey wasn't regarded as a college shortstop, he certainly wouldn't fit as a big league third baseman, though I'm sure that he's athletic enough to make some plays.

No doubt a significant reason for the Giants' success has been their manager. How long do you think before Bruce Bochy retires? His attendance at this year's Hall of Fame induction ceremony gets me thinking of his eventual enshrinement. And do you think it is inevitable?
-- Raymond S., Ashland, Ore.

Given the frequency with which Bochy is spoken of as a future Hall of Famer, his induction certainly seems like a sure thing. The nine other managers who have steered teams to at least three World Series titles all are enshrined at Cooperstown. There's no reason for Bochy to be an exception.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

San Francisco Giants

Inbox: Who are candidates to succeed Molitor?

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger fields Twins fans' questions
MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's set to be an incredibly interesting offseason for the Twins, who have to replace manager Paul Molitor and have the payroll flexibility to improve a roster that took a step backward in 2018.

There's plenty of uncertainty on how the front office will approach the next few months, so let's jump right into the first Twins Inbox of the 2018-19 offseason.

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's set to be an incredibly interesting offseason for the Twins, who have to replace manager Paul Molitor and have the payroll flexibility to improve a roster that took a step backward in 2018.

There's plenty of uncertainty on how the front office will approach the next few months, so let's jump right into the first Twins Inbox of the 2018-19 offseason.

Tweet from @MoneyMN34: Anyone on the radar to replace Paul Molitor?

It's still early in the process, but there are some candidates who are expected to get a look as the possible next Twins manager. Internally, bench coach Derek Shelton is a candidate as is Major League coach Jeff Pickler and Triple-A manager Joel Skinner.

External candidates who could be interviewed by the Twins include Indians bench coach Brad Mills, Indians Minor League defensive coach John McDonald, Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Rangers coach Jayce Tingler, Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada.

There are also others with managerial experience available such as Joe Girardi, Brad Ausmus, Buck Showalter and Jeff Banister, but it doesn't seem as likely they go that route. Among current managers, Rays manager Kevin Cash would be the strongest candidate. Other options could obviously emerge, but those are some of the names floating around early so far. A replacement isn't expected to be named until after the conclusion of the World Series.

:: Submit a question to the Twins Inbox ::

Tweet from @ngunder2: What was your overall impression of the Twins ���opener��� strategy? Also, what do the statistics say when the Twins used an opener? Twins W-L record, openers era, whip, etc in these games

It made sense for the Twins to at least try the opener strategy after being out of the race, as the strategy has merits with the ability of the primary pitcher to avoid facing the top of the order three times. But it's also worth noting they tried it in September with expanded rosters, so it could operate differently with a 25-man roster.

Overall, the Twins posted a 5.09 ERA in games in which they used an opener, but it was better after a rough start with a 3.39 ERA over their final seven games using an opener. Right-hander Kohl Stewart seemed to fare best in his role as a primary pitcher with a 6.61 ERA in four starts but a 1.33 ERA in four appearances after an opener. But even then, it's hard to say if he just matured more as a pitcher throwing more strikes, or if the strategy actually helped him.

I could see the Twins using it here and there next year, but much of it depends on how aggressive they are in terms of acquiring another starter this offseason to a rotation that is expected to include Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda with plenty of internal options for a fifth starter including Stewart, Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Adalberto Mejia and Chase De Jong.

Tweet from @TheDayAfterBill: Of the players the Twins traded prior to the trade deadline. Do you think there is any chance the Twins will try to re-sign any of them this winter? Specifically Escobar or Dozier

Bringing back Eduardo Escobar, 29, still isn't out of the question, as he remains a strong fit both on the field and in the clubhouse. But he's going to get offers for an everyday role, so the Twins will have to convince him he's not coming back to simply be a utility player. As for Brian Dozier, it appears the ship has sailed and it would be a surprise if he returned to Minnesota this offseason. Reunions with other traded players such as Lance Lynn or Zach Duke also are highly unlikely.

Tweet from @swayze_scbc: Trevor May looked amazing coming back from TJS this year. He should be number 1 on the twins list for the closing job next year. I���d rather the Twins go in house on the closer decision. Do you think the Twins will do more of a closer by committee role next year?

Trevor May's return was incredibly encouraging and he has the makings of a future closer, but I still see the front office looking to acquire a veteran closer much like they did with Fernando Rodney last offseason. May could be the club's most dominant reliever next year, but it's more likely to come in a setup role to open the season.

Tweet from @pants_andy: Can we please get a regular/Weekly podcast with Falvey/Lavine similar to the Wheelhouse w Jerry Dipoto?

The Twins do host a weekly Hot Stove Show during the offseason, which features regular appearances from both chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine. The podcast begins again on Nov. 28 and can be found here.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Willians Astudillo, Trevor May

Inbox: Who should be the Mets' new GM?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
MLB.com

The Mets' general manager search is kicking into full swing this week, as the initial wave of candidates meets with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and assistant general manager John Ricco. While we wait for a resolution on that process, let's dive into the first offseason Inbox:

Who do you, Anthony DiComo, think should be the Mets' general manager? Also, how many analytics staffers should the Mets have?
--@JamesGBeattie via Twitter

The Mets' general manager search is kicking into full swing this week, as the initial wave of candidates meets with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and assistant general manager John Ricco. While we wait for a resolution on that process, let's dive into the first offseason Inbox:

Who do you, Anthony DiComo, think should be the Mets' general manager? Also, how many analytics staffers should the Mets have?
--@JamesGBeattie via Twitter

While it's not my place to stump for one candidate over another, I chose this question to lead off the Inbox because it hits on the underlying theme of the Mets' GM search. Two strong candidates, Ben Cherington and Thad Levine, recently withdrew themselves from consideration, preferring to stay in comfortable situations in Toronto and Minnesota, respectively. Because both are successful 40-somethings with excellent track records, their absences from the process are hard to ignore.

Submit a question to the Mets Inbox

The Mets GM job should be a sought-after position, given New York's market size and roster talent. And yet uncertainty surrounds it. Reports abound that principal owner Fred Wilpon wants a candidate who will rely on scouting, while his son, Jeff Wilpon, is more interested in executives with a sabermetric bent. The younger Wilpon recently said the size of the Mets' three-man analytics department -- tied for second-smallest in baseball, according to research by The Athletic -- is due to the recommendation of outgoing GM Sandy Alderson. Multiple sources within the Mets' front office have disputed that claim.

Jeff Wilpon has also said that while the next head of operations will have the authority to replace executives Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya, as well as manager Mickey Callaway, his preference is for all three to stay in place, creating skepticism within the industry.

Imagine, given all of that as a backdrop, being a GM candidate. You'd probably have some questions.

At least some answers should come soon, as the Mets cut down their first round of hopefuls -- a group that includes Brewers senior advisor Doug Melvin and Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque -- to a smaller bunch of finalists. As the Mets began interviews this week, the team has kept the process shrouded in secrecy.

Not everyone is interested in becoming the Mets' next GM, but plenty are. They'll fill the role before long.

Could Craig Kimbrel be a realistic option this winter?
--@ChrisDouthat via Twitter
It's difficult to answer free agency questions without a GM in place, because the new executive's ideas will color the Mets' decisions. But no matter who takes over the job, the Mets need relief help. Kimbrel is probably the biggest-name reliever available.

That doesn't necessarily make him the best option or the Mets' primary target. But the team should absolutely be shopping in the aisle that includes Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino and other top relievers. There's enough inventory that the Mets can certainly acquire one of them. Realistically, they may need two.

Does Peter Alonso get a full chance at first base in Spring Training, or do the Mets try their best to shoehorn Jay Bruce there?
--@TomMorache via Twitter

Ostensibly, Alonso will enter camp with a chance to win the first base job. Realistically, it's difficult to see it happening. Having confined Alonso to the Minors for this long, the Mets now have financial incentive to keep him there a bit longer -- perhaps into June, when they would no longer run the risk of him becoming a Super Two arbitration-eligible player.

If Dominic Smith struggles in camp, that equation could change. If Smith, Bruce or Wilmer Flores suffers an injury, things might be different. But I don't get the sense the Mets will enter camp considering Alonso as the definite guy at first base.

In an ideal world, who should be the Mets' catchers next season? Realistically, who will be the catchers next season? This may be the need that is most difficult to solve considering everything else that is needed.
--@mariamb18 via Twitter

Realistically, Kevin Plawecki will be part of the team, either as the starter or backup. The Mets' other returning catchers are either uncertain to be healthy (Travis d'Arnaud) or unestablished at the big league level (Tomas Nido).

The question is whether the Mets sign one of the top two free-agent catchers available in Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal, or perhaps land a backstop such as J.T. Realmuto in a trade. Given the Mets' unwillingness to engage in bidding wars in recent years, there are no guarantees. It's entirely possible the Mets sign a lesser catcher, keeping Plawecki in a timeshare and hoping d'Arnaud gets healthy. In this situation, as well, things will become clearer once the new GM is in place.

Did Jason Vargas lock up his rotation spot for 2019 with his solid finish this year? And if he didn't, do you think the Mets look to add from outside the organization for that fifth spot?
--@TimothyRRyder via Twitter

I believe Vargas did more than enough to earn a job in the Mets' rotation, going 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA in his last eight starts. That does not, however, mean the Mets have an appropriate amount of starting pitching depth. Beyond Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and Vargas, their depth hinges on Corey Oswalt and Seth Lugo. Even if prospects Justin Dunn and Anthony Kay take significant steps forward next season, they can't be counted on early in the season.

Ideally, the Mets will sign another swingman similar to Lugo, who can break camp in the bullpen and bounce to the rotation when necessary.

Lugo seemed to pitch really well this year. Does he get a shot at the rotation next year? Or do the Mets need to sign more relievers to free him from his bullpen responsibilities?
--@CobyWanKanobi via Twitter

Related to that last question, the Mets will stretch Lugo out as a starter next spring, but ultimately look to keep him in the bullpen. They need him capable of filling both roles.

Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio are three of the brighter prospects in the Mets system and they all play shortstop. Would you expect them to trade from a strength, or would they plan on moving guys to new positions to accommodate?
--@keithhenn16 via Twitter

Could the Mets ultimately trade one of those players? Sure, but it won't be likely, because all three play shortstop. Gimenez and Mauricio are 20 and 17 years old, respectively. A lot can happen in their development over the next couple of years and, frankly, by the time Mauricio is ready to contribute, Rosario could be nearing free agency. Position switches happen all the time, but often not until players are close to the big leagues. They'll all stay at shortstop until there's reason to change.

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

New York Mets

Inbox: Could Nats deal Eaton if Harper returns?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from fans
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- There are so many questions the Nationals will have to answer this offseason as they look to build themselves back into a contender after missing the postseason in 2018. Most of them revolve around Bryce Harper and whether the team re-signs him, which would have a huge impact on how the rest of Washington's offseason plays out.

Re-sign Harper, and all of a sudden, the Nats are working with an excess of outfielders and would be free to deal some of those players to fill other needs. If Harper walks, then Washington can use the salary it had planned for him to fill other needs.

WASHINGTON -- There are so many questions the Nationals will have to answer this offseason as they look to build themselves back into a contender after missing the postseason in 2018. Most of them revolve around Bryce Harper and whether the team re-signs him, which would have a huge impact on how the rest of Washington's offseason plays out.

Re-sign Harper, and all of a sudden, the Nats are working with an excess of outfielders and would be free to deal some of those players to fill other needs. If Harper walks, then Washington can use the salary it had planned for him to fill other needs.

Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox

To help sort out the myriad of questions facing Washington this offseason, the Nationals Inbox will be a regular feature this offseason, starting today with fans wondering what happens to the other outfielders on the roster not named Harper or prized young players like Juan Soto or Victor Robles.

Tweet from @that_knight1: @JamalCollier As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

How the Nationals handle their potentially crowded outfield will be one of the most fascinating storylines of the offseason. If Harper returns, it would free Washington to potentially explore trading some of its other outfielders. If you pencil in Harper and Soto, the Nationals have three other Major League-caliber outfielders in Eaton, Robles and Michael A. Taylor. Robles would be the most attractive trade chip because of his age (21) and prospect pedigree. But would Washington explore trading Eaton?

On one hand, it makes sense. Eaton is signed through 2019 with affordable team options for '20 and '21, so his contract would be an enticing trade option for most teams. And it would allow Washington to keep its two true center fielders in Robles and Taylor to go with Harper and Soto as corner outfielders. However, Eaton will turn 30 in December, has been limited to 118 games over the past two seasons because of knee and ankle injuries that will likely reduce him to a corner-outfield role in the future. It's very likely his trade value is at one of its lowest points. Perhaps a team will still value Eaton as heavily as the Nationals did when they acquired him in December 2016, but he might have to prove he can remain healthy for a full season before teams are willing to deal major pieces for him.

Tweet from @Jofi_Joseph_99: What's Michael A. Taylor's future with this team?

That brings us to Taylor, who endured a setback in his standing with the team last season. A year ago, Taylor was Washington's breakout postseason star, a finalist for a National League Gold Glove Award in 2017 and ready to be the Nats' Opening Day center fielder for the first time. But he struggled mightily at the plate through the first two months of the season, and even though he got hot in June, he struggled to find playing time behind Harper, Soto and Eaton. That made him the odd man out for much of the second half, and he was bumped further down the depth chart when Robles was called up in September.

I'm guessing the Nats will look into trade options for Taylor this offseason, especially if Harper re-signs. While Taylor can be a stellar fourth outfielder, it might be time to strike before his value further dips and deal him in an effort to address one of the team's other holes. A change of scenery and fresh start could be best for the 27-year-old.

Tweet from @AllDayEryDay: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

Exactly who the Nats' targets will be this offseason is unclear because of some uncertain factors surrounding their pursuit of starting pitching, which will be a priority this offseason after their rotation faltered last season. First off, everything depends on Harper. If they sign Harper to a large deal, perhaps they would rather find a front-line starting pitcher through a trade instead of in free agency. If Harper signs elsewhere, they could use that money to sign one of the premier free-agent starters.

With the departure of Gio Gonzalez, Washington has been connected to left-handed starters such as Patrick Corbin of the D-backs in free agency, but I would focus more on the quality of pitcher instead of what hand he throws with. I could also see the Nats exploring deals for bounce-back starting pitching candidates similar to Jeremy Hellickson.

Tweet from @axdebes: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

Washington has basically done this in each of the past three seasons by rostering a left-handed complement for Zimmerman at first base -- Clint Robinson in 2016, Adam Lind in '17 and Matt Adams last season. I'd anticipate something similar next season. Once Zimmerman got healthy following the All-Star break, he posted a .911 OPS in the second half. He and the team will continue to repeat that when he's healthy he has produced. But they also understand at 34-years old has an extensive injury history, so Zimmerman will be treated with care. Expect the team to find someone to help lighten his workload next season.

Tweet from @kay8tch: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

Finding a second baseman would be high on my priority list for Washington. Howie Kendrick is 35 and coming off a torn right Achilles, so it would be wise to not count on him in an everyday role. Wilmer Difo has had hot streaks but never sustained success at the plate, and the organization will not want to rush Carter Kieboom, their No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, who still has not played second base professionally.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper