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Inbox: When will LA call on catching prospects?

Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Now that we know J.T. Realmuto isn't coming to L.A., the Dodgers will start the season with Austin Barnes and Russell Martin behind the plate. How soon can we realistically expect to see Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith in the big leagues?
-- @CheckBlueLA

At 23, Smith is three years older and presumably more polished as a college player, while Ruiz might have a higher ceiling but hasn't played above Double-A yet. So realistically, Smith will arrive first, but seeing them both in Major League exhibition games will help answer your question. MLB Pipeline ranks Ruiz as the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect and Smith as No. 5.

Now that we know J.T. Realmuto isn't coming to L.A., the Dodgers will start the season with Austin Barnes and Russell Martin behind the plate. How soon can we realistically expect to see Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith in the big leagues?
-- @CheckBlueLA

At 23, Smith is three years older and presumably more polished as a college player, while Ruiz might have a higher ceiling but hasn't played above Double-A yet. So realistically, Smith will arrive first, but seeing them both in Major League exhibition games will help answer your question. MLB Pipeline ranks Ruiz as the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect and Smith as No. 5.

:: Submit a question to the Dodgers Inbox ::

Since Bryce Harper is a no, are they finally going to let Alex Verdugo play every day?
-- @janeen_griffith

Unless I'm missing something, I would expect Verdugo will need to win a job during Spring Training. If you look back to last September and October, Verdugo was a non-factor. He didn't make the postseason roster. If he couldn't make the bench for the World Series, I don't see how he is handed an everyday job at the start of Spring Training over proven Major Leaguers like Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor or Enrique Hernandez.

Assuming no injuries or mishaps during Spring Training, who do you see starting on Opening Day vs. AZ?
-- @daleeatherly

Assuming you mean starting pitcher, how about Clayton Kershaw?

Video: Kershaw is the No. 7 starting pitcher right now

How have the Dodgers projected Ross Stripling this year: relief, starter or flexible wingman?
-- @itsaburnerrrrr

Wingman, swingman, whatever you want to call it. Stripling was an All-Star in the first half but he faded down the stretch and had to watch the postseason. I think he falls into the same category as Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias as capable of starting or relieving, depending on the health, performance and need of the pitching staff.

Other than Walker Buehler, who do you expect to give you a full season with 30 starts? The Dodgers need a six-man rotation.
-- @valdez310

Once again, Kershaw. He's due for a healthy season.

What would a Dodgers lineup with the universal DH look like?
-- @BannedRodriguez

Should the rule change, which is only a reported proposal at this point, and were it to apply this season, the Dodgers would probably add a bat. With the current alignment, Pederson, David Freese and Andrew Toles come to mind as DH candidates. The Dodgers played 10 regular-season games with the DH last year and used three players in the role. Matt Kemp had the most starts with five, plus two in the World Series, and he's gone.

What are the Dodgers chances at landing Nolan Arenado?
-- @C_loz10

This front office hasn't signed a massive free-agent contract, and Arenado figures to be in line for one next offseason. If it ever made sense for the Dodgers to splurge on one player, Arenado would seem to be the one, a local product who excels offensively and defensively. It just doesn't seem that this regime believes in committing that much money to one player.

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

Los Angeles Dodgers

Inbox: Could Myers be used as third baseman?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell fields offseason questions from fans
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Padres pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday. That leaves us with time for one more offseason Inbox.

Let's get straight to your questions.

SAN DIEGO -- Padres pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday. That leaves us with time for one more offseason Inbox.

Let's get straight to your questions.

I know Wil Myers is moving back to the outfield, but if we don't sign a third baseman, is there any chance he plays third anyway?
-- Josh K., Los Angeles

I keep posing this same question to Padres decision-makers. They keep giving me the same answer: No. Wil Myers is going to be a full-time outfielder in 2019.

I'll expand that to another player, too: Francisco Mejia won't be playing third base, either.

Let's start with Myers. He was pretty poor at third last season, and he's been solid in left field. The Padres may have an outfield logjam, particularly in the corners. But they think the best path to get Myers back to his All-Star-caliber form is to play him where he's comfortable and let him flourish. I've been told that the only way he plays third base would be as an emergency substitution.

As for Mejia, the premise is similar. The Padres have Austin Hedges as their starting catcher. So why not work Mejia at third, where he played 10 games in the Indians organization in 2017? Well, Mejia is a pretty elite catching prospect, but his defense is raw. He needs to hone his pitch-framing, and he needs extensive work with this young pitching staff. In that sense, the Padres see the most value in giving Mejia reps exclusively behind the plate.

:: Submit a question to the Padres Inbox ::

If a universal designated hitter were to be implemented, how would it affect the Padres? Would it change their plan to trade an outfielder?
-- Tom S., San Diego

To be clear, this is still only hypothetical, based on reports. There is no indication that expansion of the DH is imminent, or even certain, and if it does happen, it might not happen for a few years.

That said, it's hard to envision a National League team being aided more by a universal DH than the Padres. They've got three young hitters -- all with immense upside -- who would benefit greatly from a DH spot in the lineup.

Franmil Reyes was the team's best hitter last season, but he's a defensive liability currently fighting for playing time with two other righty-hitting corner outfielders. Josh Naylor, who was recently ranked as the Padres' best prospect (No. 15) outside MLB Pipeline's Top 100, is a skilled hitter without an obvious position. And catching prospect Mejia is stuck behind Hedges on the depth chart, but he might force his way into the lineup with his bat.

Now, you might be saying, "Only one of those guys can be the DH, AJ."

And that's the point! In that group, there's a lefty, a righty and a switch-hitter. Imagine an offense with an extra lineup spot available for those three hitters to mix and match as necessary. It's suddenly pretty deep.

So would a DH change the organization's plans? Well, Reyes and Naylor -- long rumored as trade candidates -- are still Padres, after all.

With all the free-agent and trade speculation, predict for me: How many players will be on the Padres' Opening Day 25-man roster that are not under contract with them right now?
-- Jesse C., San Diego

Crazy to think pitchers and catchers report in less than a week, and the Padres might still be pulling pieces from outside the organization for their Opening Day roster.

I'd guess that there are still two Opening Day-roster pieces that will be added over the next month and a half.

The Friars are probably going to sign a third baseman, and they've got quite the range of options -- from Manny Machado to Mike Moustakas to Yangervis Solarte. But it's hard envision San Diego simply standing pat, even if the only addition is a utility/platoon player.

I'm less certain that the Padres land a starting pitcher. They seem somewhat content to enter the season with the current group. But I still think there's a move to be made there. The current rotation is extremely inexperienced, and if general manager A.J. Preller wants legitimate spring competition for places, he'd be best served to add someone.

Why don't we go after Moustakas instead of the big contracts? We can get Moustakas plus a good pitcher for the price of either Bryce Harper or Machado.
-- Dan T., Imperial Beach

The Padres are, in fact, going after Moustakas -- though MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal seems to think the Brewers have the upper hand. There would be plenty of sense for the Padres in that move. He'd presumably sign an affordable two-year contract, and he could serve as their third baseman while the club assesses Minor League options, like Hudson Potts and Gabriel Arias. In a couple of years, the Friars could re-evaluate their need at third and act accordingly.

But, Machado answers that need both short- and long-term. He's one of the 10 best position players in baseball. Sure, the Padres could use an ace, but there's not a single pitcher on the market who comes close to providing that type of value.

If you can get Machado, you get Machado. If you can't, you get someone like Moustakas.

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

San Diego Padres

Inbox: Is D-backs' closer Holland or Bradley?

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert answers questions from fans
MLB.com

With Greg Holland now signed, will he be the closer or is that still going to be Archie Bradley?
-- Sam G., Chicago

Judging by general manager Mike Hazen's comments after the signing was announced last week, it seems that Bradley is going to have the leg up on that job heading into camp. As bullpen usage continues to evolve, however, the role of the traditional closer seems to be changing. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo really liked deploying Bradley over the past two seasons at the most crucial part of the game, whether that was in the seventh or eighth inning or later.

With Greg Holland now signed, will he be the closer or is that still going to be Archie Bradley?
-- Sam G., Chicago

Judging by general manager Mike Hazen's comments after the signing was announced last week, it seems that Bradley is going to have the leg up on that job heading into camp. As bullpen usage continues to evolve, however, the role of the traditional closer seems to be changing. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo really liked deploying Bradley over the past two seasons at the most crucial part of the game, whether that was in the seventh or eighth inning or later.

Of course, at that time Lovullo had Fernando Rodney and then Brad Boxberger as his designated closer. Lovullo has a lot of confidence in Bradley and likes the way he handles pressure situations. I would imagine Lovullo will tell us when camp opens that he's leaning toward Bradley as his closer, but we'll have to see. Either way, you can count on Bradley, Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano all pitching in leverage situations in the later innings.

:: Submit a question to the D-backs Inbox ::

Video: Holland, Hazen on 1-year deal with the D-backs

Give me a reason to be hopeful that Holland still has something left after being a disappointment last year with the Cardinals.
-- Kyle P., Phoenix

There's no getting around the fact that Holland struggled in 32 games with the Cardinals, who released him on Aug. 1 before he caught on with the Nationals to end the season. The D-backs attribute a lot of his St. Louis woes to the fact that he didn't sign until the end of Spring Training. They will point to his outstanding work with Washington -- an 0.84 ERA over 24 appearances -- as more representative of how good he can be.

"I think the command was that much better, the definition of his stuff was that much better," Hazen said about Holland's time with the Nationals. "We think Spring Training probably had some impact on him last year and how it may have gone in St. Louis, it seemed like it didn't get off to the greatest start and maybe snowballed from there. I think once he caught his breath and was ready to go in the middle of the year and into Washington, he threw the ball much, much better, back to what we've all been accustomed to. We just saw his stuff play that much more effectively down in the zone. The slider was sharper and more effective when it was down and down more consistently. That was kind of the perspective we saw it from."

With Paul Goldschmidt gone, we've been told most likely it will be Jake Lamb at first. Is there a possibility Christian Walker will have some playing time at first since he never really got a shot since [Goldschmidt] was the face of the company at the time?
-- Andy L., Tucson

I think the D-backs would like to have a right-handed hitter whom they could pair up with Lamb at first. Not in the sense that Lamb would sit against left-handers, but on the days that a really tough lefty starts it would be a good time to give him a day off. Walker is certainly one of the candidates they will look at this spring, as well as Kevin Cron.

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

Arizona Diamondbacks

Inbox: Will Brewers make surprise signing?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy answers fans' questions
MLB.com

What are the odds of a last-minute surprise regarding one of the available free agents?
-- @KenandTonic on Twitter

I'll just say the odds of additional signings are high, considering there are 30 teams and something like 100 players still out there in free agency, including some infielders like Josh Harrison and Mike Moustakas. (You can track the market here.) The question is the same it's been since the Brewers dropped $18.25 million on Yasmani Grandal: How much more are they willing to spend? They are already in record payroll territory, and my understanding is they will only push higher if the baseball ops team can convince owner Mark Attanasio it's a smart price for a player who will make an impact.

What are the odds of a last-minute surprise regarding one of the available free agents?
-- @KenandTonic on Twitter

I'll just say the odds of additional signings are high, considering there are 30 teams and something like 100 players still out there in free agency, including some infielders like Josh Harrison and Mike Moustakas. (You can track the market here.) The question is the same it's been since the Brewers dropped $18.25 million on Yasmani Grandal: How much more are they willing to spend? They are already in record payroll territory, and my understanding is they will only push higher if the baseball ops team can convince owner Mark Attanasio it's a smart price for a player who will make an impact.

I'll say this again: The roster at the start of Spring Training isn't the final team. Neither is the roster on Opening Day. Part of the trick in building a team is baking in some flexibility to make in-season moves as needs arise.

It's worth noting that the Brewers reportedly plucked one of those available free agents off the market on Thursday with a Minor League deal for right-hander Josh Tomlin, per The Athletic. Tomlin isn't the top-end pitcher many fans are pining for, but it's a low-risk deal for someone with experience in every role imaginable.

:: Submit a question to the Brewers Inbox ::

Tweet from @Danoman419: Do you think you will see a good number of position players arrive early to camp this year?

Actually, it might be smart for the established position players to wait until close to the Feb. 18 report date to show. The Brewers played deep into last October, most of the roster is returning, and outside of second base there are not really any position battles. Why extend a Spring Training that is already too long for most hitters?

Anyway, that's the logical take. I'm sure it will be close to a full house by the middle of next week, if only because players are eager to start up again. And the young players, especially those like Tyrone Taylor, Troy Stokes and Lucas Erceg, will want to get their bearings before things ramp up.

Tweet from @MattTarman: How long will the 2nd base platoon likely last? It didnt work out last year and we had to trade for Schoop. Hopefully Huira and Dubon can make a significant impact.

This is difficult to answer because we just don't know. I'm guessing that neither does president of baseball operations David Stearns or Craig Counsell, because it's not as if this is mapped out and there is a plan to summon Mauricio Dubon or Keston Hiura on a certain date. If the platoon works, fine. If it doesn't, they would have to consider a callup. Ideally, that would be late May or early June, after the schedule clears Super Two concerns.

Video: Counsell on the Brewers' options at second base

Tweet from @wisconsin888: Will the brewers do anything to improve vs. left handed pitching? It seems like hitting lefties was a big problem for the team in 18. Right now the bottom of the order vs lefties looks like it will be some combo of Perez, Shaw, Arcia, and the pitchers spot. That looks very weak.

The Brewers were seventh of 30 Major League teams last year with a .742 OPS against left-handers and eighth with a .419 slugging percentage. The National League Central, aside from a few very notable Chicago Cubs, is very right-handed. I would be surprised if Stearns is out there specifically hunting a right-handed hitter, but your point is well-taken that there is room for improvement at the bottom of the order.

Barring another roster move, here's one early guess at how the Brewers will line up against lefties (2018 OPS vs. LHP):

1. Lorenzo Cain, CF (.979)
2. Christian Yelich. RF (.983)
3. Ryan Braun, LF (.859)
4. Jesus Aguilar, 1B (.929)
5. Yasmani Grandal, C (.844)
6. Hernan Perez, 2B (.783)
7. Travis Shaw/Tyler Saladino, 3B (.599/.472)
8. Orlando Arcia, SS (.596)

So, chalk it up as "We'll see." Thanks for the questions, gang. See you in Phoenix.

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 Rox use McMahon this year?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers questions from fans
MLB.com

How do you see Ryan McMahon being utilized this season?
-- @moose_tography

McMahon had a steep learning curve early last year as a rookie but was a contributor as a left-handed bat off the bench during the second half. Part of the route to regular playing time is returning to the strong numbers against right-handers that he showed in the Minor Leagues.

How do you see Ryan McMahon being utilized this season?
-- @moose_tography

McMahon had a steep learning curve early last year as a rookie but was a contributor as a left-handed bat off the bench during the second half. Part of the route to regular playing time is returning to the strong numbers against right-handers that he showed in the Minor Leagues.

In 2017, McMahon hit righties at a .379 clip with 18 home runs in 133 Double-A and Triple-A games. But last season in the Majors, he actually hit lefties (.323/.447/.548 in 38 plate appearances) better than righties (.213/.274/.340 in 164 plate appearances).

McMahon will compete with right-handed hitters Garrett Hampson (No. 4 Rockies prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), Brendan Rodgers (No. 1 Rockies prospect, No. 10 overall) and Pat Valaika for playing time at second base. McMahon also can play first or third base when Daniel Murphy or Nolan Arenado need a day off.

:: Submit a question to the Rockies Inbox ::

Tweet from @GotNugs: Arenado Arenado Arenado Arenado?But really, can we expect any offensive production out of the C spot in the lineup?

With Spring Training starting next week, it's more likely than not that the Rockies are sticking with Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters. Both are valued for their work with pitchers but have room for offensive improvement.

Iannetta said during last season he felt out of sync offensively, and he finished with a .224 batting average. He had solid production in the final month (.265/.438/.469 in 22 games) and ended up playing 99 games at catcher -- about what was planned when he signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract.

Wolters' season is best remembered for his 13th-inning RBI single that produced a 2-1 victory over the Cubs in the National League Wild Card Game, but he hit .170 in 74 regular-season games.

Video: NL WC: Wolters gives Rox lead with single in the 13th

Knowing that even modest offense could earn him more playing time, Wolters has spent the offseason addressing his approach and a swing that saw the bat pull out of the zone too quickly.

Last season, longtime prospect Tom Murphy ran into struggles offensively and defensively, but he still has a chance to have an impact.

Tweet from @KevvyGillikin: If the new "universal DH" rule was already in place, who would be the guy for the @Rockies? Would the NL players be upset about it?

The universal designated hitter is one of the reported back-and-forth proposals between MLB and the MLB Players Association, and none of the suggestions have been adopted.

With the Rockies likely to have a payroll around $140 million, I can't see a big expenditure. One idea would be creating a roster spot for Mark Reynolds or Michael Saunders, or maybe both. Another idea, should Murphy swing to his potential, would be to keep him as a third catcher and DH.

And I can't think of a reason National League players would be upset. It's an additional starting spot, another avenue to a greater salary, and NL teams would not be at a disadvantage in road Interleague and World Series games.

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, Ryan McMahon

Inbox: Will Cards fill bench role with Robinson?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch fields Cardinals fans' questions
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS --  See that dateline? It's will be changing soon. I'm scheduled to report to Jupiter, Fla., along with pitchers and catchers, next week for the start of Cardinals Spring Training. But in an effort to delay packing a little while longer, let me grab another handful of reader questions to tackle in the final Inbox of the offseason.

I'm concerned that Drew Robinson (career .186 batting average vs. RHP) has passed Yairo Munoz (.280 vs RHP) on the depth chart just because he hits left-handed. Is management looking at these metrics and not just which box he steps into?
-- Scott L. (@snbleigh), via Twitter

ST. LOUIS --  See that dateline? It's will be changing soon. I'm scheduled to report to Jupiter, Fla., along with pitchers and catchers, next week for the start of Cardinals Spring Training. But in an effort to delay packing a little while longer, let me grab another handful of reader questions to tackle in the final Inbox of the offseason.

I'm concerned that Drew Robinson (career .186 batting average vs. RHP) has passed Yairo Munoz (.280 vs RHP) on the depth chart just because he hits left-handed. Is management looking at these metrics and not just which box he steps into?
-- Scott L. (@snbleigh), via Twitter

The front office and coaching staff will be looking at all sorts of factors as they finalize their 25-man roster ahead of Opening Day. They won't feel bound to a player simply because he hits from the left side; but if all else is close to equal, it would likely be a tiebreaking factor.

While Robinson did post a .170 batting average against right-handers in 47 Major League games last season, he's had more success against righties previously. In 102 games last season -- which includes time in Triple- A and the Majors -- Robinson had an .866 OPS against right-handers. The Cardinals' roster isn't exactly balanced, so that will help Robinson's chances of breaking camp with the big league club. It helps, too, that he has as much defensive versatility as Munoz.

:: Submit a question to the Cardinals Inbox ::

Any time frame when we'll see Genesis Cabrera in 2019? I know he's the player to watch for this season.
-- Levi B. (@L_Brug92), via Twitter

You're astute in picking Cabrera as a guy to watch this season. For those unfamiliar with this lefty, he came to the organization through last summer's Tommy Pham deal and dominated in the Dominican Winter League when asked to pitch out of the 'pen. Over 20 appearances there, Cabrera allowed two earned runs and struck out 21 in 14 1/3 innings.

He's pitched only one game at the Triple-A level, so look for him to start the season there. If he continues on his current trajectory, Cabrera could push his way onto the big league roster by midseason, likely finding his fit as a reliever.

What are the most overrated concerns for the Cardinals and the most underrated concerns?
-- David J. (@David_J_STL), via Twitter

Good question, and I'll offer a few for each of those two categories.

As far as overrated concerns, I'll start with Marcell Ozuna's health. It's wise to be skeptical about how healthy he'll be coming into camp. But panic over how that will affect his regular-season production may be overstated. He was far from 100 percent in 2018 but gutted through the season and finished with decent numbers.

Video: MIL@STL: Ozuna laces 113.9 mph home run off Hader

Also, I don't seem to be as concerned about Matt Carpenter's transition back to third base as others. No, he's not going to be a superb defender there. But he should be capable, and having a Gold Glove first baseman (Paul Goldschmidt) will make everyone in the infield better. For me, that outweighs Carpenter's vulnerability.

On the underrated side, count me among those who still have questions about the Cardinals' offense. Plugging Goldschmidt in will be a boon, no doubt. But will there be enough production from the bottom half of the order? Yadier Molina is aging (even if it hasn't shown so far). Dexter Fowler has more to prove than anyone on the roster. And while Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader bring dazzling defensive ability, it's hard to predict what they'll do at the plate. There are potential holes here.

Additionally, I'm still stuck on the uncertainty surrounding the 'pen. A healthy Andrew Miller makes the Cardinals' bullpen better. But if the club wants to use him as a closer, then who is that steady lefty that can come in earlier in games to get a big out? And if the team deploys him in that spot, then what happens in the ninth? There has been some hesitancy to anoint Jordan Hicks as a ready closer, but if the Cards want to maintain flexibility with Miller's role, Hicks is going to have to be called upon to save games.

Video: HOU@CLE: Miller induces key inning-ending double play

What will John Gant's role be?
-- Nate B. (@NathanielABalk), via Twitter

Gant is in an interesting spot this spring, as he enters the season as an out-of-options guy. That means if he does not have a place on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster, another club can pluck him from the waiver wire.

So where does that leave him? He'll be a strong candidate to slide into the rotation if one of the five projected starting pitchers is hurt or ineffective this spring. Otherwise, look for Gant to be a strong candidate for a bullpen spot so the Cards can at least hang onto him a while longer.

Video: PIT@STL: Gant tosses 5 2/3 scoreless, drills a HR

What kind of contract do you think would be in play for Paul Goldschmidt, as in years/money? From all accounts, he just seems to fit the mold as a Cardinal player. He reminds me of Matt Holliday -- professional, very good ballplayer/person, committed, a gamer. Sign him up …
-- Kevin B. (@kwb625), via Twitter

There aren't a lot of great comps to pull for Goldschmidt, an elite, power-hitting first baseman who has also profiled as an above-average defender and baserunner over his career. But we can identify a few for this exercise.

We'll start with the eight-year, $144 million contract Eric Hosmer signed last February. He's not as good a player as Goldschmidt, but he also signed that contract at age 28. Goldschmidt will be 32 at the end of the season. Freddie Freeman is a more equal comparison as far skill set is concerned, and he's entering the final three years of an eight-year extension he signed with Atlanta. Freeman will average $21.7 million over the next three years, but at the ages of 29, 30 and 31 years old. Then there's Joey Votto, who, already 35 years old, is still due to make $25 million annually for the next five seasons.

Given Goldschmidt's age and the fact this is his first foray into free agency, I'd suspect he'll seek a deal covering four or five years. And though age (and current free-agency trends) aren't necessarily on his side, Goldschmidt's career production would suggest that he'll warrant a commitment of between $20-25 million a year. One strategy the Cardinals could use is to sign him to an extension during the season that increases his salary for this year. That could potentially save them some money on the back end of the deal.

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: Is Moustakas still on Philly's radar?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers fans' questions
MLB.com

With all the possible outcomes, I feel the best one would be signing Bryce Harper and Mike Moustakas and forgetting about Manny Machado. Sounds like a contender to me. How likely of a scenario is that?
-- Chip B., Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Nothing would surprise me at this point, but if the Phillies sign Harper over Machado, it seems unlikely they sign Moustakas, particularly after Thursday's trade to acquire J.T. Realmuto. In the eyes of the Phillies, they just acquired the best catcher in baseball and another productive bat for the heart of the lineup. Again, if they sign Harper, the Phillies probably feel more than comfortable moving forward with the lineup they have.

With all the possible outcomes, I feel the best one would be signing Bryce Harper and Mike Moustakas and forgetting about Manny Machado. Sounds like a contender to me. How likely of a scenario is that?
-- Chip B., Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Nothing would surprise me at this point, but if the Phillies sign Harper over Machado, it seems unlikely they sign Moustakas, particularly after Thursday's trade to acquire J.T. Realmuto. In the eyes of the Phillies, they just acquired the best catcher in baseball and another productive bat for the heart of the lineup. Again, if they sign Harper, the Phillies probably feel more than comfortable moving forward with the lineup they have.

It is a lineup that would include Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. If the Phillies need to move forward with Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery at third base, I'm sure they think they can handle it.

:: Submit a question to the Phillies Inbox ::

And -- who knows -- maybe Franco takes a step forward like Moustakas did in 2015. Moustakas hit a combined .236 with 52 home runs, 199 RBIs and a .668 OPS in 1,993 plate appearances through his age-25 season in 2014. In 2015, he hit .284 with 22 home runs, 82 RBIs and an .817 OPS, making the American League All-Star team and helping the Royals win the World Series.

Franco has hit a combined .252 with 85 home runs, 287 RBIs and a .738 OPS in 2,111 plate appearances through his age-25 season.

Video: PHI@WSH: Franco launches a 2-run homer to left in 1st

Regardless, the Phillies are solely focused on Machado and Harper at this point. It's all about those two. And while everybody is ready for the madness to end, it really will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

If the Phillies do not sign Machado, can Kingery play third base?
-- Michael G., Media, Pa.

This relates to the first question: Perhaps the Phillies see third base as a way to get Kingery more playing time in 2019, now that Segura is expected to play regularly at shortstop and Hernandez remains the everyday second baseman.

Kingery saw some improvement at shortstop over the course of last season, so I'm sure the Phillies think he can play third base, too. He has the arm strength.

Give me the date the Phillies sign Harper or Machado.
-- Dan N., Brookfield, Wis.

I originally said Feb. 6 because I figured it would happen when I took a few days of vacation before Spring Training. (The Phillies made a big move this week. It just turned out to be a different guy.) But now I'm going to say Feb. 20, two days after the Phillies' first full-squad workout. But let's hope it's much earlier than that. Let's end this.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Mike Moustakas

Inbox: How to judge Braves' offseason?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Can you explain how Braves fans should see this offseason as anything but a failure?
-- @chipriggsphoto

Other than J.T. Realmuto, who was that one potential target not landed who would have been a bona fide difference maker worth committing prospects or multiple years? Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were never true options and Game 3 of last year's World Series lasted longer than Corey Kluber's potential availability.

Can you explain how Braves fans should see this offseason as anything but a failure?
-- @chipriggsphoto

Other than J.T. Realmuto, who was that one potential target not landed who would have been a bona fide difference maker worth committing prospects or multiple years? Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were never true options and Game 3 of last year's World Series lasted longer than Corey Kluber's potential availability.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

Landing the club's top outfield target in Michael Brantley would have likely proven beneficial over the next couple seasons. This pursuit might have ended differently if Georgia didn't have income tax and the National League had the designated hitter. My feeling is the Braves were very close to matching the two-year, $32 million deal Brantley got from the Astros. When the dollars are similar, player preference always wins out.

Andrew McCutchen was a potential short-term fix, but the Braves certainly didn't value the 32-year-old outfielder as favorably as the Phillies, who gave the former MVP a three-year, $50 million deal. That deal would have certainly made sense for the McCutchen who produced a .917 OPS from 2013-15. But considering his OPS was .802 over the past three seasons, this might have been some of that stupid money Philadelphia promised to spend.

The primary concerns surrounding the Braves are their lack of an established frontline starter and the lack of catching depth. Realmuto would have been a great addition, but the Braves were not willing to acquiesce to the volume of prospects sought by the Marlins, who seemed to need Austin Riley, the club's No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline in 2018, in the deal. Maybe more importantly, Atlanta wasn't willing to provide the MLB-experienced option that Miami ended up getting from the Phillies in the form of catcher Jorge Alfaro.

At some point, the Braves will have to utilize some of their prospect capital, which as a whole will inevitably regress in value. A deal didn't make sense for Realmuto or Sonny Gray. But if the Giants are prompted to pull the trigger before this season starts, there's still a chance some of these prospects could be used to land Madison Bumgarner.

If you consider this offseason a disappointment, allow yourself to re-evaluate in a couple years when it's easier to decipher what was gained or lost via what was done and what wasn't. But I don't think it's fair to call it a failure when $23 million was committed to a former MVP in Josh Donaldson, and Brian McCann was brought back to possibly alleviate concerns about the young pitching staff.

Video: Donaldson on joining Braves, postseason potential

Donaldson still has the potential to be one of the game's top offensive performers. McCann might not be the same guy who hit 20 homers on an annual basis during his first stint with his hometown team, but if you're unaware of the impact he can have on a clubhouse and a pitching staff, go back to see what his former Astros teammates had to say when he re-signed with Atlanta.

Right now, assuming no more starting pitching or bullpen help is acquired, where do you predict us finishing in the division?
-- @chris_a_larson

As I was forming this answer, I wondered if the team that finishes fourth in the National League East might actually be the NL's fifth-strongest team? This division race has the makings to be great and it will become even more interesting if Harper or Machado end up with Realmuto in Philadelphia.

We've spent the past couple months focusing on all of the significant additions to a division whose most influential addition last year might have been Anibal Sanchez, who joined the Braves on a Minor League deal near the end of Spring Training. That's just how it works. You know exactly how it's going to go, until it doesn't.

As things currently stand, I'll deem the Nationals the favorites and predict the Mets will finish second. But at the same time, I think the Braves might actually be better than last year. Their offense is more formidable and their plethora of arms leads me to believe the bullpen will exceed expectations. The rotation is a definite concern, especially when you're competing in a division that includes Jacob deGrom/Noah Syndergaard/Zack Wheeler and Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg/Patrick Corbin.

At this point last year, I was thinking the Braves would finish third. I'll make the same prediction this year. But unlike last year, I won't be shocked if I'm wrong.

What Minor Leaguers that were not called up last year do you expect to make the Major League club out of Spring Training?
-- @cody_dixon11

Quite honestly, the only player I could see possibly fitting this description is Jacob Webb, a right-handed reliever who posted a 0.96 ERA over his final 18 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett last year. But Webb's underdog bid for an Opening Day roster spot will likely only be successful if injuries deplete the Braves' bullpen during Spring Training.

Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman are the fringe bullpen candidates who are out of options. So for now, let's project six of the eight bullpen spots will be filled by Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Darren O'Day, Jonny Venters, Biddle and Freeman. Chad Sobotka, Shane Carle and Dan Winkler are the top candidates to battle for what would be the other two spots. There's also a chance the Braves could opt to use Luiz Gohara or Max Fried out of the bullpen.

So while I expect Webb and rising prospect Kyle Muller to draw attention during camp, the depth of the 'pen might keep them at the Minor League level during the early portion of the regular season.

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

Atlanta Braves

Inbox: Will new skipper Bell have quick hook?

Beat reporter Mark Sheldon fields Reds fans' questions
MLB.com

With the addition of veteran starting pitchers, do you expect David Bell to have a quick hook like Jim Riggleman and go to the bullpen early?
-- @jdavidhicks on Twitter

I expect Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson to be creative and focus on getting outs and doing whatever it takes to do that on a given day. Under manager Craig Counsell in Milwaukee, Johnson showed a willingness to color outside the lines when it came to the use of Josh Hader and others. The Reds bullpen has a few guys capable of multiple innings -- Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen among them. And keep this in mind: While the Reds rotation was 13th out of 15 National League clubs last season in innings pitched, the Brewers were 12th.

With the addition of veteran starting pitchers, do you expect David Bell to have a quick hook like Jim Riggleman and go to the bullpen early?
-- @jdavidhicks on Twitter

I expect Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson to be creative and focus on getting outs and doing whatever it takes to do that on a given day. Under manager Craig Counsell in Milwaukee, Johnson showed a willingness to color outside the lines when it came to the use of Josh Hader and others. The Reds bullpen has a few guys capable of multiple innings -- Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen among them. And keep this in mind: While the Reds rotation was 13th out of 15 National League clubs last season in innings pitched, the Brewers were 12th.

:: Submit a question to the Reds Inbox ::

The Reds have done a lot of really exciting things this offseason. What do you see as the biggest missed opportunity from this offseason that no one is talking about? Marwin Gonzalez?
-- @08deters on Twitter.

Granted that I wasn't privy to the specifics about the negotiations, I'd say it might have been Indians ace Corey Kluber. The Reds definitely upgraded their rotation nicely with the additions of Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark. But Kluber would have been a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation. Of course, I don't know exactly who Cleveland asked for in return for Kluber. I wouldn't be shocked if the conversation ended once Nick Senzel or Hunter Greene was brought up.

Hi Mark. With the Reds having upgraded their starting rotation, the only position they may be lacking in would be center field. Do you see the Reds possibly going after Adam Jones even if it's just for a one-year deal?
-- Randall, Cincinnati

In center field last season, Jones had a minus-18 defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs. I could see his power rebounding after it took a dip during his final season in Baltimore though. At this point, I'm not sure Jones would be better in center field than the in-house options like Scott Schebler, Yasiel Puig or Senzel.

Why would the Dodgers trade for Homer Bailey, when they seemed to be planning on releasing him right away?
-- Ted C., Tampa, Fla.

Because the average annual value -- or AAV -- of Bailey's contract helped get the Dodgers back under the threshold for a luxury-tax penalty. Even though he was owed $28 million for the final year of his six-year contract plus the club option buyout for 2020, the AAV for Bailey was $17.5 million. That was less than the $20 million Matt Kemp's AAV. Because he's under contract for '19, Bailey can now sign with any club for the league minimum and still get paid the full price of his contract. He remains unsigned.

Video: SD@LAD: Kemp ropes a solo homer for 1,000th RBI

With all of the different options being talked about, why does nobody mention TJ Friedl to start in center? He has played the position and continued to produce at the Double-A level last season.
-- Garrett D., Charleston, W.Va.

Friedl had only a half-season at Double-A in 2018, so it really is premature. At the moment, projections see Friedl as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, but he could work his way into being a regular center fielder down the road. He needs to keep working on his hitting and bunting to take advantage of his speed. I would say Jose Siri is ahead of Friedl currently among center-field prospects. His defense is big league ready now, but he's also still working on his hitting skills.

Video: Top Prospects: Jose Siri, OF, Reds

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: Are Giants waiting to make big splash?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Do you think the Giants are just waiting around and could go after Bryce Harper for a big splash? Or another big player?
-- Rick, Woodland, Calif.

I think the possibility of the Giants pursuing Harper feels more realistic now than it did at the beginning of the offseason, especially following news of their reported meeting with the superstar outfielder this week.

Do you think the Giants are just waiting around and could go after Bryce Harper for a big splash? Or another big player?
-- Rick, Woodland, Calif.

I think the possibility of the Giants pursuing Harper feels more realistic now than it did at the beginning of the offseason, especially following news of their reported meeting with the superstar outfielder this week.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi seemed to downplay the chances of landing a high-profile free agent last month, but I think he's opportunistic and felt it was worth checking back in with bigger targets now that the top of the market has stagnated. The Giants certainly have the financial means to sign Harper, though there aren't any indications that he's close to signing with any team at this point.

:: Submit a question to the Giants Inbox ::

Video: Giants reportedly meet with Harper in Las Vegas

What is the latest on the expected return of Buster Posey?
--Thad M., Fayetteville, N.C.

Posey's rehab from hip surgery appears to be going well. I think the Giants will be cautious with their catcher's workload during Spring Training, but he seems to be on track to be ready for Opening Day.

The Giants only have two catchers on the 40-man roster. With Posey still rehabbing from hip surgery, it would seem a little risky to only have the two. With the preference of a catcher with the versatility to play other positions, that seems to rule out a return of Nick Hundley. What are Farhan's plans for an additional catcher? Especially if Buster suffers a setback.
-- Herb C., Pasco, Wash.

Posey and Aramis Garcia are the only catchers on the Giants' 40-man roster, though it's worth noting that they also signed former Phillie Cameron Rupp to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training this offseason. Rupp didn't play in the Majors in 2018, but he has 296 games of big league experience and hit 30 home runs for Philadelphia from 2016-17.

The Giants would probably still like to shore up their catching depth, especially given Zaidi's preference for positional flexibility, but I think Rupp will have the opportunity to challenge Garcia for the backup job this spring. It's also possible that the club will add more catching options before the beginning of the regular season.

Video: SF@MIL: Hanson goes yard in the top of the 5th

With all the talk about returning players, I never see Alen Hanson mentioned. From what I saw last year, he has the talent to be a star/game changer. Is there any chance he will become an everyday player, perhaps at 2B, or is he destined to become a super utility/pinch-hitter?
-- Gary D., Columbiana, Ohio

Hanson certainly impressed in the first half of the 2018 season, but his production dipped following the All-Star break, especially against left-handers, who held him to a .183 batting average and .439 OPS last season. Defensive metrics also didn't rate him all that favorably at either of his defensive positions, including second base. Hanson's versatility and prowess as a pinch-hitter make him a valuable piece off the bench, but I don't think the Giants view him as a starter at this point.

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

San Francisco Giants

Inbox: Why should Cubs focus on velocity?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields fans' questions
MLB.com

Why do clubs and media focus so much on velocity? It seems like if someone isn't throwing high 90s, everyone assumes they can't make it in the Majors. Yet, there are several pitchers who have had long, prosperous careers throwing in the lower 90s. I would take command and pitch deception over straight heat almost any day in the Majors.
-- Bobby G., Carol Stream, Ill.

You're right, Bobby. Plenty of pitchers over the years have made a career out of precision over velocity. The Cubs' own Kyle Hendricks (average two-seam velocity of 86.6 mph last year, per Statcast™) is a prime example in this power-obsessed era in baseball. That said, individual cases of success in that regard are typically the outliers -- the exceptions to the rule.

Why do clubs and media focus so much on velocity? It seems like if someone isn't throwing high 90s, everyone assumes they can't make it in the Majors. Yet, there are several pitchers who have had long, prosperous careers throwing in the lower 90s. I would take command and pitch deception over straight heat almost any day in the Majors.
-- Bobby G., Carol Stream, Ill.

You're right, Bobby. Plenty of pitchers over the years have made a career out of precision over velocity. The Cubs' own Kyle Hendricks (average two-seam velocity of 86.6 mph last year, per Statcast™) is a prime example in this power-obsessed era in baseball. That said, individual cases of success in that regard are typically the outliers -- the exceptions to the rule.

The data is clear: More velo from the pitcher equals less success for the hitter. MLB.com's Andrew Simon saved me some research by writing a recent article on this very subject. In it, he outlined the hardest-throwing rotations for the upcoming campaign and presented a nice statistical glimpse into why it matters.

:: Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox ::

Here are the weighted on-base averages by MLB hitters in 2018 based on varying tiers of fastball velocity from starting pitchers:

Less than 90 mph: .379
90-92 mph: .365
92-94 mph: .355
94-96 mph: .335
96-98 mph: .281
More than 98 mph: .270

As Simon notes in the article, MLB hitters had an overall wOBA of .316 last season against starters on all pitch types last season.

So, while you're not wrong that lower-velocity pitchers can have success in the Majors, a pitching staff full of precision-based arms could prove to be problematic. That is actually one area of concern for the Cubs' rotation, as experienced and deep as it is. Last year, Cubs starters combined for 90.3 mph on average on fastballs (29th in MLB and last in the NL).

With the Cubs having added Brad Brach to the bullpen, it begs the comparison to two other two-year deals signed this offseason by former Cubs relievers: Jesse Chavez (Rangers) and Justin Wilson (Mets). Last year, Chavez dominated after the Cubs picked him up, and lefties only hit .190 against Wilson. Based on the similar contracts, did the Cubs choose the right guy?
-- Shane H., Montpelier, Vt.

Well, in Brach's case, the reported deal has the potential to include two years, whereas the deals given to Chavez (two years, $8 million) and Wilson (two years, $10 million) guarantee the second season. Right there, the Cubs built in some flexibility. Brach's 2019 salary has a base of $3 million, but the deal could be worth $4.35 million, per reports. If the Cubs were to pick up the second year (it's a mutual option), the deal could reportedly reach $9.5 million.

I couldn't sit here and say definitively that the Cubs landed the best of the three. If you felt Chicago needed more lefty depth, well, then you probably thought Wilson was the wiser investment. Comparing righties, Chavez had the edge in 2018, but he's also three years older than Brach and would've cost more for a Cubs team that has made it very clear they are working with a limited budget this winter.

Video: ATL@ARI: Brach induces flyout for save in the 10th

What the Cubs can hope for is that they get the version of Brach that showed up in the season's second half last year. Following the break, the right-hander had a 2.39 ERA with a .677 opponents' OPS in 26 1/3 innings. In the first half, Brach had a 4.46 ERA with an .806 opponents' OPS in 36 1/3 innings. Brach also saw his fastball velocity jump to 94.6 mph in the second half, compared to 93.4 mph in the first half, per Statcast™.

Should we expect to see Brandon Morrow pitch anytime before the All-Star break? Because I have my doubts. The Cubs could be scrambling for bullpen performance if the team gets off to a slow start.
-- Bruce W., Brookfield, Ill.

Morrow is currently at the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and is unrestricted in his workouts. The November procedure on his right elbow (an arthroscopic debridement) has delayed his throwing program by roughly one month. So barring any setbacks, it's fair to project that Morrow will miss roughly the first month of the regular season. Given Morrow's injury history, I understand the we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it mentality, but that's the timeline given the current information. If his latest comeback takes until the All-Star break, something probably went wrong along the way.

Until the issue of Tyler Chatwood's inability to put pitches over the plate is rectified, how can anyone seriously consider him as rotation depth?
-- Lou H., San Mateo, Calif.

Chatwood will certainly be under the microscope this spring, when the Cubs do need to sort out how he fits into the pitching staff's picture. Right now, it would probably take multiple setbacks for Chatwood to crack the rotation, but describing him as "depth" for the staff is not inaccurate. He'd currently be seventh in the pecking order, behind swing man Mike Montgomery. Yu Darvish's pending return and picking up Cole Hamels' contract options helps lengthen the depth chart.

When Spring Training officially begins, we'll be able to get a better grasp of what Chatwood has been working on over the offseason and his plans for the spring. I will say this, if he can get the walk rate under control, Chatwood could be intriguing as a versus-righty reliever. Last year, Chatwood held right-handed batters to a .288 wOBA, which was better than Morrow (.298). Pedro Strop (.215), Steve Cishek (.233) and Carl Edwards Jr. (.250) led the way for Cubs relievers in that regard in 2018.

Video: STL@CHC: Chatwood converts 1-2-3 double play in 5th

By not going in on the big-name free agents this year, does that indicate that the Cubs are waiting for when Mike Trout becomes available?
-- Ray, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Oh boy, are we starting Trout to the Cubs watch already? We still have two years to go until that sweepstakes will overtake the Hot Stove. By then, there will certainly be some contracts off the books for Chicago, but some of the Cubs' stars (Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, specifically) will still be in line for hefty arbitration contracts. But, man, we're putting the cart a couple hundred miles ahead of our horse here. Ask me again after the 2020 season.

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: Who will claim last spot in Bucs' rotation?

Beat reporter Adam Berry fields Pirates fans' questions
MLB.com

Who's going to be the fifth starter? Any chance the Pirates use an opener like they mentioned a few months ago?
-- Stephen M., Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

The Pirates haven't officially named a fifth starter to join Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove in the rotation. But we know the likely candidates, and I think it's safe to say based on what we've heard so far that right-hander Jordan Lyles will enter Spring Training as the favorite.

Who's going to be the fifth starter? Any chance the Pirates use an opener like they mentioned a few months ago?
-- Stephen M., Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

The Pirates haven't officially named a fifth starter to join Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove in the rotation. But we know the likely candidates, and I think it's safe to say based on what we've heard so far that right-hander Jordan Lyles will enter Spring Training as the favorite.

I wrote about Lyles last week and explored some of the changes he made last season -- both in terms of mindset and approach -- that led the Pirates to believe he'll be a more effective starter this time around.

Last year, Lyles threw harder, used more four-seam fastballs and curveballs and stopped worrying about "setting up" hitters for later at-bats. Some of his adjustments sound similar to those made by Charlie Morton after he left the Pirates. It's worth a shot to see if Lyles, 28, does indeed still have room to grow "between potential and performance," as GM Neal Huntington has said.

But maybe someone will convince the Pirates otherwise. They always enter Spring Training with an idea of what they might do, but they've shown a willingness to change their mind. Juan Nicasio earned a chance to start in 2016 with a crazy Spring Training, although he wound up being better suited for the bullpen. It seemed like Drew Hutchison was the favorite to land a rotation spot in '17, then he didn't pitch in the Majors at all that year.

:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::

Right-hander Nick Kingham certainly has the stuff to be a solid Major League starter, and he seems like a lock to be on the team in some capacity since he's out of Minor League options. Steven Brault tweaked his delivery this offseason in an attempt to improve his command, and there are obvious advantages to having a left-handed starter at PNC Park.

(Fun fact revealed by Brault at PiratesFest: He and Kingham will be living together this spring while competing against each other. Two years ago, Brault lived with Williams while they were vying for the same spot.)

I think it would take a really rough showing by all three pitchers for the Pirates to consider using an opener. I'm personally intrigued by the idea and the data behind it, especially as the Pirates continue to add relievers like Francisco Liriano, but it seems like more of a backup plan at this point.

The Pirates used nine starters last season, so it's not like they will only start the five pitchers who break camp in the rotation. And remember, it's entirely possible that top prospect Mitch Keller will claim a starting spot later this year.

Are we really not going to do anything to improve at shortstop? That's so disappointing. I know Erik Gonzalez might be a good fielder and "Hello" Newman (you can use that) can't be as bad as he was last year, but that seems like a missed opportunity to make the team better.
-- John S., Peoria, Ill.

It seems like the Pirates are going to roll with Gonzalez and/or Kevin Newman heading into Spring Training. Maybe something will change between now and Opening Day, like it did with left fielder Corey Dickerson last February, but those are their guys for now.

Video: CLE@TOR: Gonzalez makes a backhanded stop in the 8th

We know they pursued at least two possible upgrades by asking the D-backs about Nick Ahmed and expressing interest in Troy Tulowitzki. Nobody has met Arizona's asking price, and Tulowitzki chose the Yankees.

I expected them to do something else as well. I wrote several times this offseason that shortstop was a need, in part because Huntington mentioned in September the idea of acquiring a veteran infielder to pair with Newman. But I might have underestimated just how much they like Gonzalez in that role, especially compared to the free agents who could fit within their budget. They're also counting on Cole Tucker to take over the job sooner than later.

One interesting thing about Newman is that he's continued to work out at second base as well as shortstop, and there are some evaluators who believe he'll be a better fit at second in the Majors. So it'll be worth following how they use him and Gonzalez (and Tucker) this spring, because it should give us an idea of their long-term future at shortstop.

Let's say the DH comes to the National League. I wouldn't be happy, and we know [Pirates broadcaster] Greg Brown wouldn't be either! But how would the Pirates use it? Maybe they would finally actually sign a power bat?
-- Joe S., Pittsburgh

Liriano, obviously. Left-handed power bat. Next question!

That's a fun topic -- unless you're arguing online about whether the DH should come to the NL. That's less fun, more of an ideological slugfest that nobody ever truly wins. Anyway … First, let's be clear. This is still only hypothetical, based on reports. There is no indication that expansion of the DH is imminent or even certain.

Pirates set bar high with championship goal

The existence of the DH in the NL would theoretically allow them to be more proactive in signing one of those first base/DH-type players they've passed on the past few offseasons. I can't see them employing someone with zero defensive ability, though, given their inclination toward versatile players and many teams' tendency to cycle hitters through that spot. The Pirates value preventive rest, and DHing is like having a partial day off.

Let's think about their internal options, though. Colin Moran comes to mind given his offensive potential and defensive struggles, though he'd have to hit for more power than he did last year. That would hypothetically clear up third base for Jung Ho Kang or, soon enough, slick-fielding prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes. Same goes for Josh Bell, and it's a similarly interesting idea with first-base prospect Will Craig getting closer to the Majors.

Looking specifically at this season, it'd be a way to ease in Gregory Polanco after September shoulder surgery -- or a way to mitigate Lonnie Chisenhall's injury risk. If the Pirates carry three catchers, they could put both Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz in the lineup with Jacob Stallings still available as a backup. Kang could also be an option, although he was a solid third baseman during his first stint here -- might as well see if he can still hold his own defensively.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Inbox: Could deGrom sign hometown discount?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
MLB.com

It's that time of year: Mets players have begun filtering into Port St. Lucie, Fla., for another spring. With a few days left until the official start of camp, let's dig back into the Inbox for another batch of questions and answers:

In regards to the Jacob deGrom contract talks: Do you feel he will give a hometown discount to the Mets and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen? How long do you feel contract talks will continue (assuming there is no deal) before one of the camps breaks off talks?
-- @BobbyKleinau via Twitter

It's that time of year: Mets players have begun filtering into Port St. Lucie, Fla., for another spring. With a few days left until the official start of camp, let's dig back into the Inbox for another batch of questions and answers:

In regards to the Jacob deGrom contract talks: Do you feel he will give a hometown discount to the Mets and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen? How long do you feel contract talks will continue (assuming there is no deal) before one of the camps breaks off talks?
-- @BobbyKleinau via Twitter

First off, let's define what "talks" consist of right now. As of last week, the Mets hadn't really spoken to deGrom's representatives since the Winter Meetings, and the chat they had back in December was really quite casual. That can change quickly, and I do expect the Mets to engage in more formal negotiations in the coming weeks. But there's a sense among some fans that the Mets are talking to deGrom and his representatives regularly, or heatedly, which is simply not true.

:: Submit a question to the Mets Inbox ::

As for a hometown discount, I highly doubt deGrom will agree to something significantly less than market value just to stay in New York -- not now, when he's two years away from free agency and a potential windfall. But I do think deGrom would give the Mets a modest rebate in exchange for the certainty of signing now. That's par for the course for players who sign extensions while under contract.

I've always viewed this situation as more dependent on the Mets than on deGrom. Until now, they have never really engaged their star pitcher on long-term talks. If they do, and offer something fair, I believe he'll take it. If they lowball deGrom, we'll probably see him hit free agency in 2021.

While neither side has put a deadline on negotiations, teams and players tend to get this stuff out of the way before the regular season. I suspect if the Mets can't agree to something with deGrom by late March, that's the last you'll hear of it until next offseason.

Are the Mets really trying to make Jeff McNeil a full-time outfielder, or more of a true jack-of-all-trades that plays everywhere throughout the season?
-- @SeanTie75299777 via Twitter

They'll tell you it's the latter, but realistically, there's just not a lot of playing time available for McNeil in the infield. Barring an injury to Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie or Todd Frazier, it's hard to see McNeil getting significant time anywhere other than in the outfield. That's why the Mets are going to invest so much time in McNeil as an outfielder this spring.

Who's your favorite to start in center field for the Mets? Juan Lagares or Keon Broxton? And why?
-- @GMF1981 via Twitter

I wouldn't simply eliminate McNeil from that conversation. The Mets feel he's athletic enough to handle center, even if he ultimately does default to a corner.

As for the two you mentioned, I'll say Lagares for now. He has less power than Broxton but better contact skills, along with a Gold Glove in his equipment bag. When healthy, Lagares feels to me like the more well-rounded player. But he's rarely been healthy in the past, potentially giving Broxton plenty of opportunity to leapfrog him on the depth chart. It's close enough that Broxton could do that anyway with a strong spring.

Video: NYM@SD: Lagares makes sensational grab to rob homer

I was stoked to see Dilson Herrera back in the organization. Have you heard anything about the Mets' intentions for him? I'm assuming he'll be Minor League depth, but the team still lacks a quality backup shortstop for Amed Rosario. Could Herrera be in the team's plans?
-- @tossup via Twitter

Most likely, Herrera will open the year at Triple-A Syracuse, where he figures to play primarily second and third base. Herrera doesn't really have much experience at shortstop.

As for that position, the Mets have made it clear that they plan to use Lowrie as their backup to Rosario, assuming the latter starts 140-plus games over the summer. If Rosario misses significant time to injury, however, the Mets appear at least willing to consider an aggressive promotion of 20-year-old prospect Andres Gimenez, who was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's No. 1 prospect in 2018, and whose defense and baserunning are big league-ready right now. Another option is Luis Guillorme, who, like Herrera, appears ticketed for Syracuse on Opening Day.

How much of an emphasis is being placed on team defense? As fans, we recognize the offensive struggles the Mets have displayed, but team defense hasn't been truly great since John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonso, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura played here. Our pitching deserves great defense.
-- @mediamatt via Twitter

Once again, the Mets focused on offense this winter, acquiring Wilson Ramos, Lowrie, Cano and others, instead of younger or more defensive-minded players. Add in the fact that Peter Alonso (the club's No. 2 prospect in 2018) is likely to receive significant playing time this season, and it doesn't appear the Mets will feature an elite defensive team anytime soon -- which is fine, so long as they mash at the plate. That hasn't always been the case in the past.

Do you have a dark-horse prospect that not many people are talking about that could make an MLB impact this year?
-- @chaybags27 via Twitter

I mentioned this recently in our "Around the Horn" series, but keep an eye on former 29th-round Draft pick Matt Blackham. He's already 26 years old and won't be in Major League camp, but he throws hard, has struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings in the Minors and, with a strong start to the season, could move up the ladder quickly. As far as prospects go, Blackham is about as under-the-radar as they come.

Another couple of relievers to keep an eye on are Joshua Torres and Stephen Villines, both of whom will be in big league camp.

Like most teams, in order for the Mets to contend, they need to get something unexpected out of a non-roster guy, a Rule 5 pick, a rookie or player from one of the fringe trades Van Wagenen made for guys like Broxton, J.D. Davis, etc. I know this is just a guess on your part, but who do you see having the best potential to have an impact in 2019?
-- @lueck_george via Twitter

I think you just named the bulk of them. Much of what Van Wagenen did this winter is create a bench with upside. Broxton and Davis both boast significant power potential from the right side of the plate. Rule 5 Draft pitcher Kyle Dowdy throws hard and stands a good chance of making the team. Outfielder Rymer Liriano is a speedy former top prospect, and still just 27 years old. I'm not smart enough to tell you which of them will succeed with the Mets, but if you're looking for surprise contributions, look to those players and others like them.

How are the plans going for the 1969 team reunion weekend? Is the entire living roster invited? Is Tom Seaver coming?
-- @GoKnightsGo4 via Twitter

All I can tell you is that the Mets are working hard to bring in as many players from the 1969 team as possible for the June 28-30 reunion weekend. It's the centerpiece of former PR man Jay Horwitz's new role in alumni relations, and it promises to be a memorable few days at Citi Field.

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

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom

Inbox: Could Marlins add one final bullpen arm?

Beat reporter Joe Frisaro answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Do you think the Marlins are still considering a bullpen arm -- a long reliever or experienced closer? -- @agamez1

Before Spring Training starts next Wednesday, or shortly thereafter, I do expect the Marlins to sign at least one free-agent reliever. The Marlins have been exploring the bullpen market, and they've already stated they'd be interested in a reliever with experience in "high leverage" situations. So it doesn't necessarily have to be someone with significant past closing experience; it could be a setup reliever who is capable of closing, if necessary. I don't anticipate this player being a long reliever. There are plenty of those in the organization, as is. Austin Brice, for instance, is a multi-inning option who was recently claimed off waivers from the Orioles. Some free agents who are still out there who may fit are Tyler Clippard, Nick Vincent or Jake Diekman.

Do you think the Marlins are still considering a bullpen arm -- a long reliever or experienced closer? -- @agamez1

Before Spring Training starts next Wednesday, or shortly thereafter, I do expect the Marlins to sign at least one free-agent reliever. The Marlins have been exploring the bullpen market, and they've already stated they'd be interested in a reliever with experience in "high leverage" situations. So it doesn't necessarily have to be someone with significant past closing experience; it could be a setup reliever who is capable of closing, if necessary. I don't anticipate this player being a long reliever. There are plenty of those in the organization, as is. Austin Brice, for instance, is a multi-inning option who was recently claimed off waivers from the Orioles. Some free agents who are still out there who may fit are Tyler Clippard, Nick Vincent or Jake Diekman.

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With the signings of infielder Neil Walker and outfielder Curtis Granderson to one-year deals, do you think the Marlins' front office wants to flip both of them to contending teams before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline? -- @TDup25

Walker signed a one-year contract worth $2 million, so he is guaranteed a roster spot. Granderson is a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal. I do believe Granderson has an excellent chance of making the club as a fourth outfielder, pinch-hitter or platoon option in left field. Certainly, with prospects like outfielder Monte Harrison (No. 3 in Miami's system, per MLB Pipeline) and second baseman Isan Diaz (No. 10) getting closer to being big league ready, that could lead to the Marlins looking to trade either, or both, at the Deadline. They did that a year ago with outfielder Cameron Maybin, sending him to the Mariners for infield prospect Bryson Brigman.

What are realistic expectations for Jorge Guzman and McKenzie Mills this season in the Minors and how far up do you believe each of them can get in 2019? -- @fsutoby

Guzman, 23, was added to the 40-man roster earlier in the offseason, and he is ranked as the Marlins' No. 7 prospect. The Marlins continue to groom Guzman to be a starter, although, if he struggles with command, he may wind up in the bullpen at some point. For now, the plan is to see if he can be a starter, and he likely will open the season at Double-A Jacksonville. I think Triple-A would be as far as he advances in 2019.

Mills, a left-hander, was at Double-A Jacksonville last season after being acquired from the Phillies for Justin Bour. Mills is still in the organization, but he will be in Minor League camp.

Which Marlins player do you see getting a contract extension as a building block for the organization moving forward? -- @MatontiOnTheRox

Extensions are usually offered to All-Star-caliber players who have yet to qualify for free agency. Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich are two recent examples. The Marlins signed both before they got close to qualifying for free agency. The only player on the current roster who appears close to fitting that profile is Brian Anderson. To me, it's too early to consider an extension for Anderson, who comes off a solid rookie season. But if he keeps improving, he would be my choice to be offered an extension.

Video: MIA@WSH: Anderson drives a 3-run homer to left-center

Do you view Trevor Richards, if healthy, as a future No. 2 starter if he develops a third pitch to go with his nasty changeup and the fastball he already has? -- @Shaun285

Richards is a solid starter who has shown he can compete at the highest level. And yes, his changeup, based on advanced data, is a very effective pitch. But to say he's a No. 2-caliber starter is a bit of a reach. Richards is more of a back-of-the-rotation candidate who has a chance to be a very reliable performer. Typically, power pitchers profile as top-of-the-rotation starters. I'd say Sandy Alcantara (Marlins' No. 4 prospect) projects more as a No. 2 starter.

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

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