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Inbox: Will Machado, Britton be on the move?

Beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli answers fans' questions
MLB.com

BALTIMORE -- With the Winter Meetings in the rearview mirror, what a perfect time to go through the latest batch of your Inbox questions.

What are the chances the Orioles trade [Manny] Machado?
-- Don K., Columbia, Md.

BALTIMORE -- With the Winter Meetings in the rearview mirror, what a perfect time to go through the latest batch of your Inbox questions.

What are the chances the Orioles trade [Manny] Machado?
-- Don K., Columbia, Md.

A month ago, I would have said slim to none. But given what transpired at the Meetings, it's more and more likely the O's will deal the superstar. Still, I don't think it gets done. I could be wrong, of course, but there's a few key roadblocks standing in the way. One, Machado is highly unlikely to give up his pending free agency and sign an extension as part of the deal. (Dan Duquette also noted that there wouldn't be a 72-hour window for the new team to negotiate such a deal.) Two, teams are going to be incredibly hesitant to give up top prospects for essentially a one-year rental. And, third, if the reports are true that owner Peter Angelos doesn't want Machado in pinstripes -- either by dealing with the Yankees or having another trading team flip him to them -- that's another caveat that shrinks the Orioles' pool of suitors.

:: Submit a question to the Orioles Inbox ::

Machado is a franchise player and the O's -- if they do deal him -- can't afford to be wrong with the haul they get back. It's still a very plausible scenario, I just don't know if they can pull it off.

Video: Justice discusses where he thinks Machado will land

How come we didn't even try to extend [Machado]? As a fan, that's frustrating to watch our young, franchise players walk because we can't afford them.
-- Wayne R., Baltimore, Md.

A lot of people were upset by the news that Duquette hasn't spoken to Machado's agent in a few years regarding an extension. While I agree that he should have at least tried, it's been a foregone conclusion for quite some time that Machado is going to test the free-agent market. The O's never thought they'd be able to keep him. And any hope they had financially of committing that kind of money to a player became much more of a long shot when they signed Chris Davis to a club record deal.

How come the O's haven't signed any starters yet? We can't keep waiting around.
-- Kathy P., Norfolk, Va.

This isn't necessarily the Orioles' fault. They've made offers and the starting pitching market has been slow to come into focus this winter. They certainly can't afford to act slowly, but they can't control how long it takes guys to decide or where a free agent decides to go. They can only make a competitive offer and hope for the best. It's always going to be tough convincing a free-agent arm to pitch in hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Part of the allure in a Machado trade -- or making any trade, really -- is the opportunity to bring back young, controllable arms.

Video: Castrovince breaks down starting pitching market

Do you think we will trade any of our relievers like [Zach] Britton or [Brad] Brach? I don't want to, but if it gets us a starting pitcher, or some top prospects, I am in.
-- Thomas R.

It seems at this given moment that they are much more willing to deal Britton than Brach, who would presumably fill in the ninth-inning duties if Britton is dealt. I can see a scenario where they trade Machado and decide it's time to get what they can for some of their pending free agents, Britton included. They came incredibly close to trading Britton to Houston at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, so it's a move they've already weighed. I think if one trade does go down this winter, Britton is a pretty good shot at being it. While Mychal Givens has also drawn a lot of interest, he's young and cheap, and thus not going anywhere.

Video: High Heat: Showalter in awe of Britton's dominance

Who did the Orioles take in the Rule 5 Draft?
-- Brett R., Bethlehem, Pa.

The O's picks included left-hander Nestor Cortes from the Yankees' Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, righty Pedro Araujo from the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa roster and righty Jose Mesa Jr., who was on the Yankees' Double-A Trenton roster.

That gives them four Rule 5 Draft picks, including Anthony Santander, who was hurt most of last year and maintains Rule 5 status. There's no way they keep all of those pitchers, but the hope is they can get one to stick to help the club.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Baltimore Orioles

Inbox: Which big bat will Red Sox reel in?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Who is the power hitter or bat the Red Sox are going to get?
-- @ty_walkks via Twitter

I've been pretty consistent on this one from the beginning in thinking J.D. Martinez will be the big bat who signs with Boston. The fact that Shohei Ohtani declined to speak with the Red Sox and that Giancarlo Stanton is headed elsewhere only strengthens my belief that Martinez will be a high priority. Because of the way the Red Sox are constructed as an organization at this time, a clean cash transaction would be the best way for them to acquire a power bat. Signing Martinez would not require a compensatory Draft pick because he wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer from the D-backs.

Who is the power hitter or bat the Red Sox are going to get?
-- @ty_walkks via Twitter

I've been pretty consistent on this one from the beginning in thinking J.D. Martinez will be the big bat who signs with Boston. The fact that Shohei Ohtani declined to speak with the Red Sox and that Giancarlo Stanton is headed elsewhere only strengthens my belief that Martinez will be a high priority. Because of the way the Red Sox are constructed as an organization at this time, a clean cash transaction would be the best way for them to acquire a power bat. Signing Martinez would not require a compensatory Draft pick because he wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer from the D-backs.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has good history with Martinez, signing the right-handed hitter with Detroit after his release from Houston in 2014. Given the emergence of Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, two strong left-handed hitters, I think another right-handed bat is a bigger need right now for the Red Sox.

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

I'm guessing Martinez's market will heat up big time now that Stanton has been traded. The toughest competition for the Red Sox will be the team that finishes second in the Stanton trade sweepstakes.

Hot Stove Tracker

Are the Sox going to stick it out with Hanley Ramirez at DH for the final year of his contract, or will they consider trading him? Would there be any takers?
-- @therealRJJoyce via Twitter

As presently constituted, the Red Sox need Hanley's bat in the lineup. Over the years, Hanley has often come back and had a big year when people start to count him out. He had left shoulder surgery, so that could free him up to swing the bat more like he did in 2016. Currently, the Sox are keeping their options open on whether Hanley plays first or serves as the DH.

Video: BOS@TOR: Hanley swats his 20th home run to center

Do you see a guy like Freddie Freeman or Joey Votto being a potential trade candidate, or are the Sox only interested in free agents? Both of those two would be amazing fits.
-- @dakernal16 via Twitter

I really don't, for the same reason I've never felt the Red Sox were strong candidates to land Stanton. Boston dealt several top prospects to land Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale over the last couple of years, so it could be hard for the Red Sox to dig deeper into the pipeline to make a blockbuster trade. Also, Votto has a no-trade clause and there are no indications he wants to leave the Reds.

With all the talk of signing a first baseman, where does that leave Sam Travis?
-- @C_B_M_ via Twitter

It all depends on how the rest of the offseason shakes out. If Boston winds up acquiring a big bat who plays a position besides first, Travis could get a shot to be part of the solution at first base. The Red Sox like Travis a lot from a mental standpoint, and he has a sound hitting approach. But it's unknown how productive he will be at a position typically associated with strong numbers.

Video: OAK@BOS: Travis leaps up for the run-saving catch

What's the word on Eduardo Nunez? I haven't read anything on him.
-- @ChrisThehood420 via Twitter

As I'm sure you're aware, the market has been very slow so far this offseason on elite players, which has put players in the second tier like Nunez in even more of a holding pattern than usual. He could still be a fit for the Red Sox if the price is right, but the team has decent organizational depth to fill the void while Dustin Pedroia is out in Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. I think Nunez gave the team a nice spark at the top of the order when he arrived in July, and he's a high-energy player. Stay tuned.

How do you see the Red Sox's bullpen situation playing out next year? They say they want to add another reliever, but I don't think they have room for it.
-- @J_SAB34 via Twitter

If they land the reliever they're looking for, they can make room. One thing Dombrowski has mentioned is that he'd like a solid lefty reliever to balance out all the righties. If there is a roster crunch, the Red Sox could potentially trade one of their righties to make room. That is one area on the team where they have a little duplication.

Any pitching prospects we could see contributing in the next two or three years?
-- @FatiguedWriter via Twitter

The team's top pitching prospect -- in fact, the top prospect in the entire system according to MLBPipeline.com -- is Jay Groome. But Groome was drafted out of high school in 2016, and he could take a few more years to complete his development. The Red Sox don't want to rush him. It will be interesting to see how quickly some of the recent college Draft picks can develop. Tanner Houck, the 24th overall pick this past year, is No. 4 in the team's prospect rankings. Mike Shawaryn (No. 6), the former University of Maryland ace, was really solid in his first pro season, so he will be someone to watch closely in '18.

What are the Sox going to do about Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith next season?
-- @Peterm2915 via Twitter

Smith should be a full go after making a nice recovery from Tommy John surgery and pitching well late in the season. Things are less clear with Thornburg. It's all a matter of how healthy he will be when he shows up for Spring Training. The righty had a shoulder impingement and a subsequent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome that wiped away his 2017 season. My hunch is that the Red Sox will be conservative with him so he can be fully healthy when he does get back. That approach worked well with Smith.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Boston Red Sox

Inbox: Who will be D-backs' closer in 2018?

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert answers fans' questions
MLB.com

What's your take on the back end of the D-backs' bullpen? Is Archie Bradley the answer at closer? There are some high-quality closers available on the open market. Do you see the team having the financial flexibility to land one and keep Archie in the high-leverage spot he serviced so superbly in 2017?
-- Ryan, Scottsdale, Ariz.

I would be very surprised if they spent a lot of money on a closer. As it stands now, Bradley could be used in a closer's role or in high-leverage situations (such as the Indians' Andrew Miller), with Brad Boxberger closing. If the D-backs are able to find an affordable closer via trade, or if one falls to them in the free-agent market like Fernando Rodney did last year, then they still have the flexibility to use Boxberger and Bradley in different roles. Keep in mind one of the reasons Rodney signed with the D-backs last year is because they were able to tell him that he was going to be their closer. They could do that again this year, which is why GM Mike Hazen talks about wanting to have "flexibility" in building the bullpen.

What's your take on the back end of the D-backs' bullpen? Is Archie Bradley the answer at closer? There are some high-quality closers available on the open market. Do you see the team having the financial flexibility to land one and keep Archie in the high-leverage spot he serviced so superbly in 2017?
-- Ryan, Scottsdale, Ariz.

I would be very surprised if they spent a lot of money on a closer. As it stands now, Bradley could be used in a closer's role or in high-leverage situations (such as the Indians' Andrew Miller), with Brad Boxberger closing. If the D-backs are able to find an affordable closer via trade, or if one falls to them in the free-agent market like Fernando Rodney did last year, then they still have the flexibility to use Boxberger and Bradley in different roles. Keep in mind one of the reasons Rodney signed with the D-backs last year is because they were able to tell him that he was going to be their closer. They could do that again this year, which is why GM Mike Hazen talks about wanting to have "flexibility" in building the bullpen.

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

What are the chances of J.D. Martinez returning?
-- Laura Marie, Aurora, Ill.

My opinion on this has not changed. I don't see any way they can fit Martinez into their payroll structure if he gets the $200 million deal that he is reportedly seeking. They would love to have his bat, but given the payroll situation, I don't see it happening.

What are the realistic solutions to the hole J.D. leaves in the D-backs' lineup?
-- Kyle, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Yasmany Tomas is expected to be healthy after missing most of last season, and he will get some of those at-bats. The D-backs will probably look to trade for a controllable outfielder this offseason, but obviously replacing the prodigious production Martinez provided last year will be extremely difficult.

What's the possibility of trading Paul Goldschmidt?
-- Matt, Phoenix

Less than zero percent. No, seriously, I can't see that happening. I know Goldschmidt would bring a huge return, but it doesn't make sense for a team that is planning on contending in 2018 to trade away its cornerstone player. If the D-backs were stripping down the roster and doing a complete rebuild, that's a different story. But that's clearly not where they're at.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Inbox: Is Schwarber a trade candidate?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
MLB.com

It seems the best move this offseason for all involved would be to move Kyle Schwarber to an American League team in return for some pitching. Do you think that's a likely move? Or will we see a young healthy guy like Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. moved instead? It seems Schwarber now is a prototypical American League player.
-- Colleen M., Chicago

It may seem like a good move to you, and it may be something the Yankees are considering, if you believe the latest rumors. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein would disagree.

It seems the best move this offseason for all involved would be to move Kyle Schwarber to an American League team in return for some pitching. Do you think that's a likely move? Or will we see a young healthy guy like Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. moved instead? It seems Schwarber now is a prototypical American League player.
-- Colleen M., Chicago

It may seem like a good move to you, and it may be something the Yankees are considering, if you believe the latest rumors. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein would disagree.

Hot Stove Tracker

"I'll happily endorse him as the type of player we want to win with, here with the Cubs," Epstein said of Schwarber. "The fact he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

"Power is not everything," Epstein said. "I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he is. That's important for him to get his identity back as a hitter and a dangerous hitter. We feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo."

:: Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox ::

There also are the intangibles that Schwarber possesses and which Epstein values.

"[Schwarber] has got certain toughness and leadership qualities that are hard to find that we don't necessarily have in surplus and in abundance in the clubhouse," Epstein said. "He has a certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together, and that's important. The biggest thing is his bat. We think he's the type of offensive player who you build around along with a couple other guys."

Video: MLB Tonight compares Kyle Schwarber's 2015 and 2017

As far as who the Cubs are willing to trade, I only know who they won't, and that list includes Kris Bryant, Rizzo and Willson Contreras. The Cubs do appear to have a surplus of young infielders with Happ, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, and they may have to part with one of them to acquire the pitching they want.

I haven't heard much talk about Schwarber as the backup catcher. Is this no longer an option? He could spell Contreras as the left-handed-hitting catcher and start in left field when Contreras starts.
-- Ken R., Los Angeles

Schwarber is considered the No. 3 catcher, but because of the left knee injury he suffered in early 2016, the Cubs don't consider him an option behind the plate full time. Usually backup catchers don't start at other positions in the same game in case they're needed. However, in photos posted this week of Schwarber, it looks as if he's lost weight this offseason. Maybe he's prepping for more catching work, which would open an outfield spot.

Tweet from @Cubs: Just a day in the life of Blue, who is a very good dog. pic.twitter.com/abSlTVHbpA

Why haven't the Cubs had more success in recent years developing starting pitchers in their system? Who are the most likely candidates to reach the Major League club in the coming years from the group in the Minors now?
-- Kyle R., San Antonio, Texas

When Epstein took over, he wanted to restock the Minor League system and create a foundation of homegrown players. The Cubs did focus on position players in the first round of the Draft, mainly because they have a better chance of getting to the big leagues quicker than pitchers. Some of the Cubs' top pitching prospects have been slowed by injuries (Duane Underwood, Ryan Williams, Carson Sands). Rob Zastryzny, a second-round pick in 2013, was the first Cubs pitcher drafted under Epstein to make it to the big leagues, doing so in '16.

Pitchers to watch include Jen-Ho Tseng and Dillon Maples, ranked 13th and 14th, respectively, on MLBPipeline.com's list of top Cubs prospects. Both got a brief taste of the big leagues this year. Right-hander Jake Stinnett, a second-round pick in 2014, did well in the Arizona Fall League, as did right-hander Adbert Alzolay (No. 3 among Cubs prospects). But they're more likely to get a promotion later in 2018 if all goes well.

Video: Adbert Alzolay strikes out Tyler Krieger

Want an example of what a gamble it is to pick pitchers in the Draft? Pitcher Mark Appel, who was selected first overall in the 2013 Draft by the Astros -- ahead of Bryant -- was designated for assignment on Nov. 20 by the Phillies. At 26, he has never pitched in the big leagues. Appel spent two injury-plagued years in the Phils' organization, needing right elbow surgery and battling a right shoulder injury.

Why wouldn't we want to re-sign Jon Jay?
-- Wendall S., Byron Center, Mich.

The only reason not to is if Jay's salary request is more than the Cubs want to pay and if the Cubs feel they have someone else who can fill that role. Jay, who will be 33 in March, made $8 million in 2017.

What are the chances that the Cubs ask David Ross to be part of their coaching staff?
-- James L., Brookfield, Ill.

Ross won't be part of the coaching staff, but he is expected to spend more time with the team in his role as a special assistant to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs

Inbox: What impact would Ohtani have?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields Mariners fans' questions
MLB.com

If Shohei Ohtani signs with an American League team and is asked to both pitch and bat in the same game, how does that work with the designated hitter?
-- Tim, Yakima, Wash.

Every AL team has the choice of selecting a DH to bat for their pitcher before every game, and obviously that is what teams almost always do. But if a team doesn't select a DH in place of its pitcher, then that team can't use the DH in place of any pitcher for the rest of that game.

If Shohei Ohtani signs with an American League team and is asked to both pitch and bat in the same game, how does that work with the designated hitter?
-- Tim, Yakima, Wash.

Every AL team has the choice of selecting a DH to bat for their pitcher before every game, and obviously that is what teams almost always do. But if a team doesn't select a DH in place of its pitcher, then that team can't use the DH in place of any pitcher for the rest of that game.

:: Submit a question to the Mariners Inbox ::

So if a team lets Ohtani hit and pitch at the start of a game in lieu of a DH, once he's taken out, they'd either have to let their relievers hit or use a pinch-hitter each time his spot in the lineup came up. Or they could shift Ohtani to a defensive position, but that would still leave the reliever in the batting order as the DH can't be added in during the game.

Mariners make presentation to Ohtani, reps

Realistically, what kind of impact could Ohtani make if he signs with the Mariners for next year?
-- Ben M., Victoria, Australia

Ohtani's largest impact figures to be as a pitcher. Most scouts see that as his biggest strength. Clearly there are some questions regarding how any player who has never competed in MLB will fare in their first season, but signing a 23-year-old who can throw 100-plus mph, has a quality slider and split-finger changeup to complement the fastball and has been a dominant force in Japan would be a big addition to Seattle's rotation and a potential difference-maker for a team that has been close to making the playoffs the past two years.

:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

I think any offense Ohtani provided would be a bonus. Adapting as a young Major League hitter, particularly in a part-time role around his pitching schedule, figures to be a tougher challenge. But from all accounts, he's an excellent athlete who provides a big potential power bat, and it will be fascinating to see how much he can provide at the plate for whatever team signs him.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has said he'd be willing to move Nelson Cruz to the outfield a few games a week to let Ohtani play DH. And Cruz is 37 and in the final year of his contract, so Ohtani potentially offers longer-term help there as well.

What's your theory for why the Mariners often had 13 pitchers on their active roster when the 13th pitcher often wasn't used?
-- Ian R., Seattle

The Mariners kept an extra pitcher for much of last season due in part to the injuries to their rotation and the fact some of the fill-in pitchers were inexperienced and only providing four to five innings per start. But going with an extra arm in the bullpen is a strategy more teams seem to be employing, and while all eight relievers obviously don't get used every game, the extra reliever provides an added option and helps prevent overuse of the bullpen over the long haul.

I keep hearing that Ohtani can only be signed to a Minor League contract. Does that mean he will spend his first year in Tacoma If signed to the Mariners?
-- Jason, Graham, Wash.

No. Numerous players on Minor League deals are promoted to the Majors each season. When they are, teams must add them to their 40-man roster and pay them at the Major League minimum rate of $545,000, which is surely what will happen with Ohtani, wherever he goes.

Video: Benschoten on Ohtani's potential as two-way player

Any word on a possible contract extension for Dipoto? CEO John Stanton has expressed confidence in him, do you think that confidence could lead to an extension?
-- Easton A., Spokane, Wash.

Stanton acknowledged earlier this offseason that both Dipoto and manager Scott Servais are entering the third and final year on their initial contracts, but he didn't sound concerned about that situation. I don't think there's any reason to rush into extensions with a full season still to go, particularly coming off last year's disappointing record. But the sense I get is that Seattle's management likes the direction and vision Dipoto has put in place, understands that injuries sidetracked much of that plan last year and will likely work to extend Dipoto and Servais at some point in the coming year unless things somehow go off the rails.

I've read that Scott Brosius has helped Mike Zunino find a more successful hitting approach. Brosius has been hired as our new third-base coach. Do you see further improvement for Zunino?
-- Scott M., Pebble Beach, Calif.

Brosius was Tacoma's hitting coach two years ago and Zunino indeed credits the former Yankees standout with helping him when he was sent down to Triple-A. And the two continued to work together, along with Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez, last season when Brosius was promoted to Seattle as an assistant coach.

Video: SEA@LAA: Zunino blasts a two-run homer to left-center

So clearly Zunino will keep working with both Brosius and Martinez this coming season, with the goal of continuing to improve. Though after his big breakthrough in the second half last year, I'm pretty sure everyone would be happy if Zunino can just stay consistent and maintain what he was doing last season, when he finished with a .251/.331/.509 line with 25 home runs.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Seattle Mariners

Inbox: Could Braves deal for Opening Day arm?

Braves reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Is the Braves' Opening Day starting pitcher currently on the roster or do you get a sense a trade will bring a frontline starter?
-- @ChatelainJC

We can assume the Braves will add a bench piece and at least one reliever. We can also expect they'll attempt to part ways with either Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis or both. But it's harder to guess whether general manager Alex Anthopoulos will stumble onto a trade attractive enough to satisfy his wish to add some quality experience to what is now a rather green rotation.

Is the Braves' Opening Day starting pitcher currently on the roster or do you get a sense a trade will bring a frontline starter?
-- @ChatelainJC

We can assume the Braves will add a bench piece and at least one reliever. We can also expect they'll attempt to part ways with either Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis or both. But it's harder to guess whether general manager Alex Anthopoulos will stumble onto a trade attractive enough to satisfy his wish to add some quality experience to what is now a rather green rotation.

Anthoupoulos said he won't rush the rebuild process, but at the same time, there's no doubt the club could benefit from the addition of a controllable frontline starter. This isn't a case like last year when the Braves added arms just to bridge a gap to the future.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

The future started to come last year with the arrivals of Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Lucas Sims. It could become brighter this summer if Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard continue their quick ascents. So, there's no reason to simply add experience at the expense of blocking a higher-quality arm.

But if the Braves are looking to become contenders within the next two years, they need to gain some proven quality within their rotation. Julio Teheran, who has started on Opening Day in the last four seasons, is the only projected starter who has made more than 65 career starts and he joins Mike Foltynewicz as the only pitchers on the staff who have made more than 20 starts at the big league level.

Video: Must C Clips: Foltynewicz takes no-hitter into 9th

At the same time, these past three seasons have simply fortified the thought that Teheran should not be viewed as anything more than a No. 3 starter. His value within the rotation could continue to diminish if Gohara, Newcomb and Foltynewicz make strides and the likes of Fried, Soroka and Allard begin living up to their potential So, it might be in Anthopoulos' best interest to once again gauge the trade market for Teheran, who stands among the pitchers whose current value may be enhanced by the lack of quality free-agent starters available.

Even if the Braves were to add a top-notch starter this winter, the pace of their ascent toward becoming a legit contender will be heavily influenced by the progress made by Foltynewicz, Gohara, Newcomb and Fried.

From a development perspective, it might be fun to project how many potential frontline starters the Braves already possess in their system. But from a realistic perspective, we know it would be more comforting to guard against the uncertainty possessed by these young starters with the addition of the legit frontline starter Atlanta has lacked over the past few seasons.

What would the Braves' return for a Markakis or Kemp trade be and would it be worth it?
-- @ComRao2

As Markakis enters the final year of his four-year, $44 million contract, there's certainly reason to believe he could net a decent prospect. I get that many of you are going to point out his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) figure, per FanGraphs, hasn't exceeded 1.5 any of the past three seasons (and has trended downward) and his Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) has been below 100 both of the past two seasons. But while the metrics might show him to be below average, he still has produced a .357 on-base percentage over the past three seasons and he stands as a widely respected figure who could positively impact any clubhouse.

Hot Stove Tracker

Any return for Kemp would depend on how much of his remaining contract the Braves would have to eat. The veteran outfielder's rash of hamstring injuries this year combined with the fact he's owed $36 million (his salary minus the Dodgers' financIal commitment) over the next two seasons will make it difficult for the Braves to find a suitor.

Video: ATL@WSH: Kemp crushes a grand slam to left field

Is there any chance the Braves could acquire Martin Prado to serve as a third-base stopgap and tutor to Johan Camargo and Ozzie Albies?
-- @D_Rock9799

As Prado comes off a season in which a hamstring injury limited him to just 37 games with Miami, there may be some hesitance to trade for him and the $28.5 million he is owed over the next two seasons. But given his history and reputation, I think you definitely have to look into the possibility of bringing him back to Atlanta.

There's a reason Chipper Jones and others have said Prado is the best teammate they've ever had. He sets a great example for young players with his work ethic and his high energy, friendly persona provides him the ability to unite a clubhouse as well as any other player I've ever covered.

Camargo possesses many of the same attributes and certainly could benefit from Prado's leadership. At the same time, the latter's presence would likely push the former to a backup role and strengthen the Braves' bench. Yes, there are some concerns with Prado as he comes off an injury-plagued season. But it's certainly worth checking to see what it would cost to bring him home.

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo puts Braves up with two-run double

What are some ways the Braves plan to creatively inject the system with young talent?
-- @buzzard_sam

If simply looking at how the Braves can still gain value as they face international-market restrictions for each of the next three years, I think they'll attempt to make more deals like they did with the Angels last week. In exchange for bonus pool money, they were able to rid themselves of the $5 million still owed to Jim Johnson.

Moving forward, when they once again have available international bonus pool money, they could once again attempt to make similar deals. The return is seldom significant with these kinds of deals. But the value gained through cost savings or some other creative deal could certainly exceed that which they could gain with the money they can spend on international prospects.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Atlanta Braves

Inbox: What is Mets' biggest offseason need?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
MLB.com

With the Winter Meetings now less than a week away, there's a sense within the baseball industry that trades and signings are about to heat up. The Rangers made a major move late Monday, according to sources, signing left-hander Mike Minor -- a potential Mets target -- away from the Royals. Other dominos are sure to follow.

To tide you over until the Mets make their first major move of the offseason, here's a new batch of questions and answers:

With the Winter Meetings now less than a week away, there's a sense within the baseball industry that trades and signings are about to heat up. The Rangers made a major move late Monday, according to sources, signing left-hander Mike Minor -- a potential Mets target -- away from the Royals. Other dominos are sure to follow.

To tide you over until the Mets make their first major move of the offseason, here's a new batch of questions and answers:

Hot Stove Tracker

What does general manager Sandy Alderson see as this team's biggest hole to fill?
-- @wa2k_1999 via Twitter

It's relief pitching and it's not close. Though the Mets plan to acquire -- at the least -- a second baseman and a first base/outfield hybrid this offseason, they have made their clear focus relief pitching. The Mets aim to acquire at least one reliever in a second tier of free agents that includes Bryan Shaw, Brandon Morrow, Addison Reed and others. There's enough inventory out there to think they'll succeed.

Adding one of those pitchers to a back-end mix that already includes Jeurys Familia and Jerry Blevins will fortify what was a weakness for the Mets last season.

Me personally? I don't think they should stop there. I would acquire a starting pitcher on a one- or two-year deal -- such as a Jason Vargas or CC Sabathia type -- to provide insurance in the event that Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and others miss time due to injury. Acquiring a starter would also allow the Mets to bump Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman to the bullpen, where they could be ultra-valuable in swingman roles.

But given the constraints of a limited budget, it appears unlikely the Mets will go down that path. They are looking to relief pitching more than anything as a panacea for this roster.

:: Submit a question to the Mets Inbox ::

Would the Mets be open to acquiring a third baseman, or is it definitely Asdrubal Cabrera's job?
-- @j_nucero via Twitter

Right now, it's Cabrera's job, as the Mets look mostly at second-base options. There's still a chance they could find a deal on a third baseman and pivot at that time, pushing Cabrera over to the keystone. But the Mets' clear preference is to have Cabrera play third.

How's it possible any player who's arbitration-eligible argues to get a raise when they had a Matt Harvey -like season?
-- @cm3vet via Twitter

Simply put, baseball's strategy structure, which offers little leverage to players with less than three years of service time, tilts more in their favor once they reach arbitration. That's the give and take of MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement. The mechanics of the arbitration system make it very difficult not to earn raises from year to year.

Is Noah Syndergaard going to be making his own medical decisions in 2018 again?
-- @kellyawallace via Twitter

I suspect this question was asked tongue-in-cheek, but it's a symptom of a greater issue that, for the first time in a long time, the Mets are addressing. The team dismissed trainer Ray Ramirez in October and, while you can certainly argue that Ramirez was far from the root of the problem, it's the most public move the Mets have made in this department since hiring the controversial Mike Barwis to oversee their training operations in 2014.

The Mets are not done. They won't replace Ramirez until they first hire what they're calling a "high performance director" to oversee all aspects of the team's conditioning -- from strength training to nutrition, cardiovascular work, even sleep. That person will have input in the hiring process for a trainer and for any additional positions the Mets see fit.

Is that enough to keep the Mets healthy? Time will tell. Barwis has earned his share of criticism in the past, as have various other links on the chain of command, mostly for communication issues. But the Mets are making real change to their process this offseason. We'll see how much effect it winds up having.

Will Mets-affiliated Hall of Fame voters rally around Johan Santana?
-- @HofJohan via Twitter

First things first: Writers should show no bias toward or against players they cover when voting for the Hall of Fame.

Now that that's out of the way, let's examine Santana's case objectively. One of baseball's best pitchers from 2002 through his first shoulder surgery in '10, Santana finished his career 139-78 with a 3.20 ERA, winning two Cy Young Awards and finishing in the top seven six times. He threw a no-hitter.

It was a spectacular peak, but probably not long enough for most Hall voters to recognize. Compare Santana's stat line to those of Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who have both struggled to earn votes from more than half the electorate. Both Mussina and Schilling won significantly more games than Santana, which, while not my cup of tea, remains important among a representative percentage of the voting bloc. Santana edges both in ERA and adjusted ERA, which factors in ballparks and league conditions. But he has roughly 1,000 fewer strikeouts than both Mussina and Schilling. Again, his lack of longevity hurts him.

Though Santana appeared in four postseasons, he went 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA overall -- numbers that can't prop up his candidacy the way they can for Schilling or even Mussina.

If you look at Santana's peak alone, he's a clear Hall of Famer. But most voters take both peak and longevity into account, which would make Santana, statistically, a below-average Hall of Famer. Add in the fact that the ballot is already overloaded with worthy candidates, and I just don't see it happening. Santana will score a few votes here and there, but I doubt he'll ever make real noise on the ballot.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New York Mets

Inbox: When will quiet Bucs ignite Hot Stove?

Beat reporter Adam Berry offers thoughts on Cole, McCutchen and more
MLB.com

What is going on this offseason? It's December and it seems like nothing has happened. Are the Pirates just waiting to see what everyone else does?
-- Bill K., Pittsburgh

In terms of activity, it's been a quiet offseason throughout baseball -- not just in Pittsburgh. There have been few meaningful transactions, and most of the speculation has been focused on Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.

What is going on this offseason? It's December and it seems like nothing has happened. Are the Pirates just waiting to see what everyone else does?
-- Bill K., Pittsburgh

In terms of activity, it's been a quiet offseason throughout baseball -- not just in Pittsburgh. There have been few meaningful transactions, and most of the speculation has been focused on Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.

For the Pirates, even the rumors have been few and far between. We've heard two nuggets from MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi: They've discussed free-agent infielder Neil Walker, a sign they'd be willing to add talent for 2018, and they've at least kept in contact with the Giants about Andrew McCutchen, more likely a sign they'd take a step back.

Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox

I still think the Pirates will hang on to McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, add around the margins and hope everything that went wrong in 2017 goes right in '18. It's fair to expect more out of their veteran core and their young players if everyone's healthy. But they might be waiting to see how the market develops before committing to that strategy.

Somebody is going to land Stanton, and that should kick-start the rest of the outfield market. Clubs that might not commit long term to free agents like J.D. Martinez or Lorenzo Cain could turn their attention toward McCutchen, and the Pirates would listen as they did last offseason. That doesn't mean he'll be traded, but what if the offer is right?

Ohtani will fill out somebody's rotation, then perhaps the run on starting pitching will finally begin. The free-agent class isn't full of top-of-the-rotation potential, but would someone part with prospects to acquire Cole? Considering their budget and odds of contending next season, general manager Neal Huntington must at least listen.

It's odd that even the market for relievers is moving so slowly. The Pirates, in need of a left-hander in front of Felipe Rivero, should be involved on that front.

Hopefully there's more movement this week, and activity is bound to increase next week when all 30 clubs gather for the Winter Meetings. Somebody has to make a splash soon, right?

Will the Pirates use some of the surplus starting pitching in Triple-A to trade for a third baseman? Especially considering that Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Nick Kingham are on their last option year.
-- Guy Y., Blawnox, Pa.

I don't know if they'll use it specifically to trade for a third baseman, but they'll use it to address some sort of need, even if it's in the bullpen. Huntington has entertained the idea of putting a young starter or two in the Opening Day bullpen, much like they did with Trevor Williams last season.

Let's say the Opening Day rotation includes Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl and Williams. Glasnow and Brault have little more to prove in Triple-A, so why not use one or both in relief and see how they handle it?

Glasnow and Brault would still be available as rotation depth, as Williams showed, and the Pirates would have Kingham, Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler waiting in Triple-A. Don't forget that the next wave of pitching prospects, led by Mitch Keller, is not far behind in Double-A.

Seems like it's time to move some of those arms to the bullpen or move them elsewhere, especially if there's a chance to bolster the lineup.

What will the Bucs do with outfielder Jordan Luplow in 2018?
-- Terry M., Marietta, Ohio

That depends on what they do this offseason. If they add a fourth outfielder, something they badly needed at times last season, then he might be bound for Triple-A. If they stick with what they have, Luplow looks like an option for the Opening Day roster.

Luplow, 24, struggled in his first spin through the Majors, but the power he showed in the Minors is intriguing for a Pirates team that ranked 29th in slugging percentage this year. He played only 44 games in Triple-A, so sending him back there wouldn't exactly be an insult.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Inbox: Would Detroit consider dealing Fulmer?

Beat reporter Jason Beck fields questions from Tigers fans
MLB.com

DETROIT -- With the Thanksgiving season well in the past, it's time to take care of the leftovers in the Tigers Inbox before the Winter Meetings render them old and smelly.

In this edition, we'll look at questions about the rebuild, which players might be on the move and make a cross-sport comparison.

DETROIT -- With the Thanksgiving season well in the past, it's time to take care of the leftovers in the Tigers Inbox before the Winter Meetings render them old and smelly.

In this edition, we'll look at questions about the rebuild, which players might be on the move and make a cross-sport comparison.

 

Trading Michael Fulmer has always been the wild-card scenario in the Tigers' rebuild. At age 24 and with five more seasons before he's eligible for free agency, Fulmer is one of the few accomplished Tigers who could see the club in contention again before hitting the open market. Yet for those same reasons, he's the one Tiger who could draw the kind of prospect package that could jumpstart the rebuilding process the way the Chris Sale trade did for the White Sox last offseason.

:: Submit a question to the Tigers Inbox ::

General manager Al Avila has never completely ruled out a Fulmer trade. If he could get two Fulmers for one, as he put it, he would have to consider it. That would seem unlikely, with Fulmer coming off surgery to move the ulnar nerve around his right elbow and alleviate the numbness that had become an increasing hindrance. So while it's possible, it's not probable by any means.

 

Other than Ian Kinsler, the Tigers don't have many veterans left. The ones they have are unlikely to be traded, either for injuries (Jordan Zimmermann, Victor Martinez) or contract (Miguel Cabrera). Still, it's worth keeping an eye on Jose Iglesias and Shane Greene. Iglesias didn't draw much interest at last year's Winter Meetings or this summer's Trade Deadline, but he's a year away from free agency and can provide short-term defensive stability for a team at shortstop. Greene attracted surprisingly little trade interest over the summer, but he has shown a fit in the closer and setup roles in a small sample size, and he has three years of team control left before free agency.

 

The Tigers currently have just three outfielders with Major League experience on their 40-man roster, so they have to do something. A short-term deal with an outfielder on the rebound is about the best thing they can do at this point. A deal with a veteran outfielder who bats left-handed, like Gonzalez or Curtis Granderson, would be ideal, kind of like what they tried with Johnny Damon in 2010.

 

I think if Christin Stewart gets to the Majors before September, it would require a surprise scenario, either injuries forcing the Tigers' hand or Stewart slugging his way to forcing the Tigers to give him a chance. Short of that, Tigers player development want him getting more seasoning, having not seen a pitch above the Double-A level yet.

Video: Christin Stewart is Minor League Player of the Year

 

Good question. I see a little bit of Liverpool in the Tigers, a team with past glory trying to recapture it, trying to play with the bigger-market titans of the league. Ron Gardenhire doesn't have that Jurgen Klopp look, though. Also, you don't really see full rebuilding efforts in the EPL due to the risk of relegation. Maybe Newcastle or Everton would be more timely comparisons in that respect.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers

Inbox: Could Rays trade for prospect haul?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers fans' questions
MLB.com

I've heard some suggest that maybe the Rays would be better off trading pieces of their roster so they can get a great return of prospects, like the White Sox and the Cubs have done.
-- Terence L., Sun City Center, Fla.

Interesting, Terence -- normally I receive emails from fans frustrated about the Rays trading players or not bringing them back when they become free agents. I can understand the appeal of wanting to see kids take over everywhere, but I don't think that's going to happen. If you follow the way Tampa Bay has done things in the past, I believe that is how it will go forward. And that is to keep several key veterans in place and build the roster from within, adding a free agent or two if they're the right price.

I've heard some suggest that maybe the Rays would be better off trading pieces of their roster so they can get a great return of prospects, like the White Sox and the Cubs have done.
-- Terence L., Sun City Center, Fla.

Interesting, Terence -- normally I receive emails from fans frustrated about the Rays trading players or not bringing them back when they become free agents. I can understand the appeal of wanting to see kids take over everywhere, but I don't think that's going to happen. If you follow the way Tampa Bay has done things in the past, I believe that is how it will go forward. And that is to keep several key veterans in place and build the roster from within, adding a free agent or two if they're the right price.

:: Submit a question to the Rays Inbox ::

With all of the Hot Stove talk recently, I've heard that the Rays are a prime target for a lot of trades. Regardless of if this happens, it seems counterintuitive based on the Rays' competitiveness to succeed in their division. Why suddenly have the change of heart to sell them all?
-- Andrew T., Lecanto, Fla.

Tampa Bay has had success with its model in the past, though it hasn't been a model that has brought positive results the past four seasons. If more fans attended games, that would certainly add to the pool of available money to spend, and a new stadium would create new revenue streams. The reality is even if a new stadium comes to fruition and Rays fans pack the place, Tampa Bay will never be able to compete financially against the likes of the Yankees and the Red Sox. But a cash injection would certainly help the team's lot, and it might change the way it goes about its business.

Hot Stove Tracker

How do you think Brad Miller will do this year?
-- Jack M., Sarasota, Fla.

Based on Miller's past performance, I have to believe that 2017 was an outlier season. He can hit, which he demonstrated in '16 when he hit 30 home runs in his first season with the team. I also believe he was hurting more than he let on last season.

Video: BAL@TB: Miller crushes a three-run homer to right

Do you think it will ever be mandatory that all coaches and managers wear the uniform on game day?
-- Bob M., Clearwater, Fla.

Interesting question, and one that prompted me to think about Connie Mack, who wore a suit in the dugout when he managed in the early days of the Major Leagues. The next time I see Kevin Cash, I will make a point of asking him if he'd like to wear a suit in the dugout rather than a Rays uniform. The manager never looks too happy when the prospect of wearing a coat and tie is mentioned.

Can the Rays get Eric Hosmer?
-- Big Randy J., Tampa, Fla.

I'm a big fan of Hosmer, the free-agent first baseman, not only for the way he hits, but also for the way he plays the game. Unfortunately for the Rays, I believe he will be out of their price range, even if he looks like the perfect fit to play first base for the team.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Inbox: Is Tribe in on Ohtani sweepstakes?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
MLB.com

How hard do you expect the Indians to pursue Shohei Ohtani? Do they even have the space to give him plate appearances?
-- Derek, Akron, Ohio

Yes, the Indians have interest in Japanese two-way star Ohtani, as they should. Really, given the guidelines for the bidding process for Ohtani, all 30 teams have nothing to lose by making their pitch. Cleveland has little available to offer for a signing bonus, but it has a postseason-ready roster to present as a reason to consider the Tribe.

How hard do you expect the Indians to pursue Shohei Ohtani? Do they even have the space to give him plate appearances?
-- Derek, Akron, Ohio

Yes, the Indians have interest in Japanese two-way star Ohtani, as they should. Really, given the guidelines for the bidding process for Ohtani, all 30 teams have nothing to lose by making their pitch. Cleveland has little available to offer for a signing bonus, but it has a postseason-ready roster to present as a reason to consider the Tribe.

:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::

Now, just so we're clear, the Indians are not considered a favorite to land Ohtani, whose reported priorities are to have the opportunity to pitch and hit in the Majors, while also considering teams' locations and market dynamics. Cleveland is hardly a large market, but look no further than LeBron James for an athlete who has transcended the city's market size for global superstardom.

:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

The reality, though, is that the Indians can only offer a maximum of $10,000 in the way of a signing bonus, while the Rangers ($3,535,000), Yankees ($3.5 million) and Twins ($3,245,000) can offer the most. Cleveland spent the entirety of its $5.75-million pool for international signings for the year. Its top two signings were shortstop Aaron Bracho ($1.5 million bonus) of Venezuela and outfielder George Valera ($1.3 million) of the Dominican Republic. They currently rank 28th and 25th, respectively, among the Indians' Top 30 prospects, per MLBPipeline.com.

Because Ohtani is 23 years old, he is still subject to more strict international signing rules. He is limited to signing a Minor League contract that includes a signing bonus, and would earn the minimum (around $545,000 in 2018) in the Majors. He would not be eligible for arbitration until 2020, though a team would have the ability to sign him to an extension. Had Ohtani waited to be posted after turning 25, he would have faced no restrictions. So, his arrival now shows that his desire to play in the Majors is not solely about the money at the moment.

During negotations with free agents, the Indians will sometimes send "pitch books" to some of their targets to provide information about the team, city and other aspects. In Ohtani's case, his representatives sent a questionnaire to all 30 clubs to address what he is looking for in a team. You can bet the Indians made their pitch.

Cleveland already boasts a strong rotation -- headed by two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber -- but the team would have room for Ohtani. As for hitting, Cleveland is looking for a first baseman and could also offer at-bats at designated hitter or corner outfield. Finding innings or at-bats for Ohtani would not be a problem for the Indians, and it's no secret how much manager Terry Francona loves versatility in his players.

All of that said, Ohtani coming to Cleveland is a long shot. According to multiple reports, the Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers look like the front-runners right now.

Tweet from @patrick_cbus: What pitcher is likely to be traded and does meritt have a chance in the rotation? Patrick -columbus. #indiansInbox

Heading into the 2018 season with Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin gives the Indians a strong foundation for the rotation. Behind them, guys like Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando and Cody Anderson (coming back from Tommy John surgery) offer some potential depth. I could see the Indians exploring the market for Salazar, given his recent history of injury, increasing salary, years of control and his still-intriguing potential. There are plenty of teams that would roll the dice on Salazar. As for Merritt, it's hard to see him cracking the rotation as it's currently consistuted. But, with the lefty having no Minor League options left, he could compete for a spot in the bullpen. That will be something to watch this spring, for sure.

Video: CLE@NYY: Merritt K's Judge to start the frame

Tweet from @Sleepy453: What���s the chance the Indians resign Napoli to a $8-$9 million deal and let Santana walk? Tim M/Sandusky, Oh #IndiansInbox

We all know how fond Francona is of Napoli, and how important he was to the 2016 Tribe, but it's hard to imagine that kind of reunion, in my opinion. True, the first baseman hit 29 homers last year, but he posted a .193/.285/.428 slash line with a career-high 33.6 strikeout percentage. Napoli posted an 81 weighted Runs Created Plus, which indicates that he was 19 percent below league average offensively. Cleveland squeezed all that could out of Napoli in '16 and it was a memorable season for the slugger. But, I don't think he'd present an upgrade over what the Indians could do at first base internally.

Video: TEX@ATL: Napoli launches a two-run home run to left

Tweet from @DreamingBasebll: Which Indians' prospect who has yet to make his major league debut do you think has the best chance to make an impact for the team in 2018? #IndiansInbox

That's an interesting way to frame the question. If we included players who have already made their MLB debut, I'd say catcher Francisco Mejia. I could see him playing some kind of role for the Indians by midseason or in the second half. Since you added that wrinkle, though, I'll go with pitcher Julian Merryweather (Cleveland's No. 12 prospect). The righty was recently added to the 40-man roster, and prospects on the roster typically will get a look first. Merryweather had a rough go in Triple-A last year, but he is starting to emerge as a depth arm behind the big league pitching staff.

Tweet from @BrianLavrich: Who would you put on your Hall of Fame ballot and why? #IndiansInbox

For the record, I am not eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, yet. But, if I could vote this year, I would check the boxes for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome and Larry Walker. I'll save the "why" for a post later this offseason.

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.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians

Inbox: Will Nats sign Ohtani, bullpen help?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields questions from fans
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The Hot Stove season has gotten off to a slow start across Major League Baseball and the Nationals are no exception. Once the club completed the hiring of its coaching staff, it has not made any additions to the roster for next season.

Still, there are a few questions to consider for the latest Inbox.

WASHINGTON -- The Hot Stove season has gotten off to a slow start across Major League Baseball and the Nationals are no exception. Once the club completed the hiring of its coaching staff, it has not made any additions to the roster for next season.

Still, there are a few questions to consider for the latest Inbox.

• Submit an Inbox question

Is there a realistic shot at Shohei Ohtani? What would the plan be if they did get him?
-- @funnydanny via Twitter

The odds are probably not great. Yes, earlier this week general manager Mike Rizzo outlined his sales pitch for Shohei Ohtani and the Nationals did respond to the questionnaire the Japanese star sent to all 30 Major League teams. It's hard to find a reason why any team wouldn't want to make its pitch to Ohtani, who, because of international signing rules, many around baseball will view as a bargain. He can throw a fastball that has reached 100 mph and is a power-hitting outfielder.

:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

At 23 years old, Ohtani is as enticing and exciting of a superstar to hit the open market in a while. Plus, he will be limited to a signing bonus that can be at best $3.5 million. The Major League team that signs him will also owe his Nippon Professional Baseball team $20 million. Fitting him in would be easy too; he could slide in as the Nats' fifth starter and either be part of an outfield rotation when he is not pitching or Washington could use its surplus and trade an outfielder.

The issue for the Nationals -- and a reason I believe their chances of landing Ohtani are slim -- is they can not match other teams' spending power because of their limitations in international spending. The most the Nats can offer Ohtani in a signing bonus is $300,000. Even if Ohtani is not looking out primarily for money, that is a significant gap. Teams with a bigger budget such as the Yankees or Rangers could offer nearly $3.5 million. Also, while certainly not out of the question, the Nats paying the $20 million sum to his NPB team would be a little out of character in comparison to their normal spending habits.

So Washington is unlikely to be a strong contender for Ohtani unless he finds the team's response to the questionnaire particularly enticing.

What is the Nationals' level of interest in the Braves prospects who were released? Obviously, Kevin Maitan is of particular interest, but I'd be interested to hear about others.
-- @ZackMatt4 via Twitter

Similar to the Ohtani questions, the Nationals don't have the bonus money to make a significant push for the recently released Braves prospects. The most Washington can offer prospects is also $300,000, and other teams will be able to offer more money. So their limits in international spending will hinder the Nats again.

What position do the Nationals need to pay attention to most this offseason?
-- @TheDCBullpen via Twitter

I've thought the biggest need will be in the bullpen. Yes, this time the Nats have the back end of the bullpen set with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson both signed, but they are lacking in depth behind them. Adding another strong middle reliever or two would be key to the construction of a strong and reliable bullpen -- which, as we have seen in recent years, has made a big difference during the postseason.

What's the plan with Robles?
-- @JPFinlayNBCS via Twitter

The Nationals want Victor Robles to play every day in 2018. Rizzo has also confirmed that Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor would be the starting outfielders if the season began today. That would indicate that Robles is set to begin the season at Triple-A Syracuse, barring injury.

Video: WEST@EAST: Robles gets lead, shows big speed on steal

Robles, ranked as the club's top prospect and No. 2 overall in MLB according to MLBPipeline.com, made strides last season to make the Majors and make the postseason roster. Still, the Nats want him to develop more as a hitter before he is ready to be an everyday Major League player. Robles can certainly force the action by playing well, but he will likely begin the year in the Minors even though he is still likely to become an everyday outfielder for the Nationals at some point soon.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals