Each team's biggest question before Spring Training

December 23rd, 2023

While there is still a lot to be determined with respect to the hot stove season, the calendar will soon flip to a new year, and with it, Spring Training will be in sight.

As rosters take shape and the MLB landscape becomes clearer, what questions does each team face before heading to Arizona or Florida to open camp? 

Here's a look at the biggest question for each club before Spring Training:

American League East

Blue Jays: Will they pivot… again?
Will the Blue Jays swing big on Cody Bellinger, target a surprise name on the trade market or run it back with a collection of mid-range signings? Before we get into anything specific, we still need to see in which broad, philosophical direction the Blue Jays want to move their franchise.

A year ago, that shift was clear. They moved out bats for pitching and defense, trading Teoscar Hernández for Erik Swanson and later dealing Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for Daulton Varsho. They took a different road to the same place, though, and need to try another path. Does this front office think another significant shift is needed? We’re about to find out. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: How will they upgrade their rotation?
General manager Mike Elias has repeatedly made it known he’d like to add a big-league-caliber starting pitcher to upgrade Baltimore’s rotation for the 2024 season. But nothing has materialized so far this offseason, while free-agent pitchers continue to come off the board.

The market for starters has been a bit pricey, as quite a few teams have been giving out lucrative deals. Because of that, it still seems more likely the Orioles acquire a new rotation piece in a trade. They have a glut of talented position-player prospects in their stacked farm system to use as trade chips, and starters such as White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease and Brewers righty Corbin Burnes continue to be involved in rumors. -- Jake Rill

Rays: What is the status of Wander Franco?
For the most part, the Rays’ roster appears to be in pretty good shape. Ryan Pepiot can take Tyler Glasnow’s spot in the rotation, and Jonny DeLuca could fill Manuel Margot’s role in the outfield. There’s room to add pitching depth and a catcher to work alongside René Pinto, sure, and perhaps make a few more deals on the position-player side to make room for their glut of young infielders.

But the biggest question is one the team itself can’t answer: What is the status of Franco, who spent the final weeks of the season on administrative leave and remains under investigation by MLB and authorities in the Dominican Republic? There have been no substantive updates since August, aside from the procedural move of returning the All-Star shortstop to the 40-man roster. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: Who will they add to the rotation?
The Red Sox entered the offseason with a number of needs, primarily: starting pitching, a strong defensive second baseman and a right-handed bat. They checked off the latter by acquiring Tyler O’Neill from the Cardinals, though they could arguably add one more impact hitter.

Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow stressed at the Winter Meetings that starting pitching was Boston's biggest priority. Boston has been linked to top free agents Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, and the club reportedly has interest in Lucas Giolito and Japanese lefty Shōta Imanaga. -- Molly Burkhardt

Yankees: How will they upgrade their pitching?
Even while Yanks executives felt good about their chances of landing Yamamoto, they were considering Plan B -- reunions with Jordan Montgomery or Frankie Montas, a trade for the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, or building a super bullpen with Jordan Hicks. Shōta Imanaga is another appealing option. The Yankees' staff had a solid 3.97 ERA last season, but it was a less-impressive 4.20 without Gerrit Cole’s contributions. Cole is coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season, but Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodón had injury-marred campaigns. -- Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Guardians: Will they trade Shane Bieber?
The Guardians added free-agent catcher Austin Hedges for his defense and leadership, free-agent righty Ben Lively to add to their starting depth and traded for righty Scott Barlow to help at the back end of the bullpen. But nothing has been done to externally improve this offseason thus far, aside from adding a 20-year-old corner infielder, Deyvison De Los Santos -- who hasn’t played above Double-A -- in the Rule 5 Draft. Cleveland still needs help offensively and Bieber -- although his trade value isn’t what it used to be -- may be the easiest option to acquire that help. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Can they add more?
The Royals have already done a ton of work to improve, adding six free agents before Christmas. But it’s going to take a lot to turn around a team that won just 56 games last season. They’re still relying on internal improvement and health on both sides of the ball to be better in 2024.

There are still probably some holes in the bullpen -- the Royals have said they’ll give Will Smith the opportunity to close games, as well as Chris Stratton -- but if they can add one more reliable piece, it would help mitigate health, workload and other adversity bullpens face throughout the season.

Offensively, the Royals like what they’ve got with their infield starters and outfield mix, but the position player depth on their 40-man roster is fairly thin. Kansas City might look to add a lefty bench piece who can complement Garrett Hampson and play multiple positions. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: Add one more bat or trust in the kids?
President of baseball operations Scott Harris has been consistent on keeping opportunities open for young hitters to crack the roster, namely slugging infielder Colt Keith at second base. But if a potentially useful veteran infielder falls through the cracks and becomes available on a short-term deal, could Harris turn opportunistic and use the addition to push Keith and/or third baseman Matt Vierling, and maybe improve depth as a result? -- Jason Beck

Twins: Will they find a worthwhile deal involving Jorge Polanco and/or Max Kepler?
The answer to that question will likely set the tone for Minnesota’s offseason moves. Without as much spending freedom as the Twins have enjoyed in some offseasons past, any transactions to move the needle -- particularly on the pitching side -- will likely have to come via trade, with their two biggest candidates being their two longest-tenured players.

Kepler is an elite defensive right fielder coming off a resurgent 2023 season, while Polanco has had recent injury concerns but has otherwise been a quality top-of-the-lineup switch-hitter with two years of team control remaining. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Where will Dylan Cease pitch at the start of the ’24 season?
Business should pick up once bigger name pitching free agents come off the board, and general manager Chris Getz could have his choice of talent returns from a few different suitors to theoretically strengthen his team in the present and in the future.

It’s unlikely the White Sox can overplay their side in this situation because if they don’t get absolutely what they want, they can hold on to Cease, who features two more years of contractual control at the top of the White Sox rotation. Cease has fanned at least 214 batters in each of his last three seasons and showed his durability by making 97 starts in total with a 3.54 ERA in that time frame. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: How much are they willing to spend after losing Ohtani?
The Angels are roughly $70 million under the first Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold, so they have money to spend even if they don’t go above that mark like they did at the Trade Deadline. They could use a bat-first player to help replace Shohei Ohtani’s production at designated hitter and another utility-type player could make some sense. Adding a top-tier starting pitcher would be ideal and there’s no such thing as having too many arms in the bullpen. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Can they add to the bullpen?
Astros general manager Dana Brown said earlier this month that the club will turn to internal candidates to fill some of the holes created following the departure of veteran relievers Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek, who are free agents. Those three combined to throw 185 innings last season, which was about one-third of Houston’s bullpen workload.

There’s still a chance Houston could add a high-leverage reliever, so who’s going to be setting up Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Kendall Graveman? Regardless, multiple pitchers already on the roster will need to step up. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Who will be in the mix to close games?
Trevor May’s retirement this offseason leaves an opening for the closer role that, at this point, does not appear to have a clear favorite. During the Winter Meetings, general manager David Forst indicated that Mason Miller – Oakland’s top pitching prospect -- is likely to pitch out of the bullpen this season and could be a candidate to close games.

Right-handers Lucas Erceg and newly-signed Trevor Gott also figure to be possibilities, though neither has extensive experience as a closer. The A’s could also still be exploring the trade and free-agent markets for a closer-type reliever. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: What does the unfinished lineup look like?
The Mariners have taken a subtract-then-add approach with their position-player personnel this offseason, freeing up more than $30 million in payroll by trading well-known players Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, Marco Gonzales and Evan White.

While president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto indicated at the Winter Meetings that they’re transitioning to the “addition” phase, they’ve yet to refill the holes they’ve created. They still have at least one big move in them, if not more, but for a front office that typically augments early each offseason, this one has moved uncharacteristically slowly. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: How will the rotation -- as currently constructed -- hold up in the first half?
The Rangers have theoretically already won the 2024 Trade Deadline with three starting pitchers -- Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle -- all returning from injury in the second half. But the rotation in the first half of the season is looking mighty thin. 

The Rangers’ Opening Day rotation now lines up with Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, Andrew Heaney and Cody Bradford, with prospects Owen White (two big league appearances in 2023), Zak Kent and Cole Winn all waiting in the wings. It’s a fine rotation, but if any of the top five arms get hit with a substantial injury, it could cause trouble for the Rangers early on. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves: Do they need to add a starting pitcher?
Adding a difference-maker like Aaron Nola or Sonny Gray would have given the Braves a proven starter who could add significant value in October over the next few years. There are other potential frontline starters like Blake Snell on the free agent market. But if the cost doesn’t fit projected value, Alex Anthopoulos has proven he won’t spend just to spend.

Anthopoulos gained some insurance with Reynaldo López, who could be used as a starter or reliever. AJ Smith-Shawver, Darius Vines and Allan Winans provide further depth to a rotation that starts with two Cy Young Award candidates in Max Fried and Spencer Strider. Getting the right starter might help. But this is also a potential need that could be addressed again before the Trade Deadline. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Who will be the starting shortstop?
At the Winter Meetings, president of baseball operations Peter Bendix said there wasn't a clear-cut everyday shortstop already on the roster. If no addition is made either via free agency or trade, manager Skip Schumaker figures Jon Berti will get the bulk of the reps at the position. Not only did Berti start both games of the 2023 NL Wild Card Series, but he also has a proven track record compared to youngsters Vidal Bruján, Xavier Edwards and Jacob Amaya (Miami’s No. 5 prospect). -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: How will the front office create enough rotation depth?
The team made an early acquisition when it agreed to terms with Luis Severino in late November, then another when it traded for Adrian Houser just before Christmas. Both of those pitchers have battled significant injuries recently, as has incumbent starter José Quintana. And David Peterson -- a consistent source of innings over the past two years -- will likely miss months of the season recovering from a torn hip labrum. The extent to which the Mets supplement that group will go a long way toward determining both their ceiling and their floor. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Who will help fill the first base and designated hitter roles?
The plan is for Joey Meneses, last season’s designated hitter, to spend time at first base. That leaves a need for another player (or players) to cover innings at first and DH. Internally, the Nationals could tab outfielder Stone Garrett in the designated hitter spot as he returns from a broken left leg. The right-handed hitter took nearly as many at-bats against right-handers (112 ABs, .277 batting average, two home runs) and southpaws (122 ABs, .262 batting average, seven homers) last season. Expect Washington to continue exploring the free-agent market, coveting lefty hitters who can provide power. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: What else?
The Phillies are not finished building their 2024 roster, but what will those additions look like? They have said for more than a month that they will be more complementary in nature. Of course, the Phillies took a run at free-agent right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but he was the one player they seemed willing to blow past the next luxury tax threshold for. It seems more likely at this point that the Phillies look for another outfielder and another bullpen arm. -- Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Which direction are they going?
On one hand, the Brewers bill themselves as contenders, saying the aim is to mount a successful defense of their NL Central title. On the other hand, they signaled a willingness to go young when they signed top prospect Jackson Chourio to a record-setting contract that paved his way to the Opening Day roster, and they parted with two of their longest-tenured players in Adrian Houser and Tyrone Taylor via a trade with the Mets. Maybe the Brewers can do both -- cutting payroll and continuing to win. Maybe they’ll take a step back in 2024. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Do they have enough pitching to be serious contenders again?
Sure, the Cardinals upgraded their pitching with the additions of Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to join Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz in the rotation, but do they have enough firepower to be legit World Series contenders? President of baseball operations John Mozeliak thinks so, but it seems like he might still have another play to fortify the rotation or improve the bullpen.

The Cards never seriously entered the chase for Yoshinobu Yamamoto and missed out on a trade for Tyler Glasnow, per Glasnow on the Foul Territory podcast. Can they swing a deal for Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber or Alek Manoah? -- John Denton

Cubs: Who will play center field?
The easy answer here would be Cody Bellinger, who was one of baseball’s best comeback stories in 2023. The issue, of course, is that Bellinger is arguably the top free-agent position player available now that superstar Shohei Ohtani is off the board. Bellinger is understandably seeking a hefty payday.

If Bellinger is not re-signed by the Cubs, then the North Siders have a puzzle to solve in center field. Chicago has center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect and the No. 12 prospect in baseball -- but the club also does not want to rush him before he’s deemed ready. Mike Tauchman offers an experienced in-house option, and the Cubs could explore other short-term alternatives on the open market. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: How does the starting rotation line up?
Even with the pieces falling into place after the trade for Marco Gonzales and the reported agreement reached with Martín Pérez, which has not been confirmed by the club, there are still two rotation spots up for grabs behind those two and Mitch Keller. When asked on Wednesday about which areas he still sees for potential additions, general manager Ben Cherington’s first response was still the rotation. But could young internal options like Quinn Priester or Jared Jones make their case in Spring Training? -- Jake Crouse

Reds: Can they pick up an experienced starting pitcher?
The Reds have several young and exciting starting pitchers to contend for rotation spots. But those pitchers also have a lot of question marks after Cincinnati starters dealt with injuries while posting the third-worst ERA in MLB last season. 

Having a proven starting pitcher who could provide at least 175 innings and make 30 starts would likely make Cincinnati the favorite among NL Central contenders. -- Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: Will they add a DH?
The D-backs have done an outstanding job of filling in areas they identified as needs so far this offseason, but one question remains: Will they find themselves a designated hitter?
Over the last three seasons, Arizona has been content to rotate players through the DH spot, using it as a way of giving some players a partial day off, but even with the return of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the D-backs are still in the hunt for another bat that can be plugged in as the everyday DH. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Who else will join the rotation?
With Los Angeles again having struck gold, reportedly fortifying the rotation with phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto in addition to the trade for Tyler Glasnow, this could be a moot point. But with Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May all recovering from surgery and the prospects who debuted last season seeing mixed results, it never hurts to pick up depth. The Dodgers have made a veritable typhoon in free agency; could the trade market -- maybe even another top arm like Corbin Burnes or Dylan Cease -- be next? -- Sonja Chen

Giants: Which other impact players can they land this offseason?
The Giants showed they could successfully woo a top free agent by signing KBO star Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year, $113 million deal, but they’ll need to continue beefing up their roster to keep pace in the competitive NL West. They couldn't land Shohei Ohtani, watching him join the rival Dodgers, and also came up short in the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes, but they could still pivot to other free agents such as Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Shōta Imanaga, Matt Chapman or Rhys Hoskins. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Do they have enough pitching? And if not, where do they find it?
There are other holes on this roster, particularly in the outfield. But the sheer number of innings -- quality innings -- that must be replaced is massive. The Juan Soto trade helped this cause in a big way (albeit at an awfully steep cost). The Padres landed four young pitchers, all of whom should contribute in 2024.

Meanwhile, the Yuki Matsui signing should help address some leverage relief innings. But there's still work to be done -- some undoubtedly via free agency, but general manager A.J. Preller has found front-line pitching on the trade front before. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: How will they add experience to the rotation?
As the calendar year wound down, the Rockies were kicking the tires with teams in hopes of trading for a proven starting pitcher. With Germán Márquez out until the second half and Antonio Senzatela uncertain to return in 2024 (both underwent Tommy John surgeries), recently-acquired right-hander Cal Quantrill and lefties Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber are the only veterans. Righties Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner and Noah Davis have a total of 69 starts between them. The Rockies also figure to sign veterans under Minor League deals to create depth and competition. -- Thomas Harding