AL Inbox: Reporters answer fans' questions

January 31st, 2019

What does signing mean for ? With the Blue Jays rebuilding, shouldn't they be prioritizing younger players, instead of signing veterans who block their path?
-- Chuck T., Ottawa, Ontario

Gregor Chisholm, Blue Jays reporter: Gurriel is still going to be an everyday player, it just might not be in the role people envisioned a few weeks ago. Instead of experimenting with Gurriel as a permanent shortstop, the club likely will use him in a super-utility role with starts all over the infield, and possibly even an occasional appearance at a corner-outfield spot.
:: Submit a question to the Blue Jays Inbox ::
In a lot of ways, this is the role the Blue Jays envisioned all along for Gurriel. Bo Bichette is generally considered the shortstop of the future, with his debut likely set for 2020, so there hasn't been a pressing need to make Gurriel a full-time player at a position he possibly won't have a year from now. Instead, 2019 could turn into training for his future role, which centers around defensive versatility and offensive upside.
Tweet from @idahogreenband: does the lack of suitors for machado and Harper bode well for the angels to resign Mike in 2021? If teams aren���t willing to spend more than 30m for Harper, surely no team will beat out what the halos will offer him (34m plus 41m freed up by Kole, simba and cozart contract expiry)
Rhett Bollinger, Angels reporter: It's an interesting question, as the free-agent market has not played out as expected for or as they both remain unsigned. It's been a continuation of a trend from last offseason that has seen clubs more reluctant to sign players to megadeals.
:: Submit a question to the Angels Inbox ::
But is in a category of his own, and it's hard to imagine him not signing a record deal. The Angels would love to re-sign him before he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season to keep other clubs out of the equation, but it'll be up to Trout if he wants to test the market. Either way, Trout is so otherworldly talented that his situation is different than other star players.
With the possibility of losing even more starting pitching next year, and Lance [McCullers Jr.] returning from Tommy John surgery, shouldn't the Astros focus on finding more starting pitching for not only this year, but for the next couple of years?
-- Hank M., Westmoreland, N.Y.

Brian McTaggart, Astros reporter: It's still very likely the Astros acquire another starting pitcher before the start of the regular season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it's someone controllable for a few years if it's via trade. But you're right. , and -- Houston's 1-2-3 starters -- are all free agents after '19, and McCullers will be coming off Tommy John surgery in 2020. The rotation is facing a dramatic makeover soon.
:: Submit a question to the Astros Inbox ::
So what does the future of the rotation hold? The Astros are in love with their young starting pitching, led by No. 7 overall prospectForrest Whitley. He's one of four arms they have on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list, joining Josh James (No. 62), Corbin Martin (No. 81) and J.B. Bukauskas (No. 97). James could be in the rotation this year, and Whitley and Martin could make their debuts. The cupboard certainly isn't bare, but there appears to be some innings that could be filled with veteran arms.
What are the odds will be on the A's 25-man roster come Opening Day?
-- @IAmAndresMM, via Twitter

Jane Lee, Athletics reporter: Right now, I see Fowler as the odd man out come Opening Day -- but I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be an integral piece of this 2019 team. will have a leg up on Fowler entering camp, but I could see the tables turning as the season wears on. There's also the chance regresses in his first full big league season (though I hope that's not the case because he was an absolute joy to watch play in 2018), which would allow Fowler to return to center field. Yet there's also , and in the mix for those two spots, so Fowler will really have to prove himself to earn a job.
:: Submit a question to the A's Inbox ::

Mandy Bell, Indians reporter: The Indians made some moves at the '18 non-waiver Trade Deadline, picking up and from the Padres and from the Tigers, and it looks like the team could be active around that time again this year.
:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::
While Cleveland might decide to roll with the talent that it currently has, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said that there might be more moves if the Indians are in a good position come July.
"I think the other thing that we've demonstrated over time as we've gone through each of the seasons in which we've been competitive is we will look at opportunities to fine-tune and adjust our roster as the season moves on," Antonetti said. "And I'd expect that to be the case this year if we're, again, in the position of being a contender around the Trade Deadline or later in the season."
We're just 10 days away from Spring Training and the market for has been quiet. Will he be with the Mariners on Opening Day?
-- Mason L., Portland, Ore.

Greg Johns, Mariners reporter: General manager Jerry Dipoto would still like to flip Encarnacion to another team, but the market for designated hitters is limited, particularly one who is 36 years old and earning $20 million for 2019, with a $5 million buyout for 2020. The Astros and Rays would appear the likeliest matches, but both have the option of using a rotation of players to fill that role.
:: Submit a question to the Mariners Inbox ::
That said, Encarnacion remains a potent right-handed bat -- hitting .246/.336/.474 with 32 HRs and 107 RBIs last year with the Indians -- and Dipoto presumably would be willing to eat some of the contract if he got a decent prospect in return.
The Mariners will be a better team this year if they keep Encarnacion and use him at DH and occasionally first base, but my guess is they'll try hard to move him before Opening Day and use the DH at-bats to give a legitimate shot to see if he might be part of the future, as well as some time for to rebuild his own trade market.
For a team just starting a rebuild what should we look for this season that shows the process is moving in a positive direction?
-- Mark Baxter (@BaxToTheFuture), via Twitter

Joe Trezza, Orioles reporter: General manager Mike Elias was asked precisely this during his public question-and-answer session at FanFest last weekend, and this feels like a good place to share his response.
:: Submit a question to the Orioles Inbox ::
"I have a very clear goal for this season, I want to see the overall level of talent, up and down this organization, go up," Elias said. "I want to see it move in the right direction, and on top of that, I have a lot of goals behind the scenes with what we're doing in terms of improving the functionality and overall infrastructure of every department of baseball operations.
"But in terms of the results on the field, we want to see the level of talent go up," Elias continued. "A big part of that is the players that we have in our Minor League system already, and here in Baltimore already, getting better. … That's my standard for this season. If it also comes with an improvement in our record, obviously that would be spectacular. But I don't want to put undue emphasis on areas that are not strategically relevant to where we need to take this organization and where it's going in the future. We just want to see the organization get more talented and get better."
Rough translation: Your search for progress will have to extend past the Orioles' win-loss record. And give Elias credit -- he's not sugar-coating anything here. He's being transparent, ambitious and vowing to be thorough. So you can look at this a few ways. The Orioles are starting so bare in some key areas that improvement should be rather easy to see, namely in their international scouting and analytics operations. Moving the ball forward in those realms will be a priority, and noticeable when it happens.
For tangible on-field results, keep an eye on how quickly young players develop and at what pace Elias infuses the farm system with more. Short-term success will be defined by how often and effectively he does so, whether it's through the Draft, the international market or converting veterans into prospects via trade. Other indicators will be how the use of analytics helps bolster the talent already in the system, and the new regime's eventual success rate with regards to inherited players it decides to retain.
Which buy-low free agents from this offseason would you peg to turn things around and warrant a decent return at the Trade deadline?
-- Jonathan R. McKinney, Texas

TR Sullivan, Rangers reporter:. This is a former All-Star pitcher with the D-backs who can dominate if everything is flowing well. He is in the final process of recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, so there is still some uncertainty. You would also like to think the Rangers signed these guys to compete rather than to trade. But of all the pitchers that the Rangers have acquired this winter, Miller would seem to have the highest resale value if it comes to that.
:: Submit a question to the Rangers Inbox ::
Do you expect Ji-Man Choi to start every day at DH?
-- @KevSigg, via Twitter

Juan Toribio, Rays reporter: No. The Rays acquired Choi from the Brewers after designating for assignment, and Choi turned out to be a great find for the club. Choi hit eight home runs in 49 games and was an impact bat in the middle of the Rays lineup. But despite his overall success, Choi has struggled against left-handed pitching throughout his career. Last season with the Brewers and Rays, Choi hit nine of his 10 home runs against right-handed pitchers and finished with an impressive .280/.372/.536 slash line. Against left-handers, however, his batting average dipped to .136 and he struck out eight times in just 25 plate appearances. Because of his struggles, Choi will see most of his action against right-handed pitching, with getting the bulk of the work against left-handed pitching.
:: Submit a question to the Rays Inbox ::
What do you think about the Sox trading for ? They could include one of their current catchers in the trade
-- Al G., Barkhamsted, Conn.

Ian Browne, Red Sox reporter: I've received this question so many times this winter that I think I need to answer it in a prominent spot such as this. I don't think there's much of a chance it is going to happen. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said numerous times this offseason he's not trying to add any catchers, but is rather trying to subtract one of the three he has. Sure, Realmuto would be a big upgrade offensively for the Sox at the position.
:: Submit a question to the Red Sox Inbox ::
But who do they have to trade? The team is in the process of trying to build back the farm system. Subtracting top prospects probably isn't the best move at this time. The Sox also have little interest in trading young, cost-controllable players (think and ) from the Major League roster. It's hard to see the Red Sox and Marlins matching up on this one.

Jeff Flanagan, Royals reporter: If you're a Royals fan, you should be hopeful about the extremely high ceiling of , who could be a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who hits 30 home runs and steals 60-70 bases. We simply don't know how great Mondesi can be yet, but it will be amazing to watch his development. Second, if can stay healthy, he might hit 30-plus home runs as well. And third, this promises to be an action team with speed everywhere, from Mondesi to to to , who will be a major weapon as a pinch-runner late in games.
:: Submit a question to the Royals Inbox ::
Three concerns? The biggest concern is the bullpen (the Royals blew 51 leads in 2018). could emerge as a solid closer now that he enters Spring Training with that job description. and will improve. The second concern is whether veterans and can have bounce-back years. And thirdly, can this group piggyback that late-season success from 2018 and inch closer to a .500 season? As long-time Royals fans know, it takes a winning mentality in the clubhouse, not just analytical numbers -- it was a huge step for the last group to evolve into a winning team in 2013 (you know now why general manager Dayton Moore got so emotional after that season) and then emerge as a World Series team in 2014 and 2015.
When will we see the (Tigers') front office start pursuing free agents for more than just stop-gap or mid-season flip purposes? Could it happen next winter?
-- Mark S., Hanover, Pa.

Jason Beck, Tigers reporter: General manager Al Avila pointed to the offseason after the 2020 campaign when asked about this on the Tigers' Winter Caravan last week. That's when 's contract expires, the payments on the Verlander and Prince Fielder deals are done, and 's contract is the only long-term deal still on the books. I wouldn't expect the Tigers to go on a spending spree like the days of old; they want to use free agents and trades to complement their young core, not create a core. But if their young players progress to where they're a player or two from potentially contending, they'll have the payroll space to do something.
:: Submit a question to the Tigers Inbox ::

Do-Hyoung Park, Twins reporter: It's too early to be thinking about the All-Star Game, but as for your breakout question, I'd keep an eye on . It might sound weird to tag a consistent 20-homer hitter and plus-defender as a breakout candidate, but he improved significantly against left-handed pitching last season.
:: Submit a question to the Twins Inbox ::
Against lefties in 2016, he hit .203/.273/.322 (.595 OPS) with 10 extra-base hits. In 2017? .152/.213/.240 (.453 OPS) with six extra-base hits. Last season? .245/.323/.422 (.745 OPS) with 16 extra-base hits. Overall, he's walking more and striking out less. If he can bring his average against righties back up, he could take that next step.
So, if another team gives Machado a higher offer, will the White Sox get a chance to counter offer? Do you think they will??
-- @DanielGuinan5 via Twitter

Scott Merkin, White Sox reporter: General manager Rick Hahn was clear, direct and eloquent at SoxFest when describing the entire Machado/Harper pursuit. The White Sox are in on these premium free agents, even if people didn't expect them to really have a chance when this process began. Hahn also said he would be disappointed if the White Sox didn't convert on one.
:: Submit a question to the White Sox Inbox ::
Those comments indicate the White Sox weren't in this to simply make a one-and-done offer. While every team has a financial limit, as Hahn stated, the White Sox continue to carry that quiet confidence concerning their chances.
Is it just a rumor that the Yankees are trying to pull off a trade for ? Anything to it?
-- Tyler S., Lynchburg, Va.

Bryan Hoch, Yankees reporter: There are no ongoing discussions regarding Arenado, but it makes sense that the Yankees would be interested in yet another Denver import, potentially in a midseason trade or as a free agent after the season.
:: Submit a question to the Yankees Inbox ::
As for Arenado's play on the field, what's not to like? The Yanks' level of need might be greater at that point, depending on how handles his second year in the big leagues.