Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News arrow-downArrow Down icon Arrow Up icon

Baseball is here, along with 7 spring questions

@RichardJustice
February 12, 2020

So how do you follow up an offseason that was as eventful as the one we just witnessed? No problem. Glad you asked. First, there’s optimism. These first days of Spring Training are the happiest times of the season for players and coaches as they see their buddies again and

So how do you follow up an offseason that was as eventful as the one we just witnessed? No problem. Glad you asked.

First, there’s optimism. These first days of Spring Training are the happiest times of the season for players and coaches as they see their buddies again and get back to doing what they love. That’s especially true this spring, after an offseason in which a long list of teams worked furiously to get better.

At least 22 teams -- at least -- see a reasonable path to the postseason, and that doesn’t include the Orioles, who are going to use this spring to show off 2019 No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman and a Minor League system on the rise.

With high expectations in so many camps, questions abound. Here are seven:

1. How do the Astros deal with the difficult questions?

The Astros have to figure out a way to deal with what could be an endless stream of questions about sign stealing while getting themselves ready for a season in which they’ll be under the microscope. On the plus side, they’ve got the talent to be one of baseball’s five best teams and a new manager, Dusty Baker, who is among the most respected men in the game. But make no mistake: The aftermath of the Astros saga is going to be a major subplot for the rest of the season and beyond.

2. Is Chris Sale healthy?

The Red Sox expect to contend for a postseason berth despite trading Mookie Betts and David Price. Yes, they need to figure out the back end of their rotation. But those problems would seem much more manageable if their 30-year-old ace is healthy and can perform at something close to the 3.03 ERA he has crafted over 10 seasons. If Sale can bounce back from a disappointing 2019, the Red Sox will contend for a Wild Card spot at the very least.

3. What can the Angels expect from Shohei Ohtani?

When he’s ready to pitch in Major League games -- and that’s really the question -- the Angels will go back to the original blueprint: Ohtani will start on the mound around one day per week and serve as designated hitter three or four times a week. He has recovered from Tommy John surgery and the Angels say he should be back on a Major League mound in mid-May. Given how high expectations are for Ohtani, his health is more important than the novelty of baseball having its first two-way player in a century.

4. Who plays third base for the Nationals?

The Nationals have three veteran options -- Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick -- to replace Anthony Rendon’s 34 homers and 1.010 OPS. But they’re hoping their No. 1 prospect, Carter Kieboom, wins the job in Spring Training, and everyone lives happily ever after. In a division that could be a four-team free-for-all, Kieboom isn’t the key piece for the Nationals, but he’s a player to keep an eye on this spring.

5. Will Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado change teams before Opening Day?

Has the Red Sox trade of Mookie Betts emboldened any other clubs to deal their biggest stars? Or was an offseason of chatter simply that? We’re not at the point of no return with either player, although Arenado and Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich might want to have lunch and talk things out. As for Bryant, he’s going to roll with the punches while saying all the right things about preferring to stay with the Cubbies. As the Braves, Nationals, Phillies and Rangers assess who will play third base, things will remain fluid. Recent reports suggest a Bryant trade is the more likely of the two, but these things can change in an instant.

6. Are the A’s young starters ready for a Major League workload?

Few teams have three young pitchers more highly regarded than Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk, and because of them, the A’s may be good enough to win the World Series in 2020. But workload is an issue, with Montas pitching 96 innings in 2019 and Luzardo and Puk pitching fewer than 100 combined. Oakland’s challenge is twofold: keep them healthy and make sure they’ve got innings left in the tank for October.

7. Which player on the Giants is going to be the first to step into the box against Madison Bumgarner?

OK, this one is a bit more sentimental, but it will be a notable moment nonetheless. Seeing how the D-backs and Giants have Spring Training facilities a few miles apart in Arizona, we may not have to wait until Opening Week -- Giants at D-backs on March 30 -- to see Bumgarner pitch against his former teammates. We’re all friends here, right? No hard feelings?

To see Bumgarner in a D-backs uniform is going to be a shock to the system, but to see him pitching against his former teammates, well, that’ll be otherworldly. Bumgarner’s competitive fires raged so hot at times that former Giants manager Bruce Bochy sometimes got uncomfortable watching his ace throw batting practice against his teammates. How about we all take a deep breath? “I envision it going well,” Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said recently. “I hope he hears that.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.