7 storylines to ponder while we wait

March 14th, 2020

One day early in Spring Training, I finished a clubhouse conversation with Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro by casually asking, “Hey, when are you guys coming to Houston?”

I’ve been around long enough to know better than to ask a baseball man that kind of question during Spring Training. I might as well have asked him the molecular breakdown of argon, because time does not exist in Spring Training. To prove it, Quatraro held up a clipboard with that day’s workout schedule.

“This is as far as I’ve gotten,” he said, smiling.

That conversation says plenty about why this is such a disconcerting time. Baseball’s beauty is that it’s daily, and all of us -- players, coaches, reporters, fans -- are geared to its cycles.

On the other hand, this baseball season may be the sweetest of them all, because its start will mean a return to a routine we love so much. Until that happens, here are seven things to ponder:

1) Verlander’s Cy Young chances are looking better

No player means more to his team, and the Astros probably can’t win the American League West without being at close to his best. He is sidelined with a lat strain that was going to almost certainly keep him from pitching Opening Day. Now, he’ll have at least a couple of extra weeks to heal. That increases the Astros’ chances of repeating as AL West champs and of Verlander repeating as the AL Cy Young Award winner.

2) The Yankees could benefit as well

The Yankees potentially could get , , , and back for the regular-season opener. This has been such a tough spring for the AL favorites that some of us had begun to draw up scenarios in which the Rays won the AL East, and the Red Sox and Blue Jays pushed the Yankees out of the AL Wild Card race. That was always a longshot, but a little extra healing time can’t hurt.

3) Will the Rockies rethink their decision not to trade Arenado?

You ask the best questions. This thing between and the Rockies isn’t settled. Rather, Arenado decided to set aside his frustrations and prepare for the season. But three factors bear watching:

• Arenado knows the Rockies spent an offseason listening to offers for him, which is not something a franchise player appreciates.

• All the reasons Rockies GM Jeff Bridich decided to consider a trade -- payroll flexibility, roster reshaping, Minor League upgrades -- still exist.

• The Nationals and Cardinals would still like to upgrade at third base. And the Cardinals probably have the Minor League depth to interest the Rockies.

4) Will Ohtani return as a pitcher, hitter or true two-way player?

The Angels say they’re 100 percent committed to making baseball’s first true two-way player in a century. There’s plenty of justifiable skepticism about there being enough hours in the day to hone both skills. As for the talent, there’s zero question about that. Ohtani may be the most uniquely skilled player in history. Because he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, he wasn’t going to pitch until at least mid-May. This delay pushes Ohtani closer and closer to that goal, and because starting pitching is what the Angels need, this will be a fascinating balancing act.

5) Is Lindor more likely to stay put?

This one is tricky. The Indians went to Spring Training as a potential playoff team, which means that would not be traded, even though his trade value as he approaches post-2021 free agency was at its highest. That was before injuries to and put a dent in the AL’s best rotation. Now, both might return for the regular-season opener, and that could make the Indians one of the AL’s five best teams.

6) Speaking of trades, keep an eye on the Reds

The more you look at this team’s depth chart, the more you think general manager Dick Williams has one more move up his sleeve. That could be to upgrade at shortstop or to sort out a logjam in the outfield. Lindor would make sense if he becomes available, except that his $17.5 million salary might be beyond Cincinnati’s budget. Oakland’s is entering his walk year at $13 million, but the A’s appear good enough to win a World Series.

7) The Padres will still be arguably baseball’s most interesting team

Here’s guessing no team was more eager for the regular season to start than this one. General manager A.J. Preller had a tremendous offseason in hiring Jayce Tingler, one of the game’s brightest minds, to manage and then adding and to his everyday lineup. With a better season from and a full season of to go with all that high-ceiling young pitching, it was easy to get excited about baseball in San Diego.