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10 vital questions as Spring Training looms

January 11, 2016

Spring Training is just more than five weeks away, with workout dates announced on Monday, and yet there's still work to be done. For some teams, this time is critically important. For others, it's about applying a finishing touch or two.Players, meanwhile, are already back at work. For the unsigned

Spring Training is just more than five weeks away, with workout dates announced on Monday, and yet there's still work to be done. For some teams, this time is critically important. For others, it's about applying a finishing touch or two.
Players, meanwhile, are already back at work. For the unsigned free agents, this is a nerve-wracking time. Money is one issue, obviously, but there's a desire to know the basic things -- where they'll be living, who'll they be playing with, etc.
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Like many of us, these men are creatures of habit. They want stability. Besides that, it's getting late. This is when the harsh reality of a marketplace that hasn't delivered the way they hoped becomes clearer.
There's still time, but not much of it. In honor of this homestretch, we offer the 10 biggest questions to be answered before Spring Training.
1. Where does Chris Davis end up?
His return to the Orioles has seemed like a slam dunk for weeks, even after he turned down a seven-year, $154 million offer. Now, though, as the stalemate continues, there's no end game in sight. The O's don't believe there's a better offer out there and are refusing to negotiate against themselves. So here we sit.

Davis has led the Majors in home runs in two of the past three seasons and has been an absolutely perfect fit with the Orioles. Manager Buck Showalter did a nice job in helping restore Davis' confidence and putting him in position to allow his talent to flourish.
Agent Scott Boras hasn't said what Davis wants, but $214 million over nine years is a good bet. That's what Prince Fielder, another Boras client, got from the Tigers four years ago.
If you think Boras is in danger of overplaying his hand, don't. Dozens of baseball people have said similar things through the years, only to watch Boras come up with a spectacular deal at the 11th hour.
The O's have hinted they won't wait forever, and that they're constantly checking the market for Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, et al. But Davis clearly is the guy atop their list and likely will remain so for a while longer.
2. How do the Orioles get put back together again?
In four seasons under general manager Dan Duquette and manager Showalter, the Orioles have won more regular-season games (355) than any other American League team. They've made the postseason twice in those four seasons and reawakened a great baseball city.
Now there's all kinds of work to do and plenty of uncertainty. Even if Davis signs, there's a need for one more impact bat for one of the corner outfield spots. There's also uncertainty in the rotation since left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who led the club in innings (191 1/3 innings) in 2015, remains unsigned.
The Orioles have some interesting Minor League depth in Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy, and Duquette historically has done a magical job of unearthing affordable talent. Given that the O's don't appear to be in on any of the unsigned big-ticket starters, he'll have to do just that again.
3. When will the Rays and Cubs make a deal?
These two clubs have been discussing a pitcher-for-hitter trade for weeks. Both sides admit that they match up nicely, with the Rays having pitching depth to deal and the Cubs with extra position players. Come on, fellas, give us something.
4. The Tigers have had a very good offseason. Now about that one final piece.
Owner Mike Ilitch has said he doesn't care about the money, that he just wants to win. His GM, Al Avila, has upgraded the rotation and bullpen. Now, for that last piece of the puzzle, he could use a corner outfielder. Turns out, there are two good ones still on the market -- Cespedes and Upton. Which will it be, Al?
5. Where do Upton and Cespedes play in 2016?
Baseball people like both of these guys. They like their production and their energy and all the rest. So why are they still unsigned? OK, we know why. At this point in the offseason, money is the only reason.
So now the decision for both players may be twofold: Take a one-year deal that would allow them back on the market next offseason, or sign a two- or three-year deal for fewer dollars (and years) than they'd hoped to get.
The Tigers, Mets, Orioles, Brewers and Red Sox are among the teams at least kicking the tires on both guys. If Davis doesn't re-sign with the Orioles, one of them would seem to be headed there.
6. What's the market for Yovani Gallardo?
Several teams, including the Rangers and Astros, have expressed an interest and are apparently trying to get the dollars and years at a place they're comfortable with. Gallardo is only 29 and is the definition of a grinder. In seven full big league seasons, he has never made fewer than 30 starts or pitched fewer than 180 2/3 innings. Gallardo's ERA in that time is a respectable 3.69. He's not a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he is so durable and so dependable that he will be a very nice signing.
7. Will Jonathan Papelbon remain with the Nationals?
Papelbon seems almost certain to open the season as the Nats' closer. That was an unlikely outcome after he picked an inexcusable dugout fight with Bryce Harper late last season, but two factors are working in his favor. First, Papelbon's $11 million salary makes him virtually impossible to trade. Second, that $11 million salary makes him too expensive to release. Besides that, Papelbon is still one of the top closers in baseball.
Dusty Baker's strength as a manager has always been his ability to relate to people and to get them to put their personal agendas aside for the greater good of the team. That's the challenge with his new team. If anyone can keep peace in the family, it's Baker.
8. Will the Mets change their mind about Cespedes?
The Mets were 38-22 after acquiring Cespedes and went from the second-lowest-scoring team in the National League (3.6 runs per game) to the highest (5.3 runs per game).
Cespedes hit 17 home runs and had a .942 OPS after his arrival in Queens. However, even though he remains unsigned, he's apparently no longer on the Mets' shopping list, and Juan Lagares is penciled in to open the season in center field.
Lagares is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, but he can't come close to providing the offensive production Cespedes gave the Mets in their drive to the NL pennant.
9. Can the Reds figure out a way to trade Brandon Phillips?
Talk about awkward relationships. After 10 years, this once-happy marriage is strained. Not only have the Reds attempted to trade Phillips, they've already acquired his replacement -- Jose Peraza.
Only thing is, Phillips has the right to veto any trade and is not afraid to do so. He rejected a trade to the Nationals, apparently because his financial issues weren't satisfied. Phillips will make $27 million the next two seasons but agreed to some deferred money when he signed the deal.
Neither the Nats nor the Reds were willing to rework the contact to Phillips' satisfaction, and unless something dramatic happens, he'll be back with Cincinnati in what could be a stressful summer.
10. Do the Cardinals have one last bit of business to do?
GM John Mozeliak seems comfortable with his rotation and bullpen after the recent additions of Mike Leake and Seung Hwan Oh. His final decision will be deciding whether to stick with an outfield that will have Randal Grichuk in center and Stephen Piscotty in right.
Both of them are high-ceiling prospects and could position the Cards for a sixth straight playoff appearance. However, Mozeliak is re-evaluating things by the day, and with Davis, Cespedes and Upton still on the market, he might yet be tempted to add a bit of certainty, especially after the upgrades the Cubs have made.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.