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Inbox: Where does Guerra fit on 2018 Crew?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Where does Junior Guerra fit into 2018?
-- Terry H., Janesville, Wis.

I think this might be one of the most under-asked questions of this Brewers offseason. Guerra was equal parts injured and ineffective in 2017, and he played no meaningful role in the surprising season while other starters like Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson took notable steps forward. So I get why he might fall through the cracks in discussions about 2018.

Where does Junior Guerra fit into 2018?
-- Terry H., Janesville, Wis.

I think this might be one of the most under-asked questions of this Brewers offseason. Guerra was equal parts injured and ineffective in 2017, and he played no meaningful role in the surprising season while other starters like Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson took notable steps forward. So I get why he might fall through the cracks in discussions about 2018.

:: Submit a question to the Brewers Inbox ::

But let's not forget, Milwaukee's decision-makers were convinced enough by what they saw with their eyes and what the advanced metrics had to say about Guerra's sensational 2016 that they made him the Opening Day starter. Guerra strained his calf on a bunt attempt in the third inning of that game and went on to go 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 70 1/3 Major League innings, fighting through diminished velocity and a demotion to Triple-A. He basically worked mopup duty when he returned for September.

But 2018 is a new year, and thanks to Guerra superfan Kyle Lesniewski, who writes for Brew Crew Ball and Baseball Prospectus' Brewers site and has been keeping an eye on Guerra coverage in the Venezuelan Winter League, we know that Guerra seems squarely in play for a spot in the starting rotation. Guerra told reporters in Venezuela that he's been made no promises, but will get to compete for a starting spot in a rotation that will be missing Nelson at the start of the season.

Video: MIA@MIL: Guerra gets out of a jam with a double play

In my "if the season started today" projection last week, I had Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin as locks for the rotation. Because I had to pick two more, I went with lefty Brent Suter and righty Yovani Gallardo, but it would be pretty easy to see Guerra sneaking in one of those two spots. That equation could change, of course, if the Brewers add any more established starting pitching in this slow-moving offseason.

So, let's not forget Guerra. He would not be the first player to bounce back from a bad year.

If Manny Pina and Jesus Aguilar have bad seasons, like Guerra and Jonathan Villar did last year, do you think general manager David Stearns (and us as a fanbase) should stop relying on players picked up via waivers for success for our roster?
-- JL, Madison, Wis.

Villar came to the Brewers via trade, but your point is taken. We've seen a number of players come through Milwaukee via the waiver wire over the years and have some success, then quickly fade.

But the wire remains a good place for rebuilding teams with early waiver positions to find talent, and I don't see Stearns or other GMs of developing teams giving that up. With mixed success, Stearns has made liberal use of waivers to acquire a player, then in many cases try to sneak that player back through waivers so he can be stashed in the Minor Leagues. When it works, it's a cost-effective way to add talent to one's system.

I would add this: I wouldn't say the Brewers relied on any of the players you mentioned when they were first acquired. Pina, Aguilar and Guerra all earned backup-type roles before they were eventually relied upon as starting players.

My question is about the status of the outfield. Early on, it appeared they were willing to part ways with one or two players for the right price. Assuming that doesn't happen, what do you see as the Opening Day outfield, and would the others be on the 25-man or start at Triple-A? I'm thinking of Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson.
-- Jon T., Baraboo, Wis.

I think we need to change our thinking about the outfield under manager Craig Counsell, who has been pushing the idea of a "position player group" over our traditional notion of starters and backups.I see a scenario in which Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Phillips and Hernan Perez all get significant at-bats as outfielders. Santana is looking like a player who has to be out there nearly every day, but as Braun's plate appearances come down year to year and players like Broxton, Brinson and Phillips develop, Counsell might have enough playing time to go around.

Video: MIL@WSH: Santana hits a 476-foot homer to left-center

It's certainly possible that one of those players is traded before the season begins, but to me this is an area in which we have to adjust our old notion of three "starting" outfielders.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

Inbox: Will Montgomery get chance to start?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers fans' questions
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Mike Montgomery, Albert Almora Jr., the outfield and pitching prospects are among the topics in the latest Cubs Inbox.

Montgomery has proven to be a reliable starter. Sure, he's good when it comes to the bullpen, but with the Cubs' ever expanding bullpen and farm system, the need for Montgomery to be exclusively in the bullpen is starting to diminish. Do you see Montgomery ever taking a starting role in the upcoming years?
-- Aaron B., Fairport, N.Y.

CHICAGO -- Mike Montgomery, Albert Almora Jr., the outfield and pitching prospects are among the topics in the latest Cubs Inbox.

Montgomery has proven to be a reliable starter. Sure, he's good when it comes to the bullpen, but with the Cubs' ever expanding bullpen and farm system, the need for Montgomery to be exclusively in the bullpen is starting to diminish. Do you see Montgomery ever taking a starting role in the upcoming years?
-- Aaron B., Fairport, N.Y.

Absolutely. And if the Cubs don't add another pitcher this offseason, Montgomery may be starting in April. The lefty was 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 14 starts last season and posted a 2.49 ERA in 30 relief appearances. With Brian Duensing returning to the bullpen to join Justin Wilson, the Cubs may feel that's all the left-handed relievers they need. Other lefty options for the 'pen include Dario Alvarez, Randy Rosario and Rob Zastryzny. The Cubs have said Montgomery would get stretched out and start in Spring Training and then go to the bullpen, but the front office may alter those plans if they can't find a fifth starter.

:: Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox ::

Last spring, manager Joe Maddon said he believed Montgomery could be a 10-game winner on an annual basis.

"I've told him that -- 10 to 15 [wins] is within his abilities," Maddon said last February. "That comes with fastball command and knowing what to do with his breaking pitches. He's got really high-quality stuff. If he understands how to utilize the other things he's doing, the sky's the limit."

Video: CIN@CHC: Montgomery fans four in scoreless gem

I don't sense a great deal of excitement about the young arms in the Cubs' system. I know they're trying to develop pitching internally, and I'm hoping they begin to have success there. Please give me three names of current Cubs prospects you believe could be in the big league rotation three years from now.
-- Kyle R., San Antonio, Texas

Three years from now, I believe Duane Underwood Jr., Oscar De La Cruz, and Adbert Alzolay could be in the rotation. Underwood, 23, was 13-7 in 25 games (24 starts) with a 4.43 ERA at Double-A Tennessee. Here's Cubs player development director Jaron Madison on Underwood: "He has Major League weapons and has matured a lot this past year."

Video: Top Prospects: Duane Underwood, RHP, Cubs

De La Cruz, 22, ranked No. 1 by MLB Pipeline among the Cubs' Top 30 Prospects, was 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts last season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. No. 3 prospect Alzolay, 22, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA at Myrtle Beach and made seven starts at Double-A. By the way, 21 of Chicago's Top 30 Prospects are pitchers.

"I think those waves are coming," Madison said of the Cubs' pitching prospects. "It's just a matter of staying healthy and doing everything we can to develop these guys."

Why isn't Almora seriously considered for the leadoff spot? He has speed and hits for a high average. I've heard he's platooned because he doesn't hit right-handers well, but his stats are better against right-handers than his replacements.
-- Harold H., Greeneville, Tenn.

At this point, everybody is being considered a leadoff candidate. Yes, Almora does have the speed and is a good baserunner. Last season, he batted .342 against lefties compared to .271 against right-handers. I'm not sure which "replacements" you're talking about (Jon Jay batted .289 vs. right-handers, Ian Happ .243), but I know Almora could get more playing time against right-handers this year depending on the final roster makeup and matchups that the stats geeks feel would favor him. He did bat leadoff in 10 games last season, and posted a slash line of .294/.294/.412 with zero walks.

Video: TOR@CHC: Almora Jr. hits a bases-clearing double

Any idea as to what the Cubs' outfield may look like in 2018?
-- Dan W., Germantown, Tenn.

As of today, you've got Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Happ in the outfield. What combination will Maddon use? That will depend on several variables, including that day's pitcher, where the Cubs are playing and who's hot. All are versatile, which gives Maddon lots of options.

What is the status of the Cubs' baseball cable TV network?
-- Bud K., Manteno, Ill.

At the Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney said they could begin their own television network after the 2019 season when their contracts with NBC Sports Chicago, ABC-7 and WGN-9 end.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs, Albert Almora Jr., Mike Montgomery

Inbox: Who replaces Rodon in the rotation?

Beat reporter Scott Merkin answers fans' questions
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Let's take a look at this week's Inbox questions, with SoxFest 2018 a little over one week away.

Do we have an option besides Carson Fulmer while we wait for Carlos Rodon? If not, are we expected to sign someone, or stick with Fulmer? I feel like we need one more veteran to eat innings.
-- Michael, @mike__prousa

CHICAGO -- Let's take a look at this week's Inbox questions, with SoxFest 2018 a little over one week away.

Do we have an option besides Carson Fulmer while we wait for Carlos Rodon? If not, are we expected to sign someone, or stick with Fulmer? I feel like we need one more veteran to eat innings.
-- Michael, @mike__prousa

Having another veteran who could move between the rotation and the bullpen is something I've mentioned a few times over the past month or so. I'm guessing that option would be someone not currently on the roster, or maybe a player already in the system with starting experience.

:: Submit a question to the White Sox Inbox ::

Don't sleep on Fulmer, though, as I look for the right-hander to take full advantage of his starting opportunity. He worked his way through a tough 2017 season by finding great rhythm and confidence on the mound at the end, posting a 1.56 ERA over his last four starts.

The White Sox have a bunch of good right-handed pitching prospects. How long before we have a good idea which are going to be starters, which go to the bullpen and which should be traded?
-- Bob, Reading, UK, @bobito64

Year 2 of the rebuild centers on development, an unofficial theme general manager Rick Hahn has pointed out on a number of occasions. But that development also will give the White Sox a chance to see a little more of what they have in each of these prospects to make those decisions you've mentioned, Bob.

• Kopech could join rotation by midseason

Hahn's past comments have focused on giving a pitcher they view as a starter the chance to stay a starter as long as possible, but as things line up now, there seems to be a few too many quality-looking pitchers to fit into one rotation. It's a good problem to have if it plays out.

How about Mike Moustakas on a one-year deal to play third? If it works, then discuss long-term contract. Thanks, Scott.
-- Mike, Chicago Midway, @mikewalsh4609

The White Sox lack pure left-handed power, but I haven't heard any rumblings of the team's interest in the 30-year-old Moustakas. I like the combination of Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson at third for this season.

Yes, they can be opportunistic at this stage of the rebuild. Then again, taking a one-year chance on a player who might leave even after a positive experience this season only becomes worth it if the White Sox ultimately envision him as part of their long-term plan. The White Sox certainly could surprise in '18, but this season is one year early for prime contention.

If Avisail Garcia plays like he did last season, what kind of return could we get at the [Trade Deadline]?
-- Stephen, Chicago, @slynch34

It's interesting that Garcia, who turns 27 during the 2018 season, is being looked at by many as trade potential as opposed to a part of the rebuild. That outlook is influenced by the White Sox having just two years of control over Garcia and a plethora of elite outfield prospects coming through the system. Another strong year from Garcia increases his value in a trade, but also within the organization.

Video: Renteria credits consistency to Avi's strong 2017

What is a realistic debut date for Eloy Jimenez?
-- Joe, Midlothian, @jdwyer02

There's a chance Jimenez plays the whole 2018 campaign at the Minor League level, with 73 plate appearances for Double-A Birmingham in '17 marking his high point of competition. But Jimenez is the sort of elite player who should force the issue, so I'll say somewhere later in the season -- maybe August.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

 

Chicago White Sox

Inbox: Will Mariners consider 6-man rotation?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Will the Mariners go to a six-man rotation?
Rick F., Spokane, Wash.

They definitely are looking into the possibility, but only in parts of the season when they'd be playing long stretches of games without any days off. The new schedule has more off-days, so that will happen less now. But when there are stretches without a break -- there are five spans of 10-plus consecutive games this coming season -- they'll consider bringing up a starter from Triple-A Tacoma or going with a long man from the bullpen in the right scenario.

Will the Mariners go to a six-man rotation?
Rick F., Spokane, Wash.

They definitely are looking into the possibility, but only in parts of the season when they'd be playing long stretches of games without any days off. The new schedule has more off-days, so that will happen less now. But when there are stretches without a break -- there are five spans of 10-plus consecutive games this coming season -- they'll consider bringing up a starter from Triple-A Tacoma or going with a long man from the bullpen in the right scenario.

The idea will be keeping starters like Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez fresher and healthier, taking some of the innings and pressure off younger guys such as Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore and allowing a guy like Ariel Miranda to pitch more effectively whether he makes the rotation or rotates between Seattle and Tacoma.

:: Submit a question to the Mariners Inbox ::

What bench battles do you see playing out this spring? And what about first-base scenarios?
Dennis L., Mukilteo, Wash.

If the Mariners go with an eight-man bullpen, as they'd like to do, that really leaves the bench competition pretty clear-cut. They'll need to identify a backup catcher from between Mike Marjama and David Freitas and a utility infielder between Taylor Motter, Andrew Romine and perhaps Gordon Beckham. The other question would seem to be whether Guillermo Heredia's shoulder is recovered in time to be the fourth outfielder. If not, that position would be up for grabs initially.

If they instead go with a seven-man bullpen, that opens up the possibility of a backup first baseman making the club behind Ryon Healy, with Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford and Daniel Vogelbach in the mix as left-handed complements to the righty-hitting Healy.

Video: Vogelbach on his 2017 Major League experience

The Mariners' lineup seems strong, especially one through five. If the bottom of the order produces and the bullpen can pitch as well as it's capable of, is the starting rotation good enough for the Mariners to contend for the top Wild Card spot?
Blake L., Corvallis, Ore.

That's clearly the million-dollar question. It's worth remembering that the Mariners won 86 games in 2016, and everyone thought they'd be better last year until injuries decimated the rotation. And the Twins got the final Wild Card berth with 85 wins. In my estimation, Seattle now has a better lineup and bullpen. And while I'd like to see another starter added as well, I'm not as down on the rotation as most fans appear to be.

Mariners' rotation loaded with upside, depth

Clearly the Astros have the best rotation in the division (and arguably the American League). If you look at Baseball-Reference's WAR projections for 2018, the Angels have the second-best rotation now that they've added Shohei Ohtani, with the Mariners a close third, the Rangers fourth and A's fifth. But the Angels' projected five starters were a combined 9-13 with a 4.50 ERA last year in 41 starts and have even more health questions than the Mariners.

Ohtani certainly should help, but he also has injury questions. And while Paxton has had a hard time staying healthy for a full season, the Angels' No. 1 starter, Garrett Richards, has pitched in just 12 games over the past two years, and their No. 3 starter, Andrew Heaney, has totaled six starts in two seasons. The Rangers have even more questions than the Mariners and Angels in their rotation and need work in the bullpen as well. So while I have questions about the Mariners' rotation, I don't think their pitching situation is quite as outmanned as the general perception.

With the Astros, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Angels all getting better this year, is it time to rebuild?
Michael W., Scottsdale, Ariz.

I guess it depends on your definition of "rebuild." General manager Jerry Dipoto has made 62 trades in 28 months since becoming general manager, and only eight players remain from the 40-man roster he inherited at the end of 2015. The Mariners had the oldest roster in MLB in '16 -- they had 12 players age 32 or older -- but now are actually one of the younger teams in the AL, with just four players 32 or older.

A lot of rebuilding has already been done, and it's time to see how that younger core of 20-somethings -- guys like Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, Mike Zunino, Edwin Diaz, Paxton, Dee Gordon and Healy -- can step up around the veteran holdovers of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Hernandez.

Do you think Miranda has a chance at a starting job after last season's struggles?
Mike M., Spanaway, Wash.

If things go to plan, I suspect Miranda will open the season with Tacoma. Of course, that was the plan last year as well before injuries hit so hard that Miranda not only made the Opening Day roster, he wound up pitching the most innings of any Seattle starter, going 8-7 with a 5.12 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 160 innings over 31 outings (29 starts).

Video: HOU@SEA: Miranda doesn't allow a hit over six strong

While his ERA wasn't pretty, I think Miranda is quite capable of helping out -- and likely will again at some point. Last year was his first as a full-time starter in the Majors, and he was 7-4 with a 3.82 ERA in 17 starts over the first three months before clearly wearing down and posting a 7.23 ERA in his last 14 appearances. Miranda is a quiet guy, but he's a pretty fierce competitor, and I wouldn't bet against him coming back and making some sort of impact this year.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

 

Seattle Mariners, Ariel Miranda

Inbox: Any news on the Machado front?

Brittany Ghiroli answers Orioles fans' questions
MLB.com

Beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli answers fans' questions in the latest edition of Orioles Inbox.

Are the Orioles going to trade Manny Machado?
-- Scott L., Eldridge, Md.

Beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli answers fans' questions in the latest edition of Orioles Inbox.

Are the Orioles going to trade Manny Machado?
-- Scott L., Eldridge, Md.

Probably not. I get asked this several times a day, but I really don't have any kind of Machado update. (If I did, I'd write it.) There are some teams still interested. Nothing is imminent.

I've always thought if they didn't trade him by early January, they probably wouldn't unless a team with a deep system suffers an injury that makes paying the steep price for Machado doable. But that's purely my opinion. I wish I had more for you, I really do. But there's nothing to update. He's not on or off the proverbial trading block. The O's are still listening and not lowering their demands. They want controllable young pitching.

:: Submit a question to the Orioles Inbox ::

Why didn't the O's trade Machado last year at the Trade Deadline? They waited too long.
-- Tim L., Washington

Because they thought they were in it. Right or wrong, they were in Wild Card contention around that time. (Though certainly the case can be made that with their rotation, they weren't built for a deep playoff run.) They ended up adding a pair of players, much to most people's surprise.

Could they have gotten two Major League-ready arms for Machado if they dealt him in July? Ehhhh, maybe. The real time to trade him with serious value would have been last winter -- when he still had two years under control remaining -- but, again, the Orioles were intent on trying to compete. Hindsight is always 20-20.

Video: BAL@CLE: Schoop ties the game with an RBI single

Wouldn't it be wise to trade Jonathan Schoop now? If the Orioles don't, they'll be in the same situation with Schoop next year as they are with Machado this year.
-- Ron B.

That's definitely an interesting scenario, when you consider Schoop is coming off a career season and is headed into the second of three arbitration-eligible years.

There's been little talk of an extension for Schoop -- though there's plenty of it in the media -- because, quite frankly, now is the time. I agree with you in that if they wait another season, they run the risk of Schoop having no interest in staying because he's so close to free agency. If the Orioles want to lock him up long term, which they haven't done with a core piece, really, since Adam Jones in 2012, they have to get it done in the next few months.

If the O's fall out of contention early this year and become sellers at the Trade Deadline, what then? They have to decide whether he's a cornerstone of the organization for years to come. If the answer is yes, they need to negotiate now before his value goes up.

Will the O's ever add pitching?
-- Kim R., Norfolk, Va.

Yes. They have to. I know fans are impatient, but, to be fair, it's been a pretty slow offseason for everyone.

What kind of year should O's fans expect from Chris Davis?
-- Henry D., New York

A bounce-back one, if Davis has anything to say about it. The slugger is coming off a down year and has been brutally honest in assessing the fact that he needs to strike out less and make contact more. Of course, that's easier said than done, but Davis has been hitting since Christmas and made it a point this offseason to work on some things that will enable him to be more aggressive and more of a dual threat.

He's not going to all of a sudden become a high-on-base guy who lacks power, though. At the Major League level, it's hard to totally overhaul things. If Davis can make just small improvements with his strikeouts and batting average, it could go a long way toward balancing out the lineup.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Inbox: Should Atlanta turn Folty into a closer?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields Braves fans' questions
MLB.com

How do you feel about making Mike Foltynewicz a closer? In my opinion, it's the best fit for him and solves an issue for our team.
-- Russell I., Woodstock, Ga.

A year from now the answer might be different, but for now, I think it's best for the Braves to give Foltynewicz, 26, a chance to spend one more full season as a starter. Yeah, he's spent portions of each of the past three seasons within the rotation and yeah, he's tallied 65 career starts (one more than Wade Davis made before he made the profitable transition to the bullpen).

How do you feel about making Mike Foltynewicz a closer? In my opinion, it's the best fit for him and solves an issue for our team.
-- Russell I., Woodstock, Ga.

A year from now the answer might be different, but for now, I think it's best for the Braves to give Foltynewicz, 26, a chance to spend one more full season as a starter. Yeah, he's spent portions of each of the past three seasons within the rotation and yeah, he's tallied 65 career starts (one more than Wade Davis made before he made the profitable transition to the bullpen).

But at the same time, he's spent just one full year at the big league level and quite frankly, the Braves have the luxury to extend the trial period as they likely stand at least a year away from constructing a playoff-caliber rotation.

Foltynewicz completed at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his 28 starts last year and allowed three earned runs or less while recording at least 18 outs in 15 of those 28 starts. He also managed to allow at least five earned runs in exactly 25 percent (7 of 28) of starts. These numbers tell you exactly what your eyes saw last summer: Nearly every start could be described as either pretty good or pretty forgettable.

It should be noted most of those pretty forgettable starts occurred as he allowed five earned runs or more four times within a five-start span from July 31-Aug. 21. His only impressive outing within this span occurred on Aug. 5, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and limited the Marlins' potent offense to one run over 6 1/3 innings.

Per Statcast™, Foltynewicz's 95.2 mph average fastball velocity ranked seventh among all Major Leaguers who threw at least 1,500 heaters last year. He limited opponents to a .196 batting average with his slider and induced a decent 15.43 percent swing-and-miss rate with the pitch. The .202 xBA (expected batting average) he produced with the curveball provides a glimpse of the soft contact he frequently induced with that pitch.

Foltynewicz has the arsenal needed to become an elite starter. Time will tell whether he can harness the command of both his fastball and emotions enough to live up to his physical potential. But for now, it seems prudent to stay away from the easy solution, which would be to move him to the bullpen.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

Video: Anthopoulos on adjusting to new role with Braves

Is the new general manager honest enough to admit the pains an organization has to go through to be a legitimate contender?
-- Matt H., Belton, S.C.

Looking back, I don't think there were many of you who bought into what John Hart was trying to sell when he approached the 2015 and '16 seasons often saying the team was trying to walk parallel lines. It's impossible to remain competitive while undergoing a rebuilding effort as massive as the one the Braves began after the '14 season, and it's unrealistic to think it can be completed in just a few years.

With that being said, I think some of the frustration that led to your question stems more toward last year, when the Braves added more than $30 million to their payroll and claimed the team was going to be much better. Much of that money was spent on Bartolo Colon, and the club's altered mindset was shown in late July when Jaime Garcia was sent to the Twins for essentially nothing more than cost savings.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has inherited this team in the fourth year of its rebuild. It's still too early for him to confidently predict a postseason run. But at the same time, part of his job is to surround his club with optimism. If he says, the "team will be better this year," his words will at least seem more genuine than those spoken during the early portion of this rebuild.

Why is it that we refuse to move any of the pitching prospects we have? It seems to me if we wait to do so then some of them will inherently lose value.
-- Ryan L., Douglasville, Ga.

Actually, I think Anthopoulos would be wise to stick with the plan for him and his scouts to make their own evaluations of these young pitchers before making a significant trade. Yeah, there are existing reports and even some holdover scouts who are quite familiar with what the likes of Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and the others can bring both on and off the field. But it would be much more comfortable to make one of these potentially franchise-altering decisions after having gained the chance to make evaluations with your own eyes and ears.

Video: Top Prospects: Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves

Assuming the Braves sign a third baseman this offseason, do you think it would be a player with a short-term or long-term deal?
-- Bryan O., Kennesaw, Ga.

The Braves could go a few different directions as they attempt to bolster different aspects of their club. But in relation to the possibility of adding a third baseman, there is no doubt they are only looking at short-term options. They do not want to make an acquisition that could block rising prospect Austin Riley or erase the possibility of making a serious bid to buy Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson off next year's free-agent market.

 

Atlanta Braves

Inbox: Will Tigers add another starting pitcher?

Beat reporter Jason Beck fields questions from Tigers fans
MLB.com

First inbox of the new year. Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training four weeks from Tuesday.

First inbox of the new year. Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training four weeks from Tuesday.

The Tigers appear less likely to add another starter than they did before the holidays, though maybe that changes if the free-agent market continues to move slowly and they can snag an experienced starter on their terms to provide some competition for youngsters like Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd. The problem is finding a veteran who would accept something other than a guaranteed spot. As for relievers, the market has not been moving in their favor this offseason. Even the bigger-name bounce-back candidates have a decent chance to find opportunities on teams closer to contention, evidenced by Boone Logan's deal with the Brewers earlier this month. One advantage the Tigers have is new pitching coach Chris Bosio and his reputation for working with such hurlers.

Submit a question to the Tigers Inbox

Farmer might be forced into a relief role by his contractual situation. He's out of Minor League options, so if he's going to start, he's likely going to have to win a rotation spot out of Spring Training. What the Tigers could do is let him compete for a rotation spot in camp, then shift to a bullpen role if he doesn't win one.

Video: LAA@DET: Farmer K's five over 6 2/3 innings

Labourt's fate is directly tied to his command of the strike zone. He vaulted up the farm system last year because he cut down his walk rate, boosted his strikeout rate and reduced his wild pitches. But he walked 23 batters over 22 innings at Triple-A Toledo, then yielded seven walks and five wild pitches over six innings during his September stint in Detroit. Then he walked four batters over three appearances in the Dominican Winter League, recording just two outs.

Video: KC@DET: Labourt induces a double play to escape a jam

Labourt turns 24 in March, so there's still time for him to find more consistency with his command. And if he does, he has the chance to be an intriguing power-lefty reliever, which is why he was selected for the Futures Game last year. But he needs to prove it before he earns the trust to work meaningful situations out of a big league bullpen, even on a rebuilding club.

Yes. The Tigers said in a late-September statement that they were working on a plan to extend the netting at Comerica Park. I haven't seen any specific details just yet.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

 

Detroit Tigers

Inbox: Which pitcher tops Rangers' wish list?

Beat reporter T.R. Sullivan fields questions from fans
MLB.com

I am aware the Rangers are still searching for pitching. What remaining pitchers are still on the market? And which of those pitchers do the Rangers seem most interested in?
-- Brett P., Stamford, Texas

Just about every free-agent starting pitcher is still available, and the one who interests the Rangers most is Yu Darvish. Jake Arrieta is out there, but Darvish loves Texas and vice versa. Size and length of contract is a big issue, and the Rangers have stated their antipathy toward signing a top-line starting pitcher at big dollars. But it is hardly a stretch to imagine a scenario in which Darvish re-signs with the Rangers. It might even become more plausible as the offseason progresses.

I am aware the Rangers are still searching for pitching. What remaining pitchers are still on the market? And which of those pitchers do the Rangers seem most interested in?
-- Brett P., Stamford, Texas

Just about every free-agent starting pitcher is still available, and the one who interests the Rangers most is Yu Darvish. Jake Arrieta is out there, but Darvish loves Texas and vice versa. Size and length of contract is a big issue, and the Rangers have stated their antipathy toward signing a top-line starting pitcher at big dollars. But it is hardly a stretch to imagine a scenario in which Darvish re-signs with the Rangers. It might even become more plausible as the offseason progresses.

I know Jon Daniels is smart, but I've really been questioning his strategy lately. It seems like he's trying to enter 2018 with one hand on trying to contend and the other hand on rebuilding, without committing himself to either. Can you give a high-level recap of what the Rangers' strategy is?
-- Samuel J., Lewisville, Texas

The Rangers desire to put together a contending team. They believe they will have the offense and are confident they'll be able to assemble a strong bullpen. Then it comes down to trusting their scouts and numbers analysts, and that Matt Moore, Doug Fister and Mike Minor will be the answer for the rotation. If the Rangers fall out of contention, you could see a major in-season fire sale. But right now, the Rangers are bent on contending, and the slow-moving offseason has left plenty of transactions still to be made.

:: Submit a question to the Rangers Inbox ::

How in good faith can the front office spend for center fielder Lorenzo Cain when we need pitching?
-- Mike M., Abilene, Texas

The Rangers work off the philosophy that improved defense can boost a pitching staff as much as adding more arms. So, if they truly are interested in Cain -- at what level has not been revealed -- it means they see him as a significant defensive upgrade in center field.

Video: Cain's blend of speed, defense up for purchase as FA

Can the Rangers not afford to sign an ace pitcher? The mid-level pitching that we have signed in the past has not taken us to the level that was hoped. Why will it be different this year?
-- George L., Midlothian, Texas

The Rangers won 95 games and a division title in 2016. Then they were swept by the Blue Jays in the Division Series after their two ace pitchers -- Cole Hamels and Darvish -- allowed 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings in the first two games.

Why so much emphasis on pitch speed for a closer? As long as the results are there, it shouldn't matter.
-- Ronald K., Powderly, Texas

Because speed is a crutch that is easy to judge. Hoyt Wilhelm was the first reliever elected to the Hall of Fame, but he was 29 and had spent six years in the Minors -- winning 97 games -- before somebody figured out his knuckleball could get Major League hitters out. Bruce Sutter is in the Hall of Fame because of his split-finger fastball, which may have been in the top 10 best off-speed pitchers in baseball history.

The Rangers have had some success with past-their-prime power hitters, Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa, for example. Which brings me to this question: Jose Bautista on a one-year, incentive-laced deal. He can play some left field and designated hitter, and would slot in perfect between Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor.
-- Nick V., Santa Clara, Calif.

On paper, the idea has much merit. In the clubhouse ...

Video: TOR@TEX: Players, coaches react to melee in Arlington

I understand the Rangers not wanting to commit mega dollars and years to pitchers, but what do you think a guy like Jason Vargas commands and would the Rangers be interested in signing him?
-- Brad M., Abilene, Texas

Vargas won 18 games for the Royals last year after missing most of the previous two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Get the picture? The Rangers tried to do something similar with Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner last season and will do again this year with Fister and Moore.

How much playing time will Adrian Beltre get at third because of his history with leg injuries? Will he get a lot of time as the DH to keep him healthy as possible?
-- James H. ,Duncanville, Texas

It is a guarantee this will be a prime topic of discussion in Spring Training with multiple stories written by multiple outlets. But what often is planned in Spring Training does not get carried out in the regular season.

Video: Adrian Beltre is the No. 6 third baseman right now

Which scenario benefits the Rangers most overall, for now and the future if you could only do one: free-agent signing of Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, free-agent signing of Cain, Jay Bruce or Jarrod Dyson, free-agent signing of Greg Holland, or arrange a trade with the White Sox for Jose Abreu?
-- Joel B., Robinson, Texas

At this point, the answer would be signing Holland to be their closer.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

 

Texas Rangers

Inbox: Will Suarez move to shortstop in '18?

Beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers Reds fans' questions
MLB.com

Would you rather see Eugenio Suarez at shortstop and Nick Senzel at third base? What do you think?
-- Don, Cincinnati

Even though Suarez wasn't listed among MLB Network's Top 10 third basemen, he's become excellent at that position in a short amount of time, and he is probably better than he was at shortstop. I've never seen Senzel play in person, but have, of course, heard good things. I'm not saying Suarez can't move, but the Reds seem to have a good thing going with him at third base. They also believe he can become an elite player at that position. Senzel appears to be much more versatile and athletic. He could play shortstop, second base, and he's going to try the outfield this spring. They view him like Todd Frazier was in that he played multiple positions when he first came up. Let's see how that goes before deciding the future of third base.

Would you rather see Eugenio Suarez at shortstop and Nick Senzel at third base? What do you think?
-- Don, Cincinnati

Even though Suarez wasn't listed among MLB Network's Top 10 third basemen, he's become excellent at that position in a short amount of time, and he is probably better than he was at shortstop. I've never seen Senzel play in person, but have, of course, heard good things. I'm not saying Suarez can't move, but the Reds seem to have a good thing going with him at third base. They also believe he can become an elite player at that position. Senzel appears to be much more versatile and athletic. He could play shortstop, second base, and he's going to try the outfield this spring. They view him like Todd Frazier was in that he played multiple positions when he first came up. Let's see how that goes before deciding the future of third base.

You say we can't compete for free agents or resign our top players because we're a small market team, then how does Cleveland do it?
-- David L., Albany, Ohio

:: Submit a question to the Reds Inbox ::

The Indians' recent history says they identify a few players they feel they can keep and/or afford for the long term and then they move on from many of the others. From 2009-12, they averaged almost 92 losses per season. The last rebuild began in '08, when CC Sabathia was traded and in subsequent years, the Tribe dealt Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook and Shin-Soo Choo. Among the prospects Cleveland got in those deals were Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco. This offseason, it let Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce go as free agents. The Indians' only big-splash signing in this era was Edwin Encarnacion. Otherwise, they built a winner with smart trades for prospects and/or big leaguers like Andrew Miller, and with homegrown talent -- which is exactly what the Reds are trying to emulate.

Does Homer Bailey have a "no trade" clause in his contract? If not, doesn't he hit his 10-and-5 rights soon? Why not move him now and save some money?
-- Tim M., Cincinnati

Bailey, who has three years and $69 million remaining on his six-year contract, doesn't have a no-trade clause. But if he's traded, money that's deferred in the deal must all be paid. He has nine years of service time so his 10-and-5 rights could kick in. The obstacle about moving him and saving money is he's had three elbow surgeries since 2014 and a disappointing and shortened '17 campaign. His trade value and demand for him isn't exactly robust.

Video: CIN@MIL: Bailey K's four over seven scoreless frames

In view of losing Zack Cozart, in no way expecting Scooter Gennett to have the same year as in '17 and it being unlikely Joey Votto will duplicate a phenomenal year, and only one minor trade, why would the Reds think they can improve much over last year?
-- Dick G., Southport, N.C.

Fair question. I don't think lack of lineup production sent the Reds to a 94-loss season. The pitching fell way short of expectations -- in part because of injuries and because some guys simply didn't pitch well. Although there have been some bullpen upgrades, the Reds are banking on improved health from guys like Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan, and the continued maturation of guys like Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Amir Garrett, and Robert Stephenson. Will it work? Only playing out the season can tell us. By the way, I wouldn't count out Votto from having another great year. The back of his baseball card shows he can, and has, strung a few seasons like that together.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

 

Cincinnati Reds

Inbox: How do A-Gon, Bruce affect Mets at 1B?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Finally, some action. The Mets made their first significant waves of the offseason last week, reportedly inking both Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez to contracts that should become official in the coming days. Until they do, questions abound regarding first base, the position most affected by those signings. Consider that the backdrop to another batch of questions and answers:

If the Mets signed Bruce to fill in at first base if Dominic Smith falters, why in the world did they also sign Gonzalez? All three are left-handed hitters.
--@metsfan73 via Twitter

Finally, some action. The Mets made their first significant waves of the offseason last week, reportedly inking both Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez to contracts that should become official in the coming days. Until they do, questions abound regarding first base, the position most affected by those signings. Consider that the backdrop to another batch of questions and answers:

If the Mets signed Bruce to fill in at first base if Dominic Smith falters, why in the world did they also sign Gonzalez? All three are left-handed hitters.
--@metsfan73 via Twitter

Insurance. It seems many fans saw the signing of Bruce as a move to shore up first base, when in reality Bruce -- regardless of Gonzalez's status -- is going to receive far more reps in the outfield. The Mets are operating under the assumption that Michael Conforto won't be ready for Opening Day, meaning they need Bruce and Cespedes at the corners in the outfield with Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo platooning in center.

• Submit a question to the Mets Inbox

It's likely they'll require such outfield insurance throughout the season, given the injury histories of Cespedes and Lagares. For that reason, I don't see Bruce receiving all that many reps at first.

Gonzalez would then become the insurance that the Mets need at that position, with Wilmer Flores also capable of playing first against left-handed pitchers. Gonzalez offers an ideal type of insurance because he's cheap, meaning the Mets won't lose much if Smith goes on an early-season tear, proving once and for all that he -- not Gonzalez -- deserves to play every day.

• Source: Mets, Bruce reunite on three-year deal

Video: Bruce brings steady veteran leadership back to Mets

What is the story on the clubhouse presence and leadership of Gonzalez? It seems he garnered mixed feelings last year, but aside from that, is there anything else of note, positive or negative?
--@MrReegz via Twitter

Gonzalez's reputation certainly took a hit in October, when the injured first baseman didn't show up for the Dodgers' first World Series home game since 1988. He also had well-publicized differences over the years with the media in Boston.

• Mets, A-Gon reportedly agree to deal

But there are two sides to every story, and in between those rather public episodes, Gonzalez did establish himself as a clubhouse leader in multiple cities. His knowledge of the game is unassailable. The Mets are certainly hoping that's the version of Gonzalez that arrives in New York, considering they signed him to mentor to Smith, as well as to provide value with his own bat and glove.

Do you see any scenario in which Smith starts the 2018 season in Triple-A?
--@jlatimer11 via Twitter

I can honestly envision everything from Smith starting at Las Vegas to playing 150-plus games in the Majors. That's not a cop-out answer; it's an acknowledgement that Smith's status is very much dependent upon what he does in Spring Training. The Mets aren't sold on how the rookie performed down the stretch last season, but they can be swayed by his upcoming Grapefruit League performance -- one way or the other.

Video: Dominic Smith reflects on 2017, what he learned

Out of Todd Frazier, Josh Harrison or Eduardo Nunez, who is the most likely to be in Port St. Lucie, Fla. for Spring Training?
--@Thahn531 via Twitter

Throughout this offseason, the Mets have been linked most consistently with Frazier. He fits the mold of a Sandy Alderson-type player, though there's certainly a chance the Mets acquire none of those three. Remember, Jose Reyes is still very much an option for the infield.

Video: Mets considering Frazier and Moustakas at third base

Six-man rotations look to be the trend on the horizon, but it seems lots of pitchers dislike it for many reasons. With Mickey Callaway being a former pitching coach, where does he stand on this? How much of it will we see in 2018?
--@BoriSswag via Twitter

If anything, the Mets are going in the opposite direction, placing more emphasis on the bullpen and less on their starters. With Steven Matz, Matt Harvey and others unlikely to rack up significant pitch counts in individual games under Callaway's new plan, there's not as much need for those starters to receive extra days of rest -- the main benefit of a six-man rotation. It's not as if the Mets boast significant rotation depth. Even if everyone stays healthy, they're likely to stick with a five-man rotation throughout the summer.

Why do the Mets love Travis d'Arnaud so much? I can see this ballclub take off with a real catcher.
--@leifgranlind via Twitter

Perhaps "love" is a strong word. Perhaps, also, your take is a bit harsh. The best way to put it is that d'Arnaud is among the least of New York's problems. In 112 games last year, d'Arnaud profiled as an above-average defender who socked 16 home runs, more than all but seven National League backstops (many of whom played full seasons). The Mets also have some solid-if-unspectacular depth at the position in Kevin Plawecki, Tomas Nido and, now, Jose Lobaton. On a limited budget, their needs at other positions loom far more important.

 

New York Mets, Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez, Dominic Smith

Inbox: Strategy behind Brantley over Bruce?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields questions from Indians fans
MLB.com

The first thing to consider here is the timeline of the transactions. The Indians had to make a decision on Michael Brantley's team option on Nov. 3, and chose to keep him in the fold for $12 million. When the Indians made that call, they knew Jay Bruce was intent on testing the free-agent waters and hoping for a big payday.

Tweet from @dex_ou: What was the thought process on keeping injury prone Brantley for 1 year $12mil and not getting Bruce for 3 year $13 mil year average? #IndiansInbox

The first thing to consider here is the timeline of the transactions. The Indians had to make a decision on Michael Brantley's team option on Nov. 3, and chose to keep him in the fold for $12 million. When the Indians made that call, they knew Jay Bruce was intent on testing the free-agent waters and hoping for a big payday.

Now, we have the benefit of hindsight. In what has been an extremely slow-developing market for free agents, and especially free-agent outfielders, Bruce reportedly agreed to a three-year, $39-million contract with the Mets last week. All the second-guessers can now weigh Brantley vs. Bruce and wonder if Cleveland made the wrong choice so early in the process.

Submit a question to the Indians Inbox

Brantley and Bruce are two different styles of hitters -- Bruce brings more power and Brantley offers more consistency and a higher contact rate -- but they potentially offer roughly the same value. Consider this: Bruce averaged 0.184 WAR per game in 2017 and Brantley averaged 0.178. Overall, Bruce had a 118 weighted Runs Created Plus (indicating he was 18 percent better than MLB's average) in 146 games, while Brantley posted a 111 wRC+ in 90 games.

Video: NYY@CLE Gm2: Bruce clubs game-tying solo homer in 8th

Sample-size alert, but Bruce had an .808 OPS with a 108 OPS+ in 169 plate appearances after being traded to Cleveland. Brantley had an .801 OPS and a 108 OPS+ in 375 plate appearances in 2017. So, yes, Bruce hit 36 homers and had a higher slugging percentage, but they rated as relatively similar hitters. They just got there in different fashions.

It's also worth noting that the Indians avoided a long-term commitment in this decision. Bruce is a slugger whose new contract covers his age 31-33 seasons. There's risk there. Brantley's last two-plus years of injury woes make him a risk, too. But, Cleveland is only obligated to roll the dice for one more season before Brantley becomes a free agent.

Next year, the Indians might have Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin hit the free-agent market. The shorter-term decision (Brantley) may mean Cleveland is trying to keep its 2019 finances a bit more open in order to plan for the coming roster holes.

Tweet from @BennyTheJet2017: Salazar slated to return to starting rotation? If he doesn���t, who steps in to 5th spot? #IndiansInbox

Duriing the Winter Meetings, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if Danny Salazar was being viewed as a starter or reliever for this year. Without hesitation, Francona said Salazar was a starter. So, based on that, you can pencil Salazar's name into the projected Opening Day rotation. That said, if Salazar is being dangled as trade bait, it's in the Tribe's interest to continue to refer to him as a starter.

Video: MIN@CLE: Salazar strikes out nine over 4 2/3 innings

If there is no trade, the Indians will have an interesting rotation situation to follow this spring. You never know what setbacks or injuries might happen during Spring Training, so going in with Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Tomlin as options for the fourth and fifth spots gives the Indians a solid foundation. But, if all are healthy at the end of camp, how will Cleveland make the pieces fit?

Clevinger has one Minor League option left, so there's a chance he could open with Triple-A Columbus and stay there until a need arises in the big league rotation. Or, one spot could open for Salazar, Clevinger or Tomlin to start in the bullpen, where each has experience, to keep them all in the Major Leagues. The Indians also have to keep in mind that there is a lack of Major League rotation experience behind the top six arms.

Video: CLE@LAA: Clevinger tosses six innings of one-run ball

As the other teams have gone out and made moves to significantly upgrade their squads, the Indians have been eerily quiet. I understand not giving Carlos Santana the type of money he got from the Phillies, but I have an issue with not matching or exceeding the offer that Bruce got from the Mets. It feels like the Indians have regressed. What are your thoughts?
--Dan B., Uniontown, Ohio

Given the landscape of the American League Central, the Indians arguably have the best path back to the postseason in 2018. They are also returning with a historically great pitching staff nearly entirely intact. I don't think the roster as it stands today is as strong as it was when the '17 season ended. That kind of goes without saying, but I don't see a team that needs to be in panic mode when it comes to spending in the free-agent market. Cleveland remains in a good position and based on recent years (acquiring Miller and Brandon Guyer in '16 and trading for Bruce and Joe Smith in '17), I think it's likely that Cleveland tries to address some of its needs midseason.

Tweet from @Domi_Rella: Does the front office plan on signing another outfielder for depth? Why not re-sign Austin Jackson? #IndiansInbox

The Indians have maintained all offseason that they have interest in a reunion with Jackson, but that might be unlikely after the team signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite to Spring Training. The Indians like Upton's potential against left-handed pitching and the fact that he can play all three outfield spots. He'd earn $1.5 million if he made the Major League roster. Essentially, it's the same type of role and deal that Jackson had with Cleveland one year ago. At the moment, adding relief depth looks like a bigger priority for the Tribe.

Video: Bastian discusses Upton Jr. signing with Indians

Tweet from @slheinemann: I'm hoping to see @Cody_Anderson40 make a come back from TJ surgery this season. What is the time frame? When is he projected to begin pitching in games?

Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said during the Winter Meetings that the team will not rush Anderson back to the mound. The typical timeline for return for a starting pitcher who undergoes Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months, and Anderson will be coming up on one year on March 27. A midseason comeback is probably most realistic.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

 

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Jay Bruce

Inbox: Will Darvish end up in pinstripes?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch fields Yankees fans' questions