Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Boston Red Sox

news

Beat Reporter's Inbox

Inbox: Will Felix be Opening Day starter?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from Mariners fans
MLB.com

Do you think Felix Hernandez will get the Opening Day start again this season?
-- Jesus O., Maracaibo, Venezuela

With camp set to open Wednesday, this might be one of the most interesting questions all spring. My early guess is that James Paxton gets his first Opening Day call. He was clearly Seattle's best starter last year, and manager Scott Servais will want to give his team the best chance in a tough matchup, likely against Indians ace Corey Kluber.

Do you think Felix Hernandez will get the Opening Day start again this season?
-- Jesus O., Maracaibo, Venezuela

With camp set to open Wednesday, this might be one of the most interesting questions all spring. My early guess is that James Paxton gets his first Opening Day call. He was clearly Seattle's best starter last year, and manager Scott Servais will want to give his team the best chance in a tough matchup, likely against Indians ace Corey Kluber.

But there are many who feel Hernandez deserves the honor of starting his 10th season opener and ninth in a row, and it might cause some friction in the clubhouse if Servais decides differently. Maybe there will be an early announcement, but I suspect the Mariners will wait to see how both pitchers perform before making any decisions. If Felix looks healthy and strong all spring, that certainly could change the equation.

:: Submit a question to the Mariners Inbox ::

Are the Mariners going to have anyone at Tim Lincecum's workout on Thursday?
-- Roger S., Seattle

I'm told the Mariners, like many Major League clubs, will indeed have a representative in attendance when Lincecum throws for scouts. The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner hasn't pitched since 2016, when he struggled for the Angels, with his last MLB outing coming at Safeco Field.

There'll obviously be intrigue over whether the 33-year-old is healthy and has any arm life left, and it's an easy trip for the Mariners, given the workout will be at the Driveline Baseball facility in Kent, just a half-hour south of Seattle.

Video: MLB Tonight on potential 2018 Tim Lincecum comeback

Any way the Mariners could get players like J.D. Martinez or Jake Arrieta on one-year deals now since their market isn't developing?
-- Conor T., Edmonds, Wash.

It's been a strange year for free agents, so I'm never going to say never. But agent Scott Boras represents both Martinez and Arrieta, and it's highly unlikely Boras is going to settle for one-year deals for two established veterans who are seeking big, long-term contracts. Those guys will end up signing multiyear deals, perhaps not as long as they'd initially hoped.

Hot Stove Tracker

Why don't the Mariners jump in with a multiyear offer of their own? It's ironic that many fans are asking what the Mariners are going to do with Hernandez, who has two years and $54 million left on his contract, while wanting to sign Arrieta, who is a month older than Felix.

All teams seem reluctant this offseason to sign long-term deals with free agents in their 30s, contracts that are often difficult for the team at the end. The Mariners have made such moves in the past, when signing Robinson Cano and extending Hernandez. Why that practice suddenly changed for so many clubs this winter remains a matter of great debate.

Why hasn't anyone suggested using Dee Gordon as the occasional backup for Cano at second base? He is a former Gold Glove winner there.
-- Chris B., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto have made it clear they think it would be better for Gordon to completely focus on the transition to center field rather than bounce between positions. Perhaps they'll take another look at that once Gordon gets comfortable in the outfield, but for now, the idea is to put him in center and keep him there so he can make that position his own.

Video: Dee Gordon shares a story about his new glove

Over/under on 100 steals for the Mariners as a team this year?
-- Ben S., Seattle

The Mariners haven't stolen 100-plus bases in a season since 2012, and last year they totaled 89, which was above the MLB average of 84. But I'm taking the over. Gordon alone has averaged 60 stolen bases in his past three full seasons, and Jean Segura has averaged 29 over his past five seasons. If those two stay healthy, 100 should be an easy mark.

What is the most important coaching/management change the Mariners made during the offseason?
-- Allen B., Seattle

The most interesting change to me is the addition of Dr. Lorena Martin in the newly created role of director of high performance, which is a blend of physical and mental training and statistical analysis in an attempt to keep players healthier and more productive.

Nobody should expect miracles, as injuries obviously can't be eliminated. But the club is hoping to push a more cutting-edge approach to things like rest and recovery and training methods. If Martin's programs help keep players on the field more and perform better over the long term, it would be a big benefit.

Video: Mariners add Dr. Lorena Martin

What do you see happening to Ariel Miranda if he isn't named the fifth starter? Will he be added to the bullpen for long relief like we saw with Yovani Gallardo?
-- Erin J., Auburn, Wash.

The Mariners want to keep Miranda in a starting role. As they were reminded last year, every team needs more than five starters to get through a season. Miranda has Minor League options and can be sent to Triple-A Tacoma without any risk of losing him, so if he doesn't make the 25-man roster to start the year, I'm sure he'll go to Tacoma and be ready when needed.

Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales are in a different situation because they are out of Minor League options. So if they don't make the rotation, they'd need to either go to the bullpen in long relief or be exposed to waivers, where any team could claim them for a spot on their 25-man roster.

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

Seattle Mariners

Inbox: Will Twins add another starter or two?

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers fans' questions
MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Spring Training is almost here for the Twins, as pitchers and catchers are set to report to the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday.

It's been an interesting offseason throughout Major League Baseball, as plenty of top players remain unsigned. The Twins have indicated they're still looking to add a starter, and possibly two, despite it being so late in the offseason. It brings us to our first question of this week's Twins Inbox:

MINNEAPOLIS -- Spring Training is almost here for the Twins, as pitchers and catchers are set to report to the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday.

It's been an interesting offseason throughout Major League Baseball, as plenty of top players remain unsigned. The Twins have indicated they're still looking to add a starter, and possibly two, despite it being so late in the offseason. It brings us to our first question of this week's Twins Inbox:

Tweet from @NeilVance34: Do you think the Twins have any more starters signed by the time they head to camp next week? If so, who do you think is most likely?

It is pretty amazing that Twins pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, and yet there has been little movement among the starting pitching market. The Twins, though, still remain highly likely to sign a starter, especially now that Ervin Santana will be out until possibly May after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger. Their top target, Yu Darvish, reportedly signed with the Cubs to bring that particular offseason pursuit to an end, but there are plenty of other options available.

:: Submit a question to the Twins Inbox ::

It's hard to predict who they'll sign, but they still have interest in top starters available that have been mentioned all offseason such as Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. They also could add depth by signing a second starter, as they've been linked to back-of-the-rotation options such as Chris Tillman and Jaime Garcia.

Tweet from @Twins_guyTJZ: Is the plan to roll out Mitch Garver as the backup catcher to start the year? Or are the Twins looking at other options to compete with him?

Mitch Garver is the heavy favorite to be the backup catcher after his strong season last year, especially offensively at Triple-A Rochester. Pitchers who came up in the Minors with him say he's made major strides defensively and is ready to stick in the big leagues. He'll compete with non-roster invites such as Bobby Wilson and Willians Astudillo.

Tweet from @trosy29: What is the latest with Mr. Sano?

There's nothing new with MLB's investigation into Miguel Sano's alleged sexual assault, and there isn't a firm timeline, either. As for his surgically repaired shin, Sano has been working out in Fort Myers, and he's likely to meet with the media next week for an update. He's expected to be ready for the start of the season but not the start of Spring Training games.

Tweet from @mattstock88: Where does Vargas fit into long term plans, and will he get a chance to prove himself as an every day player this year?

Kennys Vargas still has a lot to prove, and heads to camp competing for a spot at designated hitter and as Joe Mauer's backup at first. Vargas is out of options, and this is likely his last chance to prove he can stick in the Majors. He has immense power but has yet to show he can be a consistent offensive performer at the Major League level. It's likely he makes the team to give him that one last shot, as he could share DH duties with Robbie Grossman, and having someone to spell Mauer at first makes sense, although they could just move Sano to first on days when Mauer isn't manning the position.

Tweet from @swayze_scbc: How is Byron Buxton doing after crashing into the outfield wall in the wild card game?

Byron Buxton is just fine after crashing into the wall in October, despite a false report that he sustained a cracked rib, but the club announced it wasn't true. He did suffer soreness, but it went away during the offseason. Buxton, though, needs to be more careful going forward, as he's a bit reckless near the wall and the Twins can't afford to lose him due to injury.

Tweet from @The_Forever19: Which SP prospect, if any, do you envision making the most major league appearances this season between Gonsalves, Romero, Jorge, Slegers or anyone else and why?

The Twins do have several pitching prospects they like, such as Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Zack Littell and Aaron Slegers, and given their lack of veteran rotation depth, a few are expected to contribute this year. Slegers has a leg up because he made his Major League debut last year, while Gonsalves and Romero are considered close. Romero also could be broken in as a reliever in the Majors given his plus stuff, so it's something to monitor later this season.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins

Inbox: Could Mondesi take over at SS in '18?

Beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan responds to questions from Royals fans
MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- We're just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training (on Tuesday), so here's our last Royals Inbox before the fun starts.

We start with a question about shortstop Raul Mondesi and his immediate future with the Royals.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- We're just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training (on Tuesday), so here's our last Royals Inbox before the fun starts.

We start with a question about shortstop Raul Mondesi and his immediate future with the Royals.

Tweet from @ewieberg: If Mondesi has another solid start in AAA, do you think the Royals will call him up mid-season to play over Escobar? Or was Escobar signed to play another 162?

That's really a good question, Eric. General manager Dayton Moore seemed fairly adamant two weeks ago that Alcides Escobar was signed to play regularly again. But the truth is, Mondesi is the future. If Mondesi shines at Triple-A, the guess here is that the Royals wouldn't hesitate to start the future rolling now. But they have to be 100 percent convinced that Mondesi can withstand the rigors of everyday life in the bigs.

:: Submit a question to the Royals Inbox ::

Tweet from @BigSamMob: What do things look like for Richard Lovelady this year? Do you think he will be in KC early this season? I know he was at AA last year, but the team likes what they see.

The Royals never have been afraid of promoting someone from Double-A to the bigs. They love Richard Lovelady's stuff. Considering their rebuilding phase, I would be very surprised if he doesn't get called up at some point this season, unless he struggles in the Minors.

Tweet from @KingGuwoop: Over/under 70 wins this year? Maybe a final win prediction too?

Over. It could get rough through this rebuilding period, but my guess is that there will be a new sense of energy around this year's team. I'm not saying this team will win 90 games and make the playoffs, but this front office and coaching staff won't allow for a tank job.

Tweet from @hotchman: Which Minor League player that is invited to camp are you most excited to see?

Two guys, really. Lovelady for one, and right-hander Kevin Lenik, who is a fascinating story. The Royals signed Lenik, a former Rangers farmhand, out of the independent Frontier League and he dominated in the Minors last season. He is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds with a 95-99 mph fastball. He had a minor setback in winter ball, but is healthy now. Small-market teams like the Royals live for scouting finds like this.

Tweet from @MMoxley17: Does Gallagher have any realistic chance of winning the backup catcher job?

The Royals are very high on Cam Gallagher, but there'd have to be an injury to Salvador Perez or Drew Butera for him to make the 25-man roster this season. They love Butera as the backup, with good reason. Gallagher has a bright future, and Royals fans saw a glimpse of his potential last season.

Tweet from @KansasJeremy: biggest surprise name that ends up on opening day roster?

I love these questions. I'll say Lenik.

Tweet from @69mstang: Percentage chance of retaining Hoz?

By far the most-asked question I get. Obviously, the longer Eric Hosmer stays out there unsigned, the greater the chance he signs with the Royals. Moore is being cautious about saying too much about Hosmer. But I still have a hunch he ends up back in KC. I've been wrong before.

Tweet from @Scott_ZT: Will the Royals make it a priority to get Bonifacio and Soler everyday AB���s in 2018?

Yes, I would be shocked if Jorge Bonifacio isn't the everyday right fielder getting 600 plate appearances. And Jorge Soler is out of options, so he'll get his chance.

Tweet from @BillCarle1: I'll take "Who Plays First?" for $100, Alex. What do the Royals think about Frank Schwindel?

The Royals still have high hopes for Frank Schwindel and Ryan O'Hearn, even though they weren't put on the 40-man roster. Schwindel is more advanced offensively, but I have to say that I thought O'Hearn's swing (from what I saw last spring) is as smooth as anyone's in the organization.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals

Inbox: What remaining moves could Nats make?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields fans' questions
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The offseason is finally nearing its end and in less than one week, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Fla. While a few other contenders still have some items to cross off their to-do lists, Washington is in good standing entering camp with a roster that is nearly set.

But there are still a few lingering questions on the minds of fans, so here's the final Nats inbox before Spring Training begins.

WASHINGTON -- The offseason is finally nearing its end and in less than one week, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Fla. While a few other contenders still have some items to cross off their to-do lists, Washington is in good standing entering camp with a roster that is nearly set.

But there are still a few lingering questions on the minds of fans, so here's the final Nats inbox before Spring Training begins.

Tweet from @funnydanny: Are the Nationals in position for another late surprising move because of the stagnant FA market? How will the realization that Jon & Dany are related affect their dynamic?

Yes, the Nationals are technically in a solid position if they wanted to strike late as the free agent market continues to stall. Their roster is set, so they do not have any glaring needs, and even though they are near the luxury tax threshold, they seem to have some payroll flexibility if they wanted to add another player. However, they do not seem to have much interest in making another major move.

Last week, general manager Mike Rizzo said on MLB Network Radio that he has not been monitoring the free agent pitching market all that closely. Adding a starting pitcher has not been a priority all offseason and they do not appear to have plans to do so now. In fact, Washington seems very content with the current roster it has assembled. That will include entering camp with A.J. Cole as the projected fifth starter, Pedro Severino as the backup catcher and with a number of bullpen arms with recent injury trouble to fill out their middle relief core.

Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox

Still, this team won 97 games a year ago, and is in position to be one of the favorites in the National League this season. So while the Nats will still be looking for deals with potential value as free agents continue to sit unsigned, unless something falls into their lap that is too good to pass up, I don't expect them to capitalize on the market this year.

As for the Game of Thrones-related part two of your question, I'm trying to hold off on thinking about the show to avoid getting sad about no new episodes until 2019.

Tweet from @jbanal: Does the Read suspension increase the odds of making a more significant move at catcher?

Not likely. Raudy Read was at least the fourth catcher on the depth chart entering Spring Training behind Matt Wieters, Severino and Miguel Montero. His suspension could be a setback in his development as the catcher of the future, because he has to miss half a season and is now ineligible for the postseason this year.

The "significant move" you are referring to at catcher is probably Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and not much is new on that front from the Nationals' end. Miami will want a package centered around Washington's top prospects, either Victor Robles or Juan Soto. The Nats will counter with a package focused on their next-tier prospects, Erick Fedde or Carter Kieboom. Neither team has blinked and until then, they are at a stalemate.

Tweet from @bud_zay: Besides Murphy and Eaton, are there any other players nursing ailments coming into training?

Nope. The only players the Nationals expect to start slowly entering Spring Training are Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton. They will be cautious with a few other players, including Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover, who are coming off injuries. But everyone else is expected to be 100 percent healthy when camp opens.

Tweet from @thingslukaseats: Should we expect major changes from the pitchinig staff with the move from Maddux to Lilliquist? How much of the recent national pitching success has come from Maddux, and do you see Lilliquist as an upgrade at the position?

I think it's safe to say that the Nationals' pitching staff is still going to be its strength regardless of who the pitching coach is, because of the track records of the starters in their rotation. Yes, the pitchers enjoyed playing for Mike Maddux and responded well under him, but as Max Scherzer said, a new pitching coach can be a chance to learn.

"I have my routines," Scherzer said at the team's WinterFest. "I know what I'm trying to accomplish. I know what I need to do to get ready for Spring Training. The fun with your pitching coach really doesn't start until about June when you've had a few bad starts and he's made a few bad decisions and you've made a few bad decisions and you can start placing blame on each other."

Evaluating pitching coaches can be difficult, and while I do think Maddux deserves credit, a pitching staff with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark would probably perform well anyway. I'm not sure whether Derek Lilliquist is a clear upgrade, but I do think the Nats did well finding a replacement for Maddux. Lilliquist has been a respected pitching coach in a respected organization, the Cardinals, for years. He has helped develop young pitchers and maintain veteran pitchers, something he will have to balance in Washington.

Tweet from @PippiNatTalking: Any whispers of the Nats buying an AAA team like the Mets and other teams have done?

The Nationals are in the market for a new Triple-A affiliate for the 2019 season after the Mets purchased Triple-A Syracuse in October. Washington has its eye on a few different clubs and would prefer to have its Minor League affiliate on the East Coast, something the team believes they can get done.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals

Inbox: Which Braves could impress at camp?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from fans
MLB.com

What are you most interested in seeing during Spring Training?
-- Jeff P., Roanoke, Va.

While much of the attention will understandably be placed on Ronald Acuna, the strides made this year by the young starting pitchers will have the most significant impact on the club's future. There is far too much inexperience within the pitching staff to label the Braves postseason contenders, but there is also enough talent within this bunch to believe the expectations could be much different next year.

What are you most interested in seeing during Spring Training?
-- Jeff P., Roanoke, Va.

While much of the attention will understandably be placed on Ronald Acuna, the strides made this year by the young starting pitchers will have the most significant impact on the club's future. There is far too much inexperience within the pitching staff to label the Braves postseason contenders, but there is also enough talent within this bunch to believe the expectations could be much different next year.

Like it's far too early to give up on Mike Foltynewicz, it's far too early to anoint Luiz Gohara a legit ace. Like it's far too early to predict Sean Newcomb will never throw enough strikes, it would be premature to assume Mike Soroka or Kolby Allard are going to make an immediate impact when they reach the big league level.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

There's nothing wrong with getting excited about the possibility of using some of these pitching prospects to complete a significant trade. But at the same time, it's best to put yourself in general manager Alex Anthopoulos' shoes and ask, "What exactly do we know about the young pitchers who would garner significant interest?"

Foltynewicz is entering a season that could define his future as a starter or a reliever. A year from now, we could be talking about him potentially serving as a No. 2 starter or closer. His window of opportunity is closing, but it's far from being shut.

Video: MIA@ATL: Foltynewicz fans eight through six frames

As for Gohara, he has totaled just five starts. Yeah, the big lefty's potential is much greater than that of Kyle Davies and other five-start wonders of the past. But it would currently be irresponsible to confidently project him to sit at the top of Atlanta's rotation for many years to come.

Soroka, Allard and Gohara seem to be the cream of the crop of Braves pitchers who could be deemed Major League-ready at some point this year. Kyle Wright could join this group once he has a chance to get better acquainted with professional baseball. And we'll likely hear a lot about the success Ian Anderson and Joey Wentz have this year.

It's going to be interesting to see how Atlanta's rotation takes shape this season and equally interesting to see which prospects move closer to being deemed Major League-ready. The progress made by these pitchers this year will influence Anthopoulos' trade options and also provide a better understanding of whether it is wise to consider the Braves postseason contenders in 2019.

Video: Top Prospects: Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves

With 2019 the target to be competitive, will the Braves focus on making improvements via trades or free-agent signings?
-- Tim H., New Bern, N.C.

The Braves will have the currency necessary to be players within both markets. They'll have $40 to $60 million to spend next offseason and the capability to use some of their top prospects to make a significant trade.

Because so many of the top prospects are either Major League-ready or a step from earning this description, this is one of the most important years within the rebuild. The assets have been developed over the last few years; now it's time to accurately assess their value.

Like Austin Riley's progress this year will impact whether the Braves pursue Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado this offseason, the development of the young arms will give Anthopoulos a better feel for how he might address other needs via a trade.

There is risk involved in essentially every trade. But the risk can at least be deemed more calculated once Anthopoulos gets a chance to watch individual development and formulate an idea of how he would like to put together future rosters.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Riley, 3B, Braves

Who is left to provide Freddie Freeman protection in the lineup?
-- Joe D., Temple, Ga.

I've toyed with a few different options, including batting Freeman second. However you cut it, there is not an optimal answer to this question. If Acuna arrives at some point during the second half of April, he would lengthen the lineup. But it's not like he's going to immediately be placed behind Freeman.

For now, I would assume Tyler Flowers will fill the cleanup spot on those days when he is serving as the catcher. The primary problem here is the Braves essentially had Flowers and Kurt Suzuki sharing the catching duties down the stretch last year.

Video: ATL@NYM: Flowers crushes a two-run jack to left

Even if Flowers were used three out of every five games, you'd have Suzuki or somebody else filling that cleanup spot in 40 percent of the games. Of course, if Suzuki homers once every 10.8 at-bats like he did during last season's final three months, this might not be a problem.

Video: ATL@MIA: Suzuki belts a two-run shot to left-center

Why are the Braves always talking about needing to get a future third baseman? Do they not have confidence in Johan Camargo?
-- Don M., Gainesville, Fla.

When the Braves have discussed Riley's potential or the possibility of acquiring a third baseman, they have simply looked at ways to add much-needed power to their lineup. Camargo has earned the respect of the coaching staff and could be a valuable piece for many years to come. There's a good chance he'll begin this season as the third baseman, and his presence also provides some insurance if shortstop Dansby Swanson's struggles extend into this year.

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo puts Braves up with two-run double

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Johan Camargo, Tyler Flowers, Mike Foltynewicz, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, Kurt Suzuki

Inbox: Biggest issue with new additions?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers questions from Blue Jays fans
MLB.com

Toronto had the eighth-most strikeouts in the American League last year and added high strikeout guys in Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk. Do you see this as being as big of a problem as I do?
-- Glen J., Kamloops, British Columbia

Strikeouts should be a concern, but the bigger issue is on-base percentage. Toronto projects to start five players who finished last season with an OBP below the Major League average of .324: Kendrys Morales (.308), Troy Tulowitzki (.300), Grichuk (.285), Granderson (.323) and Kevin Pillar (.300). Then there's Justin Smoak who finished last season with a .355 OBP but is below average for his career at .317.

Toronto had the eighth-most strikeouts in the American League last year and added high strikeout guys in Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk. Do you see this as being as big of a problem as I do?
-- Glen J., Kamloops, British Columbia

Strikeouts should be a concern, but the bigger issue is on-base percentage. Toronto projects to start five players who finished last season with an OBP below the Major League average of .324: Kendrys Morales (.308), Troy Tulowitzki (.300), Grichuk (.285), Granderson (.323) and Kevin Pillar (.300). Then there's Justin Smoak who finished last season with a .355 OBP but is below average for his career at .317.

Toronto's lineup has more pop following the additions of Grichuk and Granderson, but neither player solves the issue of baserunners. For the extra home runs to really matter, the Blue Jays will need better numbers from Morales and Tulowitzki while Devon Travis will have to consistently reach base to provide run-scoring opportunities for the heart of the order.

:: Submit a question to the Blue Jays Inbox ::

How much money do the Blue Jays have left to spend? I've seen different figures being used by different media organizations.
-- Finlay K., Guelph, Ontario

The Blue Jays typically don't reveal too many specifics about payroll, but internal talk indicated the 2018 total would be very similar to the one used last year. Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro appeared to confirm that during a recent appearance at a youth baseball coaches clinic in Toronto when he stated that Toronto's payroll will "stay the same" this season.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Toronto had a 2017 Opening Day payroll of $163,381,937 for its 25-man roster and a year-end total of $166,152,534 for the 40-man roster. Once Marcus Stroman's situation is settled, the Blue Jays' current estimated payroll will be slightly under $152 million. That leaves Toronto with a low end of $10 million to spend and possibly upwards of $13 million to $14 million. General manager Ross Atkins isn't saying how much Toronto has left, but he did publicly confirm that it was more than $10 million following the addition of Grichuk.

What left-handed reliever outside of Aaron Loup is likely to take a spot in the Opening Day bullpen?
-- @Panikkar37

At this point, I would not be surprised if Loup is the only lefty to head north. Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody should be expected to make regular appearances, but with options remaining on their contracts, a safe bet is for both to open the year in Triple-A Buffalo. Toronto's priority in the bullpen appears to be adding a righty to replace Dominic Leone but some of the lefties still available include Tony Watson, Robbie Ross Jr., Oliver Perez and Fernando Abad.

I have a non-Hot Stove question: Last year, we kept hearing buzz about Rowdy Tellez. And this year, I barely see his name anywhere. Any predictions where he starts the season or what his year could look like?
-- Myrod N., Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

Tellez will return as the starting first baseman for Buffalo, but the lack of hype is natural after he posted a disappointing .628 OPS with six home runs in 122 games. Tellez has since opened up about the off-the-field adversity he faced throughout a trying season as his mother battled cancer.

The family issues understandably took a toll, but Tellez should have a clear head this season and will be looking to put himself back on the radar. The opportunity is there, but this really is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for the 22-year-old, who's ranked as the Blue Jays' No. 11 prospect. Tellez hit 22 home runs in 2016 and will need to rediscover that stroke before any talk of a promotion is entertained.

Anybody else notice that five of the Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects are catchers? Are there discussions being had about dealing from that depth to acquire a Major League-level backup for Russell Martin?
-- Matthew M., Winooski, Vt.

There is no active plan to move any of the catching prospects. The first issue with Minor League catchers is that so few of them actually pan out. A quick walk down memory lane finds the names of A.J. Jimenez, Guillermo Quiroz, Robinzon Diaz, Carlos Perez, J.P. Arencibia and Travis d'Arnaud as the supposed "catcher of the future." All of the players on that list eventually cracked the big leagues, but most of them didn't last and it shows how fickle the position can be with long-term projections.

MLB Pipeline's ranking of Toronto prospects includes No. 8 Max Pentecost, No. 9 Hagen Danner, No. 15 Riley Adams. No. 16 Danny Jansen and No. 21 Reese McGuire. The depth is a positive, and another positive is that all of the catchers are at different stages of development. Danner and Adams are just starting their pro careers, Pentecost is still trying to put together his first full season as a pro, while Jansen and Reese are closer to the big stage. For the foreseeable future, there is no need to pick one catcher over the other.

Modest trade proposal: Outfielders Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Teoscar Hernandez for Carlos Carrasco.
-- Caleb H., Anaheim, Calif.

The Blue Jays are using their surplus of outfielders to explore the trade market, but yeah, this one isn't happening. A more realistic scenario would see Toronto move an outfielder for a fringe bullpen candidate or a pitcher with options who can open the year in the Minors and increase depth.

Toronto Blue Jays

Inbox: Will new coaching staff bring success?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers fans' questions
MLB.com

The coaching staff has seen a lot of turnover. How do you see these changes impacting the team at each position -- specifically hitting (more or less aggressive?), pitching and baserunning?
-- Taylor R., Framingham, Mass.

I think the hitting philosophy will undergo the biggest change. Hitting coach Tim Hyers is a big believer in launch angle, which should help the Red Sox improve their power. Manager Alex Cora has said numerous times he wants his hitters to be hunting for hittable pitches to drive early in the count, which is also a change from what we've seen from the Red Sox in recent years.

The coaching staff has seen a lot of turnover. How do you see these changes impacting the team at each position -- specifically hitting (more or less aggressive?), pitching and baserunning?
-- Taylor R., Framingham, Mass.

I think the hitting philosophy will undergo the biggest change. Hitting coach Tim Hyers is a big believer in launch angle, which should help the Red Sox improve their power. Manager Alex Cora has said numerous times he wants his hitters to be hunting for hittable pitches to drive early in the count, which is also a change from what we've seen from the Red Sox in recent years.

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

Many of the pitchers I've spoken to are very excited about working more closely with Dana LeVangie, who was the bullpen coach the past several years before getting his recent promotion to pitching coach. LeVangie is excellent at spotting mechanical flaws, and he helped many pitchers in his past role.

As far as the baserunning goes, I'd look for more stolen bases. Jackie Bradley Jr. has already mentioned that Cora will give him the green light more often. Xander Bogaerts is another player who could steal more. Mookie Betts had 26 stolen bases last year, but he definitely has the speed to get 30. I'd also look for fewer outs from runners when trying to take an extra base on a batted ball. The Red Sox led the league in running into outs last season, and too many rallies were short-circuited.

Where do you believe the terms will end up being with J.D. Martinez and the Red Sox?
-- Allan Y., Sanford, Maine

Given how long this has taken, I don't think we can say with certainty Martinez ends up in Boston. If he does, I think it will be a five-year deal that includes a sixth-year option that can vest if he has a strong fifth season.

Video: Rosenthal on latest J.D. Martinez-Red Sox rumors

What's your ideal Opening Day lineup?
-- @AlexLaManna

Mookie Betts, RF; Andrew Benintendi, LF; Xander Bogaerts, SS; J.D. Martinez, DH; Rafael Devers, 3B; Hanley Ramirez, 1B; Eduardo Nunez, 2B; Jackie Bradley Jr., CF; Christian Vazquez, C.

If the Red Sox could finally land Martinez, they'd have the prototypical cleanup hitter they need in the middle of an otherwise solid batting order. And by bringing Nunez back, they'd have coverage while Dustin Pedroia is out, and a super-sub with great versatility once Pedroia returns. Betts, Benintendi and Devers are all capable of having big seasons. The Red Sox think it is realistic that Ramirez, Bradley and Bogaerts can all improve on what they did last year because all three players were playing through injuries.

What is the likelihood the Sox walk away from Martinez and go after Carlos Gonzalez for a one-year deal? He will be cheaper plus you add the much-needed bat.
-- @MatthewTellier

I agree that Gonzalez's bat would be much-needed if he returns to his 2015-16 form, rather than last year, when he had 14 homers and a .762 OPS. But given this slow-moving market, there are going to be some bargain deals to be had where you can buy low on some talented players. Gonzalez is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

Do you think the Red Sox are more concerned with signing Bryce Harper next year than J.D. Martinez this year? Do you feel they will "let it ride" this year rather than overpay Martinez?
-- Paul F., Las Vegas, Nev.

I don't think the Red Sox can bank on being able to sign Bryce Harper. It would be great if they did, but the competition for his services is going to be substantial. As for Martinez, the Red Sox think the offer they've made is fair. And unless someone else tops it or gets close to it, I don't think they feel compelled to up it.

Why have we not re-signed Nunez? He was a spark last year after we got him in a trade.
-- Richard W., Vernon

The Red Sox have stayed in contact with Nunez and there's still a chance for a reunion. I agree that getting him back makes a lot of sense, particularly with Pedroia out for the first few weeks of the season. It could be that Nunez is seeking a more defined role somewhere else.

Video: Outlook: Nunez offers solid speed, contributions

How is David Price feeling in regards to his arm? And is he ready to prove he is still a frontline starter?
-- Frank, Torrington, Conn.

Price is already working out at Spring Training and said that his elbow feels great. This is good news. I think his performance will be a big factor in how far the Red Sox can go this year. And yes, he very much wants to prove that he's still a frontline starter. Most importantly, he just wants to stay healthy.

Video: Outlook: Price looking to bounce back in a big way

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox

Inbox: Will D-backs look to improve OF depth?

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert fields questions from fans
MLB.com

What can the D-backs do to improve their outfield?
-- Bob, Oro Valley, Ariz.

I still think the D-backs have one more move in them before the regular season begins, and it's to add an outfielder. After the starting three -- A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas -- they really don't have much depth. Is it possible they enter the season with Socrates Brito as a backup and also use Chris Owings and Chris Herrmann out there? Sure, but I think their goal is to add an outfielder.

What can the D-backs do to improve their outfield?
-- Bob, Oro Valley, Ariz.

I still think the D-backs have one more move in them before the regular season begins, and it's to add an outfielder. After the starting three -- A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas -- they really don't have much depth. Is it possible they enter the season with Socrates Brito as a backup and also use Chris Owings and Chris Herrmann out there? Sure, but I think their goal is to add an outfielder.

Hot Stove Tracker

Speaking of Owings, judging by what manager Torey Lovullo said this winter, it looks like he plans on moving Owings around at a number of different positions, including the outfield.

:: Submit a question to the D-backs Inbox ::

If the D-backs trade a middle infielder, which one and for what piece of the puzzle?
-- C.T., Phoenix

My guess on the middle infielder who is most likely to be moved would be Brandon Drury, for a couple of reasons. First, I think he's probably a better third baseman than second baseman, but with Jake Lamb there, third is not really an option. Second, I think of all those middle-infield guys, he would probably bring the best return. (Ketel Marte would also likely bring back some nice players, but I think they want to hang on to him.) Owings is unlikely to be traded because of his versatility and leadership in the clubhouse.

Video: Owings may help D-backs' outfield depth in 2018

With the D-backs' selection of first baseman Pavin Smith in last year's Draft, it seems like the organization could be prepping for an eventual Paul Goldschmidt departure. Was this the case, or did they see Smith as the most valuable player available when they selected him? Also, what is the likelihood of Goldschmidt getting an extension to keep him in Arizona for his entire career?
-- Tom S., Dublin, Ohio

When it comes to the Draft in baseball, it doesn't make much sense to select a player based on need because unlike the other sports, almost every player is going to spend a couple of years in the Minor Leagues and needs to develop, and as we've seen, some don't pan out. So I don't believe he was taken with the thought that he would be Goldschmidt's replacement, even though he could end up being just that. It seems unlikely right now that the D-backs are going to be able to sign Goldschmidt to an extension, but that's another couple of years down the road, so that could certainly change.

Video: Smith developing into a top prospect

What does the D-backs' starting rotation look like? Will Archie Bradley start or be a workhorse reliever?
-- Craig, Phoenix

According to what we've heard from Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen, it looks like heading into Spring Training, the rotation will be Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley, with Bradley again pitching out of the bullpen.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Owings

Inbox: Is Perez a lock to be Tribe's starting C?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Everywhere I look I see that Roberto Perez is listed as the starting catcher. Is this something that is for sure set in stone or is it fluid going into Spring Training?
-- Matt, Dublin, Ohio

No, Matt, I wouldn't say it is set in stone that Perez is the starting catcher for the Indians. When Spring Training begins, what I expect you'll hear from manager Terry Francona is that either Perez or Yan Gomes could get the call on any given night. They have each built a strong rapport with the pitching staff and are especially valued for what they bring defensively.

Everywhere I look I see that Roberto Perez is listed as the starting catcher. Is this something that is for sure set in stone or is it fluid going into Spring Training?
-- Matt, Dublin, Ohio

No, Matt, I wouldn't say it is set in stone that Perez is the starting catcher for the Indians. When Spring Training begins, what I expect you'll hear from manager Terry Francona is that either Perez or Yan Gomes could get the call on any given night. They have each built a strong rapport with the pitching staff and are especially valued for what they bring defensively.

That said, there is a reason for Perez currently being billed as the No. 1 catcher in this 1A and 1B situation that Cleveland has behind the plate. When last season ended, Perez had started to assume a higher percentage of the innings for the Indians.

:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::

Overall in the 2017 regular season, Gomes logged 96 starts and caught 856 innings. He caught runners at a 42.1-percent clip and Cleveland's pitchers posted a 3.36 ERA with him doing the catching. Perez handled 580 2/3 innings and made 66 starts in the regular season, cutting down would-be basestealers at a 43.3-percent rate, and the staff pitched to a 3.22 ERA with him behind the plate.

Video: NYY@CLE Gm2: Statcast™ measures Gomes' pickoff in 11th

Gomes caught more innings in each month from April through August, but Perez saw his workload increase over the final two months. In fact, Gomes (286 2/3) and Perez (278) nearly caught the same total of innings from August through the end of the Indians' postseason run. Perez did start to see a higher percentage of innings down the stretch, though.

Perez logged 146 innings compared to 120 for Gomes in September and also caught more innings (32) than Gomes (15) in the American League Division Series. From the start of Cleveland's 22-game winning streak (Aug. 24) through the end of the ALDS, Perez covered 205 innings vs. 171 for Gomes. This spring, we'll learn more about how Francona plans to divvy up his catchers' duties this year.

Tweet from @jjsnowcat: Can you give me some statistical analysis of @VizquelOmar13's HOF chances after 37% on his first ballot. Have any players ever climbed up from 37 to the Hall in the past? What does 37 mean for his future chances. I'm personally in the camp that that many Gold Gloves is #HOFworthy

Instead of going through every Hall of Fame ballot since 1936, I looked at the 30 years prior to the 2018 ballot, in which Omar Vizquel garnered 37 percent of the vote. I cast a slightly wider net, narrowing the field to players who earned between 20-45 percent of the vote on the first try. I included Andre Dawson, who netted 45.3 percent in his first year on the ballot in 2002.

There were 29 players who fit that criteria. Within that group, seven went on to earn a place in the Hall of Fame via voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Goose Gossage, Gary Carter, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice and Dawson. One more, Jack Morris, was voted into the Hall this year by the Modern Era Committee.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Video: Posnanski on Vizquel's first year on the HOF ballot

The seven I noted (not counting Morris) needed an average of 9.9 years on the ballot to finally get in via the BBWAA. That, however, includes two (Sutter and Rice) who were voted in between Years 11-15 on the ballot. Now, a player can only remain on a ballot for 10 years. So, that leaves five out of 29 whom the BBWAA eventually voted in before they reached a decade on the ballot.

What does this mean for Vizquel? It means he's going to need some good campaigning over the next several years to convince the voters who didn't check his name this year. It will also help if the current logjam of names on the ballot is loosened up over the next few rounds of voting. Advanced metrics are not really on Vizquel's side, so his case will likely have to be helped by strong endorsements from those who watched him play or played alongside him.

Video: Thome thinks Vizquel is a Hall of Famer too

Tweet from @yeah_mitch: What is the likelihood of Mike Clevinger starting the year in AAA to retain an extra year of team control? Ideally, a strong spring completely ends that rumor, right? #IndiansInbox (Daniel Mitchell, Ashland)

If all of the Indians' rotation options get through Spring Training healthy and pitch well in the preseason, something will have to give. That could mean someone goes to the bullpen, or it could mean someone goes to the Minors. In Clevinger's case, he has a Minor League option remaining. So, if Cleveland wants to maintain depth at the start of the season without messing around with a move to the 'pen, I could see Clevinger opening at Triple-A Columbus. I think sending the righty down would have more to do with that than anything involving his service time.

Tweet from @hogsback10: are the Indian set with Kip at 2 base? I loved Urshella at 3rd. Is he going to start in the minors this year? #indiansinbox

So much depends on where Michael Brantley is in his comeback from right ankle surgery as Opening Day approaches. Jason Kipnis fits the roster best as Cleveland's second baseman, but I could still see a scenario where he moved to left if Brantley's rehab lasts into April. That would open the door for Jose Ramirez to play second, and give guys like Yandy Diaz and Giovanny Urshela a shot at winning the job at third. If everyone is healthy, Urshela would probably be up against Erik Gonzalez for a utility role off the bench. Both Urshela and Gonzalez are out of options.

Video: MIN@CLE: Urshela makes a great diving stop at third

Is there a reason Tyler Naquin doesn't seem to be in the outfield conversation much anymore? His 2016 rookie season was a pleasant surprise, but he barely got any time with the team last year. He didn't have a good showing in his 19 games with the club in 2017, but that's a small sample size and his Triple-A numbers were solid (.833 OPS, 131 wRC+).
-- Phillip C., Bellbrook, Ohio

It's a no-room-in-the-inn situation for Naquin at the moment, if everyone is healthy. Bradley Zimmer is the favorite to return for center field and Lonnie Chisenhall (right) and Brantley (left) have the corners covered. Now, as noted earlier, if Brantley isn't ready for Opening Day, maybe that gives someone like Naquin an opening. Cleveland is also factoring in that all of these outfielders hit from the left side. That is why a right-handed hitter like Melvin Upton Jr. is being brought into camp and why the Tribe is still exploring right-handed options on the market.

Who else will be playing first base besides Yonder Alonso? Could he platoon with Chisenhall perhaps?
-- Kiran R., Atlanta

Platooning with Chisenhall would not make much sense, considering they both hit from the left side. If Alonso is out of the lineup, though, Chisenhall could certainly serve as a backup for that spot. Edwin Encarnacion will get the bulk of the at-bats as a designated hitter again, but he can also back up Alonso at first. I could also see Diaz potentially getting reps at first this spring to see if his right-handed bat might fit there on occasion. Urshela also got some limited action at first base last year.

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, Mike Clevinger, Yan Gomes, Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez, Giovanny Urshela

Inbox: Which Rays prospects make OD roster?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain fields Tampa Bay fans' questions
MLB.com

I have been a Rays fan since Day 1. Do you think any of the prospects make Opening Day? If so, then whom? Also, how long do you think it'll be until we see a competitive team again?
--Brandon Y., Duncannon, Pa.

Good question, Brandon. Since we don't know the composition of this year's team yet, here's my best guess. Of all the young players in camp, I believe Brent Honeywell, Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, and Jaime Schultz are the top contenders to earn spots on the team out of Spring Training. While I believe all will be in the Major Leagues with the Rays this season, I believe Schultz will definitely be with the team when they break camp, and he will be a weapon out of the bullpen. I also believe Arroyo will be there. Of course, he made his debut with the Giants last season. Honeywell would be the next most likely candidate, but given the depth of starters at this juncture, the Rays could stagger the start of his big league career by having him begin the season at Triple-A Durham. As for Bauers, the Rays' first-base plans are unknown at this point, though Brad Miller appears to be the most likely candidate. And Adeiny Hechavarria would be the starting shortstop at this point, which would block Adames, unless they switch him to second.

I have been a Rays fan since Day 1. Do you think any of the prospects make Opening Day? If so, then whom? Also, how long do you think it'll be until we see a competitive team again?
--Brandon Y., Duncannon, Pa.

Good question, Brandon. Since we don't know the composition of this year's team yet, here's my best guess. Of all the young players in camp, I believe Brent Honeywell, Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, and Jaime Schultz are the top contenders to earn spots on the team out of Spring Training. While I believe all will be in the Major Leagues with the Rays this season, I believe Schultz will definitely be with the team when they break camp, and he will be a weapon out of the bullpen. I also believe Arroyo will be there. Of course, he made his debut with the Giants last season. Honeywell would be the next most likely candidate, but given the depth of starters at this juncture, the Rays could stagger the start of his big league career by having him begin the season at Triple-A Durham. As for Bauers, the Rays' first-base plans are unknown at this point, though Brad Miller appears to be the most likely candidate. And Adeiny Hechavarria would be the starting shortstop at this point, which would block Adames, unless they switch him to second.

Video: Top Prospects: Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays

:: Submit a question to the Rays Inbox ::

Who is your favorite upcoming player that you think will make the most difference in the Rays' club in 2018 and/or 2019?
--Zach M., Virginia Beach

My favorite to watch is Bauers. I loved watching him hit last spring, and I like the way he plays the game. He's understated and respectful, he is a disciplined hitter, and when he connects, the baseball turns little in a hurry.

Video: Top Prospects: Jake Bauers, 1B, Rays

With the free-agent market still moving slowly, what are the chances the Rays could re-sign Logan Morrison? Surely the longer he's available, the better shot they have. Thank you!
--Jeff C., Atlanta

From everything I observed, Morrison and the Rays parted on good terms. As you've noted, the free-agent market is moving slowly, so I think that paves the way for more bargains as players try to find jobs. Having the 30-year-old Morrison back would certainly help this year's team on and off the field.

I think Denard Span is a quality player, and he could definitely give the Rays' outfield, and their offense, a boost. I'm just scratching my head as to why the Rays traded for him. From everything I've read, the Rays are set on reducing their payroll, yet Span will make $11 million this season. What gives?
--Jeff P., Tampa

I'm still scratching my head, too, Jeff. I've seen Span play a lot of quality baseball -- he's a good player! But the $11 million salary for 2018 just doesn't jive with the direction in which the Rays seemingly want to travel. My best guess is that they planned on grabbing him and sending him elsewhere, but the clogged up free-agent market put the brakes on that scenario. On the bright side, if Span ends up on the team, the Rays will have added a positive force to their offense.

Video: LAA@TB: Stanek strikes out the side in the 8th

Of all the youngsters you saw last season, which one do you believe will do better this season?
--Paul R., Tampa

I like Ryne Stanek. The hard-throwing right-hander, who is 26 years old, had his welcome to the Major Leagues last season, and he showed some pluses and some minuses. If Stanek can find the strike zone a little more often and his off-speed pitch comes along, he could be a big-time force in the bullpen. Based on how Stanek handled being sent down last year, and how positive he remained, I believe he has the right mentality to make the necessary improvements to find excellence.

Tampa Bay Rays

Inbox: Will Rizzo get another crack at leadoff?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from Cubs fans
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo as the leadoff man, Ian Happ, Dillon Maples and more are among the topics in this edition of the Cubs Inbox.

It seems the big question has been who should lead off. Looking at last year, there was a period that stuck out the most and turned the season around. Rizzo deserves the nod as the leadoff batter. Certainly not a prototypical leadoff batter by any stretch, however, he has provided a spark that hasn't been seen since Dexter Fowler. What are your thoughts on this option?
-- Matt M., Peoria, Ill.

CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo as the leadoff man, Ian Happ, Dillon Maples and more are among the topics in this edition of the Cubs Inbox.

It seems the big question has been who should lead off. Looking at last year, there was a period that stuck out the most and turned the season around. Rizzo deserves the nod as the leadoff batter. Certainly not a prototypical leadoff batter by any stretch, however, he has provided a spark that hasn't been seen since Dexter Fowler. What are your thoughts on this option?
-- Matt M., Peoria, Ill.

I can understand why you'd lobby for Rizzo. According to Elias Sports, he's the only player in the past 60 seasons to reach base safely to start a game in each of his first seven career games batting leadoff. He hit three home runs, a double and two singles in those seven games. He's a natural, right? But as much fun as Rizzo had being the self-proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter of all time, I'd keep him at either third or fourth in the lineup where he'll have a better opportunity to drive in runs. He's driven in at least 100 runs in each of his past three seasons and batted .283 with runners in scoring position last year. Who will lead off? The Cubs might rotate players -- they used 11 last season -- or rely on two or three, including Ben Zobrist.

What does this season hold for Happ?
-- Christopher P., Chicago

A lot of opportunities. Happ provided more power than expected (24 home runs) and was versatile, which manager Joe Maddon likes. This season should be much better for him because he knows what to expect in terms of the daily grind, travel and opponents (He batted .297 vs. NL Central teams.)

Is there any chance Maddon will let Kyle Schwarber do any limited catching this year? Just in case, or to give the regular catchers a few innings off.
-- Craig M., Lewistown, Ill.

As of now, Schwarber is considered the emergency catcher, which means he's No. 3 on the depth chart. He'll probably get some time behind the plate in Spring Training.

Video: Kyle Schwarber's focus and routine in the offseason

Why no buzz about Maples? He got his feet wet last year, throws 100-plus with a wipeout slider. Kind of sounds like [Aroldis] Chapman but with a better slider. Why isn't he penciled in for the Cubs' 2018 bullpen?
-- Mike K., San Tan Valley, Ariz.

The Cubs do like what they've seen from Maples, 25, and his slider. He just needs more experience and to be more consistent. One of the things Maples is learning to do is pitch backward, which means using his secondary pitches instead of the fastball early in the count. He has only 17 games and 18 1/3 innings at Triple-A. Hopefully, he makes the jump to the big leagues full-time this year.

No one has signed Jon Jay. You would think he'd come back in a backup/pinch-hit role with the Cubs. His defense could be very valuable.
-- Guillermo M., San Diego

Jay, 32, was very valuable to the Cubs last season and not just because of his defense but his experience. He's one of the more than 100 free agents still on the market in the slow-moving offseason. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described conversations with agents as "a little bit of a staredown." Let's see who blinks first.

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