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Inbox: What should fans expect from Grandal?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy fields questions from Crew fans
MLB.com

Since 2015, the highest workload catcher under Craig Counsell has averaged 736 innings per year (Manny Pina: 743 innings in 2018). Yasmani Grandal has been a workhorse the past two years -- 1,000+ innings behind the dish in each of his past two seasons. What do you expect his workload to look like in 2019?
-- @ZacZiebarth on Twitter

I would expect the switch-hitting, 30-year-old Grandal to play virtually every day, and would attribute the shared innings under Counsell more to circumstances than to a philosophy about the position. In 2015, when Counsell took over as manager, Jonathan Lucroy missed significant time with a fractured toe on his left foot. In '16, Lucroy was traded (twice, if you remember). That offseason, Martin Maldonado was traded, too, in return for Jett Bandy, who was unable to secure the job during a '17 season in which Stephen Vogt was brought in to platoon with Pina. Then Vogt got hurt last spring, Bandy was designated for assignment in May and Erik Kratz was brought in to split time with Pina.

Since 2015, the highest workload catcher under Craig Counsell has averaged 736 innings per year (Manny Pina: 743 innings in 2018). Yasmani Grandal has been a workhorse the past two years -- 1,000+ innings behind the dish in each of his past two seasons. What do you expect his workload to look like in 2019?
-- @ZacZiebarth on Twitter

I would expect the switch-hitting, 30-year-old Grandal to play virtually every day, and would attribute the shared innings under Counsell more to circumstances than to a philosophy about the position. In 2015, when Counsell took over as manager, Jonathan Lucroy missed significant time with a fractured toe on his left foot. In '16, Lucroy was traded (twice, if you remember). That offseason, Martin Maldonado was traded, too, in return for Jett Bandy, who was unable to secure the job during a '17 season in which Stephen Vogt was brought in to platoon with Pina. Then Vogt got hurt last spring, Bandy was designated for assignment in May and Erik Kratz was brought in to split time with Pina.

Submit a question to the Brewers Inbox

Had there been a Grandal-caliber catcher at Counsell's disposal for the duration of any one of those seasons, he probably would have played regularly. Grandal represents a significant upgrade at the position, as we wrote when news of his one-year deal broke.

Tweet from @brewcrewsean: I assume Pina is trade bait now? Will Nottingham get a shot at backing up Grandal? Or is it Kratz for one more year since they resigned him?

To be determined. We have heard some rumblings about trade interest in Pina, and that obviously becomes more doable with Grandal in the fold. But it's also quite possible that the Brewers go to Spring Training with all four of these catchers and push the decision to a later date. Jacob Nottingham still has options, and while Pina's $1.6 million salary is guaranteed, all but $300,000 of Kratz's contract is non-guaranteed. Keeping all of them would provide insurance in the event someone, I don't know, steps on a cactus.

Tweet from @BillBatterman: How much added value���if any���do you think Grandal brings MIL from knowing LA's pitching philosophies & game plans? LA ranked 2nd, 5th, 2nd, & 2nd in MLB in RA/G during Grandal's tenure & has a reputation as a cutting edge pitching org. How much can the Brewers benefit from that?

Interesting idea. It can't hurt, although I would give Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen & Co. some credit for those pitching numbers as well. Where Grandal excels is pitch framing, as my colleague David Adler wrote in November. If you're interested in a deep dive into that topic, I highly suggest giving that story a look.

Tweet from @schnabljr: How many home runs will Grandal hit in Miller Park?

I departed the prediction business the year I predicted on Opening Day that Matt Garza would throw a no-hitter for the Brewers, and instead he was sent home before the end of the season. But assuming Grandal stays healthy, I would take the over on his 24 home runs last season with the Dodgers. Think about some of the left-handed hitters with pop who have been acquired by general manager David Stearns in recent years: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Christian Yelich. All topped 30 homers while playing home games at Miller Park.

Tweet from @andy_fagan7: What would the Brewers have to give up for a Madison Bumgarner trade and do you think Joe Panik could be involved?

It's so hard to guess from the outside. All I can say is that MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported the initial talks had San Francisco asking for one of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes or Freddy Peralta to be involved. Color me skeptical that the Brewers would trade five or six years of control of one of those three MLB-caliber pitchers for one year of Bumgarner. Perhaps I'll be proven wrong.

As for Joe Panik, he could certainly fit at second base for the Brewers. Two years of control. Bounce-back candidate. And, yes, a left-handed hitter. One potential snag: High on the Giants' wish list is an outfielder, and the Brewers already traded away Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton.

Tweet from @Gravityily: Thoughts on Lowrie for a year as a stop gap?

Unfortunately for Brett and many other readers who were on the Jed Lowrie train, he agreed to terms Thursday afternoon with the Mets. The terms, per our Mark Feinsand: Two years, $20 million. And that was the rub all along; he's not exactly a stopgap. With Keston Hiura and Mauricio Dubon coming, and the likes of Shaw controllable for three more years, it seems more likely that the Brewers wait out a one-year deal with another player left on the market. We looked into that a bit on Thursday.

Tweet from @jjwitra1989: Would Marwin Gonzalez be the best fit because of his ability to play everywhere?

Yes. But playing everywhere comes at a cost in today's game, both in terms of dollars and, just as significantly, years. I'm not so sure the Brewers would be willing to make a long-term commitment to Marwin Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client.

On to some quality bonus content:

Tweet from @BoogSciambi: Can we get a full transcript of this?

"From my perspective, I think just having this facility, how proud we are to be able to host Hall of Fame entertainers like Billy in a baseball stadium, in a great venue. Singing with your friends, with 40,000 other friends, is really an incredible experience.

"One of my first cassettes, which is going to state my age -- and I probably bought it because I loved the artwork on '52nd Street,' the album. When I was asked to do this, the first thing I thought about was 52nd Street and 'Big Shot,' 'My Life,' 'Honesty,' 'Rosalinda's Eyes.' It was just a great album and I still remember it. I've actually been listening to it the last couple of days because of this. Billy's got such a great songbook, and I'm sure will put on a tremendous show.

"And I also think of Billy as playing baseball stadiums. Especially New York: Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. To bring him to Miller Park is a true thrill for all of us."

A true thrill, indeed. Counsell won two World Series rings, but that minute and a half on Billy Joel might be his most masterful performance yet.

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Yasmani Grandal

Inbox: Should Braves give Pollock 1-year deal?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields fans' questions
MLB.com

Could Alex Anthopoulos go with a one-year deal for $18-20 million for A.J. Pollock? Other than Pollock, what options seem likely for the corner-outfield spot?
-- @kitcopeland51 via Twitter

Given every deal includes some sort of risk, it would certainly be more comfortable to make this kind of gamble on Pollock as opposed to providing the multiyear deal he's seeking. The hesitance in making Pollock a multiyear offer is rooted in the fact he has not played more than 113 games during any of the three seasons that have followed his down-ballot 2015 season.

Could Alex Anthopoulos go with a one-year deal for $18-20 million for A.J. Pollock? Other than Pollock, what options seem likely for the corner-outfield spot?
-- @kitcopeland51 via Twitter

Given every deal includes some sort of risk, it would certainly be more comfortable to make this kind of gamble on Pollock as opposed to providing the multiyear deal he's seeking. The hesitance in making Pollock a multiyear offer is rooted in the fact he has not played more than 113 games during any of the three seasons that have followed his down-ballot 2015 season.

But a player in this position also certainly has reason to seek the insurance provided by a multiyear deal. The Braves' ability to complete a one-year, $23 million deal with Josh Donaldson was influenced by proximity to his home, his childhood fandom of the Braves and the relationship he already shared with general manager Anthopoulos.

Let's just say Pollock reaches a point where he'd be willing to accept the offer you've proposed, the Braves would have the financial flexibility necessary to complete such a deal. But there is certainly plenty of reason to be concerned about the medical history of this outfielder, who fractured his right hand in 2014, fractured his elbow in '16, missed significant time with a groin strain in '17 and missed a portion of last year with a fractured left thumb.

At least two of these injuries (fractured elbow and fractured thumb) were a result of aggressive plays made in the field. Still, even if you're going to say these were freak injuries that likely won't occur again, before making any kind of significant commitment for one year or more, you have to account for the mounting lingering effects.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

Pollock, 31, hit .236 with 10 homers (one homer per 26.3 at-bats) and produced a .704 OPS in the 73 games played after he returned to action in 2018. Donaldson hit .280 with three homers and a .920 OPS in the 16 regular-season games he played after returning from the disabled list last year. The small sample size does not erase the risk factor associated with his $23 million deal.

Nor should his presence erase thoughts of the Braves taking a one-year chance on Pollock if given the opportunity. But doubling down can be every bit as painful as it can be profitable.

Is your New Year's resolution to mention J.T. Realmuto in every Inbox this year a hint that Anthopoulos is about to drop a Realmuto trade on us? Might wanna hurry, the Dodgers will be in hot pursuit after Yasmani Grandal signed with the Brewers.
-- @jase1129 via Twitter

I get what you're saying, but the only reason this landscape change would hurt the Braves would be if the Marlins stick to their reluctance to trade a two-year asset within a division they won't have a chance to win within the next two seasons.

We've discussed this multiple times over the past couple of months, and as the holiday season approached, I mentioned the altering landscape might eventually favor the Braves, who have the prospect assets available to trump most any offer Miami might receive.

The Braves haven't placed a significant focus on Realmuto since meeting with the Marlins during the early portion of the Winter Meetings. This isn't to say they haven't occasionally checked to see if the price has dropped, much like some of you might do while viewing StubHub for Super Bowl tickets over the next few weeks. But this due diligence has not seemingly created any recent traction.

At this moment, is Nick Markakis the favorite to be our Opening Day right fielder?
-- @JackPonthie via Twitter

If I was setting the odds, I'd probably list him as the favorite, simply because when there is not an obvious option for either party, you tend to lean toward the safe feeling of familiarity. Coming off a season during which he won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award, Markakis is understandably seeking a multiyear deal or a raise of the $11 million salary he received each of the past four years in Atlanta.

Markakis' second-half regression creates a concern. But if it reaches a point where he's willing to accept a one-year deal that may include an option, he might prove to be the best option. But the Braves will likely continue to evaluate potential trades and Pollock's market before creating a potential reunion.

I dare you to include Realmuto in this answer. Is Austin Riley a legitimate option to play left field this year?
-- @MicahGarner50 via Twitter

Not if he gets traded to the Marlins.

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

Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis

Inbox: Is Arenado's future in Denver?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers fans' questions
MLB.com

With Spring Training rapidly approaching, Rockies fans have a lot on their minds, especially in the wake of the announcement that the club and Nolan Arenado are heading to what could be a record-setting arbitration hearing. We will look at Arenado's long-term outlook and more in the latest Inbox.

With Spring Training rapidly approaching, Rockies fans have a lot on their minds, especially in the wake of the announcement that the club and Nolan Arenado are heading to what could be a record-setting arbitration hearing. We will look at Arenado's long-term outlook and more in the latest Inbox.

Tweet from @malone_dts: How realistic is a deal with Nolan? Will he want to test free agency

Players and teams exchanged figures Friday as part of the arbitration process, and it's expected that Arenado could end up with around $25 million for 2019. But that's a starting point to what the Rockies hope is a multi-year contract.

All along, I've said the contracts of Bryce Harper and, especially, Manny Machado will help color Arenado's market value.

:: Submit a question to the Rockies Inbox ::

What I won't say is Arenado's signing is contingent on his love for Denver or whether the Rockies show him they want to contend. Building a pitching staff answered the latter question. It comes down to whether they can agree on a deal for one of the top players of this generation.

Tweet from @mtromero: What name in the pipeline should we be talking about that hasn���t come up yet (i.e not Rodgers, Dahl etc), but could make an impact in 2019?

Right-handed pitcher Peter Lambert, the Rockies' No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, went 10-7 with a 3.28 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A last season. While there is pitching depth, if Lambert can fully master a mid-80s slider to go with a 92-94-mph fastball and a changeup (currently his best pitch), he is part of the starting rotation's depth picture.

Tweet from @Dirtydanbath: Does Tom Murphy get another chance at being a regular catcher?

Tom Murphy flashed a power bat on occasion, but he got into some bad swing habits and let some defensive flaws show up at key times in games. The chance is still there, as the Rockies haven't added a veteran catcher to the Major League roster. But he'll have to make clear steps forward without backsliding.

Tweet from @LucaDomenighini: Thought on Jeff Hoffmann?

The most-touted piece in the 2015 trade that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, Jeff Hoffman hasn't gained Major League footing. In 2018, Hoffman had a shot to push his way into the starting rotation, but a right shoulder impingement that he suffered in Spring Training scuttled that chance. Hoffman couldn't find consistency in stints with Colorado, during which he was used as a starter and a reliever.

The Rockies didn't call him up at season's end, believing that he would not be used out of the bullpen, and needed a full offseason to regroup. It's an interesting time for Hoffman. He enters camp in his last year of Minor League options as a big part of the Rockies' depth picture, but if he turns heads or if injuries occur, he could find himself as a member of the rotation.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Nolan Arenado

Inbox: What do the Reds plan to do in center?

Beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers questions from fans
MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- Center field is a big question weighing on the minds of Reds fans, so without further ado here are some answers to fans' queries.

With the Reds needing a center fielder, can you see them going after either Denard Span or Adam Jones?
-- Dan D., Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- Center field is a big question weighing on the minds of Reds fans, so without further ado here are some answers to fans' queries.

With the Reds needing a center fielder, can you see them going after either Denard Span or Adam Jones?
-- Dan D., Cincinnati

• Submit a question to the Reds Inbox

Either guy might work as a shorter-term solution until the Reds are ready to try prospects like Taylor Trammell or Jose Siri. Span will be 35 this season and played mostly left field last season for Seattle and Tampa Bay. But he can get on base pretty regularly, and his declining speed wouldn't be a big liability on defense at Great American Ball Park.

Jones, 33, has seen his power production decline the last couple of seasons -- especially in 2018. His defensive metrics in center field are also lacking. But he could certainly benefit from hitting in GABP, and his sterling reputation as a fan favorite in Baltimore and as a good clubhouse guy would also be welcomed.

Many names have been mentioned for center field, how about Jesse Winker? Is he capable of [playing] that position?
-- George S., Owensboro, Ky.

I would say there is no chance of Winker playing center, since he lacks range -- even for the smaller ballpark. If he lacked in one area of his game as a corner outfielder, it would definitely be on defense. But it's also something I know he will be working on trying to improve.

Video: CIN@KC: Winker runs down a fly ball at the track

Is there any sort of plan moving forward on Brandon Finnegan? Would he be agreeable to competing for a bullpen spot this spring?
-- @newtonrm on Twitter

I've asked around about Finnegan and the club has been non-committal about his role. He has experience as a reliever, and his starting experience would make him capable of working multiple innings and situations. I personally think his future would be better served out of the bullpen. As for whether he would be agreeable or not, he does not have the standing to disagree with whatever the club decides. That's especially true after his poor 2018 season that was mostly spent at Triple-A.

If it came down to it, which player would the Reds likely spend on: Dallas Keuchel to solidify the rotation or A.J. Pollock to solidify the outfield?
-- Ken M., Sanford, N.C.

If faced with just those two options only in an either-or scenario, I'd say Keuchel. He can be a bigger difference maker in an area of weakness from last season. The Reds could get by with Yasiel Puig, Scott Schebler or Nick Senzel in center field if they had to this season and have some good prospects not too far away from being ready.

Do you think the Reds gave up too [many of] their prospects [in] the trade with the Dodgers? I believe all three [players received] will be free [agents] after the end of the season, and I don't see the Reds re-signing any of them.
-- Donny B., Greensburg, Ind.

I don't think they gave up too much to get Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer in the deal on Dec. 21. Besides moving Homer Bailey and his contract, Cincinnati dealt two prospects in Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs. Both Minor Leaguers were certainly coveted and in the MLB Pipeline Top 30 for the organization, but they likely were several years away from the big leagues. And with Puig, Kemp and Wood all a year from being free agents, the Reds will have some options.

If the team is competitive, the Reds could have the benefit of keeping them all season and making them qualifying offers. If they are rejected, they would provide higher compensation Draft picks equal to or better than where they got Gray and Downs the last two Drafts. And if Cincinnati doesn't meet its goal of competing in the division, all three players could be quality chips at the Trade Deadline.

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: Will Mets enter Harper sweepstakes?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Just like that, there's less than a month to go before Spring Training. It's time for another batch of questions and answers:

Hi Anthony. Question for you: Why don't the Mets sign Bryce Harper?
-- @do_notpassgo via Twitter

Just like that, there's less than a month to go before Spring Training. It's time for another batch of questions and answers:

Hi Anthony. Question for you: Why don't the Mets sign Bryce Harper?
-- @do_notpassgo via Twitter

Look, I'm with you. I've made it clear on my various soapboxes that the Mets should sign Harper, which would transform their offseason from a good one to a transcendent one. I don't care that the deal might not look great on the back end, or that there are imperfections to his game. Harper is a generational talent. Every team should want him.

But it's not my money. Teams have budgets, and the Mets' appears to be somewhere in the range of $150-$160 million for 2019. Maybe as we get into late January or even February, Harper's market diminishes to the extent that he's willing to take a shorter or cheaper deal. Maybe the Mets surprise everyone and make a real run at him regardless.

Until that happens, we have to operate under the assumptions that the last decade has taught us: The Mets aren't going to compete for payroll supremacy, meaning players such as Harper are largely off-limits for them. They'll have to find more creative ways to keep pace.

:: Submit a question to the Mets Inbox ::

Since the Mets at this point may or may not make any more "game-changing" moves, what current rostered player can have the type of the breakout/comeback/Jacob deGrom-esque season that will make us say, "Wow"?
-- Elipshetz52 via Twitter

Certainly, Zack Wheeler's name springs to mind. If Wheeler can even come close to repeating his second half of 2018 over a full season, he'll be a dynamic, All-Star caliber pitcher. Jeff McNeil is another player with breakout potential, though it's unclear how the addition of Jed Lowrie will affect him. We saw what he could do over 248 plate appearances.

Video: ATL@NYM: Wheeler whiffs Freeman to K the side in 1st

We've also talked all winter about the Mets' young lineup core of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario. All of them enjoyed varying levels of success in '18. All were inconsistent. If one or more of those players develop into legitimate stars in '19, the Mets will be in a much better place.

McNeil's bat should be in the lineup every day. Can he play center field, and will they let him audition there at Spring Training?
-- @zdee31 via Twitter

Center field is probably a stretch for McNeil -- not because he can't play it, but because if a situation arose where he needed to start every day in the outfield, the Mets would probably be better served playing Nimmo, Conforto or Juan Lagares in center, and McNeil at a corner. McNeil saw plenty of time in left field in college, and actually did appear in center a few times early in his Minor League career. His biggest challenge in a super-sub role may not be adapting to the outfield, but to first base, where he boasts little experience.

Video: ATL@NYM: McNeil takes flight for a stellar grab

Who can convince Lagares to not dive for every ball, so he can play a full season?
-- @BobPav via Twitter

We saw that in 2015, didn't we? Notably less aggressive on defense while he nursed an injured arm, Lagares simply wasn't the same player as in his Gold Glove season. And that's the rub for a standout defender like Lagares. Take away his aggressiveness, maybe he stays healthy, but maybe also his impact lessens. If I'm the Mets, I don't want to change what makes him great, even if it means accepting the likelihood of injury.

I'd be curious about the organization's view on spin rate. The Astros are reportedly kicking the tires on a Seth Lugo trade, and it looks like they are seeking that attribute based on their recent arm acquisitions.
-- @TheCouchGMs via Twitter

The Mets dig it, and have for some time. For a good example, check out their Jay Bruce trade in 2017. In that deal, the Mets targeted a reliever with a 4.79 ERA in Class A ball, in large part because of his spin-rate data. Ryder Ryan has been thriving ever since, making it all the way to Double-A Binghamton last summer.

Spin rate, though, is just one piece of the puzzle. It's data we didn't have until quite recently, and can be extremely helpful in predicting pitcher breakouts. But it's also just one of many tools that teams have at their disposal. By itself, it only tells a small part of the story.

Shake Shack or Pat LaFrieda?
-- @OneMetSaid via Twitter

That's a trick question.

Is there any information on pending celebrations or events for the 50th anniversary of the 1969 World Series championship team?
-- @MarkBrichta via Twitter

The Mets have a full celebration weekend planned from June 28-30 and are working to bring as many living members of the 1969 team as possible to Citi Field for the event.

Any news on how ex-general manager Sandy Alderson is feeling?
-- @MetsFanInPhilly via Twitter

I ran into Alderson last month at the Winter Meetings, where he performed his usual duties on Major League Baseball's rules committee. He appeared in good health and good spirits, curious if there is a new challenge out there for him. The Mets are certainly rooting for him.

When is the BBWAA dinner? And how can people get tickets?
-- @BryanHoch via Twitter

Where have I seen that name before?

Since you asked, Bryan, the Baseball Writers' Association of America's annual New York Chapter dinner will take place Jan. 26 in Manhattan and will feature a decidedly Mets flair. deGrom will receive both his National League Cy Young Award and the New York Chapter's Player of the Year award, while David Wright, Nimmo, Alderson and the 1969 Mets will also receive chapter awards. All of the above will be on hand for the festivities, including four members of the '69 Mets.

Tickets are available at NYBBWAA.com. I'm emceeing the event and would love to see you all there.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jeff McNeil, Zack Wheeler

Inbox: Will Cardinals take a look at Marwin?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers questions from fans
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Here's another round of your Qs and my As to get you thinking about summer days and baseball season while preparing for another weekend of being snowed in.

Has there been any talk of taking a look at Marwin Gonzalez? Seems like a super-utility guy that would fit that bench player they'd be looking for.
-- Steve O. (@citylightssteve)

ST. LOUIS -- Here's another round of your Qs and my As to get you thinking about summer days and baseball season while preparing for another weekend of being snowed in.

Has there been any talk of taking a look at Marwin Gonzalez? Seems like a super-utility guy that would fit that bench player they'd be looking for.
-- Steve O. (@citylightssteve)

• Submit a question to the Cardinals Inbox

Lots of questions coming my way about Gonzalez this week, so let's examine his case now. The fit clearly makes a lot of sense. Not only can Gonzalez play just about anywhere on the field (including shortstop), but he'd offer a switch-hitting presence off the bench. That would instantly help balance the Cardinals' offense.

The issue, though, isn't so much the Cardinals' interest in Gonzalez, but rather what his interest would be in them. He's accrued 500-plus plate appearances in each of the last three seasons and averaged 125 starts per year during that span. He's looking to land somewhere where he can match that playing time, and the Cards don't have it to offer. That's why I'd expect Gonzalez to end up elsewhere.

What will the Cardinals do if Dexter Fowler doesn't pan out as they think he will?
-- William B. (@Wmb0127)

Right now, the club has insurance behind him in the form of Jose Martinez and Tyler O'Neill, and the Cardinals are comfortable leaning on either one if Fowler struggles again. That's one of the reasons why the Cards haven't been quick to deal Martinez this winter. He still offers important value, defensive issues aside. The outfield depth extends further, too, with Adolis Garcia, Lane Thomas and Justin Williams also on the 40-man roster.

Video: CIN@STL: Fowler homers to right-center field

In a bigger-picture view, though, if the Cardinals don't get the necessary production out of Fowler this year, his time here likely ends. Even though his contract runs through the 2021 season, it's hard to see the organization retaining him for that long if he endures another season like his last one. Of course, both parties are optimistic that won't be the case.

The Cardinals had the money for Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton. All of a sudden, they don't have it for a 26-year-old power-hitting right fielder who is a once-in-a-generation player. Why?
-- Eric C. (@ericcleveland)

No one has said the Cardinals don't have the money. It has nothing to do with what they have, instead it has everything to do with how they plan to allocate it. If the Cardinals wanted to make a competitive and compelling offer to Bryce Harper today, they could. There remains flexibility in their payroll -- both in the short- and long-term, which is one of the reasons why many thought the Cardinals were among the teams best positioned to wade into the deep end of the free-agent market this offseason.

Video: ATL@WSH: Harper slugs an opposite-field solo homer

The issue tugging at the Cardinals is more about whether to invest those dollars into this particular player for his desired number of years. The team is balancing that within the context of its current roster and player projections.

What's the backup plan if Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna leave in free agency?
-- Brandon D. (@LyleDozier)

If the Cards lose both hitters after the 2019 season, without question their offense will require a makeover. Plan A, of course, is to retain at least one of them. Goldschmidt is the primary target, and don't be surprised if the club opens extension talks before the first baseman even reaches free agency.

Video: ATL@ARI: Goldschmidt ties it in 9th with solo jack

As big a boost as their farm system has been in recent years, the Cardinals don't appear to have any high-impact everyday position players on the cusp of the Majors. That means replacing Goldschmidt and/or Ozuna would require once again looking outside the organization for help. There will be marquee free agents available next winter -- including Nolan Arenado -- but the preference would be to retain who they've got, assuming production is as expected this year.

How much do you see the addition of Goldy helping Paul DeJong offensively? [He] seemed to make good strides fielding, but regressed as a hitter last year.
-- Scott B. (@49erboivie)

I'm not sure if you'll see much of a cause and effect here, unless the Cards were to hit DeJong ahead of Goldschmidt. The more likely scenario, though, is that Goldschmidt will bat in front of the shortstop in manager Mike Shildt's order. If there's a benefit, it would seem to be that DeJong would see increased opportunities to hit with men on base, and the two hitters in front of him (both of whom are among the most patient hitters in the game) will give DeJong a better look at a pitcher's repertoire.

Video: STL@ATL: DeJong mashes a 2-run jack to left-center

Instead, I'd argue that the biggest impact on DeJong's offensive outlook this season is his health. After undergoing one final procedure on his hand this offseason, he can now put that injury behind him.

When do pitchers and catchers report?
-- Mark R. (@1jurisconsultus)

Finally, an easy one. Here's a rundown of key dates related to Spring Training:

Feb. 12: Pitchers and catcher report

Feb. 13: First workout for pitchers and catchers

Feb. 17: Position players report

Feb. 18: First full-squad workout

Feb. 23: First Grapefruit League game (at Marlins)

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals

Inbox: Could D-backs still bring back Pollock?

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Why aren't the D-backs pursuing A.J. Pollock to re-sign? The majority of the fans in Arizona would love to see A.J. back in center field. It doesn't seem like they are even negotiating with him.
-- Ronald C., Surprise, Ariz.

Given the kind of contract that Pollock is expected to get in the free-agent market, he might end up being too pricey for the D-backs. Each time we talk to general manager Mike Hazen, though, he does say that the team is staying "engaged" with Pollock. What that likely means is that if Pollock doesn't get the deal he would like on the open market, the D-backs would look at signing him to a shorter-term deal. Again, given what Pollock brings to the table, and the lack of quality center fielders on the market, I think he will wind up with a long-term deal that is out of Arizona's price range.

Why aren't the D-backs pursuing A.J. Pollock to re-sign? The majority of the fans in Arizona would love to see A.J. back in center field. It doesn't seem like they are even negotiating with him.
-- Ronald C., Surprise, Ariz.

Given the kind of contract that Pollock is expected to get in the free-agent market, he might end up being too pricey for the D-backs. Each time we talk to general manager Mike Hazen, though, he does say that the team is staying "engaged" with Pollock. What that likely means is that if Pollock doesn't get the deal he would like on the open market, the D-backs would look at signing him to a shorter-term deal. Again, given what Pollock brings to the table, and the lack of quality center fielders on the market, I think he will wind up with a long-term deal that is out of Arizona's price range.

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

Will the D-backs try to sign a first, second or third baseman, center fielder or get a utility man?
-- Dustin V., Tucson

I think the D-backs' one remaining big move of the offseason -- outside of adding a bullpen piece or two -- will be to acquire a second baseman or a center fielder. It seems they are content to give Jake Lamb a lot of reps over at first base with Eduardo Escobar playing a bunch of third. That leaves them with two options: They can either acquire a center fielder to take the place of Pollock, or they could shift Ketel Marte from second base to center and acquire a second baseman. If they go the free-agent route, there are more options at second base right now than there are in center. My guess is that if they look for a center fielder, it will have to be through a trade.

What does "be competitive" mean? Does that mean .500 club? Or does that mean a Wild Card? And is that really even achievable without big spending first? This is when smart teams rebuild.
-- Mike F., Lenoir, N.C.

The D-backs feel with the core of players that they still have, they can still contend for a postseason berth. Now, I understand your point about rebuilding, and they are also trying to do that by being aggressive in the international market, along with some of their intriguing pieces at the lower end of the Minors. They also have a ton of picks early in the upcoming MLB Draft, which will be huge for further restocking the system. I think if they get to the Trade Deadline this year and they're struggling, then you will see more of a full-scale rebuild where they would look to deal more of their veterans.

T.J. McFarland was maybe the most valuable pitcher the D-backs had last year. What do you see as his role for the D-backs this year?
-- Mike P., Chicago

He often gets overlooked, but you're right in saying that McFarland was one of their most valuable pitchers last year. His ability to give them multiple innings when needed, or come in and get out a left-handed hitter, or pitch in high-leverage situations gave them a lot of flexibility. I think you saw as the year went on that the D-backs used him less in a long role and instead in more important leverage situations. It would not surprise me -- depending on who they keep as a multiple-inning reliever this year -- if you see that continue in 2019.

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

Arizona Diamondbacks, A.J. Pollock

Inbox: Is adding a lefty on Phillies' horizon?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Are the Phillies serious about getting a left-handed starter for 2019? If not, why not? Do they think they can contend without one?
-- William B., Dublin, Pa.

The Phillies hoped to sign left-handers Patrick Corbin or J.A. Happ, but fell short each time. Corbin wanted too many years. Happ wanted more money than the Phillies wanted to spend. The Phillies could use a solid left-hander to provide more balance and consistency to the rotation. Dallas Keuchel remains available. He would help, but he reportedly has been seeking a five-year contract. I do not see the Phillies traveling down that road, unless he lingers on the market like Jake Arrieta last spring, or if the Phillies fall short in their pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Are the Phillies serious about getting a left-handed starter for 2019? If not, why not? Do they think they can contend without one?
-- William B., Dublin, Pa.

The Phillies hoped to sign left-handers Patrick Corbin or J.A. Happ, but fell short each time. Corbin wanted too many years. Happ wanted more money than the Phillies wanted to spend. The Phillies could use a solid left-hander to provide more balance and consistency to the rotation. Dallas Keuchel remains available. He would help, but he reportedly has been seeking a five-year contract. I do not see the Phillies traveling down that road, unless he lingers on the market like Jake Arrieta last spring, or if the Phillies fall short in their pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

:: Submit a question to the Phillies Inbox ::

I have said this before, but the Phillies believe in their rotation. It pitched pretty well the first four months of last season before stumbling badly the final two. But the Phillies believe in the predictive powers of FIP, combined with another year of experience and an improved defense. They believe pitchers like Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez will be better in 2019.

Still, the Phillies know they have left themselves open for criticism if those pitchers do not pitch as expected. It is a risk they seem willing to take.

I don't understand all the Harper/Machado hoopla. The Nats couldn't get it done while they had Harper for [seven] years. I like what the Phillies have done in the offseason so far, at least on paper, and I believe the new and improved lineup gives them a realistic chance at the postseason. But to go beyond that, it requires a bit of luck. Personally, a first-class pitcher in the rotation is what they really need given the new roster. What are your thoughts?
-- Chris L., Harrisburg, Pa.

The Nats didn't win a World Series with Harper and the Orioles didn't win much with Machado, but it doesn't mean those two players aren't two of the best in baseball. The Angels haven't made the playoffs with Mike Trout since 2014, so does that mean that the Phillies shouldn't pursue him if he became available? Of course they should, he's one of the best players in the game.

Superstars in baseball cannot carry a team like superstars in other sports, but it does not mean that they should not be pursued. The Phillies made the right moves from 2009-11, acquiring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. They were the best team in baseball in 2011. They just did not win the World Series.

The Phillies would be a much better team with Harper or Machado. If they can get one of them, they should.

If the Phillies unload "stupid" money on either Harper or Machado, will there be anything left to continue the rebuild, such as bringing in Trout in the future?
-- Pete M., Allentown, Pa.

That's a very real consideration. If the Phillies fall short with Harper or Machado, they will hope and pray that Trout hits free agency after the 2020 season. But there would be a tremendous risk in pulling back on Harper and Machado this offseason because they think Trout might be available in a couple of years. What if he's not available? What if he signs an extension with the Angels or signs someplace else? Just because Trout is from South Jersey and has Eagles season tickets doesn't mean he's automatically coming to Philly if he becomes a free agent.

If you sign Harper or Machado now, you know you have one of the best players in baseball (and a potential Hall of Famer) for the foreseeable future. If you don't sign one of them, there are no guarantees they get Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon or any of the other big-time players set to become free agents in the next couple years.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies

Inbox: Do Cubs boast best starting 5 in game?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
MLB.com

If Yu Darvish is healthy, ready to go for Opening Day and can simply be a reliable starter, is there a better five-man rotation than the Cubs going into the 2019 season?
--David S., Chicago

I wouldn't go as far as calling the Cubs' rotation the best five-man staff in baseball, but it's certainly within the top 10. Where exactly the rotation would fall in that type of ranking would probably depend on who you ask and what they value. For now, I think I'd put the Indians, Astros, Nationals, Dodgers and Mets ahead of Chicago's formidable veteran staff.

If Yu Darvish is healthy, ready to go for Opening Day and can simply be a reliable starter, is there a better five-man rotation than the Cubs going into the 2019 season?
--David S., Chicago

I wouldn't go as far as calling the Cubs' rotation the best five-man staff in baseball, but it's certainly within the top 10. Where exactly the rotation would fall in that type of ranking would probably depend on who you ask and what they value. For now, I think I'd put the Indians, Astros, Nationals, Dodgers and Mets ahead of Chicago's formidable veteran staff.

:: Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox ::

I will say, however, that having Darvish healthy and back to his old ways -- performing like a pitcher worthy of the six-year, $126 million contract he received from the Cubs last winter -- would give Chicago quite the staff of innings eaters. Across the board, the Cubs' starters (Darvish, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana) have 200-inning potential, which is rare in an era when 200-inning arms are waning.

The reason I wouldn't put the Cubs' rotation at the top of a ranking of baseball's best starting staffs is the fact that the group isn't as overpowering as some others. They are experienced, effective and deep, but it is also a staff with a couple aging arms and others built more around finesse than firepower. Granted, Hamels was not around all year and Darvish was sidelined, but the Cubs ranked 17th in strikeout rate (20.4 percent) and strikeout-minus-walk rate (11.1 percent) in 2018.

As noted, maybe it's not fair to just look at the '18 numbers, especially since this question is based upon Darvish being back, while considering that Hamels will be in the fold from the start. That would presumably bump lefty Mike Montgomery and the walk-riddled Tyler Chatwood to the bullpen. So, let's look at it in a slightly different manner.

Using Darvish's last full season (2017), combined with the 2018 totals (including Hamels' time with Texas) of the other four pitchers, you get a 22.3 strikeout percentage and 7.7 percent walk rate. That doesn't include any other starts by Cubs pitchers. Those figures would've ranked 14th and 13th, respectively, in MLB last year. The 14.6 strikeout-minus-walk percentage would've ranked 12th overall.

Fangraphs currently projects the Cubs' five starters to have 12.2 WAR combined. Using the '18 totals for Lester, Hamels, Hendricks and Quintana, plus Darvish's '17 showing, you get 12.0 WAR. For context, the Braves' rotation as a whole ranked 12th in MLB with 12.0 WAR last year. So, no, I wouldn't call the Cubs' staff the best in baseball going into 2019, but it is definitely a major area of strength for the roster.

First off, I wanted to say I've enjoyed listening in to your MLB.com Cubs podcasts with Dani Wexelman and reading your articles. I've noticed you use a lot of sabermetrics. Which advanced statistics should a regular baseball fan become familiar with?
--Matt M., Peoria, Ill.

Thanks for listening and reading, Matt. I appreciate the question, too, because I do feel it's important to learn some of the numbers beyond the traditional counting stats or things like batting average. I could spend the entire Inbox on this topic, but I'll skate over a handful here.

I love context and, if you're looking at hitters, it's tough to beat Weighted Runs Created Plus (also known as wRC+). It's an all-encompassing offensive metric that simplifies things by setting 100 as league average. Anything above or below 100 is the percentage above or below league average. For example, Javier Baez had a 131 wRC+ in 2018, meaning he was 31 percent above average as a hitter.

Another aspect that I like about wRC+ is that -- not only is it park adjusted -- it is something you can compare across eras. Hitting 30 home runs in 2019 is not the same as hitting 30 homers in 1919. But, a 110 wRC+ means the same no matter the year due to the stat being league-adjusted. There are other statistics similar to this one, too. Baseball-Reference has OPS+ and Baseball Prospectus now has DRC+. The front office people I have talked to say wRC+ is the best of the publicly-available numbers for hitters.

There are a lot of other numbers I like to lean on, especially via Statcast™ (you can do detailed searches on baseballsavant.com). You can learn a lot through the "expected" numbers there, and the fielding metrics are getting better by the year. For pitchers, I don't really have one metric I use. I think you can look at ERA, FIP, dERA and other numbers and kind of paint a larger picture. You'll rarely see me cite an individual's win-loss record in any analysis.

The Cubs have had a very inactive offseason. I understand that they are restricted as to how much they can do with their current payroll situation, but I read recently that (president of baseball operations) Theo Epstein said he would not let the payroll dictate the offseason. Do you think the Cubs will make a move, or will they keep the same team on the field for this upcoming season?
--Owen L., Deerfield, Ill.

In a recent interview on 670 The Score, Epstein emphasized that the Competitive Balance Tax (often referred to as the luxury tax) threshold was not dictating the team's approach to the offseason. The Cubs' luxury tax payroll already projects to be $20 million or so over the first penalty line of $206 million, so no, getting under that threshold is not the priority. Epstein did stress, however, that they are working with a budget.

"I've said that all offseason, from the first press conference on: This is not an offseason where anyone should be fixated about the tax," Epstein told 670 The Score. "It's like any business -- there are budgets. You can't ignore them. You can't spend what you don't have. You should spend everything you do have. There will be offseasons where you'll be very, very mindful of the CBT and not going just a touch over it, for example, and then hurting yourself with respect to future tax rates or Draft positions and those things. That matters. This is not one of those offseasons. So, I wouldn't waste a lot of time thinking about the tax as you try to assess what's going on."

Unless the Cubs make some trades to move a contract or two, it does not sound like a major financial addition is realistic. That said, there are still moves to be made, especially for the bullpen, and I don't think the roster is done being tweaked ahead of Spring Training.

All we've been reading and hearing about this offseason has been Joe Maddon being a lame duck manager in the last year of his contract. Shouldn't Epstein be under a microscope in the same way?
--Bruce W., Brookfield

As a fan, you can position the microscope in the best way you see fit. When a player, manager or front office leader is in the final year of a contract, though, it's only natural -- fair or not -- for that to become a focal point. I will say, in every interview Epstein has done this offseason, he's thrown himself into the accountability fire. Here's from before the Winter Meetings: "We're all accountable -- me, especially -- for what happened last year. That's the first step. And then it's, 'How do I get better?'"

Does Daniel Descalso's contract count as $2 million or $2.5 million against the payroll for tax purposes?
--Aaron S., Des Moines, Iowa

Descalso will earn $1.5 million in '19 and $2.5 million in '20, but the average annual value (which counts against the luxury tax payroll) is $2.5 million. That is due to the $5 million guarantee, which includes a $1 million buyout for the $3.5 million team option for '21. That AAV represents a 49.25 percent increase over his last two years ($1.675 million) with the D-backs.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana

Inbox: Could Dodgers get Arenado in future?

Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers fan questions
MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- Since we still have an abundance of capable outfielders, should the Dodgers wait until next year to spend big money and go after local boy Nolan Arenado instead of Bryce Harper now?
-- The Tenth Man @man_tenth

I would. Of course, there's always the risk he re-signs with Colorado and never hits the free-agent market. It's not up to the team; it's up to the player.

LOS ANGELES -- Since we still have an abundance of capable outfielders, should the Dodgers wait until next year to spend big money and go after local boy Nolan Arenado instead of Bryce Harper now?
-- The Tenth Man @man_tenth

I would. Of course, there's always the risk he re-signs with Colorado and never hits the free-agent market. It's not up to the team; it's up to the player.

:: Submit a question to the Dodgers Inbox ::

Video: Arenado wins fourth career Silver Slugger Award

Grandal's contract with MIL seems like something LAD could have beaten and solidified catcher. Any idea if it was the team or if it was Yaz that wasn't interested?
#ArtooStillYourFriend
-- @DodgerDoggo

It's my understanding that Yasmani Grandal did not want to return to the Dodgers -- period. He could have accepted the $17.9 million qualifying offer. But he had been benched each of the past two seasons and he knew with the Dodgers' four catching prospects he had no chance at a multi-year deal from Los Angeles. If he really did turn down a four-year deal from the Mets, he's obviously overplayed his hand.

Why don't the Dodgers just make a short-term high annual salary for B Harp?
-- LA_FAN @SoloLafan

Because Bryce Harper wants a long-term, high annual salary.
Was Farhan Zaidi the brains of the front office and that's why Andrew Friedman can't pull off a trade for #Kluber and/or #Realmuto ?
-- Saul @saul2461

Nobody's pulled off a trade for Corey Kluber or J.T. Realmuto.

Will there ever be a Mike Piazza Bobblehead Night @ Dodger Stadium?
-- Raul Fernandez Jr. @chepes626

Only if Piazza wants one. The club has approached him about it, but Piazza hasn't had anything to do with the Dodgers since they traded him.

When is Maury Wills going to get his number retired???
-- Charles Elias @23CharlesElias

Wills, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Garvey are pretty much in the same category. They are iconic Dodgers heroes, but with only one exception the Dodgers retire only the numbers of their Hall of Famers

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Nolan Arenado

Inbox: Does Guzman project as closer or starter?

Beat reporter Joe Frisaro answers questions from Marlins fans
MLB.com

Do you think Jorge Guzman can be a future closer for the Marlins? Or do you prefer him to be a starter?
-- @antonioadolfo6

That's an easy one. Of course, the preference is for Guzman to be a starter. But if he isn't able to command his fastball to both sides of the plate, then his future may ultimately be as a reliever. The Marlins acquired Guzman, their No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, from the Yankees in December 2017 as part of the Giancarlo Stanton trade.

Do you think Jorge Guzman can be a future closer for the Marlins? Or do you prefer him to be a starter?
-- @antonioadolfo6

That's an easy one. Of course, the preference is for Guzman to be a starter. But if he isn't able to command his fastball to both sides of the plate, then his future may ultimately be as a reliever. The Marlins acquired Guzman, their No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, from the Yankees in December 2017 as part of the Giancarlo Stanton trade.

The flamethrower spent the entire 2018 season at Class A Advanced Jupiter, where his velocity maxed at 101 mph. Guzman is a physical presence, who also is polishing up his slider and changeup. The Marlins added the 22-year-old right-hander to their 40-man roster in the offseason, and he is expected to start off at Double-A Jacksonville, where he will be in the rotation. This season will give a better indication of whether Guzman profiles as a future option for the rotation. If he moves to the bullpen, whether he becomes a closer or not will depend on how effective he is at missing bats. To close, you need swing-and-miss pitches.

:: Submit a question to the Marlins Inbox ::

Which teams are still interested in Marlins All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto?
-- @nynfa711

The landscape changed in recent days with Yasmani Grandal reportedly reaching agreement on a one-year deal with the Brewers. With Grandal no longer an option to return, the Dodgers are in the market for a front-line catcher, and they have the prospects and need to make a strong push for Realmuto. I'm hearing, in no particular order, the Dodgers, Braves, Astros, Padres, Reds and Rays have expressed the most interest in Realmuto. The Marlins' firm stance has not changed. They seek an overpay situation: a top prospect and more.

Realmuto agreed to a $5.9 million deal in his second season of arbitration, which is another reason the Marlins have insisted they have no urgency to deal their best player. Along with Realmuto, right-handers Jose Urena and Dan Straily, lefty Adam Conley and infielder Miguel Rojas avoided arbitration.

It's also important to note that if Miami does trade Realmuto, the club would then have to address its catcher situation by finding another option who has big league experience to work with a young pitching staff.

Do you think Starlin Castro will get traded this offseason to make room for Isan Diaz?
-- @josecuba305

The Marlins are open to trading Castro, but the second-base market had been slow moving until recent reports regarding Brian Dozier, Jed Lowrie and DJ LeMahieu. Teams also are reluctant to take on the $11 million Castro will make this season, and his deal has a club option of $16 million for 2020, with a $1 million buyout. The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline may realistically be a time when teams are more receptive to trading for Castro. As for Diaz, the 22-year-old left-handed hitter is considered the second baseman of the future. I suspect Diaz will open at Triple-A New Orleans, and how he performs will also determine how quickly he reaches the big leagues. If Diaz shows he can hit, Miami would find a place for its No. 9 prospect to play in the big leagues. He did play some third base in the offseason, but the hope is for him to be at second.

What are your thoughts on one of the Marlins' newest additions, Rosell Herrera? Do you think he makes the Opening Day roster?
-- @kevinmiller64__

The Marlins claimed Herrera off waivers from the Royals recently and added him to the 40-man roster, which gives him somewhat of an advantage to make the Opening Day roster, most likely as a utility player. The 26-year-old switch-hitter saw action in the big leagues in 2018 with the Reds and Royals, combining to hit .234/.286/.317. Herrera can play all three outfield positions, second base and third base. He came up as a shortstop and has good speed, but Herrera isn't a power threat..

Besides Realmuto, are there any possible trade candidates on this roster before the start of the season?
-- @ProfessorXXX88

Realmuto has taken up so much of the Marlins' offseason, and whether he stays or goes impacts other positions. For instance, Miami may be more inclined to trade for a first baseman rather than sign a free agent on what would most likely be a one-year deal.

Marlins' trade candidates not named Realmuto

A pitcher who could be dealt by the Marlins before Spring Training is Straily, the projected No. 2 starter. Clubs have touched base this offseason on Straily, who was in his second year of arbitration eligibility. If something makes sense, Straily could be moved.

A number of teams have checked in on Urena, who was arbitration-eligible for the first time. But Urena may be the closest player Miami has to being untouchable. The way its roster is presently constructed, Urena is a workhorse who can give the club 30 starts and about 180 innings. I could see July as a more likely window for Urena to be moved.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins, Starlin Castro, Isan Diaz, Jorge Guzman, Rosell Herrera, J.T. Realmuto, Dan Straily, Jose Urena

Inbox: Are Harper rumors affecting Nats?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from Washington fans
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- This week, the Nationals officially revealed their report dates for Spring Training, with pitchers and catchers set to head to West Palm Beach, Fla., by Feb. 13. Outfielder Adam Eaton even got a head start and arrived at the team's complex on Thursday. The countdown to baseball's return has officially started.

Washington has already been perhaps the most active team in the Majors this offseason, and its slate of moves has so far culminated in reaching an agreement to sign second baseman Brian Dozier on Thursday. Yet there is still one major domino to fall: Bryce Harper remains unsigned and on the minds of Nationals fans, with a little more than a month to go before the team's first workout.

WASHINGTON -- This week, the Nationals officially revealed their report dates for Spring Training, with pitchers and catchers set to head to West Palm Beach, Fla., by Feb. 13. Outfielder Adam Eaton even got a head start and arrived at the team's complex on Thursday. The countdown to baseball's return has officially started.

Washington has already been perhaps the most active team in the Majors this offseason, and its slate of moves has so far culminated in reaching an agreement to sign second baseman Brian Dozier on Thursday. Yet there is still one major domino to fall: Bryce Harper remains unsigned and on the minds of Nationals fans, with a little more than a month to go before the team's first workout.

Today's Nationals Inbox begins with Harper and the fallout that his potential return could bring.

:: Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox ::

Harper is on my mind. Spring Training is days away. Aren't the guys worried about will happen? No way they can be just "whatever," right? Especially if he ends up in Philly?
-- Jane B., Churchton, Md.

Yes, I think everyone -- fans, the team, the media -- all hoped there might be more clarity by now in the Harper sweepstakes. One thing is for sure, though: The Nationals are certainly more involved than it seemed they would be earlier in the offseason -- especially after a radio interview on Dec. 7 with team owner Mark Lerner, in which he said he thought Harper had moved on. "I don't really expect him to come back at this point," Lerner told 106.7 the Fan.

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported this week that there is momentum building toward a reunion between the Nationals and Harper. The Phillies will reportedly make their big pitch on Saturday, with Phils owner John Middleton leading the team's delegation and prospects of "spending stupid money" to meet with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, in Las Vegas.

Washington and Philadelphia have certainly ended up as the two favorites for potential landing spots, but it is still unclear when this is all going to end. If by "the guys" you mean the players, then I think they will be fine. They've been answering questions for years about Harper's free agency, and they understand that his potential departure is part of the game. General manager Mike Rizzo has said that the team does not want to respond to moves made by the rest of the division, and I don't think he would feel the pressure to do so if Harper signed with Philly. And I think it's helpful to consider the additions the front office has made in the meantime. The roster has been revamped to ensure the team is competitive in 2019, no matter where Harper winds up.

If Harper re-signed with the Nationals, how would they work the outfield? Would Victor Robles start the season in Minors? Or would they trade Eaton?
-- Jonesy, Washington

The Nationals will find themselves in a bit of a quandary if they are able to bring back Harper, as they'll have too many capable outfielders on the roster. It's not the worst issue to have, but it is one they would have to remedy. Juan Soto isn't going anywhere. The organization has been reluctant to include Robles in a trade the past two offseasons, and while re-signing Harper could warm up some to the idea of parting with him, I still think it's unlikely that the Nats could find a trade they would go through with. Robles is going to get an opportunity to become the starting center fielder in 2019.

This means that the Nationals would likely have to explore trades for Eaton and Michael A. Taylor, although I'm not sure what kind of return they could get on either right now. Eaton has not been healthy for a full season since 2016, and while Taylor is still loaded with tools and potential, he also regressed so badly at the plate last season that he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long to remake his swing and played winter ball to get more reps. The team would be selling both players at the low point of their value. Still, if the Nats bring back Harper, I'd be shocked if one of those two is not moved.

Video: WSH@COL: Rendon drives an RBI triple to center field

If Harper returns, how does it change how the team will handle Anthony Rendon negotiations?
-- Jack, Washington

The answer to this is unclear. Here's what Rizzo had to say at the Winter Meetings when asked about how discussions of a long-term deal with Harper could affect discussions with Rendon: "Those hypotheticals, we'd have to figure out what the deals look like, what the structure is. So there's too much hypothetical to answer it. But we love both players, and we'd love to have both of them."

Ken Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic on Thursday that it's a question that industry insiders are also wondering about: How far can the Nationals go to potentially sign both players? I think it would really depend on what kind of contract it would take to re-sign Harper. Would that contract be closer to the reported 10-year, $300 million contract the Nats initially offered, or one for significantly more money? Also, what sort of opt-out clauses or option years might be necessary for Harper? And what kind of deal, exactly, is Rendon -- perhaps the most underrated player in baseball -- seeking? All of these factors are really uncertain.

One thing is for sure: The Nationals have made a pitch both to re-sign Harper and extend Rendon. They don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to sign both long-term.

How should we look at 2019 Dozier replacing '18 Daniel Murphy? Both are above-average offensive second baseman with liability at fielding. Is this an upgrade, downgrade or equal move?
-- Benjy L., New York

The Nationals really got very little out of Murphy last season after offseason right knee surgery pushed back his 2018 debut to June. He only played in 56 games and struggled to get going at the plate. Even when he did, his power was sapped, and he finished around league average at the plate with a 105 OPS+. (League average is 100.) Murphy's already limited mobility was hampered even more on the field, and he was worth minus-0.8 WAR, per Baseball Reference, before the Nats traded him to the Cubs.

Video: LAD@SF: Dozier makes stellar sliding stop at second

Even at his best, Dozier will not be the kind of hitter Murphy was during his first two seasons in Washington -- because that Murphy was one of the top 10 hitters in the National League -- but Dozier should be a strong bounceback candidate for 2019 after playing through a right knee injury last year. Defensively, he may only be a slight upgrade (but an upgrade nonetheless), and he should provide 25-homer power to a lineup in need of it. I'd project Dozier to be a slight improvement over last year's injured Murphy, although he is unlikely to replicate Murphy at his best.

Do you think Washington will add a starter? If it does, I think Wade Miley is fine.
-- @get_a_smile1

It doesn't look like the Nationals are going to sign another starter to any sort of guaranteed deal. When asked if adding to the rotation was in the team's plans after signing Anibal Sanchez, a source responded that they "doubt it." Washington is comfortable with a rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Sanchez and likely Joe Ross as the fifth starter -- and with good reason. If healthy, Washington's rotation could be one of the best in the NL. But it's short on depth; Erick Fedde, who has been injured or inconsistent during his short time in the Majors, will be No. 6 on the depth chart. After him ... crickets.

I expect the Nationals to invite a few veterans to camp on Minor League deals with big league invites to compete for jobs. This will push Ross, and maybe they'll also strike gold on a bounceback candidate; this is similar to their reasoning for bringing in Henderson Alvarez. But unless something changes -- and for the pitching-focused Nats, it shouldn't be ruled out -- they don't seem likely to sign another starter to a Major League deal before Spring Training begins.

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

Washington Nationals

Inbox: Can Longoria bounce back in 2019?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado answers questions from fans
MLB.com

What do the Giants expect of Evan Longoria in 2019?
-- Scott S., Palo Alto, Calif.

Longoria disappointed in his first season in San Francisco, so I think the Giants are probably hoping to see an offensive rebound from their 33-year-old third baseman this year. After coming over from the Rays, Longoria experienced a notable decline at the plate, batting .244 with a .694 OPS and an 89 OPS+, both of which were career lows. While he led San Francisco with 16 home runs, they were the fewest of Longoria's 11-season stint in the Majors. He also missed 34 games after breaking his left hand on a hit-by-pitch in Miami.

What do the Giants expect of Evan Longoria in 2019?
-- Scott S., Palo Alto, Calif.

Longoria disappointed in his first season in San Francisco, so I think the Giants are probably hoping to see an offensive rebound from their 33-year-old third baseman this year. After coming over from the Rays, Longoria experienced a notable decline at the plate, batting .244 with a .694 OPS and an 89 OPS+, both of which were career lows. While he led San Francisco with 16 home runs, they were the fewest of Longoria's 11-season stint in the Majors. He also missed 34 games after breaking his left hand on a hit-by-pitch in Miami.

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Longoria's contract makes him difficult to move, so it's likely he'll remain with the Giants for the foreseeable future. Given his track record and pedigree, I think he still has the potential to be a productive player, especially if he can recoup his ability to get on base. Longoria will also enter the 2019 campaign with increased familiarity of the National League and its pitchers, so that could also help bring his numbers closer to his career norms.

Can Pablo Sandoval still play a key role for the Giants in 2019?
-- Tom B., Kelso, Scotland

While it's unlikely that Sandoval will return to the All-Star level he enjoyed earlier in his career, I think his performance in 2018 showed that he still has some value as a utility player and a veteran bat off the bench for San Francisco. Before a torn right hamstring ended his season in July, Sandoval appeared in 92 games and hit .248 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. He was particularly effective as a situational hitter, batting .323 with runners in scoring position and .286 as a pinch-hitter.

Sandoval's defensive versatility -- he started at third, first and second base and even made a pitching appearance this past season -- makes him a good fit for the type of roster president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi would like to construct, so I think Sandoval will have the opportunity to contribute regularly in the final season of his five-year, $95 million contract.

I'm prepared to give Zaidi a sufficient amount of time to set a new course for the Giants. As long as non-performers Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Mark Melancon are drawing big paychecks, it will be a monumental challenge. However, thus far Zaidi has only added the likes of Travis Bergen, Breyvic Valera, Mike Gerber, and Drew Ferguson. How will these unproven names help the turnaround?
-- Gerald L., Columbus, Ind.

I think most of the additions the Giants have made so far have been viewed as depth pieces, so it's probably unrealistic to expect all of them to step in and immediately become regulars in 2019. But, as Zaidi pointed out during the Winter Meetings this past month, some of the best deals he made with the Dodgers didn't seem like "headline moves" at the time of their consummation. Max Muncy, for example, joined Los Angeles on a Minor League deal and emerged as a breakout star this past season, crushing 35 home runs and posting a .973 OPS. Zaidi has previously succeeded in finding undervalued players and giving them chances to stick in the big leagues, so I think it's worth giving him the benefit of the doubt.

So far this offseason, Zaidi has done a nice job in adding depth pieces, but the most noteworthy addition he's made thus far is Pat Venditte. I'm trying to be patient and have faith in Zaidi since he has a winning track record of success, but how long will it be before he makes a move that conveys a clear message to fans about what the vision is for 2019? 
-- Matthew I., Millbrae, Calif.

I don't think the Giants are done making moves this offseason, so it's going to be tough to forecast how competitive they'll be until we get a better sense of the type of talent they'll have on their Opening Day roster. As it stands, FanGraphs projections have San Francisco winning 76 games and tying the Padres for last place in the NL West in 2019. Zaidi still has plenty of holes to fill, so those projections could easily change in the coming weeks, but unless he makes big acquisitions, I think it'll be difficult to expect the Giants to contend this year.

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter

San Francisco Giants

Inbox: Shouldn't Bucs try to make a big move?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com

I've seen articles lately saying the Pirates should sign Manny Machado. I don't like the idea of signing any player to a really long contract (maybe Andrew McCutchen) and I know they won't do it anyway. But I liked that the Bucs got Chris Archer because it seemed like they were really going for it. Shouldn't the Pirates make another big move to push them over the edge?
-- James R., Bridgeville, Pa.

I've touched on this before and I'll say it again here: By trading for Archer and Keone Kela, the Pirates essentially created a window to contend. They gave up a handful of players who might have helped them for the next five or six years and beyond, most notably Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, for two pitchers who can help them for the next two (Kela) or three (Archer) years.

I've seen articles lately saying the Pirates should sign Manny Machado. I don't like the idea of signing any player to a really long contract (maybe Andrew McCutchen) and I know they won't do it anyway. But I liked that the Bucs got Chris Archer because it seemed like they were really going for it. Shouldn't the Pirates make another big move to push them over the edge?
-- James R., Bridgeville, Pa.

I've touched on this before and I'll say it again here: By trading for Archer and Keone Kela, the Pirates essentially created a window to contend. They gave up a handful of players who might have helped them for the next five or six years and beyond, most notably Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, for two pitchers who can help them for the next two (Kela) or three (Archer) years.

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So let's say that window extends through 2021, the final option year for Archer and Starling Marte and the final guaranteed year for Felipe Vazquez and Gregory Polanco. (Coincidentally or not, it's also the final year of the extensions signed in 2017 by GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.) That's around the time that their big group of mid-to-late 20-somethings -- Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Adam Frazier, Elias Diaz, etc. -- will start to earn more through the arbitration process.

They made that uncharacteristically aggressive move for Archer because of their belief in this core. The front office often said those deals weren't just about two months in 2018, but about the next few years as well.

The way I see it, then, the Pirates need to make the most of this three-year period. That doesn't necessarily mean making another "big move," although the Brewers are a recent example of a team that leaped forward thanks to a couple of bold additions. The Bucs just need to do whatever they realistically can to give this core the best possible chance to get back to the postseason and win a World Series.

The usual caveats apply here. We don't know what else the Pirates have planned this offseason, and we don't know how much payroll flexibility Huntington has to work with. The front office must consider the future when making moves in the present. And the Bucs shouldn't give up high-end prospects who will soon bolster this core, like Mitch Keller and Ke'Bryan Hayes.

This is their window, yet they're currently projected by FanGraphs to go 80-82 with an Opening Day payroll somewhere between $70 million to $75 million, which would be down from last year. They could very well outperform preseason projections and contend this year -- they were in the hunt into August last year, longer than most expected -- but it seems like a lot of things would have to break their way for that to happen considering the competition they'll face.

It seems like a good sign that Polanco is swinging a bat again. Any chance he's ready early in the year?
-- Ron G., Pittsburgh

Good question, Ron, but it's still a little too early to know. Huntington said during the Winter Meetings that Polanco will begin his throwing program around mid-January and ramp it up from there, so his recovery timeline probably won't come into clearer focus until closer to Spring Training.

The Pirates initially said that Polanco could return anywhere between mid-April and mid-June, and the training staff will get a better feel when they see how his surgically repaired shoulder responds to the throwing program.

The earlier he's back and fully healthy, the better the Pirates' chances are. If he picks up where he left off last season, he'll bring an impact bat to Pittsburgh's lineup and allow Lonnie Chisenhall to deepen the Bucs' bench.

What should we expect from Jung Ho Kang this year? I thought he looked like a 30-homer hitter a couple years ago. I think he's our best shortstop, too.
-- Shannon T., Morgantown, W.Va.

I would not expect a 30-homer shortstop, if only because it sounds like he won't be playing shortstop. The Pirates are going to let him focus on playing third base, where he is apparently most comfortable.

Since October 2016, I've seen Kang take six at-bats and a couple of rounds of batting practice. He was two months removed from left wrist surgery and two years removed from Major League competition. I'm not going to make any judgments based on that.

But I will offer you this quote from Huntington at the Winter Meetings.

"He still shows power. He still showed the hands [on defense]. He still showed the arm and the arm strength and the arm accuracy," Huntington said. "At times, we still saw the hitter. The numbers in Triple-A didn't necessarily reflect that, but we still saw similar skills and abilities as when we liked him as a professional coming out of Korea and as a guy that earned his way into our lineup on a regular basis.

"Now, it's just a matter of how quickly can he catch up to the speed of the Major League game and will he catch up to the speed of the Major League game."

Kang will definitely be worth watching in Spring Training. If he does return to his 2015-16 form -- and that's still a huge "if" -- he'll be the kind of legitimate power threat the Bucs have been missing.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Inbox: Will Padres' top young arms arrive in '19?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from fans