Every team has questions going into a season. Some teams are replacing departed players. Other teams are figuring out who’s left on their roster. Some are eyeing the World Series. Others are looking to next year already. No matter where your team is in the hierarchy, it has something that needs to be addressed.
The next six months are going to be spent searching for answers to these questions (arranged in 2018 draft order):
Detroit Tigers (64-98)
Who’s going to step up?
The Tigers sold off everything that wasn’t bolted to the floor. Now it’s time to see what the kids can do. Hell, it’s time to find out who the kids are. Detroit’s continued insistence that the present takes precedence over the future is finally going to catch up. It’s going to be a long summer. Hopefully some individuals can make this team somewhat watchable.
San Francisco Giants (64-98)
Will the new faces re-energize the club?
The Giants had a dreadful 2017. Right or wrong, the team is clearly banking on that having been a setback rather than an omen. Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen have brought excitement, but can they bring the Giants back to contender status? It’s going to be tough, competing in baseball’s most crowded division.
Philadelphia Phillies (66-96)
Are the kids ready yet?
The Phillies have been slowly restocking their organization with prospects, following the collapse of the core that won them a championship in 2008 and nearly repeated in 2009. They signed Ryan Howard and company to massive, ill-advised contracts and fans have been subject to the results ever since. Finally, the kids appear ready to break through. One way or the other, this is going to be a formative year in Philly.
Chicago White Sox (67-95)
Are all these top prospects actually any good?
I can’t believe I’m saying this but props to the ChiSox. They saw the writing on the wall and started boxing up anyone with any sort of trade value. Now they find themselves loaded with top-tier prospects. Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada (the prizes in the Adam Eaton and Chris Sale trades, respectively) are poised to breakout this summer. Eloy Jimenez (the big name in the Jose Quintana deal) and Michael Kopech (the 1a of the Sale trade) are soon to follow.
Cincinnati Reds (68-94)
Who’s going to pitch?
The Red Legs hit well enough last summer. The issue was that their opponents routinely hit better. It comes down to an utter lack of Major League-ready arms. Cincinnati was one of two teams to allow north of 800 earned runs in 2017. There are plenty of names that could possibly fill the voids. Unfortunately, none of them have shown the capability to do so. It looks like yet another year of being stuck on the pitching carousel.
New York Mets (70-92)
Jay Bruce, Jose Reyes, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez. I know the last two are technically fresh faces, but doesn’t it feel like the Mets are just getting the band back together for another lackluster tour? I understand they might still think they have one of the best starting rotations in the game. Still, having to sign so many veterans just to field a decent team should tell us all we need to know.
San Diego Padres (71-91)
How can we compete?
The Padres are pretty much stuck in the basement of the NL West. The Giants were horrid last year, filling the bottom spot, but chances are that won’t happen again this go around. The Dodgers are stacked, the Rockies and Diamondbacks are on the rise, the Giants have retooled. The Padres aren’t a bad team, they’re just trapped in a gauntlet of a division.
Atlanta Braves (72-90)
Which of the young guns can take the next step?
Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, Max Fried; the Braves have a whole rotation’s worth of pitchers who have shown flashes of good stuff but haven’t grabbed hold of a spot. That’s without mentioning the guys who haven’t debuted yet; Kyle Wright (no. 30 prospect according to MLB.com), Mike Soroka (no. 31), Ian Anderson (no. 51), Kolby Allard (no. 58). Suffice to say, the Braves have a plethora of options to hand the ball to. It’s time to figure out who’s worth keeping around.
Oakland Athletics (75-87)
Can we please find a new stadium now?
The Raiders are officially gone and this issue has officially become ridiculous. I know nothing of the political climate in Oakland but there’s got to be a way to get this thing done without pissing everyone off. This is one of the most important causes you’ll hear me champion this summer. Let’s get the A’s into a stadium that’s actually fit for baseball!
Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
What’s the plan here?
Cutch is gone and, with him, the feeling that the Pirates can compete. There are some good players that clearly have a spot on this team going forward. There are also some stop-gap guys who seem to be around only to help fill out a roster. This upcoming season is going to be a crossroads for Pittsburgh. Enjoy some early success, and the front office might decide to make a push. Come limping into the season though, and some of those remaining good players may also be on their way out soon.
Baltimore Orioles (75-87)
How much can we get for Manny?
Manny Machado is going to begin the season at shortstop. I’m almost certain he will finish it on another team. What other option do the Orioles have? They’re simply not going to be able to offer Machado the same money he’ll get on the open market. Ergo, he’s got to go. You must cash in while you have the chance. Just imagine what wonders a couple legitimate top pitching prospects could do for this club.
Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Why didn’t we do this last year?
Puzzlingly, Toronto chose to re-sign Jose Bautista to a one-year deal last offseason. For numerous reasons we don’t have the time to get into right now, I flat-out do not like Bautista as a player. As a result, I have not been able to objectively watch a Blue Jays game for ages. No more! The bad man is gone, and we can finally enjoy the only team north of the border.
Miami Marlins (77-85)
It’s no secret that the Marlins’ new ownership group, led by Derek Jeter, is taking the team in a different direction. Giancarlo Stanton is gone. Dee Gordon is gone. Marcel Ozuna is gone. Christian Yelich is gone. It might look like they’re “giving up,” but did Marlins fans really expect to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown? It’s a new day with a new owner who actually cares about the team. This is an exciting time for baseball in Miami. Don’t be distracted by the mass exodus.
Seattle Mariners (78-84)
Unlike the Mets’, this is a positive “Again?” question. Jerry Dipoto is quite possibly the coolest GM around. He’s definitely the most active in the trade market, and he’s solidified that reputation this winter. Dee Gordon is going to play centerfield for Seattle this season. It’s a risk. That’s for sure. But, if you’re a Mariners fan suffering through the longest postseason drought in baseball, you have to be encouraged by Dipoto’s persistence in trying to end it.
Texas Rangers (78-84)
Can the bullpen improve?
The Rangers finished 2017 with the third-worst bullpen ERA in baseball. Sam Dyson, the man who began the year as the closer, was canned after 17 appearances, with four blown saves, a WHIP over 2.50, and an ERA in the double digits. The Rangers were never able to fully move on from that early trauma. They enter 2018 with a relief corps that is astonishingly unproven. Can they lock down some leads this summer?
Tampa Bay Rays (80-82)
How much longer will Chris Archer be around?
Evan Longoria was traded to San Francisco. Jake Odorizzi was dealt to Minnesota. Steven Souza Jr. was sent to Arizona. Corey Dickerson was designated for assignment and shipped to Pittsburgh to make room for C.J. Cron, in the most questionable transaction I’ve seen in a long time. It seems inevitable that Chris Archer will be next. It’s just a matter of when, to whom, and for how much. Enjoy him while you can, Rays fans.
Los Angeles Angels (80-82)
How do all the new pieces fit together?
The Angels have made numerous major changes to their roster in the past year. Now comes the nerve-wracking part. Will Justin Upton keep up the torrid pace he set last summer? Is Zack Cozart ready to change positions and become a guy who’s actually expected to perform? Was Ian Kinsler’s 2017 production a hiccup or the official start of his decline? And most interestingly, how does Shohei Ohtani handle all the attention? There are plenty of storylines to follow on the AL side of LA.
Kansas City Royals (80-82)
It was fun while it lasted. It really was. The Royals were one of those rare small-market success stories we see far too few of in sports these days. But now, without Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer gone, this ball club is going to have a much different feel to it. Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are still around, but there’s no question that the torch is being passed to a new generation of Royals this summer.
St. Louis Cardinals (83-79)
Last year was an apparition, right?
St. Louis went 12-12 in April, and 13-13 in May. Even in a year where the NL Central was somewhat up for grabs, that start put them too far behind. Cardinals fans expect to win. They haven’t missed the postseason in three consecutive seasons since Mark McGwire was rewriting home run records. The Cards will be aiming to get back where they feel they belong; October.
Minnesota Twins (85-77)
Can we keep it up?
Last year was an unexpected leap forward. The Twins simply were not thought of as a potential playoff team 365 days ago. People doubted the pitching and, apparently, underestimated the hitting. Minnesota mashed in August and September, to the tune of the second-most runs scored in each month. The pitching department still isn’t as settled as you’d like, but this team has already shown it can win despite that.
Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
How cool is this?
When was the last time the Brewers made such an obvious push to win now? I can’t remember them ever going all-in quite like this. The night of January 25 was a fun one, as news of the Lorenzo Cain signing and the Christian Yelich trade came across in the span of just a couple hours. The Brew Crew could now field two quality outfield trios. You have to imagine one or two guys being traded to ease the logjam and address other concerns. The NL Central is supposed to be locked down by the Cubs until further notice, and the Cardinals have rejuvenated themselves, too. But don’t tell the Brewers, who’ve made it clear that they’re not going to give up chasing that division crown.
Colorado Rockies (87-75)
Can the pitching keep improving?
The story surrounding the Rockies last spring was centered on their arsenal of young starters and whether or not they were ready to stick in the big leagues. A 4.59 ERA among starters isn’t great, but it put them right in the middle of the pack, and allowed an offense that scored more that five runs per game (third in baseball) do its thing. For the first time, maybe ever, the Rox have a whole stable full of somewhat reliable starters. As a group, they officially broke out last summer. This summer, they’ll need to keep improving upon that.
New York Yankees (91-71)
The Yankees were taking a long-term approach, staying within their means and waiting for some of their many prospects to start panning out. Well, pan they did. It’s funny to look back now and remember that people like me were preaching patience with this team. The Yanks rebuilt in a way only they could, skipping the part where the team goes through some losing before really taking shape. This is the shape, and man, does it look good.
Chicago Cubs (92-70)
Has the hangover worn off yet?
Joe Maddon’s bunch sleepwalked its way through the first half of 2017. Then they flipped the switch coming out of the All-Star Break and turned back into the National League’s best team. They did reach the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive year, but I think it’s fair to say that the Cubs never really settled into the role of defending champs. No season is ever going to feel as magical as 2016 did, but none should feel as lifeless as early 2017 did either, not with this much talent on the roster. Let’s hope they’ve snapped out of the championship hangover.
Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69)
Where do we set our expectations?
They had a great run in 2017. Everything seemed to be going their way. Health wasn’t an issue for a change. Paul Goldschmidt returned to his MVP-caliber form. J.D. Martinez came over at the trade deadline, and proceeded to produce a whole season’s worth of power in two months. It was an awesome ride for Diamondbacks fans. Unfortunately, when everything goes so right one year, you can’t help but wonder if it was maybe a fluke. I had a blast watching this club last summer and personally, I’m hoping they can make another run. Realistically though, I’m cautious.
Boston Red Sox (93-69)
Can Alex Cora make Boston fun again?
It was going to be a tough transition year with David Ortiz no longer around. The talent on this roster is undeniable but oftentimes it takes more than sheer skill to succeed. Whether it was strong leadership, a feared left-handed bat, or just a personality, something was missing in Boston last year. Yes, they won the AL East in consecutive seasons for the first time ever (astoundingly). But, if you watched the American League Division Series against the Astros, you know this was a team hanging by a thread. Enter Alex Cora. He brings with him renewed excitement and a brand-new direction for the ball club. Suddenly, it feels like the Sox have a new lease on life, which is crucial as the rival Yankees creep up behind them.
Washington Nationals (97-65)
Is it now or never?
Bryce Harper’s contract expires whenever the Nationals’ season does. I’m guessing you’ve heard that before, and I’m certain you’ll hear it again. It’s the dark cloud that’s going to hover over Washington all summer long. He’s not the only one, either. Comparing the 2018 payroll to what the Nats have on the books for 2019 shows you just how urgent the situation is. As has been the case for years in Washington, the time to win is now.
Houston Astros (101-61)
How much better can we be, really?
They disposed of the BoSox in four quick games, outlasted the Yankees who didn’t go away without a seven-game fight, and then the Astros triumphed over the Dodgers in an instant classic World Series. Oh, and they were one of three teams to win 100 ballgames during the regular season. The Astros won 38 of their first 54 games and still found a way to get better as the season went on. Quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone in the AL West can reasonably expect to compete for a division title this year, or for the next three years, for that matter. Barring tragedy, this team is going to be very good for a very long time.
Cleveland Indians (102-60)
How do we replace Carlos Santana?
It’s a mistake to downplay the departure of Carlos Santana, who signed with Philadelphia over the winter. Expecting Yonder Alonso to come in and seamlessly replace Santana is not only unrealistic, it’s irresponsible. You can’t compare Alonso to Santana. They’re simply different players who do different things. Not many guys who hit .260 can maintain an on-base percentage that’s 100 points higher. Santana did that in each of the past two seasons. Yes, the Tribe got a new first baseman, but that’s only the beginning of figuring out how to replace Carlos Santana.
Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58)
How much longer can we keep doing this?
The Dodgers have a lot of money and they’re not afraid to use it. They have a bunch of great players, too. Unfortunately, that money and those players have not yet brought home a World Series title. Coming tantalizingly close last fall will make them that much more desperate to achieve the ultimate goal. They can’t keep doing this indefinitely, though. At some point, the money is going to dry up and the players are going to age out of their prime. It’s a cyclical thing. I’m not saying the Dodgers are nearing the end of this competing cycle. I’m just saying they’ve got to finish the job while they’re still in position to do so.