One Question Facing Every MLB Team

As questions continue to swirl around the league as a whole, we zoom in to issues facing every franchise.
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A season unlike any other is nearly upon us.  There are no guarantees about it finishing (or starting!) but there are, just like any year, plenty of questions facing every club. Let's get right to it.

American League East

Baltimore Orioles: Will we see catcher Adley Rutschman this season? 

The Orioles are going to be awful again this season, so they might not want to start his service time clock in what will be a rather meaningless 2020 campaign. Also, why would they risk a significant injury to their future franchise catcher in such a year? But if nothing else, this team becomes significantly more watchable with Rutschman on the diamond.

Boston Red Sox: How far out of the AL East race will they be? 

Boston is less than two years removed from a World Series title and its best team in franchise history, yet now the question isn’t whether the Red Sox will be competitive, but how uncompetitive they will be in 2020. That Boston’s greatest competition in the division will be the still-developing Blue Jays is all you really need to know about where the organization is at.

New York Yankees: How many games will Giancarlo Stanton play? 

Stanton is among players under the most pressure this season, and a large part of that is because the $325 million man played in just 18 regular season games last year, five in the postseason—just two of the six in the ALCS. He should be ready to hit for New York’s first game, in Washington on July 23, after suffering a right calf strain in February. If Stanton wants to change what’s been deemed a disappointing first two seasons with the Yankees, he has to stay healthy.

Tampa Bay Rays: Can they catch the Yankees in the AL East? 

Tampa Bay is the most resourceful organization in baseball, and after another strong offseason, the Rays should be a playoff team again in 2020. How they get there has yet to be determined.

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Toronto Blue Jays: Who has a better sophomore season, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? 

Let’s face it, these three players are the main reasons to watch the Blue Jays in 2020. They are probably still a year away from contention, even with a core of three sons of major leaguers who are entering their second season in the show. Tracking their progress will be the most important thing, so we might as well make a friendly competition out of it while we watch.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox: Are they worth the hype? 

We’ve been hearing about their young core for a long while, and rightfully so, considering their farm system and all the moves they made. But Minnesota is loaded, and if the White Sox don’t win the AL Central, there’s no guarantee a wild-card spot will be there to fall back on.

Cleveland Indians: Will they trade or extend Francisco Lindor? 

Cleveland is in a tough spot when it comes to the face of the franchise. The Indians’ window of contention is closing, and there is a legitimate concern they won’t be able to afford Lindor, one of the games best players, when he hits free agency after the 2021 season. To avoid that, their three logical options are... 

1) Trade him this season (not optimal for many reasons).

2) Trade him this offseason or during the 2021 campaign

3) Sign him to an extension before he hits the market and then build around him throughout the length of that new contract. 

The problem with the first option is teams could be unwilling to offer a strong return for Lindor during an abbreviated season. The second option risks getting even less in return for him because teams will have, at most, one full season with him on their roster. The third, of course, is the most desirable outcome, though it’s probably the most improbable.

Detroit Tigers: How many of their top prospects will debut in 2020? 

The Tigers are doomed for another dreadful season, and with most of their top prospects currently on their 60-man training roster, giving them a taste of the show could be an appealing move. Sure, this would begin the service time clock for players like Casey Mize or Spencer Torkelson (the first overall pick in this year’s draft), meaning they’d be eligible to hit free agency a year sooner than if the team waited until May 2021 to call them up. 

But, during a season when many Detroit fans will have nothing to root for—Miguel Cabrera milestone watch, the key Tigers question for a 162-game season, has been postponed—it could be worth it for the club to call up their top prospects and give fans something to look forward to.

Kansas City Royals: Can Mike Matheny stand to manage this inexperienced club? 

The former Cardinals manager has clashed with young players in the past. Has he learned how to speak millennial? Can he keep his cool? That’s three questions—nowhere near the amount those Kansas City tots will be asking Matheny this year.

Minnesota Twins: Can they win a playoff game against the Yankees? 

Minnesota is built to make a deep postseason run. So are the Yankees, who have prevented the Twins from advancing past the first round in every October they’ve played in since 2003. New York has won 16 consecutive playoff games against Minnesota. Unless another team knocks off the Yankees first, the Twins’ pennant hopes will go through the Bronx.

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American League West

Houston Astros: How hard will they fall? 

The cheating scandal will hang over Houston all season, with every result, good and bad, contextualized through the lens of sign stealing. How much the Astros let the public reckoning of their past impact their season will determine their 2020 campaign. Of course, they will not be subject to the vitriolic condemnation of opposing fans during road games, but in the echo chamber that is the modern media landscape, it will be hard for the Astros to completely tune out the criticism. 

Los Angeles Angels: Does Mike Trout play? And how many games does he miss? 

Trout has made it clear he will not miss the birth of his first child; his wife Jessica is due some time in August. Trout’s concerns about COVID-19 and his family’s health is justifiable, though he has not yet decided whether he will sit out the 2020 season. Either way, the Angels will be without the best player in baseball for a sizable percentage of this 60-game season.

Oakland Athletics: Will they unseat Houston atop the AL West? 

The A's have a lane to the playoffs without passing through the wild-card game, considering the uncertainty of an abbreviated season and a possible Astros regression.

Houston is still one of the most talented clubs in MLB, while the Angels are better both on offense after adding Anthony Rendon and, to a much lesser extent, on the mound, now that Shohei Ohtani is expected to be ready to pitch. The Rangers, too, are better than they were last year, specifically because of their elite starting rotation. However, if any team is best positioned to overthrow the ‘Stros, it’s Oakland.

Seattle Mariners: How long before they trade Kyle Seager? 

Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto loves cooking up spicy trades. Dipoto’s Hot Corner will be open for business hours before the competition, with an Early Bird Special discount for any team willing to take on Seager’s contract.

Texas Rangers: Does great pitching compensate for mediocre hitting? 

The Texas Anti-Angels boast the best rotation in the AL West, with just an OK lineup. The Rangers have one of the most difficult schedules in the league this season, and will travel more miles (14,706) than any other team this season, playing in three different time zones. How they hold up down the stretch also will determine their success in 2020.

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National League East

Atlanta Braves: How much will losing Josh Donaldson hurt? 

Atlanta has the pitching needed to win the NL East. Marcell Ozuna joins a lineup with Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, but it drops off after that. (Freeman has tested positive for COVID-19, one of at least four Braves players to do so.) Both Eastern divisions this year will be a joy to watch this season.

Miami Marlins: Would 46-year-old CEO Derek Jeter be one of their best hitters? 

The Hall of Fame inductee has been out of uniform for five seasons, though it’s hard to bet against his 3,465 career hits. Four Marlins players with at least 100 plate appearances last year batted under .200, one of them being Isan Díaz, their projected starting second baseman for 2020.

New York Mets: Will they win more games than Yoenis Céspedes plays? 

Ideally for the Mets, the answer to this would be no, with a healthy Céspedes playing at least 50 games, bolstering an already strong lineup and the Mets winning 33-plus games. But be careful what you wish for, Mets fans. This could also happen with the oft-injured Céspedes playing in 31 games (he’s averaged 84 games since 2016, which would be the equivalent of 31 games adjusted for a 60-game season) and New York missing the playoffs again.

Philadelphia Phillies: Will Bryce Harper be better in his second year?

Harper was a really good player last season. He slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs, 4.2 WAR and a 125 OPS+. For what it's worth, much of that production was fueled by a monster second half. More acclimated in Philadelphia and more than a year removed from signing a $330 million contract, let’s see if that translates to a season worthy of the Harper hype.

Washington Nationals: How much will they miss Anthony Rendon? 

The World Series champs re-signed Stephen Strasburg but didn't bring back their All-Star third baseman. Instead of trying to replace Rendon with, say, Josh Donaldson, they re-signed Asdrúbal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick and brought in Starlin Castro. Prospect Carter Kieboom is also expected to join this third-base-by-committee approach. Yet the void left by Rendon still looms.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: Will David Ross reinvigorate the team? 

The backup catcher from the 2016 World Series team is now managing some of his former teammates. Could this new, yet familiar, voice of authority be what Chicago needs to make another title run with this core?

Cincinnati Reds: Does great pitching and good offense compensate for dreadful defense? 

The Reds signed third baseman Mike Moustakas to play second base because he’s a good hitter. They added Nicholas Castellanos because he destroys left-handed pitching and can also hit righties, but he’s one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball. As is Jesse Winker, who is expected to platoon against right-handers. Cover your eyes, Reds pitchers.

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Milwaukee Brewers: Will Lorenzo Cain bounce back? 

Last year was the first season since 2012 that LoCain had less than 3.0 WAR. He was hurt on and off throughout the season and never found an offensive rhythm. Now, after losing Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, the Brewers are going to need a strong season from Cain if they are going to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Will they play spoilers in late September? 

All of Pittsburgh’s games over the final two weeks of the season will come against playoff contenders—the Reds (3), Cardinals (4), Cubs (4), Cleveland (3). This means the Pirates could have a significant impact on the 2020 postseason, even though they won’t be playing in it themselves.

St. Louis Cardinals: Can they score enough to support their great rotation? 

St. Louis underperformed on offense in 2019. Paul Goldschmidt took a while to heat up with his new team, and Matt Carpenter looked nothing like the salsa slinger from the year before. Shortstop Paul DeJong, second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill all looked good the last time we saw them, decades ago, in Spring Training, though the real revelation at the time was switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson, their No. 2 prospect.

The other, less concerning, storyline this season for the Cards is Jack Flaherty, whose stretch of dominance last season corresponds nicely with the abbreviated 2020 schedule. Over 13 starts from July 29, 2019, through the end of the season, Flaherty went 7-2 with a 0.92 ERA and 0.65 WHIP.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Can Ketel Marte build upon his breakout 2019 season? 

The Diamondbacks second baseman finished fourth in NL MVP voting after hitting .329 with 32 home runs, 6.9 WAR and a 149 OPS+. That's a high bar to reach again.

Colorado Rockies: Can they make good on their promise to Nolan Arenado? 

The superstar third baseman signed an extension with the Rockies before the 2019 season under the notion that they’d field a competitive team around him. They were disappointing last year, and Arenado told MLB.com in January he feels "a lot of disrespect" from the club's decision makers. All is not well in Colorado.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Will they win their first World Series since 1988? 

That’s why L.A. traded for Mookie Betts way back in the Stone Age, knowing that he almost certainly would test free agency this offseason (though his prospects on the open market don’t look as robust following the pandemic-shortened season). Right now, the Dodgers are the most talented team in the National League, quite possibly in all of baseball, but that’s also been the case in the past 7-10 years. Is Mookie the missing piece?

San Diego Padres: Will they have their first winning season in a decade? 

Because of the Dodgers, San Diego has almost no shot at winning the NL West. But the Padres could finish above .500, with a talented group of young players and a strong bullpen. Such a season could be enough for them to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

San Francisco Giants: Who is the first player to homer off Madison Bumgarner?

MadBum is now with the Diamondbacks, and it will be weird to see a #ForeverGiant as important as him in another uniform pitching against San Francisco. But that’s the way the game works now.