February 26, 2024

Pressing questions for all 30 MLB teams heading into spring training

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of reporters descended upon Camelback Ranch, the spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and, more importantly, Shohei Ohtani. With the Dodgers opening the season on March 20 in South Korea against the San Diego Padres, the team’s pitchers and catchers reported earlier than usual this year. By early next week, the rest of the industry will have done likewise, gathering in Arizona and Florida to throw bullpen sessions, take batting practice and revel in being in the best shape of their collective lives.

In baseball, the spring represents optimism. It also presents an opportunity for inquisition. All 30 teams, from the woebegone Oakland Athletics to the high-flying Dodgers, have questions they would like to answer before the season begins. We checked in with our staff and rounded up the most pressing topics for each club this spring.

AL East

Toronto Blue Jays

Is the offense capable of being among the very best in MLB again? (Or at least better than last year?)

Despite a lineup featuring Bo Bichette, George Springer and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., among others, the Blue Jays struggled to consistently score runs last season, which was ultimately their downfall. The stalling offense was a surprise, considering between 2020-22, Toronto ranked as MLB’s top offense with a .776 OPS.

Was 2023 an outlier or the beginning of a concerning trend? That’s the question that looms over Toronto’s lineup as they begin this season.

Can Vladimir Guerrero Jr. improve upon the .788 OPS he posted in 2023? (Mark Taylor / Getty Images)

The club has spent the offseason digging into its internal processes to figure out the flaws in its approach. They’ve also made staff changes, including appointing bench coach Don Mattingly as the new offensive coordinator and promoting hitting coach Matt Hague to the major-league staff after his success with the Triple-A club.

But the front office hasn’t made drastic changes to the team’s lineup — the biggest signing so far is Justin Tuner, who projects to be the DH — suggesting that if the offense is going to be better than last year, it’s going to hinge on returning players — like Springer, Guerrero and Daulton Varsho — bouncing back from down seasons. The Blue Jays are betting on their guys, and this season, we’ll find out if it pays off. — Kaitlyn McGrath

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Phillies
Season opener: March 28 at Rays



Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wins arbitration case against Blue Jays: Reports

Baltimore Orioles

Are they really the Next Big Thing? (And if so, are they there already?)

The lows were so low, and the mediocrity so relentless, that sustainable success for the Orioles became difficult to even imagine. But brighter days have returned to Baltimore, and brighter still might lie ahead. The Orioles led the American League with 101 wins last season. They lost to the eventual-champion Texas Rangers in the division series, but 2023 was an arrival for Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and the rest of this young core. The Orioles have the reigning Rookie of the Year (Henderson), the best prospect in baseball (Jackson Holliday) and the game’s best farm system (by a large margin, according to Baseball America).

This winter, they traded for an ace (Corbin Burnes) and signed a closer (Craig Kimbrel). Is that enough? It’s been a long time since baseball hopes were this high in the Charm City. The potential is immense, but FanGraphs’ WAR projections still have the Orioles fourth in the American League East. Have we anointed this young team too early? Should we be anointing them at all?  — Chad Jennings

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Red Sox
Season opener: March 28 vs. Angels

Tampa Bay Rays

Is this the year the magic fades?

Ninety miles west of the Magic Kingdom is a different kind of fairy tale: a low-budget baseball team that actually manages to win year after year while apparently solving the riddle of pitching acquisition and development. In so many ways, the Rays are a marvel, going toe-to-toe with the Yankees and Red Sox while turning the likes of Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen into something close to aces. But this might be their most difficult challenge yet. Tyler Glasnow’s been traded away. Springs, Rasmussen and actual ace Shane McClanahan have undergone elbow surgery. So has next-in-line prospect Shane Baz. Shortstop Wander Franco is under criminal investigation in the Dominican Republic and whether he will ever return to baseball remains unclear. It’s a lot to make up for, even for an organization that’s built its reputation and success on its ability to produce and discover impact talent from almost anywhere. — Chad Jennings

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Braves
Season opener: March 28 vs. Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox

Lucas Giolito joins the Red Sox after going 2-9 with a 6.96 ERA in his final 12 starts last season. (Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images)

What will the rotation look like by Opening Day?

We could have written three questions on the rotation alone: Will Lucas Giolito bounce back? Will Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock find stability in a starting role? Will Nick Pivetta and Kutter Crawford take steps forward after showing potential last year? Can Brayan Bello continue to emerge as a No. 1 starter? How much of an impact will pitching coach Andrew Bailey have? The rotation is one of the team’s biggest question marks and they start the spring with more unknowns than any year in recent memory. The FanGraphs ZiPS projections aren’t all that promising.

The Red Sox rotation finished 22nd in baseball last year with a 4.68 ERA and 27th in innings at 774 1/3. All winter, the expectation was that the Red Sox would add to the rotation, but the only meaningful move made was signing Giolito, then they traded Chris Sale the next day, creating another hole. At Winter Weekend, they touted their internal rotation options. The current group may very well take a step forward, but there are a lot of question marks the team will seek to sort out this spring. — Jen McCaffrey

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 13
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Orioles (annual Feb. 23 exhibition vs. Northeastern)
Season opener: March 28 at Mariners

New York Yankees

Have they done enough to improve?

The Yankees did not accomplish all of their goals this winter. They hoped for a “YamaSoto” offseason but only added Juan Soto, losing out to the Dodgers on Yoshinobu Yamamoto. That’s still a significant upgrade from what the team had last year, relying on Jake BauersWillie Calhoun, Franchy Cordero and Billy McKinney in the outfield. That move cannot and should not be understated. They also added Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, who give them better all-around depth.

While missing out on Yamamoto was a disappointment, adding Marcus Stroman to the middle of the rotation on a reasonable two-year contract was a shrewd move. Adding Caleb Ferguson to the bullpen this week was also a sign of good roster management; general manager Brian Cashman flipped a waiver-wire pickup and Dominican Summer League pitcher for someone projected to be better than Wandy Peralta. No team in the American League improved more this offseason than the Yankees, and the stats back it up. But as we’ve seen over the past several years, that doesn’t mean much until the games start. — Chris Kirschner

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Tigers
Season opener: March 28 vs. Astros

AL Central

Cleveland Guardians

How will the new regime get acquainted?

Stephen Vogt is the new face of the franchise (non-José Ramírez division), but there are plenty of other unfamiliar faces descending upon the desert. The Guardians have a new bench coach (Craig Albernaz), infield coach (Rouglas Odor), assistant hitting coach (Dan Puente), bullpen coach (Brad Goldberg), major-league field coordinator (Kai Correa) and hitting analyst (Josh Tubbs). There’s even a new replay coordinator (Gunnar Wilhelmy) and a new team dietician (Erica Auriemme).

For years, the club has operated like a well-oiled machine each spring because Brad Mills or DeMarlo Hale, Terry Francona’s chief lieutenants, outlined everyone’s schedule for every minute of camp. Throw all customs and traditions out the window, though. A new group is in charge, with new sets of eyes to evaluate players in a camp full of competitions, and perhaps with new structure and routines to implement.

For the first time since 2012, there will be a new orator on the first full-squad day, a new person to deliver the news that a player made the Opening Day roster or is being cut from consideration, a new person to field questions and sketch out batting orders and yank struggling pitchers.

It’ll be strange — but change can be refreshing, too. — Zack Meisel

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 12
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Reds
Season opener: Mar. 28 vs. Athletics

Kansas City Royals

The Royals improved their rotation with several additions, including Seth Lugo. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Do a series of free-agent signings alter the team’s direction?

OK, so Bobby Witt Jr. is the unquestioned centerpiece the Royals are building around. Then what?

The Royals clearly feel like they’re on the right path, that a franchise record-tying 106 losses in 2023 was the nadir, but is it because there’s simply nowhere to go but up, or because they’re actually onto something? Witt, Vinnie Pasquantino and Cole Ragans appear to be the key pieces, but with no crop of intriguing prospects knocking on the door — no pressure, new scouting director! — they tossed money at some second- and third-tier free agents.

Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Will Smith, Chris Stratton and Nick Anderson should raise the floor of a pitching staff that ranked next-to-last in ERA in the American League. Manager Matt Quatraro said at the Winter Meetings that the club’s “strike-throwing has to improve,” and all five of those veterans recorded above-average walk rates. For an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in OPS, newcomers Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, Garrett Hampson and Mike Brosseau can, uh, slot into the lineup somewhere.

Maybe the wave of veteran influence can help the Royals trim their loss total and hang around for a bit in a weak AL Central. Eventually, somehow, they need an influx of younger talent to change the course of the franchise. But the offseason activity at least makes the club more interesting and, on paper, a bit more formidable. — Zack Meisel

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game:
Feb. 23 vs. Rangers
Season opener:
March 28 vs. Twins

Detroit Tigers

Can the team’s young core take another step forward?

Last year’s iteration of the Tigers won 78 games, bolstered largely by the emergence of their top young hitters. But to take another leap and contend in what should again be a weak AL Central, the Tigers need the likes of Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter to do something that rarely happens in baseball: make linear developmental progress.

Greene was the team’s positional leader in fWAR at 2.3 and looked the part of one of the game’s best young hitters when healthy. But injuries have plagued Greene in the early days of his career. He will begin this season able to play but is still recovering from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm. Torkelson belted 31 home runs but must improve other aspects of his game — he was worth minus-11 defensive runs saved and had only a .313 on-base percentage. Carpenter, an outfielder and designated hitter, posted a 121 wRC+, higher than both of his highly-touted counterparts, but he also cooled toward the end of the season. Role players such as Jake Rogers and Parker Meadows matter, but if the Tigers are to contend ahead of schedule, they need the Greene-Torkelson-Carpenter trio to mature into All-Star caliber players. — Cody Stavenhagen

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Yankees
Season opener: March 28 at White Sox

Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton hasn’t played the field for the Twins since August 2022. Can he be a steady presence in center field in 2024? (David Berding / Getty Images)

Is Byron Buxton ready to return to center field?

Aside from the starting rotation, this is the single most important question facing the Twins this season. Coming off his first knee surgery in September 2022, Buxton worked tirelessly but never was able to play in the field in 2023. From the time he arrived at spring training through his efforts into October, Buxton’s knee never held up enough for the team to consider him an option in the field.

The Twins were forced to adapt on the fly beginning in spring and continued altering their plan in hopes Buxton could play defense again. Instead, Buxton was limited to designated hitter duties and lasted only 85 games, plus a painful pinch-hit appearance in the playoffs.

This year, Buxton and the Twins are more optimistic, as both parties have been vocal about. Buxton’s recovery has included no setbacks and he and athletic trainer Nick Paparesta are on the same page. Buxton could see playing time in center during spring games. If that happens and Buxton can manage to play during the regular season, the Twins will get a ton of the flexibility they crave. — Dan Hayes

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 23 vs. University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Season opener: March 28 vs. Royals

Chicago White Sox

Does this franchise have a direction?

The White Sox spent most of last season in the wilderness. Now Chris Getz enters his first full year as general manager in a difficult position. The team is clearly rebuilding — and still trying to trade starting pitcher Dylan Cease — but it seems as though they’d like to avoid a multiyear teardown. Getz has made improving defense and revamping culture as two of the early building blocks, but this team has a long road ahead. Luis Robert Jr. gives the White Sox a star talent. Andrew Vaughn, Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez are solid pieces. But projections for the team as a whole remain depressing. The 2024 White Sox may be defined by what kind of return they can get for Cease and what kinds of progress they can make in player development. For now, it’s difficult to see them emerging from the woods anytime soon. — Cody Stavenhagen

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 23 at Cubs
Season opener: March 28 vs. Tigers

AL West

Los Angeles Angels

How do they replace Shohei Ohtani?

They don’t. At least not in the conventional sense. There are no other two-way superstars on the open market. The good news for the Angels is that his departure allows them to more freely utilize the DH spot. That could be fairly important for keeping guys like Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in the lineup regularly. But so far the Angels have done nothing this offseason to replicate Ohtani’s productivity in the rotation or at the plate. If this franchise is to improve despite his departure, it will have to be through improvement both on the field and in terms of health.

It’s certainly possible. But it’s also difficult to envision the Angels losing the game’s best player and then dramatically improving on the 73-win record they’ve had each of the last two seasons. If Trout can return to MVP form, if the young starters in the rotation take a massive leap, if the bullpen — the one area the Angels genuinely have improved — is a lock-down group, maybe there’s a pathway here. But there is no replacing Ohtani and it’s concerning that they seemingly haven’t done much to even try. — Sam Blum

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 13
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Dodgers
Season opener: March 28 at Orioles

Houston Astros

Jose Altuve recently signed a five-year, $125 million extension to remain with the Astros. Will Alex Bregman join him? (Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

Will Alex Bregman sign a contract extension?

The Astros already handled the inevitable, handing franchise cornerstone Jose Altuve a five-year, $125 million extension that almost ensures he’ll finish his career in Houston. Re-signing him seemed like a foregone conclusion, especially after Altuve made such a public declaration last spring that he never wanted to leave.

Alex Bregman is a different case entirely. Like Altuve, he is represented by Scott Boras, who acknowledged this week that Bregman will have “more of a normal free agency dynamic” than Altuve. Bregman turns 30 in March and should hit the open market seeking the type of deal owner Jim Crane has never authorized.



As Astros prepare for inevitable crossroads, Jose Altuve will remain a constant

Crane must be commended for stepping out of his comfort zone this winter. The five-year, $95 million deal he gave to closer Josh Hader is the largest free-agent deal of his ownership tenure and all but guarantees the club will pay the competitive balance tax for the first time under Crane’s watch. The team will carry its highest opening-day payroll since Crane purchased the club in 2011, too.

Still, Crane has been averse to the sort of long-term, high-dollar contract Bregman and Boras will command. He’s never given an extension longer than six years and never guaranteed more than $150 million. Boras said there is no timetable for extending Bregman and acknowledged that “Alex is open to listening to whatever the Astros have to say,” but unless Crane goes to a place he’s never been, it’s difficult to envision anything getting done. — Chandler Rome

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 13
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Nationals
Season opener: March 28 vs. Yankees

Oakland Athletics

What’s there to play for?

The A’s will not be good in 2024. Their active roster will be populated with players who lack major-league experience and likely wouldn’t be getting it elsewhere. This is expected to be the final season at the Oakland Coliseum, and fan vitriol toward the organization will justifiably be at an all-time high. Opening Day usually brings promise, but there isn’t much of that for this Oakland team to work with. So, what is there to play for? The A’s will have to manufacture purpose this year. They’ll have to work on developing their young core of players. The improvement of Zack Gelof, J.J. Bleday and Mason Miller, among many others, will be critical. Whatever is happening off the field, it can’t impede the progression of a team that could be establishing a talented and productive core if and when the franchise does move.



Caught in between: Oakland A’s Mark Kotsay navigates baseball’s toughest managerial job

Manager Mark Kotsay said recently that the expectations will be elevated. Though to be fair, they can’t get much lower than the 112 losses suffered last season. Can this A’s team find pride and meaning in improving? That will be answered once the games start. — Sam Blum

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Rockies
Season opener: March 28 vs. Guardians

Seattle Mariners

Julio Rodríguez won’t have departed teammate Teoscar Hernandez, right, next to him in the Mariners’ reconfigured outfield in 2024. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

Who is beside Julio Rodríguez in the outfield?

Teoscar Hernández is a Dodger and Jarred Kelenic is a Brave, so who will be beside Rodríguez in the outfield? At one point it was just Dominic Canzone, but Jerry Dipoto traded for Mitch Haniger and Luke Raley. When healthy, the 33-year-old Haniger has been a productive player, receiving MVP votes in both 2018 and 2021. Those two seasons, though, are the only two of his six full seasons that he’s played in at least 100 games. After signing a three-year, $43.5 million deal with his hometown Giants after 2022, he suffered a fractured ulna after being hit by a pitch and was limited to 61 games and wasn’t effective in those. Raley, 29, was the odd man out in the Rays’ outfield. He played in a career-high 118 games for Tampa Bay last season. The left-handed hitter can play all three outfield spots. Canzone, acquired last season from the Diamondbacks, is likely a platoon bat against right-handed pitching.

Will those three be enough? The team also has Dylan Moore, who can play both the infield and outfield, and Taylor Trammell. The 26-year-old Cade Marlowe debuted last season and played in 34 games. — C. Trent Rosecrans

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 24 at White Sox
Season opener: March 28 vs. Red Sox

Texas Rangers

Do they have the pitching needed to repeat?

The Rangers lineup will be as formidable as ever. There’s no doubting that. But no MLB team has repeated as World Series champions since the 1998-2000 Yankees. As the Rangers embark on a most difficult quest, pitching will again be their biggest obstacle. The Rangers have big names, no doubt. The problem is a bundle of their most established arms will begin the year on the injured list. Jacob deGrom isn’t expected back from his UCL repair until after the All-Star break. Max Scherzer could be out until midsummer after surgery to repair a herniated disc. Free-agent signing Tyler Mahle is also out until midsummer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers have yet to re-sign Jordan Montgomery so that leaves Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning, and Cody Bradford as the projected rotation to start the year. — Cody Stavenhagen

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 23 vs. Royals
Season opener: March 28 vs. Cubs

NL East

Atlanta Braves

What’s expected of Chris Sale and Jarred Kelenic?

Notwithstanding Sale’s litany of injuries that limited him to 31 starts over the past four years, the Braves believe the ultra-competitive 34-year-old can be impactful on and off the field, noting his 3.16 ERA in the final 15 of 20 starts he made in 2023 despite a 10-week injured-list stint for a scapula injury. They aim to keep him healthy for the postseason and will give Sale extra rest with that in mind.

He’s had a normal, healthy offseason, and the Braves believed in him enough to give him a two-year, $38 million contract days after trading for him, which they think will help Sale settle in and not feel pressure to push through minor ailments in a free-agent year.

With left fielder Kelenic, a former elite Mariners prospect acquired via a December trade, the Braves believe not having the pressure to carry a heavy load in a stacked Braves lineup could help him relax and realize his full potential. In 2023, Kelenic hit .297 with 10 homers and a .914 OPS in his first 45 games before slumping and breaking his foot kicking a dugout cooler in frustration. — David O’Brien

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 13
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Rays
Season opener: March 28 at Phillies

Miami Marlins

Because Sandy Alcantara is recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Marlins will be counting on youngster Eury Pérez to help hold down the rotation. (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Can the top of the rotation stay healthy? 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Marlins employ some excellent young starting pitchers. This was true in 2021 when the trio of Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, and Trevor Rogers looked set to lead the club into this new decade. Flash forward a couple seasons: Alcantara is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Rogers has been beset by injuries and ineffectiveness, and López was dealt to Minnesota in the deal that brought back Luis Arraez. The new trio atop the rotation is Jesús Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, and, of course, Eury Pérez. Some scouts view Pérez as a potential Cy Young Award candidate in the future. But he won’t turn 21 until April, and the Marlins figure to manage him with care. If the club intends to contend in the National League East, though, they will need all three of their top arms to stay healthy. — Andy McCullough

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Cardinals
Season opener: March 28 vs. Pirates

New York Mets

How’s Pete Alonso going to handle all of this?

Barring a significant surprise, there will be no spring negotiations between the Mets and Pete Alonso about a long-term contract extension. And thus, Alonso is poised to play out the season and hit the open market in the fall.

President of baseball operations David Stearns has said he’s comfortable with that dynamic, that Alonso has proven throughout his career that he’s adept at handling pressure. This can be a different kind of pressure, though, than coming to bat in a big spot late in a game, and players respond differently and sometimes unexpectedly to that pressure. Michael Conforto had one of the more difficult seasons of his career ahead of free agency; Brandon Nimmo, on the other hand, had perhaps his best.

Players also handle the persistent public questions about possible contracts differently. Jacob deGrom spoke after each spring start about his hopes for an extension back in 2019; three years later, he closed off conversations about his contract by saying he planned to opt out of his deal at season’s end. To this point, Alonso has politely declined to discuss his long-term future beyond saying he loves playing with the Mets. — Tim Britton

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Cardinals
Season opener: March 28 vs. Brewers

Washington Nationals

How soon will we see Dylan Crews and James Wood?

As soon as next spring, we’ll probably be penciling in top 20 prospects Crews (No. 7 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list) and Wood (No. 19) for starting outfield spots in Washington, D.C. For now, though, they have what appears to be a very short-term trio: Victor Robles, Lane Thomas and Joey Gallo. Gallo and Robles will both be free agents this fall and are clear candidates to be flipped if they have strong first halves. Thomas is under club control through 2025. He was one of the top trade targets last July, but the Nationals held on to him. Thomas faded down the stretch but still wound up with a .783 OPS, 28 homers and 20 steals. If the Nationals want Thomas as part of their next core, they could attempt to extend him. Otherwise, he also could be traded this season, making way for an outfield trio of Crews, Wood and perhaps Stone Garrett (who is DH-ing for now as he comes back from a broken leg). — Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 vs. Astros
Season opener: March 28 at Reds

Philadelphia Phillies

Is Philadelphia Zack Wheeler’s long-term home? (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Can they extend Zack Wheeler?

The Phillies faced a similar situation last spring with Nola. They were confident entering camp that they could reach a deal, but ultimately, Nola wanted to test free agency to see how other teams valued him. The difference here, perhaps, is Zack Wheeler has been a free agent before. He took less money before the 2020 season to sign with the Phillies over the White Sox. Fit — for his career and family — was most important to him.

It was the right choice; Wheeler has pitched his best while with the Phillies and has evolved into one of the top 10 starters in the sport. It will cost serious money to extend the relationship, but all indications are the two sides want to find common ground.

There are risks on both sides. Wheeler turns 34 in May; the Phillies would be banking on him aging well. Wheeler, if he signs in the spring, could be leaving money on the table. The free-agent market after 2024 is robust: Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Shane Bieber, Walker Buehler, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer could all be available.

Wheeler has developed a strong relationship with Nola, who is signed through 2030, and pitching coach Caleb Cotham. It makes too much sense to keep this rolling. — Matt Gelb

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 13
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Blue Jays
Season opener: March 28 vs. Braves

NL Central

Milwaukee Brewers

Who will be there on Opening Day?

Corbin Burnes is no longer a Brewer and there’s speculation that Willy Adames could be elsewhere when the season starts. And what about Devin Williams? While Burnes was an obvious trade candidate since the end of last season, the fact that he wasn’t traded until February made some think the Brewers would run it back. Instead, just as the team traded Josh Hader, getting prospects in return for Adames and Williams could be too much for general manager Matt Arnold to pass up.



Rosenthal: Why the Brewers had to trade Corbin Burnes

One reason it could make sense to move on from Adames and Williams now is the young talent on its way, including outfielder Jackson Chourio, one of the game’s top prospects. Chourio isn’t the only impact prospect who could start the season in Milwaukee. The Athletic’s Keith Law has six Brewers players among his Top 100 prospects, led by Chourio (3) along with catcher Jeferson Quero (12), infielder Tyler Black (44), shortstop Joey Ortiz (58), infielder Brock Wilken (71) and right-hander Jacob Misiorowski (90). Ortiz, acquired in the Burnes deal along with lefty DL Hall, could break camp with the team as its everyday shortstop if Adames is dealt. Even without its more recognizable names, the Brewers could be this year’s version of the Reds, but coming off a division title instead of a 100-loss season. — C. Trent Rosecrans

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Padres
Season opener: March 28 at Mets

St. Louis Cardinals

Will the new additions to the starting rotation be enough?

To say this is the season-defining question for the Cardinals is an understatement. The rotation will be the most heavily scrutinized area of the roster this year. The Cardinals should see a formidable boost with their signing of Sonny Gray, and if Miles Mikolas posts a campaign similar to his 2022 All-Star season (rather than his disappointing 2023 season), the top of their rotation could be solid. But the rotation hinges on the durability and quality of Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Steven Matz. The Cardinals believe they have shored up enough innings to cover them through games — a major problem for the club last year. But there is a difference between covered innings and innings of quality, and the latter will be the difference-maker in the team’s success. — Katie Woo

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24, split-squad vs. Marlins, Mets
Season opener: March 28 at Dodgers

Chicago Cubs

Cody Bellinger played at MVP-like levels for the Cubs for much of 2023. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Where will Cody Bellinger land?

This is shaping up to be either a huge boost or a massive letdown. If the Cubs were such a likely favorite, they would have already signed Bellinger by now. If Bellinger was so enamored with Chicago, he could have simply instructed Boras to make a deal with Hoyer. Just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Hoyer’s front office is focused on making rational decisions that limit risks and preserve flexibility for the future. But a good long-term strategy also has to account for the opportunities available right now, especially since the team seems to avoid so many other avenues of acquiring talent.

The Cubs don’t spend money at the same level as the Yankees or Dodgers. The Cubs haven’t done the kind of 11-year, $288.7 million contract extension the Royals just closed with young star Bobby Witt Jr. The Cubs don’t believe in awarding the type of lifetime achievement contract the Astros just handed Jose Altuve. The Cubs haven’t collected No. 1 picks by tanking as much as the Orioles. The Cubs didn’t mortgage their farm system this winter for an ace pitcher such as Corbin Burnes.

The bar is still so low in the National League Central that it might take only 85 wins to grab a division title. The Brewers let Craig Counsell become a free agent, giving Hoyer the chance to poach one of the game’s best managers, and then shipped Burnes, a Cy Young Award winner, to Baltimore. (Intra-division deals are difficult to pull off in general, but the possibility of the Cubs acquiring Burnes from the Brewers went to zero after the animosity stirred up by Counsell leaving Milwaukee for their rivals to the south.)

A last-place finish last year might have been an aberration for the Cardinals or the beginning of a steep decline that will take years to reverse. The Reds haven’t won a playoff series since 1995 — the year Bellinger was born. The Pirates haven’t won a division title since 1992, when they finished nine games ahead of the Montreal Expos in the NL East and the Cubs bungled the Greg Maddux negotiations, allowing Boras to steer the future Hall of Famer to the Braves. — Patrick Mooney

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 23 vs. White Sox
Season opener: March 28 vs. Rangers

Pittsburgh Pirates

Will this rotation hold up?

The Pirates’ only returning starter who started more than 15 games for them last season is Mitch Keller. He’ll lead their rotation in 2024. Behind are two left-handed veterans acquired to eat innings: Martín Peréz and Marco Gonzales. Then? Well, it’s anyone’s guess. Johan Oviedo, JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows all underwent Tommy John surgery in 2023. Luis Ortiz, Roansy Conteras, Bailey Falter and Quinn Priester all spent time in the Pirates rotation last year, but their career ERA+, where 100 is league average, range from 58 (Priester) to 93 (Ortiz). Wily Peralta, who signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates, hasn’t started in the majors since 2021. Paul Skenes (No. 10 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list), Jared Jones (No. 39), Bubba Chandler (No. 48), Anthony Solometo and Thomas Harrington have reached the upper levels of the minors and are non-roster invitees for spring training, but it would be a surprise to see any of them in the majors early this season. The future is promising. The present? Worrying. — Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Twins
Season opener: March 28 at Marlins

Cincinnati Reds

Who is in the rotation?

There are no fewer than 11 pitchers who enter spring training in contention for the five spots in the team’s rotation. That group includes Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft, the trio that was penciled into the rotation this time last year. Lefties Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson not only debuted last season, but finished fourth and second in innings pitched, respectively. Connor Phillips, Lyon Richardson, Carson Spiers and Levi Stoudt all started games for the team last season. Nick Krall also signed free agents Frankie Montas and Nick Martinez to fill out the rotation. Martinez has been both a starter and reliever in his career. A 12th starter, Christian Roa, who was 5-9 with a 5.16 ERA between Double A and Triple A last season, could also get a look. — C. Trent Rosecrans

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 24 at Guardians
Season opener: March 28 vs. Nationals

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll will try to help the Diamondbacks return to the World Series in 2024 despite stiff competition in the NL West. (Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Can they back up their World Series run?

The Dodgers have sucked all the oxygen out of the National League West. It seems they’ve been anointed the division champs before the season even starts. And there’s a good reason behind that. Don’t forget, however, that the last time the Dodgers played a baseball game, it was the end of an NLDS sweep in Arizona. The D-Backs are legit and backed up their talented young core with some impressive offseason additions.

Eugenio Suarez will take over at third base. Eduardo Rodriguez will be a mainstay in an already strong rotation. They too got better, and can’t be overlooked. There’s no question they’ll be good. The only question is how good. Can they compete for an NL West crown? Can they make another playoff run? Can they show the world that coming within three wins of a championship was no fluke? Not many teams come off a league championship and immediately have a chip on their shoulder. But the dynamics of this situation have created that exact scenario. — Sam Blum

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game: Feb. 23 at Rockies
Season opener: March 28 vs. Rockies

Los Angeles Dodgers

Who pitches and when?

Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch at all this year. Yoshinobu Yamamoto got the richest contract for a pitcher in the history of the sport without throwing a major-league pitch. He arrives with a track record of success in Japan while pitching on extra rest. Tyler Glasnow topped out at 120 innings last year, a career-high. Walker Buehler is coming off his second Tommy John surgery. James Paxton’s free-agent deal had to be altered to incentivize him to be ready for the start of the season. Dustin May could be back midway through the season but is still coming off his second major elbow procedure in three seasons. Clayton Kershaw’s return is notable, but he only recently started a throwing program after offseason shoulder surgery.

Got all that? It’s a lot of partial seasons. The Dodgers have young depth to fill in (though that list of candidates took a hit with Nick Frasso undergoing shoulder surgery in November). The Dodgers will be shuffling arms in and out all summer. When all are healthy, it’s a compelling group. But banking on health is a dangerous game to play. — Fabian Ardaya

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 9
First spring game: Feb. 22 at Padres
Season opener: March 20 vs. Padres in Seoul, South Korea

San Francisco Giants

Does the lineup have enough thump?

You’ve probably had this stat beaten into your brain by now, but if not, here it is again: the Giants haven’t had a 30-homer season since Barry Bonds in 2004. That power outage didn’t stop them from winning three World Series titles from 2010-14. Nor did it prevent them from winning a franchise-record 107 regular-season games in 2021.

During flush times, they’ve been very good at winning in their ballpark and spreading power throughout a collaborative roster. But it’s hard to win consistently when you can’t score with one swing of the bat, and the Giants appear to have a paucity of power. Joc Pederson is gone. Mitch Haniger is gone. Wilmer Flores is the only returnee who hit 20 homers last season. The club made a major, $113 million investment on the position player side when they signed Jung Hoo Lee, but the former Kiwoom Heroes star is expected to be a contact maven in the leadoff spot and not a middle-of-the-order slugger. The same caveats apply: The Giants could address their power deficit by signing Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez, or, to a lesser extent, Matt Chapman. For now, anyway, this doesn’t appear to be the kind of lineup that strikes fear. — Andrew Baggarly

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 14
First spring game:
Feb. 24 vs. Cubs
Season opener:
March 28 at Padres

San Diego Padres

Where will the team find innings?

The Padres watched Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Nick Martinez and Josh Hader leave in free agency. So, San Diego somehow must replace more than 600 quality innings — and top returning starters Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove face some health concerns after sustaining arm injuries last summer.

Acquired in the Juan Soto trade, Michael King will attempt a significant increase from a career-high 104 2/3 innings in 2023. Young newcomers Randy Vásquez and Jhony Brito will receive ample opportunity to fortify the back of the rotation. Pedro Avila and Matt Waldron should figure into the mix, too. Jairo Iriarte, Drew Thorpe and Robby Snelling are among the prospects who could contribute in 2024, if perhaps not right away. Meanwhile, the signings of Yuki Matsui, Woo-Suk Go and Wandy Peralta should provide needed bullpen depth. Without Hader, however, the late-inning hierarchy must be sorted out.

So, Darvish, Musgrove and everyone else have a lot to prove. This helps explain why the Padres continue to seek at least one starting-pitching addition. As a reminder, San Diego did not sign Wacha last spring until after pitchers and catchers had reported. — Dennis Lin

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 11
First spring game: Feb. 22 vs. Dodgers
Season opener: March 20 vs. Dodgers in Seoul, South Korea

Colorado Rockies

Can Kris Bryant stay on the field? 

The first two seasons of Bryant’s seven-year, $182 million contract proved disastrous — which is never a good sign for an injury-prone player approaching his mid-30s. Bryant, who turned 32 in January, appeared in only 42 games in 2022 as he dealt with injuries to his back and foot. A year later, he managed to play in 80 games, although injuries to his heel and his finger limited his usage. Even when he played in 2023, his bat failed to provide much lift. He posted a .680 OPS, without much of a springboard from the friendly confines at Coors Field. The Rockies signed Bryant, in theory, to serve as a veteran presence for a rebuilding club. It hasn’t gone well. And Colorado appears destined for another summer spent in the cellar of the National League West. — Andy McCullough

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First spring game: Feb. 23 vs. Diamondbacks
Season opener: March 28 at Diamondbacks

(Top photo of Julio Rodríguez: Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images; Photo of Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images; Photo of Gunnar Henderson: Reggie Hildred / USA Today)