The offseason is just about over. Equipment trucks are loaded and on the move, with some already having arrived at their destinations. Some athletes are working out informally on fields in Florida and Arizona as they await the arrival of teammates. Soon, teams will begin to see if their offseason moves were worth it. Will the Royals like what they see as they try to repeat as World Series champions? Is Arizona a contender? Did the Red Sox do enough to get out of last place? Can Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright bounce back? Can Miguel Sano play right field? Can Dusty Baker fix things in Washington? And on and on ... Every team has questions heading into spring training. Here are 10 story lines to follow as pitchers and catchers begin workouts on sun-splashed fields this week:
Players are heading to their spring training destinations — but others have their bags packed with nowhere to go. Shortstop Ian Desmond and center fielder Dexter Fowler, everyday players in 2015, are looking for teams. Lefthander Mark Buehrle hasn’t officially retired. Yovani Gallardo can help a rotation. It’s been a strange offseason for free agents as players hold out for the right deal while teams sit back and hope the market comes back to them.
Year 2 of Maddon-ness
The Cubs won their last eight regular-season games in 2015 to finish 97-65. They have an array of young talent in Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber. Anthony Rizzo anchors the middle of the order. NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta must prove his 22-win season last year wasn’t a fluke. In Joe Maddon, they have a deep-thinking leader Chicago hasn’t seen since Phil Jackson guided the NBA Bulls. And what did the Cubs do during the offseason? They added Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey. Wow.
Park in place
Byung Ho Park is working out in Florida before his first MLB spring training, when everyone will begin to see if the power stroke that made him a star in Korea can translate to America. The Twins are prepared for Park to go through an adjustment period as he learns a new league, but no one knows how long that period will be. Manager Paul Molitor will have to figure out if Park is ready to be a fixture in the lineup, or if he’ll need to be phased in. If this works out, it will be well worth the $12.85 million posting fee the Twins paid to negotiate with him. But how patient will the Twins have to be?
Second year: Sail or fail?
MLB was hit with a wave of impressive young prospects in 2015. Bryant, Schwarber, Houston’s Carlos Correa, Sano and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor led the surge. And there were other standout rookies such as San Francisco’s Matt Duffy, Toronto’s Roberto Osuna and the Twins’ Eddie Rosario. But following up a good debut can be challenging — have you heard of the sophomore jinx? — and this group will be pressed to continue their development. Sano will experience what Schwarber went through last season as he learns to play the outfield on the fly.
Same face, different place
Like any new season, fans will have to keep up with player movement. Last time we saw David Murphy, he was styling for the Mets in the postseason. Now he’s with division rival Washington. Zack Greinke opted out of Los Angeles and signed with Arizona. Johnny Cueto wouldn’t take Arizona’s money but took San Francisco’s. Aroldis Chapman and his ferocious fastball join an already talented Yankees bullpen. Starlin Castro will try to resurrect his career as a Yankee. And Castro will see a lot of David Price, who joined the Red Sox.
A Royal repeat?
Indications at the beginning of free agency were that the Royals had no chance of keeping outfielder Alex Gordon, but the market didn’t develop the way he envisioned and he returned for a club-record $72 million over four years. Too bad for Joe Mauer, who has hit many sinking liners to left that Gordon has run down. Greg Holland and Ryan Madson have left the Royals’ powerful bullpen, but Joakim Soria was a nice pickup. One scrutinized move was signing Ian Kennedy for the rotation. Kansas City will still be good, but it will be tough to repeat as champs.
One reason a Royals repeat looks difficult is because of the flurry of offseason activity in the Central Division. Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson have joined the Tigers. Todd Frazier, Matt Latos and Brett Lawrie have joined the White Sox. Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli are now with Cleveland. The Twins have added Park and John Ryan Murphy and saw young talents such as Sano, Rosario and Tyler Duffey contribute last season. Baseball Prospects and Fangraphs projects the Indians to win the division. USA Today picks the White Sox.
The Barry and Donnie Show
The Miami Marlins will be, as we say in the business, good copy this spring. For some reason, the all-time home run leader wants to be a hitting coach. So Barry Bonds has joined the Marlins to oversee a group that scored the second-fewest runs, hit the second-fewest home runs and walked the least in the National League in 2015. Good luck with that, Barry. Miami also has a new manager in Don Mattingly, who parted ways with the Dodgers after last season. Bonds and Mattingly have plenty of work to do with a squad that was 71-91 last season.
Nothing says middle age like a Tommy Bahama shirt. Slugger David Ortiz — at age 40 — has definitely arrived at that stage. And the clothing company is putting Ortiz — in his trademark batting stance — on the back of its popular silk shirts in limited release in March. Ortiz is headed into his final season in Boston and is out to prove he can still be a force in the middle of the lineup. Boston fans have high hopes after the offseason addition of Price and closer Craig Kimbrel. For Twins fans, another one of their heroes from the early 2000s is about to call it a career, like Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer did last season.
Who looks like a champion?
Heading into spring training, the Cubs look loaded and primed to take their next step as Theo Esptein has built an impressive roster. But the Mets remain a threat to repeat as NL champs because of their amazing rotation and the return of Yoenis Cespedes. A sleeper? Try the Giants. It’s an even-numbered year, after all. In the AL, Houston will be formidable behind pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh and a developing core of position players. Watch out for Texas, too, who will have Yu Darvish back sometime in May to pair with Cole Hamels.