- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
The season begins two weeks from today, and in the next 14 days there are a lot of questions that need to be addressed. Here are six of them:
1. Is Aroldis Chapman a closer or starter?
Chapman started Saturday and had mixed results, with some command issues -- in keeping with some scouts' perception of him. "For me, he's got one major league quality pitch," said a longtime evaluator. "His fastball. His other pitches aren't major league caliber."
If the Cincinnati Reds share the same view internally, then it would make sense for them to return him to the back end of the bullpen. A short reliever can be successful with one pitch, but it's very rare that a starting pitcher can thrive with any fewer than two.
The good thing for the Reds is they've got a solid alternative. Recently, Mike Leake greatly impressed some scouts with his full repertoire, including a fastball that touched 93 mph. "He's got four pitches that are major league quality," said one scout. "I'd recommend him to our guys if he went on the [trade] market as a solid No. 3 in a rotation."
The fact that Chapman came out Saturday and said flatly that he wants to be the closer could make this decision even simpler for the Reds. From John Fay's story:
"Truthfully, I would like to be a closer, but that's not in my hands."
Chapman is getting ready as a starter. He went four innings and pitched well after a very shaky start Saturday. He allowed one run on two hits. He walked three and struck out two.
Chapman likes the thrill of the end of the game.
"In the beginning when I started closing, it was something I didn't know about," he said. "But as I started throwing and getting into the late part of the game -- when the game is more exciting -- I kind of liked it. The adrenaline goes up. I would like to be in that situation. But that's something I can't control."
Chapman would like a decision soon.
Chapman theoretically has as much to gain as the Reds by switching to the rotation, because down the road, working as a starting pitcher would be a much more lucrative business than serving in short relief.
2. Who will be the Tigers' closer?
My guess -- and that's all it is -- is that Detroit manager Jim Leyland won't name a full-time closer before Opening Day, and he'll open the year prepared to finish games with Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit -- and Bruce Rondon, who threw well again Saturday. I don't think the Tigers want to put any title on Rondon's shoulders until they are certain he's ready, and that may not be until well after the season starts, as the rookie gets more comfortable. They can open the season with him pitching the sixth or seventh inning one day, and then have him finish a game in his next appearance, then have the flexibility to have him go back to the seventh. He doesn't have to save games in every save chance early in the season to be a productive part of the bullpen.
To be clear: There really is no need for Leyland to anoint a closer now.
Both are available for the right offer, but both are expensive enough and old enough that some rival officials figure that their best play is to wait until the roster deadline forces L.A. to make decisions and puts the Dodgers in a position in which they'll have to eat the maximum number of dollars to make deals.
4. What will happen with Kyle Lohse?
Here's the thing about most -- and maybe all -- baseball teams: Sometime in late January, after the heavy lifting of the winter is just about over, general managers and owners tend to go into wait-and-see mode. Their budgets and rosters are pretty much set, they have internal options to consider and they want to see what happens early in the season before considering major changes.
All of that is a long way of saying, again, that Lohse is in a terrible spot right now. The music has stopped playing, and the chairs have been filled. A lot of folks in baseball respect Lohse and what he accomplished last year, but with the draft drawing closer -- it's little more than two months away -- they're even less inclined to surrender a top pick to sign the right-hander, who is tied to compensation. The interest from teams such as the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers has been extremely lukewarm. Lohse has been jobless for so long now that even if he were to sign a deal today, he would almost have to miss the first turns of the regular season.
Some club officials say they might have had interest in Lohse early in the offseason if his price tag had been lower, but they moved on -- and now he's caught in this terrible place where his value is dramatically reduced by the calendar and by the rules (and those stresses will only continue to mount day by day). I can't remember a similar situation in baseball history.
The Brewers could still sign Lohse, writes Tom Haudricourt. In order to do that, the Brewers would have to surrender their first-round pick, No. 17 overall. Presumably, agent Scott Boras -- who is known for being incredibly persistent -- is making his case to Brewers owner Mark Attanasio directly, because folks in the baseball operations department will tend to be more protective of draft picks and draft dollars and the long-term ramifications of surrendering a chance at young talent.
5. What is Domonic Brown's status?
As of now, it appears he's going to be the Phillies' starting left fielder, after a strong spring showing.
6. Will the Indians keep Daisuke Matsuzaka?
Cleveland has to make a choice by March 26 on whether to keep him in the big leagues, and if the Indians don't want to keep him, then Matsuzaka will have to make his own decision.
" Wil Myers was sent to the minors by the Rays, as expected.
On Stephen Strasburg's 86th pitch, he threw 97 mph; as Adam Kilgore writes, he appears ready to go.
" The Dominican Republic shut out Puerto Rico.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Yankees would not have signed Brennan Boesch if not for the fact that they still have the ability to send him to the minor leagues, if necessary, and if they hadn't been able to sign him to a split contract: $500,000 if he plays in the minors, $1.5 million if he plays in the majors. Given the apparent lack of interest in him, the Yankees also might have the ability, if Boesch struggles in the next few weeks, to get him through waivers, take him off the 40-man roster and outright him to the minor leagues. Boesch will have to win a spot in the big leagues.
He joined the Yankees on Saturday.
4. Inventory is a key factor for the Royals as they make roster choices, writes Bob Dutton.
6. The Rangers are still trying to decide who to pick for their No. 5 starter.
7. The Marlins assigned a top prospect to the minors.
8. Arizona returned a Rule 5 pick.
2. A Cubs youngster put on a show, Jesse Rogers writes.
5. A Mariners pitcher settled down.
St. Louis GM John Mozeliak has liked what he's seen in the Cardinals' camp.
Some Pirates pitchers are experimenting, writes Karen Price.
Devin Mesoraco is surging, writes Tim Schmitt. I've heard great things about his accountability for his performance -- to the point where you wonder if part of his improvement will be tied to finding a way to put less pressure on himself.
Troy Renck thinks the Rockies' lineup needs to include Eric Young Jr.
There are big expectations for Longoria.
John Tomase has 10 predictions for the Red Sox.
A couple of Jays returned to their team, now that their WBC service is over.
With two weeks to go in the Indians' camp, Paul Hoynes gives this assessment.
Sam Deduno is trying to win a rotation job with the Twins.
Carlos Correa had a nice debut for the Astros.
" The Athletics have a kid from Cooperstown, writes John Shea.
" Vanderbilt got knocked out in the SEC semifinals.
And today will be better than yesterday.
11dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
12dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
15dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
16dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com
16dRob Manfred, Special to ESPN.com