Key questions remaining for contenders
January, 15, 2013
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
We're less than a month from the start of spring training, and as one general manager said Monday, we've reached the stage of the winter where what you see is what get, for the most part. Most teams will do a little roster tinkering over the next four weeks, but they are mostly finished with their winter work. The GMs and owners have made their decisions, creating some really intriguing questions:
1. What's going to happen on the left side of the Los Angeles Dodgers' infield?
L.A. looks like a juggernaut, with an extraordinary rotation and a deep lineup and bullpen (and it may try to add Rafael Soriano, as mentioned below), but it will have some unresolved questions at shortstop and third base as camp opens.
The Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez in midseason, and because Dee Gordon's struggles had forced him to the bench, Ramirez played shortstop down the stretch -- and not well. Going into spring training, Ramirez is penciled in as the L.A. shortstop, but the Dodgers need him to play the position more effectively.
If he doesn't, there may be a series of dominoes that would lead to Gordon getting another shot at shortstop in spring. Some teams that asked about his availability during the winter were surprised by the high price tag the Dodgers placed on Gordon, which is an indication that the Dodgers still believe in his potential.
Most jobs are set in stone as spring training begins. This is not the case on the left side of the infield for the Dodgers, whose staffers will go into camp with an open mind and evaluate what they see.
2. What will the Milwaukee Brewers get out of their rotation?
As the offseason began, the Brewers wanted to add a couple of veterans to their group of starters to help make up for the recent departures of Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf. But as the winter played out, the prices for free-agent starters spiked and the Brewers' plans changed. They targeted one free agent who seemed to fit for them, Ryan Dempster, and made him an offer of $20 million over two years, but Dempster picked Boston's deal of $26 million over two years.
Now the Brewers will plow ahead with a really young rotation. Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin did a simple math exercise -- "kind of a kindergarten thing," he said last week, chuckling -- to compare the Brewers' homegrown rotation with those of other teams. If a team's No. 1 starter was signed and developed by the team, he awarded five points. He gave four points for a No. 2 homegrown starter, etc. Based on this system, Melvin found that few teams -- the Tampa Bay Rays and perhaps the Astros -- have a rotation built in the same way as the Brewers, which could turn out to be almost entirely generated from their system.
This is how I'd stack up the Brewers' five-man rotation:
No. 1: Yovani Gallardo, who was drafted in the second round by the Brewers in 2004.
No. 2: Mike Fiers, a 22nd-round pick in 2009 by Milwaukee.
No. 3: Marco Estrada, picked up on waivers from Washington.
No. 4: Wily Peralta, signed by the Brewers as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic.
No. 5: Mark Rogers, Milwaukee's first-rounder in 2004.
No. 5a: Chris Narveson, originally drafted by the Cardinals.
The Brewers' rotation doesn't have a lot of experience -- the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter has almost twice as many innings in the big leagues as the projected Milwaukee rotation combined -- but Milwaukee's rotation is intriguing. The Brewers' starters were fifth in strikeouts last season, and that wasn't only because of Greinke. As Melvin noted, the Brewers' affiliate in Triple-A had good work out of their rotation, and Milwaukee will be counting on a lot of those guys. The bullpen cannot possibly be worse than it was last season, and there is a lot of reason to expect it will be better.
If the Brewers can get even halfway decent pitching, Milwaukee can be a force, because its offense should be outstanding; the Brewers led the National League in runs last year.
"We're going to give opportunities to our own guys," Melvin said. "We feel good about our pitching."
3. What will Michael Young provide for the Philadelphia Phillies?
The Phillies have plummeted in their run production over the past six years, as these numbers show (MLB rank in parentheses):
2007: 892 (2nd)
2008: 799 (9th)
2009: 820 (4th)
2010: 772 (7th)
2011: 713 (13th)
2012: 684 (19th)
Their bid to sign B.J. Upton was about $20 million short of what the Braves paid to get him, and the Phillies were never comfortable with the idea of giving Josh Hamilton more than three years; he wound up getting a five-year deal. The Phillies traded for Ben Revere, a really good defender who had a .675 OPS last season.
So they will need some serious production from Young, the veteran third baseman they acquired from the Texas Rangers. Young is 36 years old. In 2011, he had an .854 OPS for the Rangers, with 213 hits and 106 RBIs. Last season, his numbers dropped significantly, to a .682 OPS.
Will he bounce back? Could he be a 2013 version of Derek Jeter, who shocked the baseball world by leading the majors in hits at age 38? We'll see.
The Phillies need some pop at third base, writes Matt Gelb. Cody Asche is Philadelphia's third baseman of the future.
4. What will the New York Yankees get out of their oldest players?