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Teams seek answers going into camp
For all the wheeling and dealing of the offseason, teams still have questions that need to be answered as spring training camps kick into high gear.
The key issue for each team this spring:
Atlanta Braves — Billy Wagner was serious. He walked away, coming off a strong season, along with Braves manager Bobby Cox. Craig Kimbrel, 22, a 33rd-round draft choice in 2007 with only 20 2/3 big-league innings on his resume, showed a postseason demeanor that has the Braves looking for him to step into the ninth-inning role.
Florida Marlins — Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is hands-down at the top of the list of pure talents in the big leagues, but maturity has been an issue that has kept him from stepping up to the elite level. With another roster shuffle in Florida, the team’s bid for respectability rests on Ramirez being able to assume a leadership role.
New York Mets — Daniel Murphy was a third baseman in the minors, got thrown into left field when he got to the big leagues, and was the Mets' Opening Day first baseman in 2009. Now, after various knee injuries sidelined him last season, and Ike Davis claimed first base, Murphy is eager about moving to second base where he will battle Luis Castillo, Brad Emaus and Justin Turner.
Philadelphia Phillies — The Phillies have made a strong rotation even stronger with the signing of free agent Cliff Lee. And they have Brad Lidge to close out games. But can Lidge put together strong back-to-back seasons? That has been a challenge for him.
Washington Nationals — The Nationals aren’t ready to contend, but they did create an offseason ruckus when they shelled out a 7-year, $126 million free-agent contract to sign Jayson Werth. When the struggles begin, will the Nationals and their fans keep things in perspective and remember that, regardless of the contract, Werth has never driven in 100 runs and has had 500 at-bats in a season only twice?
Chicago Cubs — Lou Piniella is gone. Now, can Carlos Zambrano return? How much of Zambrano’s problems were the bad mix of his and Piniella’s personality? With $35.875 million guaranteed in 2011 and 2012, Zambrano isn’t tradable, but is he salvageable? He is, after all, 116-74 lifetime in the big leagues, including 91-51 from 2003-08.
Cincinnati Reds — With Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, the Reds have a young, left-handed hitting nucleus to build around. Next? Drew Stubbs could be the right-handed complement. He has the bat speed and power, but 168 strikeouts in 514 at-bats last year, his first full big-league season, added up to a lot of wasted moments for such a talent player.
Houston Astros — Brett Wallace was the 13th player taken in the 2006 draft, and is already with his fourth team, having been involved in some manner in deals that resulted in Oakland sending Matt Holliday to St. Louis, Toronto shipping Roy Halladay to Philadelphia and Houston moving Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. A third baseman in college, who is considered to be more suited for DH duties, the Astros are looking to rebuild their offense, and want Wallace to fill the first base void created by last summer’s trade of Lance Berkman.
Milwaukee Brewers — Zack Greinke has a quality right arm, which his 2009 AL Cy Young shows, along with a 29-18 record in 2008-09 with the Royals. But he is 31-49 in the rest of his big-league career. The Brewers are banking on the theory that Greinke responds to the challenge, having gutted their farm system to acquire him in an effort to win the NL Central.
Pittsburgh Pirates — After the struggles of the last two years that led Garrett Atkins to be dumped by Colorado and Baltimore, it is easy to overlook the fact he is only 31 and did drive in 421 runs from 2005-08. The Pirates give him a chance to resurrect his career, which would allow them to move Pedro Alvarez to first base and Garrett Jones to the outfield.
St. Louis Cardinals — Albert Pujols is the face and foundation of the Cardinals, but is he a part of the future? Free agency comes next fall, and with Pujols still unsigned after his self-imposed start of spring training deadline for a contract extension, his every word will be dissected for what it means as far as his future with the Cardinals is concerned.
Arizona Diamondbacks — Justin Upton was never held accountable by the previous Diamondbacks front office, and the question is whether the five-tool player can be salvaged and given a chance to be the dominant player his ability will allow. The new regime is going to challenge Upton to be the elite player he is capable of being.
Colorado Rockies — Ian Stewart is an amazing defensive player and has line-to-line home run power, but he has been a passive offensive player. He’s a big reason for the hiring of hitting instructor Carney Lansford, whose intense approach worked on Stewart, Chris Iannetta and Seth Smith in the minors. Can it do the same at the big-league level?
Los Angeles Dodgers — Center fielder Matt Kemp was a target for the barbs of coaches Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer. They were not retained by new manager Don Mattingly. Now it’s up to Kemp to get his game back in order and quit sulking.
San Diego Padres — Cameron Maybin is another one of those former first-round picks who is on the move. Originally signed by Detroit, the Padres acquired him from the Marlins in the offseason. The Padres are counting on Maybin providing much-needed offensive production.
San Francisco Giants — Lefty Madison Bumgarner grabbed headlines in the second half of last season, became a key part of the world championship rotation, and forced high-priced Barry Zito to be a postseason observer. He, however, is the only Giants pitcher whose workload was way more than he had ever been asked to handle before. Can he avoid season-after setback?
Baltimore Orioles — Derrek Lee suffered back-to-back seasons with the Cubs that would seem to be a warning of decline, but the Orioles needed a strong personality and veteran presence, and are gambling that the Lee, whose makeup is off the charts, can enjoy a revitalization in baseball’s more home-run-conducive park.
Boston Red Sox — Jarrod Saltalamacchia was once the top catching prospect in the game, and was considered the key player Texas obtained from Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal. His catching and throwing skills, however, went to pieces. Now comes Boston, which has spent a lot of money putting a team together, but remains in such despair behind the plate that it is banking on Saltalamacchia being able to return to form and become a starting catcher.
New York Yankees — Shut out in attempts to sign Cliff Lee and trade for Zack Greinke, in addition to Andy Pettitte’s decision to retire, the Yankees rotation is a mystery. At the age of 24, and coming off a dominating effort at Triple A last year, Ivan Nova is the home-grown hope to fill one of the voids.
Tampa Bay Rays — Manny Ramirez has one last chance to extend his career, and the Rays are desperate enough for a game-breaking bat that they are willing to take their chance on the self-centered power-hitter who has played himself into a DH role, at best.
Toronto Blue Jays — Jose Bautista had 59 home runs in parts of six big league seasons and then powered his way to center stage with a major-league-leading 54 for the Jays last year. Now that the secret is out, can he adapt to the adjustments opposing teams will make?
Chicago White Sox — The Sox No. 1 draft pick last June, Chris Sale, not only got to the big leagues last year, but made 21 relief appearances, had four saves and a 1.93 ERA. Now he’s being given a chance to step into the closer role, which opened up when Bobby Jenks was bid adieu.
Cleveland Indians — The Indians claimed they were going to build around Grady Sizemore, but will he shake injuries and inconsistency to be even half the player the Indians front office built him up to be?
Detroit Tigers — Rick Porcello was the phenom two years ago, but wound up with a minor-league refresher course last year. He has the arm to become a top-of-rotation guy, and given the Tigers are so desperate for rotation help that they are gambling on Brad Penny, the emergence of Porcello is critical to pennant ambitions.
Kansas City Royals — The Royals are in a waiting game for a mother lode of prospects to arrive, which should start to happen by midseason, but with the trade of Zack Greinke the rotation is bare. They are gambling on Jeff Francis, a 17-game winner for Colorado in 2007, to blossom in his second year removed from shoulder surgery, and move to the front of the starting staff.
Minnesota Twins — Justin Morneau suffered a concussion on July 7 last season, and hasn’t played since. He did, however, begin taking batting practice earlier in February, and will be in camp with the rest of position players at the end of the month. An annual MVP candidate, Morneau’s return is vital to the Twins lineup.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — Having done nothing for the second offseason in a row to fill offensive voids created by free-agent losses at the end of 2009, the Angels swallowed hard and took outfielder Vernon Wells and $83 million over the next four seasons off the hands of Toronto. Can the Angels accept the fact that Wells is a solid — not spectacular — offensive player and a premier defensive player, and not get caught up in what he earns?
Oakland A’s — The A’s annual search for an impact outfielder takes them to David DeJesus this year. Can he succeed where Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Holliday have failed in Oakland?
Seattle Mariners — Chone Figgins went from a clubhouse rock to rocking the boat in his first year with Seattle. His offense and defense failed, too. Now he gets a second chance with a new manager, Eric Wedge, to reaffirm his leadership abilities.
Texas Rangers — Adrian Beltre is the free agent that general manager Jon Daniels coveted so much he was willing to alienate Michael Young, the heart-and-soul of the Rangers clubhouse and most popular player on the team. Beltre has to show he can not only hit and play defense, but also ease the minds of Young’s followers.
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