PORT ST. LUCIE — Our proud tradition of “30 teams, 30 questions,” a feature launched annually in conjunction with pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona, comes with a twist this year.
How could it not, in light of the highly untraditional Hot Stove campaign that just transpired?
First of all, the answers to these questions — which revolve around issues that must reach resolutions, if only temporary ones, by Opening Day — will arrive from external means (free-agent signings, in other words) far more than usual. We’ve grown accustomed to the Orioles, for instance, pulling off a big transaction or two in February and March. The Orioles will be back on that train, only now they’ll be part of a raucous crowd.
Second of all, it’s no longer “30 teams, 30 questions.” There will be 31 camps, albeit one lasting shorter than the rest, and therefore there are 31 questions.
In the past, the questions were ordered from the prior season’s worst team up to the best, with the thinking that the worst team faced the most questions. In honor of the enthusiasm (or lack thereof from some corners) over tanking, however, let’s flip the script and go from the 2017 regular-season best, most of whom are trying to win it all this year, to the worst, most of whom aren’t, and put our newest entry at the bottom.
1) Dodgers: Who will slot behind Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Alex Wood in the starting rotation?
2) Indians: Will Michael Brantley, who has been riddled by injuries the last few seasons, be ready following offseason (right) ankle surgery?
3) Astros: Can they shake the hangover from such a historic, emotional ’17 campaign and avoid the slow start that plagued the Cubs last year following their 2016 euphoria?
4) Nationals: Will their owner, Ted Lerner, say yes to his pal Scott Boras’ sales pitch on a free agent like Jake Arrieta or Greg Holland (or both)?
5) Red Sox: As he tries to get his achy left elbow ready for a return to the starting rotation, how many media members will David Price profanely confront, block on Twitter or mock despite being Hall of Famers?
6) Diamondbacks: Can they convince free agent J.D. Martinez to choose them not only over the Red Sox, but over sitting out altogether until (or if) a better deal comes along?
7) Cubs: After pitching in all seven World Series games and 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 postseason games last year, how will new closer Brandon Morrow look by the opening bell?
8) Yankees: Who will be the Opening Day second baseman and third baseman, and how much will Mike Moustakas’ apparent sinking market and the desire to push back Gleyber Torres’ free agency until 2024-25 factor into those decisions?
9) Rockies: How will Bud Black divvy up the responsibilities in his super-deep bullpen following the additions of closer Wade Davis and setup men Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw?
10) Brewers: Having significantly upgraded their outfield with the signing of Lorenzo Cain and the trade for Christian Yelich, will they go further and sign a high-profile starting pitcher like Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn?
11) Twins: Will the Brewers’ American League twin (low-payroll, Midwest 2017 surprise) follow Milwaukee by signing a big starting pitcher of its own?
12) Cardinals: Do they have another big move in them, be it a reliever (Holland?), starter (Arrieta?) or third baseman (Moustakas?)?
13) Royals: Will Eric Hosmer return to ride out the rebuilding years as the franchise’s next George Brett, a Kansas City lifer in good times and bad?
14) Angels: Can Shohei Ohtani hit well enough in Cactus League action so that his dual existence as a pitcher-designated hitter will seem natural and not forced?
15) Rays: With so many contenders in need of starting pitching, and with the un-signed free agents creating ripple effects if they finally find homes, will Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi break camp with the club?
16) Rangers: Can Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese, both signed to minor-league contracts, join their old Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen (Texas’ assistant pitching coach) and make the team?
17) Mariners: How comfortable can Dee Gordon get in center field after never playing an inning there professionally?
18) Marlins: Will J.T. Realmuto get his wish to join, well, every other important player from last year’s team as an ex-Marlin?
19) Blue Jays: Can Aaron Sanchez enjoy a peaceful, productive spring in the wake of last year’s injury-plagued disaster?
20) Orioles: With an over-under of two on the number of starting pitchers they’ll acquire, which bet will prevail?
21) Pirates: Can they put together a smooth, encouraging spring to calm down their surprisingly agitated fan base following the trades of Andrew McCutchen (to the Giants) and Gerrit Cole (to the Astros)?
22) Athletics: Can former Yankee Dustin Fowler recover sufficiently from his horrifying ruptured patellar tendon injury that he suffered in his major-league debut to be a candidate for the starting center-field job?
23) Braves: Will they stay internal for third base, or will they get a free agent like Eduardo Nunez, or even surprise with a Moustakas signing?
24) Padres: Can they win their apparent duel with the Royals and land Hosmer as a core player?
25) Mets: How much is left in the till to bolster their starting rotation, bullpen or both?
26) Reds: Will Homer Bailey, by far the team’s highest-paid pitcher, provide any optimism that he can pitch at even a league-average level?
27) White Sox: How close to ready will Carlos Rodon be after undergoing left shoulder surgery last September?
28) Phillies: After upgrading at first base (Carlos Santana) and the bullpen (Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek), will the Phillies capitalize on a buyer-friendly starting pitchers’ market and take on someone like Arrieta, Cobb or Lynn as well?
29) Giants: After adding 30-somethings McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson, how large a supply of Bengay should they order for the season?
30) Tigers: Will Michael Fulmer, having undergone minor right elbow surgery last September, be good to go?
31) Free-agent camp: Will the unsigned players follow the lead of Brandon Moss and take accountability for the terrible market, or will they follow the lead of selected agents and blame the owners for not repeating past mistakes?
— Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions. Both come courtesy of Tyler Kepner from Wilton, Conn.:
1) In a 1989 episode of “Perfect Strangers,” Balki (Bronson Pinchot) mentions the name of a Cy Young Award winner while at the dentist with Larry (Mark Linn-Baker). Identify the name-checked pitcher.
2) In a 1988 episode of “Newhart,” George (Tom Poston) rejects rooting for a certain MLB team because, he says, “I can’t figure out their hat.” To which team is he referring?
— Your Pop Quiz answers:
1) Orel Hershiser
2) The Montreal Expos
— If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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