Too bad the ball club relies so heavily on spring training to evaluate its roster.
No, most teams have a strong idea of what the regular season club will look like when pitchers and catchers perform in Florida and Arizona; letting go and avoiding disaster isn’t a great marketing pitch, but it’s at least a realistic one.
Still, there are some nagging issues that may gain clarity under spring skies, and many of them involve some of Major League Baseball’s most prosperous clubs. A look at six questions the next six weeks of spring training must answer:
Braves: A smooth turnover at shortstop?
They are very good at changing key positions, spending money wisely and making the right bets on young players and commercial targets. With that background in mind, the Atlanta Braves gained the benefit of the doubt by releasing shortstop Dansby Swanson and selecting first-year player Vaughn Grissom to replace him.
Oh, one of these days, GM Alex Anthopoulos’ fearlessness in letting expensive veterans go – and releasing Freddie Freeman and Swanson in back-to-back years is bold – but you can’t dispute the results. And now, Atlanta is on a streak of five consecutive NL East titles.
But Swanson was the quarterback for them all, before signing a $177 million contract to join the Chicago Cubs. Grissom is an absolutely capable and potentially dynamic replacement who struggled in 2022, as he started 40 games, 39 at second base for the injured Ozzie Albies, and posted a . 353 on-base percentage and 121 adjusted OPS.
He will also do spring training after a winter at Camp Washington.
Grissom has made several pilgrimages to coach Ron Washington, 70, in New Orleans, who imparted his inner magic in concentrated doses. “That’s probably one of the most valuable pieces I have in my life right now, being able to get stuff out of him,” Grissom said last month at a fan event.
If it pays off, the Braves will have a daunting middle of the locked diamond for the next three seasons: Catcher Sean Murphy, Grissom and Albies in short and second and reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II patrolling center field.
This spring should tell us how close this is to reality.
Dodgers: Too much turnover?
They could have paid Trea Turner, given Cody Bellinger one more chance, kept Justin Turner at a reasonable rate, lived the good life of a 111-win team bringing most of their team back.
But the Dodgers are choosing to do this the hard way.
Oh, we’re not ruling out the almost perennial champions of the NL West. In fact, letting the aforementioned supporters go might make this more interesting. It’s just that the spring training mess ahead might also seem simpler than jumping the 710 to the 91 to the 110 to the 105 to get around a big platform in the 405.
Let’s see: Trayce Thompson should be center fielder unless he doesn’t hit enough and they need Chris Taylor out there, but then again, Taylor might be needed second if rookie Miguel Vargas falters, or perhaps third if Max Muncy’s defense gives them pause. David Peralta is expected to get most hits at left, but he also has 35, and Jason Heyward has 33 and didn’t have better-than-league OPS for a full season in 2016, but can now have hits at center since Mookie Betts is locked in right field.
Ufa. (And then there’s the launch).
Not unlike Anthopoulos, Dodgers baseball guru Andrew Friedman got a significant benefit of the doubt. There is almost certainly a winning, perhaps dominant, combination in the group he acquired (and, yes, Freeman and Betts still work here).
It’s just that the lazy March days at Camelback Ranch will have a little more edge. And that’s not a bad thing.
White Sox: New voice, new vibes?
Meanwhile, across the complex, a new managerial era will dawn with little fanfare – which may be just what the Chicago White Sox need.
Tony La Russa’s early days were spent explaining a DUI arrest that came about after Chicago hired him, aged 76, to manage once again. The credibility deficit has always been there, especially after a division-winning season gave way to a patchy mess in 2022 that included La Russa issuing a pair of intentional walks on a two-strike count.
La Russa eventually retired due to health reasons, and the hiring of longtime Royals coach Pedro Grifol barely caused a stir.
That is good. AL Central remains eminently winnable, as long as some issues fall into place.
Andrew Vaughn will need to carry much of Jose Abreu’s load at first base. Andrew Benintendi will need to show that a modest outlay of $75 million which was nonetheless the biggest free agent deal in the club’s history was worth it.
And the club may have to change quickly if the MLB’s domestic violence investigation into new starter Mike Clevinger warrants a lengthy suspension.
Closer Liam Hendriks is also out as he battles non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a blow to both the bullpen and the clubhouse.
That’s a relatively full spring load for a manager to take on. But the White Sox also shouldn’t have to worry about a manager causing ripples instead of calming them down.
Red Sox: Soft sell?
GM Chaim Bloom has traded franchise players in two of his three seasons, trading Mookie Betts in 2020 and seeing shortstop Xander Bogaerts leave with little resistance in December. However, Bloom once proved that he can produce a pennant winning club by going down an unexpected path.
Minus Bogaerts, the Red Sox will need a village to make up the difference. That effort can start with Chris Sale.
The 2018 postseason hero hasn’t been in the Opening Day rotation since 2019, with Tommy John surgery and a series of illnesses (his 2022 season ended after breaking his wrist in a bicycle accident) limiting him. to 11 matches over the last three seasons. Bogaerts’ departure and Trevor Story’s elbow surgery will leave an offensive void and a domino effect defensively (Kiké Hernandez at short, Adam Duvall at center, Adalberto Mondesi at second base) and will change the club’s identity a lot.
It would help if they could pitch and had a bona fide ace to follow.
The sale is backed by a bevy of upstarts – Corey Kluber, Nick Pivetta, James Paxton – who are the in-between type at this stage in their careers, with Garrett Whitlock promising some edge. The mounted bullpen – Kenley Jansen joins old Dodgers friend Justin Turner in Boston – could be very good.
But it’s Sale who has the best career strikeouts per nine innings (11.1) and strikeouts per walk ratios (5.33) among starters in baseball history. He would be a scary spot on Fenway Park Hill on Opening Day against the Orioles, although the Red Sox have a more modest goal until then.
Yankees: Short timer at shortstop?
It’s true: there’s not much point in getting involved in spring training performances and results, because things can change dozens of times, starting just moments after the regular season lights go up.
So it really doesn’t matter who wins the Yankees starting shortstop — but how the trio of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswald Peraza and super prospect Anthony Volpe come out of spring training will be fascinating to watch.
By season’s end, Yankee fans had seen enough of Kiner-Falefa, who brought a stability to the job that became more of a liability when his 84 OPS plus was combined with dwindling defensive performance; he was benched for four of the Yankees’ nine postseason games. Peraza hit the big leagues in September, started Game 2 of the ALCS, and is likely the second baseman of the future.
It’s Volpe who is ranked 14th among all prospects by Baseball America, who bills himself as a future All-Star, which is the main reason owner Hal Steinbrenner bided his time while half a dozen franchise shortstops entered. and left the market. the last two winters. Everyone from Steinbrenner to the dugout to Staten Island’s Lou for the first time for a long time would be thrilled if he won the job outside the camp.
More likely, it will be Peraza. In a little while, it will be Kiner-Falefa.
Anyway, don’t worry. It will be an attractive competition in March – but everything is subject to change.