All 30 MLB Teams' Burning Question as Midseason Approaches
We are closing in on the midway point of the 2014 MLB season, and it has been a season of parity so far, with very few teams separating themselves from the pack and a major portion of the league hovering around the .500 mark.
Trade season is right around the corner, and as a result, there is at least one significant question each team needs to answer in the weeks to come.
Whether it's a contender looking at how to improve for the second-half push, a seller planning for the future or the always tough question of when to call up a top prospect, there is no shortage of topics to be addressed.
So, with that in mind, here is a look at all 30 MLB teams' burning question as midseason approaches.
Arizona Diamondbacks: When Will Archie Bradley Arrive?
The Arizona Diamondbacks effectively buried themselves with a horrible first month of the season, and while they have been playing much better baseball since, they still don't figure to be in the running for an NL playoff spot.
That turns the team's attention to next year and beyond, and top prospect Archie Bradley figures to play a significant role in the team's future. Many thought he deserved to break camp on the major league roster, but instead he opened the season in the minors, where an elbow injury has limited him to just five starts.
He's back healthy now, making his first rehab start on Monday, and as long as he suffers no further setbacks, he should make his major league debut at some point in the second half as he looks to solidify a rotation spot for next year.
Atlanta Braves: Does the Team Need Another Starting Pitcher to Contend?
In this case, "contend" refers to whether or not the Atlanta Braves can contend for a title with the rotation they have right now or if they need to add another arm. Either way, they should be in contention for a playoff spot, but their ambitions extend beyond simply making the playoffs at this point.
The rotation has done a terrific job holding things together following the loss of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending injuries. It has not been nearly as good of late, though, as Mike Minor has struggled and Ervin Santana has fallen off after a hot start.
Julio Teheran has established himself as a legitimate staff ace, but can a rotation made up of Santana, Minor, Gavin Floyd and Aaron Harang behind him really contend for a title? That's something the Braves will need to decide between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
Baltimore Orioles: Will the Starting Rotation Allow Them to Contend?
The Baltimore Orioles reached the postseason in 2012, despite a starting rotation that lacked a legitimate staff ace and ranked 21st in the MLB with a 4.42 ERA.
Last season, with one of the best offenses and defenses in all of baseball, they fell short of the playoffs, as it was again the starting rotation that was the clear weakness. Their rotation ERA climbed to 4.57, and they fell to 27th in the MLB in that category in the process.
It's been more of the same this season, as the Orioles' staff carries a 4.28 ERA and no starter has an ERA below 3.70 on the year. Whether they make a big move at the deadline or not, the question will be whether or not they have the horses in the rotation to be playing in October.
Boston Red Sox: Can Clay Buchholz Be an Effective Starter Again?
A complete lack of outfield production has been the biggest hole for the Boston Red Sox this season, but as far as burning questions go, what the future holds for right-hander Clay Buchholz tops the list.
The 29-year-old was dominant through his first 12 starts last season, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA and looking like a serious Cy Young contender. Shoulder and neck injuries sidelined him from there, costing him roughly three months, and while he returned for the stretch run and postseason, his stuff was clearly not the same.
Buchholz was 2-4 with a 7.02 ERA through 10 starts this season, with just five quality starts, before the team put him on the disabled list with a hyper-extended knee. Brandon Workman has pitched well in his absence, but long term, there are some serious questions about Buchholz.
He is signed for $12 million next season and carries two option years at $26.5 million after that. Sorting out his future will be big for the Red Sox.
Chicago Cubs: What Happens With Jeff Samardzija?
The Chicago Cubs are expected to be as busy as anyone this offseason, with a number of trade chips, including Jason Hammel, Emilio Bonifacio and Nate Schierholtz. However, none have drawn more attention than ace Jeff Samardzija.
Despite his 2-6 record, the 29-year-old is having the best season of his career, and if the Cubs are going to move him, the time is now, as he has the added value of another year of team control beyond 2014.
One would surmise that he would net an even bigger haul than what the Cubs got for Matt Garza last July, considering he was in the final year of his contract, and that type of return could go a long way for the rebuilding squad.
It's not as cut and dry as simply moving Samardzija to the highest bidder, though, as the team is at least considering an extension for the right-hander, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next month or so.
Chicago White Sox: Will Alexei Ramirez Be Shopped at the Deadline?
The Chicago White Sox have been a pleasant surprise so far this season, but they still don't appear to have a legitimate shot at contention. That makes them an interesting team as far as the deadline is concerned, as they will want to keep playing competitive baseball but at the same time are still very much in the rebuilding stages.
Free-agent-to-be Adam Dunn looks like the most likely piece to be on the move come July, but the White Sox's most intriguing trade chip has to be shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who will likely be headed to his first All-Star Game this season.
Ramirez has been a consistent producer for the White Sox since defecting from Cuba, and in a thin market for bats and an even thinner market for middle infield help, he could net a huge return if made available. He's signed for $10 million next season with a $10 million option for 2016, so he carries the extra value of being more than a rental player.
Cincinnati Reds: Is Now the Time to Move a Starting Pitcher?
The Cincinnati Reds generally shy away from making big moves at the trade deadline, but while they likely will not be looking to add any major pieces at the deadline, they could be in the market to move one of their starting pitchers.
With Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani and Robert Stephenson likely to fill three of the team's rotation spots long term, chances are that at least one of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake will be pitching elsewhere in the not-too-distant future.
All three are set to hit free agency after the 2015 season, along with this year's surprise starter, Alfredo Simon, so shopping one of those guys now, when they still have a year of team control, could net them the biggest return.
Leake seems like the obvious choice, but when you consider the team likely won't be able to afford both Cueto and Latos long term, perhaps it will be one of them who winds up on the block. Any move would be a significant one, as the Reds are on the fringe of contention now, but it's something that needs to at least be considered.
Cleveland Indians: When Will Francisco Lindor Supplant Asdrubal Cabrera?
Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera have been staples up the middle for the Cleveland Indians the past several seasons, but that will likely change next year. Cabrera is set to hit free agency, and top prospect Francisco Lindor is within striking distance of a major league call-up.
There were questions whether Lindor would hit enough to be a star when the Indians took him No. 8 in the 2011 draft, but he has more than held his own while being put on the fast track to the majors. The 20-year-old is currently hitting .280/.366/.377 with 14 extra-base hits and 19 steals at Double-A Akron.
At some point in the second half, the Indians will no doubt want to see what they have in Lindor, and if he is in fact big league ready. Where they sit in the AL Central standings will go a long way in determining when Lindor gets the call.
Colorado Rockies: When Will Jon Gray Arrive?
The No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft after his draft stock soared thanks to a big uptick in velocity, Jon Gray opened his first full professional season in Double-A, and all signs point to him making his Colorado Rockies debut at some point this season.
Gray has a classic workhorse build and power stuff that includes a fastball that can reach triple digits, and he has put up impressive numbers so far at 6-3 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.087 WHIP.
Fellow top prospect Eddie Butler has already made his debut this season, and for a Rockies team that is always held back by its starting pitching, how quickly those two reach their full potential will play a major role in when the team gets back to the playoffs.
Detroit Tigers: What's Wrong With Justin Verlander?
The 2013 season was a down year for Justin Verlander by all accounts, but things seemed to click down the stretch when he posted a 2.27 ERA and 10.9 K/9 in September.
That carried over into the postseason, where he threw the ball like the dominant Verlander of old, allowing just 10 hits and one earned run in 23 innings of work in his three starts. He followed that up with 20 scoreless innings in spring training, and all signs pointed to a bounce-back campaign in 2014.
Instead, Verlander currently sits at 6-7 with a 4.98 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and .286 BAA while managing just eight quality starts in 15 games.
"He’s going to come back to the form he was,” Kansas City Royals DH Billy Butler told John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press. “That’s just how it is. You don’t have that many trophies, that many accolades, not to. The only reason we’re having this conversation is that he’s never had this stretch.”
As Verlander makes the transition from overpowering to savvy, this season could be a turning point in the rest of his big league career.
Houston Astros: Who Else Gets Called Up?
Outfielder George Springer made his major league debut April 16, and he currently has an .811 OPS with 12 home runs and 36 RBI in 54 games for the Houston Astros.
First baseman Jon Singleton was next, debuting June 3. He currently has an .823 OPS with four home runs and 10 RBI in 15 games.
So, who's next to get the call for the Astros in what has been an exciting and surprisingly successful step forward in the rebuilding process this year?
There are a handful of guys that could debut between now and the end of the season, but keep an eye on Mike Foltynewicz. The big right-hander turned heads in spring training, and he has a 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 68 strikeouts in 67 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Kansas City Royals: Is the Recent Offensive Outbreak for Real?
There is no team in baseball right now that is hotter than the Kansas City Royals, who have won 10 in a row and stormed to the top of the AL Central standings in the process.
The team was just 29-32 through its first 61 games, averaging 3.8 runs per game in the process. That number has climbed to a whopping 6.9 runs per game during the Royals' winning streak, as they have finally found some offensive support to back what has been a solid pitching staff all season.
Five different players have double-digit RBI in June, and their 15 home runs this month are a far cry from the 24 they managed over the first two months of the season combined.
Chances are the Royals won't average nearly seven runs per game the rest of the way, and the question now becomes just how legitimate and sustainable their recent offensive outburst is.
Los Angeles Angels: Will the Bullpen Be Their Undoing?
With the second-highest scoring offense in the American League, led by superstar Mike Trout and a healthy Josh Hamilton, the Los Angeles Angels should continue to score plenty of runs as the season wears on.
Meanwhile, their starting rotation remains vastly improved thanks to the addition of Tyler Skaggs and a breakout season from Garrett Richards. The team rank 10th in the MLB with a 3.68 starter's ERA.
Then there's the bullpen, a group that sits 25th in the MLB with a 4.34 ERA and has converted just 16 of 26 save chances on the year. A handful of guys are having good individual seasons, but the late innings have been a disaster, and in a tough AL West, the Angels will have to get that sorted out if they hope to contend.
Los Angeles Dodgers: How Will the Outfield Situation Be Resolved?
The Los Angeles Dodgers were shopping an outfielder before the season started, and while Yasiel Puig is locked in as the everyday right fielder, questions remain as to who should fill the remaining two starting outfield spots.
Matt Kemp (.804 OPS, 7 HR, 27 RBI) has been the most productive member of the group, but he is also the most intriguing trade candidate. Meanwhile, Andre Ethier (.259 BA, .691 OPS) and Carl Crawford (.267 BA, .693 OPS) have both performed well below expectations given their hefty salaries.
Throw in fourth outfielder Scott Van Slyke (87 AB, .976 OPS, 13 XBH) making a strong case for more playing time and top prospect Joc Pederson (.322/.436/.588, 17 HR, 18 SB) tearing through Triple-A pitching and things get even more complicated.
It's something the Dodgers will have to sort out in the very near future as they look to put together another impressive summer to again join the ranks of the NL's elite.
Miami Marlins: Will Giancarlo Stanton Stay Healthy for a Full Season?
For years, Giancarlo Stanton has teased with his tremendous raw power and shown flashes of being a franchise cornerstone, only to land on the disabled list with one injury or another.
He's managed to stay healthy so far this year, and the results have been staggering for the 24-year-old star. He's currently hitting .299/.394/.593 while leading the NL with 20 home runs and 57 RBI, and he has put on a show all season with his impressive power to all fields.
The question has always been what kind of numbers he could put up over a full season of at-bats, and it now becomes if he can keep it up and stay healthy for the duration of 2014.
Milwaukee Brewers: Can They Hold on and Win the NL Central Title?
The Milwaukee Brewers' red-hot start to the 2014 season was certainly a surprise to most, but the fact that they have avoided a fall-off from there and remain atop the NL Central standings is the bigger surprise.
They currently hold a 3.5-game lead over a St. Louis Cardinals team that has been playing much better baseball of late at 8-2 in its last 10 games.
There is no question at this point that the Brewers are legitimate contenders, but can they hold on to the division lead and avoid having to play for a wild-card spot? It will likely be on the in-house group of guys to do it, with no clear area to address at the trade deadline, and the talent is certainly there for them to pull it off.
Minnesota Twins: Where Has Joe Mauer's Bat Gone?
Many pundits, myself included, expected big things from Joe Mauer offensively this season as he made the full-time move from catcher to first base. The obvious logic was that if he was not saddled with the mental and physical grind of strapping on the gear every day, he could just focus on hitting and the result would be better numbers.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case so far.
While the Minnesota Twins have been better than anyone would have guessed offensively, Mauer is hitting just .254/.332/.328 with 14 extra-base hits (two home runs) in 256 at-bats.
The Twins are on the hook for $112 million over the next four years for Mauer, and as the veteran leader in their rebuilding efforts, they will be counting on him to figure things out over the next few months, if for no other reason than a positive outlook heading into 2015.
New York Mets: Who Makes Up the 2015 Starting Rotation?
Having too many starting pitchers is about as good a problem as you can have in baseball. With the wear and tear that rotations go through over the course of the season, it is next to impossible to get through a full year with just five starters, and the better a team's depth on the pitching side of things, the better off it is.
It appears the New York Mets will find themselves with that enviable problem when 2015 rolls around. There could be as many as eight guys vying for the Opening Day rotation.
Matt Harvey will be back from Tommy John surgery to join rotation staples Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon, while a trio of prospects in Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard also figure to be very much in the mix.
Think of these next few months as the first stages of a long audition process to be part of the team's rotation when the 2015 season kicks off.
New York Yankees: Will They Go All-In at the Trade Deadline?
After spending somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars to retool their roster in the offseason, the New York Yankees find themselves 37-33 through their first 70 games and 2.5 games back in the AL East.
For all that has happened to their starting rotation from an injury and overall effectiveness standpoint, the fact that the Yankees are over .500 is nothing short of amazing. That being said, if they hope to make any sort of serious noise come October, they'll need someone outside of Masahiro Tanaka they can feel confident handing the ball to.
There is little doubt the Yankees will be looking to add an arm or two; the question is whether they will go after the market's top guys. If they do, it will likely mean parting with top prospect Gary Sanchez, and that is something they have balked at doing in the past.
Oakland Athletics: Are They the Team to Beat in the American League?
The Oakland Athletics really don't have many question marks right now from a roster standpoint. Sure, they could upgrade here and there, but they are so much about team over individual that it's hard to call any one spot a weakness.
The bullpen was a major question mark early on, but Sean Doolittle locked down the ninth-inning role, and the pieces fell into place from there.
As things stand right now, the A's are 44-28, putting them 3.5 games up on the sliding Toronto Blue Jays for the best record in the American League.
With the Tigers struggling right now and the AL East still wide open for everyone except the Tampa Bay Rays, there is no question the A's are the best team in the American League right now.
Do all roads to the World Series in the AL really go though Oakland at this point, though, or will a team like Detroit make a big second-half push?
Philadelphia Phillies: Who Moves First in the Inevitable Rebuild?
There are no two ways around it: The Philadelphia Phillies have to start rebuilding at some point, and it won't be an easy process, with so many high-priced former superstars on the wrong side of their primes.
Guys like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley could be interesting trade candidates when the deadline rolls around, but both have 10-5 rights to veto any deal they are involved in, and both have spent their entire careers to this point in Philadelphia.
Ace Cliff Lee is currently sidelined and still owed $25 million next year and at least the $12.5 million buyout portion of a $27.5 million option the year after that, but he is an intriguing trade chip nonetheless.
Add to that relievers Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams and a handful of other veteran pieces, and the Phillies could go in a number of directions as far as starting their rebuild.
Or they could just stand pat and keep playing for a .500 record with a roster of overpaid former stars. You never really know with Ruben Amaro and Co.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Can Gregory Polanco Make a Yasiel Puig-Like Impact?
Last season, the Dodgers were 23-32 (.418) when phenom Yasiel Puig was called up from the minors. They then proceeded to go 69-38 (.645) with Puig in the fold, running away with the NL West in the process.
Fast forward a year and the Pittsburgh Pirates were 30-33 (.476) when they called up a promising young outfielder of their own in Gregory Polanco. They are just 4-4 (.500) since his promotion, but there is no question he has made his presence felt.
In his eight games, Polanco is 15-for-39 (.385 BA) with a double, a home run and six RBI. The Pirates have taken a step backward in a number of areas after reaching the postseason last year, but Polanco could provide them with the spark they've needed to jump-start their season.
San Diego Padres: Will Huston Street Be Moved?
The San Diego Padres will have a number of interesting trade candidates when July rolls around, including third baseman Chase Headley, outfielders Seth Smith and Chris Denorfia and starter Ian Kennedy.
However, the big question is whether or not they will deal veteran Huston Street. He's been arguably the best closer in the National League so far this season, converting all 19 of his save chances with a 1.00 ERA and 0.74 WHIP.
He would be the top reliever on the market by far if he were made available, but the Padres' asking price figures to be steep, as he carries a very reasonable $7 million team option for next season. That said, Street could be a real difference-maker for a contender in need of some bullpen help like the Tigers of the Angels.
San Francisco Giants: Can Marco Scutaro Be the Answer at Second Base?
The San Francisco Giants have been the best team in the National League so far this season. And while they have lost five straight and are 2-8 in their last 10 games, their biggest hole still seems to be at second base.
Brandon Hicks (.172/.289/.339) has seen the bulk of the playing time there. His eight home runs are nice, but he has not hit one since May 23. In fact, he's managed just two extra-base hits this month, on his way to a .469 OPS in June.
Meanwhile, veteran Marco Scutaro is still sidelined with a back injury that has kept him on the DL since the beginning of the season.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, he will likely be used in a utility role once he does return, but there is no reason to think he can't reclaim his starting job and help the team avoid having to acquire someone.
Seattle Mariners: What Impact Will Taijuan Walker and James Paxton Have?
It's been an up-and-down season so far, but the Seattle Mariners currently sit two games over .500 at 37-35 and just one game back for the second AL wild-card spot.
That should make them buyers at the deadline, as they could definitely use another bat, but it's the pitching staff that could get a second-half boost.
Promising young arms Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are both currently sidelined, as Walker has been on the shelf all season and Paxton has made just two starts. Despite their absence, the team ranks second in the AL in starter's ERA at 3.56, and the staff could be that much better once they return.
The question now is when that will be. Walker was optioned to the minors for some extra work beyond his rehab assignment, while Paxton is still a month away from returning from his lat injury.
St. Louis Cardinals: Do They Need Another Front-Line Starter to Win It All?
The St. Louis Cardinals have not been as dominant as many expected them to be this season, but they have been playing much better baseball of late, and they have pulled within 3.5 games of the first-place Brewers in the NL Central.
With a lot of baseball left to be played, the Cardinals still look like the favorites in that division when all is said and done, but this is a team with aspirations beyond just winning a division title. The Cards are looking to win it all after coming up just short against the Red Sox last year.
They don't have any glaring holes to address at the trade deadline, but some have questioned whether they need another proven veteran starter alongside Adam Wainwright at the top of the rotation. Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller certainly have bright futures, but throwing someone like David Price in the mix could push the team over the top.
Tampa Bay Rays: What Happens With David Price?
Speaking of David Price, he will no doubt be the most talked-about name of trade season, especially if the Cubs pull the trigger on trading Jeff Samardzija well before the July 31 deadline rolls around.
Price made it through an offseason of trade rumors and came out the other side still wearing a Tampa Bay Rays jersey, and team is not simply going to trade him for the sake of trading him.
He has another year of team control left, and while he has quickly priced himself out of the market in Tampa, the team could hold on to him until the offseason and revisit trading him then if it doesn't get an offer to its liking. It will be the story of July and one worth watching very closely, as Price could be a huge factor down the stretch for a contender.
Texas Rangers: Should They Cut Their Losses and Sell at the Deadline?
It's been a trying season for the Texas Rangers, as seemingly everyone on the roster has spent time on the disabled list at one point or another. That they sit just two games under .500 is impressive, but it also puts them in fourth place in their own division and behind a staggering number of clubs for a wild-card spot.
The Rangers will be looking to contend once again next season, so they are not going to blow up the roster, but there are a handful of veteran pieces they could shop if they decide to be aggressive sellers.
Outfielder Alex Rios ($13.5 million) and closer Joakim Soria ($7 million) both have reasonable options for next season, but they could be valuable trade chips. Secondary pieces on expiring contracts—like Joe Saunders, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts—could also be of interest to a contender.
Toronto Blue Jays: How Much Do You Give Up to Land Pitching Help?
The Toronto Blue Jays have slipped a bit of late, but they remain atop the AL East standings and are an impressive 41-32 on the season. This after a horribly disappointing season last year saw them finish 14 games under .500 and in last place.
The offense is again one of the best in baseball, led by one of the best duos in the game in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and the team ranks third in the MLB in runs scored on the year.
On the pitching side of things, the rotation has certainly been improved from the group that posted an AL-worst 4.81 ERA last year, but the Blue Jays could still use another front-line arm to pull everything together.
The team has balked at moving top pitching prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in the past and could take that stance once again, but it may be unavoidable if Toronto wants to land one of the market's top arms.
Washington Nationals: How Will Bryce Harper Rebound from His Thumb Injury?
The Washington Nationals have had their fair share of injuries to deal with this season, with none bigger than the thumb injury that's sidelined Bryce Harper since April 25.
The team struggled mightily when Harper was sidelined last season, but it's held things together this year, currently leading the Braves and Marlins by 1.5 games in the NL East standings.
Harper could return in the next couple of weeks, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, and if he can get back on track quickly, it could give the Nationals the boost they need to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the NL East.