19. Who’s next?No, this isn’t Goldberg lining up for a Spear and Jackhammer, but rather, who’s next in the line of young, upcoming stud players? Last year, we saw the emergence of Gleyber Torres, Walker Buehler, Soto and Acuña. This year, we’ll likely see the debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez and more.Baseball is getting younger and more exciting, so whoever’s “next” might not be who we expected at all.So, who’s next? We’ve got questions, baseball’s got answers.While a certain retail store might be on its last legs, the MLB season is well-positioned to answer whatever questions we have. With Opening Day just over a week out, here are 19 questions for the 2019 MLB season. MORE: Opening Day schedule for all 30 MLB teams1. Will the Mets finally stay healthy?The Mets have faced three big questions the past few seasons: health, bullpen and depth. They seemingly addressed two of the three in the offseason — adding Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia to the bullpen while shoring up the bench and lineup with Jed Lowrie, Keon Broxton and Wilson Ramos. So the Mets are a markedly better team on paper this year.But the third of those questions, health, has yet to be answered. Lowrie and third baseman Todd Frazier already hit the shelf with injuries, which is no worry at this point in the season. Noah Syndergaard has faced injury issue the past two seasons, Zack Wheeler has an extensive injury history and Yoenis Cespedes might not even see the field in 2019. You can’t predict health just like you can’t predict injuries, after all.Question 1A: What does Jacob deGrom have to do to get a contract extension? Jeez.2. What direction are the Mariners going?Jerry Dipoto did a lot this offseason (what else is new?), and the Mariners finally look like they have a dedicated direction both in the present and the future. Their 2019 lineup features a few added power threats — Domingo Santana, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion were all acquired via trade — while their future features top prospects acquired via trades. Justus Sheffield (from Yankees in the James Paxton deal), Shed Long (from Reds in Sonny Gray trade), Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn (from Mets in Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal) all crack the Mariners’ top 10 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.Manager Scott Servais has a tough job trying to steer the Mariners to their first postseason birth since 2001, with almost an entirely new lineup in 2019. 3. Can the Red Sox sniff last year’s greatness?Boston had a historic 2018 season, winning 108 games and stomping its way through the playoffs — the Sox lost just three games, you may remember — but the offseason has been questionable at best.Craig Kimbrel, the Sox’s closer in 2018, is dangling in the free-agency wind, leaving the Boston bullpen in a precarious position. While the lineup is still stacked with oodles of young talent, it’s hard to see as much going right for the Red Sox as in 2018. That’s baseball, Suzyn.4. Can the Rays do the darn thing?Lest we forget, the Rays won 90 games in a division that featured the world champion Red Sox and the 100-win Yankees. While Tampa Bay was sub-.500 vs. both squads, the Rays finished the season strong, going 19-9 in September with a rotation in shambles and experimenting with an opener.The Rays signed Charlie Morton this offseason and made a trade with Cleveland to bring in Yandy Diaz, who they will presumably give consistent ABs. They lost some power in C.J. Crohn and Jake Bauers, but will have full seasons of Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows and the recently acquired Avisail Garcia.It’s tough to see how Tampa Bay will respond in 2019 with expectations a bit higher than 2018, but baseball is more fun when the underdogs turn into juggernauts. That said …5. Can the A’s do the darn thing?SN AL Manager of the Year Bob Melvin did a phenomenal job navigating major injuries to the rotation all season, culminating in earning the second wild-card spot before being ousted by the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. The A’s added Jurickson Profar in the offseason and have five serviceable arms in the rotation to hold down the fort until Sean Manaea comes back around the All-Star break.The division is still difficult around them, with the Angels and Mariners improving while the Astros remain the cream of the crop. Does Matt Chapman have an encore performance in him? He finished 2018 with an 8.2 bWAR, playing stellar defense and putting it all together at the dish.Only a Sith deals in absolutes, but it’s an absolute fact that baseball is better when the A’s are good. MORE: With ground balls in decline, Brewers trust Mustakas at second6. Can the Cubs rekindle dynasty talk?This entire offseason has been mired in controversies for the North Siders. Whether it was Joe Ricketts’ deplorable emails that were released or the ongoing Melisa Reidy/Addison Russell allegations, there’s been no shortage of storylines for the Cubs. Then, PECOTA projections decided Chicago would only be worth 82 wins in 2019, sending Cubs Twitter into meltdown mode. It just doesn’t feel like there’s any magic surrounding the Cubs, but that’s OK, because the Cubs can’t rely on destiny or youth or magic or juju or anything else in 2019 — they just need production. Production and health, which has been two pretty big issues for them.A seemingly healthy Yu Darvish will help with that, as will their still uber-talented and relatively young lineup. With diminishing returns the past two years in terms of playoff success, it’s time the Cubs get back to their winning ways of 2015 and 2016. Can they?7. How competitive will the American League be?The early guess is “not very.”Eight teams in the American League finished below .500 in 2018, with two (Orioles, Royals) not even hitting the 60-win mark. Somewhat surprisingly, 10 teams finished below .500 in 2017, but every team in the league besides one finished with at least 65 wins. With a bunch of rebuilding clubs — Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, to name some — there will be teams for the upper echelon of baseball to feast on. Who will be able to play spoiler in the AL? There’s no way it can be that bad again … right?8. How big of a thing will “the opener” become?We saw the Rays’ experiment generally work OK in 2019. Regardless of how you feel about the opener — legitimate, stat-based strategy or nefarious plot by owners to keep costs of starting pitchers down — there seems to be a basis for more teams to use it. The Pirates and Giants have both made overtures regarding the opener, met with some pushback from players. But with the way super bullpens are going and the lessons analytics are teaching us about times through the order, it wouldn’t surprise many if the opener is a bigger part of the sport in 2019. How much is the real question.MORE: 19 reasons why baseball will be great in 20199. What will attendance look like?For a multitude of reasons, MLB attendance was down for the first time in 15 years in 2018. It’s not a cause for concern, really. Look at the revenues, look at the cost of TV deals and merchandise sales. Hopefully the weather isn’t terrible — that played a pretty big part in 2018 — so fans can get out to the ballpark. But if attendance is on the downswing a second year in a row, some questions have to be asked. Don’t panic, though, because baseball isn’t going anywhere.10. Will the White Sox take the next step?The White Sox are — potentially — coming. Michael Kopech, one of Chicago’s prized young players, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Yoan Moncada hasn’t lived up to his No. 1 overall prospect billing just yet, despite showing flashes in recent years. Lucas Giolito has struggled during his time in the majors. Meanwhile, uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez is yet to make his debut.The White Sox, long touted as potential 2020 World Series champs, couldn’t look further away from contention right now. The South Side can’t keep touting its youth and future while not seeing steps forward by way of wins and losses, or at least competitiveness.11. Will the NL East live up to the hype?The NL East is going to be tighter than an X-Wing making a Death Star trench run. It’s the most improved division in baseball, with the Mets bringing in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie and Edwin Diaz, the Braves adding Josh Donaldson, the Phillies locking down Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and J.T. Realmuto, and the Nationals inking Patrick Corbin to a mega-deal. With four of the five squads in the NL East in position to make a run at the division throne, it’s easily the most competitive division in baseball, at least on paper.PONY UP: Bryce Harper contract a stupid-good expense for Phillies12. Who’ll hit the trade market?It’s never to early to start talking trades. Will Michael Fulmer be moved at the deadline to a starter-needy team? What about Lucas Duda and Nelson Cruz, both with Minnesota, as the Twins aren’t entirely expected to be competitive this season? You can’t win a division in April, but you can lose one, and the addition of the second wild card made teams look harder at going for it. Expect this year, with the National League once again wide open, to have serious trade activity. 13. What impact will Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have with their new teams?Both guys are generational talents. Both guys signed massive deals. How will they play in 2019?It’s easy to say “look at the back of their baseball card,” but the pressure to win immediately and prove a mega-deal right can weigh on anyone. While the better team is currently surrounding Harper, Machado’s Padres just might be better in three or four years’ time. Both guys being in drastically different situations only adds to intrigue of how they’ll perform and react to them.14. How many home runs will the Yankees hit?The Bronx Bombers lived up to their nickname in 2018, launching 267 home runs — an MLB record — into the seats. They’re without Didi Gregorius for the first few months of the season, but they’ll have a presumably healthy Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Could we be looking at 280 home runs? Maybe 300? Who knows? There’s no team better suited to mash dingers this season than the Yankees.15. Who is Josh Donaldson?The one-year, $23 million deal Donaldson got from the Braves is a big-time prove-it deal. After three seasons with Toronto with an OPS over .900 (and OPS+ of 151), an injury-riddled 2018 left Donaldson with lackluster production. He did hit a bit for the Indians following the waiver-deadline deal — he slashed .280/.400/.520 with the Tribe in 16 games — but the question remains whether he can stay healthy for the duration of a season, especially following just a 52-game campaign in 2018. If Donaldson can regain MVP form, he can help influence the division race in favor of the Bravos.16. Who will be this year’s darling team?The A’s overcame more odds in 2019 than Average Joe’s gym on its way to the ADAA Las Vegas International Open Final, capturing many hearts in the process.Unfortunately for the A’s, the Globo Gym of baseball bounced them in the AL Wild Card game, ending a Cinderella story before the first chapter was really written. So who’s it gonna be this year? The Rays? The A’s once again? The Royals?There’s always one surprise team in baseball, and there are very intriguing options for 2019.MORE: 19 MLB storylines to watch in 201917. How loud will the pace of play arguments get?Baseball fans generally don’t have an issue with pace-of-play discussions, nor time of game. But with MLB making more noise about wanting to shorten and speed up games (pitch clock, experimental rules in the independent Atlantic League), the debates surrounding all things time related in baseball will be headache-inducing.18. What will Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto do in their sophomore seasons?Acuña won SN’s NL Rookie of the Year award, while Soto came in second. To say it’s going to be fun to watch these two — both young, both mashers — in the same division is an understatement.In fact, their numbers were remarkably similar in 2018: StatSotoAcuñaAt-bats414433Average.292.293OPS.923.917Home runs2226bWAR3.04.1Needless to say, it’s exciting that baseball is getting so much younger and talented, but to have two young stars facing off against each other in the same division for the foreseeable future? Woof.
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