MLB: Questions shaping up for spring training

Max Petrunya

Can the Phillies meet the Mets … beat the Mets?

Philadelphia Phillies fans have reasons to be excited this spring as their beloved Phils head into spring training with new, old and young faces primed to lead the team in baseball’s toughest division, the NL East. After trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees last season right before the trade deadline, Philadelphia General Manager Pat Gillick all but wrote off the Phillies’ chances of winning the division, making the playoffs or even finishing above .500. Led by 2005 Rookie of the Year and eventual 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard, the Phillies posted back-to-back 18-win months while chasing the NL Wild Card spot.

Since then, Philadelphia has filled some of the holes that kept the team from making the playoffs last season. The Phillies acquired third baseman Wes Helms and catcher Rod Barajas from the free agent market. Their addition to the roster should bring more power and home runs to the Phillies’ lineup. In response to the troubles with its starting rotation, Philadelphia added 17-game-winner Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton to the pitching staff. They join a rotation already featuring Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer; and last season’s young pitching sensation, Cole Hamels. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins make up the core of the Phillies’ infield, which has been excellent on both offense and defense. As they head into spring training with a solid pitching rotation and a stronger lineup, the Phillies have the potential to win the NL East and are legitimate contenders to win the World Series.

Will the Cubs’ shopping spree pay off?

The Cubs have been busy this offseason bringing in a new coach and a bevy of new players. “Sweet Lou” Piniella takes the reins from Dusty Baker this season in hopes of navigating Chicago through the treacherous NL Central. The Cubs have acquired second baseman Mark DeRosa, outfielder Alfonso Soriano and pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis.

However, one thing the Cubs have not been this offseason is thrifty. The Cubs agreed to spend $13 million over three years for DeRosa, $136 million over eight years for Soriano and $75 million over five years for third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The biggest question mark that surrounds the Cubs organization heading into spring training is when it will begin throwing some of this money toward Carlos Zambrano. For all the money the Cubs have spent this offseason, they have yet to lock up Zambrano, who is arguably the best starting pitcher in the major league.

Other than the Zambrano situation, it appears that Chicago will be a contender this season in the NL Central. They have added power, defense and strong pitchers to the starting rotation. Although the Central Division has gotten stronger this season, the Cubs have filled in the holes in their lineup that left them a disappointing 66-96 last season. With Piniella running the show, look for the Cubs to play well into October this season.

Will the old Barry and the new Barry get the Giants back to the playoffs?

Barry Bonds enters spring training for the San Francisco Giants with a new one-year contract worth $15.8 million. Bonds, who fought with the organization for two months in order to get a deal, enters the Cactus League with 734 home runs, just 21 shy of tying Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755 homers. Fans will be waiting to see how Bonds performs this offseason as he heads into what looks to be this injury-plagued player’s last season. Joining Bonds in Florida this spring is another Barry – Barry Zito, the curveball-throwing “phenom” the Giants acquired this offseason from free agency after he left the Oakland Athletics. Zito was dominant in the hard-hitting AL throughout his career, and it will be interesting to see if the left-hander can become even more dominant in the DH-less National League.

Will the surprising Tigers continue to sizzle?

The Detroit Tigers come into spring training hungry to follow their magical run last season with one just as captivating this year. The return of their strong pitching rotation and bullpen from last year and the addition of Gary Sheffield to this strong lineup should help the Tigers in their quest to return to the Fall Classic yet again this season.

Can the revamped Red Sox rotation make them the beasts of the East?

Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his U.S. pitching debut for the Boston Red Sox this spring after agreeing to a $103 million deal for five years. Also making his starting debut for the Sox this season will be one of last year’s hottest closers, Jonathan Papelbon. Whether or not Papelbon can cut it as a starter and who will replace him as the Red Sox’s closer are two questions that will be answered as spring training games get under way beginning in March.