As the World Baseball Classic gets under way around the world, here are the burning questions back home in Arizona and Florida:
* Are the Angels being cheap by signing second-year outfielder Mike Trout, the AL Rookie of the Year, to a $510,000 contract for this season?
His agent Craig Landis told reporters that he, not Trout, was disappointed in the Angels’ contract. Given that Trout is going into his second season, the Angels have the hammer, which is how the labor agreement works. The agreement gives no leverage to first- and second-year players, but they can make up for that when they hit their arbitration years.
For now, Trout has to defend his agent’s comments. The Angels don’t believe that going tight on Trout will cost them a chance to sign him long-term later. By the way, this situation is common. Look at catcher Buster Posey, who helped the Giants win the 2010 World Series and then made $575,000 in 2011 and $615,000 in 2012. Posey is making $8 million this season.
* Are the Tigers in need of a closer?
Their 21-year-old prospect, Bruce Rondon, has a 100-mph fastball, but no command, and he’s not pitching well this spring. The Tigers say they aren’t looking, but if Rondon doesn’t build manager Jim Leyland’s confidence, the roster options are thin.
Al Albuquerque, with a 95-mph fastball and an above-average slider, might be the best option, although he has limited experience. Tigers fans are probably wondering why the team spent $80 million on starter Anibal Sanchez when the bullpen needed help. A thin bullpen was an issue last October for the Tigers.
* Do the Dodgers have a replacement for injured left fielder Carl Crawford?
Crawford, 31, hasn’t had a full season since 2010 with Tampa Bay. Then he had two injury years in Boston. He’s trying to come back from wrist and elbow injuries, and the Dodgers were counting on him being their leadoff hitter. Now he’s questionable for opening day. If Crawford isn’t ready, the Dodgers’ two best options are Jerry Hairston and Skip Schumaker, usually a second baseman. Crawford has $107.8 million left on his contract.
* Will Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s suggestion about eliminating collisions at home plate gain any traction?
It’s interesting that Matheny, with catcher Yadier Molina, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, with Buster Posey, are the two managers pushing a rule change to protect MVP-type catchers. Managers such as Cleveland’s Terry Francona and the Angels’ Mike Scioscia are against a rule change. So is Hall of Famer Cal Ripken.
One take: Baseball is not going to be like the NFL anytime soon, but Matheny’s idea could be the first step in an evolution of thinking on the rule change.
* What is going to happen to pitcher Matt Garza?
The Cubs pitcher has an injured lat and will be out for April. The rebuilding Cubs wanted to trade Garza last July, but he was hurt then as well. Who knows what his trade value will be this year? Scott Baker (elbow) is out, so the Cubs’ rotation is Jeff Smardzija, former Nat Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva, who is mostly a reliever, Travis Wood and Scott Feldman.
* Is Chien-Ming Wang worthy of another chance in the big leagues?
The former Nationals pitcher, who lost his spot in the team’s rotation because of a hamstring injury in spring training last season, pitched six solid innings for Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Classic. A good tournament will make him a valuable commodity.
Doubt the Nats will be interested, but the rotation-thin Yankees could sign him. Wang had a 3.63 and 3.70 ERA for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, winning 19 games in each season.