You'd think this late in the game, after having months to review every aspect of every roster, we'd have a firm grasp on what every team plans to do at the start of the year.
But no. With the shutdown came an information void, and it's not like managers got a long look at the players during the initial spring training. Plus, new rules like the universal DH have brought about new conflicts over playing time, and players who were once expected to miss months with an injury are now suddenly back in the mix.
So of all the questions yet to be answered, which are the most relevant to Fantasy Baseballers? I've come up with 16 for you.
1) Do the Brewers still want Josh Hader handling the ninth inning?
What's funny is it wasn't even a question during the initial spring training, when Corey Knebel's return from Tommy John surgery was some far-off hypothetical. Hader had been the best reliever for two years running, and when finally handed the closer gig last year, he handled it with aplomb. Besides, if he wasn't going to do it, who else in the Brewers bullpen would?
Now, though, they have their former closer back — a pitcher who himself compiled a 2.54 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 in the last two years we saw him — and since Knebel is back for the start of the season, when roles are generally less defined, manager Craig Counsell might feel more compelled to experiment. It's worth noting Counsell was reluctant to confine Hader to the ninth inning in the first place, preferring to keep the left-hander flexible for high-leverage and multi-inning situations. The threat of him reverting to that approach casts doubt on Hader's status as the No. 1 reliever in Fantasy.
2) Is a rotation spot now Nate Pearson's to lose?
The top prospect with the 80-grade fastball and power slider grabbed headlines in the first spring training by making big-league hitters look silly while allowing just two hits over seven innings. The only question was when he'd arrive, not if, and seeing as the Blue Jays limited him to about 100 innings last year, his first back from a fractured forearm, keeping him down for a spell made sense.
But now, nobody's getting even the 100 innings Pearson had last year, so if that same logic holds, why is it even a competition? Shouldn't the Blue Jays just hand him the fifth starter job — a role promised to no one — straight out of camp? They have a chance to be fringe contenders, after all, and he has the sort of upside that would make him worth drafting among the top 40 at starting pitcher.
3) Who do the Cardinals want in the closer role?
Even though he was far and away their best remaining reliever with Carlos Martinez moving back to the starting rotation, the Cardinals seemed reluctant to anoint Giovanny Gallegos their closer, instead naming him in a long list of candidates that included everyone from John Brebbia to John Gant. Now, enough time has passed that Jordan Hicks, who is barely a year removed from Tommy John surgery, could also have a say.
Hicks, you might remember, boasts a fastball that peaks at 104 mph and fared well in the role last year before his elbow blew up. Hastening his recovery and then plugging him into the ninth inning right away would be negligent of the Cardinals. That is why I still like Gallegos to settle into the role, but if they were looking for an excuse to keep him in setup duty, they have an easy one now.
4) Are they fully on board with Dylan Carlson in left field?
The introduction of the DH spot to the NL would seem to make Carlson's ascension a foregone conclusion. After all, he was the hitting prospect generating the most buzz in the initial spring training, injecting himself into the left field competition.
The problem is that the DH spot frees up the Cardinals' infield more than their outfield. Matt Carpenter, given his age, injury history and defensive limitations, seems like the obvious choice to fill it on a near everyday basis, with Tommy Edman claiming third base. So left field still comes down to Carlson and slugging Tyler O'Neill, who himself is owed a longer look at age 25. Could the Cardinals find room for both simply by shifting right fielder Dexter Fowler to the bench? Sure, but if they have any doubts about the 21-year-old Carlson's readiness, they don't have to.
5) Where does Garrett Hampson fit for the Rockies?
There have been a couple positive developments for the Rockies' logjam recently. One is the addition of another lineup spot with the DH coming to the NL. The other is Ian Desmond -- whose contract, if nothing else, figured to keep him in the mix -- opting to sit out in 2020. So yes, even more opportunities await the Rockies' impressive stable of young hitters, namely Hampson, Sam Hilliard and top prospect Brendan Rodgers.
Hampson, who profiles as an elite base-stealer with all the advantages afforded a Rockies hitter, seems like the safest bet for playing time among the three, but does he settle in at second base, with Ryan McMahon shifting to first base and Daniel Murphy to DH? Or does he spend some time in the outfield, costing Hilliard opportunities but creating them for Rodgers? In the end, we need at least one of these guys to get full-time at-bats.
6) Will the Rays lean on Nick Anderson for saves?
The Rays' fondness for the closing committee goes beyond any other team's mere flirtation with it. So wouldn't you know that after finally settling on Emilio Pagan in the role late last year, they then trade him to the Padres in the offseason?
No way they make that deal, though, if they don't have what they have in Anderson, elevating him to the best-reliever-in-baseball discussion with a few tweaks to his arsenal after acquiring him from the Marlins last July. So if manager Kevin Cash already turned the corner on Pagan, making him a true closer, couldn't he do the same with Anderson? Or will Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado also be in the saves mix? We probably won't know until it's actually happening.
7) How committed are the Astros to giving Kyle Tucker at-bats?
It's been long overdue now, what with Tucker demolishing Triple-A two years in a row now, and a change of the Astros' entire management structure this offseason would seem to work in his favor. But Josh Reddick is still under contract another year, even if his production has been sorely lacking the past two, and the Astros have yet to offer any assurances other than intimating Tucker indeed has a roster spot.
It would be an easy switch to make -- and a seemingly obvious one with Tucker offering a top prospect pedigree and possible five-category production -- but if manager Dusty Baker instead chooses to ease Tucker into a starting role, the 23-year-old might not have a chance to make a real impact in only a 60-game season.
8) How much leash will Julio Urias and Alex Wood get?
Those two were named the fourth and fifth starters prior to the shutdown, but presumably, the Dodgers were feeling a need to preserve the innings of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin at that point. And presumably, they don't anymore.
Now, Urias may well be the most talented of the four, so I wouldn't say I'm worried about him losing his role. And the Dodgers might genuinely believe that Wood's work with Driveline Baseball in the offseason makes him a better choice than May, a top prospect who made a strong impression down the stretch. But will the availability of May and Gonsolin from the start of the year — a year when pitchers won't have a chance to ramp up like usual, it's worth pointing out — discourage the Dodgers from leaning so hard on Urias and Wood, pulling them after only four or five innings and piggybacking one of those other starters with them? I wouldn't call it unlikely.
9) Where will Miguel Andujar play?
Back when Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were both expected to begin the season on the IL, Miguel Andujar seemed like he might have a spot in the outfield, where his glove couldn't have been any worse than it was at third base during his 2018 rookie season. He was runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year then and deserves a lineup spot again after losing almost all of 2019 to a torn labrum in his shoulder, but it probably won't come at third base with the emergence of Gio Urshela nor at first base with the emergence of Luke Voit.
The outfield would still be Andujar's best bet if Aaron Hicks wasn't also expected back from Tommy John surgery now. Granted, there isn't a great track record of health in that outfield, which means a spot could open soon enough, but in the meantime, Andujar might just pilfer at-bats from everyone, which wouldn't be great for anyone.
10) Is Tommy La Stella part of a platoon or basically a full-timer?
We got to see only about half a season of the power-hitting version of La Stella, who then broke his tibia, so who can say where his playing time would have settled if he had kept it going for a full year? But for as productive as he was during that half-season stretch, he nonetheless sat against most lefties.
He has a new manager now in Joe Maddon, who has generally made use of platoons when they make sense, and the presumption is that he'll sit La Stella against lefties as a way to get David Fletcher and/or Luis Rengifo more at-bats. But he could also do that by sitting the left-handed-hitting Brian Goodwin, who didn't show near the upside La Stella did last year. It's especially tricky because we still don't know exactly what the 31-year-old La Stella brings to the table other than a high contact rate, but if those power gains were legit and he's batting leadoff virtually every day, ahead of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, then we've seriously undervalued him.
11) How regularly will Ryan Braun and Howie Kendrick play?
Braun still demonstrates five-category potential, and Kendrick is coming off a career year that saw him deliver the second-best OPS (.966) among second base-eligible players. So why weren't they a bigger deal in your Fantasy league? Because two 36-year-olds with nagging health issues no longer have the luxury of playing every day, and playing time is half the battle.
But would those nagging health issues require so much maintenance if the season was, say, only 60 games? What if, say, all defensive responsibilities were off the table with the introduction of a DH spot? We saw how much the Nationals leaned on Kendrick last October, with some extra off days built into the playoff schedule, and he ended up being named NLCS MVP. Consistent playing time will mean even more to a player's Fantasy value in a shortened season, but if this shortened season leads to those two getting that consistent playing time, they'll be value picks for sure.
12) Can MacKenzie Gore force his way into the Padres rotation?
With the Padres looking to contend in 2020 and having an easier path to contention in a 60-game season, they might decide Gore's talents are better served at the major-league level than in scrimmages down in minor-league camp. The 21-year-old lefty is barely tested above A-ball but is widely considered the game's top pitching prospect, and the Padres had Chris Paddack make a similar leap last year with great success.
If any organization was going to do it, it's this one, and the timing would make sense. It's not like they have to carefully manage Gore's innings, after all. He, like Nate Pearson, would be a borderline top-40 option at starting pitcher if he indeed makes the cut.
13) Will the White Sox commit to Nick Madrigal at second base?
Like the Padres, the White Sox are trying to make the transition from rebuilders to contenders, and while they may still have another year to go, anything could happen in a 60-game season. The expectation was that Nick Madrigal, the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, would take over at some point this year anyway, which is why the White Sox made light-hitting Leury Garcia the only alternative at second base. And since a team can't afford to mess around in such a short season, why not make the switch from the start?
Madrigal may not hit for much power but is a lock for batting average after striking out just 16 times in 532 plate appearances last year and may contribute a decent number of stolen bases as well.
14) What do the Mets do with Yoenis Cespedes?
Really, it's the status of three players that's impacted here: Cespedes, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith. Even with the introduction of the DH spot to the NL, there's only room for two on a given day. One would have to play left field. None is really equipped to.
Cespedes would seem to have the defensive advantage, but coming off multiple surgeries on both legs, you have to presume he'd still be a liability out there. And who knows how he'll measure up as a hitter, even? He's 34 and hasn't played in two years. No, the offensive advantage goes to Davis, and I suspect he'll be in the lineup at one spot or another virtually every day. Dominic Smith had a decent showing himself last year and might be a more interesting choice for Fantasy than Cespedes if he can hold him off. It's possible the two enter into a lefty/righty platoon.
15) Is Corbin Burnes and/or Freddy Peralta going to break into the Brewers starting rotation?
Granted, their numbers in a starting role have been terrible so far, but there's what the numbers say and what the skills say. Both have the sort of skills to get excited about, demonstrating elite bat-missing ability that is backed up by each pitcher's impressive minor-league track record. The Brewers could fill out their rotation without them, but word out of the first spring training was that they were willing to make room for one.
My preference would be for Burnes, who actually had a 3.37 xFIP last year in spite of his 8.82 ERA. The number of home runs hit off him was just impossibly high. Meanwhile, he had a swinging-strike rate on par with Blake Snell — and that was with a slider 6 mph slower than the one he was flashing in spring training.
16) Are the Orioles ready to make Hunter Harvey their closer?
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde stubbornly refused to name a closer last season, not that it was a high priority for a team that won 54 only games. But Hyde at least acknowledged back during the first spring training that Harvey, who made his debut late last season, "has closer stuff." It makes him a better bet than Mychal Givens at this point — Givens had all of last year to secure the role and couldn't — but we'd of course be drafting Harvey with more gusto if we had a little more insight into Hyde's thinking.