Now that the calendar has turned to 2011, we asked our writers to give their responses to a number of questions related to the upcoming season.
Which veteran hitter is most likely to enjoy a Jose Bautista-caliber power breakout in 2011?
We'll go with Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who hit 33 homers in 462 at-bats two years ago before injuries limited him to 22 long balls in 2010.
Cruz needs to show he can stay healthy for 150 games. But with 1,418 major league at-bats on his résumé, he's still evolving as a hitter. Cruz possesses a brand of power that few parks can hold, and the cozy dimensions in Arlington will always help a guy pad his total.
At age 30, Cruz is at the stage of his career when Bautista and former Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth both took a leap forward to stardom. Cruz isn't eligible for free agency until 2013. But if he can harness his talent for one or two injury-free seasons, he has the added incentive of a huge payday in the not-too-distant future.
-- Jerry Crasnick
Which team will be the most surprising in 2011?
There's going to be a great deal of change in the National League West.
I don't expect the Diamondbacks' rebuilding efforts to pay off immediately and the Padres are obviously going to miss Adrian Gonzalez terribly, but it's hard to figure where everyone else ends up.
Still, the Giants might surprise a lot of people by dropping from world champions to third place, and perhaps even a not particularly competitive third place. In 2010, almost everything that could have gone well for them did go well, with a number of Giants enjoying surprisingly good seasons. If there's reason for optimism, it's tied almost solely to the assumption that Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner will continue to thrive in their first full seasons. Will that be enough to balance the presumed regressions of Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Jonathan Sanchez, along with the departure of Juan Uribe (who's been replaced by Miguel Tejada)?
We'll know in eight or nine months.
-- Rob Neyer
Of the pending 2011 free-agent class, which player is most likely to get dealt at the trading deadline?
The star most likely to get traded: Padres reliever Heath Bell. There was some expectation that San Diego would deal Bell in the aftermath of the Adrian Gonzalez deal, but history suggests that bullpen pieces generate more return in the middle of the summer.
By then, the Red Sox, Yankees and presumably just about every other contender would be interested in the power right-hander, who was arguably the best closer in the majors last season.
Bell is eligible for free agency after next season and San Diego has a couple of closers-in-waiting, so it makes sense for the Padres to get as much as possible in return for Bell, regardless of whether they are contending. And whether it's in March or July, rival executives expect the Padres to deal Bell.
-- Buster Olney
More instant replay in 2011?
As anyone who pays attention could tell you, when a major change in rules and tradition presents itself, baseball moves more slowly than a Molina brother -- especially when that change involves replay. But if I were a betting man, I'd bet we see expanded use of replay in 2011.
Now you know those of us in the Replay Fan Club won't get everything we want. But I'm hearing talk that the next wave of replay will involve all fair/foul calls -- not just fair/foul home run calls. We saw way too many game-changing mistakes on fair/foul calls last season, and there's just no sane reason not to go to the replay screens to get those calls right.
So I think the time has come for that to happen, using the same system now used on home run calls. And unless someone has a major objection, I'd expect it to happen by Opening Day. I'd love to see more replay where that came from. But for now, well, what the heck. At least it's progress.
-- Jayson Stark