5 unresolved questions entering final month of MLB offseason

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The first three months of baseball's offseason were plenty busy, with unexpected trades (Jason Heyward, Wil Myers), giant free-agent signings (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester) and surprise spenders (Cubs, White Sox, Padres). With four weeks to go until spring training, here are five storylines that still require resolving:

1. Where will James Shields sign?

Shields, the former Royals and Rays right-hander, finds himself the biggest name remaining on the free agent market. As the offseason has progressed, enthusiasm for Shields has waned -- or at least failed to crescendo. At 33 years old, Shields' best could be behind him, and he wasn't quite lights out when we last saw him, during the 2014 playoffs.

Still, for the right price Shields could help just about any rotation in baseball. Every team with a shot at the 2015 playoffs and about $80 million to spend over four years will continue to mull over Shields' value. The Giants, Mariners, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Tigers would all make for sensible fits.

2. Will the Nationals stand pat?

Even before inking Max Scherzer to one of the biggest deals ever handed to a pitcher, the Nationals ranked as possibly the game's strongest roster. But after the Scherzer signing, Washington will enter the season as the clear World Series favorite and a credible candidate to win 100 games.

Unless, that is, the Nats deal away one or more of Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg, all of whom have been rumored as potential trade bait. General Manager Mike Rizzo indicated he will trade key pieces under the right circumstances, and with Zimmermann and Desmond only a year from free agency and Strasburg two years out, a deal would make some sense, especially if it yielded a Major-League-caliber outfielder or second baseman.

Washington could retain its favorite status even after a future-focused trade, but the Nats' current near-bulletproof status requires keeping the gang together for 2015.

3. What will happen with Yoan Moncada?

Some scouts say Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban infielder who just became an MLB free agent, would be the No. 1 overall pick in the amateur draft if he were eligible.

Given that assessment, the team that signs Moncada must open its wallet to do so. The Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are the rumored favorites to land the infielder, even if doing so means paying double the agreed-upon terms thanks to baseball's relatively new system of regulating international free agency.

Moncada presents the perfect opportunity for the Yankees in particular to use their financial power to build for the future, as opposed to shelling out for older veterans. The Bronx Bombers have shown a desire to get younger but lack a prospect with superstar potential, making Moncada a perfect fit.

4. Will the Phillies trade Cole Hamels?

A Cole Hamels trade out of Philadelphia almost makes too much sense.

Hamels is one of the game's best pitchers, still in his prime, under a reasonable contract. His team, meanwhile, has finally decided to rebuild. If Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. hears the right offer, his ace could soon be pitching elsewhere.

A starting pitcher of Hamels' stature would fit on any team that hopes to contend in 2015, but his contract is somewhat prohibitive, limiting the market for his services. Traditional powers like the Red Sox and Cardinals are rumored to be pursuing Hamels, as are the suddenly wide-walleted Padres.

5. Are the fringe contenders done dealing?

Several teams have pursued half measures this offseason that have left their immediate futures in question.

The A's looked like buyers, then big sellers, then buyers again. They could still be a playoff team with some breaks and possibly another acquisition or too. Same for the Braves, who have followed rebuilding-type trades with win-now moves and the Rangers who took a risk in nabbing Yovani Gallardo in hopes of a 2015 playoff berth.

How these teams (and also the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, Reds and others) behave over the next month will clear up what currently appears a murky preseason picture.

Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University. He recently finished a term as Daily Northwestern sports editor and continues to cover Wildcats sports. He has a wide range of interests but loves baseball above all.
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