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Each AL team's biggest question heading into spring training

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With spring camps getting underway, we look at the biggest question facing each American League club as preparations begin for the 2024 MLB season.

Baltimore Orioles: Is another starting pitcher needed?

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The Orioles made one of the best moves of the offseason by trading for 2021 NL Cy Young Corbin Burnes. The right-hander gives the Orioles a bona fide ace, which is something they've been desperately searching for. However, injuries to Kyle Bradish and John Means have put the Orioles in somewhat of a precarious position. Baltimore still has plenty of assets to trade if it chooses to go that route, but adding a free-agent pitcher like Michael Lorenzen could also add some depth until one or both of Bradish and Means return.

Boston Red Sox: Can Story find his All-Star form?

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The Red Sox haven't gotten much return on their investment after dishing out a six-year, $140-million contract to Trevor Story in March 2022. The 31-year-old has recorded 19 homers, 80 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, and a .685 OPS over a combined 137 games since inking his deal. He hit 158 long balls with 100 steals and an .863 OPS over the first six years of his career with the Rockies, earning two All-Star nods. He's also been limited to just 35 starts at shortstop with Boston. The club needs Story at his best to make a run at a wild-card spot.

Chicago White Sox: When will Cease be traded?

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Dylan Cease has been mentioned in trade rumors all offseason amid a rebuild for the White Sox. A deal hasn't materialized with Chicago's front office reportedly asking for multiple high-end prospects. The 2022 AL Cy Young runner-up is arbitration-eligible through the 2025 campaign. However, a potential return for the right-hander could be diminished if the club waits too long to deal a player who won't likely be on the South Side when the White Sox are competitive again.

Cleveland Guardians: How will they find more power?

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The Guardians finished 30th and 29th in home runs over the last two seasons, respectively. José Ramírez and Josh Naylor both hit more than 20 home runs in 2023, but there wasn't much else beyond those two. Cleveland is certainly hoping slugging prospect Kyle Manzardo can provide an infusion of power to the lineup.

Detroit Tigers: Can young core lead charge to division title?

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The Tigers finished nine games behind the Twins in the underwhelming AL Central after accruing 78 wins. Detroit appears to have narrowed the gap heading into 2024 after a solid offseason that included bringing in Kenta Maeda, Jack Flaherty, and Mark Canha. Meanwhile, Minnesota failed to make any big additions and lost AL Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray. The Tigers also have a chance for significant internal improvement if Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning can stay healthy and produce.

Houston Astros: Will this be Bregman's last year in Houston?

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Alex Bregman is entering his final season under team control and is expected to be one of the marquee free agents next offseason. The 29-year-old is among the game's most consistent third basemen as he pairs strong defensive play with a 137 wRC+ at the plate over eight MLB seasons. Bregman should command at least $200 million in free agency. The Astros also have decisions to make on Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez after the 2025 campaign, so there's a strong possibility Bregman could be playing his final year in Houston.

Kansas City Royals: Can Ragans turn into a legit No. 1 starter?

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The Royals haven't had a true ace since Zack Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young. Cole Ragans showed his potential to be dominant following a trade with the Rangers last season, amassing a 2.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9 over 71 2/3 innings (12 starts). The 26-year-old left-hander also placed in the 97th percentile in baseball in offspeed run value, 89th in fastball velocity, and 83rd in whiff percentage.

Los Angeles Angels: How will they make up for the loss of Ohtani?

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The Angels lost their best hitter and ace when Shohei Ohtani fled to the state rival Dodgers. The club also hasn't done a thing this offseason to attempt to replace the production the Japanese superstar provided with his bat (44 homers and 1.066 OPS) and arm (3.14 ERA with 167 strikeouts). Mike Trout said he's not ready to ask for a trade, but surely his patience is being tested without any meaningful additions to the roster. The young players on the team will need to make a big impression this spring.

Minnesota Twins: Is Lewis the next face of the franchise?

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Royce Lewis put himself on the map with a strong postseason performance in 2023, hitting four home runs with a 1.119 OPS. The 24-year-old belted 15 home runs with 52 RBIs in 217 regular-season at-bats and appears poised to become a household name in 2024. It wouldn't be surprising if Lewis emerges as the Twins' best offensive player.

New York Yankees: Is Snell the missing piece of the puzzle?

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The Yankees reportedly have an offer on the table for reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. However, a deal doesn't appear imminent. New York would become the favorite to win the loaded AL East should it sign the star left-hander. The addition of Snell would also counter the Orioles' acquisition of Burnes. The duo of Gerrit Cole and Snell would lead a rotation with serious upside while Juan Soto and Aaron Judge bring the thunder to one of the deepest lineups in the majors (if healthy).

Oakland Athletics: Can Gelof become a star?

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Not a whole lot is going right for the Athletics coming off back-to-back 100-plus-loss campaigns. The team also doesn't know where it will play following this season amid a messy relocation process aimed at bringing the club to Las Vegas in 2028. Yet, Oakland has a potential future All-Star to build around after Zack Gelof hit the ground running last year. The 24-year-old went deep 14 times with 14 steals and an .840 OPS over 69 games in his first taste of MLB action.

Seattle Mariners: Will Rodríguez put together an MVP-type season?

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Julio Rodríguez's 2023 campaign was a tale of two halves. The 23-year-old posted a .721 OPS and 13 home runs before the All-Star break before exploding for a .941 OPS with 19 home runs following the break. Rodríguez's second-half performance almost catapulted Seattle into the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The two-time All-Star is already emerging as a popular preseason pick to win his first MVP. That's a very realistic outcome if he can avoid some of the valleys he endured in 2023 and remain more consistent at the plate.

Tampa Bay Rays: Is the rotation good enough to compete in the AL East?

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The Rays will have to navigate life without the services of Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen for most, if not all, of the 2024 season due to injuries. Tampa Bay has made a habit of defying long odds and expectations and will need to do so again to make the postseason for a sixth straight year. The Rays will need strong performances from young arms like Taj Bradley and Ryan Pepiot to stay competitive in the AL East.

Texas Rangers: Can the rotation hold up until reinforcements arrive?

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The defending World Series champions will have to navigate the first few months of the season without Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Tyler Mahle in the rotation as the three recover from injuries. A reunion with Jordan Montgomery seems unlikely, leaving Bruce Bochy with a rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning, and potentially Cody Bradford to start the campaign.

Toronto Blue Jays: What version of Guerrero will show up?

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. enters camp in great shape after a disappointing 2023 season by his standards. The 24-year-old hit 26 homers with a .788 OPS while struggling defensively at times following a Gold Glove nod at first base two years ago. The last time the three-time All-Star made a concerted effort to work on his fitness was in 2021 when he ultimately finished as the AL MVP runner-up after belting an MLB-best 48 round-trippers with a 1.002 OPS. Guerrero is slated to test free agency following the 2025 campaign, but a big season could help land a lucrative extension.

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