Richard Justice

It's a dry feat: WS rematch? AZ has hot topics

MLB Network's live Media Day coverage to be streamed on

It's a dry feat: WS rematch? AZ has hot topics

PHOENIX -- Welcome to one of the real cool days of a new baseball season. This one reminds us how quickly things are moving toward an Opening Day less than six weeks away.

Commissioner Rob Manfred will be on hand this afternoon and so will all 15 Cactus League managers and general managers when Major League Baseball holds its fifth annual Cactus League Spring Training Media Day.

MLB Network will broadcast it live beginning at 4 p.m. ET, with a simulcast on

With exhibition games beginning Friday and the World Baseball Classic on March 6, this is an opportunity to touch on an assortment of topics.

Among the best Cactus League storylines:

1. Can the Cubs repeat as World Series champions?

Manager Joe Maddon and his players have said again and again that they do not want this season to be one long victory lap of the franchise's first championship in 108 years.

But they will also tell you that's a challenge, given the magnitude of the accomplishment and the fact that they've climbed the mountaintop every player dreams of climbing.

2. How good are the Indians?

What does a team do after it comes up short in one of the great World Series in history? If you're the Indians, you add Edwin Encarnacion's 42 home runs and 127 RBIs.

Plan for Encarnacion in 2017

You also are confident in getting two rotation mainstays, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, back from injuries and perhaps left fielder Michael Brantley as well.

The Indians would like to do what Kansas City did in the wake of losing a great World Series in 2014. One year later, the Royals won it.

3. Can the Giants win in an odd-numbered year?

Having perfected that even-number thing -- winning the World Series in 2010, '12 and '14 -- the Giants believe the addition of free-agent closer Mark Melancon and a full season of right fielder Hunter Pence will put them right back in the mix in 2017.

Bochy, Melancon on Giants' 'pen

4. Are the Dodgers the best team in baseball?

That's what some of the early projections say as the Dodgers go for a fifth straight National League West championship. They're a very good, very deep team, but having not gotten to the World Series in 29 years, they've yet to show they're capable of climbing that final mountain.

Roberts on Dodgers' 2017 depth

5. Are the Royals good enough for another deep October run?

After winning back-to-back American League championships in 2014 and '15, the Royals did not make the postseason in 2016. But general manager Dayton Moore has positioned Kansas City for another run by adding two sluggers (Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss) and two starting pitchers (Jason Hammel and Travis Wood) in the wake of Yordano Ventura's stunning death.

Vargas on Royals' new-look staff

6. Is this the Mariners' year?

General manager Jerry Dipoto has engaged in a furious two-year remake around his core guys. He has added speed and defense, and if his biggest stars, Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, have big seasons, the Mariners would appear to be good enough to return to the postseason for the first time since 2001.

7. Will the Rockies or D-backs be baseball's surprise team?

They've both got a chance. Both have solid lineups built around franchise players -- Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt and Colorado's Nolan Arenado. Both teams need big contributions from young starting pitchers. The team that gets it could make noise in 2017.

8. When do we see the next great thing?

That would be Yoan Moncada,'s No. 2 overall prospect. With No. 1 prospect Andrew Benintendi likely to open the season as the Red Sox left fielder, White Sox fans will be counting the days until the face of a franchise rebuild is on the scene.

Moncada on his progress

9. Are Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker healthy, and how far could they carry the Angels in 2017?

Probably pretty far. This isn't a question we'll get answered this spring. Rather, it'll be a long-term thing, trying to monitor their workload and health for a team that's probably plenty good enough to make the postseason if things fall a certain way.

10. Can Josh Hamilton make a comeback?

Just four springs ago, he was one of the best players in the game, having averaged 33 home runs and a .952 OPS in three prior seasons. He didn't play a single game in 2016, and at 35, is attempting to come back from an assortment of injuries as a non-roster signee by the Rangers. If Hamilton can rekindle the magic one more time, it would be one of the sweetest stories going.

Richard Justice is a columnist for You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.