With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams? We start in the AL West where the World Series title currently resides.
Houston Astros: Can they repeat?
Look, it took the Astros 56 years to win their first World Series, so folks in Houston know better than to get greedy. However, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman -- a millenial "Core Four" -- under club control through at least 2019, there's no reason to believe they can't win it all again next season.
The bullpen must be fortified, to be sure, with closer Ken Giles' shattered confidence in need of repair. As cool as it was to see manager A.J. Hinch go retro during the postseason by bringing back the three-inning save, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr. and perhaps even Brad Peacock will be too busy starting every five days to pick up seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning work in their spare time. The co-ace tandem of Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel will be together for a full season, which ought to take at least some heat off the bullpen.
Likewise, baseball's highest-scoring offense will remain largely intact. The Astros have five free agents, most notably Carlos Beltran. At this point, the 40-year-old designated hitter is more valuable for his leadership skills than anything he still does with the bat, his clubhouse speech after Game 5 of the AL Championship Series carrying far greater weight than his 3-for-20 postseason showing. If Beltran doesn't retire -- he said he will defer that decision until a few weeks after the World Series -- he could return on another one-year contract for relatively low money.
Otherwise, the Astros will get the band back together next season, and they will have as good a chance to repeat as any defending champion since the last team that actually did it -- the dynastic 1998-2000 New York Yankees, who were led, of course, by the original "Core Four." -- Scott Lauber
Los Angeles Angels: What do they do with Albert Pujols?
This is another way of asking how the Angels will get offensive support for Mike Trout. Re-signing Justin Upton and having him for a whole season will help, but that doesn't solve the sinkhole that was Pujols in 2017. He hit .241/.286/.386, ranking 137th of 144 regulars in wOBA. Even though AL designated hitter spots were mostly terrible in 2017 (hitting collectively worse than the average AL hitter), the Angels still ranked 14th in the league in wOBA at the position. The other problem: They were also next-to-last in wOBA at first base. They can't enter 2018 with both Pujols and C.J. Cron penciled in as starters.
Of course, it's a delicate situation when you have an all-time great who is still signed for four more years and is approaching 3,000 career hits. They're not going to eat the Pujols money, at least not yet. So that means replacing Cron. The good thing is Josh Hamilton's $26 million comes of the books, and while Trout gets a $14 million raise, there could be money to make a run at Eric Hosmer, or at least a lesser free agent like Logan Morrison or Yonder Alonso. -- David Schoenfield
Seattle Mariners: How do they find power in the outfield?
In a season that would have been ripe for the Mariners to win a wild card and end the longest playoff drought in the majors, they instead finished six games under .500. A big problem was the health of the rotation, as they churned through 17 starters, and Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly combined to make just 46 starts. So they'll need better health. They'll also need better production from the outfield. Mariners outfielders hit .254/.319/.389 with just 46 home runs, ranking next-to-last to the Giants in both wOBA and home runs.
GM Jerry Dipoto has some options. If he wants to focus on defense, he could make a run at Lorenzo Cain to play center field. Mitch Haniger has the range to play center field, however, so they could look at a power-hitting right fielder like Jay Bruce who would be less expensive than Cain. The third option is to stick with the defense-first philosophy in the outfield and re-sign Jarrod Dyson and look for more power at first base, somebody like Carlos Santana or Lucas Duda. -- Schoenfield
Texas Rangers: How will they reload their starting rotation?
The Rangers had the dubious honor of posting the best record among teams giving up five runs per game or more. That's a rate of runs allowed likely to go up with Yu Darvish dealt, Andrew Cashner outbound via free agency, and nobody beyond Cole Hamels looking like an above-average starting pitcher.
A wild-card return to the postseason is in reach with any kind of investment. They might spend big on getting Darvish back, and they might be players in the bidding on Japan's Shohei Otani as well, should he be posted this winter. Or if they get in on Jake Arrieta, their past readiness to work with Boras clients might help them there. GM Jon Daniels is also not afraid to make a big trade that deals away ready-now or ready-later prospects. Could he get high-end value for Jurickson Profar or Nomar Mazara?
Pitching might be Texas' main offseason concern, but it isn't the only one. They could also use another bat for the DH, corner outfield and/or first-base mix, taking advantage of Joey Gallo's positional flexibility to find the best offensive upgrade from Mike Napoli's .713 OPS. And they'll need to decide if Delino DeShields is the answer in center field. -- Christina Kahrl
Oakland Athletics: Can they build on their stronger second half?
The rebuilding A's started to show signs of life in the second half, going 36-37 after the All-Star break. Improved defense was a big part of their rebound, with third baseman Matt Chapman leading the way with 19 defensive runs saved, but adding Chapman's power and Matt Olson's to Khris Davis gave the A's offense some punch. Is that their core to win with in the future?
What hope they have for that depends on whether any of their young starting pitchers truly turn the corner. Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Paul Blackburn and Daniel Mengden were all received in trades over the past three years, and all have had their moments, but none of them has broken through -- yet.
Having already reaped what benefit they could from trading the last few veterans left from their 2012-14 playoff teams, the A's may not be very active this winter, perhaps swooping in late for some low-cost free agents to flip in minor deals next summer. But if good offers for veterans Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce come in, Billy Beane and Grady Fuson will move them. -- Kahrl