Can the Cubs repeat? Can the Indians recover from blowing a 3-1 World Series lead? Are the Dodgers and Red Sox as good as projected? Can Bryce Harper bounce back? Which young studs will take a big step forward? Who will be this year's surprise award candidates? 

These are all key questions as Spring Training camps begin to open early next week in Florida and Arizona.

And guess what? Spring Training will answer absolutely none of them!

No matter the exhibition records or how many homers Harper hits out of The (brand-spanking-new) Ballpark of the Palm Beaches or who leads the Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues in OPS and ERA, the vast majority of what takes place over the next seven weeks will unfortunately be relegated to mere mirage. 

But Spring Training will answer some questions, and here are five particularly important ones.

1. Will there be a big trade?

While there are always waiver claims and small swaps within camp -- especially toward the end of camp -- a true blockbuster trade between the pitchers and catchers report dates and Opening Day is pretty rare. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Craig Kimbrel, as a recent example, was traded from the Braves to the Padres on the eve of the 2015 opener. 

This feels like a year in which such a swap is possible, and much of the intrigue emanates out of Glendale, Ariz., for the White Sox were open for business all winter and could remain so in the coming weeks. Obviously, there was significant discussion about Jose Quintana this winter, and all it would take is a spring setback within a contending club's starting set to kick those talks into another gear. The Astros were and are the team that makes the most sense to acquire Quintana. What if Dallas Keuchel or Lance McCullers were to have a recurrence of the injury issues that prematurely ended their 2016 campaigns? 

Closer David Robertson is also available, with the Nationals a present possibility. Others could emerge if bullpen problems arise in the Grapefruit or Cactus seasons. 

Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun and Brian Dozier also fell in the "unfinished business" category of the trade market and could still be on the move between now and the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But for now, they appear pretty safe bets to remain with their current clubs for the start of the regular season.

2. How are the key position switches looking?

The most notable one belongs to McCutchen, whose temperature will be taken near-daily by the media in Bradenton, Fla., after a winter in which he was bandied about in trade rumors and asked to move from center field to right after a subpar season. McCutchen was worth minus-25 defensive runs saved last season, and while the Pirates admit they positioned him too shallow, they know Starling Marte is the superior defensive option. McCutchen doesn't have the traditional arm for right field, so, even given PNC Park's dimensions, this will be a challenge.

Out in Scottsdale, Ariz., we'll get our first look at Ian Desmond: First Baseman. Desmond was athletic enough to make the move from shortstop to outfield on the fly last spring, and so it's reasonably certain he'll be able to successfully handle a transition the Rockies are paying him $70 million over five years to take on. 

How about Miguel Sano? He was a trainwreck in an experimental right-field stint last season and not much better at his native position at third base, where he made 15 errors in 42 games. The Twins are giving him another shot at the hot corner this spring.

On the pitching side, Trevor Rosenthal has a particularly interesting spring ahead. He's spent the past four seasons in the Cardinals' bullpen but lost his closer role in an injury marred '16 and will now be stretched out to be prepared for both starting and relieving. 

Other changes include the Rays' Brad Miller moving from first base to second after opening last year at short (you got all that?) and Christian Yelich making the full-time transition to center field for the Marlins after a tryout there at the end of '16.

And oh by the way, will the Cubs let Kyle Schwarber catch again?

3. Is this the year the United States finally shows up in the World Baseball Classic?

The closest Team USA has come was a fourth-place finish in 2009. Japan won it that year and in '06, and the Dominican Republic won it in the last go-around in 2013. And remember, in that '13 tournament, Team USA was five outs away from finishing last in Pool D before mounting a late rally. Had the Americans lost that game, they would have possibly needed to participate in a qualifier to even get into this 2017 event. 

But there's new optimism associated with Team USA. Jim Leyland has been pulled off the managerial shelf, where he's been resting since the end of the 2013 season, and has proven to be a strong recruiter. Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Jones, Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy, Sonny Gray and Andrew Miller were among the luminaries named on the U.S. roster Wednesday night, giving Team USA a group that can possibly hang with an especially sterling Dominican squad.

The participation of Gray and Miller is particularly fascinating, considering Gray is coming off a frustrating and injury-shortened 2016 and Miller is coming off a 74 1/3-inning regular season that was followed by the highest relief workload (19 1/3 innings) in postseason history. They're both taking a gamble in the name of restoring the American brand.

4. Where will the remaining free agents land?

Mike Napoli and reigning National League home run champ Chris Carter finally came off the board this week, with Napoli returning to Texas and Carter landing in the Bronx. But we're still far from done here.

Matt Wieters, an All-Star behind the plate for the Orioles in four of the past six seasons, is in a strange spot, with the industry evaluation of his defensive skillset leaving him scrambling for work as camps get ready to open. One would think that clubs interested in Wieters would want to ingratiate him with their pitching staff as early in camp as possible. But there are no truly obvious fits. The Rays are the most recent club rumored to be interested, though they signed Wilson Ramos as an in-season option behind the dish once he's recovered from knee surgery. The Orioles already moved on with Wellington Castillo. 

Wieters' former Baltimore teammate Pedro Alvarez is still out there, enduring the depreciated price of bat-only types. Veteran "clubhouse presences" like Chase Utley, Justin Morneau and Aaron Hill are still available. You can still get starters short on stuff but long on experience, such as Doug Fister and Colby Lewis. And there are still a number of 'pen options to pick through.

This is the reality of free agency in today's game, in which many clubs have no problem waiting for the market to come to them. Last year, there were 16 free-agent signings between Feb. 15 and Opening Day. The Hot Stove season and the Spring Training season bleed right into each other.

5. Who looks out of shape?

As many a "best shape of my life" story gone awry has demonstrated, peak physical form is not necessarily a tried-and-true leading indicator of what's to come on the field of play. As an example, there were reports before both the 2015 and 2016 seasons that Avisail Garcia had lost between 15 and 20 pounds and was ready to rock. He checked in with sub-.700 OPS marks both years … so … maybe he should have kept the weight on?

But it has been my experience that the dudes who almost literally roll into camp with a spare tire and look sluggish or disinterested or both in the exhibition season rarely, if ever, go on to an All-Star campaign.

Pablo Sandoval was last spring's most prominent example, and it cost him his job at third base in Boston (Sandoval, for the record, now looks trim as can be as he tries to reclaim his position after shoulder surgery). Sano was another guy who scouts quickly noted was more in the "worst shape of his life" category, and '16 proved to be a steep regression from his rookie breakout the previous summer.

So while the shape stuff can certainly be overwritten this time of year, don't dismiss the suggestions or the plain-as-day images that indicate a guy hasn't given the winter his best effort. Sometimes these stories -- ahem -- carry weight.


Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.