Spring training 2016: Five things to watch in the NL

Baseball Music to a baseball fan's ears: "Pitchers and catchers report."It's that time of year again as teams migrate to the warmth of Arizona and Florida to prepare for a new season.  MORE: Familiar names at spring training as non-roster inviteesAs spring training opens for the 2016 season, the National League has created some of the best story lines in this winter. From the Diamondbacks' addition of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to the Cubs' signing of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, the Senior Circuit will be as competitive as ever.  Since it's an even-numbered year, we can't forget about the Giants, who spent more than $300 million to add starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and outfielder Denard Span while also giving Brandon Crawford a $70 million extension. Though Cueto and Samardzija have experienced regression or injury the past two seasons, the move to AT&T Park will help both pitchers, and Span is an easy offensive and defensive upgrade over Angel Pagan, who was worth minus-1.9 WAR last season.FANTASY SOURCE: 31 sleepers to add to your draft cheat sheetThe NL East will be full of drama. The Nationals and new manager Dusty Baker will attempt to make amends after missing the playoffs last season, and ace Jose Fernandez's saga in Miami will be worth watching. Five things to look for in the NL as spring training begins:1. Will the Mets approach spring training like the Royals did last year?In 2014, the Royals were 90 feet away from forcing extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series before their magical postseason run ended. With a renewed focus in spring training in 2015, the Royals vowed to return to the Fall Classic and win. And win they did, beating the Mets in five games. Now it's the Mets' turn, with a dominant rotation and the return of Yoenis Cespedes and pitcher Zack Wheeler, the Mets are primed for another postseason run. Just how fast did the Mets starters' throw last season? Noah Syndergaard’s 97.1 mph average fastball led pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. Matt Harvey, at 95.9 mph, was fourth and Jacob deGrom finished 12th at 95.0 mph. Steven Matz finished the year with a fastball velocity of 94.3 mph in 35 2/3 innings. The young arms saw additional innings with the postseason run and it will be interesting to see how quickly manager Terry Collins increases their spring workload.2. Can the Cubs' additions help the team reach the next level?As if fans need another reminder, the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 … but thanks to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, they are primed to end the streak. The deep-pocketed Cubs have committed more than $400 million to Jon Lester, Heyward, Lackey, Zobrist and manager Joe Maddon in Epstein's four-year tenure. With Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and young guns Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, the Cubs are many analysts' preseason pick to reach the World Series. Adam Warren, who has experience as a starter and long reliever, was brought to Chicago in a trade that sent Starlin Castro to the Y

ankees. Warren will provide stability to a bullpen that, despite a better-than-expected 2015, is made up of pitchers without great track records. The Royals showed just how important a bullpen is for an October run, and the Cubs wil need a repeat year from their relievers (3.38 ERA in '15) to have success. 3. Can the aging Cardinals keep pace with the young Cubs?Heyward irked Cardinals fans with a parting quote in December after taking less guaranteed money to play for the rival Cubs. Heyward said the Cardinals' core group of players — Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright — isn't going to be around much longer because of the trio's age. The comments hit manager Mike Matheny hard, but Heyward's not wrong. Molina, Holliday and Wainwright will turn 34 or older this season, and each battled injuries in 2015.Jhonny Peralta will turn 34 this season as well, and while healthy last season, an aging shortstop isn't something contending teams love to have (keep the name Aledmys Diaz in mind). The Cards have one of the best farm systems in and still have a young rotation, but will the replacements for Heyward, Lackey and injured Lance Lynn be enough to keep pace with the spry, young Cubs?St. Louis brought in starter Mike Leake, re-signed reliever Jonathan Broxton and signed reliever Seung-Hwan Oh to create strong depth options in response to the uncertain spring status of Carlos Martinez (shoulder) and Jordan Walden (shoulder). The 2016 campaign is setting up like last season: Despite averaging fewer than four runs a game, the Cardinals succeeded by keeping their staff ERA near 3.00 and closed the door with a shutdown bullpen. If the team can do that again, the Cards may be in the driver's seat for a fourth straight NL Central title. MORE: Every team's best catcher of all time4. Will the Diamondbacks' spending equate to wins?It's no secret the D-backs are prepared to win now after an offseason that has the team primed for a postseason run. Not only did they shock when they signed Greinke away from the Dodgers, they did it by trading for Braves ace Shelby Miller and Brewers shortstop Jean Segura. The team finished the offseason with the signing of reliever Tyler Clippard, who will battle with Brad Ziegler for the closer's role. With the Giants and Dodgers also spending big this winter, how much success can the D-backs expect in 2016? The smaller Chase Field will affect Greinke and Miller slightly, but Patrick Corbin, in first full season since Tommy John surgery, backed by the skilled bats of A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and David Peralta, make the club a formidable opponent. Don't forget, the Diamondbacks finished eighth in the majors last season in runs scored (720). Some questions remain, like where will Yasmany Tomas fit? Manager Chip Hale said the team is considering moving him to left field, where he played just four games last season.5. Speaking of Greinke, can the Dodgers replace the ace?The team brought in two additions to replace Greinke in the rotation, Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir. With Hyun-Jin Ryu (torn labrum) likely back in April, the rotation doesn't look as terrible as we once thought in December, when Brett Anderson was listed as the No. 2 starter. When Ryu returns, the move will likely knock Alex Wood out of the rotation, at least temporarily. Ryu went 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP his first two seasons, but pitchers who return from a torn labrum rarely return to what they used to be (Exhibit A: Mark Prior).One thing is for certain: Maeda will be the only right-hander in the Dodgers' opening day rotation barring injuries to Clayton Kershaw, Kazmir, Anderson, Wood and Ryu. Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John) will return sometime during the season. Despite Greinke's departure, the Dodgers' starting pitchers are listed as 's best heading into the 2016 season,  according to Fangraphs, which projected the team to have a 3.21 ERA among starters and a 19.2 WAR, just ahead of the Mets at 18.3.One other consideration: Baseball's highest-paid team will have a rookie manager, Dave Roberts.