The biggest holes on every American League team
Where do American League teams still need an upgrade? We took a look at all 15 AL rosters and nitpicked them to death, hoping to find out.
Welcome back to the second installment of roster holes around baseball. Last time, we focused on the National League, and this time, we’ll focus on the American League. Here are the unthinkable, unconscionable roster flaws for each AL team — a flaw so egregious and obvious, they threaten to derail that team’s 2015 season before it even begins.
Unless the hole isn’t a big deal at all, and it’s listed only in the interest of thoroughness. Some of these teams are pretty good, you know.
Baltimore Orioles – First base
Current first baseman: Christian Walker
When the Brewers were crashing, burning, assembling the ashes into the shape of a baseball team, and setting that pile on fire, I blamed it all on their first basemen. The conclusion? It’s really, really hard to find a first baseman in 2015. It’s why the Brewers pounced on Adam Lind five seconds after the World Series ended.
The Orioles are playing a dangerous game, then, if they’re really starting Walker, as Roster Resource suggests. They could play Delmon Young at DH, but that would put a super-iffy defender at first, and they already have one in right. The Orioles with Young in the lineup would be a team that’s 33 percent DH, which seems like a substantial, self-imposed handicap, just to get Young in the lineup.
Walker will be 24 next year, and he hit .259/.335/.428 in Triple-A over 188 plate appearances. He did better in Double-A to justify a midseason promotion, but with less than stellar strikeout-to-walk numbers. Considering he wasn’t super young for the league, I’ll take the under on his 2015 season if he really is the starter. There will be growing pains. The Orioles are too competitive to put up with growing pains if they don’t have to.
Boston Red Sox – Starting pitching
Current rotation: Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly
What that is: A fine list of names, mostly young and filled with potential. That’s a list of pitchers who have been successful in the past and could be successful in the future — pitchers who were key building blocks of five different franchises at one time or another.
What that isn’t: A list of the most trustworthy names. Miley was available because he never replicated his rookie season (and possibly because he can’t stop chasing that gluten dragon, man). Buchholz had a truly awful season in 2014, and Masterson was somehow worse. Porcello had a great season, but it was his first in five years. Kelly followed up an encouraging season with a discouraging one, and he walked almost as many batters as he struck out in Boston.
The Red Sox have options if one or two of them are ineffective. But they would sure feel a lot better with James Shields or Cole Hamels, I’d imagine. They’re trying to play it cool, like they’re not that interested. One more reliable starter, though, and the rotation moves from high-risk, high-upside to something that’s not nearly as risky.
Chicago White Sox – Second base
Current second baseman: Carlos Sanchez
This was the price of the Jeff Samardzija trade, and the White Sox are likely okay with the trade-off, hoping Sanchez can play second like an overqualified shortstop and make up for what’s likely to be a slappy, ineffective bat (at least at first).
Or, if they want their surprising and impressive win-now offseason going, they could get creative and sign Stephen Drew to play second. If Asdrubal Cabrera really wanted to rebuild his value, a season at U.S. Cellular made approximately 48 times more sense than Tropicana Field, but that’s a complaint for a week ago. If it’s not Drew, the wind whispers Ben Zobrist’s name, with the White Sox already showing a willingness to exchange young players for pending free agents.
Cleveland Indians – N/A
This isn’t to say that the Indians are incapable of improving on the roster they have. Trevor Bauer’s delivery is a complicated set of Lego Technic, and there’s no guarantee everything will get moving right next year. Gavin Floyd is a perennial injury risk, and Nick Swisher was kind of a dud last year.
Almost no team, though, did a better job filling their biggest holes quickly and efficiently, robbing Brandon Moss and taking a fine chance on Floyd, who looked outstanding before his freak injury in Atlanta. It’s a complete roster, good enough to stash Swisher in a DH role at the bottom of the order. They’re about one breakout from a young pitcher away from being one of the best teams in the league, much less the AL Central.
Detroit Tigers – Bullpen
On Dave Dombrowski’s desk, there is a Post-It. On this Post-It, there is a note that reads, “Watch the 2014 postseason.” He DVR’d it, you see. He meant to watch it at the time, but he got into Lost and just couldn’t stop watching it. By the time he got to the end and realized it was a maddening waste of a show that never had a coherent direction, the postseason was over. He felt bad, but there was nothing he could do.
Just imagine when he actually starts watching the games. Boy, will he be amazed at just how lousy the bullpen is. He will reach out to 29 teams for bullpen help by the end of the day.
That’s the only explanation I have. You’re free to come up with another one, but Occam is backing mine. It’s completely gobsmacking to think that the Tigers will go into the season with essentially the same bullpen that ruined their season last year. The Astros signed two late-inning relievers for what would have been a rounding error in Detroit. If the Tigers aren’t running some sort of roster-related long con, they sure don’t make a lot of sense.
Houston Astros – Rotation
Current rotation: Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Brett Oberholtzer, Mike Foltynewicz
Look at the roster. It’s filled with players who should be on a roster. The starters, for the most part, should be starting. This isn’t the dadaist art project from two years ago. The Astros have been busy mixing and matching and acquiring, acquiring, matching, and mixing, figuring out who fits where. Their lineup is downright respectable.
It’s not like the rotation is an embarrassment, either. It’s the hardest rotation to spell in baseball, but it’s also filled with pitchers who should have a job. Like the Red Sox, though, just one more proven pitcher would do wonders. Mystery Pitcher would allow Foltynewicz more time to develop and guard against regression from Keuchel or Feldman.
As is, it’s hard to argue with the Astros focusing on shortstop and the bullpen this offseason, considering those positions were easy contenders for this spot when the season ended. All I’m asking is for them to trade for Cole Hamels. Something simple like that, just to mess with the other teams in the West.
Kansas City Royals – Third base
Current third baseman: Mike Moustakas
Unfair? Perhaps! The bigger issue is that the Royals filled their existing holes with sketchy free agents that I’m not wild about, including Alex Rios playing the outfield on purpose. But they don’t technically have holes unless you squint. Picking on Moustakas is something that happens after you squint, then.
In 2010, Moustakas hit .322 with 36 homers in the minor leagues, remember. The plate discipline wasn’t atrocious. He was goin’ places, baby. Goin’ places. We’re on year three of him being disappointing, long enough to assume this is the new reality.
Except, Moustakas doesn’t hold the team record for sub-.300 OBPs in a season with 500 or more plate appearances. He’s several behind Frank White, which is actually an interesting comp. It took White until he was 27 to turn from an all-defense frustration into something more well-rounded. Just because the two players have worn the same hat, it doesn’t mean they’re going through the same development portal. It’s just worth remembering that sometimes, players develop late, and they don’t have to reach their once-thrilling ceilings to be valuable.
Moustakas probably isn’t really a roster hole, but I wanted to make the Frank White comparison. For a modest arbitration-based salary, the Royals are probably right to see if Moustakas turns into something in his age-26 season.
Los Angeles Angels – Second base
Current second baseman: Josh Rutledge
The Angels had this figured out immediately after trading Howie Kendrick. Rutledge has never been better than a replacement player for the Rockies, but maybe WAR knew that he was filling in for Troy Tulowitzki and made some sort of Sammy Hagar-related adjustment. Heck, I don’t know what kind of sentient math quirks that algorithm has built into it.
So, the Angels don’t think it’s a hole. And the lineup is deep enough to play around with different options up through the trading deadline, so they might as well take a chance on a young, possibly productive player who was blocked until recently. Still, other than David Freese rising from the dead, second base is one of the only gambles the Angels are taking in 2015.
Minnesota Twins – Shortstop
Current shortstop: Eduardo Escobar
The Twins lead the world in dont-trust-’em players. Ricky Nolasco? Don’t trust ‘im. Neither do Twins fans after last season, surely, but I also don’t trust Ervin Santana. Kurt Suzuki had the first above-average offensive season of his career at 30, which is a slight red flag. Oswaldo Arcia and and Kennys Vargas sure do whiff a lot, possibly because they don’t face Twins pitchers. Almost everyone on the roster allows me to play devil’s advocate in the event I need to crush a Twins fan’s hopes and dreams, possibly to establish some sort of social dominance at a party.
No one is less trustworthy than Escobar, though. When a shortstop who has never hit in the minors starts to hit in the majors, it’s only natural to be skeptical. The odds were against Brandon Crawford ever approaching anything close to useful with the bat, so keystone miracles do happen, and if you’re looking for a good sign, Escobar’s 35 doubles are there for you.
Still, for a team that’s spent more than $100 million on a rotation that might not be league average this year, it’s the shortstop that worries me the most. Can’t put my finger on it. Just don’t trust him.
New York Yankees – Second base
Current second baseman: Rob Refsnyder The Yankees aren’t so much about holes. They’re more about health. They have five key contributors with serious health concerns and about five more who have had serious health concerns in the recent past. The holes that come up will probably be more devastating than the hole they’re planning on.
That written, the Yankees must be pretty okay with punting second base, considering they traded Martin Prado to bolster the rotation. Refsnyder showed huge gains in his power last year, while hitting for average and taking walks at the same time. He seems like the perfect Yankees out-of-nowhere success story to bother the entire AL East as they zombie-contend for one more year. He’s probably a feature, not a bug.
Oakland A’s – Second base
Current second baseman: Eric Sogard
Say, a theme! Apparently, it’s really, really hard to find a second baseman right now. This is the fourth time (out of five) that an AL team is listed with a second base concern on this list. The difference with this one is that it looked like it would have been a priority for a team that almost had an expected record of 100 wins. Keep the roster of All-Stars, slap a new, improved second baseman on top, and watch ‘em go. Except Beane is bored with regular chess, so he’s futzing around with that three-level thingie they play in Star Trek. Helps keep his interest.
Which means the obvious hole from the start of the offseason is still obvious. We’ve seen the pledge and the turn from Beane, but we haven’t seen the prestige. There might be a non-bespectacled second baseman under a rock somewhere who will make a lot more sense for a team that fancies itself as a Billy Butler-powered reloader instead of a white-flag-waving rebuilder. We’ll just sit here and wait. Just sit here and wait, alright. Nothing else going on. Just sit heeeere and wait ….
Seattle Mariners – N/A
A reverse humidor, maybe? Scientific discourse and study on the Safeco fog of suck that envelops hitters and extracts the hopes and dreams out of them? Whatever the case, after the Seth Smith trade, the Mariners are set. They’re counting on Logan Morrison’s second half, Dustin Ackley’s potential, Brad Miller’s improvement, and Nelson Cruz’s ability to repeat a career year, so they’re not exactly World Series favorites, but the pitching is fantastic all the way through the bullpen. They don’t need to spend the rest of the offseason worrying about that one final piece.
They reportedly turned down a Miller/Taijuan Walker for Jordan Zimmermann/Ian Desmond swap. I get why. I’m still fascinated with that particular alternate reality.
Tampa Bay Rays – Bullpen
The Rays have had a curious, compelling offseason, ditching Wil Myers and signing Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year show-me contract, which will likely allow them to trade Ben Zobrist for baubles and trinkets. The Rays have to keep moving like this, never stopping, like some sort of unnamed sea creature. They don’t do stasis well, which is good, considering they can’t do stasis at all. Not with the current budget.
That written, the bullpen is ever so dicey. The lineup is promising if there are a couple rebound seasons, and the rotation is filled with a pleasant mix of upside and reliability, but the bullpen is still counting on arms like Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri. Brad Boxberger is a treasure and Kevin Jepsen is a solid addition, but one more right-handed arm would push everyone back a slot, which would make everyone feel more comfortable after the fifth inning.
Texas Rangers – Left field
Current left fielder: Jake Smolinski
The Rangers, having been swallowed whole by poltergeists to atone to whatever unnamed crime they committed before the 2014 season, are still hopeful for the 2015 season. They have expensive players who are built to help a team in the present if they’re ever going to help a team again, and they have younger players who could improve enough to turn an erratic lineup into a strength.
In the middle, though, there’s left fielder Jake Smolinski. He’ll be 26, and while he had the best 86 at-bats of his life in a September call-up, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that he won’t hit .349 while striking out eight times for every walk he talks. He’s a career .263/.354/.397 hitter in the minors, and he doesn’t even have one of those brilliant, hard to ignore seasons in the lower minors that hints at a player who can develop into an All-Star if he somehow hits the same way in the majors.
Smolinski seems like a player who could provide depth in the right situation. The Rangers need a lot of things — better health, improved production from key contributors, better health, and better health — but they need more than depth. After missing out on all sorts of free agents, they might be going with the risky internal option after all.
(Personally, I’m rooting for Kyle Blanks to get 600 at-bats and hit 40 homers, but I never stopped rooting for Mark Prior, either. That didn’t work out well for any of us.)
Toronto Blue Jays – Second base
Current second basemen: Maicer Izturis
The final spot of second base mystery in the AL, the Blue Jays actually had a clever plan that involved signing Pablo Sandoval and moving Brett Lawrie to second. It fell through, but so have all the other alternatives so far. It’s been three years since Izturis was any good, and he’s now in his mid-30s, coming off a major injury, and unlikely to get better. Other than that …
The problem, if you haven’t noticed, is that about 10 teams in baseball are interested in improving at second base. A couple of them are exceptionally desperate, including the Blue Jays, perhaps. It’s probably time to start combing depth charts around the league to find the next Maicer Izturis instead of hoping for the actual Maicer Izturis to be the old Maicer Izturis. They’ve come too far to settle, even if they might not have a choice.
On Wednesday, the Reds traded for Marlon Byrd and the Cubs signed Chris Denorfia, addressing holes that I had written about the previous day. Which team up there also reads my columns religiously and bases their entire organizational philosophy around my opinions? Only time will tell.
(Probably the Twins.)