The biggest holes on every National League team
Almost every National League team still has work to do. Where could all 15 NL teams improve over the next three months?
Your team has a hole. There might be rumors about how they’re going to fill that hole. What about this trade? What about that free agent? It consumes you because you have three hours every day in which you’re not watching baseball now. They gonna fill that hole? Hey, what’s up with that hole? We’re on the other side of the offseason hill, and (team) still hasn’t done a danged thing about that hole.
This is an article about holes. Fans of every team, give or take maybe one or two, are looking at their roster, wondering what the rest of the offseason holds. We’ll start with the National League first, and move on to the American League in a future article. With the help of Roster Resource and in alphabetical order …
Arizona Diamondbacks – catcher
Current catcher: Tuffy Gosewisch
One of the top names in baseball today, Gosewisch is from Scottsdale. He went to Arizona State. As of right now, he’s the projected starter for his hometown team, and his only competition might be a 21-year-old Rule 5 pick who hit .249/.301/.401 in Class-A last year. He’s probably thrilled.
The Diamondbacks? Less so, I’d imagine. Such is the price of getting out of Miguel Montero’s contract, but they’ll take a season or two of sound defense and solid pitch-framing from Gosewisch. They lost one of the better defensive catchers in Montero, but the lineup is a little deeper than you might remember. They might be able to get away with defense-first at one position. This probably isn’t one of the holes that will be filled.
Atlanta Braves – center field
Current center fielder: B.J. Upton
Not all holes can be filled, mind you. Some of them were created by meteors and killed the dinosaurs. This is one such hole. You could also make an argument for Chris Johnson, too. Both players have spots because of contracts, not because of their play last year.
If Upton were a minor-league free agent at the start of last year, he would have been a minor-league free agent again this year. But he’s still owed over $46.5 million for the next three years, so the Braves have a year to see if he can at least be slightly below average for that money. In a way, he fits the not-rebuilding-but-kinda-rebuilding-dunno-whatever strategy the Braves are deftly deploying this offseason.
Note: Upton started 36 games as the leadoff hitter and 55 games as the #2 hitter last year. His OBP as a leadoff hitter was .282. His OBP as a #2 hitter was .282. Now, I have this crazy idea about the lineup that just might work. Hear me out, Braves …
Chicago Cubs – leadoff hitter, left field
Current left fielder: Chris Coghlan
In 2009, Coghlan won the Rookie of the Year with an adjusted OPS of 122. He hit for average and showed off doubles power. In 2014, Coghlan had an adjusted OPS of 121. He hit for average and showed off doubles power. Considering those two points, this wouldn’t seem to be a hole, but rather an asset.
Perhaps! But those four years in the middle have to be terrifying for a team like the Cubs, who have committed an awful lot of money to convince their fans that they can contend in 2015. The defensive metrics have always maintained that Coghlan is a shaky fielder, so he has to hit to be valuable, and for those four years, he didn’t hit. Even last year, when he performed so well at the plate, he graded out as a replacement-level player because of the defense. If the Cubs contend this year, look for a lot of deadline rumors about outfielders.
Cincinnati Reds – left field
Current left fielder: Brennan Boesch
Oh. Oh, dear.
Of all the holes so far, this is the holiest. Boesch is more likely to be a part of a spring scrum than a projected starter, which makes sense, seeing as he’s not so great at “fielding” or “hitting.” The problem is that there’s no clear competition for him, not yet. Kyle Waldrop is more likely to end the year as the starter, but his solid minor-league career comes with plate-discipline red flags, and having him start the year in Triple-A might make more sense for the future, if not the present.
On the other hand, Brennan Boesch. Or his potential backup, Skip Schumaker. Don’t forget the Reds could trade Jay Bruce, too. Don’t make any summer plans, Kal Daniels. Keep your phone charged.
Colorado Rockies – starting rotation
Current rotation: Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, Eddie Butler
Or, to translate each of those pitchers’ 2014 seasons for the general population: Average, shaky, average, average, shaky. The biggest concern should probably be with Butler, whose strikeouts completely disappeared last year in the minors before he was hit hard in the majors. He faced 76 batters in the majors last year, and he struck out three of them.
Butler’s a top Rockies prospect, so it’s not exactly time to give up on him, but it’s sure a lot to ask of a 23-year-old pitcher to spend the season in Coors Field after struggling at times last year.
Los Angeles Dodgers – bullpen
Current bullpen: Kenley Jansen and others
Last season, the Dodgers had the most expensive bullpen in baseball history. This year, their projected setup man had a 4.41 ERA and a dinger problem last year (albeit with a gaudy strikeout-to-walk ratio). Behind him might be a guy who threw 24 innings last year, and several pitchers with serious control/command problems after that. Spending money on bullpens doesn’t work, apparently, so the new regime is trying something new.
What that something new might actually be: counting on one or several of the dozen hard-throwing prospects in the minors to be successful in a relieving apprenticeship this year. Or, they might have designs on spending more money on the bullpen, just because they can.
Miami Marlins – nothing obvious
That’s right. The Marlins don’t have a big ol’ obvious hole they’re keen on filling. From the rotation to the lineup to the bullpen to the bench, they’re mostly set.
Please don’t confuse that with something suggesting the Marlins are a team without weaknesses, though. It’s easy to pick apart their lineup and rotation. Dee Gordon’s .326 OBP last year is probably a best-case scenario, and there’s the potential for much, much worse from the leadoff spot. Michael Morse is almost certain to give back almost all of his offensive contributions on the field, Martin Prado is the #5 hitter, and Adeiny Hechavarria is still in the lineup. Jarred Cosart almost certainly isn’t as good as he was for the Marlins after they acquired him, and they won’t have Jose Fernandez for a couple months, at least.
They don’t have an obvious hole, though. That’s something of an accomplishment for a team looking to contend right away.
Milwaukee Brewers – bullpen
Current bullpen: I don’t know, but Jonathan Broxton is listed as the presumptive closer, so …
Let’s revisit something from last month about how the Brewers are the ultimate win-now team:
… my offseason advice for the Brewers would to be to do the one thing that’s never a good idea: Spend, spend, spend on a bullpen. David Robertson. Pat Neshek. Andrew Miller. Sergio Romo. Get them all on a conference call and explain exactly how nice the area is in the spring and summer. Leave the lineup untouched, save for some depth and extra pieces, add another starting pitcher to the established quartet in place, and spend too much on a bullpen that might not work.
The Brewers did not take my advice. The Giants have spent the last five years not taking my advice, so it’s basically Moneyball II to ignore my opinions. But it’s still unusual that the Brewers have left the bullpen untouched, especially when you see the quasi-reasonable deals that Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson got from the Astros.
Actually, they haven’t left the bullpen untouched — they’ve let Zach Duke go, and Francisco Rodriguez is likely to leave, too. The Brewers bullpen was average, at best, last year, and they’ve likely taken two steps back. If there’s one position that’s okay to wait on, it’s relief pitching, but we have about 55 days until pitchers and catchers report …
New York Mets – shortstop
Current shortstop: Wilmer Flores
Look at the danged rotation. Matt Harvey is back. Zack Wheeler is improving. Jacob deGrom exists. There’s depth in the minors. This is the template of a team that could suddenly contend, and quickly. If the pitchers throw as well as they’re capable of, the Mets should be prepared with a lineup that can at least push toward the league average.
Flores is just 23. He had 90 OPS+ last year, and he’s been a top-100 prospect for each of the last three years, according to Baseball America. It’s not me saying that he’s the problem — he fits for the direction the Mets are still figuring out — but Mets fans and talk radio callers and bloggers and Twitterers and message board GMs. Here are the blog headlines under Flores’s Baseball-Reference page:
There aren’t a lot of “Wait … shouldn’t we have a little hope for Flores?” posts out there. As such, it’s considered a hole. Stephen Drew might be the guy to help them out for a year, too.
Philadelphia Phillies – GM
Zing! To be fair, I should probably wait to see how the Cole Hamels trade works out before condemning the rebuilding plans of a GM who has never been allowed and/or willing to rebuild before. Getting a couple of low-strikeout prospects in exchange for Jimmy Rollins wasn’t the most exciting start, but at least they’re still young and projectable. Maybe Ruben Amaro, Jr. will surprise all of us.
As is, Jerome Williams is the #4 starter and the lineup has a great chance to be absolutely ghastly, especially if Marlon Byrd is traded and/or Chase Utley can’t make it to 500 plate appearances this year. There’s no sense picking just one hole on a bad team that could lose its best players before spring training.
Pittsburgh Pirates – backup catcher
I will fight you if you say mean things about Chris Stewart. He’s one of my Irrational All-Stars, a player who’s a joy to watch, even if he’s not hitting at all. And last year, he even managed a .294/.362/.331 line while backing up Russell Martin. He’s defensively sound enough to be a proper backup for almost any team in the majors.
That written, the plan to start Francisco Cervelli for more than 50 games, which he hasn’t done since 2010, leaves a lot to be desired. Cervelli also had a surprisingly solid year, and if both he and Stewart repeated their seasons from a year ago, the catching position would be one of the Pirates’ greatest assets. They’re both unlikely to do so, however, which would make me a little more comfortable with an experienced, left-handed catcher to back either Cervelli or Stewart up.
That’s clearly nitpicking, though. The Pirates are deep, and even though Martin was a huge loss, their low-cost gamble at catcher might pay off.
San Diego Padres – shortstop
Current shortstop: Alexi Amarista
Of course, by the time this is published, A.J. Preller will have traded for Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and Elvis Andrus, just to cover his bases and have a little spring competition. But for right now, the Padres have one obvious hole to fix in a lineup that’s suddenly filled with capable hitters. According to dWAR, Amarista was apparently good enough around the diamond to make him an above-average player, even as he was hitting .239 without patience or power. He was a career .312/.368/.439 hitter in the minors, so maybe the Padres think there’s enough raw hitter ore to work with, assuming the defense is sound.
That’s a strange risk to take, though, for a team that’s been hyperactive in their quest to eliminate every possible hole in the lineup. It’s also the likeliest hole on this list to be filled, with the possible exception of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
San Francisco Giants – left field
The real answer is probably the rotation, considering the Giants are hoping for Tim Lincecum to return to form after the last three years. But they have a backup plan in Yusmeiro Petit when things get shaky there, so while they’re right to still poke around James Shields, they don’t have to panic and give a $300 million contract to Max Scherzer.
Gregor Blanco is a capable left fielder, with a league average OPS+ and stellar defense over the last three years. The Giants have had a lot of success with him as an emergency fill-in, first for Melky Cabrera in 2012 and then for Angel Pagan in 2014. But that’s the problem: They’ll probably need him to fill in somewhere again in 2015, most likely in center for Angel Pagan, who missed most of last year with back problems. The Giants have been fortunate to have one of the better fourth outfielders in the game over the last three years, but moving him to a start job would take away that luxury.
Also, the Giants are projected to hit, like, six home runs next year, four of them from Madison Bumgarner. Getting someone with a little power for left field wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
St. Louis Cardinals – bullpen
Like the Pirates, this is more nitpicking than anything else. The Cardinals did get Jordan Walden to replace Pat Neshek, and signing Matt Belisle is one of the most Cardinals moves imaginable. He’ll suddenly have a fantastic year out of nowhere, and we’ll just have to sit there and take it.
Their bullpen was shaky last year, though, with Trevor Rosenthal suddenly losing his control, Randy Choate getting burned with poorly timed hits, and Carlos Martinez living in the weird starter-reliever limbo that can mess with young pitchers. Bullpens are the weird art-school films of baseball, so what looks like a possible disaster might end up a masterpiece.
Still, look for the sure things in the Cardinals’ bullpen right now, the low-walk, high-strikeout, late-inning guys that make teams comfortable. They had one in Neshek, but now they don’t have any. It could work, but it’s not the bullpen I’d live with when looking for ways to lose money in a casino.
Washington Nationals – second base
Current second baseman: Danny Espinosa
Well, the Nationals did sign Dan Uggla to a minor-league deal, so …
We aren’t that far removed from Espinosa being a dandy player. Imagine Uggla with superlative defense, and you have something like Espinosa’s former projected ceiling. He’s still just 27, and it’s not like he sold his 20-homer power or defense at a pawn shop. There are worse players to gamble on, certainly.
He sticks out, though. On a roster that’s loaded at almost every position in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen, Espinosa is the only one that makes you furrow your brow when you get to his name. The Giants would love to get Ben Zobrist from the Rays, but the Nationals might be the better fit in terms of prospects and major leaguers. The Nationals weren’t willing to wait for Espinosa last year, trading for Asdrubal Cabrera instead. They’re probably not likely to wait around for him this year, either.