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December 7, 2012

Overthinking It

Teams That Still Have Holes to Fill

by Ben Lindbergh

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Although this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings were regarded as relatively slow, only seven teams checked out of the Opryland without making some sort of move. While Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton remain at large and Angel Pagan was the highest-ranked free agent removed from the market, many clubs found ways to fill holes during the four-day event. But even though the most eventful week of the winter is over, it’s still fairly early in the offseason, and a number of teams left Nashville with help wanted at one or more positions. Here are six winning teams from 2012 that will have to plug holes before Opening Day to return to contention in 2013:

Oakland Athletics, Shortstop: As of today, Oakland’s shortstop depth chart is topped by 29-year-old Adam Rosales, a career .241 TAv hitter without a great glove. The A’s have been open about their desire to upgrade at the position, with Stephen Drew and Hiroyuki Nakajima named by Billy Beane as their top free-agent targets. Drew declined to exercise a $10 million mutual option that would have kept him in Oakland through 2013, but he and the team continue to discuss another deal.  The A’s aren’t depending on Drew: the team reportedly engaged in trade talks for Yunel Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera in Nashville and could go after Jhonny Peralta if Drew departs. While the outcome is no clearer than it was a week ago, A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team was able to “lay some groundwork” that could lead to a solution later this winter.

Chicago White Sox, Catcher: The White Sox filled a hole at third base on Wednesday when they inked Jeff Keppinger to a three-year contract, but they weren’t able to settle their backstop situation. When the Sox acquired catcher Tyler Flowers in the Braves’ 2008 trade for Javier Vazquez, they thought they’d found the successor to A.J. Pierzynski, a conviction that was strengthened by Flowers’ .297/.423/.516 line across two minor-league levels in 2009. But Flowers took steps back both at the plate and behind it in 2010, and rather than hand him the starting job the following season, the Sox brought back Pierzynski on a two-year deal. Now Pierzynski is on the open market again, and after hitting a career-high 27 home runs last season, he may command too much money for the Sox to re-sign him. Rick Hahn says he wouldn’t worry about heading into the season with Flowers as the starter, but the GM can’t be completely comfortable with a catcher who owns a career K rate as high as Mark Reynolds’ the year Reynolds set the single-season strikeout record.

Tampa Bay Rays, Outfield and DH: The Rays spent their stay in Nashville trading for Yunel Escobar and signing James Loney, giving them a productive shortstop and, well, a person who plays first base. They could still use a big bat at DH or in right field and might surrender surplus pitching to get one, whether it belongs to Wil Myers, Billy Butler, Justin Upton, or someone who hasn’t already been tied to Tampa Bay in talks. Well-seasoned rookie Brandon Guyer is an in-house option at either position

Detroit Tigers, Closer: The Tigers insist they’re not interested in Rafael Soriano and are committed to closing out games with Bruce Rondon, a hard-throwing minor-league strikeout machine who’ll turn 22 on Sunday and has yet to make his major-league debut. Soriano’s agent, Scott Boras, isn’t buying it, and it’s hard to blame him. When Victor Martinez tore his ACL last January, Detroit GM Dombrowski dismissed the possibility of signing a first baseman and moving Miguel Cabrera to third, saying, “We’re not looking at that as a full-time option.” A little over a week later, Boras had persuaded Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to sign Prince Fielder to a massive multi-year deal. Boras managed the same maneuver with Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez in previous offseasons, and it’s possible that he could do the same with Soriano.

Philadelphia Phillies, Third Base and Outfield: In need of a third baseman to succeed Placido Polanco, the Phillies appear to be closing in on a deal that would replace positional placeholder Kevin Frandsen with Michael Young’s below-average bat, weak glove, and award-winning intangibles. They completed one trade on Thursday, acquiring Twins outfielder Ben Revere, but they’re not necessarily done making outfield improvements. With Revere installed in center, the Phillies could sign Cody Ross or pursue a swap for a veteran corner bat to split time with John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown. And given the increased revenue from television contracts in the Phillies’ future and Ruben Amaro Jr.’s penchant for the dramatic move, it’s not completely out of the question that he could still sign Michael Bourn and shift Revere to left.

Cincinnati Reds, Left Field: This position would be filled if the Reds could convince last season’s left fielder, Ryan Ludwick, to return, but he has yet to accept the two-year offer they extended days ago. Chris Heisey is the fallback option already on the roster, though the Reds clearly view him as a part-time player. *Update: Ludwick signed with Cincinnati on Friday.* 

New York Yankees, Half a Lineup: If the season began today, the Yankees would be forced to start David Adams at third base, Chris Stewart at catcher, Eduardo Nunez at DH (assuming Derek Jeter were recovered enough to play short), and Chris Dickerson in right field, with barely any bench. That group wouldn’t look much like Yankees lineups of yore, but the Steinbrenner family’s newfound financial responsibility doesn’t permit much multi-year splurging. Aside from announcing another injury to Alex Rodriguez and watching their free-agent options dwindle, the Yankees were inactive at the Winter Meetings. They reportedly have interest in Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and Jack Hannahan and could bring back Ichiro Suzuki and/or Raul Ibanez, but with almost as many question marks as sure things dotting their depth chart, it’s getting late early for them this offseason.

Other needs: Miami Marlins: 3B; Houston Astros: DH; Cleveland Indians: 1B/LF/DH; New York Mets: OF; Royals, SP

Jason Martinez provided research assistance for this story.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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BillJohnson

So nothing about the Cardinals and their 2B problem? Or do you expect them to "return to contention" with Daniel Descalso there?

Dec 07, 2012 15:17 PM
rating: 0
 
IvanGrushenko

Why not? They contended fine in 2012, and the Theriot/Schumaker/Descalso combo in 2011 wasn't any better than Descalso alone.

Dec 07, 2012 15:21 PM
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mblthd

Mark it Matt Carpenter

Dec 07, 2012 20:10 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Bill, I think mblthd has it right with Carpenter. There was a report that he was instructed to sharpen and work on his 2B defense this offseason.

Dec 07, 2012 23:16 PM
 
BillJohnson

A lot of Cardinals fans hope mblthd has it right with Carpenter. He is definitely getting some reps at 2B during the off season, in the hope that he can step in there. However, a brief in-season flirtation with him at second was worrisome. Neither his range nor his agility around the bag looked good at all.

I personally doubt whether this experiment will succeed, even to the modest extent that the similar one with Skip Schumaker did. Unlike Skippy, Carpenter doesn't have a second baseman's body. The large majority of upper-tier second basemen (Chase Utley is a rare exception) are short, cobby men no more than six feet tall, with low centers of gravity. The 6'3", 200# Carpenter looks like a string bean (I'm surprised he weighs as much as 200) among this crowd, and while he's certainly a pro athlete with all that that entails, I am skeptical of his ability to develop the kind of quickness (including evasion of takeout slides) that the position requires. One can always hope, I suppose; he does at least seem to have good "baseball instincts."

Dec 08, 2012 08:37 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

Mets and OF??? More like Mets and LF, CF, RF, C and closer.

Dec 07, 2012 16:07 PM
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Sharky

And a new owner.

Dec 08, 2012 07:18 AM
rating: 1
 
buddaley

Is there a chance that St. Louis will be looking for starters? I know they have a deep system and probably 7 or 8 pitchers who most think can succeed in the majors right now. But, of those starters, Garcia may start the season on the DL. Carpenter is coming off an injury that kept him sidelined most of the year at age 37 (and has an injury history). Westbrook is a back of the rotation starter who did not pitch after Sept. 2. That leaves them with Wainwright, Lynn, Kelly and still untested Miller and Rosenthal.

For a serious contender, that seems awfully thin.

Dec 07, 2012 18:29 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

"Thin"? You write off three of the anticipated rotation (at least two of whom are very likely to be able to pitch), identify five strong-to-solid starters remaining, and don't even mention the guy they picked up two years ago to plug in as a spot starter as well as a bullpen arm (Marc Rzepczynski) or the vast stack of break-glass-in-emergency guys (Nick Additon, Tyler Lyons, etc.) at AAA and AA, and consider that "thin"?

Starting pitching is NOT a shortfall that Mozeliak is trying to remedy right now.

Dec 07, 2012 19:42 PM
rating: 4
 
buddaley

My point is exactly that; three of the anticipated rotation have question marks about health. Two of those three are considered, along with Wainwright, to constitute the top of that rotation. I think Carpenter is a huge "if" and Garcia very uncertain. I am not writing them off, simply noting that they are question marks who may impel the Cardinals to cover their possible absence with someone other than rookies.

Depth-in terms of numbers-does not equal quality. Miller and Rosenthal are certainly exceptional talents, but they are rookies, or virtual rookies. Rosenthal has appeared in 19 major league games throwing 22.2 innings without ever starting and only once going 3 innings. He also pitched 8.2 innings over 7 post-season games.

Miller has 6 games in the majors with 1 start and 13.2 innings plus another 2 games and 3.1 innings.

Each pitched brilliantly, but that experience is too limited to be comforting to a serious contender.

Of the remaining pitchers you mention, Wainwright is a star and Lynn had a terrific season, but Kelly is also inexperienced while Rzepczynski has not started in 2 years and never threw more than 63.2 innings in a season.

Perhaps "thin" was an inaccurate term, but the question (and it is only a question) remains. Might the Cardinals be looking for an established starter to bolster a staff that has age, injury and experience question marks? It may not be a priority, but I think it may be a concern.

Dec 08, 2012 04:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Nah, it's not a priority, and starters haven't been mentioned in any of the very limited trade buzz with the Cardinals. Remember that Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal were starters in the minors and have had their work loads managed accordingly (153 and 140 IP, respectively, last year across all levels including post season). Both have been told to report to spring training conditioned as starting pitchers (as have Kelly and Lynn). They're about as ready to jump into that rotation as a player can be.

Weird thought: suppose things go to the opposite extreme, and all of the walking wounded are healthy and effective to start the year. The rotation to start the season then looks like Carp, WW, Garcia, Lynn, and maybe Kelly -- and the Memphis rotation could be Rosie, Miller, Carlos Martinez, and then two out of {Michael Wacha, Seth Maness, Tyler Lyons, and Kevin Siegrist, who by all accounts looked excellent at AFL}. How many major-league teams would rather have that rotation than the one they've actually got?

Dec 08, 2012 08:55 AM
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BillJohnson

Correction, Westbrook rather than Kelly in that non-injury rotation. Kelly will be on the team, but most likely in the bullpen.

Dec 08, 2012 08:56 AM
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BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I don't think Rondon is the only legitimate closer candidate in house which is why the Tigers insist they're not going for Soriano. Dotel and Benoit are veterans who can do the job and then in addition to Rondon, Alburquerque and Villarreal are hard-throwing youngsters with a closer-esque profile. Plus, who knows, maybe Leyland goes back to Coke (insert easy joke).

I think Coke would be the worst of all options given his distinct inability to get out righties, but I think the team has options. All that said, I, as a Tigers fan, wouldn't be upset if they got Soriano at a reasonable price for a year or two.

Dec 07, 2012 23:20 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

I think the Tigers might also be a player on Brian Wilson.

Dec 08, 2012 03:27 AM
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steely3000

I think you are being a little unfair about the White Sox catcher needs. Tyler Flowers was acquired to take over for AJ, but he has never been given the chance to be a #1 catcher. It’s true he is light hitting, but he has never had more than 136 AB in a season (and that was last year). He did have 7 HR, which would equal AJ’s 27 if he had the same number of ABs as AJ.

Also what you did not mention is that he threw out 33% of potential base stealers, which is quite good (AJ threw out 26%). I feel that Flowers should be given a chance to be a full-time catcher for a year, and then we can judge if he is capable of the job. Frankly I feel if he hits say .240 with 25 HRs, and keeps throwing out base runners at a good clip, I can live with 200 Ks.

Dec 08, 2012 06:44 AM
rating: 0
 
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