Exposing Each MLB Team's Gaping Hole on Opening Day
The 30 MLB teams compete for the same talent, so they need to prioritize their desires when constructing active rosters for Opening Day. As a result, nearly all of them enter April with a gaping hole.
This article exposes positions or roles at which the clubs have settled for below-average—or downright awful—players.
Keep in mind, these holes only exist at the start of the regular season. They could be remedied by the return of veterans from the disabled list or the promotion of highly regarded prospects. And in this unpredictable sport, it's always possible for unheralded individuals to overachieve.
However, there's no denying the following weaknesses as the 162-game marathon gets underway.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Shortstop
Cliff Pennington batted .215/.278/.311 for the Oakland Athletics last summer, struggling offensively both at and away from O.co Coliseum.
For the bulk of April, the Arizona Diamondbacks can only pray that he bounces back.
Utility man Willie Bloomquist strained his oblique last week. The injury will require a stint on the disabled list.
Hot prospect Didi Gregorius wasn't able to take the field during spring training games due to a sore elbow. He isn't going to be on the Opening Day roster, either.
So Josh Wilson, 32, is the only other healthy D-Backs player with shortstop skills.
Atlanta Braves: Third Base
There wasn't any way for the Atlanta Braves to replace the production and intangibles of Chipper Jones.
Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will share time at the hot corner, though neither possesses comparable power or plate discipline compared to the future Hall of Famer. Even defensively, both of these players are underwhelming.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will be forced to cover a lot of ground on the left side of the infield.
Baltimore Orioles: Designated Hitter
The Baltimore Orioles were a terrific story in 2012, qualifying for the playoffs with a young roster and barely-positive run differential.
They did nothing to bolster the batting order during a quiet offseason and have been projected to regress in essentially everybody's estimation.
The O's surprisingly didn't make a strong effort to re-sign Mark Reynolds after non-tendering him. Jim Thome has considered continuing his career, but drawn little interest.
And recently, Wilson Betemit, the most logical internal option to serve as designated hitter, injured his right PCL, which means he'll be sidelined until mid-May.
The job temporarily goes to Nolan Reimold, a once-promising power hitter who can't seem to stay healthy.
Boston Red Sox: Shortstop
Stephen Drew suffered a concussion on March 7, but the lingering effects will sideline him indefinitely.
The Scott Boras client was a questionable addition to begin with, but the Boston Red Sox needed to look for help outside the organization. Shortstop prospects Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias aren't yet ready for everyday duty.
Despite a brutal .118/.200/.191 major league batting line last summer, the latter will begin 2013 in the starting lineup.
Chicago Cubs: Third Base
Between Ian Stewart, Luis Valbuena and Josh Vitters, the Chicago Cubs have several options at third base. None of them, however, inspire much confidence.
Valbuena is the Opening Day starter. He has batted .206/.287/.297 over the past three seasons.
The Cubs also have shaky middle relief and an inexperienced catcher.
Chicago White Sox: Back-End of Starting Rotation
Jose Quintana excited the Windy City through his first eight major league appearances (1.25 ERA, .603 OPS against). Remember, however, that he failed to win consecutive decisions during the season's second half.
A dominant spring training from him gave the Chicago White Sox some peace of mind...for now.
The No. 5 spot is even more concerning as John Danks continues to deal with an ailing shoulder.
Dylan Axelrod serves as the interim replacement. The 27-year-old has struggled with his command in parts of two MLB seasons (1.49 WHIP).
Cincinnati Reds: None
This doesn't mean the Cincinnati Reds will win the 2013 World Series (or even the NL Central title).
But they are tremendously balanced.
Cincy's lineup can provide power from either side of the plate, while running the bases aggressively. The starting rotation has remained intact from 2012, as has the elite bullpen. The Reds even boast a capable bench of versatile defenders and several talented batters.
You would need a microscope to find holes on their active roster.
Cleveland Indians: Top of Starting Rotation
Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez—who will lead the Cleveland Indians starting rotation—combined for a 5.15 earned run average last season (383 innings pitched). It was puzzling to see pitchers with such overpowering weapons post such modest strikeout totals.
Both were slightly more effective in spring training.
Still, they will be overmatched in their 2013 debuts against Toronto's finest this week.
Colorado Rockies: Top of Starting Rotation
Even more so than the Cleveland Indians, the Colorado Rockies have a surplus of starting-rotation candidates. Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich and Drew Pomeranz—all 25 or younger—eagerly await at Triple-A for their next opportunities.
It isn't so easy to get excited about the top few pitchers.
Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa issue too many free passes. Their inefficiency combined with the thin air of Coors Field will culminate in a lot of short outings.
Detroit Tigers: Closer
Jose Valverde's contract expired after the 2012 season, which served as an addition by subtraction for the Detroit Tigers' bullpen. The club just needed an adequate pitcher to take his place.
General manager Dave Dombrowski was very high on Bruce Rondon throughout the winter, but the 22-year-old struggled with inconsistency during the preseason. The evaluation process lasted deep into March, so by the time the Tigers decided that he needed further development, the crop of quality free-agent relievers had dried up.
Jim Leyland, Detroit's manager, acknowledges that his closer-by-committee system will be "a second-guesser's delight" (via Sports Illustrated).
Houston Astros: Lineup (All of It)
The Houston Astros averaged 3.60 runs per game en route to finishing with baseball's worst record in 2012.
Don't be misled by their Opening Night excellence—even with regular use of a designated hitter, they won't improve much in that department.
Veteran additions like Rick Ankiel, Chris Carter and Carlos Pena might combine to whiff 500 times this season. Two projected starters—Brandon Barnes and Matt Dominguez—have less than a year of MLB service time.
This Houston offense could get no-hit this season...multiple times.
Kansas City Royals: Second Base
After a disappointing campaign, the Kansas City Royals expect to score plenty more runs in 2013.
That could be a challenge, however, considering that there will be a gaping hole in their lineup every night.
Chris Getz is usually going to be starting at second base. He has gone more than 1,000 plate appearances since his last MLB home run (July 19, 2009).
The alternatives include Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada. The former is only dangerous as a baserunner, while Tejada has obviously been in the decline for several years.
Los Angeles Angels: Back-End of Starting Rotation
There's a seismic drop-off from Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson to the rest of the Los Angeles Angels rotation.
The team brought in replacements for Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, and a third pitcher to bump Jerome Williams to the bullpen, but what is there to like about any of them?
Joe Blanton is several years removed from his most recent above-average season, and Jason Vargas doesn't keep his pitches down in the strike zone. Then the Halos acquired Tommy Hanson, who's lacking in durability and velocity.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Shortstop
The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have Hanley Ramirez (torn thumb ligament) and still don't trust Dee Gordon.
For those of you who haven't been paying close attention, that sums up why Justin Sellers was given "the nod at shortstop" at the end of spring training (via Austin Laymance, MLB.com).
If A.J. Ellis regresses in his second full season as starting catcher, the bottom of L.A.'s lineup ought to be a nice landing spot for the opposition. Sellers has only batted .204/.283/.323 since debuting in 2011.
Miami Marlins: Starting Rotation (All of It)
The Miami Marlins were originally going to enter April with an inexperienced starting rotation.
But when Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi abruptly landed on the disabled list (via MLB.com's Joe Frisaro), they were replaced by other questionable components.
Alex Sanabia moves into the No. 4 slot, despite pitching zero major league innings this past summer. Even more surprisingly, 20-year-old Jose Fernandez will make the jump directly from High-A! He was Miami's first-round amateur draft pick in 2011.
Wade LeBlanc can't even retire batters of the same handedness, yet he'll follow Ricky Nolasco in the rotation.
An excellent statistical spring propelled Kevin Slowey into the starting mix. Though his strikeout-to-walk ratio has always been exceptional, the right-hander is annually the victim of a high home run rate.
Milwaukee Brewers: Defensive Replacements
For the first few weeks of 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers' bench will be pretty useless.
It's only four players deep. The team has decided to carry an extra pitcher until newly signed Kyle Lohse builds up the arm strength to pitch without restrictions.
Including Yuniesky Betancourt on the active roster is never an encouraging sign. Impressive offensive numbers in spring training don't change the facts: He's error-prone at every infield position and overanxious at the plate.
Neither Alex Gonzalez nor Khris Davis adequately fills in for Corey Hart at first base as he rehabs from offseason surgery.
Minnesota Twins: Top of Starting Rotation
The Minnesota Twins made an effort to improve their 2013 starting rotation by signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, and acquiring Vance Worley from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Alas, none of them has the potential to strike out, say, 180 batters this season. Even 200 innings seems pretty unrealistic. Those same milestones seem unreachable for the team's internal options, too.
Without any starters who could provide length or top-tier quality, the Twins bullpen is going to be overworked.
New York Mets: Outfield
The New York Mets will carry six players who have outfield experience in the majors. Remarkably, none of them own a career OPS higher than .770.
Lucas Duda is tasked with providing above-average power. However, his slugginess in the field makes him a defensive liability and all but negates his accomplishments at the plate.
Since midway through the 2010 season, Marlon Byrd has been in a sharp decline. The Mets will use him as their primary right fielder. He turns 36 in August.
And Collin Cowgill is leading off for the club, despite a .319 on-base percentage in the big leagues.
New York Yankees: Catcher
To address their numerous preseason injuries, the New York Yankees brought in accomplished position players (albeit oft-injured/declining ones). There is a chance that Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, for example, contribute like they did for the Toronto Blue Jays several years ago.
But the Bombers cannot expect reasonable production from behind the plate.
Rather than outbidding the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York let them sign Russell Martin at the MLB Winter Meetings. That left internal options like Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart to compete for playing time.
Neither guy hits for power nor has much familiarity with the current pitching staff.
Oakland Athletics: Second Base
The Oakland Athletics might wind up using a half-dozen men at second base.
None of them look like potential stars—or even above-average middle infielders.
Eric Sogard and Scott Sizemore will get the most playing time initially, but neither has great upside. Hiroyuki Nakajima (injured) and Jemile Weeks (optioned to Triple-A) have the sexier tools.
Philadelphia Phillies: Catcher
Catcher Carlos Ruiz has just begun serving a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use (more specifically, Adderall). He won't be eligible to return to the Philadelphia Phillies until April 28.
In his absence, Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero form a defensive-minded backstop duo.
It's doubtful that their combined efforts at the plate can match Ruiz's 2012 production, which earned him an All-Star selection.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Back-End of Starting Rotation
The Pittsburgh Pirates focused on adding starting pitching depth this winter, as evidenced by their signings of Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano.
Both of them have already suffered injuries.
Instead, Jonathan Sanchez cracks the rotation. With a 8.07 ERA, 2.09 WHIP and more walks than strikeouts, he was arguably the worst player to appear in the majors last summer.
Even those directly above him on the depth chart—James McDonald and Jeff Locke—have dealt with inconsistency.
San Diego Padres: Top of Starting Rotation
The announcement that Edinson Volquez would receive his second straight Opening Day start came as nauseating news, but the San Diego Padres frankly can't do any better.
Corey Luebke is the only definitively better pitcher on the club. He will need another few months to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Clayton Richard occupies the No. 2 spot. He has shown his durability in recent seasons, but struggled to pick up strikeouts. Journeyman Eric Stults follows him in the rotation and shouldn't be counted on to replicate his 2012 stats (2.92 ERA, 1.18 WHIP).
San Francisco Giants: Pinch Hitters
The San Francisco Giants starting rotation is terrific, but on most nights, the bullpen will get involved.
On such occasions, manager Bruce Bochy will look to his bench for a productive positon player. And he isn't going to have a great selection.
Andres Torres, 35, is now three years removed from his latest strong season. He has batted only .133 as a pinch hitter since 2011 with one extra-base hit.
Infielders Joaquin Arias and Nick Noonan aren't ideal in pressured situations, either. Arias has five career home runs in 225 games, while Noonan still awaits his MLB debut.
Seattle Mariners: Defensive Replacements
Following an active offseason, the Seattle Mariners should be much improved this summer. Frustrated with lousy run production, the front office targeted veteran sluggers like Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse.
Maybe the M's went too far.
They have only one spot for a designated hitter, so when those three are in the lineup together, the defense will be compromised.
Reserves Robert Andino and Jason Bay don't seem to fit this roster. They have narrower skill sets than those starting in front of them.
St. Louis Cardinals: Second Base
A lower-back injury will cause David Freese to miss the season's opening week and shift Matt Carpenter to fill the void at third base.
That doesn't leave many options for the St. Louis Cardinals at second.
Coming off an impressive spring, Daniel Descalso has been selected for the everyday role. There will be heavy pressure for the homegrown infielder to improve upon his .627 OPS from 2012.
Tampa Bay Rays: First Base
James Loney is actually a solid defensive first baseman.
The former first-round draft pick, unfortunately, hurts his club at the plate. He doesn't provide the power that players at the position ought to, particularly against left-handed pitchers.
Loney had a pathetic .249/.293/.336 batting line last year with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. He reached 15 home runs as a rookie in 2007, but hasn't matched that total since.
Texas Rangers: Middle Relief
The bridge to closer Joe Nathan definitely took a hit when Mike Adams and Koji Uehara left via free agency. Jason Frasor and Robbie Ross represent downgrades, though they aren't the problem.
It's the rest of the bullpen.
MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan previews Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman, both of whom should "get more meaningful innings," according to skipper Ron Washington. They throw with impressive velocity, but have very little major league experience to fall back on.
Derek Lowe, meanwhile, has too much of it. He's very much in decline with his 40th birthday approaching. The veteran's sinker may keep balls in play, but not runs off the scoreboard.
His campaign got off to a poor start (video courtesy of MLB.com).
Toronto Blue Jays: Third Base
Sidelined with a strained muscle in his rib cage, Brett Lawrie could return by the first weekend of the regular season.
Until then, the Toronto Blue Jays will have some trouble filling the void.
Maicer Izturis is starting at third base when their schedule begins on Tuesday. The 32-year-old doesn't provide as much offensive potential nor the same range at the hot corner.
Mark DeRosa should receive playing time, too, as part of a platoon. Though he was an extraordinary .442/.480/.674 batter during spring training, he has contributed just one home run in 302 regular-season plate appearances since 2010.
For the time being, opposing pitchers should cherish the landing spot at the bottom of Toronto's lineup.
Washington Nationals: Lefty Specialist
Imagine for a moment, the Washington Nationals are clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning. Ryan Howard steps to the plate for the Philadelphia Phillies with teammates on the corners.
Which Nats reliever enters to challenge him?
It would have to be somebody right-handed. Davey Johnson's only southpaw reliever is Zach Duke, who frankly shouldn't be trusted in any competitive contest (1.49 career WHIP).
Making this out to be a weakness is definitely a stretch. The club's setup men, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, actually perform at their best against left-handed batters in terms of OPS against.
But even if Howard and others struggle to track their offerings to home plate, they will have no trouble identifying pitches out of their hands.