Early Roster, Lineup Changes MLB Teams Should Consider Making
Baseball is a game of adjustments. Defenses shift, pitchers tinker, hitters protect. And, of course, teams make alterations, too.
It's early—scratch that, it's way early—but already clubs across both leagues are considering changes: lineup tweaks, bullpen reshuffles, minor league call-ups. That's especially true for squads that have stumbled out of the gate.
Let's run through a handful of switches teams in need of a boost should consider and weigh how likely they are to actually go down.
Adjust your expectations, then read on.
San Francisco Giants: Give Brandon Belt Starts in Left Field
Right fielder and offensive cornerstone Hunter Pence is recovering from a broken forearm suffered at the outset of spring training. And the defending champs are, not coincidentally, struggling.
There's blame to go around, but the Giants' offense hasn't been part of the solution. Entering play Sunday, San Francisco was hitting just .232 as a team and ranked third-to-last in the National League in runs scored.
There's no simple fix; the bench is thin and there's not much MLB-ready talent waiting on the farm.
Susac, who impressed while sipping a cup of coffee last year, was hitting .350 in Triple-A. Problem is, the Giants already have a catcher/former NL MVP/three-time World Series champ by the name of Buster Posey.
Here's a thought, at least until Pence returns: Insert Susac behind the dish, stick Posey at first base (where he's already getting semi-regular starts) and shift current first baseman Brandon Belt to left field.
It's not (quite) as crazy as it sounds. Belt isn't an outfielder by trade, but he started 30 games in left in 2011 and four more at the position in 2012.
The move could also strengthen San Francisco's anemic reserve corps, sliding Gregor Blanco back into the fourth outfielder role, where the club has experimented with the likes of 31-year-old journeyman Justin Maxwell.
This almost certainly won't happen. Instead, San Francisco will weather the storm and wait for Pence.
It's tempting to suggest they'll be out of it by then, but if the Giants have proved anything over the last five years, it's that they're never out of anything.
Update: This is happening, for one game at least, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Washington Nationals: Move Bryce Harper to the Leadoff Spot
Washington was supposed to be the one sure bet in all of baseball, the juggernaut exception that proved the parity rule.
Instead, the Nationals have limped to a 5-7 start. Not terrible, but certainly not up to their lofty standards.
As with the Giants, there's no single explanation for the Nats' malaise. But they're not swinging the bats like they're capable of, as their .222 team batting average and .292 on-base percentage attest.
The return of third baseman and budding star Anthony Rendon from a sprained MCL will help tremendously. Outfielder Denard Span is also working his way back from injury, and he could be activated Sunday, per Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post.
Span was the team's primary leadoff hitter last season and figures to be again. But as he rounds his way back into form, Washington should consider a different candidate for table-setting duties: Bryce Harper.
Yes, the brash 22-year-old is best known for his prodigious pop. But Washington has experimented with Harper in the leadoff spot before; in 2013, then-manager Davey Johnson put the young slugger there and Harper said he "loved it," per Amanda Comak of The Washington Times.
If you're rolling your eyes, consider: Harper currently ranks second on the squad with a .404 on-base percentage, and he stole 29 bases between 2012 and 2013.
He isn't a prototypical No. 1 hitter. But on a team searching for a spark, he could generate some heat.
Seattle Mariners: Give Fernando Rodney a Break as Closer
Fernando Rodney pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday and notched his third save of the season for the Seattle Mariners in a 3-1 win over the Texas Rangers.
So, naturally, this is the perfect time to relieve him of closer's duties.
OK, not really. But even after that outing, Rodney owned an unsightly 12.46 ERA. He's coughed up seven hits and six earned runs in 4.1 innings, and opponents are hitting a robust .389 against him. Surely it's time for the Mariners, who have designs on a long-awaited postseason berth, to at least toy with a change.
That doesn't necessarily mean supplanting Rodney entirely. The right-hander was an All-Star in 2014 and led all of baseball with 48 saves. But the M's should consider a closer-by-committee arrangement, at least until Rodney strings together a series of clean outings.
"Everybody flies off the handle when a guy blows a game, but I can't do that," Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon told Larry Stone of The Seattle Times after Rodney yielded four runs in the ninth inning April 12 against the Oakland A's. "Somebody has to keep their head. I choose to keep mine."
Fair enough. Then again, as Stone notes:
While they were in the process of missing the playoffs by one game last year, the Mariners proved the value of a single victory, and conversely, the damage of a single loss. I think that's a big part of the reason fans are feeling these late-game breakdowns so keenly. And it's why the leash on Rodney needs to be shorter than McClendon may intend. ...
[Every] win opportunity is too precious to just let a struggling closer work out his problems indefinitely. Rodney is 38 years old, and throughout his career has interspersed seasons of unmitigated brilliance (37 of 38 saves in 2009, a major league record 0.60 ERA in 2012) with seasons of maddening inconsistency.
Chicago White Sox: Call Up Carlos Rodon
While the baseball world trained its eyes on Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs blue-chip who got his much-anticipated call-up Friday, another Chicago prospect languishes in the minors.
We're talking about left-hander Carlos Rodon, the top arm in the White Sox's system and a prime candidate for a big league promotion.
The Sox stand at 4-6 entering play Sunday, and all four of their wins have come in games started by their top three starters: Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana.
Meanwhile, Chicago's other two starters, Hector Noesi and John Danks, have coughed up 10 runs and 17 hits in 15 innings pitched.
Rodon had a solid spring and has already racked up 13 strikeouts in 10 innings at Triple-A. And if the White Sox share the Cubs' concerns about service time, the calendar has taken care of that.
Bottom line: In a hyper-competitive AL Central where every win figures to be crucial, Chicago can't afford to wait any longer.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Start Yasmany Tomas
When the Diamondbacks inked Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million deal this winter, they were undoubtedly dreaming about Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and other instant-impact Cuban stars.
Instead, Tomas had an uneven spring and began the year at Triple-A.
Now, Arizona has summoned the 24-year-old slugger in the hopes that he'll be "a potent bat off the bench," per USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz.
But is that seriously the plan?
Either Tomas is ready for the big leagues or he's not. If not, he should be marinating in the minors; these D-Backs are rebuilding, after all, and ought to have more than half an eye on the future.
On the other hand, if he is ready—or if Arizona thinks he might be—he should be starting somewhere.
Yes, his exhibition audition at third base didn't pan out perfectly. And yes, A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo and Ender Inciarte currently patrol the outfield.
The Diamondbacks have made a significant investment in Tomas, though, and the way to make that investment pay (potentially) is to play him regularly, on the farm or in The Show.
All statistics current as of April 18 and courtesy of MLB.com.