MLB Preview 2011: What Each Team Is Lacking Most Heading to Spring Training
Ignore the weather outside. We are only two weeks away from the grapefruit and cacti of Spring Training. For us, it is time to regroup after the NFL season. For MLB's 30 teams, it is time to take stock of where they are and what – if anything – they need.
Even the strongest team is not perfect, but when one lays it all out, one realises that the vast majority of teams have gaping holes in their lineup or a bullpen that could not close a door.
Here is a look at each team's biggest need as we head towards the Spring.
Atlanta Braves: Middle Relief
Billy Wagner retired and will now spend between five and 20 years waiting for a call from Cooperstown. As for the pen he left behind, it is very sparse indeed. Craig Kimbrel is young and untested, but is the best reliever the Braves have. Getting to him will be a struggle.
Florida Marlins: Bridge to Leo Nunez
Nunez is a very solid reliever, and the Marlins have some of the best young starters in baseball. Getting between the two is the problem and Florida have not really solved it.
New York Mets: Power
Only the Royals hit fewer home runs than the Mets last season (121 to New York’s 128). You might expect that the problem is not just down to the players (although Jason Bay’s fall from 36 home runs to just six will not have helped matters) but the ballpark.
Somehow, however, their home/road splits are very similar. At Citi Field, the team hit 63 home runs. On the road, 65. So it is down to the players. Either way, it is bad news for the Mets.
Philadelphia Phillies: Middle Relief
Brad Lidge could be phenomenal or he could be atrocious. Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras had a solid end to the season, but neither are sure things. JC Romero and Antonio Bastardo are similarly shaky.
In all seriousness, the Phils’ bullpen is solid. But their lineup is great and their rotation is the best in the Majors.
You can pencil them in for the pennant already.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
The Nats will miss the young phenom in more ways than one. Not only will they suffer without him every fifth game, but now they do not have their star pitcher to draw in the crowds. With Strasburg undergoing Tommy John surgery and Bryce Harper a bit away from the Majors yet, not many people will be that focused on the Nationals in 2011.
Chicago Cubs: Pitching
The Cubs pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 2010, fourth-worst in the National League. In the offseason, they lost Tom Gorzelanny. They acquired Carlos Pena to improve offensively, but there are serious question marks over their rotation and pen.
Cincinnati Reds: Middle Relievers
It’s very easy to find bullpen arms. It’s very hard to find effective ones. The Reds will find their bridge to Francisco Cordero and Aroldis Chapman but it might take some trial and error. They have an MVP-highlighted lineup, a few very good starters and a solid back end, but their middle relief is a weak point for the moment.
Houston Astros: Left Field
During a poor 2010, Carlos Lee was moved to first. With Brett Wallace expected to appear there next season, Lee’s safety net is gone. He is a defensive liability and if his bat cannot bounce back, he and the Astros have some problems.
Milwaukee Brewers: Late Reliever
John Axford was great last season, but he cannot be expected to go it alone in the pen in 2011. He and his 160 ERA+ need some help.
Pittsburgh Pirates: First, Second, Third, Short, Catcher, Rotation, Bullpen
The Steelers reached the Super Bowl, though. That is something, right?
St Louis Cardinals: Third Base
David Freese had a very good showing in his 70 appearances last year, hitting at a .296 clip. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain that with a greater workload in 2011.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Rotation and Bullpen
5.16. If that stat were ‘runs scored per game’ it would be very good. If it were AB/HR, it would be superhuman. But it is neither. It is the D-Backs’ team ERA in 2010.
Amazingly, their relievers managed to top it, with a 5.74 mark. Simply put, they were lucky to win 65 games with that kind of performance from the mound.
Armando Galarraga is a good addition, but it will not be enough.
Colorado Rockies: Starters 3-5
Ubaldo Jimenez, we all know. Besides their ace, Jhoulys Chacin was the only current pitcher to have an ERA below 4.80.
The Rox are very close to a postseason berth. Their pitching might let them down.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Catcher
Here are the Dodgers’ options: Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, AJ Ellis.
None of them will fill a fan with joy or an opposing pitcher with fear. Granted, no team expects a lot of production from behind the plate (Minnesota, Baltimore and San Francisco aside) but this is almost a joke.
Barajas swung a – relatively – hot bat at the end of the year, but no one expects him to repeat that.
San Diego Padres: Power Hitter
The Padres had the second-best ERA in the Majors and still missed the playoffs. In the offseason, they traded All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for prospects. They have a gaping hole in their lineup this season.
San Francisco Giants: Right Field
Really, when one looks at the Giants’ three World Series-winning outfielders, one would be confused as to how they won it all. The weakest of the three, however, is RF, patrolled last year by Nate Schierholtz – he of the .242 average and three home runs.
Baltimore Orioles: An Ace
The O’s have improved immensely and could even challenge for third in the AL East. What they are missing, however, is a bone fide ace. Jeremy Guthrie is good, but every team needs the security that every fifth day, they will win. Guthrie cannot provide that.
Boston Red Sox: Catcher
In 2010, the Sox had Victor Martinez. He got injured and captain Jason Varitek stepped up. He surpassed everyone’s expectations but then broke his foot. Then came Kevin Cash, Gustavo Molina, Dusty Brown and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Together, in 50 appearances, they combined for four RBIs.
This season, the starter will be Saltalamacchia, with Tek acting as backup once again. The Sox may have improved their offense with the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, but they took a huge leap backwards behind the plate.
New York Yankees: Rotation
With Andy Pettitte retiring, AJ Burnett coming off a terrible year, Phil Hughes still being young and having had a poor second half and a staff populated with gambles like Bartolo Colon, the Yankees rotation is weak.
That said, if they pitch at their best, they have a great shot at winning the East.
Tampa Bay Rays: Shortstop
Their lineup is far weaker and older with the losses if Crawford and Pena, and the acquisitions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.
At short, the Rays have a bit question mark, with Reid Brignac likely to start. Although, in fairness, a .385 slugging percentage might look quite good compared to his teammates.
Toronto Blue Jays: Bullpen
The Jays have some solid young talent at the top of their starting five and the most homer-happy offense in the Major Leagues. The real question is the bullpen. They are not far from competing, but it seems that we say that every year.
Cleveland Indians: Infield
Last season, the Indians’ infield was awful. Only one player batted .265 and played more than 30 games. They are going to be terrible again in 2011, and a large part of the reason will be the players around the diamond.
Chicago White Sox: Bullpen
The White Sox relief corps really only consist of Matt Thornton at the moment, and no one else. The Sox have done a decent enough job of putting arms around him, however, that if he has a great season, they should get by okay. If he does not, they pen will collapse with him.
Detroit Tigers: Catcher
Alex Avila and Gerald Laird both had averages below .230, both had fewer than 10 home runs and neither is a good answer behind the plate.
The Tigers signed the best FA catcher available in Victor Martinez in the offseason and then promptly announced they were to move him to DH.
Martinez was a brilliant signing, but surprisingly he does not solve their biggest problem, which happens to be at his position.
Kansas City Royals: Starting Pitching
The Royals had a very good pitcher on their staff in former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. After he was traded away in the winter, however, their rotation is now filled with pitchers who would be happy if they posted a sub-4.50 earned run average.
Minnesota Twins: Middle Infielders
After losing JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson in the past few months, the Twins will have real trouble up the middle. They have Joe Mauer catching, thank goodness, otherwise they would be in the running for the weakest middle in baseball.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Catcher
Yes, catcher is usually the position which gives you the least offense, but a career average below the Mendoza line is unacceptable even there.
Jeff Mathis has a career mark of .199. His alternative is Bobby Wilson. Neither is an exciting proposition for Angels fans.
Oakland Athletics: Third Base
There was a lot of talk about a possible move for Chone Figgins in the offseason. It never happened, and the A’s still have no solid answer at the hot corner. It is a shame, because in the AL West, they have a real chance of making some noise in October.
Seattle Mariners: Everything Other Than Ichiro and Felix
Poor Seattle. At the beginning of the decade, they had a player winning MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season, they were winning more games than anyone else in history, they even made the Super Bowl.
Then everything fell apart. Including and especially the Mariners.
Ichiro Suzuki is HoF-bound. Felix Hernandez is the reigning Cy Young. Everything else can be improved upon. Their division is not the strongest but Seattle will still struggle.
Texas Rangers: An Ace
They had one in Cliff Lee. With him, they won the American League. Then he upped sticks to Philadelphia and left Nolan Ryan’s team without an ace.
Their rotation is just fine the way it is, but without someone to replace Lee, there will be no return trip to the Series for the Rangers.