Tough Early 2019 Roster Decisions MLB Teams Need to Make
As we steamroll toward Opening Day, MLB teams will have to start making tough, controversial roster decisions.
In some cases, it's trading an established player to free up a roster spot. In other cases, it's benching a respected veteran. In still other cases, it's outright releasing a guy with a long track record or sending a burgeoning youngster down.
In any case, none of these choices will be universally popular...but they might all be necessary.
Boston Red Sox: Trade C Sandy Leon
The Boston Red Sox have a catching conundrum with Blake Swihart, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez all vying for roles on the 25-man roster.
Swihart is hitting .360 in 25 spring at-bats and forcing the issue. Vazquez is 4-for-29 but is a defensive whiz and could be the everyday catcher despite his offensive shortcomings, considering the potency in the rest of the Red Sox lineup.
That leaves Leon as the potential odd man out, assuming Boston doesn't carry three catchers. That's a safe assumption, given what executive Dave Dombrowski told reporters.
"Nothing against any of the three, because we like them all, but it's hard to carry all three on the big league club," Dombrowski said of Boston's backstops. "None of them have options left, but we're also not going to just give them away to give them away. We'll see where that takes us."
Where it ought to take them is trading Leon, who is by no means a star but is controllable through 2020 and hit .310 with an .845 OPS in 283 plate appearances in 2016.
He ought to fetch at least a decent reliever or an interesting prospect.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Trade OF Joc Pederson
The Los Angeles Dodgers traded outfielder Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Cincinnati Reds this winter, but they've still got a logjam in the outfield.
Free-agent signee A.J. Pollock is the center fielder and Cody Bellinger is a virtual lock in right field. That leaves one starting spot for, probably, either Joc Pederson or Alex Verdugo.
Pederson has the experience, with four full big league seasons. At times, he's impressed with his raw power and defense. He hit 25 home runs last season with an .843 OPS.
At the same time, he's hitting .189 this spring.
Meanwhile, Verdugo has nothing to prove in the minors after he hit .329 at Triple-A last season. So far this spring, he's 10-for-37 with four doubles.
Pederson was the subject of trade speculation this offseason, and the Chicago White Sox expressed notable interest, per the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein.
The Dodgers should rekindle those talks and try to land some decent pieces for Pederson, who maintains significant upside, while clearing space for Verdugo.
New York Yankees: Keep Greg Bird, Send Down Clint Frazier
The New York Yankees will begin the season without the services of center fielder Aaron Hicks, who's battling a back injury.
That would seem to open a spot for touted youngster Clint Frazier.
Frazier dealt with injury issues of his own last season, including persistent concussion symptoms, but he's an exciting player with five-tool potential.
That said, the Yanks would be better off giving Hicks' roster spot to Greg Bird. He's limited defensively to first base, but New York could slide fellow first baseman Luke Voit to designated hitter and move Giancarlo Stanton to left field—then shift Brett Gardner to center field to fill in for Hicks.
Bird has earned the right by hitting .343 this spring. Frazier's time will come...but it isn't now.
In fact, the real controversy might emerge when Hicks returns, Stanton goes back to DH and the Yankees have to decide whether to give first base to Bird or Voit, who posted a 1.095 OPS in 39 games for New York last season.
Seattle Mariners: Cut Ichiro Suzuki After Opening Series
Ichiro Suzuki is a wonder and surefire Hall of Famer. Let's stipulate that up front.
He'll join the Seattle Mariners for their Opening Day interlude against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome on March 20, as manager Scott Servais told the Japan Times (via ESPN.com).
That's all good and a credit to the Mariners. Ichiro deserves a hero's welcome in his home country, wearing the MLB uniform he donned for the lion's share of his superlative big league career.
On the other hand, he's 45 years old and is 2-for-25 this spring. As they embrace a rebuild, the M's can't let nostalgia clog a 25-man roster spot forever.
"It hasn't been a great spring training for him offensively, but if there's anybody who can turn it on for a few days, it's certainly Ichiro," Servais said.
Cutting him after the series won't be easy from an optics standpoint, especially if he performs well. But it'll be the correct choice.
St. Louis Cardinals: Bench OF Dexter Fowler
The St. Louis Cardinals owe Dexter Fowler $16.5 million every season through 2021. He's a noted clubhouse leader.
He'll also turn 33 on March 22, hit .180 in an injury-shortened 2018 campaign and is hitting .194 this spring for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cards can't trade Fowler unless they eat virtually all of his salary. And they aren't going to release him outright, at least not yet.
They should send him to the bench.
Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez are all in the mix for outfield spots. Add 24-year-old Tyler O'Neill, who has clubbed five home runs in 17 Grapefruit League games after posting a 1.078 OPS at Triple-A last season.
That leaves little space for Fowler, who needs to reinvent himself as a role player and handsomely paid cheerleader.