The Biggest Flaw for Every MLB Team Ahead of Spring Training
With the start of spring training just around the corner, it's fair game to size up what teams across Major League Baseball do and don't have.
Today's topic concerns the latter.
We've taken a look at the biggest flaw that each team has on the eve of the 2020 season. These mostly cover areas where clubs are notably lacking in depth, but there are a few shortcomings that are much more specific.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching Depth
The Baltimore Orioles' starting pitchers weren't the sole reason the club lost 108 games in 2019, but they definitely didn't help. They posted an ugly 5.57 ERA and served up a record 179 home runs.
Rather than fix this problem over the winter, the Orioles have stayed in rebuilding mode and done little to substantially upgrade their starting rotation. It's not surprising that FanGraphs projects O's starters for an MLB-low 5.6 wins above replacement.
Boston Red Sox: Relief Pitching Depth
The Boston Red Sox will have all new weaknesses if they trade 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts or 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price. But for now, their bullpen looms as their most glaring imperfection.
In 2019, Red Sox relievers struggled to hold leads to such a degree that they converted only 52 percent of save opportunities. Yet apart from making a no-risk trade for right-hander Austin Brice, the Red Sox have done nothing to address this issue during the offseason. That could lead to history repeating itself in 2020.
New York Yankees: Lineup Balance
The New York Yankees won 101 games last season despite their weak starting rotation and leaky infield defense. With Gerrit Cole now heading the former and Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu up the middle for the latter, those flaws may be things of the past.
So, we have no choice but to get nitpicky and note that New York's projected lineup leans heavily to the right. That could potentially be an issue in 2020. Alternatively, it'll be neither here nor there as they aim to beat the 306 home runs they hit in 2019.
Tampa Bay Rays: Middle-of-the-Order Depth
Though the Yankees will enter 2020 as the team to beat in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays look more than capable of improving on their 96-win effort from last season. They're well stocked with good pitchers, and they have the personnel to do well on offense and defense.
However, the strength of the Rays offense is more so in its depth than in any individual hitters. By neglecting to add a true middle-of-the-order threat this winter, they may have signed up for a repeat of the .697 OPS they got out of their cleanup spot in 2019.
Toronto Blue Jays: Defense
Though they're coming off a 95-loss season, the Toronto Blue Jays are going into 2020 with an outside shot at a wild-card berth. They'll just need their youth-infused offense and veteran-infused rotation to live up to what must be high internal expectations.
Yet the Blue Jays might not be the subject of many defensive highlights this season. Per their minus-28 defensive runs saved, they had one of the worst outfields in the majors last year. And while the right side of their infield (Cavan Biggio and Travis Shaw) looks solid, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette struggled on the left side last year.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Outfield Defense
After re-signing Jose Abreu and adding Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Steve Cishek, the Chicago White Sox are a much deeper and well-rounded team than they were amid their 89-loss campaign in 2019.
On a less bright side, Chicago's outfield defense was even worse than Toronto's last season. Mazara and Eloy Jimenez are likely doomed to below-average glovework in right and left field, respectively. Toolsy rookie Luis Robert, meanwhile, is said by MLB.com to need "refinement" as a center fielder.
Cleveland Indians: Outfield Offense
The Cleveland Indians, on the other hand, are heading into 2020 with the inverse of the White Sox's outfield problem. Their outfielders ranked among baseball's worst on offense last season, and things aren't looking much rosier now.
Assuming the Indians primarily use slugger Franmil Reyes at designated hitter, they'll have a starting outfield of Oscar Mercado, Jake Bauers and Greg Allen with Delino DeShields in reserve. That foursome isn't totally devoid of ability, yet there wasn't an above-average bat in the bunch last season.
Detroit Tigers: Offensive Depth
The Detroit Tigers probably won't lose 114 games again. As proof, we present their halfway-decent starting rotation and an offense that now includes sluggers C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop.
But while the latter should be better than it was in 2019, that's also the faintest possible praise. Last year's Tigers ranked dead-last in runs per game and second-to-last in OPS. It would take multiple Mike Trouts for an offense like that to substantially improve in a single offseason.
Kansas City Royals: Starting Pitching Depth
The Kansas City Royals are coming off a 103-loss season in their own right, and they've arguably done even less to improve their fortunes for 2020 than the Tigers have.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Kansas City's projected rotation. The Royals are hoping to strike gold on Chance Adams, who's a former top-100 prospect, but their rotation has otherwise gone un-upgraded after it struggled with a 5.30 ERA last season.
Minnesota Twins: Infield Defense
With the recent addition of Josh Donaldson, the Minnesota Twins offense now looks even more powerful than the one that launched a record 307 home runs last season. They've also shored up their pitching through deals with Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard.
But if the Twins have a weak spot, it's seemingly their infield defense. Having Donaldson at third base will help, yet they otherwise have subpar defenders up the middle (Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez) and a guy playing out of position (Miguel Sano) at first base.
American League West
Houston Astros: Starting Pitching Depth
The Houston Astros lost their general manager and manager as a result of MLB's investigation into their sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season. But because their roster is still loaded with elite talent, they might still secure a fourth straight 100-win season in 2020.
But can something that's a strength relative to others be a weakness relative to themselves? In the case of their starting rotation, maybe. It's solid up top with Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. But sans Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, the rest of Houston's rotation is heavy on upside yet light on reliability.
Los Angeles Angels: Pitching Depth
After losing 90 games in 2019, the Los Angeles Angels evidently see their offense as their ticket back to the top of the AL West. Specifically, they now have baseball's best offensive duo after pairing Anthony Rendon with Mike Trout via a $245 million contract for the former.
Trouble is, the Angels haven't done as much to upgrade a pitching staff that posted a 5.12 ERA last season. In lieu of the impact arms that were very much needed, they opted for taking less risky roads to Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran and Matt Andriese. That may regret that.
Oakland Athletics: Lineup Balance
Following a second straight 97-win season in 2019, the Oakland Athletics entered the winter with surprisingly few items on their winter to-do list. Perhaps they could have added a veteran starter, but they can hardly be blamed for instead choosing to trust a depth chart that's full of high-upside arms.
Like the Yankees, however, the A's are moving forward with a lineup that leans very much to the right. And unlike the Yankees, they're doing this despite the fact that they didn't exactly crush right-handers last season.
Seattle Mariners: Pitching Depth
This figures to be a "let the kids play" kind of season for the Seattle Mariners. Which is fine, as their path forward from a 94-loss 2019 hinges on finding out what they have in their deep stash of young talent.
However, things could get ugly on the mound. The Mariners were lacking in pitching depth last season, and they've done little to improve matters during the winter. Per FanGraphs, they're projected to beat only the Orioles with 8.1 projected WAR from their pitchers.
Texas Rangers: Infield Depth
After adding Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, the Texas Rangers have what could be one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball. It's surely their best hope of improving on their 78-84 showing in 2019.
Yet their lineup could be better, particularly on the infield. Neither Elvis Andrus nor Todd Frazier nor Rougned Odor nor Ronald Guzman is a star at this juncture, and that's reflected in how the Rangers are projected for a total of 4.7 WAR from their infield. Once again, only the Orioles project to do worse.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Third Base
With back-to-back NL East titles in their wake, the Atlanta Braves have done plenty to put themselves in line for a World Series run in 2020. Notably, their offense (Marcell Ozuna), rotation (Cole Hamels) and bullpen (Will Smith) have each been equipped with shiny new toys.
There is, however, a Josh Donaldson-sized hole in their lineup. When he left for the Minnesota Twins, he took a .930 OPS and 37 home runs with him. Barring a trade for Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant, the Braves will have to hope that Austin Riley or Johan Camargo can ably fill Donaldson's shoes at third base.
Miami Marlins: Offensive Depth
Much like the Tigers, the Miami Marlins sorely needed to add offensive depth after finishing last season ranked 29th in runs per game and last in OPS. To their credit, they've done so by bringing aboard Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar.
And yet the Marlins still don't pass muster as an especially promising offensive team. That could change if youngsters such as Isan Diaz and Lewis Brinson tap into their potential, but their combined .505 OPS in the majors from last season doesn't inspire much confidence.
New York Mets: Defense
Though the New York Mets lost Zack Wheeler from their rotation, a full year of Marcus Stroman and either Rick Porcello or Michael Wacha can help make up for that in 2020. They also made a savvy move when they added Dellin Betances to a bullpen that was already full of rebound candidates.
But apart from adding Jake Marisnick as a fourth outfielder, the Mets didn't do much to address a defense that was responsible for minus-93 defensive runs saved in 2019. In all likelihood, the team's success will hinge on plenty of strikeouts from its arms and consistent home runs from its bats.
Philadelphia Phillies: Pitching Depth
The Philadelphia Phillies understandably let go of Odubel Herrera in the aftermath of his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. But as a result, a question mark that was already looming over center field now looms even larger.
And yet there's an even bigger question mark planted in the Phillies' pitching depth chart. The space in between ace starter Aaron Nola and closer Hector Neris isn't populated by many reliable hurlers. That even goes for Wheeler, whose $118 million deal is out of step with his merely average track record.
Washington Nationals: Middle-of-the-Order Depth
No player was more vital to the Washington Nationals' first ever World Series championship than Stephen Strasburg, so they did the right thing by re-signing him for $245 million. Anthony Rendon, however, escaped their grasp when he secured a $245 million deal of his own with the Angels.
Between Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and top prospect Carter Kieboom, the Nationals aren't short on options for replacing Rendon at third base. The hard part will be accounting for his presence in the middle of their batting order, where he put up a 1.010 OPS and 34 home runs in 2019.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Pitching Depth
The Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball in 2016. Despite relatively little roster turnover, they now have flaws up and down their roster just four years later. And for our money, the most glaring of these concern the Cubs' pitching staff.
They've done basically nothing to account for the losses of Cole Hamels and a handful of relievers to free agency. If Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Craig Kimbrel fail to bounce back from difficult seasons in 2019, there will be an undue burden on Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish to carry the load in 2020.
Cincinnati Reds: Shortstop
The Cincinnati Reds went for it in 2019 only to end up as an also-ran in the NL Central race. But following the additions of Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley, Shogo Akiyama and Nick Castellanos, they're now looking like the team to beat in the division for 2020.
All the Reds can really do now is upgrade at shortstop. That's where they currently have Freddy Galvis, who's at best a merely serviceable everyday option. They'd arguably be better off giving former top prospect Nick Senzel a chance at short. Or better yet, trading him to the Indians for Francisco Lindor.
Milwaukee Brewers: Infield Defense
In response to losing Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Eric Thames, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz and others to free agency, the Milwaukee Brewers have used a series of low-risk moves to transform their roster into something vaguely resembling an underdog contender for 2020.
There should nonetheless be doubts about Milwaukee's infield, specifically pertaining to its defensive quality. Keston Hiura is a better hitter than defender at second base. The same will likely be true of Ryan Braun at first and (when he's healthy) Luis Urias at shortstop. Eric Sogard, meanwhile, has barely played third base in the majors.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Power
Following a 93-loss season that ultimately necessitated a top-to-bottom leadership shake-up, the Pittsburgh Pirates are heading into 2020 with easily the weakest roster in the NL Central. So, be warned that they're going to be hard to watch.
The Pirates can't even be counted on to liven things up by hitting the long ball. They hit only 163 home runs last season, which placed 27th in the league. And that was with Starling Marte, who took 23 homers with him when the Pirates traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.
St. Louis Cardinals: Offensive Depth
Considering that their offense was below-average at scoring runs, the St. Louis Cardinals needed plenty to break right en route to winning the NL Central title last season. Their good fortune finally ran out amid a historically bad offensive performance in the National League Championship Series.
Now the Cardinals offense is even less well off after Marcell Ozuna left for Atlanta. A trade for, say, Nolan Arenado would fix things up nicely, but that's less of an eventuality and more of a mere possibility. So for now, "yikes" is the only appropriate response to St. Louis' offensive depth chart.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Relief Pitching Depth
After quietly winning 85 games in 2019, the Arizona Diamondbacks have spent the winter turning themselves into legit contenders for 2020. Their standout additions include Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte, Kole Calhoun, Stephen Vogt, Junior Guerra and Hector Rondon.
But if we must pick a nit, we'll target Arizona's bullpen. It wasn't an area of strength last season, in part because it finished 24th with a strikeout rate of 8.8 batters per nine innings. Neither Guerra (8.3 K/9) nor Rondon (7.1 K/9) will help fix that issue if both pick up where they left off from last season.
Colorado Rockies: Outfield Depth
After losing 91 games in 2019, the Colorado Rockies have basically sat out the winter and seemingly turned Nolan Arenado against them in the process. Yet until they actually trade him, it would appear that their plan for 2020 is to try to contend.
There are many weaknesses that undercut this notion, but perhaps none more so than Colorado's lack of outfield depth. Per Baseball Reference, their outfield was worth only 0.4 WAR last season. It's now slated for 2.2 WAR in 2020, according to FanGraphs.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Lineup Balance
Speaking of teams sitting out the winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers have let their financial and prospect resources go to waste as they've bypassed big additions and focused on low-risk newcomers. Really the only thing to say in their defense is that they didn't truly need much after winning 106 games in 2019.
That may be true, but the Dodgers could have at least gone out of their way to balance out their offense. Though it has loads of depth, its quality is mainly focused on the left side of the plate. Hence why a trade for Arenado or, even better, Mookie Betts should still be on Los Angeles' radar.
San Diego Padres: Infield Defense
The San Diego Padres weren't really good at anything as they stumbled to 92 losses last season. Through the arrivals of Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, Trent Grisham, Zach Davies and Drew Pomeranz, they can at least hope to hit and pitch better in 2020.
What's less clear is if their infield will be any better on defense after posting an MLB-worst minus-23 outs above average in 2019. The only newcomer is Profar, who was somewhere between a bad and very bad defender in his own right at second base last year.
San Francisco Giants: Offensive Depth
It's hard to drum up optimism about the San Francisco Giants' chances in 2020. New manager Gabe Kapler is no Bruce Bochy, and their pitching staff will miss both Bumgarner and Will Smith.
Yet it's on offense where the Giants figure to struggle the most this season. They had a hard enough time in 2019, as they outscored only the Marlins among National League clubs. Sans any new additions, a lineup populated by post-prime veterans and as-yet-unproven youngsters might do even worse.