1 Roster or Lineup Change Every MLB Team Has to Make ASAPMay 3, 2021
1 Roster or Lineup Change Every MLB Team Has to Make ASAP
With one month of games in the rearview, teams across Major League Baseball have a much better idea of what they do and don't have and what is and isn't working.
Just in case, we have suggestions for one change each team should make as soon as possible.
These cover a wide range of possibilities, including simply assigning new roles to players already in the majors. In other cases, they involve demoting or cutting loose struggling players. Naturally, there are also some prospects or veterans on minor league deals who should be called up.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Insert Jahmai Jones at Second Base
As they're hitting a collective .228/.285/.369 and scoring just 3.8 runs per game, the Orioles have problems up and down their lineup. Yet the biggest is at second base, where a platoon led by Rio Ruiz and Ramon Urias has produced minus-0.3 rWAR.
Jahmai Jones might be able to help. He's no longer a top-100 prospect and he hit well under the Mendoza line during spring training, but he had been lighting things up at Baltimore's alternate site before joining the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. The O's would have little to lose if they gave the 23-year-old his chance.
Boston Red Sox: Give Danny Santana His Shot in the Outfield
In Alex Verdugo, the Red Sox have at least one productive player in their outfield. Otherwise, Enrique Hernandez has had a hard time getting warm and Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe have been downright bad in combining for a .176 average and two home runs.
Speedy prospect Jarren Duran is a potential solution, but it would be more practical for Boston to call on Danny Santana. The veteran is a versatile defender who was a 20-20 guy just two years ago, so the Red Sox might as well give him a shot before he can exercise an opt-out in his minor league deal.
New York Yankees: See if Miguel Andujar Can Help Fix the Outfield
Speaking of outfield problems, the Yankees rank among MLB's dregs with the minus-0.4 rWAR they've gotten out of their outfielders. Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier simply aren't hitting, and it's become uncertain as to whether Aaron Judge can handle an everyday workload.
There's some clamoring for prospect Estevan Florial, but indications are he isn't ready yet. It would be more feasible for the Yankees to call on Miguel Andujar. Though his star has drastically faded since he was the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2018, he might still have some magic in him somewhere.
Tampa Bay Rays: Call Up Wander Franco for Offensive Support
The Rays haven't necessarily been a bad offensive team in the early going, but only one team has had more games in which it's scored four or fewer runs. As such, the Rays could use...well, they could use Wander Franco.
The 20-year-old shortstop is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by us and basically everyone else. He hit an impressive .336/.405/.523 in the minors through 2019 and is now ticketed for Triple-a Durham. Because he'll be getting reps at second and third base, he also has versatility going for him.
Toronto Blue Jays: When He's Ready, Recall Nate Pearson
With George Springer finally in the mix alongside hot-hitting youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays should start scoring runs with more frequency. Now, they just need to see about a rotation in which 11 different hurlers have combined for a modest 4.22 ERA.
The best move the Jays can make is to simply call up Nate Pearson, our No. 20 prospect, once he's built up enough strength after straining his groin during spring training. Provided he can stay healthy, his triple-digit fastball and nasty slider could make him the co-ace Toronto needs for Hyun-Jin Ryu.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Let Michael Kopech Start
The White Sox not only have a winning record but also the third-best run differential in MLB. And after getting off to a cold start in Eloy Jimenez's shoes in left field, rookie Andrew Vaughn has come around with 11 hits in his last 29 at-bats. So in lieu of a better idea, we'll suggest more starts for Michael Kopech.
The flamethrowing right-hander has struck out 30 batters in 18.2 total innings, and he allowed just two runs in two starts in place of Lance Lynn while he was injured. He deserves to be Chicago's go-to guy for spot starts, and he might even end the year as a permanent member of its rotation.
Cleveland: Make a Change at First Base
Cleveland's offense has had its moments this year, but altogether it's hitting just .207/.283/.384 and scoring four runs per game. First base has been an especially big problem, as Cleveland's first-sackers have combined for minus-0.5 rWAR.
Unfortunately, there isn't an obvious change for Cleveland to make here. Yet it might let Josh Naylor play first more often or perhaps call up Bobby Bradley or top prospect Nolan Jones. Basically, anything would be better than the status quo of relying on Jake Bauers and Yu Chang.
Detroit Tigers: Let the Kids Play
As bad as Cleveland's offense is, it looks like the 1927 Yankees compared to what the Tigers have gotten out of their offense. They're not even cracking the Mendoza line with a .195 average and are scoring just 2.7 runs per game.
Between this and the reality that the Tigers are already deep in last place in the AL Central, they might as well call up some kids for on-the-job training. Specifically, there are roles for Isaac Paredes in their infield and Daz Cameron and Derek Hill in their outfield.
Kansas City Royals: Make a Change at Shortstop
The Royals have been the biggest surprise in the American League so far, as they've racked up a 16-10 record with the help of timely hitting and better-than-advertised pitching. Yet they have a weakness at shortstop, where Nicky Lopez is struggling on both sides of the ball.
The Royals could just stick it out with Lopez until Adalberto Mondesi is ready to return from an oblique injury. A bolder option would be to call on top prospect Bobby Witt Jr., who started pounding on the door to the majors with an impressive showing (i.e., a .289 average and three homers) in spring training.
Minnesota Twins: Test Jorge Alcala in High Leverage
The Twins were supposed to be better than a team that's just 10-16 through 26 games. And they probably are, given that they've measurably suffered from bad luck so far. It nonetheless wouldn't hurt them to make some changes in a bullpen that's too frequently melted down.
To their credit, the Twins have already demoted struggling closer Alex Colome. Their next move should be to see if Jorge Alcala can handle high-leverage situations. Despite his high-90s heat and swing-and-miss slider, he's pitched almost exclusively in low leverage so far.
American League West
Houston Astros: Sign a Reliever
The Twins aren't the only would-be contender with a deficient bullpen. Though Astros relievers have a non-terrible 3.88 ERA as a whole, that has a lot to do with Ryan Pressly and Ryne Stanek. The team's other oft-used relievers have largely struggled.
Because there aren't any immediately apparent in-house solutions to this conundrum, the Astros might look to the free-agent market for help. The pickings there aren't as slim as you'd think, as there are actually two recent All-Stars still looking for work: Shane Greene and Jeremy Jeffress.
Los Angeles Angels: Reintegrate Patrick Sandoval
With Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani at the forefront, the Angels offense has been A-OK so far. Yet it's the same old story as to why wins are still hard to come by. With a 4.96 ERA that ranks 26th in MLB, the club's pitching isn't making the grade.
The odd thing is the Angels aren't devoid of depth. They could recall Jaime Barria or, even better, Patrick Sandoval. The latter has dominated as a multi-inning reliever in the past. Were they to use him in such a role on a regular basis, the Angels might turn Sandoval into a secret weapon.
Oakland Athletics: When He's Able, Give Daulton Jefferies a Shot
Despite their 17-12 record, the Athletics have a significant problem at shortstop. But sans any practical Plan B's, all they can really do is hope Elvis Andrus can heat up after beginning the year with a .160/.206/.191 batting line.
What the A's can do, however, is try to boost a starting rotation that's currently a bit top-heavy. They can specifically call up right-hander Daulton Jefferies, who impressed with a 1.50 ERA in spring training. He'll be out for a while with biceps tendonitis, but he should get a call soon after he's recovered.
Seattle Mariners: Promote Jarred Kelenic
The Mariners have thus far made good on their potential as an underdog contender, but it hasn't really been thanks to their offense. They're hitting just .210/.290/.368 as a team, with too many below-average regulars.
So come on, Mariners. Call up Jarred Kelenic already. He rates as our No. 3 prospect on account of his five-tool ability, and there's a clear spot for him in left field. The sooner they call him up, the better chance he has of becoming the team's second straight AL Rookie of the Year after Kyle Lewis.
Texas Rangers: Let Kolby Allard Start
Even if they've been short of a good team, the Rangers have at least been watchable this year. A lot of that comes down to Nick Solak, Nate Lowe and Adolis Garcia arising as dangerous sluggers.
The Rangers could use a similar injection of hope in a rotation that hasn't gotten much from starters not named Kyle Gibson. Left-hander Kolby Allard might be up to it. After struggling in 2020, he's whiffed 15 batters in 10 innings as a multi-inning reliever this year. Maybe his stuff will play in a starting role, too.
National League East
Atlanta: Unleash Kyle Muller in Relief
There's more than one reason why Atlanta is off to a slow start this year, but one of the bigger ones is the club's bullpen. After carrying the team's pitching staff in 2020, it now has a 4.64 ERA that might even overstate its reliability.
Atlanta could consider testing out some its young arms in relief, up to and especially including left-hander Kyle Muller. He's had control issues in the past, yet he reportedly had his fastball up to triple digits at the alternate site in 2020. A weapon like that could be valuable out of the pen.
Miami Marlins: Add J.J. Bleday's Power ASAP
Even as the Marlins embarked on a surprise playoff run in 2020, their offense was an Achilles heel. So it goes in 2021, wherein they're specifically struggling to hit for power with only 23 home runs and a .357 slugging percentage.
At some point, the Marlins will have to consider calling up top prospect JJ Bleday. The 23-year-old is known for his slugging prowess, and the Marlins got to see it up close in spring training. Perhaps it's not out of the question that he could go right from Double-A Pensacola to the majors.
New York Mets: Try a Different Lineup Configuration
Given how many talented hitters they have, it's likely just a matter of time before the Mets find their footing offensively. But it's been a challenge so far, as they've hit just .241 with a .364 slugging percentage.
It's particularly difficult to ignore the struggles of Francisco Lindor, who's hitting just .171. By no means should the Mets bench him, but they might move him out of the No. 2 spot in favor of a warmer hitter. If nothing else, that would boost the table-setting portion of New York's batting order.
Philadelphia Phillies: Let Spencer Howard Start
After entering the year with a questionable depth chart in center field, it's little wonder that the Phillies have gotten an MLB-low minus-0.8 rWAR at the position so far. But by giving Odubel Herrera his chance, they've already played their emergency card for that situation.
The emphasis now is on a rotation that's gotten a 6.59 ERA out of starters not named Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler or Zach Eflin. In spite of his 6.28 ERA as a major leaguer, the club's best hope—and it indeed knows this—is top prospect Spencer Howard, whose plus fastball is just one of four viable pitches.
Washington Nationals: More Action for Ryan Zimmerman
Even though they're off to a slow start, the Nats have at least one good excuse in that they haven't yet been anywhere close to 100 percent healthy this year. If that changes—which, to be sure, is not a small "if"—they might yet rise up the NL East ranks.
In the meantime, how about some more playing time for Ryan Zimmerman? Whereas fellow first baseman Josh Bell is hitting just .140 through 64 plate appearances, Zimmerman is 15-for-47 with four home runs in 17 games as a spot starter and pinch hitter. The Nats should ride him while he has the hot hand.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Get Brailyn Marquez Involved
Offense was the Cubs' biggest problem in the first couple of weeks of the season but not so much now, as it's generated 6.3 runs per game over the team's last 15 contests. The club's pitching unfortunately hasn't followed suit and now owns a 5.01 ERA.
Though fastball velocity isn't everything, there's a conspicuous lack of it in both Chicago's rotation and bullpen. Once he builds back up his arm strength after sitting out spring training, Brailyn Marquez and his triple-digit heater could be the fix for that particular problem.
Cincinnati Reds: Make a Change at Shortstop
The Reds started strong with six wins in their first seven games, but since then, they've struggled every which way in losing 13 of 20. Their biggest issue is certainly at shortstop, where Eugenio Suarez is mainly responsible for the MLB-low minus-1.1 rWAR that the team has gotten from the position.
Suarez frankly has no business playing shortstop at this stage of his career, and Jonathan India's unspecified injury is just the excuse the Reds need to move Suarez back to third. After that, they could seek a stopgap solution (e.g., Max Schrock) or a trade (e.g., Trevor Story) to shore up shortstop.
Milwaukee Brewers: Send Down Keston Hiura
The Brewers have the lead in the NL Central, but they can't get too comfortable while their offense is in disrepair. It will help when Christian Yelich (back) and Lorenzo Cain (quad) come off the injured list, but the Brewers might also achieve addition by subtraction through demoting Keston Hiura.
He was exciting as a rookie in 2019, but since then he's hit just .196/.284/.372 to find his way to the bench. With the Triple-A Nashville Sounds set to begin their season on May 4, Milwaukee should send Hiura down and give him time to rediscover his stroke and confidence.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Give Oneil Cruz a Peek
Given that they were regarded as perhaps baseball's worst team coming into 2021, the Pirates have beaten expectations with their 12-15 showing so far. And this is in spite of the fact that their offense has produced only 20 home runs and 3.8 runs per game.
At some point, the Pirates will get star third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes back from a wrist injury. On a longer timeline, they might further charge their offense by calling up top prospect Oneil Cruz. If he shows good progress, the powerful 6'7" shortstop might even make the leap directly from Double-A Altoona.
St. Louis Cardinals: Pinch-Hitting Suits Matt Carpenter
With ample help from newcomer star Nolan Arenado and young outfield duo Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carson, the Cardinals offense has improved from an average of 4.1 runs per game in 2020 to 4.7 per game so far in 2021.
The Cardinals also seem to have found the right role for Matt Carpenter, who hit three-run homers in back-to-back pinch-hit appearances on April 29 and 30. He's otherwise done nothing as a starter to keep his overall production on a downward slide, so the Cards would be wise to limit him to one at-bat at a time.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Sign a Reliever
With three teams ahead of them in the NL West, the Diamondbacks are already looking at a long road to October. It won't get any shorter if they fail to do something about a bullpen that doesn't have much in the way of dependable late-inning relievers.
Like the Astros, the D-backs should consider reaching out to Shane Greene or Jeremy Jeffress. Both of them have ample closing experience, which is more than can be said about any of Arizona's current core relievers as long as veteran righty Joakim Soria (calf) is on the injured list.
Colorado Rockies: Give Colton Welker His Shot
The Rockies were a bad offensive club even with Nolan Arenado in 2020, so it's no great surprise to see them among MLB's dregs with an 87 OPS+ this season. This plus their 10-18 record plus general manager Jeff Bridich's ouster only further drive home the reality that the Rockies are in for a long rebuild.
This is as good an excuse as any to get some young players involved, starting with infielder Colton Welker. He was so impressive during spring training—he hit .362 in 28 games—that the Rockies actually considered him for their Opening Day roster. A few weeks later, now's the time to give him a call.
Los Angeles Dodgers: More Sheldon Neuse, Less Gavin Lux
Why have the Dodgers been in something of a funk lately? It mostly comes down to their offense, which had slipped into a slump—i.e., a .604 OPS and 3.3 runs per game over 14 games—before a 16-run outburst against the Brewers on Sunday.
In a vaguely related story, former elite prospect Gavin Lux has hit under the Mendoza line in the 38 games he's played since 2020. The Dodgers might benefit by sending him down to Triple-A and handing second base to Sheldon Neuse, who's made some noise with a pair of home runs in 10 games.
San Diego Padres: Promote MacKenzie Gore
Regarding the Padres pitching staff, the good news is that it leads MLB with a 2.91 ERA. The bad news is that injuries have decimated its depth, as the club's injured list features many more arms than bats.
It's therefore just a matter of time before San Diego calls on MacKenzie Gore. The left-hander had something of a lost year in 2020, yet he still ranks as our No. 6 prospect based on his deep and impressive pitch mix. If not in the rotation, he could at least help the Padres in the bullpen.
San Francisco Giants: Call Back Gregory Santos
As exemplified by the third-best ERA in the majors, the Giants have mainly pitched their way to their 17-11 record. What that obscures, however, is the reality that their bullpen isn't particularly good. In fact, it's the worst in baseball in terms of FanGraphs WAR.
Perhaps Gregory Santos isn't the ultimate solution to this problem, but he should get another look after making three appearances and then promptly getting sent down in late April. With a fastball up to 99 mph and a good-looking slider, he has the weapons of a budding relief ace.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, and current through Sunday's games.