How AL teams have addressed their weakest positions of 2021


We covered the NL list on Sunday, and now let’s look at what the American League’s 15 teams have thus far done to upgrade their weakest positions (as gauged by the bWAR metric) of the 2021 season…

Angels (Shortstop, -1.0 bWAR): No team in baseball had a lower non-pitching bWAR than the Angels’ 7.1 number in 2021.  Beyond Jose Iglesias’ woes at shortstop, Los Angeles also received sub-replacement production in left field (-0.7), right field (-0.2) and third base (-0.1).  Considering Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon spent much of last season on the injured list, their returns should instantly shore things up, and top prospects Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh are also expected to play bigger roles in the outfield mix.  This leaves shortstop as the biggest problem area, and while Tyler Wade was acquired from the Yankees, Wade might be better suited for a utility role — the Angels also continued to have interest in Chris Taylor after Wade was acquired, and before Taylor re-signed with the Dodgers.  With the Halos continuing to focus on pitching, it remains to be seen if they’re also willing to make a big investment in the shortstop position.

Astros (Catcher, 0.6 bWAR): Houston isn’t likely to tinker with the defensively sound Martin Maldonado/Jason Castro tandem, yet more will be expected at the plate, particularly from Maldonado.  While never even a league-average hitter during his career, Maldonado particularly struggled last year, batting only .171/.272/.300 over 426 plate appearances.

Athletics (Designated hitter, 0.5 bWAR): Between league-average offense from Jed Lowrie and subpar production from Mitch Moreland and Khris Davis, the DH spot was a weak link in Oakland’s lineup.  All three players are free agents and might not return, and this may just be part of the forthcoming roster overhaul as the A’s are reportedly looking to cut payroll.  In this regard, the DH spot may be on the back-burner to some extent, as the A’s might just use in-house options or a low-cost veteran or two to rotate at-bats in the position.  The DH barely edged out shortstop (0.6 bWAR) as the Athletics’ weakest position of 2021, but Elvis Andrus is currently expected to return at shortstop, given the difficulties involved in trading him.

Blue Jays (Third base and center field, 1.5 bWAR each): A healthy season from George Springer should take care of the center field spot, leaving the Jays to deal with third base and the second-base vacancy that now exists due to Marcus Semien’s departure.  The consensus feeling is that Toronto will deploy a Cavan Biggio/Santiago Espinal platoon at one of the two infield spots and find another everyday player for the other, and the Jays are open to thinking big, as they were reportedly interested in Corey Seager before Seager signed with the Rangers.

Guardians (Catcher, -0.3 bWAR): Cleveland chose to decline its $7M club option on Roberto Perez, leaving the Guardians with a tandem of Austin Hedges (who was tendered a contract and is projected for a $3.8M salary) and minor league signing Sandy Leon.  While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, the Guardians have traditionally prioritized defense and game-calling ahead of offensive production from their catchers, so it’s possible they might only add another veteran on a minors deal to provide Leon some competition.

Mariners (Center field, -1.0 bWAR): The M’s only got 1.6 total bWAR from their outfield, the second-lowest total of any team.  Left field produced only 0.2 bWAR, while right field was a much more respectable 2.4 bWAR (thanks in large part to Mitch Haniger).  With Kyle Lewis hopefully healthy, Jarred Kelenic hopefully adjusted to big league pitching after a tough rookie season and uber-prospect Julio Rodriguez hopefully ready for his MLB debut in 2022, Seattle’s outfield issues may resolve themselves.  However, since that’s a lot of “hopefully” for a team intent on ending its playoff drought, the Mariners have been linked to such major outfield free-agent targets as Kris Bryant and Seiya Suzuki.

Orioles (Second base, -2.0 bWAR): With the bullpen delivering -1.5 bWAR and third base -0.9 bWAR, it took some doing for the Orioles’ second base revolving door to take the backhanded top prize as the least-productive position on a 110-loss team.  Rougned Odor was signed to be at least a placeholder at the position, but if the former Ranger does enjoy any first-half success, the O’s could certainly flip him at the trade deadline.  Recent international signing Cesar Prieto is an intriguing wild card for the second base job later in the season, if Prieto is able to make a quick transition from Cuban baseball to affiliated ball.

Rangers (Left field, -0.7 bWAR): For all the money they’ve spent this winter, the Rangers haven’t directly addressed the left field spot, but  the signing of Kole Calhoun (likely slated for regular right field duty) should improve the outfield mix as a whole.  Texas is another team known to be in the Seiya Suzuki race, and given how aggressive the Rangers have already been, pursuits of Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant or other major bats or trade targets can’t be ruled out.  2021 All-Star Adolis Garcia could be an option in left field if the Rangers don’t use him in center, and beyond Garcia, the Rangers’ internal left field options include Nick Solak, Willie Calhoun and Eli White.  Beyond the left field spot, Texas has already signed Jon Gray, but pitching stands out as another major need on the to-do list — Rangers starters combined for a -0.1 bWAR in 2021, while the bullpen was an even 0.0.

Rays (First base, 1.6 bWAR): As deep and versatile as the Rays were in 2021, it isn’t surprising that they had the highest bWAR of any of the “worst” positions on this list.  The Yandy Diaz/Ji-Man Choi platoon was unspectacular but solid, but it is interesting that Tampa Bay has already traded away other infield depth options (Joey Wendle, Jordan Luplow, Mike Brosseau) in respective deals with the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Brewers.  This could be a hint at a forthcoming move, or perhaps the Rays were just shuffling the deck as always with their roster depth.  For instance, Brandon Lowe could be used at first base more often now that Vidal Brujan and Taylor Walls are ready for bigger roles on the MLB roster.

Red Sox (First base, 0.1 bWAR): If Bobby Dalbec’s second-half surge truly represents a breakout, then the Sox may already have their answer at first base.  Nonetheless, it stands to reason that the Red Sox will add depth in the form of a (probably left-handed hitting) multi-position player, as that player could then contribute elsewhere on the diamond once top prospect Triston Casas makes his expected MLB debut at some point in 2022.  There have also been some whispers that the Red Sox might have a bold move up their sleeves, so we can’t rule the possibility that Boston could acquire someone like Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson, or maybe land a third baseman and shift Rafael Devers over to first base.

Royals (Right field, -1.2 bWAR): Kansas City didn’t get much from right field or the corner infield spots, as third base (-1.0 bwAR) and first base (-0.7 bWAR) were also sub-replacement level positions.  Hunter Dozier is a key figure in this equation, as he dragged down all three positions with his rough showing in 2021.  Carlos Santana also contributed to the first base woes with the worst season of his career, but the veteran slugger believes he can rebound now that he is past the leg injuries that hampered him last year.  The Royals have help on the way in star prospects Bobby Witt Jr. and Nick Pratto, and with Pratto a defensive standout at first base, Santana might find himself relegated to DH or part-time duty unless he can recapture his old form.  Witt is primarily a shortstop, but he has played some third base, giving the Royals some flexibility in handling third base and right field depending where any of Witt, Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez or Whit Merrifield are lined up on a regular basis.  It’s possible K.C. might pick up a relatively inexpensive veteran bat to lessen the pressure on the young kids, but the Royals aren’t likely to make a big position-player investment until they see what they really have in Witt, Pratto,and Kyle Isbel.

Tigers (Shortstop, -0.5 bWAR): It was widely expected that the Tigers would make a play for one of the big shortstops in the free-agent market, and that box was checked when Javier Baez was signed to a six-year, $140M deal.  With star prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene on the cusp of the majors, their arrivals should boost some other weak positions in Detroit’s lineup.  Tigers second basemen accounted for -0.2 bWAR, but with Torkelson playing first base, Jonathan Schoop can move over to the keystone.  Likewise, Greene is expected to play center field, which allows for a cleaner fit of Akil Baddoo as a left fielder, which will help the Tigers’ collective 0.3 bWAR in left last year.  Of note — Detroit had the lowest designated hitter bWAR (0.1) of any American League team, as even seven NL teams got a little more from their DH position in interleague competition than the Tigers did over 81 home games.  It makes for a bit of a conundrum with Miguel Cabrera, as his knees won’t allow him to take regular duty at first base, yet Cabrera hit decidedly better as a first baseman than as a DH last season.

Twins (Starting pitching, -1.4 bWAR):
Dylan Bundy was signed to a one-year/$5M contract, but given Bundy’s own struggles in 2021, Minnesota still has a lot of work to do in rebuilding its rotation.  A big splash can’t be ruled out, considering the Twins did express some interest in Robbie Ray prior to Ray signing with the Mariners, but it doesn’t seem likely that the Twins will make a major long-term commitment to more than one new pitcher.  Beyond that hypothetical addition, any other new arms will likely take the form of shorter-term acquisitions (such as trade targets with one or two remaining years of control) or rebound-candidate free agents like Bundy.

White Sox (Right field, 0.6 bWAR): While second base is seen as Chicago’s biggest problem area, the Sox at least got 0.9 bWAR out of the keystone last year.  Then again, between Adam Engel, Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, the White Sox have a lot more options to at least make do in right field, whereas the depth chart at second base is the re-signed Leury Garcia and not much else.  A free agent like Josh Harrison or Jed Lowrie could at least be a stopgap, but with not much second base help remaining on the open market, the White Sox certainly seem like a team that would be looking to swing a notable trade.

Yankees (Left field, -0.1 bWAR): Powered largely by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees combined for 7.4 bWAR from the right field and DH positions in the 2021.  The other seven non-pitching positions combined?  Only 5.4 fWAR, with left field standing out as the one sub-replacement total of the group.  New York hasn’t done much in general this winter, but in regard to the outfield, they parted ways with Clint Frazier and added Ender Inciarte as minor league depth.  Many of the Yankees’ outfield questions circle around Aaron Hicks’ health or whether or not Joey Gallo hits better over a full season in the Bronx, and another return for Brett Gardner can never be ruled out.  However, the outfield certainly stands out as a spot for the Yankees to make a splashy addition, if they’re willing to move beyond their recent modest (at least by Yankees standards) spending output.





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