The American League’s Weakest Positions

The most prevalent questions in our weekly chats this time of year are “What areas should [insert favorite team here] be looking to address this offseason?” and “Who should they target to fix them?” People really like to predict the offseason, which is an impossible thing to predict.

We can’t anticipate trades or say with any confidence where free agents will land, but we can figure out who needs a boost the most. Using our team depth charts, powered by the 2016 Steamer projections, we can pretty quickly calculate current league WAR averages and z-scores for each team by position to get a sense of which positions need the most help. So, before free agency really gets underway, let’s do just that. The American League version is what you’re reading now, and the National League edition will follow this one, tomorrow.

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Honorable mentions: Orioles LF, Royals RF, Orioles RF, Angels rotation, Orioles 1B, Red Sox bullpen, White Sox SS, White Sox 2B, Tigers rotation, Mariners catcher.

#10 Angels – LF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Collin Cowgill 350 .239 .297 .348 .285 -7.0 0.5 2.2 0.4
Todd Cunningham 315 .251 .301 .339 .282 -7.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Efren Navarro 35 .252 .309 .339 .285 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .245 .300 .344 .284 -14.7 0.5 2.3 0.4

And to think, it was just a couple months ago when the Angels had enough left fielders for the entire American League West. Matt Joyce, Shane Victorino, David Murphy and David DeJesus are all free agents now, though, and the Angels are left with a gaping hole that will clearly be filled before the offseason is over.

Cowgill’s elite outfield defense makes him a fine fourth, but the bat isn’t close to starter material. Cunningham and Navarro are both Quad-A players who shouldn’t be receiving too many plate appearances on a contending ballclub. Whoever the Angels acquire will knock Cunningham mostly off this depth chart.

The solution: The left field market is ripe for teams that aren’t afraid to spend big, with Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton all potential big-ticket solutions for Los Angeles’ problem. If they want to get creative on the trade market, maybe they can work out a deal for Carlos Gonzalez. If the Angels don’t want to make another massive financial commitment alongside the $20+ million they’ll pay each of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver this season, Gerardo Parra and Colby Rasmus exist as lower-risk alternatives.

#9 Rays – C


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Curt Casali 320 .219 .293 .361 .289 -6.0 0.0 0.3 1.2
Rene Rivera 256 .218 .265 .337 .263 -10.0 -0.6 1.5 0.5
Luke Maile 32 .219 .276 .311 .261 -1.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Justin O’Conner 19 .213 .243 .332 .250 -1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
J.P. Arencibia 13 .202 .239 .369 .263 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .218 .279 .348 .276 -18.8 -0.6 1.7 1.7

Tampa Bay acquired Rivera last year coming off a breakout age-30 season in San Diego where his elite receiving skills were complemented by an above league-average bat. With Tampa, Rivera’s receiving again graded among the league’s best, but he was the worst hitter in baseball, relegating him to backup duty for Casali. Casali OPS’d .900 in 100 at-bats down the stretch, but he doesn’t have the offensive track record to back up anything near that kind of production.

The solution: Probably isn’t one! Both catchers are above-average defensively, and Casali’s hot bat down the stretch last year is likely enough to earn him the Opening Day nod. Rivera’s elite receiving makes him a fine backup, and the bat can’t be as bad as it was last year. The Rays are never spenders in free agency, so this position likely won’t be addressed there, though it’s possible that a trade of James Loney, Brad Boxberger or Jake McGee could help them upgrade.

#8 Angels – RP


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Huston Street 65.0 7.7 2.8 1.1 .295 74.2 % 3.78 4.05 0.1
Joe Smith 65.0 7.7 2.7 0.7 .304 73.6 % 3.34 3.50 0.7
Trevor Gott 55.0 7.2 3.6 0.8 .304 71.5 % 3.96 4.03 0.1
Fernando Salas 55.0 8.7 2.3 1.0 .297 75.3 % 3.34 3.52 0.4
Cesar Ramos 45.0 7.4 3.1 0.9 .301 72.5 % 3.78 3.91 0.1
Mike Morin 40.0 8.8 2.8 0.9 .297 75.2 % 3.25 3.49 0.2
Jose Alvarez 35.0 7.7 2.8 0.8 .301 73.2 % 3.53 3.70 0.0
Cam Bedrosian 30.0 9.7 4.0 0.8 .301 73.8 % 3.49 3.54 0.1
Cory Rasmus 25.0 9.4 3.4 0.9 .295 76.3 % 3.28 3.58 0.0
Danny Reynolds 20.0 7.8 4.0 0.9 .299 71.9 % 4.07 4.20 0.0
The Others 60.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.74 4.50 -0.1
Total 495.0 8.1 3.2 0.9 .303 73.1 % 3.72 3.84 1.4

The projected WAR of the Angels bullpen takes a bit of an unfair hit due to Street’s FIP-beating ways, but the fact is that the Angels bullpen was a bottom-10 unit by ERA last year and simply middle of the road according to FIP. Street returned to earth after his incredible 2014, allowing his highest ERA in four years and ending the season with a strained groin suffered in September.

Gott could serve as insurance if Street struggles or healthy, but he needs his minor league strikeout numbers to join him in the majors. Smith is as solid of an eighth-inning guy as there is, but his sidearm delivery and heavy platoon splits prevent him from ever being more than a situational righty.

The solution: The Angels have other problem areas that seem likely to be addressed through free agency, so any impact reliever the team adds is more likely to come via trade. If they simply want to add a seventh- or eighth-inning guy, Mark Lowe and Ryan Madson are the best bets who could come without the closer price tag.

#7 White Sox – 3B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Mike Olt 315 .212 .284 .396 .297 -5.8 -0.1 -2.4 0.3
Tyler Saladino 280 .243 .301 .360 .291 -6.4 0.4 -1.2 0.3
Matt Davidson 105 .205 .276 .371 .283 -3.1 0.0 0.5 0.1
Total 700 .223 .290 .378 .292 -15.2 0.3 -3.1 0.8

The White Sox third base black hole is just one of several in the White Sox infield, though without a legitimate prospect on the way, it’s also the most bleak. Olt has done everything in his power to sully his former prospect status, and Saladino never was one to begin with. One of these guys could serve as a backup, but neither should be an Opening Day starter.

The solution: Third base is an exceptionally weak position this season, with David Freese and Daniel Murphy the only real everyday options that exist. If Chicago whiffs on those guys, Juan Uribe could represent a short, low-risk option while the team retools.

#6 Indians – DH


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Chris Johnson 350 .254 .290 .369 .287 -8.4 -0.9 0.0 -0.7
Carlos Santana 175 .239 .363 .419 .342 3.5 -0.4 0.0 0.5
Jerry Sands 98 .234 .305 .397 .307 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
Zach Walters 77 .240 .282 .428 .303 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .246 .310 .391 .305 -6.4 -1.3 0.0 -0.2

This projection is probably a bit skewed against the Indians, as Johnson’s projections include him facing right-handed pitchers which will happen rarely, if ever, in Terry Francona’s platoon-heavy lineups, but the point remains that the Indians simply need to add a bat, one way or another, in the offseason. Despite Johnson’s offensive collapse of the last two seasons, he can still mash lefties (148 wRC+), which is what made Ryan Raburn expendable. Still, the Indians need to find someone to pair with Johnson as the second member of the DH/1B timeshare with Santana.

The solution: The Indians don’t have much money to spend in free agency, and it’s more likely the ~$15 million they do have to spend goes toward someone to handle center field, or even left field in the wake of the Michael Brantley injury news. A low-level trade, like last year’s for Brandon Moss, could make sense here for Cleveland.

#5 Angels – 3B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Kyle Kubitza 350 .227 .299 .340 .283 -7.7 -0.2 0.3 0.6
Kaleb Cowart 210 .221 .280 .322 .266 -7.4 -0.1 0.9 0.1
Taylor Featherston 105 .224 .268 .335 .264 -3.8 0.1 0.2 0.0
Grant Green 35 .256 .292 .364 .285 -0.7 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Total 700 .226 .288 .335 .275 -19.6 -0.1 1.1 0.7

The team that needs to put a contender around Mike Trout sure has a lot of work to do. As if left field and the bullpen weren’t problems enough, the Angels have an even bigger hole at third base, where a pair of fringy rookies are currently the only options the team has. Kubitza has more prospect status and could potentially serve as a stopgap option without killing the club, but they’re certainly looking to do better.

The solution: David Freese just walked, so he’s not coming back to plug the gap. The only other real option is Daniel Murphy, who makes a ton of sense for Los Angeles as they’re also weak at second base. Murphy, trade, or bust.

#4 Royals – 2B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Omar Infante 385 .253 .284 .352 .277 -13.0 0.1 0.2 0.1
Christian Colon 210 .264 .316 .352 .295 -4.0 -0.1 -0.2 0.3
Orlando Calixte 84 .227 .271 .335 .265 -3.6 0.0 0.8 0.0
Raul Mondesi Jr. 21 .222 .282 .343 .275 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .252 .292 .350 .281 -21.4 0.0 0.7 0.5

If Kansas City can’t bring back Ben Zobrist, the champs could have a pretty big problem on their hands, and it’s not the fact that Alex Gordon might be leaving them, too. Omar Infante was among the worst position players in baseball last season and is still owed nearly $16 million over the next two years. Christian Colon is likely the better alternative, but Infante isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The solution: They really need Zobrist back. With their financial commitment to Infante, it seems unlikely that they’d bring on a second base-only guy like Howie Kendrick if they were to whiff on Zobrist.

#3 White Sox – C


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Tyler Flowers 448 .222 .278 .367 .283 -13.2 -1.2 -1.2 0.8
Rob Brantly 160 .242 .284 .361 .282 -4.9 -0.1 -0.4 0.3
Kevan Smith 32 .237 .295 .360 .287 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .228 .280 .365 .283 -18.9 -1.3 -1.6 1.3

This unit isn’t actually as bad as the projections suggest, because the projections don’t know about Flowers’ receiving abilities. Nevertheless, they do know about his hitting abilities, and the reviews aren’t great. Flowers is a fine guy to have on a major league roster, just maybe not as the everyday option, especially when Brantly is the backup.

The solution: The catcher market is pretty thin this year, and the White Sox seem unlikely to make a serious financial commitment to Matt Wieters with all of the other holes they need to address, so a bat like Dioner Navarro or Alex Avila seems to make sense here to pair with the righty Flowers.

#2 Orioles – DH


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Jimmy Paredes 420 .253 .289 .378 .289 -10.7 0.6 0.0 -0.7
Steve Clevenger 140 .269 .325 .385 .309 -1.4 -0.3 0.0 -0.1
Junior Lake 105 .245 .298 .377 .296 -2.1 0.1 0.0 -0.1
Christian Walker 35 .254 .311 .426 .319 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .255 .299 .382 .296 -14.3 0.3 0.0 -0.9

Like with the Indians’ situation, this has more to do with the Orioles just needing to add a bat (or three) than it does specifically needing to target someone to plug in at DH. With Chris Davis, Gerardo Parra, Matt Wieters and Steve Pearce all (likely) departing via free agency, the current Baltimore roster is seriously lacking thump with little help on the way from the minors.

The solution: The Orioles have been linked to most of the big-ticket bats like Cespedes, Upton and Gordon, as well as some of the mid-market options such as Rasmus, but I’m skeptical whether they’re realistic contenders to make a push for any of the top-tier guys, as they just have too many holes to fill to put all their eggs in one basket. Cheaper alternatives or trades for younger talent seem like the route that makes the most sense.

#1 Tigers – RP


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Alex Wilson 65.0 6.3 2.8 1.1 .303 72.1 % 4.11 4.31 0.0
Bruce Rondon 65.0 9.6 3.9 0.8 .303 73.3 % 3.62 3.61 0.7
Blaine Hardy 55.0 7.6 3.3 0.9 .299 73.5 % 3.75 3.99 0.2
Al Alburquerque 55.0 8.7 4.0 0.9 .303 71.9 % 3.93 3.89 0.2
Drew VerHagen 45.0 6.0 3.0 0.9 .306 71.1 % 4.08 4.22 0.0
Shane Greene 40.0 6.3 2.6 1.1 .304 71.1 % 4.20 4.32 0.0
Ian Krol 35.0 8.4 3.8 1.0 .301 73.6 % 3.84 4.02 0.0
Kyle Ryan 30.0 5.2 2.7 1.1 .304 69.9 % 4.46 4.52 -0.1
Neftali Feliz 25.0 7.2 3.3 1.2 .296 74.2 % 3.99 4.40 0.0
Angel Nesbitt 20.0 6.7 3.8 1.1 .302 70.8 % 4.46 4.56 0.0
Jose Valdez 15.0 7.3 4.8 1.1 .300 71.3 % 4.65 4.77 0.0
Jeff Ferrell 10.0 6.6 2.6 1.1 .301 72.2 % 4.11 4.30 0.0
Guido Knudson 10.0 7.5 3.8 1.1 .301 72.0 % 4.27 4.39 0.0
The Others 32.0 8.2 4.0 1.2 .322 69.5 % 4.74 4.50 0.0
Total 502.0 7.4 3.4 1.0 .304 72.0 % 4.06 4.16 0.9

This should come as little surprise. For what seems like the 100th season in a row, despite typically having a strong roster, the Tigers need serious bullpen help. Detroit’s bullpen was a bottom-five unit in both ERA- and FIP- last season, with no reason for optimism given the current construction. Wilson, Hardy and Alburquerque are serviceable mid-bullpen guys, and maybe Rondon is able to harness his 100-mph fastball one day, but the Tigers are lacking any viable option for the ninth, or even eighth, innings.

The solution: Already the Tigers have been linked to a Joakim Soria reunion, but they’ll obviously need more than that considering they started last season with Soria, too. Darren O’Day is the most prized commodity on this year’s free agent reliever market, though he’s not a traditional closer due to his sidearm slot that leads to unbalanced platoon splits. Expect a lot of action to shake things up here, including both a signing and a trade or two.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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dtpollitt
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Member
dtpollitt

I don’t really want to trade him, but Schwarber would slot in to many of these team’s needs and immediately provide an offensive boost.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

To be fair, Schwarber is the kind of bat that can fit into literally any team’s needs and provide a boost.

Howie Porker
Guest
Howie Porker

Schwarber is also the leading candidate to make the worst defensive play of 2016. I’m predicting Jose Canseco off the top of the head home run, except off the face instead. This guy is an absolute butcher- chop up the meat and mail cold cuts to your boss’ wife.

E L
Member
E L

He had one bad defensive game in the playoffs. His UZR/150 in the OF was -2.0: nowhere near Adam Dunn territory.