In the week leading up to Opening Day there is always a lot of discussion about how 25-man rosters will shape up. Now that those rosters have been finalized across the league, we can finally see which teams made smart choices.
Here’s a look at the teams that did not.
Rockies carry six outfielders and Pacheco
We’ve been here before. More than a month ago, we discussed how the Colorado Rockies needed to pick three of their four outfield candidates for their center field and outfield bench jobs. But the Rockies disagreed and decided to keep all of them, making them the rare team to carry six outfielders. The decision to not make a decision is befuddling at best, and it is one that has many folks wondering.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the person who is chosen to play center field is apparently going to hit leadoff as well — Charlie Blackmon hit first in the opener — which makes little sense. If you’re not able to separate yourself from your competition, then you shouldn’t be the first player on the team who comes up to bat. In fact, Michael Cuddyer is probably a better candidate for the role, as odd of a candidate as he is.
As a further consequence, they have only one backup infielder, Charlie Culberson. He isn’t that good himself, and while he played second, third and short in the minors, he has yet to play on the left side of the infield in the majors. It’s a bad situation, especially given the fact that the Rockies (a) need all the help they can get at second base and (b) really should spell Troy Tulowitzki once a week in order to keep him fresh. Having only one backup infielder greatly reduces their flexibility in that regard.
And then there is Jordan Pacheco. He was drafted as a second baseman in 2007 and couldn’t handle the position, but the team thought he could catch. They stuck with that plan from 2008 to 2012, when it was determined he couldn’t. But seemingly unaware that there are several backup catchers available in free agency each offseason, the Rockies handed the backup catching job to Pacheco. This is a horrible plan for two reasons.
First, starter Wilin Rosario isn’t the best defender, nor is he the best pitch framer. He is there for his offense. Hence, it would make a lot of sense to have a defensive stalwart as a backup. Pacheco is not that guy. Per Stat Corner, he was even worse per game last season than Rosario. Which would be OK, in theory, if he could hit. But Pacheco can’t do that either. Last season, only eight hitters (minimum 200 PA) posted a worse wRC+ than Pacheco, whose 47 wRC+ means he was effectively 53 percent worse than league average. There really is no excuse for having him on a major league roster.
The Rockies should have stuck with Josh Rutledge in the infield, and demoted Blackmon. Rutledge has had fits and starts, but he projects to hit better than both Culberson and second base starter DJ LeMahieu.
There were plenty of backup catchers with good defensive statistics or reputations who were available this offseason — Henry Blanco, John Baker, Erik Kratz and Chris Snyder — that the Rockies could have landed on the cheap. Instead, they chose to trust Pacheco, despite the weight of statistical evidence that shows he is not a major league caliber player.
Blue Jays’ middle infield
The Toronto Blue Jays made a pretty big bet last season, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Melky Cabrera to supplement a pretty decent core. But this offseason they didn’t do much of anything, and lost Johnson in free agency. Their starting rotation is thin, but their middle infield is even thinner.
Both Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis are utility players at best, which is bad news for a team whose starting shortstop has already had a flareup of his old hamstring troubles and was put on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday. If Toronto is serious about contending this season, it’s kind of a head-scratcher that the Jays haven’t made a serious play for Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius, or even Stephen Drew (their first two draft picks are protected this June).
A few years ago, Alex Anthopoulos was hailed as one of the best general managers in the game, but you look around now, and productive players such as Yan Gomes, Henderson Alvarez and Danny Farquhar are on other teams, and prospects such as Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard are ready to help redefine the Mets, and you wonder.
San Diego’s backstop backlog
The San Diego Padres have a promising young catcher in Yasmani Grandal. He is projected to be an above-average hitter, and has posted above-average numbers in his very short time in the majors. But rather than trust him with the job, or at least a job share, the Padres have chosen to carry three catchers — Grandal, Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera.
This is mostly about loyalty to Hundley, who stepped up and played admirably during Grandal’s PED suspension last season. On the other hand, his 408 plate appearances last season was a career high, and it came in his age-29 season. He is not projected to excel in any one area of the game, while Rivera excels defensively and Grandal is pegged to excel offensively.
Hundley is a nice guy to have around if you don’t have any better options, but the Padres do, and they should jettison Hundley for whatever they can get for him. It’s simply very difficult for a team to rationally carry three true catchers.
Another problem became evident in the team’s first game. Yonder Alonso can’t hit lefties. This is borne out not only by the fact that he has hit poorly against them when given the opportunity (.241/.303/.344, 85 wRC+), but by the fact that the Padres have tried to platoon him with a righty-swinging first baseman, even as recently as last year.
On Sunday night, they could have used a lefty-masher like Kyle Blanks. Alonso came to bat in the bottom of the first with the bases loaded and one out, and had the chance to put the Padres up early. But he was immediately confounded by the left-handed throwing Hyun-Jin Ryu, and grounded into a 1-2-3 inning-ending double play. The Padres would go on to win anyway, but they could have made things a lot easier on themselves by choosing to carry — and play — Blanks (who hit .282/.373/.456 against lefties last season) instead of a third catcher.
Other bad choices
• The Marlins resurrected Casey McGehee‘s career, pumping him into a lineup Monday for the first time since 2012. Perhaps they shouldn’t have given away Matt Dominguez for basically nothing a couple of years ago.
• The Pirates had all winter to improve on their first base combo of Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez, and chose to do nothing — a curious choice for a team that is (a) trying to pick up every win it can and (b) has no premium first base prospect. Andrew Lambo is nominally a prospect, but a 25-year-old first baseman who can’t crack that lineup is in no way, shape or form a premium prospect.
• Finally, the Angels spent the winter watching their division neighbors to the north, the A’s, stock up on sturdy and productive relief pitchers. Meanwhile, they did little to improve their situation, and entered the season with underachievers such as 28-year-old Michael Kohn (5.11 FIP in 101 major league appearances) and 27-year-old Matt Shoemaker (only five major league innings pitched, and a starter in the minors) filling out their bullpen.
That might be OK if they were fronted by some excellent relievers, but Ernesto Frieri and Joe Smith don’t clear the high bar needed to be considered elite. The bullpen may prove to be Anaheim’s Achilles’ heel if general manager Jerry Dipoto doesn’t upgrade it soon.
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