We took a look this morning at what National League teams have done to improve their weakest position (as per bWAR) from the past season, and now let’s turn our attention to the 15 American League clubs….
Angels (Third base, -0.1 bWAR): Unfortunately for the Halos, this was a close competition to decide their least-productive position, as they received an even 0.0 bWAR from first base and only 0.1 bWAR from their right fielders. L.A. will be counting on a healthy season from Zack Cozart to upgrade the hot corner, though if the Angels were able to land Josh Harrison, Cozart could be shifted to second base while Harrison plays third, with sophomore infielder David Fletcher backing up both positions. In right field, the Angels are hoping Kole Calhoun can bounce back from a rough season, though there has been some speculation that the team could try to unload Calhoun to free up some payroll space. Justin Bour was signed to play first base in at least a timeshare with Albert Pujols, though given how Pujols has struggled in recent years, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the future Hall-of-Famer supplanted by Bour and DH Shohei Ohtani (once Ohtani returns from Tommy John surgery) entirely.
Astros (Left field, 1.3 bWAR): Michael Brantley is coming to Houston after signing a two-year, $32MM deal, giving the Astros perhaps an overload of left-handed outfielders, though Brantley should provide some solid pop in the lineup. The Astros’ second-weakest area was their 1.4 bWAR from their designated hitters, though Brantley is likely to help in that regard as well, as his injury history will probably mean that he gets the occasional partial-rest day as the DH. Houston has continued to be linked to such first base/DH options as Edwin Encarnacion or the Cardinals’ Jose Martinez, so the DH spot could still receive some more attention.
Athletics (Catcher, -0.5 bWAR): Even after signing Chris Herrmann to pair with Josh Phegley, Oakland continues to be on the lookout for a more stable everyday backstop. A reunion with Jonathan Lucroy won’t be happening now that Lucroy has signed with the Angels. Assuming Yasmani Grandal is too expensive for the A’s, there isn’t much in the way of a clear upgrade from a hitting perspective left on the free agent catching market, though Martin Maldonado provides a nice defensive boost. I’d guess that a trade is more likely if the A’s are to land another regular catcher.
Blue Jays (Left field, 0.2 bWAR): Teoscar Hernandez saw the bulk of the left field playing time last season, hitting .239/.302/.468 for a 107 wRC+ over 523 PA, but also looking completely out of his element defensively. While the rebuilding Jays are likely to give Hernandez another shot to prove he can handle the position, he won’t have a very long leash, as Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford, and Dwight Smith Jr. are all on hand to soak up playing time and perhaps relegate Hernandez to future DH duty. Toronto also received only 0.4 bWAR at both second base and third base last season, though the team hopes that uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will soon provide a major splash at the hot corner. Brandon Drury will handle third base until Guerrero arrives, and then slide over to second base in a timeshare or perhaps an everyday role if Devon Travis doesn’t improve on a rough 2018 campaign.
Indians (Right field, 0.5 bWAR): Cleveland has spent much of its offseason focus on cutting payroll and overhauling its first base/DH situation, leaving a lot of work still to be done on the Tribe’s biggest weakness, its shaky outfield. Brantley, Rajai Davis, and Lonnie Chisenhall have all signed elsewhere, while Cleveland’s only additions have been Jordan Luplow, minor league signings Trayce Thompson and Brandon Barnes, and first baseman Jake Bauers, who could see a bit of time as a corner outfielder. The Indians have looked to add young outfielders in trade talks about their starting pitching, with names like the Dodgers’ Alex Verdugo or the Reds’ Nick Senzel or Taylor Trammell popping up on the Tribe’s radar, though it remains to be seen if Cleveland still feels the financial need to move Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
Mariners (First base, 0.1 bWAR): Technically, Seattle has added Edwin Encarnacion to handle first, though the M’s are widely expected to flip Encarnacion elsewhere as part of their stunning roster overhaul. With the Mariners firmly in rebuild mode for at least 2019, they might choose to just rely on internal options for first base, like giving another shot to Ryon Healy and/or Dan Vogelbach. Jay Bruce is also on hand to play some first base, if he isn’t also traded before Opening Day.
Orioles (First base, -2.5 bWAR): Baltimore already cleaned house on many of its veterans at the last trade deadline, though Chris Davis (and the $92MM remaining on his contract) is all but immovable in the wake of Davis’ horrific 2018 season. There’s nothing the O’s can really do here except hope that Davis can regain some of his old form. If the O’s are able to trade Mark Trumbo in the last year of his contract, you could see Trey Mancini gets moved to first base and Davis shifted into DH duty, as the rebuilding Orioles obviously want to prioritize Mancini’s development and may want to get him to a more defensively-friendly position than left field.
Rangers (Center field, 0.2 bWAR): Roster Resource currently has Joey Gallo slated as the Texas center fielder, as a nod to the Rangers’ acquisition of Patrick Wisdom for third base and the team’s glut of left-handed hitting first base/DH/corner outfield options. While Gallo’s versatility is a nice weapon for the Rangers to utilize, and he has acquitted himself well defensively over 100 career innings in center field, nobody sees him as a regular answer at the position. Delino DeShields has the glove and the baserunning for center, though his hitting cratered last season and he had trouble staying healthy last year. The Rangers could add a low-cost veteran outfielder into the mix, simply because Gallo and DeShields are both imperfect enough fits to work as a proper timeshare, though Texas might first have to deal another first baseman/corner outfielder to find another everyday spot for Gallo’s bat.
Rays (First base, 1.4 bWAR): Just when you thought Jake Bauers was the first baseman of the future, the Rays dealt him to the Cleveland as part of a three-team swap that saw Yandy Diaz come back to Tampa Bay. Diaz’s positional versatility makes him a better fit with the Rays’ desire to mix and match around the diamond, which leaves Ji-Man Choi as the top choice at either first base or DH, with Diaz, Matt Duffy, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe, or perhaps prospect Nathaniel Lowe all rotating through the other position as matchups dictate. There continue to be whispers that the Rays could acquire a more potent bat for its first base/DH mix, however, so stay tune. Right field (1.6 bWAR) and catcher (1.7 bWAR) were also relative weak spots for Tampa, though the team hopes that Austin Meadows can step into regular outfield duty now that Mallex Smith has been dealt, and Mike Zunino was acquired in the Smith trade to address the Rays’ longstanding need behind the plate.
Red Sox (Catcher, -1.4 bWAR): Boston is reportedly still getting some calls about its catchers, even though the trio of Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Blake Swihart provided sub-replacement level production for the team in its World Series season. Vazquez and Leon can at least hang their hats on good defense and game-calling ability, while Swihart isn’t too far removed from being a top prospect, even if his ultimate future might not be behind the plate. The Red Sox seem satisfied with their mix at least from a defensive standpoint, though I’m surprised that the Sox have rarely been mentioned as candidates to acquire a new catcher, whether it’s a big name like J.T. Realmuto or even just a regular who can provide at least average production. It’s worth noting that Boston also received negative bWAR totals at third base (-0.4) and second base (-0.2). The Sox will count on improvement from Rafael Devers for the former, and will be hoping that Dustin Pedroia can return healthy next season, with Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez on hand as infield backups.
Royals (Relief pitching, -3.0 bWAR): The old “Law Firm” bullpen of the 2015 World Series run was a distant memory for the 2018 Royals, who endured some brutal relief pitching among the team’s many struggles last season. The Royals haven’t done anything to really address their pen thus far, and in fact have added more inexperience in the form of Rule 5 Draft pickups Chris Ellis and Sam McWilliams. Expect K.C. to pursue the usual rebuilding-team strategy of signing a couple of inexpensive veteran arms, who can ideally help stabilize the pen in the first few months of the season and then be flipped at the trade deadline.
Tigers (DH, -0.9 bWAR): Now that Victor Martinez has retired, the Tigers can get a bit more flexibility from their DH spot by giving Miguel Cabrera some regular rest days away from first base, or the team could give some rest to defensively-challenged bats like Christin Stewart or Nick Castellanos (assuming Castellanos isn’t traded, of course). Detroit also received just -0.5 bWAR at catcher last season, and has since parted ways with longtime backstop James McCann. Greyson Greiner and John Hicks now comprise the catching corps, and while veteran Bobby Wilson was signed for depth, the Tigers are likely to add at least one more experienced backstop going into Spring Training. Interestingly, the Tigers asked the Dodgers about catching prospect Keibert Ruiz as part of trade talks involving Castellanos, though L.A. balked at the request.
Twins (First base, 0.8 bWAR): C.J. Cron’s 30-homer career year with the Rays last season earned him nothing more than a trip to DFA limbo, leading Minnesota to claim the veteran to step in as Joe Mauer’s replacement. Cron doesn’t bring much to the table apart from decent hitting numbers, though even duplicating his 2.0 bWAR 2018 season would be a solid upgrade for the Twins, especially at his arbitration-avoiding $4.8MM salary.
White Sox (Left field, -0.5 bWAR): Chicago was regarded as something of a sleeping giant this offseason, though their most notable acquisitions (Yonder Alonso, Alex Colome and Ivan Nova) have been more of the modest variety than any true game-changers. It could be that they’re waiting to see how things stand as one of three apparent finalists for Manny Machado, though the Sox are reportedly wary of spending the kind of gigantic money it will take to land Machado or Bryce Harper. The White Sox were linked to Brantley before he signed with Houston, and they have at least some level of interest in Harper, indicating that the team is taking steps to remake its poor outfield production. Chicago outfielders combined for just a cumulative -0.3 bWAR last season, the second-lowest total of any outfield in baseball. Avisail Garcia has already been non-tendered, leaving the Sox with a current combination of Nicky Delmonico, Adam Engel, Daniel Palka, and Leury Garcia that is still begging for an upgrade. There haven’t yet been any reports connecting the White Sox to A.J. Pollock, the top non-Harper outfielder in free agency, though Pollock makes sense for Chicago on paper.
Yankees (First base, 0.6 bWAR): Late-season folk hero Luke Voit and former top prospect Greg Bird are slated for first base duty next season, though it seems like everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop with Machado. If Machado does end up in New York, it could lead to Miguel Andujar being traded, unless the Yankees see more value in keeping Andujar and simply installing him at first base. Given Andujar’s defensive shortcomings as a third base, a move across the diamond might not be a bad idea even if Machado signs elsewhere. Didi Gregorius’ injury absence has created a lot of moving parts within the Yankees’ infield, as New York could shift Gleyber Torres to play shortstop and then require a second baseman, Andujar could be traded or change positions, Machado could sign, etc. With all this uncertainty and several trade possibilities to consider, I’d be a little surprised if Voit or Bird is the Opening Day first baseman, though the Yankees could address other needs and stand pat at first base, if for no other reason than to give Voit a longer look.