New Year’s Day isn’t technically the midpoint of the baseball offseason, yet with business slightly paused as the calendar turns to 2023, it seems like a good time to see how teams have taken care of some of the most pressing items on their to-do list. With a tip of the cap to Baseball Reference’s bWAR breakdown of how each club performed by position in 2022, let’s explore how the American League’s 15 teams have looked to correct their biggest positions of need.
Angels (First Base, -1.0 bWAR): The top-heavy Angels are known for superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, but the club also had sub-replacement production at a whopping five positions. First base was the lowest of the bunch, as Jared Walsh struggled through a rough season that was cut short by thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. While Walsh is expected to be ready for Spring Training, the Halos picked up some depth and insurance by acquiring Gio Urshela from the Twins and signing Brandon Drury, either of whom could see action at first base when not playing elsewhere around the diamond.
Astros (Catcher, -0.8 bWAR): Unsurprisingly, the World Series champions were pretty strong across the board, apart from sub-replacement numbers at catcher and first base (-0.4 bWAR). The signing of Jose Abreu instantly updated first base, though Martin Maldonado and prospect Korey Lee remain the top options behind the plate. Houston reportedly had interest in such free agents and trade targets as Willson Contreras, Sean Murphy, Tucker Barnhart, and old friend Christian Vazquez, and while these players have all found new homes, it still feels like the Astros will bring at least one new catcher into the fold by Spring Training.
Athletics (Third Base, -1.2 bWAR): Oakland’s combined 9.1 bWAR was the lowest of any team in baseball, yet another dubious distinction for the A’s in a 102-loss season. After Matt Chapman was traded to the Blue Jays last offseason, third base turned into the weakest of the Athletics’ many weak links. Vimael Machin and Sheldon Neuse got the bulk of playing time at the hot corner in 2022 but both are now off the roster, leaving Kevin Smith and newly-signed utilitymen Jace Peterson and Aledmys Diaz in line to help stabilize things at third base.
Blue Jays (Pinch-Hitting, 1.4 bWAR): With a heavily right-handed starting lineup, the Jays filled their bench with left-handed hitters like Raimel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all of whom struggled at the plate. This lack of depth became apparent pretty much every time a regular starter was injured, or when the Blue Jays needed a bat off the bench for an important late-game at-bat. In theory, a full season of Whit Merrifield should help the depth, as at least two of Merrifield, Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio, or even Kevin Kiermaier or Daulton Varsho should be available off the bench. However, Toronto seems likely to seek out at least one more veteran backup type this winter. In terms of everyday positions, Jays left fielders were the lowest with 2.1 bWAR — Toronto has addressed that area by adding Varsho, and trading former regular left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the Diamondbacks as part of that swap.
Guardians (Catcher, -0.1 bWAR): Austin Hedges and Luke Maile provided very little offense, which wasn’t a huge concern for a Guardians team that has long prioritized defense from its backstops. However, Bo Naylor made his MLB debut last season, and the Guards are hopeful that the prospect can provide both good glovework and some pop from the catching spot. With Hedges and Maile both departing in free agency, Cleveland added Mike Zunino, another good defender who is inconsistent at the plate but has delivered some big power numbers in the past.
Mariners (Second Base, 0.4 bWAR): Seattle hopes Kolten Wong can fill the gap at the keystone, after the Mariners acquired Wong in the trade that sent Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro to the Brewers. Even in an uncharacteristically poor defensive year for Wong in 2022, he still generated 3.1 bWAR, marking a vast improvement over what the Mariners got from the position last year. Second base just edged out left field (0.5 bWAR) as Seattle’s biggest need, and the latter position remains a bit of a question mark. With Winker and Kyle Lewis both dealt and Teoscar Hernandez acquired to handle right field, the Mariners will likely still look to improve over the current mix of Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell, and utilitymen Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty.
Orioles (Second Base, 0.1 bWAR): One team’s castaway is another team’s upgrade, while the Mariners looked to improve on Adam Frazier, Baltimore inked him to a one-year, $8MM contract. Frazier brings a veteran presence to a young and still unsettled Orioles infield, as while Frazier will probably get the bulk of time at second base, it remains exactly to be seen if Gunnar Henderson will be deployed as the regular third baseman or shortstop. Ramon Urias, Terrin Vavra, Jorge Mateo, and a wealth of other up-and-coming prospects will also factor into the infield picture. Frazier had a rough offensive year in 2022, but he brought more to the table than Rougned Odor, whose clubhouse leadership didn’t make up for a -0.4 bWAR.
Rangers (Left Field, -1.0 bWAR): Texas has been focused on pitching, as between retaining Martin Perez via the qualifying offer and adding Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Jake Odorizzi, the Rangers have done a lot to improve a starting mix that ranked 25th of 30 teams in rotation bWAR. With the rotation now addressed in major fashion, left field is the next item on the checklist for Texas GM Chris Young. Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger were among the names on the Rangers’ radar before both outfielders signed with the Giants. Young will continue to look to add a veteran bat to either replace or complement the Rangers’ younger options in left field.
Rays (Catcher, 0.2 bWAR): As usual, the Rays were pretty solid at every position, though catcher remains an ongoing concern for the organization. With Zunino gone, Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia are the incumbents, and Tampa Bay at least explored a big upgrade in checking in on the Sean Murphy trade market. However, now that Murphy is in Atlanta and many of the other top available names have landed elsewhere, the Rays may once again be facing more of a second-tier addition.
Red Sox (First Base, -0.5 bWAR): Top prospect Triston Casas made his MLB debut last season, and Boston’s hope is that Casas will live up to that potential quickly. Such a breakout could solve the first base position for years to come, though to alleviate some pressure on Casas, the Red Sox also acquired Justin Turner with an eye towards giving the veteran some time at first base and DH. On paper, Rafael Devers might also get some first base time if Turner fills in at third base. As for other first base options, the Sox already parted ways with Eric Hosmer, and Bobby Dalbec is being shopped in trade talks.
Royals (Shortstop, 0.2 bWAR): Bobby Witt had a solid rookie season, beginning the year as Kansas City’s third baseman before moving into pretty much everyday duty at shortstop. Witt’s glovework at both positions was pretty rough, but the Royals are hopeful that their young cornerstone can improve enough to provide at least passable defense at shortstop, even if Witt’s long-term position might still be a question. The Royals haven’t done much with their position player mix at all, and so if Witt has to be moved back to third base, the incumbent answers at shortstop are still Nicky Lopez and (if healthy) Adalberto Mondesi. Prospect Maikel Garcia made his MLB debut in 2022 and could also factor into the backup picture.
Tigers (First Base, -1.3 bWAR): Another case of a team counting on a youngster to blossom, as there’s really nowhere to go but up for Spencer Torkelson after a mediocre rookie season. The former first overall pick hit only .203/.285/.319 in his first 404 Major League PA, and was temporarily demoted back to Triple-A at midseason. Since the Tigers seem to be taking a step back after a team-wide letdown in 2022, Torkelson will still get plenty of playing time, and it’s far too early to write off a rookie who is still only 23 years old. The Tigers have been linked to Brian Anderson and Edwin Rios, two free agents that could be part-time options at first base when they’re not at the hot corner.
Twins (Catcher, 1.0 bWAR): Christian Vazquez was signed to a three-year, $30MM deal, as Vazquez will take over the starting catching duties even though Ryan Jeffers will still get a good chunk of playing time. Vazquez brings experience, a solid bat, and quality defense, so his signing should instantly patch one of the holes on Minnesota’s roster.
White Sox (Catcher, Right Field, each -0.4 bWAR): The Pale Hose were yet another team who had interest in trading for Murphy, and Chicago is still looking for a catcher as a platoon partner or even a replacement for Yasmani Grandal. Gavin Sheets is the favorite for playing time in right field until prospect Oscar Colas is ready, though the White Sox did improve their outfield mix as a whole by signing Andrew Benintendi for left field and moving Andrew Vaughn from the corner spots to first base. Sheets isn’t a strong defender either, but limiting the shaky glovework to just one outfield position is a step up for the White Sox.
Yankees (Left Field, Pinch-Hitting, each 2.0 bWAR): New York led all American League teams with 54.7 total bWAR, so their “weak positions” are still pretty solid. Benintendi, Joey Gallo, Miguel Andujar, Marwin Gonzalez, and Matt Carpenter have all been removed from the revolving door that was left field in Yankee Stadium, leaving intriguing rookie Oswaldo Cabrera, struggling veteran Aaron Hicks, and slugger Giancarlo Stanton (when Stanton isn’t in his primary DH role) as the top options. Former top prospect Estevan Florial could also get a look for more playing time. This all being said, the Yankees also seem to be eyeing more help, and have explored trades with such teams as the Pirates, Twins, and Diamondbacks while also speaking with free agents like Benintendi, Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo. Willie Calhoun and Billy McKinney were also just signed to minors deals, but with the free agent market drying up, New York will probably have to turn to the trade route for a more substantive addition in left field.