- Luis Severino should be in the Yankees' bullpen, the Rangers should explore trading Jurickson Profar and more pressing points of interest as the season cranks up.
Even after a long off-season and six weeks of spring training, each team still has plenty of questions to answer, and some that they might not even have considered. Hence these possible fixes to help all 15 American League clubs (Wednesday) and each of the 15 National League teams (Thursday).
Last year the Orioles had the fewest stolen base attempts, just 32, since attempts began being tracked in 1951. (They succeeded 19 times.) And rightly so: With a high-homer, low-singles offense, risking an out to move up a base didn't make much sense. It's not as if the lack of steals significantly hurt them—they finished seventh in the AL in runs scored and won a wild-card spot. With the Orioles having brought almost the same roster, but even slower with outfielder Seth Smith and catcher Welington Castillo, it opens up the question: Could Baltimore set a new record this year? Buck Showalter may want to give it a try.
For the first time in his five-year tenure as Red Sox manager, John Farrell is having to build an every-day lineup without David Ortiz. He's also having to decide where to bat rookie sensation Andrew Benintendi, who has thus far been penciled in at both the No. 2 and 4 spots, but the former is ideal for him. It places Benintendi between two great righties in Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts, thus protecting him against lefty relievers. (Benintendi hit .179 in the majors in 28 at bats against lefties.) He has the on-base skills to get on for Betts and Hanley Ramirez, the speed to advance on their hits and the pop to drive in Pedroia. It's the perfect spot for Benintendi.
The White Sox released incumbent second baseman Brett Lawrie early in camp, and Tyler Saladino, a utilityman in starter's clothing, has been holding down the job until Yoan Moncada is ready. What about Leury García, though? García, a one-time top prospect with the Rangers, is still just 26. He had a .367 OBP with 18 steals at Triple A Charlotte—leadoff skills Chicago could use. True, his career .188 average argues against giving him a full-time job, but that's in just 331 appearances over four seasons. His only action thus far in 2017 has come in the outfield, but the Sox should let García earn regular time in hopes of finding a steal like the Brewers got with Jonathan Villar, who led the NL in steals last season, his first full campaign.
No one expects Terry Francona to export his playoff bullpen management philosophy from last October to the regular season, not least because that would project Andrew Miller to pitch 208 2/3 relief innings. But the one principle you'd like to see him retain from the Indians' long postseason run is this: Saves aren't everything. Who pitches the ninth inning or the eighth isn't as critical as who they're facing. If Francona can use Cody Allen and Miller against the hitters they match up best with, regardless of inning, he can get the same value from his relievers that he did during the playoffs without putting crazy workloads on their arms.
After a quiet winter in which their biggest move was to trade outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Angels, the Tigers' regular lineup features eight righthanded batters and switch-hitter Víctor Martínez. Having a lefthanded-hitting centerfielder is important, but lefty Tyler Collins is overmatched defensively by the spacious pasture in Comerica Park. Detroit needs to find a way to help both the balance in its batting order and its defense. Anthony Gose, who hit .254/.321/.367 with 23 steals as the starter in 2015 and is only 26 years old, might have been an option but he was sent back to the minors in spring training and the team is now exploring turning him into a pitcher.
Having signed DH Carlos Beltrán and outfielder Josh Reddick and traded for catcher Brian McCann during the off-season, the Astros have sharply increased their team age and accelerated their timeline for winning. Even with that, though, they're short one piece—a frontline starting pitcher. Dallas Keuchel may have won the 2015 AL Cy Young Award but his performance in 2016 was a reminder of his limitations, while Lance McCullers has never thrown more than 160 innings in a season. To hold off the Rangers and the Mariners in the AL West, Houston must spend more prospect depth—righty Francis Martes or outfielder Kyle Tucker—on a top-end hurler. The Braves' Julio Teheran would be the perfect fit.
Since the start of 2013, no one has caught more innings—4,662—than Salvador Pérez. He has led all AL catchers in the category the last three seasons, and the majors in 2014 and '15. (And he caught 143 and 142 postseason innings, respectively in those latter two seasons.) Perhaps this is why Pérez hits worse in September than the Jacksonville Jaguars. He batted .179/.247/.295 down the stretch last season, and .234/.274/.362 combined over the past three Septembers. Ned Yost, a former backup catcher himself, has to offload more innings to Drew Butera during the summer to keep Pérez fresher later in the year. He has yet to do so this season, even after Perez got hurt during the World Baseball Classic (on a slide by Butera, ironically); Perez was back for Opening Day and has caught all but one game so far.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler has done a good job crafting a competitive roster around Mike Trout, despite inheriting the game's worst farm system and a payroll weighed down with $50 million a year in obligations to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the latter of whom is now with the Rangers. Los Angeles is still at least one piece short, but with Trout at his peak, there's every reason for this team to play for the present. That means leveraging the few fruits of the recovering farm system, such as dealing outfielder Jahmai Jones to the White Sox for José Quintana. Quintana would be the Angels' No. 1 starter and push them toward the top of the wild-card pile.
Last September, Byron Buxton showed flashes of the kind of star he can be, slugging .653 with nine home runs and 10 walks in 101 at bats. The Twins used him in the leadoff spot during spring training, however, and that may have been an overbid. Buxton's power, speed and defense all play right now, but he may not have the OBP skills for batting first. His success last season came batting ninth, and leaving him low in the order is the best way to leverage his talents at the moment. In second baseman Brian Dozier, outfielders Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler and first baseman Joe Mauer, the Twins have other players who can bat at the top of the lineup.
Dave Righetti, Mariano Rivera, Dellin Betances . . . Luis Severino? The next great Yankees reliever is right in front of them. Severino, who touched 99 mph in early March, has a 5.32 ERA in 22 career starts and a 0.39 mark in 11 relief appearances. The 6'2" righty missed time last year with a right triceps strain, adding to questions about whether he can carry a starter's heavy workload. The slow development of his changeup would matter less if he were a reliever, as well. All signs point to Severino eventually being a dominant back-end hurler; New York should get on with it.
Yonder Alonso, Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce, Jed Lowrie, Trevor Plouffe . . . The A's have become a perennial mass of middling veterans, limping toward 74 wins. One bright spot is Ryon Healy, who crushed 27 homers across three levels in 2016 and hit .305/.337/.524 in 72 games in Oakland. The 25-year-old corner infielder may be a fluke—he had a scary 60 strikeouts against 11 unintentional walks in the majors—but as a homegrown young player with potential and six years of team control left, he's at least more interesting than fellow infielders Plouffe and Alonso. Healy should be out there every day.
Edwin Díaz was a revelation in the bullpen last season, striking out 40% of the batters he faced as a 22-year-old rookie. He's the one reliever Seattle has who can dominate an inning. Manager Scott Servais has to resist the temptation to overuse him, however. During one stretch in August, Díaz threw a total of 134 pitches over five outings in two weeks. At the end of the season, Servais went to Díaz for 89 pitches over seven days. Díaz had a 1.64 ERA when the heavy duty started on Aug. 17, and a 4.82 mark after. Tap the brakes, Scott.
Re-signing Logan Morrison, even to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, was a curious decision. The 29-year-old Morrison is a career .245/.325/.416 batter who plays indifferent defense at first base, and he hit .238/.319/.414 last year before a wrist injury ended his season. The Rays would be better off using 27-year-old Brad Miller who exploded for 30 homers last year while playing shortstop and first base, at the latter position and just releasing Morrison. If you're going to re-create the 2014 Seattle Mariners, you may as well play the best of the bunch.
Four years after being the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar is now a platoon leftfielder with a career .652 OPS. It's been a rough ride for Profar, who missed two full seasons with shoulder injuries and never had a chance to displace Elvis Andrus at his primary position, shortstop. He's now an outfielder because there's nowhere else for him to play, which isn't ideal for either his development or the Rangers' championship hopes. Texas should look to move him as part of a package for a starting pitcher or a true outfielder, both to add wins in 2017 and to allow Profar to get on with his career as an infielder.
One of the odder transactions from 2016 was the Jays' decision to give Justin Smoak a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. He's a .220 hitter without enough walks, power, speed or defensive skill at first base to make up for that average, and at 30, there's no development left. Toronto has a logjam of players—Smoak, Kendrys Morales, José Bautista, Steve Pearce—without much to contribute defensively. The Jays should release Smoak to free up playing time at DH and first. This would also allow the 36-year-old Bautista to spend less time in rightfield, giving better defenders a shot there.