Up in the Air: Personnel Uncertainties Facing Contenders - The American League
Each year teams arrive at Spring Training with question marks. Some personnel decisions will have marginal impact but for a number of teams with post-season aspirations, making the right choice in March and April will go a long way in determining their fate. What follows is a quick look at some of the more interesting spots that seem to be up in the air (or at least should be) coming into Spring Training.
For each position, I will present the player's AVG/OBP/SLG from 2007. It will be their MLB totals unless specified. Moreover, I will include their 2008 PECOTA and ZIPS projections. As far as I could tell, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians and Mariners - teams I do not focus on here but ones I would consider "contenders" - have their position spots more or less locked up.
Here are the key position player question marks coming into 2008.
Boston Center Field - Coco Crisp vs. Jacoby Ellsbury
2007 .268/.330/.382 .353/.394/.509
2008 (Pecota) .278/.338/.407 .287/.346/.395
2008 (Zips) .271/.333/.410 .297/.349/.392
This one will be interesting. With Curt Schilling likely out for an extended period of time (if not the entire season), it would not be surprising to see Crisp dealt for starting pitching depth before Opening Day. Barring such a deal, however, Francona will be tested. Crisp is an appalingly frustrating hitter to watch and the vocal Boston fanbase is ready for a change. Not helping his cause is that his fielding prowess is not necessarily discernible to the naked eye. He is one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball. Furthermore, Ellsbury dazzled in last year's playoffs, and Red Sox fans are chomping at the bit to see the kid get a fulltime shot.
But have a look at the numbers above. Given his superior glovework, Crisp looks like he is the better option. If Theo and the Boston brass stand pat and head into the season with both players on the roster, Francona's resolve will be tested.
Detroit Left Field - Marcus Thames vs. Jacque Jones
I am going to forego the above format on this one. Here are the respective outfielders' numbers from 2005 to 2007 against right-handed and left-handed pitching.
Vs. Right Vs. Left
Jones .285/.346/.465 .233/.275/.396
Thames .231/.287/.501 .261/.332/.526
So long as Jim Leyland sticks to it, this should be no positional battle at all but a very, very nice platoon for Detroit. A quick scan of the Tigers lineup would reveal either catcher or left field to be the clear weak spots. Dave Dombrowski has shown how thoughtful, strategic roster tinkering can easily mitigate such a weakness.
Minnesota Center Field - Carlos Gomez vs. Craig Monroe
2007 .232/.288/.304 .219/.268/.370
2008 (P) .249/.302/.358 .245/.300/.412
2008 (Z) .241/.299/.346 .236/.286/.402
There is no right answer here for Rod Gardenhire. Monroe is probably not a passable defensive center fielder and his bat, though better than Gomez's, will not make up for his defensive ineptitude. Gomez can sure shag 'em but it is hard to imagine him being much more than an automatic out this year.
For a thorough analysis of the situation, including a look at the viability of Jason Pridie out there as well, I would turn you to Twins Geek.
Los Angeles Angels Designated Hitter - Kendry Morales vs. Garret Anderson
2007 .294/.333/.479 .297/.336/.492
2008 (P) .274/.321/.424 .279/.321/.440
2008 (Z) .274/.317/.424 .268/.312/.424
Given the combined love the Orange County fanbase and Mike Scioscia have for "G.A." I have a hard time believing Morales has much of a chance in this battle. That said, there are a few factors that should give Scioscia pause, or at least pursuade him to loosen Anderson's stranglehold on fulltime DH duties for the Halos.
Anderson is 36, Morales 25. At the age of 35, Anderson had his best season since 2003 last year. This outlier campaign followed successive seasons of atrocious output for a corner outfielder, much less his new position of Designated Hitter. The Angels would be well served to treat a slow start by Anderson as a serious red flag.
As part of Baseball Analysts comprehensive coverage leading up to the start of the 2008 MLB season, I will follow this up with a look at key personnel choices in the National League and on pitching staffs in the coming weeks.