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November 8, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Five Biggest Holes

by John Perrotto

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More than one baseball man will tell you that there are no perfect teams—and that is true. However, some teams will have much bigger holes to fill than others.

Thus, we look at five of the biggest lineup holes in the major leagues. To qualify for this list, a team must have had a Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) of -10.0 or more at a position in 2010; the rule of thumb with VORP is that 10 points is the equivalent of one win or loss. Theoretically, each of these teams would have been at least one win better this year by just using a journeyman from Triple-A at the position rather than the players they utilized.

Third base for the Angels (VORP: -33.5)
Brandon Wood was the biggest offender at the Halo hot corner—he jammed a -27.3 VORP into just 243 plate appearances while posting an anemic .121 True Average. The Angels acquired Alberto Callaspo from the Royals in July, but he didn't help the cause either, posting a -5.7 VORP and a .224 TAv in 228 plate appearances. No wonder the Angels have been linked to free-agent-to-be Adrian Beltre in rumors since the All-Star break. While the Halos are also expected to pursue big-name outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth on the open market, neither would fit into the lineup quite as well as Beltre. If they can't sign Beltre, then Juan Uribe or Ty Wigginton wouldn't be a bad Plan B, because anything would be better than what they have now.

First base for the Mariners (VORP: -17.7)
The Mariners were the lowest-scoring team in the major leagues this year and had a complete lack of production at numerous positions. However, first base stood out because of the offensive nature of the position. The perennially punchless Casey Kotchman was signed as a free agent because of his defensive reputation but was a millstone for the lineup, posting a -14.8 VORP and a .231 TAv in 457 plate appearances. Justin Smoak, a well-regarded first-base prospect, was the key figure coming from the Rangers in the July trade for Cliff Lee, but he had a -0.3 VORP and a .256 TAv in 122 plate appearances. Most scouts feel Smoak could use more Triple-A time, in which case Adam LaRoche, a player the Mariners pursued last winter, would make a nice free-agent stopgap in 2011. LaRoche's gap-to-gap style of hitting would make a good fit for spacious Safeco Field.

Catcher for the Astros (VORP: -17.3)
Sometimes it seems the Astros haven't gotten any offensive production from behind the plate since Alan Ashby's heyday. Jason Castro is the hope for the future, but he didn't produce much in his 2010 rookie campaign, with a -6.1 VORP and a .216 TAv in 217 plate appearances. Still, he was slightly better than Humberto Quintero, who produced numbers of -7.0 and .211 in 276 PA. While the Astros profess that Castro is their guy, look for them to sign a free agent to help him out and also provide a little pop, say perhaps Rod Barajas or Miguel Olivo.

Second base for the Mets (VORP: -15.6)
Luis Castillo has one year left on that albatross of a four-year contract Omar Minaya gave him. One of the first orders of business for new GM Sandy Alderson should be finding a new second baseman, as Castillo's VORP was -2.2 to go with a .246 TAv in 299 plate appearances. Ruben Tejada wasn't much better in his rookie season with a -5.3 VORP and a .230 TAv in 255 PA, while Alex Cora posted -6.7 and .212 marks in 187 trips to the plate before being released. If the Mets want to be relevant in 2011, then signing Orlando Hudson to play second base while Tejada gets some much-needed development time in the minor leagues would be a good move. Uribe would also be a better alternative than Castillo.

Catcher for the Rangers (VORP: -13.3)
Remember when, not long ago, the Rangers supposedly had the best catching depth in baseball? Well, they won their first American League pennant this year with no offensive help from their backstops. Journeyman Matt Treanor took over after Jarrod Saltalamacchia was injured in the early days of the season but had a -7.3 VORP and a .221 TAv in 272 plate appearances. Then the Rangers acquired Bengie Molina from the Giants in a July 1 trade, but his numbers weren't appreciably better: -3.8, .222 in 195 PA. The new ownership group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan plans to increase the payroll substantially this winter, and a good place to start would be signing a free-agent catcher who can hit, whether it be Victor Martinez at the high end or A.J. Pierzynski, or at least John Buck.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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