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May 4, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Scars

by Joe Sheehan

The first week of May is still a bit early to be discussing anything in concrete terms. Sure, we can just about write off some teams (Detroit, Philadelphia) and make some early guesses as to who would look good at the top of a Rookie of the Year ballot (Rick Ankiel). For the most part, though, we're still looking at a small part of the picture.

One of the things that has come into sharp relief are what we often call "scars." It's a term you'll see a lot in the Baseball Prospectus, and loosely means a position at which a team is getting less than nothing. No run production, no run prevention, no doo run run run. Bad teams collect scars like Rany Jazayerli collects Backstreet Boys CDs. They even pit bad players against each other at the scarred position in a sort of second-division Celebrity Deathmatch. It doesn't matter much, though, because whether Mickey Morandini or Marlon Anderson gets the playing time, the scar remains.

The really damaging scars, though, are the ones on good teams, the ones that can be the difference between playing baseball and golfing during the first--or fourth--week in October. Four weeks into the 2000 season, a number of scars have formed on otherwise good baseball teams. Covering them, either with an internal solution or by bringing in a Band-Aid, will be essential to keeping on a course for the postseason.

The scar that jumps out at me is the Astros' shortstop situation. Tim Bogar has gotten most of the playing time and is hitting .147/.265/.250, which would be pretty good if we all lived on Jupiter. Bogar's nothing special defensively, either, and needs to be replaced soon. Utilityman Bill Spiers has gotten some time at shortstop, but can't play it every day. Prospect Julio Lugo is up, and while he comes with some upside and a better glove, he's not the answer in 2000.

Adam Everett, acquired from the Red Sox in the offseason, is the long-term answer. There's some hope that he can be ready by the summer, which would eliminate the need to dip in to the trade market. He's not hitting at Triple-A New Orleans, though (slugging just .245, albeit with a good walk rate), and the team is unlikely to drop him into the lineup unless he forces the issue.

Houston will probably have to solve this problem by trading for a shortstop. The unappetizing options include the Dodgers' Jose Vizcaino, who would cost little in terms of talent but isn't much of an upgrade, and the Blue Jays' Alex Gonzalez, who would be a defensive improvement.

Another big problem is the Yankees' DH slot. For the most part, it's been Shane Spencer's job, and despite last night's heroics, he doesn't hit right-handers enough to warrant an everyday job. The solution would be to hand prospect Nick Johnson the job, but Johnson is out with a wrist injury and won't play until June at the earliest.

There's an assumption that the Yankees will simply go out and trade for an available bat, with the A's Matt Stairs the most common name mentioned. But there's no guarantee the Yankees will be able to solve this problem through the trade market: they don't have a lot of top prospects behind Johnson, and the available hitters--like Ron Gant--are potential scars themselves.

The DH problem could be solved by rotating regulars through the spot, but doing so exposes another Yankee shortcoming: a horrific bench. Lance Johnson, Wilson Delgado, Jim Leyritz, Clay Bellinger and Chris Turner? That's a not a major-league bench, that's the dreck at the bottom of a box of Topps commons.

These teams at least seem to recognize the problem. Other nominal contenders have scars that they not only play willingly, but consider to be strengths. The Diamondbacks' Tony Womack has a .263 OBP, one walk and a death grip on the D'backs shortstop and leadoff-hitter jobs. Dante Bichette has a 588 OPS for the Reds in his first season at sea level since 1992, while teammates Michael Tucker and Alex Ochoa meander along with 950 OPSs and one-third the playing time.

These are not cases of good players--or even average ones--who are off to bad starts. There are plenty of guys like Garret Anderson (641 OPS), Richie Sexson (575 OPS) and Rich Aurilia (594 OPS) who are playing poorly but who can be expected to rebound to be league-average at their positions. No, the scars above not only are playing badly, but there is no reason to expect more from them. Bogar has never been an everyday player. Spencer can't hit right-handed pitching. Bichette has always sucked once Denver was factored out.

These are players who don't deserve the playing time they're being given, and need to be replaced immediately before the damage they're doing becomes irreversible.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the converse: players who are more than capable of helping their teams, but who are blocked by either better players or poor organizational decision-making.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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