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April 21, 2010

Fixing Problems

Finding Alternative Solutions to Roster Quandaries

by Christina Kahrl

You don't always have to settle for a patch—sometimes it pays to go with a whole new suit. Take the Astros' predicament while Lance Berkman was out. Pedro Feliz or Geoff Blum at first base—what were the Astros thinking? Their hands were somewhat forced by the seven-man bullpen and the 40-man roster, but let's face it, when the in-house alternative is a non-rostered repeat reject Chris Shelton, it wasn't like they had a Plan B. That said, a number of teams and some contenders have problem positions—but also on-hand aid they can plug and play.

Atlanta Braves

Problem: Corner offense from a lineup with a .255 TAv (11thin the NL).

Solution: More Eric Hinske (.280 TAv 2008-10)

Why? While Troy Glaus has had a fine career, he's 18 months and a major shoulder surgery removed from everyday play and he's struggling. Melky Cabrera has gone from leading off on Opening Day to someone the Braves don't trust. Whether spotting for Glaus at first base against tougher right-handers, or for Cabrera in left when they can risk his DH-worthy outfield glove when groundballers Derek Lowe or Tim Hudson take the bump, the lineup needs more of Hinske, the lefty slugger.

San Francisco Giants

Problem: Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation.

Solution: Anybody else.

Why? Whatever black magic veteran hurlers benefit from working with Dave Duncan in St. Louis, Wellemeyer wasn't getting any benefit there last season, and watching him get lit up now should remind people that by April, you really need to take down the Christmas Tree. The Giants may want to wait and see if the latest tweaks to Madison Bumgarner's delivery at Triple-A Fresno have ironed out his issues, but they can easily turn to organizational soldiers Joe Martinez or Kevin Pucetas in the meantime, and get back that 40-man roster slot spent on Wellemeyer.

Cleveland Indians

Problem: The Lou Marson Era behind the plate.

Solution: You can't go wrong playing some Santana.

Why? The Indians are in the AL Central, so you have to consider them contenders automatically, and with a .233 team TAv that ranks 28thin the majors, they can't afford to skip scoring all season. Marson was supposed to be a good catch-and-throw guy with just enough offense that maybe he'd stick around. He's been hopeless at the plate (-.117 TAv), and scouts haven't been impressed with his receiving skills now that he's handling big-league pitches and pitchers. Meanwhile, all-world catching prospect Carlos Santana is romping in the International League, hitting .341/.413/.683 translated, for a .351 TAv. Maybe Santana's receiving needs work, but that's part of Marson's problem too, and he'll never, ever hit like that.

Chicago White Sox

Problem: Getting offense at DH and catcher.

Solution: It's springtime, so plant Flowers.

Why? It's already just a matter of time before Tyler Flowers arrives to stay in The Show. He's already off to a decent start at Triple-A Charlotte (translated .472 slugging, .261 TAv), and the South Side needs runs, ranking 27thin MLB in True Average at .243. A.J. Pierzynski (.145 TAv) is cold at the plate and in the walk year of his contract, while Mark Kotsay is a popular bench player, he's not a starting DH (.127 TAv). Between the DH at-bats against right-handers and the opportunity to sit AJP to get Flowers time behind the plate, the Sox should squeeze in Flowers' 2010 PECOTA-projected .270 TAv.

Oakland A's

Problem: Offense from outfield and DH.

Solution: Play Jake Fox now or Chris Carter and Michael Taylor later.

Why? Fox may be a bad position player at all five corners (since he's also the club's backup catcher), but his projected .275 TAv shouldn't go to waste while Travis Buck, Rajai Davis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Eric Chavez are all struggling. Davis has to play center with Coco Crisp on the DL, and Bob Geren's been mixing and matching, but they may as well look at Fox now before turning to Carter (.276 projected 2010 TAv) at first or DH, and Taylor (.274) at either corner outfield spot.

There are anticipated also-rans with their own issues, too. The Nationals' timetable for calling up Stephen Strasburg to replace any rotation regular is one of the most obvious, but timing it with however much success on the small stage they feel is necessary is a luxury the Nats can afford.

The schedule has let the Orioles demote struggling starter Brad Bergesen, which opens up the possibility that they could pick between top prospects Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta. Tillman's been in a funk in Triple-A since his surprising spring demotion, but he remains one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. In the meantime, the O's should go for some O by getting serious about benching Garrett Atkins (.212 TAv) and taking a look at Triple-A Norfolk first baseman Rhyne Hughes (.390/.444/.707 actual, translating to .293/.341/.595 and a .304 TAv.

Finally, the Pirates need to pull the plug on fading prospect Jeff Clement at first base. Whether they give now-or-never farmhand Steve Pearce (.303 TAv at Triple-A Indianapolis) a shot for the time being, or just get on with it already and bring up top third-base prospect Pedro Alvarez to play at either corner after having already jacked four homers for Indianapolis and produced a .307 TAv, the Bucs need no longer stop here.

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

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