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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.