SweetSpot: Peter Bourjos

NL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we would take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our National League look:

NL East
Braves: The big change for Atlanta will be dealing with the departure of Brian McCann, whose strike-stealing skills will be hard to replace. Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird will try. Gattis may be better than you think (3 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013). By our tally (and that of StatCorner’s publicly available data), he ranked among the best in the majors at getting pitches in the strike zone to be called strikes.

Marlins: The Miami infield rated as average last season, but it has a new -- and potentially worse -- look in 2014, with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria as the lone holdover. The Marlins will try Garrett Jones (and his negative-22 career Runs Saved) at first base, Rafael Furcal at second base (last played there for two innings in 2004) and Casey McGehee at third (bad numbers there in 2009 and 2010, but average in 2011). They’ll also have Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching; he typically rates bottom of the pack when it comes to defensive metrics.

Mets: The big story for the Mets will likely be how three center fielders coalesce in the outfield. If it works, the Mets could have the best ground-covering combo in the league. The likely alignment will be Curtis Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, though Young could shift to center (with Granderson moving to right and Eric Young to left) if Lagares’ offense isn’t to the Mets liking.

Nationals: Washington hasn't done anything to tinker with its primary starting unit. Arguably the biggest worry will be making sure Bryce Harper doesn’t overhustle his way into any walls as he did last season. The other thing that will be intriguing will be how new acquisition Doug Fister fares with a better infield defense behind him than he had in Detroit the past couple of seasons. Some think that could bode really well.

Phillies: Many scoffed at the Marlon Byrd contract, but he represents a huge defensive upgrade for the Phillies in right field. The transition from John Mayberry Jr., Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix to Byrd represents a swing of 31 Runs Saved (the four combined for negative-19 Runs Saved; Byrd rated among the best with 12).

The Phillies still have a lot of defensive issues, though. First baseman Ryan Howard has minimal range. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins may still pass the eye test but has rated poorly three years running (negative-30 Runs Saved in that span). Their third-base combo rated almost as badly as right field. And primary center fielder Ben Revere had all sorts of issues with balls hit over his head last season. There is a lot of potential trouble brewing for 2014.

NL Central
Brewers: Ryan Braun will not just be returning from a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He’ll also be playing a new position, right field, as the Brewers announced their intention to shift him from left field. Braun has 23 Runs Saved over the past four seasons, but the deterrent value of his throwing arm, which is minimal to below average, will now be a bigger factor. He’ll have to be pretty good all-around to match what the team got from Norichika Aoki & Co. (combined 13 Defensive Runs Saved).

Cardinals: St. Louis ranked second to last in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved last season and had only one position that rated above the major league average. That shouldn’t happen again.

The Cardinals have moved Matt Carpenter from second to his natural spot at third, where he should be an upgrade over David Freese. Freese was traded to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, who, if his hamstrings are healthy, could be a 20-plus run improvement over Jon Jay in center field. Another great glove in Mark Ellis signed to share second base with Kolten Wong, which will be an improvement over Carpenter. And Jhonny Peralta probably is no worse than on par defensively with the man he’ll replace at short, Pete Kozma. In sum, the Cardinals could be the most-improved defensive team from last season to this season.

Cubs: The Cubs aren’t vastly different from what they were at the end of last season, at least not yet. Their outfield defense needed an upgrade, and the one thing they’ve done to that end is obtain Justin Ruggiano. He has fared both well and poorly in center field in the past. Ruggiano may get a full-time shot to see what he can do in 2014.

Pirates: Pittsburgh liked Russell Martin so much it brought in a defensive standout to back him up in Chris Stewart. Stewart excels in all areas and could invert what the team got in 2013 from its backup catchers (negative-6 Runs Saved). The Pirates were also smart about keeping Clint Barmes around on a low-salary deal. He’s no Andrelton Simmons, but he rates among the best defensive shortstops in the league.

Reds: Cincinnati will give Billy Hamilton every chance to be the every-day center fielder in 2014. He rates as “fine,” which will be a major upgrade from the struggles of Shin-Soo Choo, who was forced to play out of position last season. The Reds will also fully take the training wheels off Devin Mesoraco with outstanding defender Ryan Hanigan having been traded to the Rays. Keep an eye on that one. The security of having Hanigan could be a big loss on the defensive side.

NL West
Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo shifted back and forth between first base and the outfield with the Angels, but he should be the full-time left fielder in 2014 for a team that had four players with 25 or more starts at the position last season. Trumbo showed he could handle left in a stint there with the Halos two seasons ago (a better fit there than in right). My guess is the Diamondbacks will play him deep and concede some singles to limit the number of times he’ll have to retreat to chase a potential extra-base hit.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig posted a terrific defensive rating in his initial stint in the big leagues (10 Runs Saved), but one concern the Dodgers will have was visible in the NL Championship Series -- how Puig does at limiting his mistakes.

Puig ranked 20th in innings played in right field last season but had the seventh-most Defensive Misplays & Errors (22) based on Baseball Info Solutions’ video review. Over 162 games, that might not affect his overall rating, but that sort of thing could play a large role in swinging a couple of important games one way or the other.

The loss of Mark Ellis could also be big, though the jury is out until we see how Alexander Guerrero handles second base.

Giants: San Francisco cast its lot with a pair of outfielders who will look a bit awkward in the corners, with Mike Morse in left and Hunter Pence in right. This could be a problem if the pitching staff is fly ball inclined. Pence is at negative-16 Runs Saved over the past two seasons. Morse fits best as a DH, and his value will be in whether he can drive in more runs than he lets in. Whoever the Giants' center fielder is this season will have his work cut out for him.

Padres: San Diego will look to run Seth Smith, whom it got from the Athletics for Luke Gregerson, in right field. This could be a little dicey. Smith has negative-13 Runs Saved in the equivalent of about a season’s worth of games there. Expect Chris Denorfia (21 career Runs Saved in right) to remain as a valuable fourth outfielder, late-game replacement.

Rockies: The big defensive-themed news for the Rockies this offseason was their decision to commit to Gold Glove left fielder Carlos Gonzalez as a full-timer in center after trading Dexter Fowler. So long as he’s not the Gonzalez of 2012, who looked a little heavy and finished with negative-13 Runs Saved, that should work out all right.

Colorado does have a lot of flexibility in its outfield with Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs coming off the bench for now. Either could come in as a late-game replacement for Michael Cuddyer if needed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if either got some significant playing time in left field too.

A year ago, the Cleveland Indians allowed the most runs in the American League, a pretty remarkable achievement considering the Minnesota Twins had a historically awful rotation. The Indians, however, combined bad pitchers and bad defense -- their -51 Defensive Runs Saved ranked 28th in the majors.

Like the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, the Indians decided to make their pitching better by improving their defense. First they traded impending free agent Shin-Soo Choo, who graded out as -12 DRS in right field, and landed Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs in the deal, pushing Michael Brantley to left. Then they signed free agent Nick Swisher to replace Choo; Swisher is a better right fielder than Choo. But when Michael Bourn remained unsigned into February, the Indians swooped in and signed the two-time Gold Glove center fielder. That pushed Swisher primarily to first base and gave the Indians an outfield of three guys who played center field last year.

The Indians' outfield collectively rated as -17 a year ago, and it's conceivable this group could rate at +30 runs -- a 47-run difference worth nearly five wins. Not to mention maybe some added confidence to the pitching staff.

The Red Sox, likewise, signed Shane Victorino to play right field and promoted rookie Jackie Bradley to play left. They join Jacoby Ellsbury to give them an outfield of three center fielders; Bradley defers to the veteran Ellsbury for now, but scouting reports suggest he's an elite defender.

The Angels, who rated as the second-best defensive outfield a year ago at +46 runs (behind Atlanta's +55), could be even better this year, with Peter Bourjos getting more time in center, Mike Trout playing left, and Josh Hamilton, who played a lot of center field for Texas, in right. Essentially, the Angels decided to replace Kendrys Morales' bat with Bourjos' glove, with Mark Trumbo playing more DH and less outfield.

If Bill James and then "Moneyball" popularized the importance of on-base percentage, then that sort of makes outfield defense the new OBP. Of course, just because emphasizing outfield defense appears to be a new trend doesn't really make it new. Just like Branch Rickey was talking about the importance of OBP over batting average in the 1950s.

For example, look at Whitey Herzog's Royals of the late '70s and then his Cardinals in the 1980s. Playing on turf in both places, he always emphasized speed in the outfield. His 1985 Cardinals, for example, had an outfield of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Andy Van Slyke, three guys who could play center field (although Coleman had a poor arm). Van Slyke later paired with Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh to give the Pirates two Gold Glove outfielders as they won three NL East titles in a row. The A's of the early '80s had the great trio of Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games in part by employing three great defenders in Mike Cameron, Ichiro Suzuki and part-timer Stan Javier.

But I would suggest that it seems we are deep in outstanding defensive outfields right now. Here's how I would rank the top five -- remember, we're talking only about defense here.

1. Angels: LF Mike Trout, CF Peter Bourjos, RF Josh Hamilton
Trout and Bourjos are arguably the two best outfielders in the American League, and Hamilton is at least adequate with a strong arm.

2. Athletics: LF Yoenis Cespedes, CF Coco Crisp, RF Josh Reddick
The A's were fifth in DRS last year at +17, but that includes Cespedes' time in center, where he rated poorly. He should be solid in left (he made a nice play on Hamilton the other night, running down a deep drive in left-center and doubling Albert Pujols off first) with a strong arm, Reddick is outstanding in right (+19 last year) and Crisp average in center. And backing up is Chris Young, who always had excellent defensive metrics with Arizona.

SportsNation

Which team has the best defensive outfield?

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3. Indians: LF Michael Brantley, CF Michael Bourn, RF Drew Stubbs
Bourn's +24 DRS last year tied him with Alex Gordon for the best total of any outfielder in the majors. He can run everything down in center, and now you flank him with two decent center fielders who should rate above-average in the corners. The only question here: Will Stubbs hit enough to remain in the lineup?

4. Brewers: LF Ryan Braun, CF Carlos Gomez, RF Norichika Aoki
The Brewers ranked third at +24 DRS a year ago and should be very good once again. All three are above-average defenders.

5. Red Sox: LF Jackie Bradley Jr., CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RF Shane Victorino
Victorino's metrics have dropped a bit in the past couple seasons as a center fielder, but he can still run and has a chance to be outstanding in right. Bradley won't get to show off his range at Fenway Park, but that doesn't mean he won't add defensive value. Ellsbury was +7 DRS back in 2011.

Worth considering: Nationals (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth). Span is very good and Harper actually rated very good in center last year, despite some bad routes at times. Werth appears to have lost a step from his Phillies days.

Worth considering but overrated: Braves (Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward). It will be interesting to see what happens here. Since Baseball Info Solutions began their Defensive Runs Saved metric in 2003, the +55 the Braves were evaluated at last year was the third-highest by any outfield (behind two other Braves teams in 2005 and 2007 that featured Andruw Jones). But Bourn and Martin Prado are gone, replaced by the Upton brothers. Some consider B.J. an elite center fielder, but I've never thought that and his metrics aren't great (-30 runs over the past three years). Heyward is terrific in right (+20 last year and a deserving Gold Glove winner) while Justin has been solid (+14 total over the past three years) if prone to throwing errors.

Sleeper: Tigers (Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter). Jackson is terrific in center, and Hunter continues to age gracefully.

The defensive metrics don't like them: Orioles (Nate McLouth, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis). Jones won the AL Gold Glove for center field, but DRS considers him below average. Just a few games into the season, the Orioles are at -5 runs ... although, to be fair, so are the Angels (Trout is -2 and Hamilton -4). Maybe Trout is fat.

Offseason report card: Angels

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
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2012 in review
Record: 89-73 (88-74 Pythagorean)
767 runs scored (3rd in American League)
699 runs allowed (7th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Signed free agent Josh Hamilton to five-year, $125 million contract. Traded Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas. Traded Jordan Walden to Braves for Tommy Hanson. Signed free agents Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett and Joe Blanton. Traded Ervin Santana to Royals. Lost Torii Hunter, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Maicer Izturis, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen.

What to make of general manager Jerry Dipoto's busy offseason? In some ways, it's just a reshuffling of the deck chairs.

Hunter: 5.5 WAR, 88 runs created in 584 PAs
Hamilton: 3.4 WAR, 115 runs created in 636 PAs

At quick glance, Hamilton looks like the far superior hitter in 2012, creating 27 more runs in a few more plate appearances. Once you adjust for home-park environment, Hunter edges a little closer, then when you factor in Hunter's superior defense (Hunter plus-15 defense runs saved, Hamilton minus-9 DRS), you can see why Hunter moves ahead in wins above replacement. That doesn't mean Hamilton was a bad signing; Hunter was unlikely to repeat his season -- at the plate or in the field -- and Hamilton might have a better year. In terms of 2012 value versus 2013 value, however, this looks pretty even.

Vargas and Hanson: 2.8 WAR and minus-0.9 WAR (392 IP)
Haren and Santana: minus-0.6 WAR and minus-1.6 WAR (354.2 IP)

Haren and Santana were pretty bad last year, posting high ERAs despite playing in a pitchers' park and with a good defense behind them. Hanson remains an injury risk, but Vargas has developed into a solid innings-eater and should put up good numbers in Angel Stadium with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos running down fly balls behind him. This should be an upgrade of a few wins over 2012 performance. However, some of that is given back with the Blanton signing, given that he's unlikely to replicate the Greinke/Jerome Williams rotation slot. So unless Hanson is healthy and pitches better than last year, this looks like a minor upgrade -- maybe a win or two.

Morales out, Bourjos in.

Bourjos won't produce as much offense as Morales, but adding his elite glove back to the outfield on a regular basis is a big plus. Still, if Morales is 20 runs better at the plate than Bourjos and Bourjos is 20 runs better than Mark Trumbo in the outfield, that's another equal tradeoff.

The bullpen should be better, although Madson -- returning from Tommy John surgery -- has already been shut down with a sore elbow.

In the end, I can't give the Angels' offseason that high of a grade, especially given that they didn't get the guy they really wanted: Greinke. But at least give Dipoto credit for adjusting to not getting Greinke by signing Hamilton and trading for Vargas.

Position Players

The Angels have the best player in baseball, a 40-homer guy, one of the greatest players of all time who is still pretty good even if he's in decline, a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, a 32-homer designated hitter and two middle infielders who hit pretty well for middle infielders. The catcher hits OK for a catcher, and the third baseman at least puts up a decent OBP.

That's a lineup without a glaring weakness. It's a lineup that will be as fun to watch as any in the game. Is it a great lineup, however, or just very good?

Aside from Trout's sophomore campaign and Hamilton's transition across the AL West, Albert Pujols is the guy to pay attention to. Take away his homerless April and he hit .297/.357/.553. His days as a .400 OBP machine are long gone thanks to the continued deterioration in his walk rate, but a lot of teams would still like Pujols anchoring their lineup.

The one problem area? Depth. There is none (no, Vernon Wells doesn't count). The Angels do have some players with injury histories, so we'll see whether that comes into play.

Pitching Staff

A year ago, we were talking about the possibility of the Angels having four 220-inning starters. Instead, C.J. Wilson led the staff with 202.1 innings.

Jered Weaver, Wilson and Vargas should be a solid top three, although Wilson had his elbow cleaned out in the offseason. His first season with the Angels was a bit of disappointment -- 3.83 ERA after a 3.14 ERA with the Rangers over the previous two seasons -- and if his walk rate remains at 4.0 per nine innings, it's going to be difficult to get that ERA under 3.50.

Blanton is a bit of wild card in the fifth spot. He's the opposite of Wilson -- a guy who basically throws strikes and hopes his defense helps him out. He had a 4.79 ERA in the National League over the past three seasons, so there's a good chance he won't last the season in the rotation.

The Angels' bullpen had a 3.97 ERA last year, ranking ahead of only Cleveland and Toronto in the AL. But it was arguably even more problematic than that. Only the Yankees' pen threw fewer innings, so Mike Scioscia was able to concentrate his innings in his best relievers. Although Ernesto Frieri did an excellent job as the closer after coming over from the Padres, it was the middle relief that hurt the club. The Angels lost 12 games when they led heading into the seventh inning -- 3.5 more than the major league average. Madson was supposed to help out there (or assume closer duties, with Frieri sliding to the seventh and eighth) but is a big question mark. The one thing the Angels do have is three good lefties in Burnett, Scott Downs and rookie Nick Maronde, if he's kept on the big league roster as a reliever instead of starting in the minors.

Heat Map to Watch
With a quick glance at Trout's heat map, you can see he punished low pitches. On pitches in the lower half of the zone, he hit .360/.396/.608 -- the best OPS in the majors against pitches down in the zone. Does that mean pitchers should attack Trout up high this year? Possibly. But if you attack up in the zone, that means doing it with the fastball. Trout hit .297/.397/.509 in plate appearances ending in fastballs. Which is actually kind of scary: He already has shown he can cream the off-speed stuff. Good luck, pitchers.

Mike Trout heat mapESPN Stats & InformationWhere do you pitch Mike Trout? Working him low in the zone didn't pay off in 2012.
Overall Grade

SportsNation

How many games will the Angels win?

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The Angels might be the best team in the American League. With Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, they might have the best offensive trio of any team in baseball. In Weaver, they have a legitimate No. 1. That makes them one of the top World Series favorites, at least according to the latest odds in Vegas.

But they were in that position last year and failed to make the playoffs despite Trout's monster rookie season. I worry about the lack of depth behind the starting nine and the back end of the rotation. I don't think Pujols will put up better numbers than last year, and I don't think Hamilton will hit 43 home runs again. The Angels will surely be in the playoff chase, but I don't expect them to run away with the division -- and they might not win it.

What do you think?

Vote: Who has baseball's best outfield?

January, 27, 2013
1/27/13
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Justin Upton has been in the news all offseason, especially once the Arizona Diamondbacks needed to fix their outfield logjam after signing free agent Cody Ross. Rumors throughout the winter included both Upton and Jason Kubel, but Braves acquired the 25-year-old to improve their already strong outfield.

There is no debate: Upton has been one of baseball's best outfielders over the past four years. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Upton has compiled the 10th-most Wins Above Replacement among corner outfielders since 2009, at 13.0. He ranks ahead of players like Giancarlo Stanton, Hunter Pence and Jayson Werth. Now part of an outfield that already includes brother B.J. Upton and another young phenom in Jason Heyward, the Braves arguably lay claim to one of baseball's best outfields.

That leads us to the obvious question: Which teams are in the mix for baseball's best outfield right now? I've come up with four candidates that could challenge the Braves:

Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout carries most of the weight here, as he alone gives the Angels one of the best outfields around. His 10.7 WAR last year was the most in a single season since Barry Bonds' 11.6 in 2002 and one of only 47 seasons of 10-plus WAR in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference (but not good enough for the AL MVP award, somehow). Trout does it all: hit for average (.326), hit for power (.238 isolated power), run (49 stolen bases in 54 attempts) and play incredible defense (he robbed hitters of at least three homers last season by my cursory research).

If this is starting to sound like an infomercial for the Angels' outfield, let me do my best Billy Mays impression: But wait, there's more! The Halos signed mercurial Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract during the offseason. Hamilton has been one of baseball's most feared hitters since joining the Rangers in 2008. Among hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances over the last five years, Hamilton's .386 weighted on-base average is 10th best, just a hair behind players such as Jose Bautista and Matt Holliday. The AL average wOBA in that span ranged between .315 and .330, showing how truly prolific Hamilton's bat has been. While Hamilton isn't much in the field or on the bases, he more than makes up for it with his offense.

Peter Bourjos will be splitting Trout and Hamilton in center field. While many think Trout should have remained the Angels' center fielder, no one denies Bourjos has the athletic tools to thrive as the captain of the outfield. In limited playing time, the speedster has already stolen 35 bases and showed offensive potential during the 2011 season in which he finished with a .271/.327/.438 slash line. In a full season, Bourjos projects to be an above-average player with a very high ceiling. Should he realize his potential, the Angels could very well have an outfield that combines for 15 WAR.

St. Louis Cardinals
Hard to argue against an outfield that has two potential Hall of Famers in Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, and one of the United States' founding fathers in Jon Jay. Holliday hasn't finished a season with an adjusted OPS under 138 since 2005 in Colorado. The only other player with a 135 or better adjusted OPS in every season since 2006 is former teammate Albert Pujols.

Beltran had problems staying healthy in 2009-10, but has logged 500-plus plate appearances in each of the past two seasons at the ages of 34 and 35. Beltran's 128 OPS+ last season was one of only eight such seasons in the past four years by a player 35 years old or older. Beltran isn't close to finished yet, and along with Holliday will make up not only one of the most fearsome corner outfield combos, but also one of the most fearsome 3-4 duos as well.

Jay has turned into one of the game's better contact hitters. In three seasons, he has hit .300, .297, and .305, which has led to an aggregate on-base percentage of .359. He has also stolen 27 bases, 19 of which came last season. While he may not have the power of his outfield compatriots, he complements them perfectly and plays a solid center field, giving the Cardinals one of the more formidable outfields in the game.

Let's say Beltran can't stay healthy, or an unfortunate injury keeps Holliday or Jay out of the lineup. Then 20-year-old outfield prospect Oscar Taveras will be ready to step in and provide help. Last year with Double-A Springfield, Taveras posted a .321/.380/.572 slash line with 10 stolen bases, 23 homers and 94 RBIs. While there is no guarantee that Taveras would enjoy the same amount of success facing major league pitching, he is looking like one of baseball's few can't-miss prospects.

Washington Nationals
List of 19-year-olds to post a 5-WAR season in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference:

Bryce Harper.

Yes, Harper is the only player to have had such a productive season at such a young age. Expand the age threshold to 20 and he is joined by a plethora of current and future Hall of Famers, including Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. The sky isn't even the limit for Harper; the expanse of the Milky Way galaxy seems to be, in much the same way it is for Trout. Like Trout, Harper does it all, and he does it all very well, which is why he went home with the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Werth, the $126 million man, works opposite Harper in right field. In the first year of his deal with the Nats, his production declined precipitously, leading many to declare his contract a failure. When he was healthy last season, he was extremely productive, finishing with a .300 average and a 125 adjusted OPS, numbers similar to those that made him such a good player in Philadelphia from 2007-10. While the days of him being a 35-plus homer threat, as he was in 2009, may be over, he still provides more production than most corner outfielders, which should make the Nationals plenty happy.

Rounding out the trio of outfielders in Nats Town is the recently acquired Denard Span, who will push Harper out of center field. Like Cardinals center fielder Jay, Span doesn't have the aesthetically-pleasing offense of his corner outfield teammates, but complements them well simply by getting on base, running the bases well, and playing competent defense. Span has finished with 3 or more WAR in three of his five seasons, making him one of the more valuable -- and underrated -- center fielders in recent years.

Oakland Athletics
Believe it or not, Athletics outfielders combined for the second-most home runs in the AL last season, trailing the New York Yankees 89 to 83. Josh Reddick led the way with 32 dingers as he broke out at the age of 25. He was one of nine players with 30-plus home runs and 10-plus stolen bases, joining the likes of Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen. While his low average and plethora of strikeouts depressed some of his offensive value, there was not much more the A's could have asked of him.

The Athletics were the surprising victors in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes last offseason, signing the Cuban phenom to a four-year, $36 million deal. It looks like a mighty bargain right now. The 26-year-old finished with a 137 adjusted OPS, making him one of the game's most valuable hitters. Of course, Cespedes lost value spending 26 games at DH, spending a couple weeks on the DL and playing below-average defense when he was in the field. As he becomes ever more familiar with AL pitching, he will become better with age and he should develop into a consistent All-Star talent.

Coco Crisp patrolled center field at O.co Coliseum last year, but that position may fall to Chris Young, acquired from the Diamondbacks. Crisp has developed into a consistent 2-3 WAR player since coming to Oakland in 2010. In those three years, he has stolen 120 bases in 136 attempts (88 percent), hit at about the league average (which is great coming from a premium position), and played above-average defense in center field. Young missed time last year with a shoulder injury, but averaged 4.8 WAR in 2010 and 2011, when he hit 47 home runs and played a great center field. Look for Reddick and Cespedes to play every day, although they could be rotated through the DH spot as well.

SportsNation

Which team has baseball's best outfield?

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With the Upton brothers and Heyward, where does Atlanta's outfield rank among the other four listed above? I'd put Atlanta's outfield at No. 2, behind the Angels.

1. Angels
2. Braves
3. Cardinals
4. Nationals
5. Athletics

The Dodgers' outfield (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier) was omitted because of health concerns. Due to defensive concerns, the Cincinnati outfield (Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce) was also omitted, and the Milwaukee outfield (Braun, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki) was a close runner-up to the A's.

How would you rank baseball's best outfields?
In a rare intradivision trade, the Los Angeles Angels traded Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners for Jason Vargas, and while I like the upside a little better for the Mariners, it looks like a trade that should work for both teams.

Morales gives the Mariners a much-needed power bat as he hit 22 home runs in his first year back after missing nearly two full seasons after that horrific ankle injury in 2010. A switch-hitter, he's much better from the left side of the plate, with a career OPS 157 points higher from that side. A first baseman in the past, he's probably limited to DH duties at this point.

The trickle effect for the Mariners: What does this mean for Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero? It could be the end of Smoak, with Montero being given the chance to learn first base; or maybe Morales slides in at first with Montero assuming regular DH duties. It could also mean Montero remains behind the plate, at least platooning with John Jaso to start the year. But with catching prospect Mike Zunino not that far away, Montero's catching days aren't going to last long anyway.

The Mariners also give up a pitcher who was a bad risk for them in 2013, with the fences moving in at Safeco Field. Even though Safeco was one of the toughest home-run parks in the majors in 2012, Vargas allowed the second-most home runs in the American League with 35. His home-road splits have been sizable since joining Seattle and in 2012 he had a 2.74 ERA at home, 4.78 on the road. While we don't know how Safeco will play, it was a good bet Vargas' ERA was going to balloon.

That doesn't mean he's a bad pickup for the Angels. Their home ballpark is also one of the toughest home run parks around and the Angels aren't moving in their fences. They get a durable left-hander who has averaged 204 innings the past three seasons (one of just 20 pitchers to throw at least 600 innings over the past three years). With Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos playing behind him (with Mark Trumbo moving to DH), many of Vargas' fly balls will be hauled on by that outfield; Trout and Bourjos alone may make it the best defensive outfield in the majors, even with Hamilton having lost range out there.

Vargas has to be viewed as a better pitcher than Joe Blanton and gives them more probability than injury-risk Tommy Hanson. A solid pickup by the Angels and they didn't have to surrender the younger and cheaper Bourjos or Trumbo.

Final score: Los Angeles Angels 13, Detroit Tigers 0. Thoughts for tonight ...

1. Mike Trout is good at baseball.

That two-run blast to right-center off Jacob Turner made me happy just to be a baseball fan. As @dianagram tweeted, "OK ... that Trout shot to right-center ... that was Piazza-like oppo power ... wow!"

He four hits all told. He's not slowing down. He may not slow down until 2028.

2. Mark Trumbo is Orange County strong.

Player A: .298/.371/.612
Player B: .311/.364/.634

Player A is Josh Hamilton. Player B is Trumbo. The only Angels player to slug .600 was Troy Glaus in 2000. Trumbo could do it this year.

3. Are the Angels too right-handed?

It's a minor issue. Against the right-handed Turner, manager Mike Scioscia's first four batters all hit right-handed. He has been concerned enough to usually hit the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales between Albert Pujols and Trumbo, but the correct decision is to move Trumbo into the cleanup spot. It's just common sense to hit your best hitters higher in the order and not get overly worried about late-inning relief matchups.

4. Should Peter Bourjos play every day or be traded?

I wouldn't trade him. I love the idea of a 2013 outfield of Trout, Bourjos and Trumbo once Torii Hunter's contract expires after this season. You have two Gold Glove-calibers fielders in Trout and Bourjos and big offensive production from Trout and Trumbo. Bourjos is attractive trade bait, but he's more valuable than another middle reliever. In fact, I think you can make the argument that the Angels' best lineup this season has Bourjos in center field and Trumbo at designated hitter instead of Morales. Understandably, Scioscia is reluctant to lose Morales' bat, but it's not like he's tearing it up. It's also possible Bourjos would hit better with regular playing time.

5. Garrett Richards throws hard.

He didn't rack up the strikeouts in Tuesday's outing (just two), and he doesn't always know where the ball's going, but he cranked his fastball up to 98 mph and his final pitch in the seventh was clocked at 95. If I were the Angels' front office, I'd be very reluctant to include him in a trade.

6. Ervin Santana. Discuss.

We know Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are good. Santana and Haren were supposed to be the other half of a great four-man group. Among 43 qualified American League starters, Santana ranks 41st in ERA at 5.60. Plagued by inconsistency and too many flat breaking balls, he has been hammered on the road. His walk rate is up and strikeout rate down from 2011. Only Seattle's Jason Vargas has allowed more home runs among AL starters. At this point, once Haren returns from the disabled list, you have to wonder if Jerome Williams stays in the rotation and Santana gets sent to the pen for a spell.

7. Dan Haren was so underrated for so long that he almost became overrated. What is he now?

A question mark. Haren's trip to the DL was the first of his career and led to his first missed start. Haren told ESPNLA.com's Mark Saxon that his back felt great in Monday's rehab start and that's he's ready to face the Rangers this weekend. He didn't enjoy missing time. "At the All-Star break, I had insomnia," Haren said. "I slept like nine hours in three days, total. I was just stressed about not being out there and I stayed home. That was really hard, watching the team on TV. Especially if you lose a game or two -- we lost that tough one [Friday] -- it's just hard not being there."

8. They do need bullpen help.

The bullpen ERA is ninth in the AL and Jordan Walden just went on the DL with a strained biceps. Ernesto Frieri finally gave up his first runs and his control issues will always make Angels fans a little nervous when he enters (as we saw the other night when Scott Down and then Kevin Jepsen were required to close out a lead against the Yankees). Still, it's not an awful pen. There's depth with Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, but the group doesn't seem to inspire a lot of confidence. Look for the Angels to add another arm here.

9. Angels catchers ...

No, they're not very good. They're hitting a collective .211 with 20 RBIs. Hey, I hear Miguel Olivo is available.

10. May Vernon Wells' rehab assignment last forever.

"Get well. Really well. Are you absolutely sure you’re OK? I don’t know, I think you need to achieve peace of mind. Have you been to Nepal? Ever tried getting there by canoe?"

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Bryce HarperJoy R. Absalon/US PresswireDavid Wright and Bryce Harper have a slight disagreement over who third base belongs to.
Do the Detroit Tigers need a second baseman more than a starting pitcher? Are the Pittsburgh Pirates for real? Will the Cleveland Indians make a deal? Who should be in the Home Run Derby? Is Mike Trout worthy of MVP discussion? And why were accused of AL bias? Check it out in today's chat wrap.
First base: Magical ending. It's only 43 games and crazy things can happen between games 44 and 162, but it's starting to look like one of those seasons for the Dodgers. They're now 30-13 after one of the most exciting wins of the season, rallying from a 6-1 deficit to defeat the sinking Diamondbacks, 8-7. First, Ivan DeJesus Jr. hit a two-run, two-out double off Arizona closer J.J. Putz in the top of the ninth. Then, after Arizona put runners on the corners with one out, Kenley Jansen induced Jason Kubel to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, with Dee Gordon flying through the air as Justin Upton took him out and James Loney scooping Gordon's bounced throw. A key play happened on Upton's base hit, with Tony Gwynn Jr. making a nice play in right-center to hold Upton to a single. And Kirk Gibson didn't send Upton on the 3-2 pitch to Kubel (understandable considering Jansen's strikeout rate). As Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman writes, "I can't explain ... anything that is going on." Matt Kemp last played on May 13. The Dodgers are 7-2 without him and averaging 5.1 runs per game. "I'll never forget this game," DeJesus said.

Second base: Harper versus Halladay. Terrific anecdote from Mark Zuckerman, who covers the Nationals at NatsInsider.com. He tells the story of Harper saying in spring training that he's watched Roy Halladay and says he starts a lot of hitters with a slow curveball. In the third inning on Tuesday, sure enough Halladay threw Harper a first-pitch curve and Harper ripped it for a two-run triple, putting the Nationals ahead. The Nats are now 4-1 against the Phillies, setting the stage for tonight's Harper-Cole Hamels showdown.

Third base: Wilson's gem. C.J. Wilson shut down the A's, allowing one hit over eight scoreless innings, a Cliff Pennington single in the fifth. With Vernon Wells out 8-to-10 weeks after thumb surgery, the Angels can finally play the lineup they should have been playing all along: Peter Bourjos in center and Mike Trout in left. With Torii Hunter temporarily out, red-hot Mark Trumbo has been playing right field. With the ground Bourjos and Trout can cover, the Angels can live with Trumbo's lack of range. In fact, even when Hunter returns, I'd stick with this lineup -- making Hunter more of the utility guy instead of Trumbo, who needs to play every day considering the Angels' offensive problems. Yes, Bourjos is off to a slow start at the plate (.197), but it's only 84 plate appearances. Oh ... and that Albert Pujols guy hit his third home run in seven games.

Home plate: Tweet of the Day.
It was another eventful chat session as we discussed Albert Pujols' homerless April and asked readers to project his final numbers. We discussed many things about the Minnesota Twins, gave a shout-out to the awesome Jose Altuve, tried to figure out what the Angels should do with Mark Trumbo, wondered who the first manager to be fired will be (yes, once we again Dusty Baker's name came up!), wondered how much bad defense has to do with the poor starts by Max Scherzer and Josh Johnson, wondered how much good defense is helping Jeremy Hellickson, debated the Nationals' attendance issues and pointed out that Pujols' slow start is stealing attention away from Jose Bautista's slow start. All that and more! Check out the transcript here.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
1:48
PM ET

  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.
For all the consternation and criticism dished out over the Boston Red Sox's 1-5 start, another expected American League power is off to a sluggish opening week as well: The Los Angeles Angels are 2-4 after coughing up 20 hits and an eighth-inning lead in losing 10-9 to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

There is one obvious difference between the two starts: The Red Sox have been outscored 38 to 22 while the Angels are even-up 30 and 30. On the other hand, the Red Sox have played the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays while the Angels have faced Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano. Not exactly Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz there.

Actually, based on ESPN.com's preseason predictions, maybe it's not fair to label the Red Sox an "expected power." After all, 34 of 50 voters predicted the Red Sox to miss the playoffs. Only one -- fantasy expert Matthew Berry -- picked the Red Sox to win the American League East. Meanwhile, 25 of the 50 picked the Angels to win the AL West and 46 of 50 picked them to make the playoffs.

The Angels were easily the most popular World Series pick as well, with 18 of the 50 selecting them to win it all -- 36 percent, a pretty amazing total since last time I checked there are some other pretty good teams around. Only one voter (Karl Ravech) picked the Red Sox to win the World Series.

OK, those are just predictions and as our SweetSpot network blog affiliate says, you can't predict baseball. Still, since ESPN's panel of experts did essentially declare the Angels the World Series favorite, it seems like a fair time to ask: What's wrong with the Angels and why aren't their fans ready to fire the manager, whine about overpaid left fielders and complain about the bullpen?

Well, it's Los Angeles, for one thing. No less enthusiastic, but perhaps slightly less pessimistic. Still, we can't get all crazy about the Red Sox and just ignore the Angels getting bulldozed by a mediocre Twins lineup.

True fact: In 2011, the Red Sox had a run differential of plus-138. The Angels had a run differential of just plus-34. As good as Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson are, and as good Kendrys Morales may prove to be, that's still a lot of ground for the Angels to make up.

So, in the spirit of early-season panic, here are some things that could go wrong with the Angels.

1. Jered Weaver doesn't repeat his career season.

Weaver is a terrific pitcher. He has increased his innings each season he has been in the big leagues, peaking at 235.2 last season, when he ranked fifth in the league. It's not a knock against him to say he might not be quite as stingy with the runs as in 2011. But check his basic numbers in 2010 and 2011:



In some regards, he actually pitched better in 2010, most notably in strikeout rate. His walk rate, home run rate and hit rate were all pretty similar, thus his Fielding Independent Pitching runs per nine was basically identical. So why did he allow 18 fewer runs in 2011? A couple primary reasons: 15 of his 20 home runs were solo shots as opposed to 15 of 23 in 2010; he allowed a .195 average with men on base in 2011 versus .236 in 2010. In other words, if you consider hits to be randomly distributed, they worked in his favor last season. Also note: After a hot start in 2011, his second-half ERA rose from 1.86 to 3.21 as he surrendered 15 home runs in 95.1 innings. He's off to a great start in 2012 in one regard: 17 strikeouts and just one walk. But he's allowed five runs for a 3.21 ERA. Random distribution, my friends.

2. Potential bullpen issues.

Mike Scioscia left Rich Thompson in to allow four runs in the eighth inning on Thursday, the first two on Justin Morneau's go-ahead two-run homer and then two more that proved costly when the Angels scored twice in the ninth. Now, Scioscia would have loved to have had lefty Scott Downs face Joe Mauer and Morneau, but Downs had rolled his ankle the previous inning in a collision with Denard Span. Fellow lefty Hisanori Takahashi had already been used since starter Dan Haren lasted only five innings.

But put of the reason Thompson was in there was that ancient relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen were apparently unavailable to pitch since both had thrown the night before, Hawkins for 16 pitches, Isringhausen for 10. Seems odd, since neither had pitched on Tuesday. But why not extend closer Jordan Walden for five outs? Thompson is a guy who is homer-prone, so why let him face the meat of the Twins' order? Plus, isn't it a bad sign if two-sevenths of your bullpen can't pitch two days in a row? "We're going to need to get our starters maybe over that little hump and then try to get our roles in the bullpen a little more nailed down," Scioscia said. "Our guys tried. We just couldn't shut the door when we needed it."

3. Vernon Wells.

It's early, but he's hitting .217 with no walks and five strikeouts. Stay tuned.

4. Will we get good Ervin or mediocre Ervin?

Ervin Santana had a career-low 3.38 ERA last season. He has been pretty consistent the past two seasons, but he has been plagued by minor injuries in the past, a reason his ERA rocketed up to 5.03 in 2009 and 5.76 in 2007. Just something to keep in mind.

5. Is Peter Bourjos' bat for real?

Bourjos is a supreme defender in center and he exceeded expectations last year with a .271/.327/.438 batting line. Scouts had doubts about his bat coming up through the minors and he did strike out 124 times against just 32 walks in 2011. While his .338 BABIP may be repeatable -- he is one of the fastest players in the majors, after all -- Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system projects a .261/.309/.412 line, with some regression due to a lower BABIP.

6. Mark Trumbo's defense at third.

I've written about this before. The early returns aren't good; yes, it's early, I realize that. It's also true that since 1950 only Enos Cabell has successfully converted from first base to third base at the major league level. We don't know yet how determined Scioscia will be to keep Trumbo's bat in the lineup, but playing him at third is likely to be a liability, especially since Trumbo's low OBP means he isn't really much -- if any -- of an offensive upgrade over Alberto Callaspo.

7. Howie Kendrick also coming off his best season.

Kendrick posted a career-high .802 OPS in 2011, 50 points above his career mark, fueled by a career-high 18 home runs. It's possible that power growth was real, as he appeared to sacrifice a few more strikeouts -- a career-high 20.4 percent K rate -- for a little more power while maintaining his usual .285 or so batting average. But there's also a chance it was simply his best season and he's not quite as good.

8. Maybe Albert Pujols won't be better than he was in 2011.

Hey, that's still pretty awesome, if also somewhat more mortal compared to his previous decade of production.

Look, it's only a week. The Angels should still have one of the best, and maybe the best, rotations in the league. They have a lot of depth and versatility in the lineup, although it remains to be seen who will be a second and third big bat behind Pujols.

The larger point is this: This isn't a perfect team in my book, certainly one that shouldn't rate as such a landslide favorite to make the playoffs and win the World Series.

So, yes, I just managed to slam 49 of my ESPN colleagues. This is what the first week does to us.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Denard Span and Scott DownsHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesAngels pitcher Scott Downs collides with Minnesota's Denard Span, injuring his ankle in the process.


This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:
Hamilton-WeaverGetty ImagesWith stars like Josh Hamilton and Jeff Weaver, the Rangers-Angels rivalry may be baseball's best.
This exercise has no scientific value whatsoever. But it's fun. Let's go position by position and see whether the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels rate higher. For the purpose of this discussion, we'll assume the Rangers will sign Yu Darvish.

Catcher: Mike Napoli vs. Chris Iannetta

Here's the thing about Napoli: He actually hit better on the road in 2011, so his monster season wasn't just a result of changing to a better park. After hitting .187 through May 27, Napoli finished at .232 in the first half and crushed the ball after the All-Star break, hitting .383/.466/.706 (wait, why was he batting eighth in the World Series?). Napoli cut his strikeout rate over 7 percent from 2010 and increased his walk rate. He did have a .344 average on balls in play compared to his career mark of .303, even though his line-drive percentage was only 1 percent higher, so some regression is no doubt in order. Still, his booming bat makes this a clear selection. Advantage: Rangers.

First base: Mitch Moreland vs. Albert Pujols

Moreland had a disappointing sophomore season, although he played through a wrist injury that required surgery in November. He also requires a platoon partner against left-handers. He does, however, ground into fewer double plays than Pujols. OK, I managed to write one paragraph attempting to compare Mitch Moreland to Albert Pujols. Advantage: Angels.

Second base: Ian Kinsler vs. Howie Kendrick

Kinsler hit 32 home runs, stole 30 bases in 34 attempts and turned the double play as pretty as anybody in the game . Kendrick had his best season with that bat and with the glove, with the defensive metrics giving him an outstanding rating. Overall, FanGraphs.com rated Kinsler as the sixth most valuable position player in the majors in 2011, and Kendrick 18th. Now, I don't believe Kinsler is the sixth-best player in baseball and the big argument against that is he hit just .214 on the road and owns a career average 67 points higher at home. It would be interesting to see Kendrick hitting at Rangers Ballpark. Still, Kinsler's power, defense and speed gives him the edge. Advantage: Rangers.

Third base: Adrian Beltre vs. Alberto Callaspo

You could probably dig up enough numbers to make this an interesting argument. For example, Callaspo had the higher on-base percentage in 2011, .366 to .331. Callaspo hit .309/.368/.436 on the road in 2011 while Beltre hit .271/.297/.440. But let's not get too silly here. Advantage: Rangers.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus vs. Erick Aybar

This is one probably closer than you think. Or maybe not. But it does show Andrus' level of national exposure is pretty high for a guy who hit five home runs and made 25 errors. Andrus led in FanGraphs' WAR, 4.5 to 4.0, while Aybar led in Baseball-Reference WAR, 4.7 to 3.5. Andrus has the better range and on-base skills and is one of the best baserunners in the league, but his lack of power helps tilt the comparison toward Aybar. Andrus did increase his extra-base hits from 18 to 35 and he just turned 23, so maybe that slight increase in doubles power is arriving. Aybar had an excellent 2009, a poor 2010 and a solid 2011. Both are good players. A close call, but I like Andrus' chances of raising his game a bit in 2012. Advantage: Rangers.

Left field: David Murphy vs. Vernon Wells

Murphy wasn't actually very good in 2011. But he was better than Wells. (In fact, for all the talk about the Rangers going after Prince Fielder to upgrade first base, why no talk about upgrading left field?) Of course, they could slide Josh Hamilton to left if Leonys Martin is ready for center, but Martin seems ticketed for at least half a season in Triple-A. Advantage: Rangers.

Center field: Josh Hamilton vs. Peter Bourjos

Here's the deal: If the Rangers called up the Angels and said, "We'll offer you Hamilton for Bourjos," who hangs up first? Certainly, if you consider the contracts of each, the Angels hang up. But what if we ignore the financial circumstances? What do the Angels say? You have a supreme flychaser in Bourjos who had a solid year with the bat in his first full season. Hamilton was awesome in his 2010 MVP season, but his OBP in 2009 was .315 and in 2011 it was .346, hardly sterling figures for playing in a hitter's paradise. And he's injury prone. In fact, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference rated Bourjos as the better player in 2011. And, no, that's not because he played more often -- Bourjos only had 14 more plate appearances. Hamilton had only 12 more extra-base hits and drew only seven more walks. He outhit Bourjos .298 to .271. Hamilton was better at the plate, but not by a large margin. Anyway, I give Hamilton the edge since Bourjos has to prove he can do this again and Hamilton's mammoth 2010 still buzzes our memories. Advantage: Rangers

Right field: Nelson Cruz vs. Torii Hunter

Cruz is another example of why the Texas lineup is a bit overrated: He posted a .312 OBP in 2011, which placed him 112th out of 148 regulars with 500 plate appearances. Now, when he gets hot -- as we saw in the ALCS -- he can be unstoppable, but when he's off he'll chase pitchers out of the zone. His career season in 2010 appears fueled by a higher than normal .348 average on balls in play. While he has a strong arm, Rangers fans unfortunately saw his lack of range on display in Game 6 of the World Series. Hunter, on the hand, is getting old and didn't hit right-handers very well in 2011. Still, his .313 OBP against righties was higher than Cruz's season total. Factor in Hunter's durability and defense and Cruz's annual aches and pains, and I'll go Hunter. Advantage: Angels.

Designated hitter: Michael Young vs. Mark Trumbo

Hey, it's 2011's two most overrated players! Advantage: Rangers. Although I'd like to see home many home runs Trumbo could hit in Arlington.

Bench: Yorvit Torrealba/Craig Gentry/Julio Borbon vs. Hank Conger/Maicer Izturis/Bobby Abreu/Kendrys Morales

Big edge here to the Angels. And while the Rangers have Martin on the horizon, the Angels can counter with Mike Trout. Advantage: Angels.

No. 1 starter: Yu Darvish vs. Jered Weaver

Weaver has been one of baseball's top 10 starters the past two seasons. Darvish may be good, but as good as Weaver? That's expecting a lot. Advantage: Angels.

No. 2 starter: Matt Harrison vs. Dan Haren

The ERA difference between the two was small -- Harrison's 3.39 versus Haren's 3.17, and once you factor in the home parks, Harrison actually had the better adjusted ERA. On the other hand, Haren had a 192/33 strikeout/walk ratio compared to Harrison's 126/57. While he benefits from being in the perfect park for him, we have to go with Haren's proven record of success and durability. Advantage: Angels.

No. 3 starter: Derek Holland vs. C.J. Wilson

Wilson had a 2.31 ERA on the road in 2011. Don't be surprised if he contends for the Cy Young Award in 2012. Advantage: Angels.

No. 4 starter: Colby Lewis vs. Ervin Santana

Unlike Haren, as a flyball pitcher Lewis is probably in the worst park for him. He gave up 35 home runs in 2011, and 23 of those came at home. On the road, he went 9-5 with a 3.43 ERA. The underlying results of the two are pretty similar, although Santana has better stuff. I get the feeling that if you switched parks, they'd post each other's numbers. Advantage: Draw.

No. 5 starter: Neftali Feliz vs. Jerome Williams

In his first promotion to the majors in 2009, Feliz averaged 11.3 K's per nine with a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2010, those numbers fell to 9.2 and 3.94. In 2011, they fell again, to 7.8 and 4.3. Why is he getting worse? Will a move to the rotation help? Did he throw his fastball too much? Will he recover from blowing the clinching game of the World Series? All intriguing questions without answers to be determined. Jerome Williams -- yes, the kid who came up with the Giants in 2003 when he was just 21 -- is still just 30 years old. He made it back to the majors after beginning the year in independent ball. Advantage: Rangers.

Closer: Joe Nathan vs. Jordan Walden

From June 28 on, Nathan pitched 28 innings, allowed a .190 average and struck out 28 batters with just five walks. You can't read too much into 28 innings, but it's a good sign that it just took him some time to recover from Tommy John surgery. Walden led the majors with 10 blown saves, but his underlying numbers were all strong. I love his power fastball and with a little better command, he should be dynamite. Advantage: Angels.

Bullpen: Alexi Ogando/Mike Adams/Koji Uehara/Scott Feldman/Mark Lowe vs. Scott Downs/LaTroy Hawkins/Hisanori Takayashi/Rich Thompson/Bobby Cassevah

With Ogando apparently slated to move back to the pen and a full season from Adams, the Rangers' pen looks deep although it currently lacks a reliable left-hander. Advantage: Rangers.

Manager: Ron Washington vs. Mike Scioscia

It's hard to give Washington the edge after his postseason performance. On the other hand, Scioscia gave Wells 500 at-bats. Advantage: Draw.

The final score: Rangers win 9-7 with two draws. But if the Angels do the same thing and ignore Wells' fat salary and play Mike Trout in left field, that would give them the edge there and even our score at 8-8. In other words, how many days until Opening Day?
Albert PujolsKirby Lee/US PresswireThe Angels got the prize of the offseason, Albert Pujols, but he'll likely be their only .800 OPS hitter.
Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com asks: Why pitch to Albert Pujols?

In other words: There's a reason the Angels finished 10th in the American League in runs scored in 2011.

Let's examine the Angels' lineup. Let's stick to what we know, and right now we don't now if (A) Kendrys Morales will be healthy; or (B) if Mark Trumbo can play third base. In the past 25 years, only Kevin Youkilis and Todd Zeile have played 100 games at first base in one season and 100 games at third base the next season, and both of them had previous experience at the hot corner.

CF Peter Bourjos

The Angels lack an obvious leadoff hitter on the team, as the only regulars with an OBP above .340 were Bobby Abreu and Alberto Callaspo. Bourjos has the speed and his 49 extra-base hits would add an element of power, but can he get on base enough? His .327 OBP is not what you want from a leadoff hitter, and the strikeouts will rub Mike Scioscia the wrong way. Certainly, Abreu and Callaspo are better leadoff options, but neither guy led off once last season, so that's an option not in Sciosca's wheelhouse.

2B Howie Kendrick

The good news? He's now been relatively healthy two years in a row. He hit a career-high 18 home runs and slugged .464. The bad news? His OBP was still just .338 and after a hot start he hit just .267 after May. Kendrick changed his approach last year, swinging harder -- it resulted in a strikeout rate of 20.4 percent versus a career rate 16.9 percent. The overall result was positive, but he's still a free-swinger who doesn't get on base as much as you'd like.

1B Albert Pujols

2008: .357/.462/.653
2009: .327/.443/.658
2010: .312/.414/.596
2011: .299/.366/.541

Yes, Pujols is a special player. Of course he is. But ... aren't those batting lines pretty good evidence that The Machine is not a machine? That he's slowly aging, no matter his workout regimen or his extreme desire to be the best. New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and former manager Tony La Russa both made a point to say Pujols isn't like other players, that he'll age well. But I look at those numbers and see a player in slight decline. That said, a rebound year wouldn't surprise me, but keep in mind: (1) He won't get to face the Cubs, Astros and Pirates 45 times a year any more and he's moving into a slightly tougher home run park.

RF Torii Hunter

He's now 36 and showing signs of age: His OPS has dropped from .873 to .819 to .765. He can still mash a left-hander (.287/.389/.497) but was pretty ineffective against right-handers (.252/.313/.402). He's lost much of his speed -- five for 12 stealing bases and he grounded into 24 double plays. In fact, batting Pujols (29 double plays) and Hunter back-to-back is a 6-4-3 waiting to happen.

DH Mark Trumbo

We'll slot Trumbo at DH right now. While he hit 29 home runs as a rookie, he's another guy who doesn't get on base enough -- a .291 OBP. Here's a way to look at this: Trumbo created about 71 runs last season. He used up 427 outs to create those runs. The goal of a hitter is to produce runs while not making outs. Among 32 major league first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, Trumbo ranked 24th with 4.47 runs created per 27 outs.

LF Bobby Abreu/Vernon Wells

How long of a leash do you give Wells after his miserable season? Do you give him one month? Two months? Trouble is, the AL West and wild-card races project to be very close this year, with the Rangers, plus four quality teams in the AL West. Can the Angels afford to wait to see if Wells regains his stroke at age 33? Since 1990, only two outfielders 30 years or older have had 500 plate appearances and an OBP less than .275 -- Wells and Alex Rios (also in 2011). If we lower the threshold to 300 PAs, we get 2007 Craig Monroe (who never played regularly again) and 2005 Steve Finley (who did rebound from a .271 OBP to .320 the next year). Still, there is such a small track of players who played as poorly as Wells that it's difficult to project what he'll do.

As for Abreu, he can still get on base against right-handers (.366 OBP), but his defense is terrible, his power mostly evaporated and he can't hit lefties. In my book, I'd just give the job to Mike Trout. His speed and defense are good enough until his bat comes around, but he'll likely begin the season in Triple-A.

3B Alberto Callaspo/Maicer Izturis

For all the talk about the Angels upgrading third base -- moving Trumbo there or trading for David Wright -- the Izturis/Callaspo platoon wasn't all that bad. Angels' third basemen ranked 11th in OPS in the majors and third in OBP. In fact, and I know Angels fans will find this hard to believe, but Callaspo created 5.22 runs per 27 outs. Better than Trumbo. Now, it's possible Trumbo may improve -- hit for a higher average, draw a few more walks -- but based on 2011 results, the Angels are better off playing Callaspo at third (assuming Trumbo isn't Scott Rolen on defense).

C Chris Iannetta

The big question: How will he hit outside of Coors Field? His home/road splits in 2011 were extreme -- .301 at home, .172 on the road. They haven't been that large over the course of his career, but still sizable (.869 OPS at home, .707 on the road). He has a lot of patience at the plate, although his walk rate was high in small part to usually batting eighth in front of the pitcher. Still, he'll be a big improvement offensively over Jeff Mathis, even if he doesn't match his Rockies numbers.

SS Erick Aybar

He'll also factor into the leadoff position, where he started 55 games in 2011 -- at least against right-handed pitchers (.341 OBP versus righties, .284 versus lefties).

Now, the strength of the lineup is that there's no outstanding weakness ... well, assuming Vernon Wells doesn't get 500 plate appearances again. If Kendrys Morales is healthy, the team will have even more depth, which is a good thing: Hunter can play 130 games instead of 156; Izturis can fill in at third, short and second; maybe Trumbo turns into a sort of four-corner super sub: 20 games at first, 20 games at third, 20 games in each of the corner outfield spots, some time at DH. If Wells and Abreu struggle, Trout is ready on the farm. Having this kind of flexibility is a manager's dream.

On the other, the only outstanding strength is Albert Pujols. He's the only hitter who projects to post an .800 OPS (Kendrick was .802 last season, his career-best). Even the 2010 San Francisco Giants, maligned for their mediocre offense, had four hitters with an .800 OPS -- Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Buster Posey and Andres Torres. Tampa Bay didn't have much offense in 2011? They had four .800 OPS hitters in Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman (plus Desmond Jennings in part-time play). The only AL playoff team in the past three seasons with fewer than four .800 OPS regulars was the 2010 Rays, which had Longoria and Carl Crawford and part-time Joyce.

So, yes, it's possible this lineup will score enough runs. Kendrick may have a better season, especially if he bats in front of Pujols. Maybe Bourjos improves or Trout gets called up and hits .285 with some power. Maybe Morales is healthy and assumes the cleanup spot on a regular basis.

All that remains to be seen. Right now, this a lineup with depth but not one that should strike fear in opposing pitchers.

AL West: Three fixes for each team

December, 4, 2011
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Now in its last year of existence, baseball’s short stack will get rounded out to five teams when the Astros enter the American League in 2013. But in the meantime, it’s another four-way wrestling match. However, it’s also a starkly segregated division. On one side, you’ve got the defending pennant-winning Rangers (twice over) and their chief rivals, the Angels. On the other side, the Athletics have won 74-76 games in four of the last five years, while the Mariners have been stuck in the 60s for wins in three of the last four.

Texas Rangers

1. Rotation: Add a veteran? Or re-sign C.J. Wilson?

It isn’t that what the Rangers have right now isn’t good -- most teams would love to have a young quartet as talented as Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison lined up with Colby Lewis. They could probably win the division with that. But is any one of them that stopper you expect to beat a playoff team with? Holland or Feliz might grow into it, or Ogando, but do the Rangers want to count on the Madduxes and the talent, or will they hedge their bets by bringing Wilson back or going after someone like Roy Oswalt?

Likely solution: If they don’t bring Wilson back or win the bidding on a high-profile vet with playoff experience like Oswalt, they’ll opt out and not buy a veteran guaranteed rotation slot just for the sake of it. It’ll be either a significant upgrade or some retread for organizational depth, with nothing in between.

2. First base -- Settle or shop?

Last season, it might have seemed like they did quite nicely without having an everyday answer, rotating Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Michael Young through the slot. However, Young isn’t much of a first baseman, Moreland failed to develop at the plate and Napoli spends a good chunk of his time catching. Rangers first basemen rated a whopping 12th in the American League in OPS, beating out only the A’s grab bag of prospects and the Rays rentals. While they’re not likely to get in on Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, is there anyone else worth chasing?

Likely solution: Unless the Rangers want to revisit last winter’s drama of shopping Michael Young, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll end up spending serious money at first base. Seeing if Moreland develops at age 26 while they settle for good defenders in center wouldn’t be the end of the world, but this is the team that might get the biggest benefit from sneaking in on Carlos Pena.

3. Center field -- Settle or shop?

The Rangers will need to sort out whether or not they want to add someone new to the mix. Josh Hamilton made only a month’s worth of starts in the middle pasture, and the Rangers spent much of the season with Endy Chavez and Gary Gentry batting ninth and splitting time in center while Julio Borbon’s season was lost to injuries. Will they settle for Gentry and Borbon in 2012, and take their blend of defense and OBP? The market isn’t exactly rich in alternatives.

Likely solution: Here, they can let it ride or go cheap on another defensive specialist, say, Rick Ankiel, with the hope that he rebounds in the Ballpark’s friendly confines. There’s not a lot of point in overpaying the likes of Coco Crisp to be just slightly better.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The biggest issue was finding a solution to the Jeff Mathis fetish, but they’ve addressed that with their pickup of Chris Iannetta. Even if Iannetta’s .707 OPS outside of Coors Field might be a splash of cold water for folks expecting the second coming of Mike Piazza, he’s still a bigger slice of that pie at the plate than Mathis will ever be.

1. A premium bat.

You’d think that with Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Beltran on the market this would be easy, but the Angels are stacked with bodies (if not bats) at the corners. Figuring where to go for a premium hitter is the real trick, because the Angels have stuck themselves with so many ex-famous people, and that’s without getting into what they need to do with Mark Trumbo if Kendrys Morales’ comeback works out. The rumors of interest in the Mets’ David Wright to play third base makes some sense as a deal from depth, but acquiring Wright for Peter Bourjos -- which is really only a good idea if they know they can work out an extension with Wright -- wouldn’t erase their overlapping issues at first base, DH and the outfield corners. Aramis Ramirez is notionally the same sort of fix, except his play at third base leaves a lot to be desired; it wouldn’t be long before he wound up playing a lot of DH or first base.

Likely solution: It won’t be easy to work something out, but third base is a good place to go. But they can’t settle for getting one year of Wright before free agency for five of Bourjos and call it a day. Ideally, Jerry Dipoto needs to swap out one of the aging stiffs and bring in a real thumper, no easy feat. If he manages it, he might automatically win the label for Hot Stove MVP. If he also gets Morales back and bopping in 2012, the offense will be better still.

2. Starting pitcher (Joel Pineiro, free agent, plus Tyler Chatwood was dealt)

Even if Garrett Richards is almost ready and regardless of whether or not you want to believe Jerome Williams is an answer, they’re best left to fight it out for the last slot. Because of the mess on offense, one way to compensate would be to add a premium starter to help keep more games in reach. Unfortunately, the market isn’t stocked with quality options, but chasing after C.J. Wilson is an obvious avenue to pursue, giving the rotation a quality lefty to balance their reliance on Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana up front.

Likely solution: Signing Wilson would be the easy solution. They hold 2013 options on Haren and Santana, but beyond that, it’s Weaver and nobody in terms of commitments. Signing Wilson would address that while providing balance.

3. Making room for Mike Trout.

The ex-famous people problem is the real issue here. Torii Hunter will be turning 32 next summer; he isn’t going to get any better. Trumbo’s just the new Dave Kingman if he builds on his rookie season. Bobby Abreu’s power is a distant memory, and Vernon Wells’ dead-cat bounce in 2011 only went so high. These are the guys in Trout’s way to everyday play, not Bourjos.

Likely solution: It’s easy to say these things will sort themselves out, but by July, it’s doubtful that Trout will be any more ready than he already is. Eating the $63 million it’ll cost to employ Wells the next three years might be more affordable because Trout’s under contractual control for the next six years.

Oakland Athletics

1. Bodies to play in the outfield. (David DeJesus signed with the Cubs, and Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham are free agents.)

If you’re an outfielder, the A’s need you, because all three regulars are outbound. Ryan Sweeney might get to man one corner, and you might hope that Jermaine Mitchell mounts a bid on the job in center. But the A’s really need to sign an outfielder or two, ideally one who can play center. Re-signing Crisp as a placeholder seems to be getting a lot of consideration, which would be a return to the lamentable legacy of Willie Wilson serving time in this outfield in the ’90s, and cause for joy for nobody. After a .960 OPS between Double- and Triple-A, Mitchell’s interesting as an athletic, late-developing farmhand, but he’ll be 27 next year. There’s also Michael Taylor, once considered one of the top prospects in baseball, and currently more of a source of frustration after two mediocre seasons at Sacramento.

Likely solution: The only likelihood is that the fixes will be cheap. Whether it’s a matter of absorbing the tail end of other people’s bad-news deals if they’re footing the bill, renting hitters a year removed from free agency like DeJesus and Willingham, or sifting through the bargain bin, get ready for a new temp crew.

2. Power: 12th in the AL and 24th in MLB in Isolated Power (ISO)

Even if they wind up with outfielders like the ones we’ve noted, it isn’t like Crisp or Mitchell or Sweeney provide any power, which the A’s will sorely need with Willingham’s departure. Between Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue, they might have in-house answers for first base and DH, but a multitude of options is not the same thing as having answers.

Likely solution: Ditching Hideki Matsui has helped open room for the crowd of first base/DH options, and a full season from Scott Sizemore at third base should help, but don’t be surprised if the A’s spring for one slugger to man first, DH or one of the outfield corners. It might help them remain 12th in the league.

3. San Jose or bust.

This is really the most important issue for the franchise this and every winter until it’s resolved, but team owner Lewis Wolff is slowly wading through lawsuits by proxy and MLB’s indecision over territorial rights to Santa Clara County to complete a ponderously slow attempt to move south within the East Bay region. The mayor of San Jose asked for this to be fixed two years ago; he was politely ignored. The city’s now trying to sell land to Wolff for the express purpose of building a ballpark, but it’s unclear if he’ll be allowed to move his team to the city out of an exaggerated consideration for the Giants’ claim. If the A’s were generous in ceding rights to San Jose when the Giants were moving into their new digs (away from San Jose), the Giants have been selfish in subsequently asserting their claims.

Likely solution: There isn’t one. The A’s and their fans as well as the cities of San Jose and Oakland remain hostage to the original sin of Bud Selig and company for sloppily and generously granting the Giants these rights in the first place. It’s up to the industry to fix that error, but so far there’s been an abdication of authority from MLB in the face of noisy assertiveness from the Giants. The Giants are well within their rights and understandably acting out of self-interest -- either to try and force the A’s out of the market, or extort an ill-gotten payday -- but this needs fixing. With the CBA and Astros’ sale done, this should be the top item of business for the commissioner. Let’s see if he treats it that way.

Seattle Mariners

1. A middle-of-the order thumper. (.115 ISO, 28th in MLB)

You can blame playing in Safeco, but that goes only so far, as the Mariners’ .658 OPS on the road was only slightly better than their awful .623 OPS in home games. Much of the problem is self-inflicted -- they’re the team that values punchless shortstop Brendan Ryan for his virtues afield more highly than any other, after all. While the holdovers in the outfield almost all endured horrific 2011 seasons, a group that includes Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez, Trayvon Robinson, Mike Carp and Michael Saunders is capable of doing better. Which really leaves third base, DH and possibly first as the places where GM Jack Zduriencik might add an impact bat. This has fed into a lot of speculation over Zduriencik’s former Milwaukee connection to Prince Fielder.

Likely solution: Landing Fielder would be a major coup, but it would be a fairly extreme act of faith by Fielder that Zduriencik’s going to get this thing turned around during the life of his contract, assuming Seattle even has the money for that kind of offer. It’s more likely that the Mariners will have to settle. A right-handed bat would be great for their lineup’s balance, but Safeco is death on right-hander power, suggesting that someone like Aramis Ramirez wouldn’t be a good fit. Guys like Casey Blake and Ryan Ludwick are familiar to manager Eric Wedge from their days in Cleveland; they’re also not really answers. Moving Carp to DH and looking at J.D. Drew or Jason Kubel would be a little more interesting.

2. A veteran starter. (Traded Erik Bedard and Doug Fister away.)

This is really about making sure they get innings until a few more of the kids are ready for call-ups. Ideally, any veteran would also be someone they could flip at the deadline. Top prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton might earn September call-ups, but the Mariners need someone to take the ball in the meantime. Because they have a great venue for pitchers and a strong defense to offer as inducements beyond cash, they should be able to find someone interested.

Likely outcome: They’ll get the inning guys like Aaron Harang, Paul Maholm and Jon Garland should be calling the Mariners rather than the other way around; finding somebody will be more a matter of finding someone willing to sign for what they’re willing to offer. It would be interesting to see if the M’s could induce Hiroki Kuroda to sign on rather than return to Japan now that the Dodgers are out of the picture.

3. Third base: Open.

Prospects Alex Liddi, Francisco Martinez and Vinnie Catricala are all a bit rough at the hot corner, and the Mariners probably have zero interest in giving Figgins another crack at the job after witnessing his .595 OPS in two seasons in Seattle. Kyle Seager might get the lion’s share of playing time by default if the Mariners don’t add a vet for temp duty. It won’t cost them the pennant.

Likely solution: Third base is an area of need for a lot of teams, and if the Mariners are willing to eat most of the $18 million they still owe Figgins, they’d almost certainly find an interested party. They shouldn’t waste the roster spot indefinitely if they’re not going to play him. A veteran placeholder like Blake might fit here on a one-year deal, assuming Zduriencik doesn’t conjure up a better solution with some wheeling and dealing.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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