We covered the National League’s 15 teams earlier on Monday, so now let’s check in on how the American League’s 15 clubs have done (to date) in fixing their biggest problem positions from the 2023 season. Baseball Reference’s position-by-position bWAR breakdown is our guide through last year’s numbers….
Angels (First base, -0.7 bWAR): No team received less from its first basemen than the Angels, even with Brandon Drury hitting well in part-time duty and rookie Nolan Schanuel emerging late in the season. Schanuel and Drury working in a platoon could improve things, yet the Halos are in something of a state of flux in general, as the team is weighing a lot of internal trade possibilities and other free-agent signings in the wake of Shohei Ohtani’s departure. Not that there’s a silver lining to Ohtani leaving, but the Angels do now have the DH spot open to potentially add a slugging first base/DH type to pair with Schanuel and perhaps keep Drury at second base.
Astros (First base, 0.0 bWAR): Jose Abreu struggled badly for most of 2023 before finally heating up in the final six weeks of the regular season and throughout Houston’s playoff run. Since the former AL MVP is owed $39M over the next two years, the Astros can only hope that Abreu has shaken off any new-team jitters and will be back to his old form for the rest of his tenure in Houston.
Athletics (Relief pitching, -0.9 bWAR): Whew, where to begin. Oakland had the second-lowest relief bWAR and rotation bWAR, and thus their 0.0 total pitching bWAR was the lowest in baseball. The A’s also received sub-replacement-level production at third base (-0.8), center field (-0.5), shortstop (-0.3), and an even 0.0 bWAR from their pinch hitters. Trevor Gott, Osvaldo Bido, and Gerardo Reyes have at least been signed to try and beef up the pitching, yet with the A’s rebuilding and focused more on figuring out where they’ll be playing between the end of their lease at the Coliseum and the opening of their new ballpark in Las Vegas, expect only low-cost additions between now and Opening Day.
Blue Jays (Pinch-hitting, 1.7 bWAR): Toronto’s lack of position-player depth was exposed every time the Jays had even one regular out with an injury. The lack of bench help contributed to the Blue Jays’ overall offensive struggles, and this problem won’t be any clearer until the team addresses its big holes at second base and third base. If at least one starting infielder was obtained, the in-house infield options (i.e. Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement, Spencer Horwitz, Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez) could then make for a relatively deep, if unproven, bench.
Guardians (Shortstop, -0.3 bWAR): Cleveland dealt the underperforming Amed Rosario to the Dodgers before the trade deadline, opening the door for Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio to get most of the playing time at shortstop. Neither has hit much at the Major League level, but the Guardians will continue to give the duo (as well as Tyler Freeman, Jose Tena, and perhaps Juan Brito) more opportunities in 2024. It isn’t an entirely ideal situation for a team in sore need of hitting help, yet since spending is again limited, the Guards will stick to their normal plan of relying on their minor league pipeline.
Mariners (First base, 0.7 bWAR): Ty France hit .250/.337/.366 with 12 home runs over 665 plate appearances last season, translating to about a league-average offensive performance. With Mitch Garver now signed as the primary DH, Seattle might stick with France at first base, or the team could continue to explore other first base targets and perhaps look to trade France elsewhere. Isaac Paredes, Josh Naylor and Rhys Hoskins are some of the names linked to the Mariners for a potential trade or signing.
Orioles (Pinch-hitting, 1.5 bWAR): This is a relatively minor weak link as far as “weakest positions” go, as Baltimore still ranked fourth in baseball in pinch-hitting bWAR. The talent floor should only continue to rise as the Orioles introduce even more top prospects to regular Major League action, so there isn’t much to worry about on the position-player side. As for pitching, the O’s still might consider moving a bat for an arm, either for the rotation or for a bullpen that has been somewhat fortified by the signing of Craig Kimbrel.
Rangers (Relief pitching, 0.0 bWAR): The shaky Texas bullpen almost cost the Rangers a postseason berth altogether, yet the relievers stabilized enough in the playoffs to help deliver the team’s first World Series championship. The Rangers signed Kirby Yates to help make up for the departures of Will Smith and Chris Stratton, and the team has also reportedly shown interest in such high-leverage relievers as Jordan Hicks and Robert Stephenson. Though Texas isn’t going to be continuing their spending sprees from the last two offseasons, they should still have enough payroll room to bolster the pen, even if signing Josh Hader might be a reach.
Rays (Catcher, 1.2 bWAR): Tampa Bay has been trying to stabilize the catching position for years, and the quest will continue this winter. Christian Bethancourt was non-tendered, leaving Rene Pinto and Alex Jackson lined up as the current tandem behind the plate. The Rays already moved their biggest trade chip (Tyler Glasnow) without getting a catcher as part of the return from the Dodgers, yet since Tampa’s front office is always actively seeking out deals, the Rays could pick up a backstop in a deal. Some kind of signing seems inevitable, whether it’s adding someone for a more regular role, or simply signing a couple of veterans to minors contracts to provide Spring Training competition.
Red Sox (Second base, 0.0 bWAR): Ten different players lined up at second base for the BoSox last season, with little success to be had. Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has highlighted the keystone as a natural target area, ideally for a right-handed hitter with a good glove. Free agent Whit Merrifield is one name known to be on Boston’s radar, and Merrifield’s ability to play the outfield also adds more flexibility to the roster, particularly should the Red Sox have interest in giving Ceddanne Rafaela a look at second base. Breslow’s first couple of months on the job have been mostly focused on remaking the Sox outfield, and pitching remains a larger overarching need of the Red Sox offseason.
Royals (Relief pitching, -1.4 bWAR): Few expected the Royals to be one of the offseason’s more aggressive spenders as we hit Christmas, yet Kansas City has splurged (by their standards) to upgrade its dismal pitching situation. Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha were signed to bolster the rotation, and the bullpen has also been a focus with the additions of Will Smith, Nick Anderson, and Chris Stratton. The work done to the rotation could filter down to the relief corps, as such names as Daniel Lynch, Angel Zerpa, or Alec Marsh could be used in the bullpen if they’re not being used as starting depth.
Tigers (Third base, -0.3 bWAR): Zach McKinstry, Nick Maton, and Matt Vierling are still around to man the second and third base positions and act as utility depth in general. However, the Tigers aren’t likely to seek out a big upgrade since they hope some help is coming on the farm. It isn’t clear where any of Colt Keith, Jace Jung, or Justyn-Henry Malloy might eventually end up around the diamond, yet all of this trio is expected to make their MLB debuts in 2024 and could help immediately at the keystone or at the hot corner.
Twins (First base, 1.4 bWAR): Alex Kirilloff’s young career has been plagued by injuries, so just getting a healthy year from Kirilloff would automatically help the Twins get more from the first base position. Edouard Julien could also play first if Jorge Polanco remains at second base and isn’t traded, though there is an expectation that at least one of Polanco or Max Kepler won’t be in Minnesota by Opening Day. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey identified first base as a likely target area in some fashion back in November, though it’s been a pretty quiet offseason thus far for the Twins, with most of the talk centered around payroll cuts and uncertainty over the club’s TV deal.
White Sox (Right field, -2.4 bWAR): There weren’t many positives in Chicago’s miserable 101-loss season, and that can be taken literally given all of the negative bWAR numbers around the diamond. The White Sox had a league-worst collective 0.4 bWAR for all non-pitchers, and were also below replacement level at shortstop (-1.7), catcher (-1.5), pinch-hitting (-0.6), second base (-0.4), and left field (-0.1). New GM Chris Getz has added talent at some of these positions already, but with so many holes to be plugged, Getz has yet to turn his attention to improving on the right field combination of Oscar Colas and Gavin Sheets. Some outfield additions seem inevitable, and Chicago’s roster might end up looking quite different in 2024 considering that Getz has been open to trade offers for just about any White Sox player.
Yankees (Left field, -1.6 bWAR): This was also the lowest left field bWAR total for any team in baseball in 2023, as New York’s revolving door of outfield options didn’t result in any consistent production. However, the Yankees have already upgraded their outfield in eye-opening fashion, acquiring both Juan Soto as the new right fielder and Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox to handle left field. Though Verdugo had some clashes with Sox manager Alex Cora and Verdugo has been only slightly above average over the last couple of years, that still represents a solid improvement over the mess that was the Yankees’ left field situation. Verdugo and Soto are also both left-handed hitters, so the Yankees have balanced out their heavily righty-swinging lineup.