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MLB’s worst position situations: 2012 edition

Feb 2, 2012, 2:58 PM EDT

Jason Bourgeois, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic Getty Images

After declaring the Houston Astros in position of the game’s worst rotation earlier today, I thought it’d be fun to look at the rest of the worst. So here are MLB’s most gruesome position situations heading into the 2012 season:

Catcher: Dodgers – A.J. Ellis, Matt Treanor, Tim Federowicz

The Dodgers let the slugging-heavy Rod Barajas walk with the intention of replacing him with someone who will do little but walk. Ellis. who turns 31 in April, has hit .262/.360/.330 in 206 major league at-bats. That’s not too shabby, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to keep his OBP up once right-handed pitchers figure out he’s barely a threat to get the ball out of the infield. He’s also average at best defensively. That the Dodgers didn’t bring in anyone better than Treanor as an insurance policy was quite a disappointment.

Dishonorable mention: Rays, Astros, Blue Jays

I might have gone with the Astros over the Dodgers before they signed Chris Snyder. There’s still some hope that young Jason Castro will be pretty good anyway. The Rays are banking a lot on Jose Molina‘s defense, but even if he’s as good as they think, turning him into a regular for the first time at age 36 figures to result in DL stints.

First base: Orioles – Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit

The Orioles top this list because they’re stubbornly refusing to put Mark Reynolds at first, even though Reynolds was maybe the game’s worst defender at third base last season. Davis offers a superior glove at third and his bat would play better there. I have him projected with a worse OPS than other replaceable first basemen like Matt LaPorta, Daric Barton and Mat Gamel. Betemit is currently penciled in as the DH.

Dishonorable mention: Indians, Pirates, Athletics, Brewers, Cubs

Two of these teams are going to upgrade to Derrek Lee and Casey Kotchman, taking them off the list. I imagine the Indians will be one of them, leaving LaPorta out of a job.

Second base: Mets – Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Ronny Cedeno

There aren’t any particularly bad second base situations out there, though the Mets’ could quickly turn into one if Murphy struggles to recover his mobility. He sustained season-ending injuries to his right knee in 2010 and his left knee last year. Murphy can hit enough to make up for below average defense, but he’s just not likely to hold up physically while playing second base.

Dishonorable mentions: Orioles, Tigers, Cardinals, Cubs

The Orioles will go back to Robert Andino at second if Brian Roberts can’t overcome a nasty case of post-concussion syndrome. The Tigers can set up an offense-defense platoon of Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago, but Raburn probably isn’t good enough offensively to make it worth it.

Third base: Dodgers – Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Kennedy

Uribe kicked off a three-year, $21 million contract by hitting .204/.264/.293 in 270 at-bats for the Dodgers last season. He can’t be that bad again, but he still gets a worst offensive projection than Ian Stewart, Danny Valencia and some of the other contenders here and I’m not sure his glove will allow him to overcome it.

Dishonorable mention: Cubs, Pirates, Twins, Rockies, Mariners

I’m of the belief that the Pirates need to send down Pedro Alvarez and use Casey McGehee as a stopgap third baseman. Alvarez belongs at first base anyway. The Mariners make an appearance even though I’m somewhat optimistic about Kyle Seager. He should start against righties.

Shortstop: Giants – Brandon Crawford, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot

Crawford hit .224/.282/.318 in 107 at-bats in Triple-A and .204/.288/.296 in 196 at-bats in the majors last season, so his glove will have to be awfully good to make him serviceable. For what it’s worth, I have him projected at .222/.300/.303 for this year. The Giants will have a couple of weak defenders backing him up.

Dishonorable mention: Braves, Red Sox, Twins

I see Atlanta’s Tyler Pastornicky outhitting Crawford, though I expect he’ll be a bit weaker defensively. That the Giants claimed the top spot here came down to the backups; Jack Wilson is the better insurance policy. The Red Sox will try to get by with Nick Punto and Mike Aviles, at least for a few months. The Twins also make the list: I know Jamey Carroll‘s defensive numbers have been pretty good, but at age 38, range is certainly an issue.

Left field: Blue Jays – Eric Thames, Travis Snider, Ben Francisco, Rajai Davis

What the Jays lack in quality, they do make up for in quantity. Still, manager John Farrell is likely to have a difficult time figuring out the best arrangement here. Thames looks like the early favorite for playing time, but he’s also the worst defender of the bunch. Snider is just 24, so there’s still plenty of promise in his bat. He’s the one in the group capable of making me look silly here in a few months.

Dishonorable mention: White Sox, Dodgers, Mariners, Twins, Astros, Pirates

I’m not optimistic about Alejandro De Aza for the White Sox or Ben Revere for the Twins, but both should be excellent defensively, making up for OPSs in the 700 range.

Center field: Astros – Jordan Schafer, Jason Bourgeois, J.B. Shuck

The Astros are banking on Schafer after picking him up from the Braves in the Michael Bourn trade. I have him projected at .252/.326/.353, which won’t be so bad if it comes with plus defense. However, he is injury-prone and there’s not much behind him.

Dishonorable mention: Nationals, Rangers, Mets, Royals

The Nationals have yet again struck out on obtaining a center field upgrade, leaving them with the option of shifting Jayson Werth from right or letting Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron battle it out in spring training. The Rangers will have Julio Borbon, Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry compete, but they always have the fallback of returning Josh Hamilton to center.

Right field: Astros – Brian Bogusevic, Fernando Martinez, Jack Cust

At least the Astros avoided the clean sweep in the outfield; I think J.D. Martinez will be below average in left, but he does have a nice glove. Bogusevic just doesn’t possess the power to be useful as a regular, and the alternatives aren’t pretty.

Dishonorable mention: White Sox, Red Sox, Athletics, Giants

Right field stands as one of the game’s strongest positions at the moment, and none of these situations are nearly as bad as Houston’s. The White Sox will turn to Dayan Viciedo after trading Carlos Quentin, and while I don’t think he’ll be outright bad, I don’t see him being much of an asset offensively or defensively right away. The Red Sox can try a Ryan SweeneyCody Ross platoon, at least until Ryan Kalish gets back. The big problem there is that they may need to start both Sweeney and Ross if Carl Crawford starts off on the DL.

  1. El Bravo - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    The bayou hobbits are back together!!!! I totally forgot about that! Fontenot and Theriot reunion!

    • ronjohn16 - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:14 PM

      I will look for them to keep a bottle of tobasco at 2nd base.

      • El Bravo - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:34 PM

        What you need to look out for is the missing run support that will be lost very early in the season with these two nozzles…

  2. mrjavascript - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    Actually Chris Davis’ “D” at 3B *might* be worse than Reynolds:

    • randomdigits - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      Buck has also stated that he doesn’t think Davis’ shoulder would hold up playing third every day. Also Reynolds pretty much sucked at first last year as well.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 2, 2012 at 6:41 PM

      Thanks for the link.

      I don’t believe Davis is too bad at third, from what I’ve seen. But my sample size is even smaller than UZR’s.

  3. mvpolamalu - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    When i was scrolling down i accidently missed 2nd base. I saw the tigers as a dishonerable mention, but thought it was for 1st base. I almost threw my iPhone out the window.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:38 PM

      And later that day, you would have wanted to kill yourself. Apple products are about as expensive as…uh….who’s that over-the-hill sumbitch at first for Detroit again?

  4. frankenderek - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    No Phil’s at all. Nice!

  5. spindervish - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    Man does the NL suck.

    • dwrek5 - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:29 PM

      2013 will be better. Astros… addition by subtraction.

    • El Bravo - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      So long as they keep winning the ASG and playing the Rangers in the WS, the NL can’t lose!

  6. hamispig - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    So the teams that are completely set in terms of position players:
    One of those just doesn’t seem to fit in with the others.

    • hamispig - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:36 PM

      Reds should have been on the list as well.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      True. The Padres just seem to shoot for average at every position every year. There worst position as it stands now is left field, but even if Jesus Guzman flops there, they have a nice fallback in Will Venable, plus a wild card in Kyle Blanks.

      • hamispig - Feb 2, 2012 at 3:51 PM

        I thought they would have made the list with Orlando Hudson starting at second.

      • gloccamorra - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:11 AM

        Carlos Quentin is the Padres’ left fielder. Right field in Petco is not a normal RF, it’s practically a second center field, so Venable and Denorfia will be platooning in right, since both are backups for Maybin in center. Guzman is supposed to be platooning with Alonso at first, occasionally playing third to give Headley a day off and rarely playing left field. Blanks is ticketed for triple-A Tucson, though he’s the best defensive first baseman, and a better left fielder than Quentin or Guzman. The Padres are fudging defense for added offense this year.

    • brucewaynewins - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM

      You forgot the Reds which I’m pleasantly surprised to not see them on the honorable mention list.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:39 PM

      Those are teams who have no starters in the bottom 5 of any position, according to this article.

  7. cur68 - Feb 2, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    I thought Eric Thames was pretty good last season in left and superior a defender to Snider over all, given the understanding that Thames is a rookie. In world where Vernon Wells is someone’s left fielder (103 starts in left & 3 errors = ~ 0.971 fielding %), is it fair to pick on Thames? I call Small Sample Size to the witness box in support of the rook, Thames. He had only 53 starts with 1 error in left last season: how can someone arrive at the conclusion that they know anything about his fielding ability from that. Then there’s the contention that Snider, by contrast, is better than Thames. He, Snider, had 44 starts in left with 3 errors. I’m not seeing where Snider is the upgrade to Thames, small sample size for Snider & Thames, duly noted. Lets give the kid a chance to get a season in LF in before we saddle him with “worst left fielder”, mmmkay?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 2, 2012 at 6:45 PM

      Left field was probably the toughest call. My gut says the White Sox’s is worse, but it’s possible I’m wrong about De Aza.

      Snider has more range than Thames in the outfield, though he’s far from exceptional himself. I don’t see Thames having all that much offensive upside. But I’m not taking a strong stand that the Jays are particularly worse off in left field than the Astros, White Sox, etc.

      • cur68 - Feb 2, 2012 at 7:45 PM

        I’m glad you’re not jumping up and down on my throat. Gives me leverage for what follows here: Given that Wells posted a .248 OBP to Thames’ .313, and a .218 BA to Thames .262 I’m going to tip in favour of Wells to wear the goat horns given his relatively lackluster offence. IMO one should never pass up an opportunity to point out that Vernon Wells, in spite of being a relatively kind and decent person, is in fact the devil and the soul of evil.

        I’ll be equally happy with the ChiSox getting the nod as worst LF, too. I don’t really expect much of them with Ventura, a new manager, at the helm and they were pretty uninspiring last season, to be sure. I don’t see them getting better. I do however see Thames and his crew getting better (no idea about BFran: never seen the guy play). Beaver Power.

      • gabrielthursday - Feb 3, 2012 at 2:58 AM

        What of the Angels? they might be the worst if they play Vernon Wells, and from what I’ve heard, they are going to continue down that dark path. The Dodgers are probably worse with Juan Rivera. Alfonso Soriano is likely to continue his decline.

        I really doubt the Jays, White Sox or Twins will challenge for worst left-field situation with those three teams in the mix. I really think you’re underestimating the mediocrity of mediocre veterans and undervaluing the potential of young players (even those who have seen success). For the record, Eric Thames was pretty atrocious in left field defensively last year, but he’s got enough speed to be decent, and he’s got a strong enough work ethic that I’m confident he’ll improve.

  8. coachbrew - Feb 2, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    The Twins get dishonorable mentions at four positions. Sadly, that seems about right.

    • coachbrew - Feb 2, 2012 at 6:54 PM

      My mistake, three positions. They should be at second base.

      • JB (the original) - Feb 2, 2012 at 8:59 PM

        Hate to say it, but probably at 1st too. Who knows what Morneau (concussion, repaired foot, repaired wrist, knee surgery, neck surgery all this past year) will be able to do, if anything, and if they’re thinking Doumit as the back-up, he has 7 games played at 1B over the last 5 years…. Unless they’re thinking Baby Jesus at 1st and Doumit catching. But with this sort of uncertainty, how do they not get at least a dis-honorable mention?

  9. stex52 - Feb 2, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    Pretty impressive job for the Astros. Last year they had Pence, Bourne and Lee in the outfield. Lee is on the way down, but overall that was a team strength. This year – bubkes. And with some of the worst pitching and catching in the league, it’s going to be a nightmare.

    • gabrielthursday - Feb 3, 2012 at 3:01 AM

      J.D. Martinez should be pretty good in left field, so you’re one-third decent.

  10. visnovsky - Feb 2, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    How are the Twins not dishonorably mentioned at 2nd base. Nishioka and Alexi Casilla are the definition of below replacement level and replacement level, respectively.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 2, 2012 at 6:48 PM

      Because at least Matt Tolbert is no longer part of the plan?

      The numbers say Casilla has gotten a whole lot better defensively the last couple of years. But, yeah, you can throw them into the mix, too.

  11. royalsfaninfargo - Feb 2, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    It’s nice to see a list about the worst position battles and not see the Royals on any of the lists. Granted, they were the 2nd worst pitching on your other list. Slowly but surely they are climbing the ladder.

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