A’s GM Billy Beane is fond of saying that the first two months of the baseball season are for finding out what you need, the second two months are for getting what you need, and the last two months are for having what you need and making your push for the playoffs.
With the season quickly approaching the two month mark, it’s time to look at each team and see what their biggest need is. Let’s start with the NL Central…
Brewers – a third baseman
With the Brew Crew firing on all cylinders in just about every other phase of the game, third base stands out as a gaping abyss. Corey Koskie is still out from the concussion he suffered last July, and there are no signs he will be back any time soon, and meanwhile the scrap-heap platoon of Craig Counsel and Tony Graffanino is batting a combined .214. Fortuitously, the Brewers best hitting prospect is none other than AAA third baseman Ryan Braun, who is batting .339 in Nashville with 9 homers and a 1.099 OPS. Braun was on the DL recently with wrist tendonitis, but is now back in action and should be playing in Miller Park soon.
Reds – a set-up man
Cincy’s lineup is stacked and they have been getting solid work out of their starting rotation, but their bullpen is 12th in the National League in ERA and second to last with 10 bullpen losses. Closer Dave Weathers has been excellent, but the pitchers behind him have been mediocre to awful. More than anything, the Reds need a capable setup man to bridge the gap from the middle innings to Weathers in the ninth. When your second best relief pitcher is Todd Coffey, that is just not going to get it done.
Pirates – a fifth starter
Let’s face it, the Pirates have a lot of holes. They are lacking power hitting, guys who can get on base, generalized defense at pretty much every position, and relief pitching. But the most glaring hole of all is fifth starter, where Tony Armas, Jr. flamed out after allowing 43 hits in 29 innings and yielding an 8.16 ERA in seven starts. The Pirates have been going with a four-man rotation of Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, and Tom Gorzelanny and occasionally spot-starting Armas, but it is increasingly clear to everyone but the Pirates that Armas has nothing left and any number of minor leaguers would put up better numbers if they were thrown out there.
Cardinals – a starting pitcher, or five
After letting their entire starting rotation except Chris Carpenter leave via free agency after last season’s World Series title run and then seeing Carpenter go down with an injury this spring, the Cardinals have been left with no starters whatsoever and have scrapped together a rotation which makes the Pirate’s mediocre squad look like a passel of aces. The Cardinals rotation is last in the National League (by more than half a run) with a 5.43 ERA and worst in the league with 23 losses as a squad. Meaning that adding a warm body who could throw 5 innings every fifth day and yield an ERA of around 5.00 would actually constitute and improvement for the Redbirds.
Cubs – a change in their luck
The Cubs spent a fortune on free agents in the offseason, and so far their spending spree hasn’t panned out, but the main culprit has been bad luck. The Cubbies have what is probably the best rotation in baseball so far this season, and that’s even with putative ace Carlos Zambrano sporting an ERA of 5.61, as Rich Hill, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and even fifth starter Angel Guzman all have ERAs in the 2’s with the season already 1/3 over. Meanwhile the Cubs lineup has a competent player at every position as well as good depth on the bench in both the infield (super-sub Ryan Theriot) and the outfield (Matt Murton, Angel Pagan). Indeed, the Cubs have actually outscored their opponents by 25 runs so far, so according to the Pythagorean method they should be a healthy 24-19 at this point rather than the anemic 20-23 record they actually have. More than anything, the Cubs need to not panic, wait for their luck to even out, and hope they can make a mid-season run.
Astros – a rightfielder
The platoon of Jason Lane and Luke Scott is just not working. Together, they are batting .217 out of an outfield corner. If that’s how they hit when they platoon, I’d hate to see what either man would hit if he batted against all comers.