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The Roster Dilemma

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Well, we sit here about 3 weeks away from opening day still w/ a lot of questions about the roster’s composition. There are a few things we know for sure -- #5 will be at first batting 3rd, Khalil Greene will be the opening day SS, and Ankiel and Ludwick will be in the OF – but beyond that there are a lot of questions. It appears as though Joe Mather has won the 3B job in Glaus’s absence so one more position is spoken for, even if there have to be defensive concerns. Skip will be on the roster – whether he’ll be playing 2B, LF, CF, or closer are at this point undetermined – but he’ll be on the opening day roster. The other thing we know is that the pitching staff will have Tony’s standard 12-man lineup. While I like the way Tony uses platoon matchups (generally) the necessity of keeping 7 pitchers in the bullpen is lost on me. Of course, last year we carried 4 middle infielders for most of the year so I guess the 7 man bullpen isn’t so bad after all.

With a 7 man bullpen, that leaves 13 spots for position players – 2 of whom will be Yadi and (gulp!) Jason LaRue. Many of the bullpenners aren’t exactly doing a lot to pitch themselves onto the roster, though we’re dealing w/ ridiculously small samples, of course. Perez has a 5.40 ERA and 3 BB in 5 IP. KMac has a 7.56 ERA and 3 BB in 8.1 IP. Thompson has a 5.19 ERA in 8.2 IP and has, w/o question, the worst stuff in the pen. The other guys have been ok but Dennys Reyes hasn’t even reported yet. He has, however, given up 6 ER in 1.1 innings in the WBC. Franklin, Kinney, and Miller have all been ok, though Kinney’s walked 4 in 4 IP, and Motte’s been terrific – 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 7 K. And Motte’s the one who might not make the roster? At Brad Thompson’s expense? WTF??????? Whatever the composition, there’ll be 7 in the pen, which will leave 11 spots for OFs and IFs.

Definitely Maybe
Pujols Thurston
K. Greene T. Greene
Mather Ryan
Skip Duncan
Ankiel Rasmus
Ludwick Barton
Jay

We seem to have 6 of the 11 set, w/ 7 candidates for the other 5 spots. Among those 5 players, we definitely need to have someone who can spot Mather at third, though probably Thurston, Ryan, and T. Greene could all do that. They probably could all play SS in a pinch as well, though I’d have the least faith in Thurston. Still, Khalil Greene figures to play just about every day while Glaus is on the mend so we probably will only need a little help at SS at least for the first month or month and a half. The real question mark is at 2B – will Skip stick? If not, who becomes the "regular" 2B? If so, who backs him up?

The guys at the p-d did their little Algonquin roundtable about who becomes the team’s 2B and, for the most part, seemed to think that Brendan Ryan will be the opening day 2B b/c we’ll be facing the Pirates and a lefty will be on the mound. That’s reasonable, I guess, except for the fact that Ryan’s been given just 9 ABs so far this spring and hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm. Aside from that, there still seems to be a lot of belief in the likelihood of Skip sticking at 2B for the long-term. So what can we discern from their spring stats?

AB H HR BB K AVG OBP SLG E
Skip 36 11 0 3 0 .306 .359 .472 4
Thurston 34 10 2 2 1 .294 .333 .529 1
T. Greene 32 8 0 4 6 .250 .333 .344 2
Ryan 9 2 0 1 0 .222 .300 .222 0

It appears as though Thurston has a leg up on a spot – he’s hit and fielded better than Ryan or T. Greene – but, like Skip, he’s a lefty. He seems to be superfluous if Skip sticks at 2nd. I guess I could see him making the roster as the backup SS and 3B but we’re still going to need another middle infielder who hits from the right side in order to spell Skip at 2nd. Skip’s struggles against lefties have been documented often and Thurston, another lefty, offers nothing in the way of platoon protection. That seems to leave us again w/ 4 middle infielders on the roster and Ryan or T. Greene on the roster. Though Greene was lauded in the p-d the other day, his offense has always left something to be desired. He’s always been a low OBP, high K guy at the plate and his spring training stats aren’t doing a lot to dispel that notion.

As I look at the numbers, I wonder why Brian Barden and Jarrett Hoffpauir aren’t getting more of a look. Barden can play any of the 3 positions, play them well, and has been very good offensively in his 20 ABs (.350/.409/.450). Hoffpauir may be limited to 2nd, but if Thurston’s going to make the roster is that such a bad thing? We need a right-handed hitting 2B and Hoffpauir’s been better at the plate this spring (.333/.409/.389), and in the past, than both Ryan and Greene. I’m not saying he’s played his way onto the roster, but he seems to deserve more of a look than he’s getting. Still, if I were a betting man, right now I’d bet on Pujols, Mather, K. Greene, Skip, Thurston, and Ryan making the team and the others heading to Memphis.

That leaves us w/ 5 OF spots – 2 of which are spoken for w/ Ankiel and Ludwick. Many have tried to play this spring’s roster dilemma as being Skip against Rasmus, or Duncan against Rasmus – that Rasmus only makes the team if Skip sticks at 2nd, or Rasmus only makes the team if Duncan is shipped away. I think those are probably false choices. Rasmus’s chances for making the roster are increased at least as much by the fact that Mather seems to have taken control of the hot corner as by Skip’s move to 2nd. Take 2 OFs and move them to the infield and that opens 2 spots for OFs. I initially saw Freese taking 3B and Barton never being on the roster. Now I see Barton’s inclusion as likely. Let’s look at their spring numbers.

AB H HR BB K AVG OBP SLG
Duncan 34 12 2 4 9 .353 .410 .618
Rasmus 36 9 0 5 10 .250 .341 .389
Barton 26 5 2 5 9 .192 .323 .538
Jay 29 11 0 2 2 .379 .419 .483

Jon Jay’s certainly making a case to make the team, isn’t he? I really think, however, that all he’s really doing is becoming the OF’s version of Allen Craig (.500/.583/.750). He’s showing Tony that he can play and that he has a future in the big leagues, but do we really need another lefty in the OF? Rasmus is a legitimate CF (Jay probably isn’t) and a very good one. Add Duncan and Ankiel, and Jay would be a 4th lefty in the OF, not counting Skip. It’ll be hard for the skeptics to say that Duncan’s only on the team due to nepotism after his performance this spring. Barton’s hardly been great, except for 1 game, but he does hit from the right side and offer some speed, which the team could desperately use. I just don’t see a spot for Jay at this point, and that’s ok. He probably needs a year at Memphis anyway.

We’ll find out more as we get closer to opening day of course. As starters get stretched out and the regulars get more PAs, we’ll be able to see more who’s hitting against whom. Thurston has 34 ABs, for example, but if they’re all against minor league scrubs, then he may not be as close to making the team as we think. I’d like to see Craig get a shot at 3rd. Considering his power, he seems to offer more than at least 1 of those MIs and, if he plays third, Mather could play the OF. Mather’s certainly a better player at this point than Barton and I’d like to find out if Craig is, too.