As Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee injury reminded us, the Dodgers had quite the free agent exodus during the offseason. Nearly two months ago, they led the pack when Ben Clemens examined which teams were at the extremes in terms of production lost and gained via free agency. With all but a few free agents of note now signed, I thought it would be worth circling back to those rankings before moving on to highlight some notable holes on contending teams, something of an offseason version of my Replacement Level Killers series.
When Ben checked in just after the New Year, the Dodgers were runaway leaders in terms of net WAR lost to free agency, having already parted ways with Tyler Anderson, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Trea Turner and a dozen other players in an effort to trim payroll and lessen (if not eliminate) their Competitive Balance Tax burden. Towards that end, only two of their incoming free agents (J.D. Martinez and Noah Syndergaard) will make more than $10 million annually. To put it another way, the team won 111 games last year with a payroll just south of $270 million for CBT purposes, but after falling short of the National League Championship Series, they’re hoping to get as far or further by winning 80-something games and spending maybe $25 million less. Such are the vagaries of postseason baseball that it just might work.
The Dodgers still lead the pack in terms of net WAR lost, though they did recently add outfielder David Peralta (who’s coming off a 1.7-WAR season) to the fold, lessening their hit. Here’s how the 30 teams shake out now:
2022 Net WAR Lost in Free Agency
|Team||2022 WAR Lost||2022 WAR Gained||Net|
Because this offseason was particularly front loaded with regards to the big free agents, these rankings haven’t changed all that much; there’s been some jockeying for position among six of the seven teams with the largest losses, with the Mariners crashing the party. After finally ending their 20-year playoff drought, they disappointed their fans by not spending big in free agency, then compounded that disappointment in the past couple of months by only adding Tommy La Stella (-0.8 WAR) and AJ Pollock (0.5 WAR), moving them from the ninth-lowest net to the sixth-lowest.
At the other end of the spectrum, the drama surrounding Carlos Correa notably shifted the picture. In Ben’s version, he was counted as part of the Mets’ 26.1 WAR added, and their net of 8.0 WAR added ranked them second only to the Cubs. But less than a week later, their deal finally collapsed and he returned to the Twins, which helped to swing Minnesota from a net of -2.5 WAR (eighth-lowest) to 2.0 WAR (11th-highest) and bumped the Mets — who can still claim the additions of Justin Verlander and José Quintana plus the returns of Edwin Díaz and Brandon Nimmo — down to third. The Marlins and Phillies joined the top five from 14th and 12th, respectively; the former subsequently added Johnny Cueto (2.4 WAR) and Jean Segura (1.7 WAR), while the latter inked Josh Harrison (1.4).
What follows here is the first installment of a two-part look at the weakest positions on contending teams, by which I mean those with Playoff Odds of at least 10%, a threshold that describes 11 teams in the American League (all but the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, and A’s). It’s worth noting that because of the general tendency to overproject playing time and keep even the weakest teams with positive WARs at each position (in reality over 10% of them will finish in the red), our Depth Chart values at the team level are inflated by about 20%. That is to say, instead of having a total of 1,000 WAR projected across the 30 teams, we have about 1,200. Thus, I am discounting the team values that you see on the Depth Chart pages by 20%, and focusing on the lowest-ranked contenders among those whose adjusted values fall below 2.0 WAR, the general equivalent of average play across a full season. The individual WARs cited will remain as they are on the Depth Chart pages, however, and it’s worth noting that many of the players here — particularly youngsters with shorter track records — don’t project particularly well but aren’t without upside; hope springs eternal.
With one exception, I’ve limited myself to a maximum of two teams at each spot. At two positions, no team falls below the threshold, but I’ve made a brief note in passing. As with the Replacement Level Killers series, I’m only concerning myself with position players. I’ll have the National League edition in my next dispatch.
Astros (Ranked 29th, adjusted value of 1.1 WAR)
I reviewed this situation a couple weeks ago in the context of possible fits for free agent Gary Sanchez, who’s still unsigned but isn’t likely to land here. The Astros don’t project well via 36-year-old Martín Maldonado (0.8 WAR in 429 PA) and 24-year-olds Korey Lee (0.3 WAR in 160 PA) and Yainer Diaz (0.3 WAR in 51 PA). Astros pitchers love throwing to Maldonado, and the organization values his game-calling and leadership abilities even if he can’t hit (72 career wRC+, 70 in 2022), though to be fair, he played through a broken bone in his right hand after being hit by a pitch on August 28, then underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia after the World Series. Lee, a 2019 first-round pick who “has a 70 arm and plus power, but is likely a 30-grade hitter,” according to Eric Longenhagen’s Prospect TLDR from last year, and Diaz, a bat-first Top 100 prospect with just 48 games of Triple-A experience, are competing for the backup spot.
Angels (25th, 1.3 WAR)
Albert Pujols is back only via a personal services contract, but the Halos nonetheless forecast to get Pujols-like production from Jared Walsh (1.1 WAR in 476 PA), with Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury possibly seeing time here as well. Walsh hit just .215/.269/.374 last year before going under the knife in early September to correct thoracic outlet syndrome; he had first noticed symptoms in 2019 but had previously managed to thrive, hitting a combined .280/.338/.531 (130 wRC+) while totaling 5.4 WAR in ’20-21 and even making the AL All-Star team in the latter year. I have a lot of data showing the rarity of happy outcomes when it comes to TOS for pitchers, but haven’t studied position players who have the procedure; Walsh’s projections are pessimistic but it’s quite possible his performance won’t be so dire.
Twins (20th, 1.5 WAR)
Alex Kirilloff entered 2021 ranked 16th on our Top 100 Prospects list, but right wrist woes have limited him to 101 games in the past two seasons, each of which ended prematurely due to surgeries. In 2022, he hit just .250/.290/.361 (86 wRC+) and was worth -0.6 WAR before undergoing surgery to shorten his ulnar bone, which doesn’t sound like much fun. Kirilloff projects for just 0.9 WAR in 385 PA, with Donovan Solano, Jose Miranda, Joey Gallo and Kyle Farmer all options to cover for him — albeit while moving from positions where their defense is more valuable. Not ideal.
White Sox (29th, 1.5 WAR)
As Davy Andrews pointed out, before the White Sox re-signed Elvis Andrus in late February, ZiPS projected them to receive 0.9 WAR from a combination of Romy Gonzalez, Lenyn Sosa, and others. The addition of Andrus effectively doubles that before I apply the discount. The now 34-year-old Andrus was having a pretty good — and notably pain-free — season with the A’s before they released him on August 17 to avoid paying his $15 million player option. He finished the season with the White Sox, and had his best year since 2017, hitting .265/.322/.392 with 17 homers and a 105 wRC+. Age and some ugly performances in those intermediate years (including a 74 wRC+ over the 2018-21 span) drag his projection down, but if he can replicate last year’s good health while moving to second base, he’ll improve upon this ranking.
Angels (23rd, 1.8 WAR)
The Halos signed Drury to a two-year, $17 million deal after he set career highs in homers (28), wRC+ (123) and WAR (3.0). He barreled the ball much more consistently than ever (10.4%), but the underlying numbers don’t support his .492 SLG, and so the projections see a whole lot of regression ahead. Supporting cast members David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo don’t raise the bar much.
The Angels have the lowest ranking among the contenders (25th) but at 2.2 adjusted WAR from Rengifo, Urshela and Fletcher, this isn’t their biggest problem.
The Rangers rank 21st at 2.2 adjusted WAR, which isn’t so bad particularly when the lion’s share of the playing time is slated to go to Josh Jung, who ranks 31st on this year’s Top 100 Prospects list but played just 57 total games (26 in the majors) following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which dampens his projections.
Rangers (30th, 0.6 WAR)
On the other hand, even after signing lefty-mashing switch-hitter Robbie Grossman late last month, the Rangers rank dead stinkin’ last among all teams in left field, and it doesn’t help that Grossman hit .209/.310/.311 (82 wRC+) with -0.3 WAR in 477 PA in 2022. Ex-Yankee Clint Frazier has a golden opportunity to step up, but he’s two lost seasons past his 2020 breakout, with concussion-related woes having loomed large. The draw for signing with the Rangers was a reunion with hitting coach Tim Hyers, who has known him since he was 14 years old; the pair spent the winter working to eliminate a hitch in Frazier’s swing. Maybe it will help, but if not, Brad Miller, Bubba Thompson, Josh H. Smith or somebody else will soak up the playing time that doesn’t go to Grossman.
Mariners (24th, 1.2 WAR)
Through 558 PA in the majors, Jarred Kelenic has hit just .168/.251/.338 (55 wRC+) while striking out almost 30% of the time. Still just entering his age-23 season, he’s got another chance to secure a full-time job, and at the very least, after a winter spent overhauling his swing and approach, he’s homered three times during this young exhibition season. Maybe he’ll get it together, and if not, perhaps Pollock has a bounce back to his 2020-21 form in store after a dismal ’22 (.245/.292/.389, 92 wRC+).
Yankees (20th, 1.4 WAR)
Aaron Hicks was comparatively healthy last year, playing in 130 games, but he spent most of them making the Yankees wish they had someone better, or at least cheaper and not signed through 2025. Oswaldo Cabrera showed some pluck by learning the outfield on the fly upon reaching the majors in mid-August, turning himself into a credible superutilityman. What could really elevate the Yankees here is if Aaron Judge plays more left field than we’re projecting (42 PA) in an alignment that would feature healthy versions of Harrison Bader in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right; Yankee Stadium’s configuration leaves the latter with much less ground to cover than if he were in left.
Rangers (24th, 1.7 WAR)
Leody Taveras’s reputation for elite defense didn’t quite match up with last year’s metrics, but after spending the first two months of 2022 at Triple-A Round Rock to shake off a ghastly 28 wRC+ (.161/.207/.270) showing in ’21, he returned to produce a respectable 93 wRC+ (.261/.309/.366). He’s still just 24, and ZiPS at least sees near-term two-win potential even if Steamer doesn’t. Thompson, a former first-round pick who stole 18 bases in just 55 games even while hitting for a 77 wRC+, may be the top alternative for the near term, but he’ll have to hit to hold down a regular job.
Red Sox (22nd, 1.9 WAR)
Here I’ve bypassed the similarly-ranked Astros because I’m puzzled why Chas McCormick projects so poorly despite 727 PA of above-average work in 2021-22. The Red Sox’s ranking is less of a mystery given that both Adam Duvall and Enrique Hernández have been such volatile players on a year-to-year basis; the pair combined for 58 homers and 6.6 WAR in 2021 but just 18 homers and 1.4 WAR last year. The absence of Trevor Story as he recovers from UCL internal brace surgery will mean Hernández shares shortstop duties with Adalberto Mondesi, opening up another chance for 26-year-old Jarren Duran in center field after two disappointing big league stints. Duran has shortened and simplified his swing in an effort to gain traction here.
White Sox (29th, 1.0 WAR)
Gavin Sheets hit .250/.324/.506 in a promising 54-game introduction to the majors in 2021, but slipped to .241/.295/.411 in a much more substantial slice of playing time last year, and even that was better than he deserved given his 6.5% barrel rate and .359 xSLG — which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a 6-foot-5, 230-pound lefty masher. He and a platoon partner (Victor Reyes? Leury Garcia?) are probably keeping the seat warm for 24-year-old Cuban emigré Oscar Colas, who hit .314/.371/.524 while rocketing through three minor league levels last year after spending his ages 18-20 seasons in the Japanese minors. Strikeout-prone but with plus raw power, Colas doesn’t project particularly well given his slim body of stateside work, and scouting grades on him range from a 45 FV player to a 55, but he could wind up better than advertised here.
Guardians (22nd, 1.6 WAR)
As a 24-year-old rookie, Oscar Gonzalez became a postseason hero last fall thanks to a pair of game-winning hits on top of a .296/.327/.461 (126 wRC+) performance in 382 PA. However, Longenhagen’s Graduation TLDR offers a note of caution that’s reflected in his tepid projection for a 108 wRC+ with a 4% walk rate: “Gonzalez’s extremely swing-happy approach kept him on the periphery of Cleveland prospect lists despite his tools. His rookie season blew through expectations and its sustainability is questionable.” Will Brennan, a contact-oriented 25-year-old rookie who had a scalding cup of coffee last fall, is the top alternative.
The lack of defense and low positional adjustment for DHs leave 20 of the 30 teams below 2.0 at this spot even before adjustment, with most contenders in that wide-ranging group projected to split the work among several players. The Rangers (Mitch Garver, Brad Miller, Adolis García, and Jung) rank 26th with 0.7 adjusted WAR and the Mariners (Pollock, La Stella Cal Raleigh, Teoscar Hernández, and Ty France) are 22nd at 1.0, but our time is better spent doing something besides dwelling upon any of the configurations at this juncture.
I’ll be back with the Senior Circuit in my next installment.