“You can’t tell the players without a program” has never been more true in today’s game, with hundreds of free agent signings every year. To that end, MLB has helpfully provided projected starting lineups for all major league clubs as we head into the start of the new season later this week. After you’ve perused the MLB post, I’ll highlight some of the changes in each team’s lineup. More after the jump.
The ANGELS have six returning regulars with a seventh, utility man Luis Valbuena, penciled into the 1st base spot. Newcomers are Ian Kinsler at 2B and Zack Cozart at 3B. The 36 year-old Kinsler comes to the Halos on the heels of his worst major league season, while 32 year-old Cozart is coming off his best campaign. Despite his subpar performance last year, Kinsler still scored 90 runs for the 9th time in his career, third among active players, trailing only the 11 seasons of former and new teammates Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Cozart’s 29 Rbat last season was easily the best of 91 age 31 shortstop seasons (only 7 were positive scores), among those with negative Rbat in 600+ SS games thru age 30.
On the hill, Matt Shoemaker returns from a season-ending injury in 2017, while Garrett Richards attempts to stay healthy for the first time since 2015. 23 year-old Japanese rookie Shohei Othani will try to fill another spot in what looks to be a fragile rotation.
The ASTROS return almost their entire starting lineup and starting rotation from their world championship season last year. 24 year-old rookie J.D. Davis will try to claim the regular first base job from 34 year-old Yuli Gurriel who finished 4th in RoY voting last year and starts this season on the DL and the suspended list.
The ATHLETICS have a new look outfield after signing former Cardinals Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowler, while 2017 rookies Matt Chapman (3B), Matt Olson (1B) and Bruce Maxwell (C) will try to make it as everyday players. Piscotty, Fowler and holdover outfielder Khris Davis were a collective -3.4 dWAR last season, with Fowler and Davis both below -1.5 dWAR; the last A’s team with a pair of such defensively challenged outfielders was in 1999 (which was actually an improvement from 1995 and 1997, when a trio of A’s outfielders were below the -1.5 dWAR threshold).
The BLUE JAYS will also be featuring a new look outfield with veterans Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk (the Cardinals’ third outfielder from last season) flanking holdover and defensive stalwart Kevin Pillar. Oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki will start the season on the DL, to be replaced by Aledmys Diaz, yet another Cardinal refugee. Granderson comes into this season with 109 home runs but only 274 RBI over his last 5 campaigns, the latter figure the second lowest total (just one more than Ken Griffey, Jr.) among 112 players with 100+ HR aged 32-36. Diaz’s 78 OPS+ last year was among the lowest by a player following a 400 PA rookie season with 130 OPS+. Quiz: which RoY winner had a lower OPS+ than Diaz in his next season?
Four of the Blue Jay starters return from last season with newcomer Jaime Garcia projected to take the fifth spot. Diaz and new teammate J.A. Happ are among a select group of 51 pitchers to record 140 ERA+ in a qualified rookie season; Diaz is one of just 17 to do so aged 23 or younger.
The INDIANS return their starting nine and starting rotation from last season, with one exception: newcomer Yonder Alonso replacing the departed Carlos Santana at first base. Alonso looks to continue the form that saw him post a breakout season of 28 home runs in 2017, tied for the second highest total in an age 30 season among players with fewer than 40 homers in 5+ seasons thru age 29. Quiz: which such player had the most home runs in his age 30 season?
The MARINERS have added speedster Dee Gordon in CF (replacing departed speedster Jarrod Dyson) and slugging first baseman Ryon Healy. Returning legend Ichiro Suzuki will hold down the LF spot until last year’s promising rookie Ben Gamel returns from the DL. Healy’s 25 HR last season tops the list of 17 players having a qualified first or second season with a 6:1 SO to BB ratio. Gordon last year posted his second 200 hit season and third with 50 stolen bases, a combination only Ichiro (2001) has achieved as a Mariner.
Seattle returns three starters from its 2017 rotation, with 2017 late season acquisiitons Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales projected to fill the other two spots. Leake joins teammate Felix Hernandez as two of only seven active pitchers to post qualifying innings each season aged 23 to 29. Different story for the 26 year-old Gonzales who was fewer than 100 IP for his career and has yet to show the form that would justify regular playing time.
The ORIOLES are returning seven of last year’s starters, including deadline day acquisition Tim Beckham who will move to 3B with All-Star Manny Machado taking the shortstop spot. Newcomers are well-traveled Colby Rasmus in RF, replacing yet-to-be-signed free agent Seth Smith, and 23 year-old rookie catcher Chance Cisco. No Browns or Orioles rookie catcher aged 23 or younger has posted a qualifying season, with Andy Etchebarren coming the closest with 458 PA in 1966, followed by Matt Wieters (385 PA) in 2009. Machado is one of only 6 players with 700 games at 3B thru age 24; of the other five, only Freddie Lindstrom changed positions at age 25, moving to the outfield.
Three of Baltimore’s starting rotation are returning, with the other spots expected to be filled by newcomer Andrew Cashner and project Mike Wright, the latter a 28 year-old with a 5.86 ERA in 144 career IP. Cashner’s 138 ERA+ last season is the second best qualifying mark (behind Al Jackson with 144 in 1966) in an age 30 season, among 46 pitchers with ERA+ of 85 or less in 300+ IP aged 28-29.
The RANGERS start the year with just one new face in the starting nine as career reserve Ryan Rua is expected to move up to fill the outfield spot vacated by Carlos Gomez. But, a different story on the mound with only two returning starters. Expected to fill out the rotation are Matt Moore, Mike Minor and the well-traveled Doug Fister, none of whom has posted a qualifying season with 100 ERA+ since 2014.
The RAYS have changes all over the diamond, with only four returning starters. Most notable is new third baseman Matt Duffy replacing franchise icon Evan Longoria. Duffy, the NL RoY runner-up in his last full season in 2015, is returning from an injury that sidelined him for all but three minor league games a year ago. Elsewhere, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span will flank defensive stalwart Kevin Kiermaier in the Rays’ outfield (even Kiermaier may have trouble overcoming Span’s defensive lapses), with C.J. Cron taking over at first base and 2017 rookie Daniel Robertson expected to challenge incumbent Brad Miller at second. Cron has hit exactly 16 home runs in each of his last 3 seasons, tying him with Michael Barrett (2004-06) for the most consecutive seasons with that total.
On the hill, three starters from the 2017 team return to join newcomer Nathan Eovaldi, a free agent signee in 2017 but returning from an injury that kept him out of action all of last season. It’s unclear at this point who the fifth Rays’ starter will be. Eovaldi’s 2015 season with a 14-3 (.824) record for the Yankees is the top qualifying W-L% in a season with ERA+ under 100.
The RED SOX are expected to field mostly the same starters who finished the 2017 season as AL East champs. Eduardo Nunez will fill in for Dustin Pedroia until the latter returns from off-season knee surgery towards the end of May. With the acquisition of J.D. Martinez as DH, Hanley Ramirez should get most of the action at first base, leaving Mitch Moreland the odd man out. Martinez’s 45 home runs last season were the most ever in a non-qualifying season, breaking Javy Lopez‘s mark of 43 in 2003; it was also the top HR total by someone not named Bonds or McGwire, when connecting at a rate of better than one blast every 10.9 PA.
Boston has three returning starters and a lot of hope, as Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, with 56 major league innings between them, are penciled in to fill out the rotation. Rick Porcello and former teammate Max Scherzer have the chance this season to join just ten others in posting qualifying innings in each of their first ten seasons. Porcello’s 17 losses last season led the junior circuit, a year after leading the league in wins. Quiz: which two HOF pitchers led their league in losses after leading in wins in each of the three preceding seasons?
The ROYALS will be featuring two new outfielders (John Jay and Jorge Soler) and a new first baseman (Lucas Duda). Jay has recorded fewer than 40 extra-base hits in each of his 8 seasons; only three others with 3000+ PA since 2010 have done the same. Duda`s .242 career BA is second lowest (to Dave Kingman) of all players posting 120 OPS+ in 3000+ PA over their first 8 seasons.
Kansas City returns four of their 2017 starters with Nathan Karns, acquired before the 2017 season, expected to take the rotation spot vacated by Jason Vargas. The 30 year-old Karns has yet to post a qualified season, topping 100 IP just once over his first 5 seasons.
The TIGERS have just one newcomer, outfielder Leonys Martin, expected to fill a starting role this season. Instead, hopes are that 2017 rookies Jeimer Candelario and Dixon Machado can become successful everyday players, at 3B and 2B respectively, with Nicholas Castellanos moving from the hot corner to the outfield. Castellanos`s 527 games at 3B are the most by a Tiger through his age 25 season.
Detroit has four returning starters with the fifth spot expected to be filled by veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano. The 34 year-old Liriano`s 5.05 ERA over the past two seasons is nothing to write home about, but is a run better over that period than 34 year-old Annibal Sanchez, the man Liriano is replacing,
The TWINS feature most of the same starters who took the young Minnesotans to a surprise playoff berth last season. Super utility man Eduardo Escobar will try to hold down the everyday shortstop job while Jorge Polanco serves his 80 game PED suspension. Newcomer Logan Morrison quietly belted 38 home runs for the Rays last year and should add some punch to the DH spot that contributed just 17 blasts in 2017, better (barely) than only the Tigers and Rangers.
Staff ace Ervin Santana begins the season on the DL, so the Twins will be looking to newcomers Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn to pick up the slack in a rotation that will still be lacking a left-hander.
The WHITE SOX are looking to 2017 rookies Yoan Moncada (2B) and Nick Delmonico (LF) to step up to everyday duty with catcher Welington Castillo from the Orioles the only hired gun. Castillo is the only player to record at least 30 extra-base hits in each of the last 5 seasons, all of them below the qualifying PA level. Moncada and teammate Yolmer Sanchez could make the White Sox the first AL team to have two regulars with first names starting with the letter Y. Quiz: which two pairs of teammates have turned this trick in the NL?
Chicago has two returning starters, with the other three rotation spots to be hopefully filled by Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer, each aged 24 or younger and still looking to reach the 100 career IP plateau. 36 year-old James Shields returns for another season after posting a 74 ERA+ over his last two; only Barry Zito and Doug Drabek in the live ball era have posted a lower ERA+ in 250+ IP aged 34-35.
The YANKEES are showcasing a new Murderer`s Row with newcomer Giancarlo Stanton joining Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. If all three reach 30 home runs, it would be just the second Yankee team with three such under-30 players, the first being the 1941 world championship club with Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller. The Yankee infield is almost a complete makeover with only shortstop Didi Gregorius returning from last season`s regulars. Time will tell whether Greg Bird can stay healthy (and productive) at first base and whether 2017 rookie Tyler Wade has what it takes at 3B. New second baseman Brandon Drury should find the left-center gap at the Stadium to his liking; he and Ben Francisco are the only players to start a career with two non-qualified 30 double seasons among their first three.
The Yankees are standing pat on the mound, with three young studs and an old warhorse filling out the top of the rotation, and 2017 rookie Jordan Montgomery looking to build off a very respectable debut campaign. Four under-30 Yankees with qualifying innings has happened only twice in the live ball era, on the 1956 world championship team and the rebuilding 1971 club (which had 5 such starters).