by Joe Giglio
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer recently spoke to Sports Illustrated about the importance of roster depth during a major league season. During the conversation, Hoyer said, “The deepest teams often have the best chance to advance."
Injuries, poor performance from expected stars, and unforeseen roster subtractions all will factor into the grind of a long season. The first few weeks of spring training have brought about panic in New York -- lengthy injuries to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will weaken an already diminished lineup. If older players such as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera fail to perform at high levels, the team could suffer further. Factor in possible PED suspensions to players implicated in the Biogeneis investigation, and the system depth assembled by Brian Cashman will be tested.
While the roster depth in New York looks to be less substantial than recent years, other teams have the necessary resources to combat the pitfalls of a long, grinding season. Here are five teams with exemplary depth heading into the 2013 season.
What Buck Showalter’s team lacks in high-end stars, they make up in a roster filled with capable replacements. Last year, Baltimore basically constructed a 93-win campaign out of a roster in constant shuffle. While Showalter and Dan Duquette would probably love the idea of more stability, all the moves last year allowed them to explore the talent throughout the organization. Adding Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla to a bench that already includes Nolan Reimold gives Baltimore legitimate starting options in time of injury.
While the entire rotation is a question mark, depth isn’t. As many as ten arms that don’t make the rotation to start the season may be able to contribute this year. Those names include former top-five draft picks Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, and Kevin Gausman; Jair Jurrjens -- two years removed from a 2.96 ERA for Atlanta; and Steve Johnson -- coming off a 2.11 ERA in 38.1 big league innings last year.
Platooning has become a popular vehicle for organizations to piece together high-end caliber production out of mid-to-low end players. Perhaps no team epitomized that philosophy in 2012 better than the Oakland Athletics. The AL West winner used four platoons, basically interchanging half the lineup on a daily basis. Billy Beane didn’t stop the platoon-building this offseason, acquiring Chris Young and John Jaso to boost the CF and C duos, respectively. With those moves come depth. If pressed, Young and Jaso, along with infielder Jemile Weeks, can give Bob Melvin more than adequate production over the course of an extended period of starts.
Factor in a farm system that effectively replaced half of a rotation last summer. Bartolo Colon (3.82 FIP) and Travis Blackley (3.96 FIP) are capable to step in as rotation candidates if called upon. The bullpen looks strong despite an early spring injury to closer Grant Balfour.
If Cactus League standouts Grant Green and Michael Taylor are ready for big league action, Oakland will have more than enough in-house options to sustain and thrive this summer.
Despite the bright lights that shine upon former overall number one draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the overwhelming success of the Washington Nationals is due to outstanding roster depth.
The everyday lineup is young, versatile, and powerful. Davey Johnson’s bench can be major contributors, though. In Wilson Ramos, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, and Roger Bernadina, the Nat reserves are a group that has hit 15 home runs, slugged .553, delivered game-winning pinch-hit home runs, won a minor league gold-glove award, and stolen double-digit bases in three consecutive seasons, respectively.
By signing closer Rafael Soriano to a lucrative, two-year deal, Washington’s bullpen will ask each of last year’s member to do less, move down a rung, and throw strikes past hitters in potentially lower-leverage situations. Dan Haren may be a diminished version of his old self, but is just two years removed from a run of six consecutive 200-inning campaigns. He’s slated as the fourth starter, behind Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Strasburg.
If Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing shoulder doesn’t allow him to play 150+ games -- something he quietly hasn’t done since 2009 -- there is enough depth to cover it. If a reliever goes down with an ailment -- much like Drew Storen last year -- there are many options to cover the setup role ahead of Soriano. If Strasburg’s innings become an issue again -- realistically, there’s a precedent to be careful again with him in order to have him full-throttle for October baseball -- there’s a guy like Haren to soak up seven and eight innings per outing.
Boston Red Sox
Outside of Bobby Valentine’s personality and a cast of overpaid stars playing below expectations, a serious lack of roster depth led Boston to a 69-93 record last year. Offensively, Nick Punto, Marlon Byrd, and Darnell McDonald combined to receive 353 plate appearances. To put that into perspective, Jacoby Ellsbury received 323. Pitching depth was probably even worse in Boston. Between Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Zach Stewart, and Daniel Bard, the Red Sox virtually had no chance to win in their 31 combined starts.
Under-the-radar acquisitions of backup catcher David Ross, Mike Carp, and the maturing of a rising farm system will allow John Farrell’s team to withstand the inevitable disabled list stints from an older team in 2013. Boston may not have done enough to return to the postseason, but this roster looks far better than a 69-win outfit.
“Gritty” has become the word used to describe the new approach Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson are looking for in current and future Diamondbacks. Whether or not you believe Arizona made the right decisions in trading away Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Trevor Bauer, it’s hard to argue that the moves didn’t back quantity, if not high-end quality. Add in numerous under-the-radar free agent signings and the finished product is a roster that can withstand injury, platoon, and double-switch on a nightly basis. Backed by a young, solid rotation -- potentially boosted by a late-season return of Daniel Hudson off Tommy John surgery -- Arizona has a shot to play meaningful baseball this summer.
If they do, it will probably be due to contributions from the entire roster, rather than a mentality or grinder approach to roster building. In Willie Bloomquist, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske, John McDonald, and Gerardo Parra, Arizona has a bench capable of playing well in starting duty. In Didi Gregorius, Tony Campana, A.J. Pollock, Rod Barajas, Kila Ka'aihue, Mark Teahen, Randall Delgado, and Pat Corbin, there is a smattering of former everyday big leaguers and high-end prospects available to contribute at any point this season.
Stars may not carry Arizona into contention with Los Angeles and San Francisco, but depth certainly can. While the NL West’s top two teams are clear favorites over the Diamondbacks, both look less stable in the face of major injury.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.