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5 MLB teams with offseason holes and in-season jackpots

All of these teams looked to have obvious holes before the season. Some of them had faith in their organizational blueprint. Some of them got lucky.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the last offseason, we took a look at the obvious holes for every team in the American League and the National League. Some of the holes were, predictably, filled before the end of the offseason. Some of them, unpredictably, were not. The White Sox entered the offseason needing a second baseman. They did not get a second baseman. Fans asked, "Say, have you considered getting a second baseman?" The team answered, "We do not need another second baseman." And then the team proceeded to get negative production out of second base.

There are teams that did the same thing, but ended up getting outstanding production out of the emergency options and leaps of faith they employed. This is the story of those surprising players. If any of them had read those columns (no one read those columns), they would have scoffed at the idea that they were liabilities. Good for them.

Pirates - catcher

I hate players that make sense in hindsight. Francisco Cervelli had a reputation as a superior pitch-framer (in a limited sample) and looked to have a good mix of contact and power (in a limited sample), but he was always a backup, which means it was impossible to know what he would do as a starter. The Yankees ditched him for Justin Wilson, who is doing well in relief for them despite having a shortstop name, making Cervelli the heir apparent to Russell Martin, who was only the most successful free agent signing in Pittsburgh Pirates history.


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Now we have one full season of Cervelli as a starter, and everything suddenly makes sense. Hey, wait! This guy hits for average and plays a mean backstop, he's valuable, everyone! We're Timothy Busfield at the end of Field of Dreams, realizing that there's some kind of baseball game going on. Cervelli's .359 OBP in 2010, when he was 24 and shared time with a creaky Jorge Posada, looks like foreshadowing and not some sort of unrepeatable Yankees devil magic.

The Blue Jays are thrilled with their expensive, full-price Russell Martin. The Pirates are even more thrilled with the homemade catching tandem they found on Pinterest. Considering that Martin was supposed to be a stretch of a signing for the Pirates in the first place, it's time to start wondering if they can see under-appreciated catchers in five or six dimensions.

Rangers - rotation

This isn't about Cole Hamels, a trade that looks more futuristic and forward-thinking with each Rangers win, but about the mess of the rotation they started with. With Yu Darvish and Derek Holland out, the Rangers were turning to some funky, unfortunate names. They traded for perennial participant-ribbon winner Yovani Gallardo. They stuck with Nick Martinez and his rueterian strikeout rate in the age of strikeouts, and they brought back Colby Lewis, a 35-year-old who hadn't been effective in three seasons. They picked up Wandy Rodriguez when the Braves let him go in April, and squeezed 15 starts out of him until they found something better.

And it worked. They weren't the Mets or the Dodgers, but they didn't have to be. They just needed to avoid a black hole of general incompetence, and they did exactly that. Lewis probably isn't as good as his won-loss record (15-8), but he's almost certainly better than his ERA (4.45), which was demolished by a pair of 10-run outings just over a month apart. If Gallardo's season is a luck-fueled mirage of sorts, he sure picked a great time to have it. Rodriguez gave them two months of quality starts before things fell apart, and Martinez continued to confound the stat-lubbers with his sleepy effectiveness, just long enough for the reinforcements to get there.

They're here, and they're pretty impressive. Hamels and Holland look like a real 1-2 combo, which gets really exciting when you remember Darvish should be back next year. Martin Perez has looked outstanding at times. The Rangers probably aren't so worried about their starting pitching right now, which means they've come a long way.

Diamondbacks - catcher

The Pirates didn't punt the catching position; they just took a risk on two career backups becoming a functional two-man horse costume. The Diamondbacks punted the catcher position. They muffed the punt, and it went 5 yards out of bounds. There was a holding penalty on the play. There was no inactivity of the offseason that made less sense.

See, the Diamondbacks weren't exactly in hyper win-now mode, but they had a roster that could contend with a few breaks. They started with one of the best hitters in baseball, mixed in some superb outfielders, and added an enigmatic and high-profile Cuban slugger. That's the kind of core that can do wondrous things with a few surprises from their young pitchers. And there to help those young pitchers was, let's see ... a 30-year-old who hit like Josh Collmenter without the framing to make up for it and a rookie first baseman who accidentally got dressed in catcher's gear one day and made the Diamondbacks mistakenly believe he was a catcher, like something out of an I Love Lucy episode.

The plan failed spectacularly. Tuffy Gosewich hit as poorly as expected, and Peter O'Brien developed a case of the yips and now roams the corners of the diamond. Plans 1 and 1a were disasters. So of course it's September, and the Diamondbacks have more home runs from their catchers than any team in the NL other than the Cubs. They've cobbled together a top-10 catching duo from the backstops that other teams left on the curb, and it feels deeply, deeply undeserved. Also, hilarious.

Welington Castillo had a down year in 2014, and he was pushed out of Chicago by Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber. The Mariners smartly pounced on him in May to help with their catching struggles, and then they announced in a very Mariners voice that they did not need any extra catchers, trading him to the Diamondbacks in the Mark Trumbo deal.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was suffering from acute loria poisoning, which can be fatal with prolonged exposure, so he was jettisoned too. The Saltalamacchastillo tandem has been ridiculously productive, considering where the Diamondbacks were at the position, and what they gave up to improve.

Giants - third base

You might have noticed that some of these positions weren't the ones noted in those offseason articles. That's because the Rangers' rotation exploded after those articles, and the Giants signed Norichika Aoki to play left field, among other reasons. After the Giants were mostly set with the roster, they traded for Casey McGehee, who was one of the most disappointing players in recent memory. Considering that expectations were that he miiiiiight be OK, it was pretty impressive to watch him burrow miles under the packed earth of those expectations.

They gave up an actual pitching prospect for McGehee because a) they were taken aback that Pablo Sandoval spurned them, and b) they weren't sure that Matt Duffy could be a big-league starter at third base, a position he'd played in just 34 professional innings before the season started. Bruce Bochy is famous for his patience with veterans, but McGehee was bad enough to test that patience, and Duffy ran with the job.

The defense at third? Not only was it not an issue, but it became one of his strongest assets. Duffy wasn't an outfielder moved to third because they had no choice; he was a true shortstop moved to third because of Brandon Crawford. It showed with his hands and arm all season. His offense has been remarkably steady, too. Since taking over the full-time gig in May:

May: .313/.353/.425
June: .313/.359/.594
July: .316/.343/.418
August: .301/.341/.398
September: .286/.310/.375

He hasn't had a day off in months, so it's possible that he's gassed in his first full season, but the Giants look like they've found a long-term solution at third the season after they were desperately scrambling for a short-term solution. It's about time they've stumbled into some good luck.

Blue Jays - second base

Everyone was apparently looking for second basemen this offseason. The White Sox, Angels, Yankees and A's all had a pronounced need, and none of them really filled it convincingly. The Blue Jays were right there with that pack, but they made one of those wacky both-sides-are-happy trades, getting Devon Travis from the Tigers for Anthony Gose. Travis had hardly played at all above Double-A, but the Blue Jays saw something in him that they were absolutely right about. He was an early frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year.

Then his shoulder gave out. That would almost be enough to remove this section from the article, except Ryan Goins filled in and did admirably. He performed his finest Darwin Barney impression, which was about as much as the Blue Jays could have asked for.

Now they have the actual Darwin Barney.

You know, either pretend that Travis got hurt or that this section doesn't exist. Or, you can look at the WAR-by-position rankings and note that the Blue Jays have had the second-best second basemen in the AL, ahead of much more reliable and fancy collections of talent. They don't get there without Travis, but they don't stay there without Goins.

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