Depth perception: Talent surplus a pleasant problem
There's no such thing as too much of a good thing, but it can be challenging to skippers
There's depth, that quality every Major League team wants to possess to stave off inevitable injury and ineffectiveness over the course of the marathon season, that safety net all teams try to build into their rosters to a certain degree.
And then there's deep depth, a luxury that some teams have, knowing full well there are necessary problems with having more of a good thing than one needs on a given day.
The Oakland A's, for instance, headed into the offseason with three strong starting outfielders returning for 2013 -- first-year phenom Yeonis Cespedes in left, veteran Coco Crisp in center and slugging Gold Glove winner Josh Reddick in right. They also had veteran left-handed batter Seth Smith, who could fill the role of designated hitter when not filling in as an outfielder.
So what did Oakland do? They went out and acquired center fielder Chris Young, an All-Star performer who gives them more capable hands in the outfield than they really need -- five of them.
"We could have three outfielders and a rover," Crisp suggested tongue-in-cheek as the A's prepared to head to Spring Training with their bevy of outfielders.
Along with a few other teams this winter, the A's saddled themselves with the proverbial good problem to have. The outfield will be a puzzle for American League Manager of the Year Bob Melvin -- one he doesn't mind putting together on a daily basis.
"There are enough at-bats for everyone," Melvin said. "It's how they're allotted that's the difficult part."
Melvin isn't alone in having a juggling act on his hands, and the A's aren't the only team that has a wealth of depth in an area of their roster.
Look at the Rangers, the team the A's edged out for the AL West title last year. One of the top prospects in the game is seemingly ready for prime time, but the Rangers already maintain one of the stronger double-play duos in the game in Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. So how is it that Jurickson Profar might get his chance to break into the big leagues? Kinsler, after being considered for a move to first base to open up second for Profar, will remain at second. Andrus remains in place at shortstop, which is Profar's natural position.
What to do? While there have been some discussions of having Profar get some time in the outfield to keep him on the roster, the Rangers' depth in the middle infield -- a strength throughout the Texas organization -- could mean Profar heads back to Triple-A. But it won't be without a fight from Profar, who turns 20 this week and plans to show his stuff this spring.
"I just want to be here and do everything I can to be here," Profar said. "I just have to play and then show them what I can do. Then they have to choose."
The Cardinals, meanwhile, beefed up their infield late this offseason, while hoping that veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal's return to health makes some of it moot. With Daniel Descalso slotted for second base and Matt Carpenter, a third baseman in the Minors, shifted into a utility role, the Cardinals signed Ronny Cedeno as insurance and backup in the middle infield and Ty Wigginton to be the same on the corners. Whether that depth rates as truly deep remains to be seen, but the Cardinals have options.
A couple of teams have similar issues as the A's do when it comes to having more than enough talent in the outfield, with the Braves lining up three talented 20-somethings with Upton brothers B.J. and Justin joining Jason Heyward and the Indians turning two free-agent signings and a trade into a surplus of talent that caused a domino effect late in the winter.
The Indians, it seemed, shored up their outfield when they signed Nick Swisher as a free agent, installing him in right field. But when they also signed Michael Bourn, they suddenly had more outfielders than they needed, changing the plan so that Swisher shifts to first base -- where free agent Mark Reynolds was supposed to play; he'll now primarily be the designated hitter. But the Cleveland player making the biggest adjustment may be newly acquired Drew Stubbs, who had been a center fielder with the Reds and will move to right.
"I think it'll take him about 10 minutes," said Indians manager Terry Francona.
Said Stubbs: "It's a thing that I think is going to make this team best and it's what I'm happy to do."
The Nationals, meanwhile, managed to add to areas where they were already deep, adding veteran Dan Haren to a starting rotation considered among the best in the National League and then bringing in closer Rafael Soriano to join two of the league's top young late-inning arms, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.
Storen, who missed much of last season with bone chips in his elbow, returned to the closer's role in September after Clippard had recorded 32 saves. And while the Soriano acquisition came as a surprise, it was a pleasant one for the 25-year-old.
"It kind of caught me off-guard, but there is no doubt that he will make the team better. You can't argue with that," Storen said. "Our bullpen is night and day better than anybody else. We are excited. We have a lot of depth down there. We will be able to piggyback those starters. We have a great starting staff. You can't argue with what is going on down there."
That's the bottom line when depth gets deeper: If it makes for a better team, it's hard to argue with it.
For Young, who has been an everyday regular since his first full season in 2007, playing time in Oakland is secondary to the opportunity to return to the postseason.
"I think you realize that you're part of a team, and you recognize what they accomplished last year and keep that rolling and not let your ego get in the way too much," Young said. "Melvin will find a way to give everyone their playing time."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.