A.L. Bench Construction
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12 P, 2 C, 5 IF, 1 IF-OF, 1 DH, 4 OF is today's norm 


Let’s start with the premise that every American League team needs a back-up catcher, a back-up utility middle infielder, a back-up outfielder (where, at least, two of the four outfielders can play center), at least, 11 pitchers. That leaves room for two discretionary players. Almost all teams actually use 12 pitchers. One team has 13, two have just 11. The 25th man is most frequently a thirdbaseman who can play firstbase as well as the outfield. Some teams have a guy who can play every position except pitcher and maybe catcher. In slightly more general terms, American League teams have a typical configuration of 12 Pitchers, 2 Catchers, 5 infielders, 1 infielder-outfielder, 1 guy who is mainly just the DH, and 4 outfielders.

Baltimore has only one man backing up catcher, firstbase, and thirdbase, but he led all of spring training in home runs: Jake Fox, so they are hoping to find him spots to play. Fox’s versatility (he’s plays none of his positions well), allows the Orioles to use two back-ups better known for covering the middle infield (Cesar Izturis and Robert Andino). Brendan Harris has more experience at third base, but he didn’t make the cut. Baltimore waited (or metaphorically waded) a couple of days into the season before putting Brian Matusz on the D.L. and calling up Zach Britton. That put them at 12 P,  1 C,  1 C-IF,  6 IF,  1 DH-OF,  4 OF.

Boston is using only one back-up infielder, but he is probably the best in the game: Jed Lowrie. Marco Scutaro, who is equally versatile, was 0 for 8 his first two days, so we will see how long Francona waits before switching their roles. Instead of two infielders, Boston opted for five outfielders with both Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald on the bench. Considering the fragility and platoon-ability of starters Drew and Ellsbury, this arrangement makes sense. 12 P,  2 C,  5 IF,  1 DH-IF,  5 OF.

Chicago opted to start with only 11 pitchers and go with someone who could play every position outside of the battery as their 25th man: Brent Lillibridge. Otherwise, the roles are clearly delineated: Milledge is the 4th OF, Vizquel the middle infielder sub, Teahen plays the four corners, and Castro is the back-up C. Their roster configuration is:  11 P,  2 C,  5 IF,  2 IF-OF,  1 DH-IF,  4 OF.

Cleveland is starting the season with two centerfielders (Sizemore and Crowe) on the D.L.  That puts a bit of pressure on keeping their only other viable CF option Michael Brantley healthy. On opening night, Cleveland used Kearns in left field and Travis Buck as the DH. One assumes Shelley Duncan, then, will be the odd man out when one of the CFs comes back. Jack Hannahan is the only thirdbaseman on the team until Jason Donald comes off the D.L. Right now, Adam Everett is the only back-up infielder. No doubt Everett could field thirdbase quite adequately, but he certainly cannot hit adequately for a thirdbaseman. If Travis Hafner has lost his job to Travis Buck, he becomes a strangely useless bench man good only for pinch hitting and backing-up the DH.  12 P,  2 C,  5 IF, 1 DH,  1 OF-DH,  4 OF.

Detroit has the unique situation of having their primary DH (Victor Martinez) also be their only back-up catcher. (Although Mike Napoli could do the same, if the Rangers gave Mike Young a job change.) Thirdbaseman Brandon Inge has quite a bit of Major League experience behind the plate, but super utility guy Don Kelly is their official emergency catcher. Kelly is more of an outfielder than an infielder, but will probably get more playing time at thirdbase as Detroit is already carrying two other superior back-up outfielders: Brandon Boesch and Casper Wells, while an even better one yet, perhaps, is waiting for his shot in Toledo: Andy Dirks. Ramon Santiago is the only true utility middle infielder.  Although, don’t forget starting outfielder Ryan Rayburn can play secondbase.  12 P,  1 C,  1 C-DH,  5 IF,  2 IF-OF,  4 OF.

Kansas City is going with two back-up outfielders and only one back-up infielder and he hasn’t played either middle infield position in years: Wilson Betemit. Mike Aviles would switch over if necessary. It was even more surprising is that the Royals risked losing Gregor Blanco on waivers in order to keep Jarrod Dyson as their 5th outfielder.  12 P,   2 C,   5 IF,  1 IF-DH,   5 OF.

L.A. of Anaheim started the season with only 10 active pitchers and 24 active players in all plus six members of the D.L. No doubt a pitcher will be call-up momentarily. They do have two back-up catchers: veteran back-up Bobby Wilson and rookie Hank Conger, two back-up infielders: Brandon Wood and whoever you don’t count as the starter between Callaspo and Izturis. Chris Pettit backs-up the outfield. That could change when Reggie Willits comes off the D.L.  11? P,  3 C,  6 IF,  1 OF-DH,  4 OF.

Minnesota has the perfectly typical bench if you count Jim Thome as the starting DH and Jason Kubel as the starting right fielder. That is because Michael Cuddyer can play fisrt, third, and outfield, Matt Tolbert is suitable anywhere in the infield especially up the middle, Jason Repko as the centerfielder capable fourth outfielder, and a 12 man pitching staff.  12 P,  2 C,  5 IF,  1 IF-OF,  1 DH,  4 OF.

The New York Yankees have a fairly typical bench. Andruw Jones is the fourth outfielder / DH platoon mate to Jorge Posada, which is fine, because both Gardner and Granderson can play centerfield. Eduardo Nunez is their utility middle infielder. Eric Chavez plays the infield corners and until Francesco Cervelli is healthy, Gustavo Molina is the back-up catcher. I suppose former gold glove shortstop Alex Rodriguez could be a second back-up shortstop, but I don’t know who could play outfield if they needed one more besides Jones. 12 P,  2 C,  1 DH-C,  6 IF,  4 OF.

Oakland must be desperate for Adam Rosales to recover from his foot surgery. They have used Adam LaRoche in each of their first two games at shortstop after Cliff Pennington came out for a pinch hitter. LaRoche is a thirdbaseman. He is Oakland’s only infield sub on the bench. Couldn’t they have kept Steve Tolleson and started with 11 pitchers instead of 12 until LaRoche is expected ready in May? Alternatively, they could have dropped one of either back-up outfielders Connor Jackson or Ryan Sweeney. However, given the injury history of their starters, it is not a bad idea to have both of them around. One hits left-handed, the other right-handed. 12 P,   2 C,   5 IF,  1 DH-OF,   5 OF.

Seattle has the usual balance of back-ups, except the two back-up infielders configure a little differently: Adam Kennedy is the primary back-up at secondbase, Luis Rodriguez is the primary back-up at shortstop. Both have some experience at third. Both you would have expected to be out of baseball by now. Kennedy is 34, has had many injuries and hasn’t had a season when he has hit better than league average since 2002. His OPS sank as low as .572 (OPS+ of 50) in 2007. Rodriguez peaked as a utility back-up infielder three seasons ago and didn’t even surface in The Show last year. 12 P,  2 C,  6 IF,  1 DH-OF,  4 OF.

Tampa Bay has a highly versatile team. With secondbaseman Ben Zobrist and utility infielder Sean Rodriguez available to play outfield, the Rays certainly do not need more than one sub (Sam Fuld) in the outfield. Sean Rodriguez can play about any position and will fill in at third with Longoria out. Middle infield veteran Felipe Lopez gets the call up to join career utility infield back-up Elliot Johnson. This keeps the usual 21st century 12 P - 2 C - 6 IF - 4 OF roster construction intact, although more specifically it is: 12  P,  2 C,  4 IF,  2 IF-OF,  1 DH-OF,  4 OF.

Texas is starting the 2011 with more pitchers (13) than position players (12). Andres Blanco is the sole utility middle infield back-up, although regular DH Mike Young can play any position on the infield – well enough that I can’t list as a DH. Mike Napoli can’t seem to get a starting job no matter how well he hits and remains the Rangers’ back-up catcher for now. David Murphy is a solid hitting fourth outfielder. 13 P,   2 C,   6 IF,   4 OF.

Toronto has 12 healthy pitchers in town and four on the D.L. Same old Blue Jays. With Corey Patterson and Scott Podsednik hurt and Juan Rivera needed for DH duties, Toronto doesn’t have a spare outfielder. Mike McCoy to the rescue: he is the emergency man at every position from shortstop to centerfield. That leaves room for two more utility infielders with John McDonald getting calls for shortstop and likely Jason Nix is the man for most occasions when a sub is needed for thirdbase or secondbase. Firstbaseman Adam Lind can also play firstbase and actually once Patterson or Podsednik returns look for outfielder Jose Bautista to back-up thirdbase with either Rivera or a P playing outfield. 12 P,   2 C,  5 IF,  3 IF-OF, 1-DH-OF,  2-OF.

Something else I noticed when looking at each A.L. team's roster construction last week: all but five teams - Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Texas, and Toronto - have a player they hope to use exclusively at DH this year. (You could count Chicago as a 6th, perhaps, but I am pretty sure they are, at least, hope Paul Konerko will stay healthy all year so they won't have to play Dunn at first base. We'll see who they use when they visit a National League city.) It seems that is more teams having a dedicated DH since the first year of rule. That doesn't necessarily make it a trend, but it might be.

John Carter