25 MLB Players Under the Most Pressure in 2013

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2013

25 MLB Players Under the Most Pressure in 2013

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    MLB players put tremendous pressure on themselves and get it from their fans and team executives. Entering 2013, these guys feel the need to excel.

    Expectations and market size obviously affect them. Pressure is often proportional to the number of people viewing a player or covering him internationally.

    Professionals are motivated by money and/or championships. Individuals in line for their next contracts know what's at stake, as do those who don't have suitable backups behind them on the depth chart.

    Even from upper-deck seats, you will see the following major league players sweating on game day.

25. Nick Swisher (Cleveland Indians)

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    Nick Swisher earns $14 million per year—a sizable chunk of the Cleveland Indians' payroll. The Tribe, as a result, didn't have room in the budget to add much pitching depth.

    Regardless, the Swisher signing is supposed to indicate that the franchise will rebound from a forgettable second-half collapse. Now, the Ohio native has to prove it with longtime friends and family members in attendance.

24. Cody Ross (Arizona Diamondbacks)

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks began this offseason by moving Chris Young. Before spring training arrives, they are likewise expected to trade away either Jason Kubel or Justin Upton.

    The D-Backs expect to contend immediately, anyway.

    Adam Eaton and Cody Ross will become starting outfielders in their absence. After signing a $26 million contract, pressure is obviously on the latter to match their production.

23. Hiroyuki Nakajima (Oakland Athletics)

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    Hiroyuki Nakajima is one of several accomplished international players to sign with an MLB team this offseason.

    His situation is unique, though.

    As defending AL West champions, the Oakland Athletics have high expectations entering 2013. Nakajima will start at shortstop with no reputable players behind him on the depth chart. Oakland traded away Cliff Pennington after the playoffs and allowed Stephen Drew to depart in free agency.

    A perennial batting title contender in Japan, the 30-year-old needs to be competent. His $6.5 million contract was a substantial commitment for the small-market A's.

22. Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers)

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    The Milwaukee Brewers began 2012 with Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf, but they haven't acquired a veteran starter since.

    Yovani Gallardo is now the only recognizable face and trustworthy arm in the rotation. Though Chris Narveson also has considerable starting experience, expectations are tempered as he comes back from rotator cuff surgery.

    Gallardo has been consistently effective in the major leagues. He must be better than ever for the Brew Crew to compete for a playoff spot.

21. Mike Morse (Washington Nationals)

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    The Washington Nationals are actively discussing Mike Morse trades with a half-dozen teams, tweets Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    With so much competition, acquiring him will require a sizable package of players.

    Morse's contract expires after 2013. Therefore, he'll be shunned by his new franchise and its fans if production doesn't come immediately.

    He has enough power to draw interest on the free-agent market next winter, but his lack of plate discipline is a deterrent.

    Only 16 walks in 430 plate appearances last season? Unacceptable.

20. Chase Headley (San Diego Padres)

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    Chase Headley doesn't believe his high-powered 2012 campaign was a fluke, writes MLB.com's Corey Brock.

    "I do think that the norm of my career will be much closer to last season than the years before that," the third baseman claims after launching 31 home runs, including 23 after the All-Star break.

    He better be right, or else the San Diego Padres will be irrelevant in an improved NL West.

    As the 2013 MLB Free Agent Tracker shows, the team has not given major league deals to any available position players. San Diego's lineup actually lost a power source when Major League Baseball suspended Yasmani Grandal 50 games for a failed drug test.

    Additionally, Headley puts pressure on himself to contribute. His stats and playing time largely determine how much he'll earn the next time through arbitration.

19. Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds)

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    The curious case of Joba Chamberlain applies to Aroldis Chapman.

    To refresh your memories, Chamberlain was inserted into the starting rotation several years ago after proving his dominance as a reliever. But following his lone less-than-stellar season in the new role, he never received another opportunity.

    Understandably, the Cuban Missile wants to pitch more innings and prove his durability to maximize future earnings.

    Pitching coach Bryan Price tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that the southpaw will be on an innings limit in 2013. That means fewer opportunities to prove he belongs.

18. Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati Reds)

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    The Cincinnati Reds couldn't find a productive leadoff hitter in 2012.

    Newly-acquired Shin-Soo Choo represents a major upgrade (career .381 OBP).

    His main challenge will be adjusting to center field. Choo has just 10 MLB starts at the position and none since 2010.

    Super-agent Scott Boras can secure him a lengthy and lucrative deal in free agency if he shows some versatility. Moreover, teammates Homer Bailey and Mat Latos rely on fly balls and on agile, sure-handed outfielders to track them down.

17. Ryan Madson (Los Angeles Angels)

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    Inconsistent, late-inning relief ultimately undid the 2012 Los Angeles Angels.

    Ryan Madson could be their savior.

    The 32-year-old lost a full season to Tommy John surgery, but previously strung together five straight superb summers as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's known for mid-90s velocity and an awesome changeup that fools opponents of either handedness.

    Madson's one-year "pillow" contract has a modest $3.25 million base salary. Coming back better than ever will enable him to sign for several times more money next winter.

16. Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox)

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    This could be Paul Konerko's final summer, but he remains an integral member of the Chicago White Sox. The All-Star first baseman played in eight of every nine games last season and will be pressured to do even more in 2013...Not exactly the Chipper Jones treatment.

    He must help make up for some lost offense, as A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Texas Rangers. Though Jeff Keppinger replaces Kevin Youkilis in the infield, he cannot provide as many extra-base hits.

    The White Sox have failed to win a playoff series since the 2005 championship run. It would be great for Konerko's legacy if they end this streak of mediocrity under his leadership.

15. Mariano Rivera (New York Yankees)

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    Mariano Rivera responds well to pressure (hence the best postseason earned run average in MLB history).

    The future Hall of Famer returns to his longtime role as New York Yankees closer at age 43, an age when most baseball players have already been forced into retirement by wear and tear. Rivera admits to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that his surgically-repaired right knee is only "95 percent" recovered.

    Despite his past brilliance, the Yankees have taken a risk by re-signing him. Rafael Soriano—who is a decade younger—proved last season that he could handle ninth-inning duties in the Bronx.

    With Soriano almost certain to join another bullpen, the bridge to Rivera has weakened. He'll pitch with fewer multi-run leads as a result and get fewer save opportunities (less margin for error).

    Stronger competition in the AL East only adds to the adversity that he faces entering 2013.

14. Dan Haren (Washington Nationals)

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    Dan Haren probably wishes he didn't pitch at all last season.

    A stint on the disabled list, bloated earned run average and low innings total damaged the reliable reputation he spent the previous seven summers building.

    But he must shake off the disappointment and take the mound for the Washington Nationals every fifth day. They have few starting alternatives after trading away Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock and letting Edwin Jackson and John Lannan sign elsewhere.

    Haren could still do well for himself when he re-enters free agency at age 33.

13. James Shields (Kansas City Royals)

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    The Kansas City Royals had to relinquish four prospects—including their farm's finest, Wil Myers—to acquire James Shields. He's arguably the most established starting pitcher to come to K.C. since David Cone!

    Shields slumped for much of the 2012 season before reemerging as a top-of-the-rotation innings eater in August and September.

    The Royals can't afford such an inconsistency. Their plan is to win now.

12. Joel Hanrahan (Boston Red Sox)

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    Every player on the Boston Red Sox is under the microscope.

    Beantown is passionate about its sports and critical when its teams fail to meet expectations. We saw that in 2012 when the Sox limped to the finish and lost a total of 93 games.

    A handful of major league signings this winter protect any individual newcomer from getting too much publicity.

    With that said, Joel Hanrahan will get the lion's share of the blame or credit as the 2013 closer. Depending on how things go, his facial hair could be a beloved or derided feature. Being of Irish descent will amplify the reaction to however he fares.

    Most importantly, Hanrahan needs to bounce back from his struggles late last summer.

11. Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox)

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    Jon Lester was once beloved by Boston Red Sox fans. He beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007 and returned in time to win a World Series game.

    But the perception of him changed late in 2011 with the "chicken and beer" scandal. Moreover, the left-hander pitched poorly that September and never got on track last season.

    Though the Red Sox have been busy adding veterans to the roster, they will still depend on Lester to be their ace.

    This is the final guaranteed year of his contract. Come wintertime, the club can either exercise a $13 million option or kick him to the curb with a $250,000 buyout.

10. Derek Jeter (New York Yankees)

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    As the New York Yankees aim to get below the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, they have been forced to pass on desirable, available players. Kevin Youkilis is the only notable new face to join the roster this winter.

    Alex Rodriguez's hip surgeon tells the Associated Press that he might miss the majority of next season, and as mentioned earlier, Mariano Rivera (torn ACL) is not 100 percent yet.

    Derek Jeter, restore order to Yankee Universe.

    The iconic shortstop led the league in hits one year ago and must do just as well to carry a weakened lineup. Certain awards increase the value of his upcoming incentive-laden player option.

9. Josh Johnson (Toronto Blue Jays)

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    It's always difficult to determine whether or not National League starting pitchers can switch over to the other side and find similar success.

    Understandably, there's doubt about Mark Buehrle, whom the Toronto Blue Jays will bring to their hitter-friendly home environment. His inability to miss bats makes it a poor fit. After nearly 3,000 professional innings, nobody would be shocked if he began to decline.

    R.A. Dickey is also a questionable acquisition. Can the 38-year-old continue to carve up lineups with a gimmicky knuckleball? He'll never forget the grip, but losing control of it would render him useless.

    Josh Johnson doesn't have an excuse. In the prime of his career, the right-hander is equipped with the classic power pitcher's body and repertoire.

    Being on the verge of free agency should provide ample motivation. Beyond that, though, Blue Jays fans will depend on Johnson to lead their rotation in case the veterans falter.

8. Zack Greinke (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers rotation has plenty of depth, but even more uncertainty.

    Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are rehabbing from serious elbow and shoulder injuries, respectively. Hyun-jin Ryu has never pitched in the majors. Chris Capuano faded as the 2012 season wore on, while Josh Beckett and Aaron Harang are past their primes.

    Ownership reached into its deep pockets to give Zack Greinke a $147 million contract because he can be the All-Star-caliber No. 2 starter the Dodgers sorely need behind Clayton Kershaw.

    The right-hander has never pitched for a major league team with such sky-high expectations. Let's see if his introverted disposition can handle it.

7. Josh Hamilton (Los Angeles Angels)

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    Josh Hamilton can't escape the pressure. Not with the Texas Rangers and certainly not in Los Angeles.

    He's unbelievably talented and is expected to achieve the greatest individual honors every summer.

    With Hamilton in the middle, the Los Angeles Angels have assembled one of the fiercest lineups in recent memory. He'll be the scapegoat if it doesn't produce.

6. Matt Garza (Chicago Cubs)

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    Matt Garza puts a lot of pressure on himself because he's so competitive.

    He surely wants to get off the Chicago Cubs roster. Though the team should be much improved in 2013, it is not going to make a postseason run.

    Last summer, the right-hander came very close to landing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers or Toronto Blue Jays, all of whom want to win now. But a stress reaction in Garza's elbow sidelined him from July through season's end.

    The dream of spending the entire season on a contender is still attainable. Suitors just need to see him succeed against major league batters again.

    As early as spring training, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports, a healthy Garza could draw interest. If nothing happens then, he'll be under a microscope during the first half of the regular season.

    And on top of that, the 29-year-old is an impending free agent.

5. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays)

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    The Tampa Bay Rays offense scuffled when Evan Longoria went down with a hamstring injury last season. Without him in the lineup, the Rays scored fewer than four runs per game.

    At least pitching kept the team afloat, culminating in a 90-win campaign.

    Now that Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton have signed elsewhere, there will be even less power surrounding Longoria.

    He must stay healthy and debunk his fragile reputation. Otherwise, the Rays will have a tough time justifying their decision to extend his contract through 2022.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox)

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    Here are simple phrases to describe the past four seasons of Jacoby Ellsbury's career: league's leading base-stealer, rib injury (18 games), AL MVP runner-up, shoulder injury (74 games).

    The center fielder is the quintessential high-risk, high-reward player due to his durability concerns. That label didn't hurt Josh Hamilton in free agency, but Ellsbury lacks his power-hitting ability.

    With a productive campaign, he can help the 2013 Boston Red Sox succeed and get an enviable contract when winter rolls around again.

3. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies)

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    For the first 25 games of this upcoming season, the Philadelphia Phillies will be without Carlos Ruiz (amphetamines suspension). An experienced game-caller, Chooch was also the team's top offensive player last summer.

    That puts a lot of pressure on Philadelphia's pitching staff.

    Roy Halladay, specifically, should be feeling the heat. He needs 259 innings to trigger a $20 million vesting option for 2014. Such a total seems unattainable coming off of one of his worst years.

    The Phillies know they can trust Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, but Halladay wasn't dependable in 2012, even months after returning from a strained latissimus dorsi.

2. Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)

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    Per team policy, the New York Yankees do not offer contract extensions. Likewise, agent Scott Boras usually discourages his clients from accepting them.

    But before Robinson Cano begins to think about future earnings, he's tasked with calming a pessimistic fanbase.

    Nick Swisher, one of New York's most consistent producers, has departed via free agency. Hip surgery will sideline Alex Rodriguez for several months, and Mariano Rivera isn't yet fully recovered from his ACL injury.

    According to Baseball-Reference.com, Cano led the Yankees in Wins Above Replacement during the 2010 and 2012 seasons (7.8 WAR and 8.2 WAR, respectively). Only continued excellence from him in 2013 can get them to the postseason and position him for an Albert Pujols-like payday.

1. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants)

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    Tim Lincecum pitched brilliantly under the bright lights of the postseason...as a reliever.

    It's unclear whether or not the Freak can make the necessary mechanical adjustments to have success from the wind-up again.

    According to Yahoo! Sports, he ate healthier last winter and dropped 22 pounds, which actually turned out to be a detriment. He lost considerable velocity and couldn't locate his fastball. Totaling 186 innings was a major disappointment for someone who had averaged more than 220 per season from 2008-2011.

    Lincecum could easily sign a nine-figure deal in free agency if he returns to All-Star form. Conversely, familiar struggles would deter teams from even guaranteeing him multiple years.

    For now, the right-hander is on the reigning world-champion San Francisco Giants, who otherwise have a stable starting rotation. He doesn't want to be the reason that they finish poorly in the NL West and miss out on October baseball entirely.

     

    I came, I saw, I tweeted something clever about it.