MLB Predictions: Picking the Biggest Busts for 2014

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014

MLB Predictions: Picking the Biggest Busts for 2014

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Every MLB season has its fair share of surprise contributors, but at the same time there are inevitably a handful of players who fall well short of expectations and wind up as busts as well.

    The "bust" label is not just about production but is instead a matter of expectations entering the season compared to production. Take the following two players and their 2013 production for example:

    • Player A: .250/.307/.432, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 73 R, 1.5 rWAR
    • Player B: .251/.301/.470, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 56 R, 1.4 rWAR

    Those are similar numbers across the board for two very different players.

    Player A was Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal last offseason and was expected to again be an AL MVP candidate. Player B was Chicago Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract and proved to be a steal.

    Hamilton was without question one of the biggest busts of 2013, while Schierholtz was a pleasant surprise in essentially a platoon role for the Cubs.

    With that definition of a bust in mind, here is a look at 10 guys who could wind up being among the biggest busts of 2014.

SP Brett Anderson, Colorado Rockies

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    The Colorado Rockies managed to improve their starters' ERA from 5.81 in 2012 to 4.57 this past season, with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa putting together strong campaigns after battling injuries the previous year.

    Looking to fill out the staff and improve even further, the team dealt for Oakland A's left-hander Brett Anderson this offseason, shipping Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen to Oakland in return.

    The A's Opening Day starter last year, Anderson has all the potential to be a front-line arm in 2014. However, he has failed to make more than 19 starts in a season since 2009, tallying a total of 43 starts over the past four seasons.

    His injury history, coupled with a move to the far more hitter friendly Coors Field, makes Anderson a prime candidate for a disappointing first season with the Rockies.

RP John Axford, Cleveland Indians

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    A late bloomer, John Axford took over as the Milwaukee Brewers' closer midway through the 2010 season before turning in a fantastic 2011 campaign.

    He was 46-of-48 on save chances with a 1.95 ERA that season, finishing ninth in NL Cy Young voting and winning NL Rolaids Relief Man honors. He followed that up with a 35-save season in 2011, but his ERA sky rocketed to 4.67 and he blew nine saves.

    The struggles continued last year, as he went 0-2 with a blown save to kick off the season, allowing nine runs in 3.1 innings of work in his first four appearances. That was enough for him to lose the closer job; however, he went on to post a 2.92 ERA over 71 appearances the rest of the way, including a 1.74 ERA in 13 games with the St. Louis Cardinals down the stretch.

    He was non-tendered by the Cardinals this offseason, and he looked like a potential bargain signing as a setup man. Instead, the Cleveland Indians gave him a one-year, $4.5 million deal in an effort to shore up a bullpen that was a major issue last year.

    Given his track record in the ninth-inning role the past two years, their bullpen could be an issue once again with him penciled in as closer.

RF Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Marlon Byrd opened the 2012 season in a 3-for-43 slump with the Chicago Cubs, and the team shipped him to the Boston Red Sox less than a month into the season. The struggles continued, though, and he was released less than two months later.

    A PED suspension followed, and he would remain a free agent the rest of the 2012 season. There were understandably few suitors for his services last year, and he wound up agreeing to a minor league deal with the New York Mets.

    With a complete lack of production from their outfielders, Byrd not only won a roster spot with the Mets but quickly played his way into everyday at-bats. He finished 2013 as the Pittsburgh Pirates' everyday right fielder during their playoff push, posting an .847 OPS with 24 home runs and 88 RBI.

    On the surface it was a nice bounce-back season, but a .353 BABIP and an abnormally high 16.4 percent home run-to-fly-ball rate make him a prime candidate for significant regression. He cashed in with a two-year, $16 million deal, but the Philadelphia Phillies could wind up regretting that move.

SP Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros

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    A 38th-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2008, Jarred Cosart was acquired by the Houston Astros along with first base prospect Jonathan Singleton at the deadline in 2011 for outfielder Hunter Pence.

    The 23-year-old made his debut last season, and on the surface it was a fantastic rookie performance. Over 10 starts, he went 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 60 innings of work, joining Brett Oberholtzer to give the team two promising young starters moving forward.

    Cosart has the stuff to be a front-line starter in the Astros' rebuilding plans, but fans would be wise to temper their expectations for his sophomore campaign, as his numbers were deceiving in 2013.

    A closer look reveals a 4.35 FIP and .246 BABIP, as he was the beneficiary of some terrific luck in 2013. He also walked more batters (35) than he struck out (33), and his 5.3 BB/9 mark was the second-highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 60 innings of work.

CF Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

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    With Shin-Soo Choo gone in free agency, the Cincinnati Reds are set to turn over center field and leadoff duties to speedster Billy Hamilton, and he may well be the fastest player in the game.

    The 23-year-old made headlines in 2012, when he stole a minor league record 155 bases between High-A and Double-A while also hitting a solid .311/.410/.420. That was enough for him to climb to No. 20 on the Baseball America Top 100 last year.

    He was an impressive 13-of-14 on stolen-base attempts for the Reds down the stretch last season, but it's hard to ignore his Triple-A line of .256/.308/.343 prior to being called up. More time in the minors would be ideal, but the team needs him to step up now.

    That .308 on-base percentage he posted was a full 115 points below what Choo had in 2013, and it's conceivable that Hamilton could see that number drop below .300 as he makes the jump to the majors. As the old adage goes, "you can't steal first base"—and Hamilton may struggle in an everyday role as a result.

3B Chris Johnson, Atlanta Braves

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Chris Johnson was essentially a throw-in when the Atlanta Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks last offseason, and he was expected to team with Juan Francisco in a platoon to replace Chipper Jones at third base.

    He quickly seized the everyday job, though, and went on to finish second in the NL in batting average, posting a .321 mark to trail eventual batting-title winner Michael Cuddyer by 10 points. That was accompanied by 34 doubles, 12 home runs and 68 RBI, as he was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 season.

    It's not as though Johnson was an unknown entering the season, as he hit .281/.326/.451 with 28 doubles, 15 home runs and 76 RBI in 2012. However, his .394 BABIP last year was substantially higher than his career .347 mark entering the season, and some regression is to be expected.

    Expectations will be raised following his breakout season, and that could set him up to be a bust in some people's eyes, even if he puts up numbers similar to what he did in 2012.

RP Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics

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    Grant Balfour has been one of the best closers in baseball the past two seasons, converting 62 of 67 save chances with a 2.56 ERA—even rattling off 44 straight at one point.

    As the Oakland A's are known to do, though, they opted to let him walk in free agency rather than giving him a big free-agent deal, and he agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    To replace him, the A's shipped disappointing second baseman Jemile Weeks to the Baltimore Orioles for All-Star closer Jim Johnson, as the O's were looking to cut some cost by avoiding paying the reliever's final year of arbitration. The A's wound up spending more than they would have on Balfour, though, giving him a one-year, $10 million deal to avoid arbitration.

    While the 50 saves last year were impressive, he also blew an MLB-high nine saves and saw his ERA jump from 2.49 to 2.94. Perhaps more troubling was the fact that his batting average against climbed from .219 to .271, as he was far more hittable.

    Similar struggles could see him lose the closer job and become an expensive middle reliever for the small-market A's.

LF Logan Morrison, Seattle Mariners

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    After signing Robinson Cano to a huge 10-year, $240 million deal, the Seattle Mariners continued to address their need for offense by acquiring Corey Hart and Logan Morrison at the winter meetings.

    While Hart was a nice buy-low candidate coming off a lost 2013 season, Morrison has been injury-prone throughout his career and less than impressive when he's been on the field. The team just had to give up reliever Carter Capps to land Morrison, but he could wind up being a disappointment nonetheless.

    In his first taste of everyday playing time as a 23-year-old back in 2011, Morrison posted a .797 OPS with 23 home runs and 72 RBI in 462 at-bats. However, he's played just 178 total games since, putting together a .708 OPS with 17 home runs.

    He's currently projected to hit sixth in the Mariners' new-look lineup, according to MLBDepthCharts, indicating and he'll be counted on to be a solid run producer. Moving from first base back to left field could put even more stress on the knees that have hampered him throughout his career, and another injury-plagued season would make him a huge bust.

SP Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins

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    Starting pitching has understandably been the focus of the Minnesota Twins' offseason, as their rotation posted an MLB-worst 5.26 ERA last year.

    Along with re-signing Mike Pelfrey, the team added Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million) and Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million) on the two largest free-agent deals in the history of the franchise.

    Nolasco enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career last year, going 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.209 WHIP, as he split the year between Miami and Los Angeles. For his career, the 31-year-old is 89-75 with a 4.37 ERA (94 ERA+) over eight seasons.

    This is perhaps the best example of expectations vs. production making someone a bust. Nolasco is a solid No. 3 starter on a contender, but instead he finds himself penciled into the role of staff ace on the Twins. That no doubt raises expectations and could leave Nolasco as one of the biggest busts of 2014.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins

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    After selling big again last offseason, the Marlins have been buyers this time around—albeit on a much smaller scale than their 2012 spending spree.

    Most of their additions have been low-cost veterans brought in to fill out the lineup, with guys like Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee and Jeff Baker signed. However, the team did hand out a three-year, $21 million deal to add catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

    The 28-year-old had the best season of his career at the plate in 2013, hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI. However, with a .372 BABIP, he is likely in for a decent step back in 2014.

    The power has been there since he joined the Boston Red Sox, but he hit just .228/.288/.452 over the previous two seasons, and a similar line may be where he winds up in his first campaign with the Marlins. He'll be counted on to lead a young Marlins staff as well, perhaps putting more emphasis on his average-at-best defensive skills.