Predicting MLB's Biggest Busts of 2014, Position by Position
Every MLB team has its fair share of surprise contributors each season, but at the same time, there are inevitably a handful of players who fall well short of expectations and wind up as busts.
I'll use the same example I did in an article back in February to demonstrate how two players can put up similar numbers but, because of expectations, one can be pegged a bust and the other a surprise contributor:
- 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.
There are a number of different types of players who are most susceptible to being labeled a bust. Big-money free-agent additions, breakout players unable to duplicate their success, highly touted rookies and players slowed by injury all have the potential to bust.
With that in mind, here is my take on who will be the biggest bust at each position in 2014. I have no personal vendetta against any of these guys, and they may very well wind up proving me wrong. This is just my best guess here at the start of the season.
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins
One of three position players to depart from the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in free agency, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia cashed in on a career year with a three-year, $21 million deal.
That contract came from the Miami Marlins, a team desperately looking to improve its offense after hitting .231 as a team last year and scoring an MLB-low 513 runs.
The 28-year-old hit .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI for the Red Sox last season. However, with a .372 BABIP, he is likely in for a decent step back in 2014.
His power is legit, but he hit just .228/.288/.452 over his previous two seasons in Boston, and a line similar to that would not be surprising. He'll be counted on to lead a young Marlins staff as well, perhaps putting more emphasis on his average-at-best defensive skills.
First Baseman: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
One of the most dangerous sluggers in the game during his prime, Mark Teixeira put together eight straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI from 2004 to 2011. A big part of that consistent production was his durability, as he averaged 154 games per season over that eight-year span.
Injuries have cut into his production the past two seasons, though. A calf strain cost him 30 games in 2012, before a wrist injury and subsequent surgery limited him to a grand total of 15 games last season.
Now in his age-34 season, and with $67.5 million left on his contract over the next three years, Teixeira is trying to prove he can once again be a dangerous run producer in the middle of an improved Yankees lineup.
Even if he manages to stay on the field for a full season, expectations should be tempered, as players often have trouble finding their power stroke in the first year back from wrist surgery. With power being such a big part of Teixeira's game at this point, considering he's no longer a threat to hit .300, that sets him up to be a potential bust.
Second Baseman: Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants
More than a few people questioned the San Francisco Giants' decision to give a 37-year-old Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20 million contract last offseason, viewing it as the team paying for services already rendered.
A serviceable starter at best throughout his career, Scutaro joined the Giants at the deadline in 2012 and hit .362 over 61 games down the stretch. He followed that up by winning NLCS MVP honors, and he turned in a terrific postseason overall in helping the Giants to a title.
He was not expected to come anywhere near those numbers in 2013, but he actually surprised and put together a solid season, hitting .297/.357/.369 and posting a 2.3 rWAR while making his first All-Star appearance.
Promising as those numbers were, things are not looking as bright for 2014. Lower back inflammation limited him to just one spring training game, and he is "still a ways away" according to manager Bruce Bochy, via Chris Haft of MLB.com. This could wind up being Freddy Sanchez 2.0 if things don't turn around soon.
Third Baseman: Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers
Juan Uribe turned a .749 OPS, 24 home runs, some solid defense and a strong postseason with the San Francisco Giants in 2010 into a three-year, $21 million deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into the 2011 season.
Things fell off precipitously from there, though, as he combined to post a minus-0.4 rWAR while hitting .199/.262/.289 over 432 at-bats in 2011 and 2012. Despite those rough numbers, he entered the 2013 season as the Dodgers' starting third baseman.
Facing a contract year, Uribe again made the most of the opportunity, hitting .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI while posting a 4.2 rWAR. With no better options on the market this winter, he re-upped with the Dodgers on a two-year, $15 million deal.
Consistency has not been a strong suit for the 35-year-old, though his defense has been a plus throughout his career. Chances are he'll be closer to his career .283 BABIP than the .322 mark he posted last year (via FanGraphs), and a subsequent offensive regression could make him a below-average offensive option and a poor value at $6.5 million.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays
Speedster Jose Reyes could not have picked a better time to win a batting title, as he hit .337 in a contract year in 2011 and turned that into a six-year, $106 million deal with the Miami Marlins.
Injury prone throughout his career, Reyes finally stayed healthy and played in 160 games in his lone season with the Marlins before being dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in a blockbuster deal last offseason. It didn't take long for injury to strike again, though, as he missed 66 games with a severe ankle sprain last year.
Despite that injury, Reyes' numbers were solid when he was on the field last year, and the possibility that he could stay healthy was enough for me to rank him as the No. 5 shortstop in my position-by-position power rankings at the beginning of March.
Fast forward to the start of the season, and Reyes played all of one game before landing on the DL with a strained left hamstring. This is the fourth time in his career that he has landed on the DL with a hamstring injury, and it is an issue that has plagued him throughout his career, so we'll go out on a limb and say this is the start of another injury-plagued campaign for the 30-year-old.
Left Fielder: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
Yoenis Cespedes burst onto the scene for the Oakland A's in 2012 after signing a four-year, $36 million deal following his defection from Cuba.
He went on to post an .861 OPS with 23 home runs and 82 RBI as a rookie, finishing second to Mike Trout in Rookie of the Year voting and 10th in AL MVP voting in helping the A's to a surprise playoff trip. Entering his age-27 season last year, he was expected to be even better, but that wasn't the case.
Cespedes hit just .240/.294/.442 on the year, with his plate discipline regressing, his strikeout rate climbing (18.9% to 23.9%) and his walk rate dropping (8.0% to 6.4%).
Had he not hit .314/.337/.570 with six home runs and 19 RBI in September, his numbers would have been even worse. And while his power is for real, A's fans would be wise to temper their expectations. Cespedes is a solid secondary part with good pop, but he's not an MVP-caliber player.
Center Fielder: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
No rookie has come under more scrutiny in the early going of 2014 than speedster Billy Hamilton, who looks to replace on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo atop the Cincinnati Reds' lineup.
The 23-year-old made a name for himself when he swiped 155 bases between High-A and Double-A in 2012, and he hit a solid .311/.410/.420 in the process.
That line fell to .256/.308/.343 with the bump up to Triple-A last season, though, and his ability to consistently get on base is perhaps the biggest question entering the season for a Reds team looking to return to the playoffs.
Expectations are high, with many predicting Hamilton will lead the league in stolen bases and claim NL Rookie of the Year honors. His speed makes him a dangerous weapon, but I think his inability to draw a walk and consistently get on base at this point in his career will keep him from being a breakout star as a rookie.
Right Fielder: Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia Phillies
Forced to settle for a minor league deal from the New York Mets last offseason, Marlon Byrd won a spot on the Opening Day roster and quickly played his way into the everyday lineup.
When the season came to a close, he had hit .291/.336/.511 with 24 home runs and 88 RBI, finishing the season in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That was enough to earn the 36-year-old a two-year, $16 million deal to be the Philadelphia Phillies' starting right fielder this season. He certainly fits in well with the rest of their aging core, but it's a deal the Phillies may very well wind up regretting.
Good as those numbers were last year, he seems like a prime candidate for regression—and not just because of his age. With a .364 BABIP and 16.4% HR/FB rate (via FanGraphs), Byrd will have a hard time duplicating both his batting average and his surprising power numbers.
Starting Pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Let me first say that I think Masahiro Tanaka is going to be a very good pitcher in the MLB and a solid addition to the New York Yankees staff this season. There is a reason so many teams were willing to spend so much money this offseason in their pursuit to sign the right-hander.
However, he's going to have an awfully hard time living up to the lofty expectations fans have for him after the Yankees shelled out $175 million to sign him this offseason.
At this point, anything short of an All-Star-caliber season and an AL Rookie of the Year Award would likely leave fans disappointed. Are those expectations unfair? Maybe, but it comes with the territory when you sign a big deal in a big market.
I don't think Tanaka will be a bust in the Hideki Irabu/Kei Igawa sense by any means, and he could very well be a Cy Young contender a few years down the road. I just think he'll go through some bumps along the way as a rookie, much like Yu Darvish did when he had a 3.90 ERA in 2012, and he'll wind up leaving fans wanting more as a result.
Starting Pitcher: Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles
Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the infamous Erik Bedard deal that also landed the Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, right-hander Chris Tillman took the ball on Opening Day for the Orioles after a solid 2013 campaign.
The 25-year-old made his first All-Star appearance last year, going 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA (113 ERA+) and emerging as the best pitcher on a shaky Orioles staff.
Good as that 16-7 record was, his peripheral numbers suggest he was the beneficiary of some terrific luck last year. Aside from his 4.42 FIP and .269 BABIP (via FanGraphs), which both suggest his already somewhat high ERA should have been higher, he stranded runners at a ridiculous rate.
Granted, stranding runners is not all luck, and some guys really do bear down and pitch better when the other team is threatening. Still, a 80.5 LOB% is not sustainable, as that put him on par with Clayton Kershaw and Kershaw he is not.
What he is, is a solid 25-year-old arm who is a capable No. 2 or 3 starter on a good staff. What he's not is a bona fide staff ace capable of carrying a rotation.
Starting Pitcher: Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins
Ricky Nolasco enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career last year, going 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.209 WHIP. Traded to the Dodgers at the deadline, he was 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA down the stretch to help them reach the postseason.
The focus of the Minnesota Twins' offseason was starting pitching—and understandably so after their starters posted a 5.26 ERA last year.
They re-signed Mike Pelfrey and gave Phil Hughes a three-year, $24 million deal, but their big pickup was Nolasco, who signed a team-record four-year, $49 million free-agent deal.
This is perhaps the best example of expectations versus 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.
Relief Pitcher: Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
Grant Balfour has been one of the best closers in baseball the past two seasons, converting 62 out of 67 save chances with a 2.56 ERA and rattling off 44 straight saves at one point.
That didn't stop the small-market Oakland A's from letting him walk in free agency this offseason, though, and he wound up signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
However, the A's then turned around and acquired Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles, signing him to a one-year, $10 million deal to avoid arbitration. Granted, there is no commitment beyond this season, but it was surprising to see the team spend that much on a closer.
Johnson is far from a lights-out option too, having blown an MLB-high nine saves last season. He has saved 50-plus games each of the past two years, but his BAA climbed from .219 in 2012 to .271 last year, and his ERA went with it from 2.49 to 2.94.
With a deep bullpen that features an impressive setup trio in Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook (once he's healthy), the leash could be relatively short for Johnson, even with his hefty salary. He's off to a terrible start so far, taking the loss in Game 1 and blowing a save in Game 3 of the new season.