Predicting MLB's All-Bust Team for 2015
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but chances are that your favorite baseball team might have a bust—or two—sitting on its roster heading into the 2015 season.
We aren't talking about these players being busts in the sense that they won't put up some quality numbers and prove to be valuable additions to their new clubs. Rather, we're talking about them as busts in terms of failing to meet the expectations—often unrealistic—that follow them into the new year.
Some of those expectations are based on past performance, while others are completely based on the lucrative multiyear contract that a particular player signed this winter. And some players made the cut due to circumstances that, quite frankly, are completely out of their control.
For our purposes, we'll focus on players who are going to make their debut with a new team in 2015 only, taking players who overachieved in 2014 but remain with the same club, like the Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, out of the mix.
Who is destined to not live up to the hype in 2015? Let's take a look.
Catcher: Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
I could sit here and wax poetic about Russell Martin's leadership and skills behind the plate. But we've heard it all before, including from Clint Hurdle, his manager in Pittsburgh the last two years who spoke to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick toward the end of the regular season:
He has the ability to make every pitcher feel like he has an opportunity to be the best he's ever been that day on the mound. He brings an edge in the clubhouse and an edge when guys are in there lifting [weights]. Three hours before the game, he's dragging out guys who've never kicked a soccer ball in their life. Now they're out there kicking a ball. He's like the Pied Piper.
His detractors would point to how only twice in his nine-year career has he hit at least .290 while posting an OPS above .800—in 2007 (.293/.843) and 2014 (.290/.832). In the six years between, he saw his batting average dip by nearly 50 points (.244) and his OPS dip by more than 100 points (.718).
Heck, we could point to the expectations and pressure that come along with signing the second-largest contract in team history, a five-year, $82 million deal that trails only Vernon Wells' seven-year, $126 million 2006 extension.
None of it matters in judging whether Martin will be labeled a bust in Toronto. Where the team finishes the season does.
Because rather than signing Martin, the Blue Jays could have rebuilt the back end of their bullpen, which remains unsettled, by adding both Andrew Miller and David Robertson, who signed for—you guessed it—a combined $82 million.
They still would have been able to trade for Josh Donaldson, and while nobody would argue that he's a better option than Martin behind the plate, the team still would have had the more than capable Dioner Navarro catching.
In fact, locking down the eighth and ninth innings would have solved the Aaron Sanchez dilemma as well. He'd either win a rotation spot in spring training or bide his time in Triple-A, where his service-time clock would pause, an added bonus for the club.
If the Blue Jays are playing meaningful baseball in October, then I'll be wrong on Martin. But if we're talking about their 22-year absence from the playoffs instead, Martin is going to look like a major bust, fairly or not.
First Base: Ike Davis, Oakland Athletics
First base was a tough position to fill on our All-Bust squad for two reasons: There really wasn't much turnover at the position this winter, and there's really not any returning starter who jumps out as someone who won't equal (or surpass) his level of production in 2014 this coming season.
Ike Davis is one of the exceptions, however.
Sure, some had already stuck the bust label on Davis after he failed to live up to expectations with the New York Mets and struggled to produce for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but clearly Oakland believes there's enough talent here for it to essentially clear a path to regular playing time for the 27-year-old.
Consider that most of the players who had seen time at first base for the A's in 2014—Daric Barton, Kyle Blanks, Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Moss—are no longer with the team. That leaves Davis to battle Rule 5 draft selection Mark Canha and holdover Nate Freiman for the starting spot.
What about Billy Butler, you ask? Not even the A's are crazy enough to put his glove in the field on a regular basis
Davis has flashed ability before, hitting .271 with a .351 on-base percentage, 26 home runs and 96 RBI over the first 183 games of his career. But injuries and inconsistency have seen a precipitous drop in his production, with him hitting only .223 with a .324 on-base percentage over his next 402 games.
o.Co Coliseum doesn't lend itself to big offensive numbers, especially by a left-handed power hitter, making Davis a curious fit for a team that has been searching for a long-term answer at the position for quite some time.
That search will continue, as Davis will tantalize fans with his brute strength but provide little in the way of production.
Second Base: Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins
- Derek Dietrich: 1.6
- Enrique Hernandez: 1.1
- Dee Gordon: 1.1
- Donovan Solano: 0.4
There's no question that Dee Gordon is going to steal a bunch of bases in Miami, because if there's one thing Gordon is good at, it's causing havoc with his speed.
Problem is, that's about all Gordon can be counted on for.
As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan pointed out shortly after Miami traded a package of three prospects to the Dodgers in exchange for the speedy second baseman (and Dan Haren), Gordon doesn't actually project to be any more valuable to the Marlins than the internal candidates that he's replacing at second base:
Were it not for Gordon, the Marlins would've had three candidates to get time at second base. Here are all their 2015 projected WAR/600:
Dietrich and Hernandez are projected to out-hit Gordon. Solano’s close. Obviously, there are questions about Dietrich’s defense. There are questions about Hernandez’s defense. There are questions about Solano’s everything. But it’s not like Gordon himself is free of question marks.
He doesn't get on base with any consistency—among batters who had at least 450 plate appearances in the leadoff spot in 2014, Gordon's .321 on-base percentage ranks 14th—as does his 4.7 percent walk rate.
While he's not as big a defensive liability at second base as he is at shortstop, Gordon still grades out as a below-average defender at the keystone, whether you turn to UZR/150 or DRS as your advanced analytic of choice.
All things considered, Gordon doesn't make the Marlins any more of a contender in 2015 than they were in 2014. But the expectation is that he does—and his erratic production (or lack thereof) on the field will leave the Marlins and their fans disappointed.
Third Base: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Whether he breaks camp with the Chicago Cubs or not, and barring any unfathomable circumstances, Kris Bryant is going to step to the plate at Wrigley Field in 2015 and everyone in attendance is going to rise to watch the action unfold.
It's understandable, of course. How can you not get excited to see a 23-year-old who has flown through Chicago's minor league system in two years, hitting .327 with 52 home runs, 142 RBI and a 1.095 OPS in 174 games?
The hype surrounding him has moved just as quickly. Compared to Troy Glaus and Jayson Werth before he was drafted, Bryant is now mentioned alongside Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera.
You can't raise expectations much higher.
Could he become an all-time great over the course of his career? You bet.
But to expect him to perform at that level out of the gate is absurd, yet people are going to do just that—and label him a bust for failing to meet those unrealistic expectations.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees
You never want to be the guy who replaces a legend—you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.
Especially when that legend is Derek Jeter.
To Didi Gregorius' credit, he's not trying to replace Jeter—he's just trying to be the best player he can be, as he explained to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News:
Jeter is still Jeter. Everything everybody is going to talk about is Jeter. I’m learning. Just try to focus on the game and win every game, not worrying about what’s going on.
I have to improve on everything. I don’t want to think I know everything. I love working hard. People say "Your defense is really good," but I don’t want to think that. I’m still working on everything because every day’s a new day to learn something. For me, you have to keep learning to get better.
While Jeter's patented jump-throw from deep in the hole isn't a major part of his defensive repertoire, even the most ardent Jeter fan would admit that the 24-year-old is a superior defender.
But there are major questions about Gregorius' ability to hit major league pitching with any consistency, especially left-handed pitching. In 183 games over parts of two seasons in Arizona, Gregorius mustered a mediocre .243/.313/.366 triple-slash line with a below-average 85 wRC+.
It's fair to think that if Gregorius was unable to find success at the plate in the relatively pressure-free environment of Arizona, he's going to wilt under the intense pressure that comes with playing in New York, the media capital of the world.
Ultimately, he's going to spend his first season in New York being compared to Jeter. Few things guarantee being labeled a bust more than being compared to a future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
Left Field: Steven Souza, Tampa Bay Rays
Steven Souza was acquired from Washington in the three-team trade that sent 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers from Tampa Bay to San Diego, and much has been made of his recent minor league success, which includes three consecutive seasons with an OPS above .900.
Yet we know that gaudy minor league numbers don't always translate to major league success. When it comes to Souza, there's one key point that has been glossed over by nearly every pundit, with the exception of FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel—he was older than the typical player you'd find at each level.
We're not talking about the kind of disparity that you'd find if, say, the curmudgeonly owner of a nuclear power plant fielded a team of major leaguers in an intramural softball league, but that age difference is significant enough to wonder if Souza's upside hasn't been overstated.
That's not to say that Souza isn't talented and doesn't have a chance to become a solid contributor for the Rays. He's shown the ability to hit both left- and right-handed pitching, can play all three outfield spots and has enough power and speed to make some noise for the Rays in 2015.
But there are enough questions about his ability to make consistent contact with major league pitching to wonder if his ceiling isn't that of a fourth outfielder, someone who can provide some pop off the bench and serve as a defensive replacement late in games.
While he'll get every chance to prove the doubters wrong for the rebuilding Rays in 2015, odds are that his learning curve against similarly aged (and older) competition will be steep, resulting in some less-than-stellar numbers across the board in his rookie season.
Center Field: Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
Make no mistake about it: I'm a big believer in Wil Myers' ability and upside moving forward and remain convinced that Tampa Bay made a mistake in giving up on him as quickly as it did.
I'm also convinced that Myers wound up in an even worse situation in San Diego.
Petco Park is notoriously tough on right-handed hitters, and unlike his high-profile counterparts in San Diego's outfield, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, Myers doesn't have a lengthy track record of success to fall back on.
This is a young player trying to find his way, and the challenges that his new home park present can easily make a young player question his ability and begin to press at the plate.
That the Padres plan on playing him in center field is even worse. Myers wasn't a terrific corner outfielder to begin with, putting up a minus-11 DRS and 0.4 UZR/150 over parts of two seasons in right field for the Rays.
Now that he's being asked to cover an even larger swath of ground in Petco Park—and that neither Kemp nor Upton is what you'd consider a quality defender—the pressure is going to be on Myers to make plays with his glove.
That may not be a challenge that he's up to meeting—which, along with his subdued offensive numbers, is going to make Myers look like a colossal bust to some at the age of 24.
Right Field: Michael Cuddyer, New York Mets
Other than Carlos Beltran, free-agent outfielders who sign with the New York Mets tend not to fare so well. Jason Bay was a colossal failure and was ultimately bought out of his deal, while Curtis Granderson's first year in Flushing was anything but amazin', as he delivered the lowest OPS (.714) of his career.
Michael Cuddyer won't be the one to buck that trend.
He hasn't played in more than 130 games or taken more than 500 at-bats in a single season since 2010, and he missed nearly three quarters of the 2014 campaign with injuries to both thighs and a fractured left shoulder.
A 14-year veteran, he is heading into his age-36 season. Cuddyer will be productive at the plate if he can stay healthy. But that's a big if, and there's no reason to believe that he's suddenly about to become more durable.
Throw in that he's a terrible defender in right field and is no longer versatile enough to bounce around the field as he once did, and all signs point to his arrival in Flushing being a less than festive one.
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners
Seattle needed to add another big bat to the middle of its lineup and landed (arguably) the best free-agent option available in Nelson Cruz.
Nobody disputes that Cruz fills a glaring hole on the team's roster, as ESPN's Keith Law pointed out shortly after his four-year, $52 million deal was announced:
The Mariners would have done just as well to let their pitchers hit in 2014, getting a putrescent .190/.266/.301 line from their so-called designated hitters, which helped mask the stench of the .241/.284/.383 "production" they got out of left field. Cruz is a real upgrade right away even if he's half the player he was in 2014, and that's a realistic projection for him.
But Cruz is a right-handed pull hitter with power, and he's now going to spend half the regular season playing in a ballpark (Safeco Field) that is one of the worst possible venues for a player with that kind of profile, as indicated by FanGraphs' park factors.
Consider this: More than half of Cruz's games in 2015 (and beyond) will be spent at either Safeco, Oakland's o.Co Coliseum or Los Angeles' Angel Stadium. Over nearly 600 combined career at-bats at all three locales, Cruz is a .212 hitter with 24 home runs and 71 RBI.
Those aren't pretty numbers—and it's foolish to think that things are suddenly going to change. While his numbers at the end of the season won't be terrible, the deck is stacked against the veteran slugger living up to the lofty expectations that surround his arrival in Seattle.
Starting Pitcher: Alfredo Simon, Detroit Tigers
I didn't like this acquisition—or understand what Detroit was thinking when it traded a pair of legitimate prospects to Cincinnati for Alfredo Simon—and more than a month later, I'm still scratching my head.
Injuries, not performance or talent, thrust Simon into Cincinnati's starting rotation last year, and the Reds got lucky. Simon parlayed a terrific first half (12-3, 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP over 18 starts) into his first career All-Star appearance, but he went 3-7 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 14 second-half starts.
Fatigue could have been a factor in that second-half swoon for sure, as Simon set a career high with 199 frames in 2014. He hadn't thrown more than 116 innings since 2011 and exceeded 135 innings only once in the minor leagues, back in 2004.
While a move to a more pitcher-friendly venue in Comerica Park will help, the fact is that Simon is a mediocre pitcher at best, and fairly or not, he is going to be viewed as a replacement for Rick Porcello or Max Scherzer in Detroit's rotation.
This marriage isn't going to end well for anyone involved.
Relief Pitcher: Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
Andrew Miller is coming off the best season of his nine-year career, pitching to a 2.02 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over a combined 62.1 innings for Boston and Baltimore. Miller exhibited phenomenal control and a remarkable ability to miss bats, averaging more than six strikeouts for every walk that he issued.
It's the kind of season that allowed him to cash in as one of the offseason's big winners, inking a four-year, $39 million deal with the New York Yankees. Now, I happen to like Miller quite a bit and think he's a good fit at the back end of the Yankees bullpen.
But next to re-signing Chase Headley, he represents the team's largest expenditure this winter, and chances are that a move to Yankee Stadium typically doesn't help a pitcher's overall numbers.
I'm not saying Miller won't still be effective—he will be. We can count on some regression, and Miller's numbers figure to revert back to his career marks as a reliever—a 3.38 ERA and 1.23 WHIP—numbers that are more than respectable. But they're not the kind of numbers that anyone is going to think are worth paying nearly $10 million a year for.
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