This season has not been a good season for many high-payroll MLB Franchises.
The Red Sox have endured countless injuries, putting their backs against the wall for the Wild Card chase.
The Astros, despite a payroll of over $90 million in 2010, were never even considered in the running for the playoffs, especially after a poor off-season of questionable signings.
Three franchises, however, strike me as the most disappointing in 2010: The Cubs, Mariners, and Mets. Two teams were supremely bankrolled, while one was blessed with a strong 2009 turnaround and an innovative front office that tried to counter previous bad roster decisions with shrewd arbitrage opportunities on players. So what has gone wrong for these three clubs in 2010?
New York Mets:
2010 Payroll: $126,498,096
Record as of 8/10: 56-56
The Mets had a 2009 season to forget, but 2010 had promise. The team signed Jason Bay after a big 36 HR, 134 OPS+ season in 2009 for Boston. Ike Davis was poised to be called up. Jon Niese was ready to go. With a division that had consisted of the Phillies (who, while still very good, are aging), and a Braves team with, at the time, more potential than results, the Mets looked in decent shape to contend.
What went wrong?
For starters, Jason Bay's season (.259/.347/.405, 102 OPS+, 6 HR) was not exactly what Omar Minaya had in mind. Outside of David Wright and Angel Pagan, the Mets have had mostly mediocre lineup performances, and running Jeff Francoeur's sub-.300 OBP out to the field every day has not helped matters. Reyes and Beltran have not been the same players in 2010 as they have been in the past, as well. Francisco Rodriguez is having a terrific season (10.73 K/9, 3.14 K/BB, 2.67 FIP), but the rest of the bullpen, collectively, has been mediocre.
2010 Payroll: $144,359,000
Record as of 8/10: 47-65
Proving that you cannot simply sign championships, the Cubs are reminding fans in a big way of how painful it has been to root for the team since Frank Chance moved on to the Yankees. The Cubs did have reason to believe that a better work environment without Milton Bradley, and a healthier Alfonso Soriano, would help the team immensely, as well as possibly slipping into the postseason via a weak NL Central.
What went wrong?
More like what went right? Aramis Ramirez has gone from a star to a fringe major leaguer, posting a 78 OPS+ and defense that belongs in the AL's Designated Hitter spot. Derrek Lee, after a brilliant 2009, has begun to show his age as well, posting an 85 OPS+. While Soriano has been solid, he has not played near what you would expect a $19 mil a year player to produce, and likewise for Fukudome at $14 million. Geovany Soto has been the best player in the Cubs lineup, but Piniella gave Koyie Hill 124 PA to produce a 24 OPS+ anyway. Despite Zambrano's publicized struggles, the Cubs starting pitching has actually been pretty good, but they have been unable to fill in their bullpen spots outside of Marmol (my Nolan Ryan award winner for 2010, hands down) and Marshall.
2010 Payroll: $91,143,333
Record as of 8/10: 43-70
It was a move that had many baseball minds buzzing: The Mariners, in a very live ball era, looked to turn their focus squarely to defense. While many a Monday morning Quarterback now question the moves, at the time, things seemed intelligent. They signed Chone Figgins to what looked to be a good deal. They traded Carlos Silva for the 2008 AL OPS champion in Milton Bradley. They traded 30 year old Bill Hall for 27 year old Casey Kotchman. And of course, they traded a rather uninspiring crop of prospects for Cliff Lee. Things looked positive for a team coming off an 83 win campaign.
What went wrong?
More like what did not go wrong for these Mariners? While most people expected the offense to be poor, not many could have expected just 3.25 runs per game. Rob Johnson (60 OPS+), Casey Kotchman (72 OPS+), Chone Figgins (81 OPS+), Jose Lopez (65 OPS+), Franklin Gutierrez (89 OPS+), Ichiro (108 OPS+), and Milton Bradley (76 OPS+) have all performed well below where most people would have expected offensively. David Aardsma has crashed back down to earth as well, with just a 4.29 FIP after last season's 3.01 (but interestingly, the exact same xFIP of 4.12). Cliff Lee was excellent in his time for the Mariners, and King Felix and Jason Vargas have had excellent seasons; however, the rest of the pitching staff failed to deliver as they should have. Gutierrez (2.4 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com) and Ichiro (2.1) are the only members of the lineup with over two WAR currently, and the Wilsons (Josh and Jack, respectively) are the only others with one WAR or more. Their WAR ratings? 1.1 and 1.0.
Who is the most disappointing?
This is a tough decision. While the Mets have underachieved, I do not think it is them. I predicted the Braves to win that division, and the Phillies to win the Wild Card, the Mets are almost where I expected them to fall.
The Mariners should be one or two on everyone's list. While not built to be an offensive juggernaut, even a 4.25 run per game team (or about 689 a season) could be right in the thick of things. Thanks to numerous sub-optimal performances, however, the team looks like the laughing stock it was in 2008, despite a much better leadership in the front office.
In the end, though, any team that manages to slip behind the Astros while sporting a $140+ million dollar payroll has to take the cake. The Cubs have been all sorts of problems in 2010, from the ownership, to a manager whose flaws have come out in full force now that he lacks a star studded roster, to the players on the field, the situation in Chicago has been a mess in 2010. The Cubs are constantly able to allot $40 to $50 million more per season in free agent signings than their NL Central counterparts, and have little to no excuse to perform this bad. While the Cubs have hope for the future, given the strong seasons from AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, the emergence of Starlin Castro, and the good move to pick up Blake DeWitt, this incarnation of the roster has been nothing short of a disaster.
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