Put Up or Shut Up: MLB Stars Under the Most Pressure the Rest of 2017
Mid-August is upon us—the part of the MLB campaign when the cream rises to the top and the dregs sink to the bottom.
That's especially true for the game's highest-paid players, who are under extra pressure to perform as the schedule dwindles and the lights get brighter.
Some have been doing it all year and will continue doing so, barring injury; others, not so much.
Let's look at five struggling/injured stars for whom it's put-up-or-shut-up time, keeping a few factors in mind:
- They need to play for a contender. We're interested in guys whose production could aid a legitimate postseason push.
- They need to make a lot of money. Big contracts come with outsized expectations; this is about players whose stats aren't in line with their salaries.
- They need a track record. Making a ton of cash is usually synonymous with past production, but we're scouring old stat sheets for evidence of game-changing ability.
Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
At 59-56, the Seattle Mariners hold the second wild-card slot in the American League entering play Thursday.
However, if they're going to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2001—let alone make a deep October push—they'll need more from ace Felix Hernandez.
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner owns a 4.28 ERA across 73.2 innings and landed on the disabled list on Tuesday with right-shoulder bursitis, per MLB.com's Alex Simon.
He's making $26.857 million this season and is owed more than $50 million over the next three seasons, including a $1 million club option for 2020 if Hernandez spends more than 130 straight days on the disabled list for the right elbow issues that recently plagued him.
At the rate he's going, that's not out of the realm of possibility for 31-year-old King Felix.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
With the best record in baseball at 80-33, the Los Angeles Dodgers are cruising toward their first pennant and World Series win since 1988.
Veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the forgotten man on offense, though.
The five-time All-Star has been limited to 49 games by a back injury, and he has been supplanted on the Dodgers' depth chart by potent rookie Cody Bellinger.
When he has played, Gonzalez has posted a career-worst .643 OPS with only one home run.
At 35 years old, it's possible Gonzalez is on the downslope. He hasn't logged an inning since June 11. Then again, he's earning $22 million and change this season and next.
If and when he returns, L.A. will be compelled to find a place for him, though he'll likely be shelved against left-handed pitchers, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times.
The Dodgers don't need Gonzalez to win a title, but Gonzalez needs a resurgent stretch run to remain relevant.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
The New York Yankees went into buy mode at the non-waiver trade deadline, acquiring relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and slugger Todd Frazier from the Chicago White Sox, plus right-hander Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics.
Any hope for an extended postseason run, however, rests on the shoulders of Masahiro Tanaka.
The Japanese stud hasn't delivered for most of the season, posting a 4.92 ERA and 8-10 record in 133.2 innings.
He's been better of late, posting sub-4.00 ERAs in June, July and August. He lasted just four innings in Wednesday's start against the Toronto Blue Jays, however, and yielded three runs and five walks.
The Yanks offense saved him with an 11-run outburst. But Tanaka—who is earning $22 million this season and will make $45 million over the next two years unless he opts out—needs to do better.
Jason Heyward, RF, Chicago Cubs
In December 2015, the Chicago Cubs inked outfielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million pact.
In his first season with the North Siders, Heyward hit .230 with a .631 OPS, though he did deliver an inspirational speech in the Cubs' pivotal Game 7 win over the Cleveland Indians.
This year, Heyward's numbers have ticked upward, but his .258 average and .710 OPS aren't in line with his paycheck, even considering his Gold-Glove-worthy defense.
On the plus side, manager Joe Maddon sung Heyward's praises from an attitude standpoint.
"Watch him coming off the field," Maddon said, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's high-fiving batboys. I love that stuff. You need that unifying force. He's a force multiplier."
After a sluggish start, the Cubbies are finally in first place in the NL Central. Their hopes for a repeat hinge on a number of factors, including a late-season surge by Heyward, and not only in the batboy-high-fiving department.
David Price, LHP, Boston Red Sox
David Price is earning $30 million this season. He'll make the same amount in 2018, after which he can opt out and test the market, or he could settle in and make $127 million through 2022.
What are the Boston Red Sox getting for their money? Not enough.
Last season, in the first year of his contract, Price surrendered an MLB-leading 227 hits and posted a 3.99 ERA.
In 2017, he sports a 3.82 ERA in 66 innings and has missed significant time with elbow problems.
The 31-year-old southpaw is throwing from 90 feet, but his ability to be a healthy, effective part of Boston's possible playoff rotation is in serious doubt.
At this point, there's as much chance Price will be a $30 million autumn spectator as that he'll lead the Sox to the October promised land.