MLB's Dismissed Stars Who Are Shutting Up the Haters in 2018

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2018

MLB's Dismissed Stars Who Are Shutting Up the Haters in 2018

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    It's always risky to write off MLB players who have previously performed at a high level, or who have the tools to stand out despite limited production.

    Baseball is a fickle sport, and a turn of health, a change of scenery or a simple reversal of fortune can contribute to a player's return to prominence. 

    Ahead is a look at 10 players who were dismissed for one reason or another heading into the 2018 season, but who have successfully silenced the haters.

Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

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    The Hater

    Sure he's fun to watch, but he's more style than substance. He'll always strike out too much to be anything more than what he was in 2017.

            

    The Truth

    It's easy to see how Javier Baez might rub some fans the wrong way with his emotional style of play. Still, love him or hate him, there's no denying he's taken his game to another level this season.

    In 2016 and 2017, Baez posted a combined 98 OPS+ while averaging 18 home runs, 67 RBI, 11 steals and 3.0 WAR, thanks in large part to his stellar defense and elite base-running.

    This season, he's hitting .294/.328/.566 for a 129 OPS+ and he's slugged 37 doubles and 32 home runs on his way to leading the NL in RBI (105) and total bases (314). He's also stolen 21 bases and scored 94 runs, which along with his Gold Glove-caliber play in the field, has added up to 5.8 WAR.

    In a wide-open NL MVP race, Baez is the leading candidate from a Chicago Cubs team that has the best record in the National League.

    He still strikes out a lot and he'll never be a major contributor in the on-base department. And his overaggressive style of play still burns him every once in a while. But there's no way the Cubs are in first place in a tight NL Central race without him, and more times than not, his all-out approach provides a spark.

    In other words, there's plenty of substance to go with all that style.

Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians

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    The Hater

    He'll never stay healthy. Exercising his option was a mistake. Anything the Indians get from him this season will be a bonus.

         

    The Truth

    Our hypothetical hater had a point.

    After a breakout season in 2014 and another strong showing in 2015, Michael Brantley underwent shoulder surgery prior to the 2016 campaign.

    However, the shoulder issues persisted and wound up limiting him to 11 games and requiring a second surgery. Then, with the shoulder issues finally in the rearview last season, it was an ankle injury that cost him significant time as he was able to suit up for just 90 games.

    The Cleveland Indians exercised his $12 million option for 2018, but it was unclear whether he would be worth that and what exactly could be expected of him.

    Luckily, he's stayed healthy enough to play in 132 of the team's 149 games, hitting .307/.363/.472 with 35 doubles, 16 home runs, 73 RBI, 82 runs and 10 steals.

    The health concerns will remain in the back of potential suitors' minds when he reaches free agency this coming offseason, but he's been huge for an Indians team that has gotten inconsistent play from the other two outfield spots.

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros

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    The Hater

    He's just not an ace. His 2015 season was a fluke. He's never going to pitch at that level again.

         

    The Truth

    Gerrit Cole lived up to the expectations that come with being a former No. 1 overall pick with a terrific 2015 season. 

    However, in the years to come, he failed to duplicate that level of success:

    • 2015: 32 GS, 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 202 K, 208.0 IP, 4.6 WAR
    • 2016: 21 GS, 7-10, 3.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 98 K, 116.0 IP, 1.5 WAR
    • 2017: 33 GS, 12-12, 4.26 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 196 K, 203.0 IP, 2.8 WAR

    Blame it on injuries. Blame it on inconsistency. Blame it on some lingering animosity toward the front office.

    Whatever the reason, he simply didn't look like that same dominant pitcher the past two years, and the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to move on during the offseason. They traded him to the Houston Astros for a package of Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin.

    The change of scenery has done wonders, as the 28-year-old has gone 14-5 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 260 strikeouts in 187.1 innings.

    As the Astros look to chase down a second straight World Series title, Cole has emerged as the co-ace of the staff alongside Justin Verlander and placed himself squarely in the AL Cy Young conversation.

    With team control through the 2019 season, that trade now looks like an absolute steal for Houston.

Edwin Jackson, Oakland Athletics

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    The Hater

    How does he keep finding work? Seriously, how?

         

    The Truth

    There's a reason Edwin Jackson has played for 13 different teams over the course of his 16-year MLB career.

    However, there's also a reason he keeps getting another chance.

    The 35-year-old still has the mid-90s fastball and biting slider that made him one of the game's top prospects more than a decade ago, and he has shown enough occasional flashes over the past five years that pitching-needy teams are willing to roll the dice.

    After several years as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, Jackson turned a mediocre 2012 season into a four-year, $52 million deal from the Chicago Cubs. His production quickly bottomed out from there, though.

    He enjoyed a brief renaissance as a reliever in 2015 but struggled upon returning to starting. He went 10-13 with a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 160 innings spanning 26 starts and 11 relief appearances the past two years, which meant settling for a minor league deal from the Nationals during the offseason.

    After exercising an opt-out on June 1, he signed on with the Oakland Athletics a few days later, and he's been nothing short of a savior for their injury-plagued starting staff.

    In 15 starts, he's gone 5-3 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 82.1 innings.

    Now, with Oakland on a collision course with the postseason, Jackson could find himself starting a playoff game for the first time since 2012.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    The Hater

    The Dodgers might as well just release him. They got the salary relief they wanted in that trade. It's not worth wasting a roster spot on him.

            

    The Truth

    The Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn't be in the thick of the NL West race right now if not for the contributions of Matt Kemp.

    The 33-year-old hit .310/.352/.522 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI in the first half, earning a starting spot on the NL All-Star team and his first All-Star nod since 2012. That went a long way toward helping the Dodgers stay afloat with Justin Turner and Corey Seager on the disabled list and Manny Machado not yet in the fold.

    Not bad for a player who initially looked like a candidate to be released after being acquired in a swap of bad contracts with the Atlanta Braves.

    The Dodgers sent the expiring contracts of Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Adrian Gonzalez to the Braves in the deal, along with Charlie Culberson and cash. That gave L.A. luxury-tax relief in 2018 and the Braves more flexibility to be active on the 2018-19 free-agent market with Kemp's 2019 salary no longer on the books.

    Instead, Kemp won the starting left field job with a strong spring and proved invaluable during the first half.

    His production has fallen off significantly since the All-Star breakhe's hitting .230/.301/.345 with four home runs and 17 RBI—but he's already provided more value than anyone expected.

David Price, Boston Red Sox

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    The Hater

    Signing him was a $217 million mistake. The Red Sox need another front-line starter to go along with Chris Sale if they want to contend, and Price just isn't that guy anymore.

         

    The Truth

    The Boston Red Sox gave David Price a seven-year, $217 million deal after he led the AL with a 2.45 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting during the 2015 season.

    Entering his age-30 season, the hope was that he could anchor the Boston rotation for the foreseeable future. Instead, he saw his ERA jump to 3.99 during his first season with the Red Sox and he was shelled for six hits and five earned runs in 3.1 innings in his lone postseason start.

    Things went from bad to worse last year, as injuries limited him to just 74.2 innings and he was "mad at the world," per Scott Lauber of ESPN.com, while struggling to deal with the frustration of a lost season.

    With a $30 million price tag and legitimate questions about whether he would return to his previous form, it's easy to see why the fanbase was down on Price heading into 2018.

    However, he's bounced back in a big way, going 15-6 with a 3.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 169 strikeouts in 165.2 innings, and the fact that Chris Sale missed time to shoulder inflammation has made his performance that much more important.

    Now those two will lead the way as the Red Sox push for a title.

Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

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    The Hater

    He's a bust. Maybe a change of scenery will help, but he's never going to make an impact in Texas.

         

    The Truth

    "Why it looks like Jurickson Profar's long-term future won't be with the Texas Rangers."

    That was the headline of an article by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News on Aug. 21, 2017, and it was the overwhelming sentiment heading into the offseason.

    Yet the offseason came and went, and Profar stayed put.

    The former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America and several other media outlets, had hit just .229/.309/.329 in 718 plate appearances over parts of four big league seasons amid a series of injuries and inconsistent playing time.

    The decision not to sell low now looks like a brilliant move by the front office.

    Serving in a super-utility role, Profar is hitting .258/.342/.465 with 33 doubles, 18 home runs, 74 RBI, 78 runs scored and 10 steals.

    He's still just 25 years old, he's under team control through the 2020 season and the best may still be to come.

    Even if he never lives up to the superstar expectations, Profar has turned into an impact player for a Rangers team that is now entering a rebuilding phase and needs all the young controllable talent it can get.

Anibal Sanchez, Atlanta Braves

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    The Hater

    He should retire. There's nothing left in the tank.

         

    The Truth

    Anibal Sanchez signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Detroit Tigers in 2012 and turned in two excellent seasons before falling off dramatically.

    Over the final three years of that deal, he posted a 5.67 ERA and 1.43 WHIP while averaging 139 innings. That culminated in a brutal 2017 season in which he posted a 6.41 ERA and was eventually relegated to mop-up relief work.

    After finding little interest on the free-agent market, he inked a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins on Feb. 20, only to be released less than a month later. The Atlanta Braves scooped him up with another minor league pact, and he's been a stabilizing force for the young rotation.

    The 34-year-old has gone 6-5 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 118 strikeouts in 119.2 innings, making 21 starts while earning just $1 million.

    Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman will fill the top two spots in the postseason rotation for the Braves, but it's not out of the question to think Sanchez could be the starter in Game 3 of the NLDS.

    After all, he has a 2.79 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 38.2 career postseason innings.

Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    The Hater

    His rookie season was a fluke. He'll be lucky if he doesn't lose his job to Brendan Rodgers by midseason.

        

    The Truth

    Trevor Story exploded onto the scene in 2016 by hitting seven home runs in his first six MLB games and finishing out his first month in the big leagues with a 1.019 OPS and 10 home runs.

    He went on to post a 122 OPS+ with 27 home runs and 72 RBI to finish fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and it looked like the Colorado Rockies had a budding star on their hands.

    He took a significant step backward in his sophomore campaign, though, hitting .239/.308/.457 for an 85 OPS+ as his strikeout rate jumped to 34.4 percent.

    With one of the game's top prospects in Brendan Rodgers waiting in the wings, it looked like Story might be fighting for his job in 2018.

    Instead, he's a dark-horse candidate for NL MVP honors, hitting .288/.343/.550 with 40 doubles, 33 home runs and 102 RBI on his way to 4.7 WAR.

    He's making more hard contact (40.3 to 44.4 percent) and striking out less (34.4 to 26.2 percent), and now it looks like Rodgers will wind up manning second base long-term with incumbent DJ LeMahieu headed for free agency.

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

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    The Hater

    The Mets should move him to the bullpen. Maybe then he can stay healthy. He's not durable enough to hold down a rotation spot.

                        

    The Truth

    It looked like the New York Mets pulled off a heist when they acquired Zack Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants for two months of Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trade deadline.

    Wheeler went 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts as a rookie in 2013. He followed that with similarly excellent numbers over his first full season in the rotation. However, the 2015 and 2016 seasons were both lost to Tommy John surgery and his subsequent recovery.

    He returned last season but wasn't the same pitcher, struggling to a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP over 17 starts before he was again shut down for the season with a stress reaction in his throwing arm.

    A move to the bullpen this year would have been justified, but the Mets stuck with him as a starter—and that's paid dividends.

    Wheeler has gone 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 179 strikeouts in 182.1 innings, and he's been dominant since the All-Star break.

    In 11 second-half starts, he's gone 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 75 innings, out-pitching NL Cy Young front-runner and teammate Jacob deGrom in the process.

    With control of Wheeler through next season, the Mets have an extremely valuable trade chip heading into the offseason, if they sell high on him. Otherwise, he'll join deGrom and Noah Syndergaard atop the rotation as the Mets look to rebound.

        

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through Sept. 17.