Each MLB Team's Potential Huge Bust for 2019

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2019

Each MLB Team's Potential Huge Bust for 2019

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    Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a matter of days (yeah!). At the same time, it's been a long, dreary, slow-moving MLB offseason...and it isn't over yet (blech).

    In keeping with that pessimistic mood, let's examine each team's biggest potential bust heading into the 2019 season.

    For our purposes, "bust" is defined as either:

    • An established, highly paid star who is on the verge of a seismic statistical letdown or set to continue a steep slide, or...
    • A touted young player who could fall far short of expectations or flame out entirely.

    Obviously there's some subjectivity involved, and maybe some of these guys will make us look foolish with stellar seasons. Then again, maybe not.

    Throw on some melancholy late-winter mood music and proceed when ready.

Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke will earn $34.5 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019 and $35 million in 2020 and 2021. For their money, the D-backs will get a pitcher who posted a 3.71 FIP and is entering his age-35 season.

    Yes, Greinke eclipsed 200 innings last season, made the National League All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. Good for him.

    But for a franchise straddling the line between a retool and a rebuild, he's a prohibitively expensive veteran who likely can't be traded unless Arizona swallows a ton of cash.

Atlanta Braves: 3B Josh Donaldson

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    Josh Donaldson won American League MVP honors in 2015. He's also been limited by injuries the past two seasons and played a scant 52 games in 2018.

    The Atlanta Braves rolled the dice and gave him a lucrative one-year, $23 million deal with the hope he could turn back the clock. 

    It might work. The Braves have enough young, cost-controlled talent and payroll flexibility to survive if it doesn't.

    On the other hand, Donaldson turned 33 in December. A career renaissance is technically possible...but it isn't likely.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B Chris Davis

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    It's cruel to pick on Chris Davis at this point, but we must.

    After swatting 47 home runs in 2015 for the Baltimore Orioles, Davis signed a seven-year, $161 million deal. His production subsequently cratered, and in 2018, he posted a .168/.243/.296 slash line. He'll turn 33 years old in March and is owed $23 million annually through 2022.

    Stack those dollar signs next to that stat line, and any squad would cringe. For a rebuilding Orioles team that lost 115 games last season?


Boston Red Sox: LHP David Price

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    On the surface, David Price enjoyed a rebound for the Boston Red Sox in 2018. In 176 frames, the left-hander posted a 3.58 ERA with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Oh, and the Red Sox won the World Series, which never hurts.

    On the negative side of the ledger, Price posted a 4.02 FIP. He'll turn 34 in August. And he'll earn $31 million in 2019, then $32 million every season through 2022.

    Price hasn't posted a sub-3.00 ERA since 2015. He might have another year or two left as a serviceable No. 2-3 starter, but given the money he's set to earn, warning lights are flashing. 

Chicago Cubs: LHP Cole Hamels

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    What a weird winter it's been for the Chicago Cubs.

    After getting bounced in the NL Wild Card in 2018, the Cubs opened the offseason by exercising left-hander Cole Hamels' $20 million option for 2019.

    Since then? Basically crickets. 

    Hamels posted a 2.36 ERA in 76.1 innings for the Cubbies after coming over in a trade with the Texas Rangers. In 114.1 frames with Texas, however, Hamels' ERA sat at a less impressive 4.72 and even uglier 5.20 FIP.

    He's entering his age-35 season and hasn't been a genuine top-of-the-rotation arm since 2016, when he posted a 3.32 ERA in 200.2 frames. He could recapture that form over a full campaign on the North Side, but the Cubs are paying an awful lot to find out.

Chicago White Sox: INF Yoan Moncada

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    Not so long ago, Yoan Moncada was the Chicago White Sox's next big thing.

    The centerpiece of the trade that sent ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox, Moncada was supposed to bring five glistening tools to the South Side.

    The early returns haven't been great, to put it mildly.

    In 149 games last season, Moncada hit .235 with a .315 on-base percentage and led MLB with 217 strikeouts. Overall, he's slashed .234/.319/.399 in 211 big league contests.

    He'll turn 24 in May, so all hope is not lost. Based on his results, though, he'll soon be eclipsed by other emerging White Sox stars, such as top outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez.

Cincinnati Reds: OF Matt Kemp

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    The Cincinnati Reds lead MLB in losses since 2015. They play in the deep National League Central, which is the only division in baseball that doesn't feature any obviously tanking teams.

    Yet, they're going for it. OK, then.

    They've made some bold moves this winter, including the trade that netted outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp along with left-hander Alex Wood from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Kemp is set to earn $21.8 million in 2019 ($3.5 million paid by the Dodgers, $2.5 million paid by the San Diego Padres). He hit .290 with 21 home runs in 2018, but his OPS fell from .874 before the All-Star break to .719 in the second half, and he's 34 years old.

    Puig and Wood are intriguing wild cards for the Reds, but Kemp is a costly, aging albatross.

Cleveland Indians: 1B/DH Carlos Santana

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    Carlos Santana enjoyed some strong seasons with the Cleveland Indians. In 2013, he picked up down-ballot MVP votes as a member of the Tribe.

    More recently, Santana hit .229 with a .766 OPS for the Philadelphia Phillies before the Indians re-acquired him in a three-team deal with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays.

    Santana turns 33 in April, will earn more than $20 million in 2019 and 2020 with a $500,000 buyout in 2021 and figures to be Cleveland's primary designated hitter after the club shipped Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle.

    They say you can't go home again, and that's especially true for declining sluggers entering their mid-30s. 

Colorado Rockies: INF/OF Ian Desmond

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    In the second season of a five-year, $70 million deal, Ian Desmond hit .236 with a .307 on-base percentage for the Colorado Rockies. 

    Add the fact that he's 33 years old and plays half his games in the friendly mile-high confines of Coors Field, and you've got the trappings of a full-blown bust.

    He's logged big league innings at shortstop, second base and in the outfield in his career, but he spent the bulk of his time in 2018 at first base, where he posted minus-six defensive runs saved.

    That only makes his offensive shortcomings all the more...offensive. 

Detroit Tigers: DH/1B Miguel Cabrera

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    Someday, Miguel Cabrera will be in the Hall of Fame and Detroit Tigers fans will tip their caps.

    He's also a massive payroll drag for Detroit as it moves forward with a nascent rebuild.

    Cabrera will earn $30 million in 2019, 2020 and 2021 and $32 million in 2022 and 2023. He'll turn 36 in April. In 2018, he played only 38 games due to injury. Writing, meet wall.

    We'll all be rooting for Cabrera to find the fountain of youth in 2019 and act as a mentor for the transitioning Tigers. More likely, he's on the verge of an ignoble retirement.

Houston Astros: OF Josh Reddick

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    Right fielder Josh Reddick hit .242 with a .318 on-base percentage in 2018 for the Houston Astros and is entering his age-32 season.

    Houston's top prospect, outfielder Kyle Tucker, hit .332 with a .989 OPS at Triple-A before debuting in The Show.

    As MLB.com noted in its scouting report, Tucker "has solid arm strength and projects as a right fielder at the big league level."

    Soon enough, Reddick will be paid $13 million annually (in 2019 and 2020) to be a fourth outfielder. 

Kansas City Royals: OF Alex Gordon

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    A bygone relic of the Kansas City Royals' 2014-15 glory days, left fielder Alex Gordon hit .245 in 2018.

    As KC initiates an overdue rebuild, it'll pay Gordon $20 million in 2019. That'd represent sticker shock for any franchise, but especially for the cost-conscious Royals.

    There's little hope Gordon will rehabilitate his value. He'll turn 35 on Feb. 10 and hasn't posted an OPS north of .694 since 2015.

    The best news for the Royals is that they can buy him out for $4 million next offseason. 

Los Angeles Angels: 1B/DH Albert Pujols

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    Someday, Albert Pujols will be enshrined in Cooperstown. Let's say that up front.

    That said, he'll rake in $28 million in 2019, $29 million in 2020 and $30 million in 2021 as he plays out a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. He hit .245 with a .289 on-base percentage in 2018.

    He's 39 years old. 

    The Halos are attempting to construct a genuine winner before franchise superstar Mike Trout reaches free agency following the 2020 season. If their attempt is a ship, Pujols is an unavoidable iceberg.

Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Kenley Jansen

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    Kenley Jansen posted a 3.01 ERA and saved 38 games for the Dodgers last season as they marched to a second consecutive World Series appearance.

    But (could you sense there was a "but" coming?) his strikeouts per nine innings dipped to 10.3 from a career average of 13.5. More troublingly, he posted a 4.03 FIP and surrendered a career-high 1.6 home runs per nine innings. 

    For a 31-year-old reliever who's owed $19.3 million next season, $18 million in 2020 and $20 million in 2021, the stats don't paint a particularly rosy picture. 

Miami Marlins: LHP Wei-Yin Chen

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    The Miami Marlins are trying to go lean, shedding salary and looking ahead to a more youthful future.

    Consider lefty Wei-Yin Chen a relic of missteps past. 

    The 33-year-old posted a 4.79 ERA and a career-worst 3.2 walks per nine innings in 2018 and is owed $20 million in 2019 and $22 million in 2020.

    Unless the Fish are willing to swallow most or all of that ill-conceived pact, they're stuck with him. And the prognosis going forward is more of the same.

Milwaukee Brewers: OF Ryan Braun

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    The Milwaukee Brewers made it to Game 7 of the 2018 National League Championship Series. Outfielder Ryan Braun was a part of their oh-so-close title quest.

    Yet, he slashed a so-so .254/.313/.469 and will earn $19 million next season and $17 million in 2020 with a $4 million buyout in 2021.

    That's a lot of coin for an aging 35-year-old veteran whose salad days have been relegated to the garbage disposal.

    If this were the Dodgers or Yankees, they could simply swallow the salary and move on. But the Brew Crew aren't among the game's biggest spenders, and Braun will only be more of a drag as he ages and his numbers diminish. 

Minnesota Twins: OF Byron Buxton

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    Byron Buxton finally broke out in 2017. He hit .314 with 16 home runs and 29 stolen bases and won a Gold Glove in center field. At long last, the budding Minnesota Twins star had arrived. 


    In 2018, Buxton stumbled off a cliff. Injuries and inconsistency limited him to a .156/.183/.200 slash line in 28 MLB games. 

    He's 25 years old. There's no cause for the Twinkies to throw in the towel. But, since he went No. 2 overall in the 2012 amateur draft, we've been waiting for Buxton to Arrive with a capital "A." 

    After his whiplash-inducing crash to Earth, it's worth wondering if the waiting game will ever end.

New York Mets: INF Robinson Cano

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    The New York Mets have pushed in their chips this winter behind new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. Their biggest move was a trade with the Mariners that brought back closer Edwin Diaz and veteran infielder Robinson Cano.

    Cano is owed $24 million every season through 2023. He hit .303 with an .845 OPS for Seattle in 2018 but played in only 80 games because of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs 

    He's also 36 years old and about to switch from the American League to the National League for the first time in his career.

    Hey, maybe it'll work out and the Mets will reverse their recent misfortune. Let's not lay any money on it, though.

New York Yankees: LHP Aroldis Chapman

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    In 2018, Aroldis Chapman was an All-Star who posted a 2.45 ERA with 32 saves and 16.3 strikeouts per nine innings for the New York Yankees.

    So we're predicting he'll be...a bust? Bear with us.

    Chapman was limited by a knee issue last season and posted a 6.35 ERA after the All-Star break, though he fanned four in three postseason frames. His average fastball velocity dipped overall from a career average of 99.9 to 99.1.

    That may not seem like much. But for a guy who has made his name with triple-digit heat, it's a red flag. Add his age (31 on Feb. 28) and the fact that he's owed $17.2 million every season through 2021, and he could go from automatic ninth-inning option to overpaid bullpen relic. 

Oakland Athletics: RHP Fernando Rodney

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    Every penny counts for the small-market Oakland Athletics as they look to build on last year's surprise 97-win season. They could use upgrades in the lineup and starting rotation if they want to keep pace with the Astros in the AL West.

    So it stings that the A's will pay $5.3 million to righty reliever Fernando Rodney after he posted a 4.03 FIP between Minnesota and Oakland. 

    Then again, he's 41 years old, so his numbers will surely trend upward in 2019.

    Do we need to insert a sarcasm alert?

Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Jake Arrieta

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    The Philadelphia Phillies owe Jake Arrieta $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020, followed by a pair of $22.5 million team options.

    Based on Arrieta's 2018 performance, the chances of the Phils exercising those options are slim to none.

    Arrieta wasn't dismal in his first go-round with Philadelphia, posting a 3.96 ERA in 172.2 innings. Yet, his 4.26 FIP befits a mid-rotation pitcher, and he's entering his age-33 season.

    The Phillies might be on the rise, particularly if they reel in one of the winter's remaining top free agents, but Arrieta seems to be on the downslope. 

Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Chris Archer

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    Are the Pittsburgh Pirates going for it? They seemed to signal "yes" when they acquired right-hander Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline. 

    Unfortunately for the Bucs, Archer posted an ugly 6.45 ERA in August. He rebounded with a 2.70 ERA in September and might have settled down after a change of scenery.

    On the other hand, Archer hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015. And the relatively affordable $7.7 million he'll make in 2019 (with a $9 million team option for 2020 and $11 million team option for 2021) represents a significant output for the tight-fisted Bucs.

    Mostly, the question is: Why did the Pirates cough up a gaudy prospect package in exchange for an enigmatic pitcher when they're unlikely to contend any time soon?

San Diego Padres: 1B Eric Hosmer

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    The San Diego Padres signed first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million deal last winter. Hosmer rewarded the Friars' investment by hitting .253 with a .720 OPS.

    Yeah, he's only 29 years old and has postseason experience from the Royals' 2014-15 run. Maybe he'll act as a mentor to San Diego's emerging young core.

    On the other hand, he plays half his games in a pitcher's park and posted minus-0.1 WAR according to FanGraphs' calculation. 

    To paraphrase Jedi Master Yoda: "Bode well, that does not."

San Francisco Giants: 3B Evan Longoria

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    With top targets such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remaining unsigned, Evan Longoria has thoughts about the current state of the MLB free-agent market. 

    "[As] players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth," Longoria wrote on Instagram.

    In 2019, Longoria will earn $14.7 million. He'll make $15.2 million in 2020, $18.7 million in 2021 and $19.7 million in 2022. In 2023, at the age of 37, he'll either be paid $13 million to play baseball or $5 million to not play baseball.

    Longoria hit .244 with a .281 on-base percentage in 2018 for the San Francisco Giants. "Worth" is indeed a fascinating notion.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Felix Hernandez

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    Sadly, it's time to dub Felix Hernandez the Artist Formerly Known as King.

    The erstwhile Mariners ace posted a career-worst 5.55 ERA in 2018 while matching his career low with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He turns 33 in April.

    Six All-Star appearances and a 2010 AL Cy Young Award won't be forgotten in the Pacific Northwest.

    That said, there's little hope Hernandez will earn a fraction of the $27.9 million he's due in the final season of a seven-year, $175 million contract.

St. Louis Cardinals: OF Dexter Fowler

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    Dexter Fowler will make $16.5 million in 2019, 2020 and 2021. He's entering his age-33 season and hit .180 in 90 games in an injury-marred season with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

    The Cards have had an interesting offseason highlighted by the acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks. 

    Fowler's best-case scenario is to play his role as noted clubhouse leader on a contender. Worst case? He'll be cut loose as a sunk cost by the summer.

Tampa Bay Rays: OF Kevin Kiermaier

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    Kevin Kiermaier is an annual darling of the defense-minded contingent. He won Gold Gloves for his play in center field in 2015 and 2016.

    On the other hand, his never-stellar offense dropped to a new low in 2018; he slashed .218/.282/.370 for the power-starved Rays.

    Obviously, Tampa Bay will give him another chance. But considering he's the small-market franchise's second-highest-paid player entering his age-29 season, simply flashing the leather won't be enough any more. 

Texas Rangers: DH/OF Shin-Soo Choo

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    Shin-Soo Choo hit 21 home runs with an .810 OPS for the Texas Rangers in 2018. After the All-Star break, however, he hit .217 with three home runs and a .645 OPS. Not a promising trend. 

    The 36-year-old is a bad fit for a rebuilding Rangers team, but there's little chance Texas can trade him unless it eats most of the $42 million remaining on a contract that runs through 2020.

    More likely, Rangers fans will "enjoy" watching him steeply decline and possibly get cut loose this season or next.

Toronto Blue Jays: DH/1B Kendrys Morales

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    In 52 September at-bats, Kendrys Morales hit .197 with a .507 OPS for the Toronto Blue Jays. Overall, the 35-year-old hit .249 with a .769 OPS.

    Considering he's almost exclusively a designated hitter with only very limited utility at first base, those number are especially egregious. 

    The Jays are fluttering into a rebuild but will pay Morales $12 million in 2019. Will another club assume even a fraction of that salary now or at the non-waiver deadline?

    I think we all know the answer.

Washington Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman

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    After a solid comeback in 2017, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was limited to 85 games in 2018 because of injury. 

    The 34-year-old has been a member of the Nats for his entire MLB career. Surely fans in the nation's capital will be rooting for another turn-back-the-clock performance.

    In all probability, however, the Nats will toss $18 million at a fading veteran for minimal return and wave goodbye.


    All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs