The Most Scrutinized Player on Every MLB Roster Right Now
With the 2021 Major League Baseball season rapidly approaching its halfway point, many players have played their way into fans' and pundits' good graces while many others have simply faded into the background.
Then there are the ones who are somewhere in between.
We've taken a look at one player from every team who, for one reason or another, has been under heavy scrutiny throughout 2021. Some have been frustrating observers by being inconsistent or just plain underperforming. Others are pieces of trade bait whose value is rising or falling by the day.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: 1B Trey Mancini
Earlier in the season, this spot might have belonged to Ryan Mountcastle on account of the difficulty he was having living up to last year's breakout. But the 24-year-old has been hot lately with a 1.018 OPS since May 16 and is now riding especially high after a three-homer game Saturday.
After missing 2020 with colon cancer, Trey Mancini has returned to become one of baseball's greatest stories in 2021. Yet the conversation around him is already shifting to his trade value ahead of the July 30 deadline, and by nature it's going to be less focused on his comeback story and more so on his hitting.
Boston Red Sox: 1B Bobby Dalbec
In light of the ugly 6.21 ERA that he has through 13 starts, the Red Sox should have every reason to be impatient with alleged ace Eduardo Rodriguez. But since he's also coming off a year lost to a heart condition, there should and does seem to be an element of patience there.
Bobby Dalbec, on the other hand, has been frustrating the Red Sox all season. After busting out with a 152 OPS+ in 2020, he's regressed to an 89 OPS+ and a downright painful minus-0.7 rWAR. Understandably, the locals have questions about the length of the 25-year-old's leash.
New York Yankees: RHP Gerrit Cole
Granted, the Yankees have never had a star player who wasn't under the microscope every hour of every day. But with all due respect to luminaries like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, nobody is asking for scrutiny right now quite like Gerrit Cole.
Even if he's living up to his $324 million deal with a 2.31 ERA, he's feeling the sting of baseball's new ban on foreign substances. To wit, his spin rate in his last start was his lowest since 2018. He's thus become one of the poster boys for MLB's sticky-stuff problem, and the question now is if he can continue to dominate without his usual spin.
Tampa Bay Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe
The Rays are a micro-budget, small-market team that nonetheless leads all American League clubs in wins since the start of last season. That's a charmed life if there ever was one, so what could there possibly be to complain about?
Well, maybe the early performance of Brandon Lowe. He was an All-Star in 2019 and a down-ballot MVP contender in 2020, but this year he's attracted all sorts of befuddlement as he's managed just a 101 OPS+ with a 32 percent strikeout rate. At some point, the Rays will need him to be better.
Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Cavan Biggio
Blue Jays fans might be frustrated that $150 million signee George Springer has played only four games all season, but it's not as if he's suffered quad injuries on purpose. The early struggles of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio, on the other hand, are fair game.
The latter, in particular, has been a source of frustration with his disappointing 102 OPS+ and erratic defense at third base. While these issues aren't hamstringing Toronto, it is fair to wonder if Biggio has already peaked while fellow youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are still rising.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: LF Andrew Vaughn
It was frankly hard to pick a player for this spot. Because while the White Sox have their share of problems despite their excellent 43-29 record, they're more so injury-related than performance-related. But since somebody has to go here, we'll cast a sideways glance at Andrew Vaughn.
As he previously played in only 55 minor league games and is now out of position in left field, the rookie's major league experience is basically an ongoing experiment. Since he hasn't exactly impressed on either side of the ball—he's barely above replacement level with 0.3 rWAR—one might question whether he's keeping a job only because the White Sox lack other options.
Cleveland: LF Eddie Rosario
At 39-30, Cleveland is probably the most overlooked good team in MLB right now. But at least until the club can start generating some more offense for the sake of widening its plus-three run differential, it's place in the AL playoff picture is very much precarious.
As for where that offense might come from, it would help a great deal if Eddie Rosario resembled the guy who hit 32 home runs just two years ago. He thus far only has five to go with a career-low 83 OPS+, all while pulling in the club's second-biggest salary at $8 million. All told, it's not a good look for him.
Detroit Tigers: DH Miguel Cabrera
With their rebuild now in its fifth season, the Tigers do have some good things going for them. Just three years after going No. 1 in the draft, Casey Mize is finding his footing in the big leagues. Meanwhile, Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo has generated frequent highlights on offense.
The Miguel Cabrera situation, however, is getting awkward. He's a two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer, but he's now 38 and making very slow progress toward various milestones amid easily his worst offensive season. Even if it's not this year, it seems inevitable that he'll take the Albert Pujols route out of town.
Kansas City Royals: DH Jorge Soler
Even as late as May 1, the Royals were seven games over .500 and comfortably in first place in the AL Central. But as the losses (29 of them, to be exact) have piled up since then, it's only become more clear that they still have some rebuilding to do.
To this end, impending free agent Jorge Soler ought to be a valuable trade chip. But in reality, not so much. Though he launched 48 homers in 2019, his power has been largely absent as he's hit just 14 homers over the last two seasons. Unless he picks it up, the Royals might not be able to get anything for him.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Kenta Maeda
After winning the AL Central in 2019 and again in 2020, the Twins have shockingly Titanic'd their way to a 30-41 record in 2021. It would therefore be easier to list which of their players hasn't come under scrutiny yet, but there surely isn't any bigger disappointment than Kenta Maeda.
In the wake of a runner-up finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting, Maeda was supposed to be the ace of the Twins staff in 2021. He's instead been a puzzling non-factor, posting a 4.85 ERA in 11 starts on either side of a stint on the injured list. He might still turn into trade bait, but only if he gets hot before July 30.
American League West
Houston Astros: RHP Jake Odorizzi
Even at 43-28, the Astros' plus-112 run differential suggests they're even better than their record. And with basically nobody underperforming in either their starting lineup or their starting rotation, they don't have much to gripe about on an individual level.
It is notable, however, that said rotation no longer features Jake Odorizzi. Originally signed to a two-year contract after Framber Valdez hurt his hand in March, the right-hander is now in Houston's bullpen after posting a 6.75 ERA as a starter. His best chance of helping the team might now be as a long reliever.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Dylan Bundy
The Angels can't be happy with how the second year of Anthony Rendon's seven-year, $245 million contract is going so far. Through 47 games, he's hitting just .230 with a career-low 78 OPS+. But at least he can point to injuries—most recently one to his triceps—as a factor in his down year.
Plus, Rendon hasn't inflicted as much damage on the Angels offense as Dylan Bundy has to their pitching staff. After breaking out as their ace in 2020, the 28-year-old is now one of baseball's worst hurlers by way of his 6.68 ERA and minus-0.5 rWAR. Accordingly, the local press isn't going easy on him.
Oakland Athletics: 3B Matt Chapman
Another year, another season in which the Athletics are beating expectations. And while they're also beating the odds by playing above their expected record, that seems on brand for them.
Now, if only the A's could get Matt Chapman going. Though his defense has been stellar as usual, offensively he has just a 104 OPS+ and an AL-high 91 strikeouts. Since he also endured a similar offensive struggle in 2020, it's fair to wonder if this is more than just fallout from last year's hip surgery.
Seattle Mariners: RF Mitch Haniger
The Mariners have already been no-hit twice, and two of their cornerstone youngsters (center fielder Kyle Lewis and Justus Sheffield) haven't been quite as relevant after breaking out in 2020. But because they're nonetheless on the periphery of the AL playoff race at 38-36, things could be a lot worse.
Yet the team does face a tough decision with Mitch Haniger. Though he's been their best hitter courtesy of a 122 OPS+ and is accordingly seen as an extension candidate, he's also a trade chip. No matter what they do, the 30-year-old's injury history is sure to loom large in Seattle's decision-making process.
Texas Rangers: RF Joey Gallo
Speaking of presumptive also-rans with trade chips in right field, that's where we also find the Rangers and Joey Gallo. Since he's an all-powerful slugger with a Gold Glove whose club control runs through 2022, he's one heck of a trade chip on paper.
But is now the right time to move Gallo? Maybe, if the Rangers don't think he'll move his 120 OPS+ closer to the 145 mark he had in 2019. But if they think he can, they can hold on to him until the winter or even next summer. Either way, they'll be gambling on a player who isn't exactly known for consistency.
National League East
Atlanta: 1B Freddie Freeman
The curious case of Marcell Ozuna's struggles was a significant storyline early in Atlanta's season. But then two broken fingers took him out of the picture, and now his arrest on assault and battery charges figures to keep him out of it for a while longer.
So, perhaps the most puzzling remaining storyline concerns Freddie Freeman. He's been good overall with a 117 OPS+, yet nowhere near as consistent or as altogether threatening as he was amid last year's MVP-winning effort. Though not the cause, his issues are certainly a cause in Atlanta's general failure to launch.
Miami Marlins: CF Starling Marte
Even if the Marlins have almost certainly underachieved to this point in 2021, they're nonetheless running out of time to turn things around. Because if they're still out of it in the run-up to the July 30 trade deadline, they'll have little choice but to cut their losses.
On this front, directly under the microscope right now is Starling Marte. The 32-year-old is having an career year marked by a 159 OPS+ and 2.3 rWAR. He's also in the last year of his contract, so it's little wonder that he's already being pegged as a fit for center-field-needy teams like the Yankees.
New York Mets: SS Francisco Lindor
Even before he signed a 10-year, $341 million contract on the eve of Opening Day, Francisco Lindor was always going to be scrutinized simply by virtue of being the newest star in baseball's biggest market. All that deal did was preemptively heighten the intensity of the incoming scrutiny.
Two months in, Lindor has done little to dial it back by hitting just .220 with a career-low 91 OPS+. There have been times when he's threatened to break out, but it just hasn't happened. From the outside looking in, he's either in a generally inexplicable slump or, worse, mired in a decline that started before 2021.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Alec Bohm
Though there's concern about Bryce Harper right now, whether it falls under the "scrutiny" umbrella is less certain. It's no secret that he's been banged up of late, and that's not something to hold against him. If anything, the onus is on the Phillies to put him on the IL so he can properly recover.
Meanwhile, Alec Bohm unfortunately hasn't been the same guy who hit .338 last season. And while his metrics suggest he should have better than a 65 OPS+, the results simply aren't coming and he's not exactly holding his own on defense. At some point, the Phillies may need to consider sending him down.
Washington Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer
The Nationals' problems extend well beyond Patrick Corbin, but his fall from grace definitely isn't helping. After pitching at an All-Star level in 2018 and 2019, he managed just a 4.66 ERA in 2020 and now has a 5.40 ERA this season. Up until recently, his trademark slider simply hadn't been there.
Yet no member of the Nationals has as much attention on him right now as Max Scherzer. In theory, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is the shiniest trade chip in all of MLB. Yet he's also currently on the IL with a groin injury, and he's pulling in $34.5 million and due to turn 37 on July 27. So at least for now, there are questions about both his value and his market.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: SS Javier Baez
Though Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez are among a long list of impending free agents, the Cubs haven't given up on retaining at least two of them. The Cubs have held extension talks with both Rizzo and Baez, and even reportedly offered the latter a deal worth $180 million before 2020.
As he's diminished his value with an 81 OPS+ since the start of last season, Baez might be regretting turning that down. And while extension talks between the two sides are supposedly ongoing, there are questions as to whether the Cubs still want to sign Baez or if he'd sooner bet on himself in free agency.
Cincinnati Reds: SP Luis Castillo
Even though they've allowed 11 more runs than they've scored throughout the season, the Reds are hanging in the NL Central race with a 35-35 record. They could make a run at first place if they start getting more from a pitching staff with a 4.77 ERA, and specifically from Luis Castillo.
The good news is that the 28-year-old has looked better in June with a 2.19 ERA through four starts. Yet he still has just a 5.61 ERA and a career-low strikeout rate overall, so it's perhaps premature to say he's out of the woods—especially while he's still struggling to draw whiffs with his changeup.
Milwaukee Brewers: LF Christian Yelich
It's a small miracle that the Brewers are tied for first place, as their offense certainly hasn't helped matters throughout 2021. Between its MLB-low .213 average and 28th-ranked 84 OPS+, it's arguably the worst offense in the league. More than anything, it needs a fully functional Christian Yelich.
On the bright side, he's fully recovered from his back problems and working on a .419 OBP, but the power just hasn't been there as he's hit only three home runs. Without improvement in that department, Milwaukee's offense will remain strapped to an anchor.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 2B Adam Frazier
The Pirates are unsurprisingly on their way to a third straight last-place finish, but they at least figure to fuel their rebuild with some impact trades ahead of the deadline. Ace closer Richard Rodriguez should fetch a nice package, but there seems to be more focus on Adam Frazier.
He wasn't on many radars coming into 2021, but now he's hitting .322 with a league-high-tying 23 doubles. He's seemingly worth at least one top prospect for now, but that could change if he regresses to the form in which he mustered only a 92 OPS+ between 2019 and 2020.
St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Paul Goldschmidt
The Cardinals were riding high earlier in the season, but a 5-12 stretch since June 2 has humbled them. The biggest problem they have right now is an offense that's simply not producing, in part because veteran slugger Paul Goldschmidt just hasn't been able to get going this season.
By his own admission, Goldschmidt has "cost" the Cardinals a few games as he's hit just .255 with a 110 OPS+. The Cardinals badly need him to revert to the on-base and slugging machine he was in his first 10 seasons, though that may finally be happening as he's come to life with a .916 OPS in June.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: CF Ketel Marte
Though they were a borderline playoff contender as recently as 2019, the Diamondbacks are now the losing-est team in MLB since the start of last season. It's therefore rebuilding time in the desert, and nobody is the subject of more trade speculation than Ketel Marte.
Because he's signed for cheap through as far as 2024 and is now hitting .357 with a 158 OPS+, Marte is a hugely valuable trade chip on paper. But because he only had a 96 OPS+ last year and missed time with a hamstring strain this year, there's some pressure on the Snakes to sell high sooner rather than later.
Colorado Rockies: SS Trevor Story
The Rockies have been about as bad as anyone could have expected after they dealt franchise icon Nolan Arenado in February. And pretty much ever since then, there's been a question as to when they'll take yet another step into rebuilding by also dealing Trevor Story.
Though that question is still very much up in the air, it's since been complicated by the All-Star Game moving to Coors Field and Story's own oddly mediocre season. Even if the Rockies wait until after the Midsummer Classic to move him, his value hinges on him improving on his modest 99 OPS+.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Trevor Bauer
The Dodgers have hardly been a disappointment as they've racked up a 44-27 record, but there might be frustration in Los Angeles that core stars like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw have been either injured or ineffective for parts of the season.
Even still, the biggest elephant in this particular room is Trevor Bauer. Like with Gerrit Cole, his trademark spin rate has suffered as MLB has cracked down on sticky stuff. How he'll weather that storm is one question, while yet another is whether he'll ultimately exercise his opt-out and be one-and-done in L.A.
San Diego Padres: LHP Blake Snell
The Padres were riding high through late May, but an 8-13 stretch since May 30 has knocked them down to third place in the NL West. Of particular concern is their pitching staff, which has seen its ERA balloon from 2.60 to 3.13 over the last 21 games.
This isn't all Blake Snell's fault, but there's simply no ignoring the 9.43 ERA he's put up over his last five outings. Though he's healthy and still featuring good stuff, he's nonetheless been getting hit hard to the tune of a .294/.381/.553 line. Understandably, his search for answers is ongoing.
San Francisco Giants: LHP Jake McGee and RHP Tyler Rogers
At 46-26, the Giants sit atop not only the NL West but all of Major League Baseball. That's a credit to their powerful offense and excellent starting rotation, so what more could they possibly want?
Well, maybe less to worry about when the ninth inning rolls around. Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers haven't been terrible in splitting closing duties, but they have six blown saves between them and are generally part of an overall bullpen problem that is currently fueling trade speculation.