The 20 biggest disappointments of the 2014 season so far — team and individual:
1. Boston Red Sox — The World Series champions have looked more like the 2012 Red Sox (and worse) than the 2013 Red Sox. Poor hitting when it counts, uneven performances by the rotation, and inadequate replacements for the departed Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew (though he’s now back) have led to their poor start.
2. Texas Rangers — With Prince Fielder gone for the season, the Rangers have had 14 players land on the disabled list, twice as many as any other team. Now what do they do? Try to patch up with free agents such as Kendrys Morales? Stay the course and see where it leads them?
3. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals — Moustakas, a former first-round pick (second overall), was so bad (.152) the Royals had no choice but to send him to Triple A. Nobody can figure out what’s happened. Moustakas had a good spring, hit a respectable .269 the last half of last season, but the results this season have been deplorable.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks — When Kevin Towers made his offseason moves (Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo, Addison Reed), there weren’t many who categorized them as lousy. But Towers lost No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin right from the start, the Australia trip taxed the staff, and it’s never fully recovered. Tony La Russa has been brought in to help find some answers.
5. Catcher collision rule — The best clarification MLB could give on this rule is to eliminate it. Collisions don’t happen that often (baseball has one of the lowest concussion rates in sports) and you shouldn’t ask players to change the way they’ve done things since they were 5 years old. There will always be a gray area of when the catcher is actually allowed to block the plate.
6. B.J. Upton, CF, Braves — After signing a five-year, $75 million deal in 2013, Upton has given the Braves a .191 average with 13 homers and 36 RBIs in 549 at-bats. He’s also given them a .581 OPS. Can you say Ugg-la?
7. San Diego Padres offense — They’re hitting .224 and are also last in baseball in runs, hits, RBIs, on-base percentage, and slugging. If Seth Smith wasn’t an aberration (.333, 64 points over his career average), this would be Bad News Bears territory. Jedd Gyorko, Yonder Alonso, Will Venable, and Everth Cabrera have been among the worst hitters in the National League.
8. Carlos Santana, C/3B/DH, Indians — Santana was supposed to be an asset in the middle of the order. The feeling was catching less would improve his offense. But Santana has been in the .150s all season. He has hit five homers and driven in 15 runs, which is some saving grace.
9. Clay Buchholz, P, Red Sox — In 2013, he was 6-0 with a 1.78 ERA through nine starts. This season, he’s 2-4 with a 6.32 ERA (next to last among qualifiers). Enough said. Buchholz has become a mystery to all. He and the Red Sox say he’s healthy, but something is holding him back.
10. Justin Masterson, P, Indians — Masterson isn’t doing himself any favors as he heads into free agency. Lefties are hitting .319 against him, and he’s 2-3 with a 5.32 ERA. Much of the Indians’ early troubles (they’ve picked it up lately) can be traced to poor performances by Masterson, who is supposed to be their ace.
11. Homer Bailey, P, Reds — They gave him what? That’s right, six years at $105 million. Bailey is 4-3 with a 5.34 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP and the nine homers he’s allowed could give a person whiplash.
12. Tommy Hunter, P, Orioles — On the DL now, but while he blew only three saves (11 for 14), he had a 6.06 ERA and 1.84 WHIP as the Orioles’ closer. Those who questioned whether Hunter could do the job were right.
13. Edward Mujica, RP, Red Sox — The Red Sox gave him good money (two years, $9 million) and he’s got an 8.04 ERA, allowing 23 hits in 15⅔ innings. He’s not pitched any better since the Cardinals removed him from the closer role last August.
14. Toronto Blue Jays bullpen — Starting the season it was the strength, but for most of the season it’s been a liability — 5.12 ERA with seven blown saves. The good news is the Toronto relievers are starting to come around.
15. Cleveland Indians defense — Fifty errors in 49 games. That’s seven more than the team with the second most, the Nationals.
16. Brian McCann, C, Yankees — Given the contract (five years, $80 million), McCann’s .222 average and .649 OPS stick out like a sore thumb in a ballpark (Yankee Stadium) that should be tailor-made for him.
17. Billy Butler, DH, Royals — A .624 OPS with one home run.
18. Kansas City Royals — A team that finally was supposed to contend has hung around .500. We expected a big start but it never materialized.
19. Tampa Bay Rays — The popular preseason pick in the American League. We certainly understand why they’re in last place — injuries to three starting pitchers. Matt Moore isn’t coming back, but with Alex Cobb back and Jeremy Hellickson due back in late June, the Rays may have a second wind.
20. Pittsburgh Pirates — The Pirates needed a big bopper at first base and a shortstop and never really went out and got them. Ike Davis hasn’t been the answer. The Pirates, much like the Red Sox, aren’t getting the breaks they got last year, and the season could slip away if they don’t do something about it.
Nava was determined to make jump again
Was the Red Sox’ long-term demotion of Daniel Nava fair?
When you consider that Nava was a proven major league hitter, including a .303 average with a .385 on-base percentage (.831 OPS) last season, was sending him to Triple A 75 at-bats into a .149 average the right thing to do? And then keeping him down for as long as they had while Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. struggle?
“It was disappointing when I first went down,” said Nava, before being recalled Saturday when Shane Victorino, who injured his right hamstring in the ninth inning of Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Rays, was placed on the disabled list. “I took a few days to get there and just got myself together. Since being down I feel I’ve made some progress. I needed to get it together after the start I got off to.”
Nava had no idea how long he would be in the minors.
He’d been down that road before. When you’re a guy from an independent league, or a kid taken in the 40th round, you always have to prove yourself. You will never get the opportunities high-priced draft picks get.
If you struggle, it’s worse than if a former All-Star such as Sizemore struggles or if a top prospect such as Bradley struggles.
But that was OK with Nava. It’s difficult for anyone to hit .300 in the majors, and Nava can always say he did it.
“I knew once I came down [in the minors] that it wasn’t going to be quick,” said Nava. “I knew what I was up against.”
Nava, who hit .253 with three homers and 14 RBIs for Pawtucket, said although he kept an eye on things in Boston, he really hadn’t been able to watch games since he was playing at the same time.
“That’s a resilient team,” Nava said. “They respond well to adversity. They’ll figure it out. Last year was such an incredible experience. Things haven’t gone as well; I know they didn’t for me to start the season.
“Like I said, I was surprised I went down. It wasn’t easy to hear, but I’m trying to get myself together and get back to the things I did last year.”
Apropos of nothing
1. The Red Sox appear to be about $23 million under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, even after signing Stephen Drew. This allows them to make a significant pickup or two at the trading deadline. There’s been talk about acquiring an outfielder, such as Andre Ethier, if Boston’s outfield remains unproductive.
2. The new analytics in baseball are interesting, except how they determine shifting. It’s created more outs and less production for some of the top hitters. It would likely all be reduced if more of the top hitters would just bunt to the vacated side of the field. While the opposition would think, “Great, we got the power guy to bunt,” the fact is the power guy would be on base, and that would create runs. It’s become like watching the pitcher hit. The shift takes away offense, which baseball needs more of.
3. Funny how things work. In the 2007 draft, the Royals were in line to get the No. 1 overall pick, but they went to Detroit on the final weekend of the season and swept the Tigers. That dropped them to No. 2. Tampa Bay selected No. 1 and took David Price. The Royals took third baseman Mike Moustakas.
4. Have to question the Tigers not signing Drew. Every position in the AL needs to hit, at least somewhat. With Jose Iglesias (shin fractures) out for the year, the Tigers have a shortstop platoon of switch-hitting Andrew Romine and righthanded-hitting Danny Worth. Romine in his last six games (entering Friday) was 0 for 19 with 10 strikeouts and was batting .173 overall with no homers and two RBIs in 81 at-bats. Worth was hitting .212 with no homers and five RBIs in 33 at-bats. The Tigers lineup will go through its ups and downs. Once in a while, the bottom of the order needs to step up.
5. Just asking, would Chase Utley ever give up his 10-5 rights to play for Toronto? Nice fit.
6. Congratulations to Mike Hessman, who on Tuesday for the Toledo Mud Hens hit his 400th career minor league home run. He joined Hector Espino (484), Nelson Barrera (479), Alejandro Ortiz (458), Andres Mora (444), Buzz Arlett (432), Nick Cullop (420), and Merv Connors (400) as the only players to hit 400 or more homers in the minors.
7. Bruce Bochy of the Giants is one heck of a manager. Year after year, he drains every ounce of ability out of his players. And his boss, Brian Sabean, is pretty impressive too. It’s fun to watch what move Sabean makes that always seems to vault the Giants to the next level.
Updates on nine
1. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Cubs — Samardzija, who is 0-4 with a 1.46 ERA, is being watched more than any pitcher by major league scouts. Among those watching are the Blue Jays, who are more convinced than ever they can win the AL East if they obtain a top starter. While they struck out on Samardzija before, one major league scout said they haven’t given up trying to repackage but are still insistent on not giving up Drew Hutchison. Whether it be Samardzija or someone else, the Jays have all hands on deck, including special adviser Fred McGriff.
2. Kendrys Morales, 1B, free agent — Agent Scott Boras has lots of data to dispute the prevailing opinion that Morales can’t play first base on a regular basis. ESPN’s Eric Wedge, Morales’s former manager, is already on record in this space that he can play first. Morales would be average at first, but that’s a price worth paying if he hits, and hits for power. The obvious need is in Texas, where Prince Fielder has gone down. The Pirates and Brewers also need Morales. Teams will wait until after the draft so as to not to give up a pick. The Mariners, Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays may also have some interest.
3. David Price, LHP, Rays — There’s some gloom and doom when it comes to Price, including a 3-mile-per-hour dropoff in velocity in recent outings, but one AL GM doesn’t believe the Rays will have much trouble getting what they want in a deal. “Unless there’s a reason to believe he has something wrong with his shoulder, pitchers have ebbs and flows with velocity throughout a season,” said the GM. “Price will be fine.”
4. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Pirates — The Pirates designated him for assignment last week. If the medicals on him are too bad, it’ll be hard to deal him, but the feeling is some team will take the chance. One scout who has been around him for many years thinks Rodriguez always got the most out of himself and in many ways overachieved. Being lefthanded, he may find a way to survive. The Red Sox always sniffed around about Rodriguez when he was in Houston.
5. Sean Nolin, LHP, Blue Jays — A pitcher not often talked about in the Toronto system is Nolin, though scouts are beginning to take notice. Nolin, 24, is 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in seven Triple A starts but is nursing a left groin strain. In his only major league start, May 24, 2013, he got lit up for seven hits and six runs over 1⅓ innings. But scouts believe he’ll settle into being a decent starter in the majors.
6. Gary LaRocque, farm director, Cardinals — Nobody has any idea how the Tony La Russa-run Diamondbacks will be set up in the future, but one person La Russa really respects from his days in St. Louis is LaRocque, who has done an outstanding job with the farm system. There’s a lot of speculation that if La Russa starts hiring people, LaRocque, a University of Hartford graduate and the man who signed Mets third baseman David Wright, might be a name he turns to.
7. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers — GM Ned Colletti always said that in Ramirez’s next contract he’ll be a third baseman. But you wonder if that needs to take place sooner. Ramirez hasn’t shown much range at shortstop and now the Dodgers have called up Erisbel Arruebarrena, who can really play the position and was given $25 million over five years out of Cuba. Arruebarrena was batting .208 for Double A Chattanooga and is a childhood friend of Yasiel Puig. “We’ve always talked about not moving Hanley back and forth,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Hanley works every day. I don’t feel I’m getting a lack of effort in any way, shape or form with Hanley. He is what he is. I think we knew at the beginning of the season. I can’t fault Hanley in any way for the effort.”
8. Jorge De La Rosa, LHP, Rockies — Here’s a guy you don’t hear much about and he’ll be a free agent after this season. De La Rosa loves pitching at Coors Field, where the Rockies are 29-5 in his starts the last five years. He’s 38-12 overall at Coors, a .760 winning percentage. Since the start of last year, he is 13-1 at Coors. De La Rosa won 16 games overall last season.
9. Mookie Betts, CF/2B, Portland — There’s no timetable for when Betts will go to Pawtucket, according to Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, who indicated they want Betts to continue to play second base on occasion. The Sox may accelerate the Betts plan based on whether Jackie Bradley Jr. can step up his hitting.
From the Bill Chuck files — “David Price has faced 289 batters this season, the most in the majors, and walked only six.” Also, “In the 88 times that Victor Martinez has had two strikes in his count, he has hit a league-leading .357.” . . . And, “Two Angels — Tyler Skaggs (14.4) and Jered Weaver (14.6), lead the majors with the fewest pitches per inning. Masahiro Tanaka is next at 14.7.” . . . Happy birthday, Todd Walker (41), Luis Ortiz (44), and Bill Haselman (48).