Most of our Off the Rankings posts so far have had a decidedly positive bent: Top breakout candidates, top swings, top set up guys, etc. because it’s way more fun to think about the things that could go right for a team in a given season. Unfortunately, we know that things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows and every year a number of players we expect big things from under perform or get hurt or somehow fade from our consideration or our positive top 10 lists the next year.
For some players, a ludicrous contract commitment from their team sets them up of likely inclusion on a list like this. A big contract doesn’t automatically put players on this list but without a doubt, contract size comes tied to expectations and if two players have the same expectations and same sub-par performance, the more disappointing guy is definitely the one with the bigger deal.
Whether injury prone or poised to underperform, here are some guys most likely to frustrate their teams and fans in 2016:
Ian Kennedy, SP, Kansas City Royals
Kennedy is what he is: A decent innings eater who’s homer prone but can put it together for a few starts and will usually end the year as a middle of the pack guy. He posted a 4.28 ERA over 30 starts last season and that sounds about right. He’s one of those, ‘oh yeah, they have Ian Kennedy’ guys; certainly not a top of the rotation arm you’d want to invest more than $60 million in.
But that’s just what Dayton Moore and the Royals did this winter. They gave Kennedy 5 years and $70 million to come to KC. It seems like everything that front office touches turns to gold lately, but this will be their biggest test yet. Even if Kennedy pitches right to his normal numbers, his season can’t be seen as anything but a disappointment for that price. This is more of a tough luck inclusion on this list for Ian.
Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves
Teheran is ostensibly Atlanta’s ace now that Shelby Miller is out the door with the Diamondbacks, but that designation lacks the usual pressure for the 2016 Braves. Atlanta doesn’t expect to contend this season, so any disappointment from Teheran would come in the form of serious questions about his viability as a front line starter going forward. Teheran was an All Star in 2014 when he posted a sub 3 ERA in over 220 innings but last season was a bit of a disaster, he posted a career worst over a full season in just about every stat. With the Braves just as weak as they were a year ago, it’s not as if the team will improve around him. He’ll have to stay motivated every fifth day as his team looses the vast majority of its games. We’ll see.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Corey Seager is baseball’s top prospect. He is the presumptive opening day shortstop for a team that expects to contend for the World Series. He also tore up the MLB last September in his first big league time and there’s no reason to think he isn’t capable of being one of baseball’s best players almost right away. That’s a lot though.
Pitchers in the majors have been around the block a few times and they won’t be terribly intimidated by a guy with lots of talent and they’ll constantly be figuring out ways to get Seager out. The question is: “Will Seager be able to adjust?” Chances are the answer is yes, at least to a reasonable degree, but the expectations on this kid seem to be a .300 average and 20 homers with 20 steals in his rookie year. Definitely possible. Very unlikely.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Houston Astros
The two time All Star, Gomez wasn’t at his best in limited time with the Astros last season and his entire 2015 makes his stellar 2013 and excellent 2014 seasons look a bit more like a fluke, or rather a very short peak. Gomez needs to prove he can be a 4 WAR player again or he’s going to be sorely disappointed in the free agent offers he gets next winter. The key to that will be staying healthy, something he wasn’t able to do last year. Let’s see how he handles being back on a contender.
Rusney Castillo, OF, Boston Red Sox
This one’s mostly anecdotal. Reports out of Spring Training mentioned that Castillo is having a lot of trouble handing high velocity fastballs. He essentially doesn’t have a chance at anything above 95 or so. That’s a problem. Baseball has been moving towards harder and harder throwers for years and now every team seems to have a beavy of relievers who touch 100 semi-frequently. Even starters have never thrown harder as a group. If the book on Castillo is that he doesn’t like it fast, that’s not going to be a hard problem to exploit.
Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander was great. Then he was really really bad. Last year he was just ok in limited time because of injury. Given his name, his salary, and his team’s expectations for 2016, the setup is all there for a big disappointment this year. Who knows what we’re getting from Justin: it seems just as likely we get 4.5 ERA Justin as 3.0 ERA Justin, and 2.5 ERA Justin seems least likely of all.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Washington Nationals
Somebody was going to over pay Murphy on the basis of his unbelievable post season, where seemingly everything he touched turned into a home run. The Mets were smart enough not to be that team. The Nationals weren’t. Murphy is a defensively challenged second basemen who set a career high with 14 homers last season. Unless he’s about to completely change his career trajectory like Jose Bautista and become a slugger, the $37 million the Nats have committed to spend on him seems a little much for a near 31 year old who has only one season with more than 2 WAR, and that was back in 2011.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
Salvador Perez has quickly become one of the most well known players in baseball, thanks to his central role on back to back AL champions and last year’s World Series winner. However, Perez’s numbers have not been trending in the right direction the last few years and 2015 was his worst season as a starter. It’s very possible that Ned Yost playing him nearly every day the last two years in the midst of two deep postseason runs has had an impact on his offensive production. Nonetheless, 2016 has a chance to be a bit of a mess for Salvy. I commend the Royals for restructuring Perez’s deal to pay him more in line with his market worth, but I don’t think the team is going to get what they think they’re paying for.