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MLB 2014: Nine Players in Need of Bounce Back Seasons

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Spring Training is around the corner, however we’re still more than seven weeks away from Opening Day 2014. Last month we went through each MLB division, asking a couple questions. Today, let’s take a quick look at some players who posted subpar 2013 seasons– by their standards — and if examine if they’ll be any better in 2014.

Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels: The former MVP was mostly a dud during the first year of his five-year, $133 million deal with the Angels. That said, there were some encouraging signs in the second half as his OPS jumped over 100 points from .696 to .801. Hamilton’s high-priced teammate, Albert Pujols, should be on the list, too, but his numbers have steadily declined four straight seasons and plantar fasciitis limited him to 99 games in 2013. Until we see a healthy Pujols in a non-Sesame Street setting, it’s hard to gauge what he’ll do in 2014. Either way, Los Angeles needs both of its nine-figure superstars to perform if it wants to have a shot at a Wild Card in a tough division with the Athletics and Rangers. Some good news for Hamilton? He says he’s gained about 30 pounds, which he thinks will help him reestablish his power. Bad news? The last two seasons the former MVP has struck out in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances.

B.J. Upton, OF, Braves:  Upton is only a lifetime .248 hitter in nine seasons, but his 2013 season, where he batted .184 with nine homers after signing a $75 million contract was extraordinarily awful. Atlanta lost Brian McCann in the middle of its lineup, putting more of an onus on Upton to produce. In only 126 games Upton still found a way to strike out 151 times. He doesn’t have to be great, but the Braves certainly didn’t think they were signing the 2010s version of Rob Deer, minus the home runs. Even Upton’s speed dried up in Atlanta, dropping down to a career-low 12 steals. If you value the wRC+ stat, where 100 is considered an average offensive player, Upton clocked in at 56. 

Billy Butler, DH, Royals: Admittedly Butler didn’t have a “bad” year in 2013, it was right in line with his lifetime .298/.374/.412 slash line. However he only hit 15 home runs and grounded into a league-high 28 double-plays. If you’re paying someone to be a full-time DH you probably want more than than the .412 slugging percentage. It’s like getting a country breakfast with only one piece of bacon. The Royals have a $12.5 million option they can pick up on Butler after the 2014 season or buy him out for $1 million. Kansas City has a nice core in place, if they get just a little more power from Butler, pushing for the AL Central title and or a Wild Card spot are definite possibilities.

Brandon Morrow, SP, Blue Jays: The less said of the 2013 Blue Jays, the better. The Jays problems were myriad, but a pitching staff with a 4.25 ERA — 25th in the Majors — was among the chief culprits. (Thanks for nothing Ricky Romero). Morrow, early in his career, picked up the ‘no hit stuff’ label, but was awful in 2013 with a 5.65 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 54 innings. Three times in his career, Morrow’s posted a K/9 over 10, including a league-best 10.2 in 2011. He’s another guy with a team option ($10 million) after the season, so a big year from Morrow helps all parties. Toronto manager John Gibbons has said he might be the club’s key player already this winter

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants: Kung Fu Panda is on the list mostly due to health and durability. The last three seasons he’s played 117, 108 and 141 games. There were those skinny-looking pictures of him floating around the Internet earlier this winter. Maybe that bodes well. If the Giants don’t want to fall further behind the Dodgers in the NL West, they’ll need Sandoval on the field and hitting like he did in 2011, where he posted a .909 OPS. Sandoval is a free agent after the season, too.

jonathan-villar-but-slide

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: The good news? Phillips drove in 103 RBIs in 2013. The bad news? He posted the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and stolen base totals in a season since joining the Reds in 2006. That gaudy RBI total was more of a product of hitting behind Joey Votto and the now-departed Shin-Shoo Choo, two of the best on-base guys in baseball. It’ll be worth monitoring how first-year Cincinnati manager Bryan Price handles Phillips (i.e. spot in the batting order) if his steady offensive decline continues in 2014. Phillips still has $50 million coming to him through 2017, so it’s a situation to which could develop into something rather quickly. The Phillips-to-Yankees rumors will probably start seconds after Brian Roberts picks up his first injury in New York’s Spring Training.

Matt Cain, SP, Giants: Every good player is allowed one lousy season and 2013 was that for Cain. Almost all his numbers were up across the board, including a leap in ERA from 2.79 to 4.00. He also only threw 184 innings, his lowest since his rookie year in 2005. Cain’s walks-per-9 increased from 2.1 to 2.7 in 2013. If he’s able to cut down on the walks, figure Cain returns to the ace-level starter he’s been the bulk of his career in San Francisco. 

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: Let’s try, stress try, to put the Biogenesis suspension on the back burner for a second. Prior to his season-ending suspension in July Braun was in the midst an injury-riddled year. He played in only 61 games and posted his lowest-career slugging percentage at .498 — it’s not terrible, but the only time it’s been under. 500. The Brewers have a lot of ground to make up if they hope to contend, so a bounce-back from Braun more likely factors into your fantasy drafts than real-life baseball. Word to the wise: don’t do what I did, taking Braun first overall in a draft last March instead of Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. 

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: Injuries cost Teixeira portions of 2012 and 2013. Last year he barely played due to a wrist problem that first cropped up in the World Baseball Classic. Even so, Teixeira’s OPS has declined four-straight seasons. Is he still a guy who bats in the first four or five spots in the lineup? The good thing for Teixeira is he still plays half his games in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium, so if he stays on the field he should approach 30 homers once again. The key for Teixeira is keeping his strikeout rate low, since his average figures to remain hovering in the .250-range. 

RELATED: MLB 2014: Questions for Each Division a Few Weeks Away from Spring Training

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