Who's going to bust out as a star this year, and who's simply going to bust? Before the start of the regular season, Cliff Corcoran and Jay Jaffe are picking ten players who appear to be headed for breakout seasons and ten players likely to be disappointments. Be sure to bookmark these articles so you can tell them how wrong they were in September. Here are your 2015 NL busts.
Michael Cuddyer, LF, Mets
The NL batting champion in 2013 thanks to a sizzling—and partially park-aided—.332/.376/.579 showing, Cuddyer was limited to just 205 plate appearances last year due to a trio of stints on the disabled list for strains in each hamstring and a fracture of the glenoid socket in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Heading into his age-36 season, he somehow managed to parlay all of that into a two-year, $21 million deal from the financially limited Mets despite the fact that his signing cost them what would have been the 15th pick of this year's draft.
That the Mets did little else to upgrade their roster isn't Cuddyer's fault. Nonetheless, what they have is an aging player who has averaged 93 games over the last three years and has been 28 runs below average in the field via Defensive Runs Saved in that span, limiting him to an average of 1.2 WAR. He also showed a substantial home/road split during his three years with the Rockies: .329/.393/.591 with 26 homers in 555 PA at Coors Field, .286/.332/.463 with 20 homers in 584 PA elsewhere.
If Cuddyer could replicate that latter showing, it would mark a huge upgrade on the .219/.306/.309 line New York received from its leftfielders last year, but much of the value of those offensive gains will be offset by his defense. He's also played just 38 major league innings in left, a position he's avoided in part because he's deaf in his left ear due to a childhood viral infection. While the Mets could reverse course and return Cuddyer to the more familiar rightfield and shift Curtis Granderson (who has just 222 innings in left but the weaker arm of the two) to left, there's just not much upside here.
Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins
Gordon was one of the 2014's feel-good stories. He was considered something of a bust coming into last season, a 25-year-old former top prospect who had hit a combined .256/.301/.312 in 669 PA spread out over three years, with -21 DRS at shortstop—a combination that wasn't enough to offset his 66 stolen bases. With the departure of Mark Ellis opening up the second base job, the Dodgers gave Gordon a look there, and the move paid off. He managed to keep the ball out of the air so as to take advantage of his speed, hitting .289/.326/.378 for a 101 OPS+ and leading the league in both steals (64) and triples (12). Defensively, he made his share of highlight-worthy plays, and his overall body of work (-5 Defensive Runs Saved, -3 Ultimate Zone Rating) was acceptable given his offense. He earned All-Star honors for the first time and even a bit of down-ballot support in the MVP voting.
But hidden within Gordon's final numbers was a troubling split: He hit .292/.344/.398 in the first half with a 60/27 strikeout-to-walk ratio, then faded to .284/.300/.348 with a 47/4 ratio in the second. As you'd expect from those numbers, he swung at far more pitches outside the strike zone (37% versus 30% prior) and made contact with less of them (75% to 82%). Additionally, after stealing 43 bases at an 82.7% success rate before the All-Star break, he sank to 21 steals at a 67.7% rate after it.
Judging him to be a regression candidate, the Dodgers' new regime traded Gordon to the Marlins as part of a seven-player deal that in turn helped them acquire Howie Kendrick from the Angels. While Gordon can't help but improve upon Miami's sorry second-sacker showing (.236/.303/.334), he will have his work cut out trying to get back to where he was in the first half of last year. And behind a pitching staff that strikes out fewer hitters (the Marlins were second-to-last in the NL, while the Dodgers were first), there will be more pressure on his glovework.
Tim Hudson, SP, Giants
When the Giants signed Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal in November 2013, it looked like a significant risk despite the contract's short term. The veteran was heading into his age-38 season and coming off both his highest ERA since '06 (3.97) and a severe season-ending broken ankle that required surgery. For awhile, he made the move look like genius, carrying a 1.81 ERA through his first 13 starts (10 quality starts) thanks to a .260 BABIP, 0.4 HR/9 and a 2.89 FIP. Age and the league caught up to Hudson, however; he battled problems with both hips and managed just eight quality starts out of his final 18, getting cuffed for a 5.13 ERA via a .308 BABIP, 1.0 HR/9 and 4.09 FIP. Including the postseason, he made just two quality starts out of nine from Sept. 1 onward.
So now Hudson's heading into his age-39 season in a rotation that's also counting on bouncebacks from Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in defending San Francisco's third world championship in five years. What's more, he's coming off another surgery in his right ankle, this one to shave down a bone spur. He didn't go under the knife until January, and while he had no trouble in his spring debut earlier this week, it remains to be seen how well he holds up under a fuller workload. His recent history of lower-body injuries, dating back to a herniated disc whose surgical repair cut into his 2012 season, has limited him to an average of 167 innings and 1.4 WAR over his past three seasons. The Giants will need the extra depth they built by retaining both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy in order to nurse a wobbly Hudson through the season.
Nick Markakis, RF, Braves
One of the more puzzling offseason signings was that of Markakis to a four-year, $44 million deal by an Atlanta team that spent the winter tearing apart its roster toward a rebuilding effort. The move raised even more eyebrows when two weeks later, Markakis underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck.
Markakis was solid last year, hitting .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers for a 107 OPS+ and 2.1 WAR, and he somehow managed to win his second Gold Glove despite defensive metrics that were solid but hardly exceptional (+1 DRS, +6 UZR). But between the neck surgery and his troubling loss of power—his ISO dipped from .160 from 2006 to '12 (on .295/.365/.455 hitting) to .097 in 2013–14 (on .274/.335/.371 hitting)—he looks like someone to stay away from, not someone whose age-31 to -34 seasons should be locked in at $11 million per year. That's particularly true given that he's now averaged just 1.7 WAR per season over the last five. His defense and on-base skills count for something, but this looks like a whole lot of risk taken by a team that didn't have much to gain from it.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Giants
After hitting a combined .221/.282/.351 for the Brewers, Pirates and Yankees in 2011–12 and then spending '13 with the Rakuten Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, McGehee penned one of the season's feel-good stories last year, taking home NL Comeback Player of the Year honors. An elder statesman on a very young team, he hit .319/.386/.391 through the first half, tying for the league lead in hits (115) and driving in 53 runs (tied for second on the team) despite hitting just one homer in 407 PA. The performance wasn't enough to put him on the NL All-Star team despite the protestations of teammates, but McGehee was named as one of five Final Vote candidates, though he ultimately lost out to Anthony Rizzo.
The league caught up to McGehee in the second half; he hit just .243/.310/.310 the rest of the way and finished at .287/.355/.357 for a 99 OPS+ and 1.1 WAR, a ho-hum showing, hardware or no. Traded to the Giants for a pair of minor league hurlers in December, his $4.8 million price tag is modest but the task is tall: Replace Pablo Sandoval, who even in a relatively down year hit .279 /.324/.415 with above-average defense en route to 3.3 WAR, not to mention a pivotal role in the Giants' championship run. With Michael Morse gone in favor of Nori Aoki and Hunter Pence likely to miss the first month of the season, the step down from Sandoval to McGehee will be magnified unless he can regain either his MIA power stroke (as opposed to his Miami lack of same). Between Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza, the Giants just don't have much in the way of palatable alternatives.