It’s not too early to identify pending free agents who have already dug something of a hole that they’ll need to climb out of before hitting the open market after the year. And no, I’m not talking about every free agent who has put up middling stats in their first eight games.
This is more akin to what Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discussed recently with regard to the impact of small samples on rest-of-season projections. When context is considered, rough starts for some players mean more than for others in terms of the reasonably plausible outcomes we can expect.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players whose discouraging starts are particular cause for concern as regards their future earning capacity:
1B Chris Davis, Orioles: 12 strikeouts and one home run in 28 plate appearances is not the way you want to start the year when you’re trying to convince the league that you’re a fearsome slugger, rather than an all-or-nothing part-time player. That’s all the more true for Davis given that he started the season by finishing off his 25-game suspension. We’ve seen both versions of him in the last two seasons, and his unimpressive start opens the door to a pretty significant downside scenario.
SS Ian Desmond, Nationals: Desmond has traditionally started slow and has a higher market floor than Davis because of his position and more consistent track record, so his fairly unimpressive batting line is not enough to raise a red flag at this stage. But Desmond has looked extremely shaky in the field, committing six errors at inopportune times, and already has a history of misplays despite generally above-average glovework. There’s plenty of time for him to position himself as a truly premium free agent, and he’ll get paid well regardless, but his rather lofty salary ceiling coming into the year looks increasingly hard to reach.
CF Austin Jackson, Mariners: Somewhat like the Davis situation, a bad 2014 has bled into an awful 2015 thus far for Jackson. His ISO dropped below .100 last year, and currently sits at a non-existent .032. Jackson already has shown progressively declining defensive metrics coming into the year. Like Desmond, Jackson’s appeal was in his profile as a strong defender with pop up the middle; the onus is now firmly on him to re-establish both of those pillars. As things stand, he looks to have fallen behind Dexter Fowler and Denard Span (and perhaps also Colby Rasmus) in the pecking order among 2015-16 free agent center fielders.
SP Mat Latos, Marlins: Latos, who is still just 27, has had excellent results in recent years but has been dogged by health issues and a velocity drop, with ERA estimators suggesting he had outperformed his peripherals somewhat. It’s only been two starts, but the regression has been swift. Latos has hung on for just 4 2/3 innings, allowing nine earned while walking as many batters (5) as he has struck out. While he has age on his side, Latos will need to show a lot to score the kind of contract he once seemed destined to warrant.
RP Fernando Rodney, Mariners: Rodney is 38 and has had his share of volatility over the years. If he hopes to emulate Joe Nathan in picking up another multi-year guarantee at a high AAV, he’ll need to throw more like the 2012 Nathan and less like the more recent version. The velo checks out, but Rodney has managed to K just one batter (while walking four) in his 3 1/3 frames thus far. Given his advanced age, Rodney needs to show up steadily for much of the rest of the way if he hopes to get a another closer’s contract.