On Friday, the New York Mets made a move that not too long ago, was unfathomable in MLB circles. They designated one time ace Matt Harvey for assignment. As unlikely as such move seemed when Harvey was the ace of a pennant winner in 2015, it was impossible to argue with the logic of it in the here and now.
Harvey was by no means the only big name MLB player in need of a change of scenery. Many are in a spot that, for one reason or another, has sparked a funk in their careers.
We can’t help but wonder if playing for a good team again would help rejuvenate someone like Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis or future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera. Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu, meanwhile, puts up good numbers. But certainly playing for a better team would do more for his recognition.
The reasons do differ. But like Harvey before them, these MLB players all find themselves in need of a change of scenery.
Joey Votto, first baseman, Cincinnati Reds
Votto has been one of MLB’s best hitters for more than a decade now. The problem is that for much of it, he’s toiled in relative obscurity for a non-contending Cincinnati team. Yes, the Reds made the postseason in 2010, 2012, and 2013. But otherwise, Votto has never played on a team that had as much as a winning record. In fact, those are the only three winning seasons that Cincinnati has enjoyed dating back to 2001. That’s not a string that figures to be ending in 2018, either.
Votto is 34. He deserves to be recognized for just how good he is at the plate. That recognition isn’t likely to come while playing on a non-contending team.
It’s worth noting, of course, that a lot of this is on Votto himself. He has a full no-trade clause, after all. To be fair, Votto may not care about being largely underrated. But we can only guess that he wants to play for a winner again. For that to happen, a change of scenery will almost certainly be needed.
Cole Hamels, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
In his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Hamels posted a 3.30 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. With Texas, he’s put up a 3.71 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Now, to be fair, Hamels has a lower WHIP over the 2017 and 2018 seasons (1.24) but his ERA (4.14) has gone up over the same time.
It’s hard to figure out exactly what the problem is. Maybe Hamels is just getting towards the end of his career. He is 34, after all. The difference of success between Philadelphia and Texas could just be the natural difference between the National and American Leagues. But the fact that Hamels has gotten worse since 2017, in particular, is noticeable. The Rangers won the AL West in 2015 and 2016. He was fine in those seasons. But with Texas down in the standings in 2017 (and now in 2018), things have gotten worse.
We don’t know if Hamels can return to the form that we saw in Philadelphia. But if he can, a change of scenery seems needed. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Starlin Castro, second baseman, Miami Marlins
Castro had a great year for the New York Yankees in 2017. He hit .300/.338/.454. The power hasn’t quite been there yet in 2018, but Castro is hitting .308/.363/.392.
The problem is that he’s doing that for the Marlins. Castro was one of the only significant pieces aquired by Miami in the Giancarlo Stanton deal. The Marlins are going precisely nowhere in 2018 and quite frankly, the outlook for the immediate future isn’t any better. Essentially any quality Marlins’ player over the age of 25 really needs a change of scenery. Castro qualifies.
Castro isn’t just a good-stats, bad-team kind of player. He was a vital part of the Chicago Cubs’ rebuilding process and was a key player on the 2015 NLCS team. He was also a fairly large part of New York’s ALCS team in 2017. Castro needs a chance to do that for another team. It’s not going to happen in Miami.
Jose Abreu, first baseman, Chicago White Sox
How many teams would love to have a .290/.347/.468, 25 home run, 100 RBI hitter in the middle of their lineup? Those aren’t Abreu’s best numbers or even his career averages, either. Nope, from 2014-2017, those are Abreu’s least productive seasons in each respective stat. Yet, we’re talking about a guy who’s never even made an All-Star team.
We generally associate underrated players with small markets, hearing phrases like “How much would people talk about this guy if he played in New York, Chicago, or Boston?” Obviously, that’s not Abreu’s problem. His problem has been that the White Sox just haven’t been a relevant team during his career. While that may change in the coming years, Abreu is set to hit free agency after the 2019 season and he’ll be 33 on Opening Day in 2020. So, will he be around to enjoy it when the organization’s youth movement gets to the majors? If so, how good will he be?
Abreu belongs in the spotlight. He needs to be recognized as one of baseball’s most consistent hitters. He should be playing meaningful games (and not just as a potential spoiler) in September, and even October. For that to happen, a change of scenery needs to be in order.
Ryan Braun, left fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
There was a time when it almost seemed impossible for Braun to work anywhere but Milwaukee. Obviously, Braun is far from the only player with a PED past. But the process to his eventual suspension left such a bad taste in the mouth’s of fans that it seemed hard to imagine him being embraced anywhere where he hadn’t already built up some good will. But enough time as passed now to where most fans should get over that pretty quickly, assuming Braun performs. That’s good because, from the outside looking in, Braun needs a change.
Braun is different from our other players in that he doesn’t play for a bad team. The Brewers are right in the thick of the National League Central race and figure to at least remain in playoff contention through the year. Still, we can’t help but notice a drop in his production. Through 2016, Braun was a .304/.367/.544 hitter and averaged 35 home runs per every 162 games. Over the last two seasons, he’s hit .265/.328/.482 and averaged 27 home runs per 162 games.
Things get even more complicated for Braun when we look at his team’s situation. When healthy, Milwaukee’s first base and outfield positions are occupied by Braun, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Thames. That’s five guys vying for four spots. The natural odd man out is either Braun, Santana, or Thames. Braun is three years older than Thames and nine years older than Santana. So, logically, Braun should be the man seeing the most time on the bench.
For Braun to truly shine as an every-day player again, going to a new team seems necessary.
Chris Davis, first baseman, Baltimore Orioles
At a glance, Manny Machado feels like the Oriole most in need of a change of scenery. But Machado is a free agent at season’s end. So, he’s going to get that change of scenery (or at least a chance for it) soon enough. We can’t say the same for Davis.
From 2012-2016, Davis hit .249/.340/.518 and averaged 39 home runs a season. The production dipped in 2017, when he hit .215/.309/.423 with 26 home runs. In 2018, he’s hitting .178/.273/.252 with only two home runs. So, what’s gone wrong? Davis’ age shouldn’t be an issue. He is 32, but that’s generally not considered over the hill for a power hitter. It is worth noting that from 2012-2016, Baltimore made the playoffs three times and never finished below .500. In 2017, the Orioles were 75-87. Things only look worse in 2018.
Of course, we don’t know that Davis would bring his game up if he went to a better team, but we can say this. The modern game should benefit a guy like Davis. His power is a real asset and his high strikeout totals don’t carry the same stigma that they once did, even in the 2012-2016 run. Yet, he can’t even manage a .300 slugging percentage. We may not know what would happen to Davis if he got moved. But it would be nice to find out.
Brad Hand, closer, San Diego Padres
Hand has been one of baseball’s best relievers for the last two seasons. Since 2016, he’s posted a 2.59 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and struck out 11.7 hitters per nine innings. Unfortunately for Hand, being a top-tier reliever on a bad team is a little being a non-battleground state voter on Election Day.
Entering play on Sunday, the Padres were one of only two National League West teams with a losing record. The other — the Los Angeles Dodgers — is the five-time defending division champ. So, even if San Diego is shaping itself well for the future, the outlook of the team for the rest of 2018 and at least 2019, isn’t especially bright.
In order to be a truly impactful player, Hand needs to move MLB’s version of a battleground state — a contending team.
Alex Gordon, left fielder, Kansas City Royals
Gordon’s career has taken a sharp downturn since winning the World Series with the Royals in 2015. Since that World Series win, Gordon has been a .219/.305/.351 hitter. Through that 2015 season, he was a .269/.348/.435 hitter. Gordon is now in his mid-30s and as such, it’s worth speculating that the dip in production just comes with age.
But we also can’t help but notice Kansas City’s overall drop in production in that time. The Royals were a World Series champ in 2015. They then went 81-81 in 2016, 80-82 in 2017, and are 11-23 in 2018. Like Davis in Baltimore, we can’t ignore the possibility that he’s just not the player that he once was. But playing for an out-of-the-mix team can’t be doing him any good, especially given what Gordon experienced in 2014 and 2015.
Now, Gordon’s contract makes things very difficult. Gordon is owed what’s left of his $20 million contract for 2018, then another $20 million in 2019. A big market team might be willing to cut a player like that loose. But it’s awfully hard to imagine a small market paying a player that kind of money to either sit at home or play elsewhere. Scenarios do exist where that wouldn’t be needed, but they’re far from likely. But as unlikely as it is, Gordon definitely needs a change of scenery to rejuvenate his career.
J.T. Realmuto, catcher, Miami Marlins
Essentially everything that applied to Castro applies to Realmuto, as well.
He’s a .316/.381/.544 hitter in 2018 and was a .280/.322/.428 entering the year. He’s just too good to be playing for the Marlins any time in the near future. Additionally, Realmuto can fetch a pretty penny on the trade market. Very few catchers can hit as well as he can. Contenders around the league would certainly offer up top young players and prospect for a player of Realmuto’s caliber.
Realmuto is one of many player who wants a change of scenery. But unlike so many of the others, it would pretty clearly benefit his current team, as well.
Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, Detroit Tigers
At 35, it’s only natural to wonder how many really good seasons Cabrera has left. Yes, he was hitting .323/.407/.516 prior to going on the DL. But he hit .249/.329/.399 in 2017. Given his age and injury history, which one is closer to the norm. And if you still think the good totals of 2018 are the norm, how much longer will that be the case?
Detroit really started a rebuilding project in 2017 when it dealt guys like Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, and J.D. Martinez for prospects. Rebuilding projects — even good ones — generally take about 2-3 years. By that point, Cabrera will be in his late 30s and nearing the end of his career.
The Tigers acquired Cabrera from the Marlins before the 2008 season. In Detroit, Cabrera has been nothing short of one of the best hitters in baseball history. Even if he doesn’t like the trade rumors, Miggy would be best served going elsewhere as his career nears its end.