Every MLB season has its fair share of disappointing players, and this season will most likely be no different. As spring training begins, these 10 could be set for tough 2020 campaigns.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Phillies
Now in the third year of a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phils, Arrieta is hanging onto his career by a thread as he enters his age 34 season. With his velocity slipping sharply in recent seasons, Arrieta already started to break down last year with a 4.64 ERA and elbow injury that ended his season prematurely. Unable to miss bats consistently over the last two seasons, Arrieta could struggle to find a contract next year if the recent trend continues.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
The Brewers have built one of the deepest rosters in MLB this year, and Braun could be set to lose significant playing time. He reached 500 plate appearances last year for the first time since 2016, but it's clear the team isn't counting on a repeat after signing Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak. At age 36, Braun could be the odd man out against many right-handed pitchers.
Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals
Carpenter already started to fade last year, but St. Louis desperately needs a rebound from him with the start of a lucrative two-year contract extension beginning this year. The 34-year-old infielder was already incredibly streaky in his 36 home run campaign in 2018 and regressed to hit only .226-15-46 in 492 plate appearances last year. If Carpenter doesn't get off to a fast start, his job could be claimed by Tommy Edman, like it was late last season.
Cole Hamels, SP, Braves
Hamels got a one-year, $18 million contract from Atlanta this offseason after revitalizing his career with the Cubs over the last two years. Now the veteran lefty is likely to start the year on the injured list with shoulder irritation, an ominous sign for a 36-year-old. The injury follows a second half in which he posted a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts. The Braves are fortunate to have many alternatives, both young and old, if they don't get their expected contribution from Hamels.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Kershaw's 2019 season ended on a sour note, allowing a critical home run to the Nationals in the NLDS. It doesn't take a professional scout to see that Kershaw isn't the same elite pitcher that he was several years ago, with declining velocity, fewer strikeouts and a BB/9 above 2.0 last season for the first time since 2013. He's also made 30 starts only once in his last six seasons. He is still considered a good pitcher, but it's fair to expect the recent decline to continue for the lefty.
Corey Kluber, SP, Rangers
Kluber made only five starts for Cleveland last year due to a fractured elbow and oblique injury. The two-year Cy Young Award winner was then traded to Texas this offseason in a package that looked remarkably light, with the Indians receiving only reliever Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields. Part of the discount might have been because of his diminished velocity early last season, and the new Texas ballpark is also likely to be a bigger challenge than Cleveland for pitchers
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
Molina is arguably a future Hall of Famer with nine Gold Gloves and nine All-Star appearances to his name. However, his decline has already been significant both at the plate and behind it, as he enters the third year of a three-year, $60 million contract. He produced a .711 OPS last season, his worst since 2007, and battled a thumb ailment for much of the year. St. Louis has its catcher of the future in Andrew Knizner ready to take over, and with Molina turning 38 in July, the future for the Cardinals could be very soon.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Blue Jays
Ryu won the NL ERA title last season (2.32), after his second consecutive brilliant year in L.A. The lefty's control has become legendary over the last two years, and he earned a four-year, $80 million contract from the Blue Jays in the offseason. There's reason to expect Ryu to remain effective on the mound after his recent performance, but he's set to pitch in a much more favorable hitter's ballpark in Toronto against tougher competition in the AL East. There's also Ryu's long injury history to consider, as he didn't throw more than 126.2 innings in a single year over the four seasons leading up to 2019.
Justin Upton, OF, Angels
A toe injury sidelined Upton for nearly three months last season, and he wasn't the same when he returned. Upton's .724 OPS was his worst since his rookie debut, as he hit just .215-12-40 over 256 plate appearances in a year when power was up substantially across the league. The outfielder is still a big part of the Angels plans, but he seems to be following in the footsteps of older brother, B.J. Upton, with an early decline.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
Cincinnati is a trendy pick to win the NL Central after a bevy of offseason moves. Unfortunately, the Reds' longtime star Joey Votto is in the midst of an age decline. He had the worst season of his career in 2019, hitting just .261-15-47 with a .768 OPS in 608 plate appearances. The first baseman looked lost at the plate for much of the year, following up a disappointing 2018 season. While Votto should still be a big part of the Reds lineup, not much can be expected of him in 2020.