Now that we've dove into what's been a great 2010 season thus far, I'd like to look at some highly compensated players that could be looking for new jobs sometime this year. Most of these players have established roles on their teams right now, but a rough stretch could be more than enough to shove these guys to the curb in favor of younger, cheaper talent.
We've already seen a couple of multi-million dollar DFA's in the past few days, as the Pirates infielder Ramon Vazquez and Athletics designated hitter Jack Cust were both designated in the past week in spite of their $2M+ salaries. Not to mention the trade of Nate Robertson, which almost amounts to a release for the Tigers, as they ate $9.6M of his $10M salary and acquired a fringe relief prospect from the Marlins for his services.
But for who else could the end be near? Here's a quick and dirty list of some highly-paid players to keep an eye on as the season goes on, because in the case of a lot of these guys, they're receiving a final chance because of their financial commitments. The players are sorted by the amount of money guaranteed to them, and none of these players is under contract beyond 2010, although many of the players have club options for 2011.
DH/1B/3B Eric Chavez, Oakland
I wondered aloud a couple weeks ago whether Chavez could be this spring's Gary Sheffield, as he battled for playing time at the infield corners and the DH spot with Jack Cust, Gabe Gross, Eric Patterson, Jake Fox and Adam Rosales. The assumption was that the A's would have Landon Powell as their back-up catcher, so they could only hold onto three of the players listed above, including Chavez.
Obviously, the A's opted to make some surprising moves to keep Chavez on the roster, by designating Cust for assignment and sending Powell to Triple-A, opting to use Fox as the team's back-up catcher. As a DH, the bar is set pretty high offensively for Chavez, and given his track record in the past five years (.250/.326/.441, essentially a league average hitter), it seems unlikely that he'll make for a good DH.
If the team wants to get Fox's bat or the quality gloves of Powell and Rosales into the lineup, the team may need to move Chavez. He's owed $15M for 2010, and if he doesn't get going quickly, it wouldn't be surprising if Chavez's stay in the everyday lineup is short and to the point: he's pretty much done. He's 2-for-13 with a walk so far, and if he keeps this going, he may not have a job any more. Which is fine, he's pretty wealthy.
RHP Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee
The Brewers have apparently let Suppan take the team's fifth starter spot, leaving superior lefties Manny Parra and Chris Narveson in the Brew Crew's bullpen. If Suppan wasn't owed $14M by Milwaukee, I can all but assure you that he wouldn't come close to the rotation of a team with aspirations of contending. Just check out his ERA, FIP, xFIP and tERA numbers from the past two years:
2008: 4.96 ERA, 5.51 FIP, 4.79 xFIP, 6.40 tERA
2009: 5.29 ERA, 5.70 FIP, 5.26 xFIP, 5.72 tERA
Hitters are not only swinging at less pitches out of the zone against Suppan, they're swinging at more pitches in the zone and making more contact as well. We're talking about a guy with a -0.9 WAR over nearly 340 innings in the past two years.
If any veteran gets released during this season, it should be Suppan. He's officially done as a useful major league starter.
LHP Dontrelle Willis, Detroit
The Tigers came into the spring with a triumvirate of overpaid, borderline worthless starting pitchers, in Robertson, Willis and Jeremy Bonderman. Willis and Bonderman eventually won spots in Detroit's rotation, and Robertson was sent to Florida as I noted before. Most people assumed that Willis was really only in camp because of his salary, because he looked so atrocious over the past two years that it would seem unreasonable to expect him to be a decent major leaguer again. But a nice spring and some luck got him a spot in their rotation, as the Tigers give him one final chance to get over his anxiety issues and return to prominence.
He's begun the season solidly, pitching six innings in his first start against the Royals. He gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks, didn't give up a home run, and struck out four. But alas, it came against the Royals, and this is a guy who hasn't looked like a legitimate MLB pitcher since 2007.
So while I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible with Willis (I mean, how could you want that guy to fail?), the odds are still quite against him finishing the season in the same spot that he's currently in. He's owed $12M, which is a lot of course, but Detroit has shown a willingness to eat money in the past, with the Robertson trade and last season's release of Gary Sheffield. If Willis reverts back to what he was in 2008/2009, then his career is probably done.
DH Pat Burrell, Tampa Bay
When Tampa signed Burrell before the 2009 season, he was supposed to be one of the core pieces of an impressive offense, given his track record of offering quality power and patience. Instead, Burrell posted the worst walk rate since 2003 and the worst offensive performance of his career. After coming in with four straight seasons with a wRC+ in the 128-136 range, he posted an awful 85 mark in Tampa, making him one of the game's worst designated hitters.
He's back in the same role this season, but given that he's not under contract beyond this year, the Rays presumably won't show the same patience with Burrell as they showed last season. If he struggles, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Rays let him go and give up his roster spot to someone like Desmond Jennings, Hank Blalock, Fernando Perez or Matt Joyce.
He's owed $9M for this year, a pretty steep price to swallow for a team like the Rays. But in such a competitive division, the Rays just can't afford to have such a lack of production from the designated hitter spot. If Burrell doesn't bounce back this season, he could be gone before it's over.
Some other names that could be released: Royals DH Jose Guillen, Orioles 1B/3B Ty Wigginton, Nationals middle infielder Christian Guzman, Cubs righty Carlos Silva, Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell, Tigers righty Jeremy Bonderman. I hope I didn't miss anyone, if you think I did just toss it out there in the comments.