Spring Training is the time of year that all MLB fans look forward to as the unofficial official start to spring. While teams must travel to warm areas of the country to avoid the cold weather taking over the vast majority of the states, the scent of spring and the sound of bats cracking can still be heard in the air.
Spring Training also represents a time of change, as teams will bring players in through free agency and the trade market, but also will get rid of players who are not playing up to their expectations or have younger players who can provide as much production for a cheaper cost. Releasing players before Opening Day can be a tough pill to swallow for some, but they are at least given a chance to sign with a different team before the first pitch is thrown to officially open the regular season.
Veterans seem to be the likeliest candidates to be cut during the few weeks of split-squad games and workouts, as even though they have the experience and the knowledge to be solid players in the league, their skills require a higher pay grade. With how the financial structure is set up, younger players are arbitration eligible, meaning that teams can get away with paying what seems to be a minimal amount for four to five years until arbitration eligibility runs out and then players can name their price.
Here are three well-known names that will be looking for a new team before Opening Day of the 2019 MLB season.
Chris Davis, DH/1B Baltimore
A player who seemingly has made one of the biggest falls from grace in recent memory, Chris Davis was endearing himself to all Baltimore Orioles fans out there when he was mashing home runs and playing above-average defense over at first base.
And now he is financially crippling a team that is so desperate to not finish last every year.
Way to go Mr. Davis.
Riding a hot streak, Davis earned an enormous extension, seven years for $161 million, signing this monstrosity on Jan. 16 of 2016. Much to the dismay and probable expectancy of Orioles fans, he did not live up to this deal in the least.
He has been on a steady offensive decline ever since signing that deal, hitting 38, 26 and 16 home runs, respectively, from 2016 to 2018. While remaining generally healthy and playing no fewer than 128 games in a season since signing his extension, the fan base would almost rather keep him off the field with how putrid he has been playing.
Davis could easily turn into this generation’s Bobby Bonilla, as his contract has deferred money all the way through 2037 when Davis is earning AARP benefits at the swell age of 51. Smart to lock in his future, the Orioles are now handcuffed to one of the more disappointing players over the past few seasons but could try and get out of his contract by releasing him. His contract is fully guaranteed and would need to be fully paid until its end, but Davis could still see himself looking for a new MLB job due to the team wanting to desperately move on from him.
Jason Heyward, CF Chicago (NL)
A consistent theme in this list is overpriced veterans, and that fact continues with Jason Heyward. As a massive percentage of the Chicago Cubs’ overall payroll for the next five seasons until becoming a free agent in his age-34 season in 2024, Heyward’s production has fallen off a cliff, slipped into the ocean and fallen all the way to the bottom, never to be found.
With an already cash-strapped franchise like the Cubs looking to gain even a little financial flexibility, they may look to try and trade his massive deal to a non-contending franchise (I see you Baltimore, Kansas City or Miami) to try and get out of his deal. While Miami and Derek Jeter would be the most gullible team in this ‘sweepstakes’ and would probably make a boneheaded decision to take him on, it is a very hard financial pill to swallow for a team.
Heyward was signed in 2015 to an eight-year deal in what looked to be a steal at the time, coming off a few career seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. However, Heyward has never looked like the guy who was given a Brinks truck, as he has failed to hit above. .270 and 11 home runs.
Owed $22.5 million this season, the Cubs look to be in it for the long haul unless he is released or traded.
Eric Thames, 1B/RF Milwaukee
A smart move at the time for a small-market team looking to make a splash in a foreign market, Eric Thames was brought to Milwaukee after tearing the cover off the ball in Japan. His three year, $16 million deal is relatively modest in MLB terms, compared to the rest of the players on this list, but with the Brewers needing to capitalize on their window now, Thames is a likely candidate to be moved.
While he provides good defense and loves the right-field porch at Miller Park, he is positionally-limited and strikes out a ton, not good for a player who plays in the wrong league, being better suited as a DH. Thames is a great guy and overall good player, and his first season in Brewtown was a hit, as he mashed in April and May of 2017.
Thames only has one year left on his deal and the team would be cutting bait with a semi-valuable player, but would not be a surprise to see him with his suitcase come mid-March. Unless the Brewers were to deal with injuries at first base, Thames is not a good-enough outfielder to be given occasional reps as he is laterally-challenged.
All of these players still present an ounce of value to prospective teams looking to instill a veteran presence into their clubhouses, but they could do a lot better than these three overpaid sluggers who have failed to live up to recent expectations. While Davis seems to be the worst candidate on this list, both Heyward and Thames have deficiencies that entrenched themselves on this list too.