In 2023, every Major League Baseball team employed players who broke out and those who endured lost campaigns due to injury, underperformance, or other factors. Thankfully, the 2024 season allows last season’s underperformers to start anew as they try to bounce back and revitalize their professional careers.
Two bounceback free-agent options
Free agent Rhys Hoskins is looking to bounce back this year. The starting first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies from 2017-2022 missed the 2023 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a spring training game.
The Phillies’ fifth-round draft pick in 2014 quickly emerged as a core piece of their everyday lineup and one of the top power-hitters in the National League. He hit 18 home runs in his rookie season (2017), finishing fourth place in the Rookie of the Year voting. From 2018-2022, Hoskins averaged 30 home runs a season, partook in the 2018 Home Run Derby, and heavily contributed to the Phillies’ run to the 2022 World Series. Bryce Harper, who took over first base for the Phillies last year, will continue to play the position with the team moving on from Hoskins.
Teams like the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Toronto Blue Jays have all shown interest in Hoskins, who has the potential to upgrade his new team’s lineup and may end up agreeing to a one-year contract to rebuild value before aiming for a new contract in next winter’s free agency.
Unlike Hoskins, Tim Anderson was active in 2023, although the eight-year veteran suffered through the worst season of his career and is now a first-time free agent after the Chicago White Sox declined to pick up his contract option.
In 123 games, Anderson only hit .245 with one home run and 25 RBIs, struggling to right the ship after suffering an injury at the beginning of his team’s dreadful 100-loss season. Anderson was among the team’s best hitters from 2017-2022. He won the American League (AL) batting title in 2019, hitting .335 with 18 home runs, and then finished the next three seasons with a batting average above .300.
He also etched his name in White Sox and MLB lore with a walk-off home run at the first annual Field of Dreams game in 2021. A change of scenery on a one-year agreement may be the right recipe for Anderson. At this pivotal point in his career, he can continue on the declining path or find a path back to his pre-2023 numbers.
The Giants could sign Anderson if they think top shortstop prospect Marco Luciano is not ready yet to take over for free agent Brandon Crawford. The Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels are also linked, with the Marlins particularly desiring offensive reinforcements.
Three bounce-back players under contract
Chris Sale has been one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball over the past decade.
He debuted with the Chicago White Sox, serving as their best-starting pitcher from 2012 to 2016. Ahead of the 2017 season, the Boston Red Sox traded for him. He continued to be successful on this team, winning his first World Series with Boston in 2018. Over the past couple of years, injuries have piled up as Sale approaches his mid-thirties, and all of his innings pitched have taken a toll on his arm and body. He went 6-5 with a 4.3 ERA in 20 starts for Boston.
Recently, the Atlanta Braves traded for Sale in exchange for young infielder Vaughn Grissom. He can become a mid-backend-of-the-rotation starter behind Braves’ ace Spencer Strider. Having signed him to an extension, the Braves hope that Sale will make enough starts to make this risky acquisition worthwhile.
Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is preparing for his 14th season, but his first without Shohei Ohtani since the Japanese phenom came to the USA. The future Hall-of-Famer has had injuries mount in recent years, from breaking his hamate bone last year to dealing with a chronic back condition.
In 2023, Trout accumulated 18 home runs and 44 RBIs in only 82 games, numbers way lower than expected from the multi-time AL Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner. This year, Trout will once again have to carry the load as he tries to get his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Unfortunately, he will no longer have the luxury of Ohtani batting behind him, and the Angels have yet to do anything to replace Ohtani or convince fans that their team will be any better than last year. If Trout stays healthy, it is reasonable to expect his stats to rise and his name to return to the MVP discussion.
Year one of Carlos Rodon’s six-year, $162 million contract with the New York Yankees was a disaster for both parties. The hard-throwing left-handed starting pitcher, who the team envisioned as their number two pitcher behind Gerrit Cole, was hurt most of the year, finishing the season with a 3-8 record and 6.85 ERA in 14 games started.
Before joining the Yankees, he had eased some of the durability concerns during the best two-year stretch of his career. Rodon went 13-5 in 24 starts, one of which was a no-hitter with the White Sox in 2021, and then 14-8 in 31 starts (237 strikeouts) with the Giants the following year. Yet, the injury bug bit him again last year, raising questions about whether the two-time All-Star can replicate his past success as he ages into his thirties.
Due to their uncertainty about Rodon and the three pitchers they traded in exchange for Juan Soto, the Yankees have been exploring the free-agent pitching market. They met with Yoshinobu Yamamoto before he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they are now looking into trading for Dylan Cease to bolster their pitching staff.
Some players mentioned above may have better seasons this year, while others will continue to struggle and find themselves out of the league sooner rather than later. It also will be interesting to see how much former Cy Young Award winners Robbie Ray and Jacob deGrom will impact their teams when they return from respective Tommy John surgery recoveries near the middle of the season.
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