By the end of Friday every team but the Tigers and Phillies will have played at least 40 games. That's a quarter of the season that has already whizzed past us -- it's pretty sad, actually, as it means we're a quarter of the way to another long offseason. Even sadder is that, while it's still relatively early, this is about the time when we can start to look around and wonder if guys who may have just been having rough starts are actually done as productive players. As we march ever deeper into the 2014 season, these are the guys I am most worried about, one for each position.
Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud, Mets
I usually have a long leash with prospects, especially guys who haven't even been through a full season. But d'Arnaud is already 25 and has hit .204/.286/.296 in 221 plate appearances -- he's also now on the 7-day concussion disabled list. Acquired in the R.A. Dickey deal with Toronto, d'Arnaud was supposed to be the catcher of the future, a guy who combined adequate defense with a power bat. Instead, he has missed half a season with a broken foot and has struggled to drive the ball when he's been on the field. Given the might not be going anywhere this year, the Mets can afford to give d'Arnaud more of a leash, but at some point Juan Centeno or Anthony Recker (or, heck, even Taylor Teagarden) might need to step in to at least provide some more respectability.
First base: Prince Fielder, Rangers
The move to Texas was supposed to rejuvenate Fielder's bat after a productive, but un-Fielder-like 2013. Instead, he's gone deep just three times since joining the Rangers and is hitting the ball on the ground much more than he ever has. While he's walking more and striking out less than he did in Detroit, Fielder's size and lack of speed leave him ill-equipped to beat out infield grounders, and infielders are able to play much further back than they would against a speedier hitter. That means he needs to mash, or at least hit the gaps, and that hasn't been happening in 2014. He's not striking out often, so it's not as if pitchers are just blowing it by him with regularity now that he's 30 years old. Something isn't right with his swing or approach, though, considering all those balls on the ground.
Second base: Brandon Phillips, Reds
I'm not worried about Dan Uggla being done. I'm sure Uggla is done. Semantics! Phillips got a lot of positive press last year for winning a Gold Glove and driving in 103 runs, but he's been in decline since 2012. This year, he's hitting .281/.304/.412 and striking out five times for every walk. While he's hitting far more balls in the air than ever before, almost a quarter of them are in the infield. He also seems to have lost a step on the bases, where he's 5-for-10 on steals since the start of 2013. Almost 33, Phillips is around that age when second basemen tend to break down physically and see their skills erode. The Reds, meanwhile, are still on the hook for three more years.
Royals need to demote Mike Moustakas
The Royals need a better third baseman, and they won't get it until Moose is fixed.
Third base: Mike Moustakas, Royals
Moustakas never developed anything like an effective approach at the plate, and in more than 1,600 career plate appearances has an on-base percentage of .290 and just 40 homers to his name. While last year (.233/.287/.364) seemed like rock bottom, Moustakas has just kept on digging and is at .161/.226/.348 even after his game-winning hit and vote of confidence on Wednesday. How often do you see a club farm out its home run leader? At this point, that would be a mercy.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
This is a weird thing to say about a guy in the middle of a seven-game hitting streak, but in fairness, he's only had one multi-hit game in that stretch. At some point, all of his injuries are going to take enough of a toll that he will decline precipitously. Now, on the wrong side of 30 and suffering again through leg problems, Reyes has hit just barely raised his OBP above .300 and is hitting just .220. He's striking out much more since coming over to the American League last year, and he's no longer an above-average defender. There's a lot of random variance in his 113 plate appearances, and Reyes is only here because Team May Concern needs a shortstop. But I keep thinking that Reyes is a bomb, and any rough start (especially coming off of an injury) could be an indication that his fuse is lit.
Outfield: Ben Revere, Phillies
This is very difficult for me. I love Ben Revere like I love my children. Maybe more. I'm incapable of being rational about Ben Revere. Nevertheless, he's a leadoff-type hitter with just three walks this year and a .284 on-base percentage. Given that his speed is really his only asset as a ballplayer, earning him infield hits and allowing him to create havoc on the basepaths (and recover from his route-running mistakes in the outfield), he has nothing to fall back on if he can't get on base. Unless he can figure out new ways to do that, he's utterly useless.
Outfield: B.J. Upton, Braves
Upton and his outfield colleague Jason Heyward have both been awful, to the point where it's amazing the Braves remain in first place in the NL East. But while Heyward seems to be the victim of bad luck more than anything else (and has been playing out-of-his-mind defense), Upton just continues to look lost. With 51 strikeouts, Upton leads all of baseball, and that's helped him to a .207/.280/.341 line. He hasn't had an on-base above .300 since 2011, and he can't steal bases anymore, both because he has lost a step and seeing as he's never on base.
Outfield: Curtis Granderson, Mets
Maybe Granderson should go back across town to the Yankees, if they'll have him. He hit homers in consecutive games there earlier this week, the first signs of life the Mets' big offseason acquisition has shown all year (.194/.294/.338). Upon the Subway Series' return to Citi Field, he went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts. He's become a vastly different hitter since he launched 41 bombs in 2011 and finished fourth in the MVP voting, selling out on contact for power, and is striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. It's not fair to write him off, given that last year's hand injury provides an easy explanation for his start to 2014, and the fact he's batted .294/.368/.549 with four homers in 13 games this month. Given that he's already 33 and that April was a slog, though, you have to begin to wonder whether declining bat speed is beginning to catch up with him, or, at least, if the effects of last year's broken bones are still affecting him.
Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants
The decline and fall of Tim Lincecum makes me sad. This is the third straight year where he's struggled. In 2012 he was wild, walking 4.4 batters per nine innings and uncorking 17 wild pitches. He dialed that back slightly last year, and saw his ERA bounce back slightly, but continued to struggle even as his home park worked to mask that decline. He's racking up strikeouts at an impressive rate, but his average fastball velocity has dipped below 90 mph, allowing more hitters to catch up to it and to the breaking balls he's using more often than ever before, and make loud contact whenever they don't swing through. After the 2012 World Series, many wondered if Lincecum should work exclusively out of the bullpen, and nothing in 2014 besides his new contract is making that idea look like a bad one.