Five MLB Veteran Players Off to Concerning Slow Starts

Not all slow starts are a cause for concern, but with these struggling position players, it is fair to wonder if they are past their prime.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 22: Kris Bryant #23 of the Colorado Rockies reacts after striking out against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field on September 22, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado showed signs of looking mortal in 2023, which made a disappointing first series for the future Hall of Famer concerning.

A year ago, Arenado posted a .774 OPS, the lowest mark of his illustrious career outside of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Additionally, Arenado failed to win a Gold Glove for the first time in his career, posting just one defensive run saved at third base, after averaging 13 the three prior seasons.

It’s too early to dive into defensive metrics, but it was a bit of a red flag when Arenado went just 2-for-16 over a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to open the season. But to his credit, Arenado has eight hits over his last 22 at-bats, so while he was the initial inspiration for this article, he won’t ultimately be on the list.

Still, there’s plenty of veteran position players off to slow starts. Here’s five who you should be concerned about.

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José Abreu: 1B, Houston Astros

It increasingly feels like the Astros paid for past production when they signed Abreu to a three-year, $58.5 million deal after nine tremendous years with the Chicago White Sox. The problem is Abreu was already entering his age-36 season when he joined the Astros, and he’s hit a wall with his second team.

Though he hit 18 home runs and drove in 90 runs in 2023, the former AL MVP posted career-worst marks in terms of batting average (.236), OPS (.680) and fWAR (-0.5) in 2023. 2024 isn’t off to a much better start, as Abreu has two hits in 28 at-bats (.077) and -0.4 WAR already.

Abreu posted just a .654 OPS against right-handed pitchers in 2023, and if his numbers don’t improve against righties in 2024, he may become a very expensive platoon player for manager Joe Espada.

Anthony Rendon: 3B, Los Angeles Angels

What’s there to say? Rendon is 2-for-27 to start the season. That’s coming off of three consecutive injury-riddled seasons, and him saying in Spring Training that baseball isn’t a priority for him. Well, so far, that’s pretty clear.

Rendon was once one of the better hitters in the sport, helping the Washington Nationals to win the 2019 World Series. But even during his time in D.C., he made it pretty clear that he didn’t love the game. Now that things aren’t coming as easily to him, it feels like he’s checked out.

The 33-year-old would probably be thrilled if the Angels designated him for assignment and released him once he cleared waivers. While the Halos would still owe Rendon $76 million over the next two seasons, there’s a case to be made for addition by subtraction, as manager Ron Washington tries to build a culture in Anaheim.

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Maybe they should just cut their losses and give him what he wants.

Kris Bryant: INF/OF, Colorado Rockies

Bryant went 0-for-3 in Sunday’s Rockies loss to the the Tampa Bay Rays. That dropped the lowly Rockies to 2-8, with the former NL MVP hitting just .077.

There’s no evidence that Bryant is like Rendon in the sense that he just doesn’t care. But the four-time All-Star played in just 122 of a possible 324 games during his first two years in Colorado, and has just a .727 OPS since joining the Rockies. He still can play all over the diamond, and at age-32, there’s still a chance he’s able to have a resurgence.

But getting out to this slow of a start after consecutive injury-riddled seasons is concerning, particularly when Bryant is due to make $104 million over the next four years, and has a full no-trade clause.

Javier Báez: SS, Detroit Tigers

Báez, like Bryant, was a star on the Chicago Cubs for a long time. And like Bryant, his free-agent deal looks like an albatross.

Though the Tigers are off to a quick start as a team, Báez has just four hits in his first 26 at-bats this season, and has already struck out eight times. That comes after he slashed just .230/.273/.361 with a meager .634 OPS in 2023. Báez did still post nine outs above average at shortstop last year, which is a silver lining, but not nearly enough for how much the Tigers invested in him.

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Between 2025 and 2027, Báez is due $73 million. When you add in that he has a 10-team no-trade clause, the Tigers are likely stuck with the former NLCS MVP.

Brandon Nimmo: OF, New York Mets

Francisco Lindor is ice-cold to start the season, but it just feels foolish to panic about him this early on. The four-time All-Star has just three hits in his first 36 at-bats (.083), a pace he’s just too good to stay on. In fact, two of those three hits came on Sunday, including a home run and a double.

The same can likely be said for Nimmo, who has just three hits in his first 29 at-bats. Nimmo still has walked seven times, and his .829 OPS a year ago suggests he’s going to bounce back.

But Nimmo is no longer in center field, which reduces his value. And while it may not be as concerning as the four other names on this list, Nimmo’s slow start offensively is scary both because the Mets are off to a slow start in 2024, and because he’s only in the second season of an eight-year, $162 million deal. So much of his value is tied to him being a valuable top-of-the-order hitter, and the Mets need him to get going.