Some big-name replacements doing just fine
Mets, Cardinals among those faring well despite free-agent losses
Consider the following two players: One is batting .233/.321/.325 with five RBIs and 13 runs scored. The other is batting .305/.362/.400 with eight RBIs and 14 runs scored.
The first player is Jose Reyes, the Marlins' $106 million shortstop. The latter is Ruben Tejada, his replacement with the Mets.
It's still early in the season, but the Mets have been just fine with Tejada instead of Reyes.
On the other hand, Milwaukee hasn't fared as well thus far in replacing Prince Fielder. But with Tejada's solid start and the Cardinals' offense becoming one of the Majors' best despite losing Albert Pujols, several clubs that lost its biggest stars to free agency have yet to see regrettably negative repercussions on the field.
Before going on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a strained right quad, Tejada was batting .421 over his last nine games. The Mets hope Tejada will return on May 22, when he is eligible to come off the DL. They certainly dealt with their fair share of injuries with Reyes, who hadn't played in more than 133 games since 2008.
"He's a tremendous defender," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Tejada. "He's hitting .300. He's getting on base. He's done more than we were hoping he was going to do. He's showing everybody that he's a tremendous talent, so it's a big loss."
Reyes, meanwhile, has stayed injury-free and appears to be heating up in Miami. There are encouraging signs: He has more walks than strikeouts and his batting average on balls put in play is far below his career average. But he still has a long way to go before his numbers resemble anything close to those from last season, when he hit .337 and a Major League-leading 16 triples.
While the process of replacing a franchise player on the field has been going relatively smoothly in New York, it's been anything but in Milwaukee. The Brewers (13-18) opted to start Mat Gamel at first base and signed Aramis Ramirez to provide some offensive firepower. Before tearing the ACL in his right knee, Gamel batted .246 with a .641 OPS. Ramirez is hitting a mere .219 with a .652 OPS.
Closers are not nearly as statistically valuable to their clubs as elite position players like Reyes and Fielder, but the Padres, Phillies and Red Sox also have seen mixed results in their attempts to replace the top-tier closers they lost via free agency.
The Padres saw Heath Bell jet off to Miami, where he has struggled and lost his grip on the closer's job. The Padres replaced him with Huston Street, who converted all four of his save opportunities and had a 0.93 ERA and 0.52 WHIP before going down with an injury. Even then, Dale Thayer has stepped up, recording two saves in as many chances with two scoreless innings.
Philadelphia has battled through its fair share of bullpen woes despite replacing one high-profile closer, Ryan Madson, by making a big splash in signing Jonathan Papelbon. The former Red Sox closer has been solid, if underused, with only 12 innings pitched, reflecting the Phillies' 14-18 record, but the rest of the relief corps has been disastrous of late.
The Red Sox bullpen, on the other hand, started the season about as badly as possible, as they struggled to make up for the loss of Andrew Bailey, signed to be Papelbon's replacement. Mark Melancon struggled, as did Alfredo Aceves, and Boston has already blown five saves. Things have calmed down considerably lately, but due to injuries and missed opportunities, the Red Sox remain in last place in the American League East.
Sitting in last place in the AL West, the Angels could use more production from their $240-million first baseman. Entering Thursday's off day, Pujols' batting line is .198/.235/.286 with 10 more strikeouts than walks and only 11 RBIs. He finally broke his long homer-less drought on Sunday, and the hope in Southern California is that home run will help him turn the corner.
"We need his production," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday. "Hopefully, it'll break through and let him swing the bat to his capabilities."
"I don't think anything has been lifted off my shoulders, man," Pujols added. "I don't think about what you guys write or what you think. I know what I'm capable of doing. I come over here every day, try to get myself ready for the game and give 110 percent to this team and to this organization. And if I can do that, there's nothing to be sorry about.
"This game is about making adjustments and being patient. Sometimes you want to do too much, and it's part of it. If you don't, my dad always told me, you're not human. And I'm human."
But in St. Louis, Pujols' former club has jumped out to the best offensive start of any National League team, scoring a Major League-best 174 runs on a combined .287/.357/.467 batting line. When they couldn't retain Pujols, the Cardinals went out and signed right fielder Carlos Beltran. He is among the NL's top 10 hitters in nearly every offensive category.
Signed to a two-year contract much more affordable than Pujols' 10-year megadeal, Beltran is hitting .284 with a .391 on-base percentage, .569 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 27 RBIs. In one week this month, he had games in which he drove in seven and six runs. On top of that, the Cardinals are 20-11, good enough for first place in the NL Central.
"It's confidence," Beltran said Tuesday. "It's results. It's a little bit of everything."