Major League Baseball succeeds when its superstar players are iconic, recognizable by even most casual fans, and are performing well on the field. Baseball has increasingly become a young man's game, with players such as Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Juan Soto being only a few of those to have made their mark in the past two seasons. Even for those who do not wind up becoming superstars, there are still many opportunities across the league for players to earn starting positions in the lineup.
Every team has young prospects who are knocking on the door to the major leagues and looking to prove themselves as someone who should be placed in the starting lineup every day. The players who often are the casualties of this tend to be older, veteran players who are underperforming and not as productive as the teams need them to be.
Looking around the league, there are several players who were formerly MLB stars that are now just league-average players who find themselves serving as bench players. For this article, we will be taking a look at twenty hitters who used to be stars but are now stuck riding the bench.
20 Howie Kendrick
Between 2006 and 2014, Howie Kendrick was the starting second baseman for the L.A. Angels. He was always a quality player who hit for a respectable average and had some decent home run power. In recent years, Kendrick has started playing first base and left field to help him continue to earn regular playing time with the L.A. Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals. However, this season has seen Kendrick spend much of the time coming off the bench.
The 35-year-old has been relegated to serving as the backup or platoon player in favour of many of Washington's talented young players, such as Trea Turner.
19 Matt Kemp
In 2018, Matt Kemp has had one of his better seasons in recent history although that isn't saying much since the past few years have been quite a struggle for the 33-year-old. In recent seasons with the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves, Kemp struggled to hit for average and has seen his power drop considerably since his impressive 2011 season, where he finished second in National League MVP voting.
The L.A. Dodgers re-acquired Kemp over the offseason in a puzzling swap of large contracts.
The trade was a bit puzzling for the Dodgers since they already have a few younger, quality outfielders on the roster. Despite making the All-Star Game with a strong start to the season, Kemp's production has fallen off considerably and is now their fourth outfielder.
18 Ryan Braun
Speaking of players with NL MVP caliber 2011 seasons, Ryan Braun was the one who ended up walking away with the 2011 MVP trophy after his strong season. There was a bit of controversy afterwards, as Braun was later busted for performance enhancing drugs (which was later overturned on a technicality). Since then, it has been a steady fall from grace for Braun. He was suspended in 2013, and has seen a decline in his offensive production.
In 2018, the Brewers now find themselves loaded with quality outfielders and there does not seem to be much a spot for Braun. With Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and Keon Broxton on the roster, it could be argued that Braun is now the fourth best outfielder on the roster.
17 Evan Gattis
As recently as the start of the 2017 season, Evan Gattis was a regular in the starting lineup for the Houston Astros. However, he has now found himself serving as more of a bench player. The 32-year-old is still a fairly solid hitter, but it is a testament to just how strong the lineup of the Astros is. They have mostly relied on Brian McCann behind the plate, Yuli Gurriel at first base, and Tyler White at DH, there really hasn't been much room for Gattis. This impressive depth has relegated Gattis to being mostly a bench player, splitting time between catcher and DH duties.
16 Neil Walker
Neil Walker has long been a solid second baseman who has recently spent time with a couple of different teams.
As he enters his mid-30s, Walker has been more willing to increase his positional versatility a little bit in hopes of maintaining a roster spot.
This has helped him still hold down a roster spot with the New York Yankees, as he offers them decent depth at third base, second base, and first base.
His versatility and veteran presence on a fairly young Yankees team has helped him remain with the team even as many Yankees fans wish they would part ways with him. Until then, Walker will remain a valuable part of the Yankees bench.
15 Martin Prado
The Miami Marlins probably did not want Martin Prado's fairly large and immovable contract, but they did so in order to facilitate a trade with the New York Yankees back in December 2014. After having moved nearly all of their star players, regular playing time should be easier to come by for the veteran - or so you would think. Prado has not been a starter for the Marlins throughout 2018 despite having extensive experience as a starting third baseman with the Braves, Diamondbacks and Yankees.
It is interesting that the Marlins would rather play their young players rather than the veteran Prado in hopes of generating enough interest to trade him.
14 Adam Duvall
Last season, Adam Duvall was a starting outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. Yes, it was the lowly Reds but he held down a starting roster spot nonetheless. Duvall showed that he has some pretty good home run power, having hit 31 homers a season ago, and is not a terrible defender either.
The talented 29-year-old was traded to the Atlanta Braves at the 2018 trade deadline, where he finds himself mainly occupying a spot on the bench. It must be difficult for Duvall to not be in the lineup everyday given his age and abilities, but it helps that the Braves will likely be headed to the playoffs. Moreover, an outfield opportunity will open up when Nick Markakis departs in free agency this offseason.
13 Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury was a force to be reckoned with during his days with the Boston Red Sox. He was a pretty close to a five-tool talent in that he had some good power, speed, could hit for average, and had strong defense. That prompted the Yankees to lure him away in free agency with a huge 7-year/$153 million deal in 2014.
Despite a solid first season, the Yankees have come to likely regret the contract.
Ellsbury has been very underwhelming since then and has very little chance of finding himself in the starting outfield on a regular basis any time soon. Ellsbury is still occupying a spot on the bench, when he isn't hurt, until the Yankees decide to rid themselves of his onerous contract.
12 David Freese
It wasn't all that long ago that David Freese was was a star third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. After all, he set an MLB postseason record when he had 21 RBIs in 2011. He also ended up winning the NLCS MVP Award as well as the World Series MVP Award. Fast forward a couple of seasons later, and Freese now finds himself mostly occupying a spot on the bench.
He will likely serve as a quality bat off the bench for the Dodgers as they continue to make a push to win the division and throughout the playoffs. Perhaps it is his highly touted leadership abilities which keep the 35-year-old employed in the major leagues, similar to Curtis Granderson.
11 Jose Reyes
As hard as it might be to believe, it's been nearly a decade since Jose Reyes was a true superstar in MLB. When he was in his first stint with the New York Mets, Reyes was a danger on the basepaths and frequently was among the league leaders in triples, doubles, and stolen bases. In 2012, he signed a mega-deal with the Miami Marlins where he hit fairly well. He was then shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays where he struggled to hit well and his defense was terrible.
Reyes has since returned to the Mets and somehow finds himself still on their roster, to the chagrin of many Mets fans. Reyes is only a bench player, but is hitting below .200.
10 Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler was one of the most sought-after free agent targets during the 2016-17 offseason, with a number of teams rumoured to be aggressively seeking him. The St. Louis Cardinals won the sweepstakes with a 5-year/$82.5 million deal.
Fowler had put together a very strong season with the Chicago Cubs, and the Cardinals were hopeful Fowler could solidify the middle of their order and provide solid defense.
That ended up being wishful seeking as the Cardinals later had to acquire Marcell Ozuna after Fowler underwhelmed in 2017. With another difficult season so far in 2018, Fowler has largely been relegated to a bench role in favour of younger players such as Tyler O'Neill.
9 Rajai Davis
It's honestly kind of impressive that Rajai Davis is still on a major league team in 2018, having returned to the Cleveland Indians on a one-year deal. Davis has never been a very prolific offensive player and his defense has generally been around league average. At this point in his career, he still has a good ability to steal bases and hit at a decent average which is likely what is keeping him in the majors at age 37. It also helps that the Cleveland Indians happen to be desperate for outfield depth this season. With that said, Rajai Davis is now just a fourth outfielder who can come off the bench as a source of speed late in games.
8 Ben Zobrist
In the 2015 offseason, the Chicago Cubs made a sizable splash in the free agent market when they signed the super-versatile Ben Zobrist. At the time, he was regarded as a very valuable utility player who the team can play at any spot on the diamond and he would provide them with quality offense and defense. While that was the case for the first season he spent in Chicago and won a World Series, Zobrist's productivity has dropped off noticeably as he enters his mid-30s.
With a number of talented young players on the Cubs roster, this has left Ben Zobrist without a regular spot in the starting lineup.
He instead finds himself mostly serving as a bench player.
7 Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence is yet another veteran outfielder who has undergone a relatively fast fall from grace. Like many of the other players on this list, Pence was once a legitimate starting outfielder earlier on in his career. He had good seasons with teams such as Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, and the early part of his career with the San Francisco Giants. In recent seasons, however, his lack of production and negative defensive value have made it increasingly difficult for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to put him in the stasrting lineup every day. Fortunately for the Giants, they will be able to move on from Pence and his large contract sooner than later.
6 Jedd Gyorko
Jedd Gyorko finds himself in a bit of a tough situation with the St. Louis Cardinals. He should most likely be a starting infielder with the Cardinals, or at least with nearly any other team in the league. However, the Cardinals value his versatility and ability to cover for any of their other infielders in the event of a prolonged injury. This unfortunately leaves Gyorko mostly serving as a bench player, although the Cardinals do make efforts to get him as many regular plate appearances as they can. Hopefully something will happen this offseason that will allow Gyorko to get a starting role. Until then, Gyorko finds himself on the bench.
5 Curtis Granderson
Remember back in 2011 and 2012 when Curtis Granderson was a legitimate middle of the lineup outfielder for the New York Yankees? Those were the seasons when he hit a combined 83 home runs and received some consideration in the AL MVP Award voting. He is now with the playoff-contending Milwaukee Brewers, following an August 31 trade from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Granderson is entering his late-30s and has mostly been relegated to being a fourth outfielder off the bench.
At least Granderson is still a highly respected veteran and is regarded as a true leader across the league.
4 Jon Jay
Back when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals, Jon Jay was the starting center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals when they went to 4 consecutive National League Championship Series (between 2011-2014). Since being traded by the Cardinals, Jay has is now on his fourth team and appears to be headed back to the playoffs as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This time around, however, Jon Jay will be going as the fourth outfielder coming off the bench. The 33-year-old is evidently not the player he once was during his prime years, although he will be able to serve as a valuable late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner.
3 Carlos Gomez
Carlos Gomez has had quite an up and down past few seasons, partly because of concerns surrounding his off the field behaviour. It seems as though he alternates between strong seasons, which is when he hits for a high average and uses his good speed on the basepaths, and poor seasons when nothing seems to go right for him.
In 2018, he signed yet another one-year deal which suggests teams aren't willing to commit to Gomez for multiple years.
Gomez has let his frustrations come through this year with Tampa Bay, such as when he attacked a water cooler. It seems plausible enough that part of his frustration stems from not getting regular playing time on the rebuilding Rays.
2 Gerardo Parra
Gerardo Parra has been the staple of consistency throughout his major league career, hitting for a respectable batting average and providing some solid outfield defense. Since spending six years with Arizona Diamondbacks between 2009 and 2014, Parra has bounced around a fair bit in the league. He is now playing for the Colorado Rockies but has fallen down the outfield depth chart in favor of David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, and Carlos Gonzalez. Given the team's quality outfield depth, it doesn't look like Parra will receive a starting outfield role barring significant injuries.
1 Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval and that massive contract he signed with the Boston Red Sox is arguably one of the worst signings in recent history. Sandoval never lived up to the hype that was associated with his signing and he significantly underperformed throughout his entire time with the team. Sandoval was demoted to the bench and eventually released by the Red Sox.
He has since returned to the San Francisco Giants, his original team, but he has mostly been relegated to being a bench player. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that Sandoval is far from the star player he was during his glory years between 2009 and 2011.