Major League Baseball's regular season is nearing the quarter mark. Pitchers are closing in on double-digit starts, and position players are either at or beyond triple-digit plate appearances. This is, then, around the time of the year when teams start weighing serious changes to their rosters. If you need evidence of that, just consider what the St. Louis Cardinals did over the weekend with Willson Contreras.
In many cases, teams are not pondering how to maximize a player's output, they're wondering if said player should even be on the roster. Logistics often dictate these decisions. Players who have options -- that is, the ability to be demoted without being subjected to waivers -- offer simpler solutions than those without. By that same token, it's easier to cut a player making the league minimum than it is to release a player who is making significant coin: the former is trivia, the latter is a headline.
With that in mind, we here at CBS Sports decided this was a good time to examine five veteran players who we feel might be on the wrong side of a headline in the coming weeks based on their early season performance and their team's situation. The players are presented in reverse order of their perceived job security.
1. Aaron Hicks, OF, Yankees
Season to date: .143/.213/.161 (7 OPS+) in 61 plate appearances
Remaining contract: ~$28 million combined through the 2025 season
Outlook: Hicks and the Yankees have been heading toward a divorce since late last season, when he publicly expressed frustration with his role despite poor play. Surely by now the Yankees must be rid of the delusion that he can still contribute. Hicks hasn't approached league-average offense since 2020. He's opened the season with a 3-for-40 showing against right-handed pitching. Prior to Sunday, he hadn't recorded an extra-base hit since last September. There are no underlying indicators suggesting a turnaround is likely. The Yankees' outfield isn't at full health, but that's no matter. You don't have to understand or agree with the replacement-level concept to agree on this much: there are scores of minor-league outfielders who, given the opportunity, could provide the Yankees with more than Hicks has to date. Just eat the money already.
2. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Cubs
Season to date: .250/.292/.357 (77 OPS+) in 89 plate appearances
Remaining contract: League minimum the rest of the season
Outlook: You can understand why the Cubs took a spin on Hosmer: he's cheap (the Padres are paying him well to not play for them), and they likely didn't anticipate being serious threats in the National League Central this season. A month-plus into the season, it's clearly time to move on. Hosmer's exit-velocity readings are down, his ground ball percentage is up, and he's the third wheel in the Cubs' first base/DH timeshare. If rookie Matt Mervis shows any kind of spark in the coming weeks, the Cubs will have no choice but to acknowledge the writing on the wall and move on -- especially if they remain a good weekend away from occupying first place.
3. Jordan Hicks, RHP, Cardinals
Season to date: 7.62 ERA (57 ERA+), 1.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 innings
Remaining contract: ~$1.38 million the rest of the season
Outlook: On one hand, the 26-year-old Hicks possesses some of the best arm strength in the world (his sinker is averaging 100.7 mph). On the other hand, the Cardinals need to shake up their pitching staff something fierce, and Hicks is arguably the most obvious candidate to go. In his first 14 appearances this season, he's surrendered 11 earned runs on 17 hits and 14 walks. He's also uncorked five wild pitches, or as many as he did last season in 61 innings. Maybe if Hicks had a history of successfully walking the tightrope you could justify keeping him around until deeper in the summer. The truth is, he hasn't been on the right side of the replacement-level line since 2019, per Baseball Reference. The Cardinals can no longer afford to wait.
4. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Phillies
Season to date: 8.25 ERA (53 ERA+), 1.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings
Remaining contract: ~$7.5 million the rest of the season
Outlook: Kimbrel is a volatile quantity. Indeed, he spent much of April putting together an eight-appearance stretch where he allowed no runs on three hits and a walk. He even struck out 13 of the 24 batters he faced during that time. From a results perspective he was, in a sense, his vintage self. Unfortunately, Kimbrel has been scorched in most of his other appearances, including his two most recent games against the Dodgers. The Phillies have helped Kimbrel in some ways -- his fastball features more vertical life this year, and he's getting further down the mound on his release -- so perhaps they're willing to give him a longer look. Questions about his job security are sure to rise whenever he's in the "bust" part of his cosmic ballet.
5. Eduardo Escobar, 3B, Mets
Season to date: .159/.206/.365 (56 OPS+) in 69 plate appearances
Remaining contract: ~$7.6 million the rest of this season (buyout included)
Outlook: Escobar's situation is like a perfect storm for him being released at some point this season. He's already lost his starting job to a hot-shot prospect; he's not producing in a more limited reserve role; and he plays for a serious contender whose owner is willing to spend whatever to get what he so desires -- remember, he once increased his bid on a painting after it was damaged. Escobar's positive clubhouse reputation may end up sparing him for some time longer, but we would be surprised based on current information if he's still around late in the year.