The 10 biggest disappointments of the young MLB season: bad umps, worse White Sox, A’s to Sacramento

This has been an exciting first month of the season with teams like the Guardians, Yankees and Orioles off to hot starts in the American League while the Braves, Brewers, Cubs and Phillies set the pace in the National League. Mike Trout tops the majors in home runs (10), Shohei Ohtani leads the league in batting average (.371) and slugging (.695), Mookie Betts leads in on-base percentage (.468) and Elly De La Cruz already has an MLB-best 15 stolen bases. On the pitching side, Tyler Glasnow ranks first in strikeouts (44) and closers Clay Holmes and Robert Suarez share the league lead in saves with nine apiece.

However, not everything has been champagne and roses. The season may be only a month old but there are plenty of lowlights to choose from. Here are my 10 biggest disappointments, the ones that have pulled at my heartstrings the most.

1. The White Sox’s historically bad start

The White Sox are the worst team in MLB and have a strong chance of losing well over 100 games this season. They’re 3-21, a .125 winning percentage, and already find themselves 14 games behind the division-leading Guardians in the AL Central. They were shut out eight times in their first 22 games.

To make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pathway for them to fix their many issues. The White Sox rank 30th out of 30 teams in runs scored, home runs, batting average and OPS. Their offseason design for this team has been a complete failure. They made it a priority to improve defensively up the middle but seemed to not take offense into account when making moves. They added catcher Martín Maldonado, who hit under .200 last year with the Astros; he’s hitting .048 this season. They signed Paul DeJong to play shortstop after the Cardinals and other teams decided to move on from him (and his career on-base percentage of around .300); he’s hitting .204 with a .259 OBP. They acquired Nicky Lopez via trade to play second base after he was merely an extra player with both the Royals and Braves. Yes, all three were defensive upgrades but also offensive downgrades.

The worst part of their offseason plan was how they built their starting rotation. I ranked their Opening Day rotation as the worst in the majors. Their initial group had only one pitcher who had logged 100 or more innings last year in the majors — Chris Flexen, who also came with a 2023 ERA well north of 6.00. (In early April they re-signed Mike Clevinger, who logged 131 1/3 innings last year, but he has yet to make a big-league start.) The rest of the rotation included Garrett Crochet (12 2/3 innings in MLB in 2023), Michael Soroka (32 1/3 innings), Erick Fedde (pitched in Korea last year) and rookie starters such as Jonathan Cannon. Yes, the White Sox are off to a terrible start, but wait until you see what their pitching looks like after the All-Star break, when many of their starters will be at inning odometer readings they can’t handle.

To make matters worse, their best player, Luis Robert Jr., is out with a strained hip flexor and will miss another month, while Yoán Moncada has a strained adductor and is expected to be out until August. Their farm system ranks 20th in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and they have few trade assets at the minor- or major-league levels. They are in a complete rebuild and it could take more than the typical five to seven years because of the new MLB Draft rules, a barren farm system and an owner who does not like to play checkbook baseball. But hey, at least there is solid deep dish pizza on the South Side of Chicago.


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2. The Astros’ horrible month

The second-worst record in the AL behind the woeful White Sox? That would be the Houston Astros, at 7-18. The perennial powerhouse Astros, along with the Rangers and Orioles, were widely considered the three best teams in the AL to start the season, but through 25 games they find themselves in last place, even behind the A’s, losers of 112 games last year. The Astros’ bullpen, which was supposed to have one of the best back ends in baseball, has been a disaster. Josh Hader, signed to a five-year, $95 million deal in the offseason, has gone 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA. Ryan Pressly, their former closer who was moved to a set-up role, has a 7.45 ERA. Overall, their bullpen ranks 27th in ERA with a 5.03. Their rotation has been decimated by injuries. Six Houston starters have spent time on the injured list this season and four projected members of the rotation are currently sidelined. Framber Valdez is nearing a return but Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia and José Urquidy remain out. (Justin Verlander made his first start Friday after beginning the season on the IL.) Thirty-seven-year-old first baseman José Abreu (.065 batting average, no home runs) looks to be in serious decline and third baseman Alex Bregman (63 OPS+) is off to a slow start in his free-agent walk year.

I expect the Astros to turn things around — they’re too good not to — but they can’t dig too deep of a hole. They’ll need to improve their bullpen depth and first-base production between now and the trade deadline.



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Hunter Wendelstedt had a moment this week. (Mike Stobe / Getty Images)

3. Umpires making headlines because of egregious mistakes

We have never had a more talented group of umpires in the history of the game. Instant replay has been a huge success and evaluating umpires has never been more precise. That’s why it’s so disappointing that umpires Angel Hernandez and Hunter Wendelstedt stood out for all the wrong reasons in the season’s first month. First up was Hernandez, who on April 12 made a series of laughable calls behind the plate during an at-bat by Rangers outfielder Wyatt Langford. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning, Langford didn’t swing at single pitch from Astros righty J.P. France, watching all five he faced land significantly outside the strike zone. Ball 1 was in the dirt, Ball 2 was high and outside, “Ball 3” was way outside, “Ball 4” was farther outside and “Ball 5” was even farther outside. Hernandez called the last three strikes. Everyone misses calls, but not like this. Did Hernandez decide to let a rookie know who was boss, that he would decide the strike zone rather than go by the rule book? Who knows with Hernandez, who has a well-deserved reputation as one of the least accurate umpires of all time. This was a total embarrassment to the integrity of the sport, and why Hernandez hasn’t been fired or paid to go away is beyond me.

Even worse than that was what took place during the Yankees-A’s game on Monday when Wendelstedt, the home plate umpire, ejected manager Aaron Boone because he heard a fan heckle him and thought it was Boone. TV cameras supported the account of Boone, who said he didn’t say anything to deserve the ejection. After the game, Wendelstedt doubled down on Boone’s ejection, saying, “Apparently what he said was there was a fan right above the dugout. This isn’t my first ejection. In the entirety of my career, I have never ejected a player or a manager for something a fan has said. I understand that’s going to be part of a story or something like that because that’s what Aaron was portraying. He’s the manager of the Yankees. So, he’s the one that had to go.”

Wait, what? Now you’re accusing the manager of lying and you’re misrepresenting the situation? Apparently Wendelstedt didn’t know YES Network had a camera trained on Boone that showed he said nothing and another camera on the fan in the front row who made the comment. Wendelstedt should have been suspended and fined a day’s pay for this egregious mistake as well as his response.

4. The number of pitchers on the IL with elbow/forearm injuries

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 63 pitchers on major-league injured lists with elbow or forearm injuries. The long list includes this year’s preseason favorites to win the Cy Young awards, Gerrit Cole and Spencer Strider, along with many of the other top starters in the game. MLB, the individual teams, the Players Association and medical experts continue to do research to try to find ways to reduce these serious injuries. There are many theories — some supported by research, some not — on what’s behind so many pitchers getting hurt: the emphasis on throwing with the highest velocity possible on every pitch, the emphasis on spin rate, the implementation of the sweeper, the split-finger being brought back into arsenals, the increase in training outside of baseball activities, and even the pitch clock (with no scientific backing) are among the reasons being given throughout baseball. (Read this piece from The Athletic’s Eno Sarris for more on the current research and data.) There are no easy answers, but with pitchers losing years of their careers — and in some cases these injuries ending careers — and teams losing pitchers for extended periods, as well as millions upon millions of dollars as they sit on ILs, something has to be done to address this. Sixty-three pitchers and it’s not even May yet!



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5. The Oakland A’s deciding to move to a Triple-A park for three years

In early April, the A’s hit a new low. The A’s announced that after the 2024 season — their 57th in Oakland — they would head to Sacramento and play the next three years in a minor-league ballpark as they await their planned move to Las Vegas. The deal to play at Sutter Health Park, home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, includes an option to stay for a fourth year in case a new stadium in Vegas is not ready by 2028. The club also announced that starting next year, it’ll lose Oakland in its name and just be called the Athletics. It’s sad to see the storied Oakland Athletics name cast aside. But if you’re going to play in Sacramento for three years, why can’t you at least give the city the respect of temporarily going by the Sacramento Athletics?

More concerning is that MLB now has 81 games a year in a Triple-A ballpark, with every team impacted. I understood when the Blue Jays played in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y., because of the pandemic and the laws in Canada. This is a very different situation and a bad look for major-league baseball. It was also disturbing when A’s owner John Fisher held a news conference in Sacramento and, without naming a single A’s player, said how excited he was to watch visiting players such as Aaron Judge launch home runs out of the “intimate” ballpark. Huh? This whole situation has been a chaotic mess for years. I feel so sorry for the fans of Oakland, who have had to endure this for so long.

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Juan Soto is hot. Aaron Judge is not. (Wendell Cruz / USA Today)

6. Aaron Judge’s first month with Juan Soto — All Rise became All Sit

Juan Soto has lived up to the hype in his first month in pinstripes, as he’s slashed .319/.431/.564 with five doubles, six home runs and 22 RBIs. He’s made diving plays in right field and game-winning throws to nail runners at the plate. He’s the early front-runner for AL MVP. However, most of us expected Soto would help Judge by providing more traffic on the bases, turning some of Judge’s solo homers into two- or three-run shots. That hasn’t happened yet. Judge is hitting .191 with four homers and 13 RBIs. Instead of All Rise, he’s made us All Sit. Judge hit 62 homers with 131 RBIs and a 1.111 OPS in 2022 and despite injuries and little traffic in front of him, still had 37 homers and 75 RBIs in 2023. I’m sure he’ll turn it around soon but it’s been a disappointing first month with Soto for the Yankees’ captain.



Rosenthal: How Juan Soto took steps to improve his outfield defense

7. What in the world has happened to the Nolans?

Nolan Jones of the Rockies slashed .297/.389/.542 last year with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases over 424 plate appearances. It was clear he had the ability to potentially join the 25/25 Club this year, or even put up better numbers. However, he’s started this season hitting a dismal .148 with only one home run. And, he’s not the only Nolan who is scuffling! Nolan Gorman of the Cardinals has four homers, but he’s struck out 34 times in 86 at-bats and is hitting .198. His teammate, Nolan Arenado, is also off to a slow start, slugging just one home run in his first 95 at-bats. Then there’s Angels first baseman Nolan Schanuel, who is batting .203 with one homer and a 60 OPS+. It’s just not the month to be named Nolan.

8. The uniform fiasco

MLB experimented with new uniforms last year during the All-Star Game in Seattle and for the most part received positive feedback from the players. However, the league and its partners probably didn’t do enough research and testing in the offseason and when spring training started and the new uniforms were handed out, the feedback from players was overwhelmingly negative. The complaints were loud and frequent and the uniforms quickly became the leading topic in clubhouse banter. The players didn’t like the fit and comfort level, not to mention the see-through pants and the more visible sweat marks. Many said they didn’t feel like they were wearing big-league jerseys, more like hand-me-downs from the local high school team. Fans panned the MLB-approved, Nike-designed, Fanatics-produced uniforms too, for a variety of reasons, including that the letters on the back were smaller and the shades of gray on the shirts often didn’t match the pants. It was truly a big swing and a miss. Brock Stewart of the Twins summed it up when he said, “The uniforms are a downgrade, period.”

The league was not willing to endorse any significant changes to the new uniforms, which is understandable considering its relationship with Nike and Fanatics is worth more than a billion dollars. MLB’s position was that Nike chose the fabric and letter sizing and Fanatics manufactured the exact specifications that Nike provided them. The issue isn’t being talked about much anymore, as the players realize these uniforms are here to stay for at least this year. Still, the whole situation was disappointing — and avoidable. The players should have been more involved in the process and the uniforms should have been tested much more rigorously before being introduced.



Sweat stains, mismatching grays: As MLB uniform issues persist, Nike searches for solutions

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The Nationals and Stephen Strasburg finally reached a resolution this month. (Brad Mills / USA Today)

9. The Nationals’ handling of Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin

Strasburg tried to retire during the 2023 season due to a career-ending injury, severe nerve damage, that thwarted multiple comeback attempts. However, his initial retirement lasted only two weeks because the Nationals decided they wanted some relief from the seven-year, $245 million contract they committed to Strasburg after their 2019 World Series-winning season. (The contract was not insured and is just a huge loss for the club.) Washington then wanted Strasburg to attend spring training this year to work out and help his teammates, an ask that made no sense because he had no chance, health-wise, of pitching again. Strasburg and the Nationals finally settled on April 6 in a deal that did not reduce the value of his contract but did include deferrals that helped the club’s cash flow and helped Strasburg from a tax perspective. The Nationals plan to eventually honor Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP, by adding him to their ring of honor and it seems like there will be a happy ending to this sorry saga, but damage was done. From the drama of a retirement celebration canceled over a player not wanting to reduce his agreed-upon compensation to pushing him to come to spring training in what appeared to be punishment, it all left a disappointing taste to most in the industry.

Corbin led the National League in losses the past three seasons with 16 in 2021, 19 in 2022 and 15 in 2023, and he logged ERAs north of 5.00 each year. This season, the final year of his six-year, $140 million contract, he’s 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts. Why do Nationals fans have to keep watching this? Release him and move on. Corbin has been a good sport; he’s taken the ball every fifth day and has worked hard at his craft. However, the 34-year-old is no longer a major-league-caliber pitcher, and to hang on to him makes no sense. The Nationals should bring up another pitching prospect to replace him and continue to build for the future.

10. Late signings, then short spring trainings for Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and J.D. Martinez

Three of the top free agents in the 2023-24 class didn’t land contracts until late March and when they did, they were short-term deals that could put all three back on the market next offseason. Snell didn’t sign with the Giants until March 19, Martinez didn’t sign with the Mets until March 23 and Montgomery didn’t sign with the Diamondbacks until March 28. How could that be? Snell was the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Montgomery had helped lead the Rangers to their first World Series title, and Martinez hit 33 homers and drove in 103 runs to help the Dodgers win the NL West. Their eventual deals fell well short of expectations and the late signings have diminished the impact of each of these players to start the season. Snell was rushed to the majors less than three weeks after signing and posted an 11.57 ERA over three starts before going on the IL with an adductor strain. Martinez has yet to play a major-league game, as a back issue delayed his ramp-up, but he is expected to make his Mets debut Friday. Montgomery has made only two starts, not making his Diamondbacks debut until April 19, but has pitched well (2.08 ERA over 13 innings).



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(Top photo of White Sox outfielder Dominic Fletcher: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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