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Baseball Notes

Teams are waiting for them to bust out

By Nick Cafardo
July 31, 2011

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There’s no shortage of candidates for the all-bust team this season.

Some of these players have performed so poorly they’ve lost their jobs or necessitated their teams to seek trades for help at a position at which they thought they were sound. A sampling: DH Adam Dunn, 1B Aubrey Huff, 2B Dan Uggla, SS Hanley Ramirez, 3B Chone Figgins, C Joe Mauer, OF Jayson Werth, OF Alex Rios, OF Jason Bay. Bench: Torii Hunter, David DeJesus, Vladimir Guerrero, James Loney, Aaron Hill, J.D. Drew, Kurt Suzuki, Carl Crawford. Starting pitching: Fausto Carmona, John Lackey, Bronson Arroyo, J.A. Happ, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Brett Myers, Carlos Zambrano. Bullpen: Jonathan Broxton, Bobby Jenks.

Dunn’s is a sad story. The more hitting experts look at his swing, the more they realize he has no chance because his hands are never in good hitting position. Dunn doesn’t exactly work overtime to correct it either, and when he recently told Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports that he was contemplating quitting, you can understand why. Nowadays when he walks, that’s considered a breakthrough. Nobody saw it coming, and the White Sox are saddled with a completely unproductive player.

“When a guy is going that bad, it’s just sad,’’ concurred one American League scout. “You can’t even evaluate it because the guy is so messed up.’’

Dunn’s season has been historically awful. He has a chance to finish with a lower batting average than even Rob Deer’s .179 in 1991.

And on the same team, there’s Rios. When he came up with the Blue Jays, he had superstar written all over him. He did have a long swing, but the feeling was he’d correct it in time. He made everyone believe he was headed to elite status, but instead has fallen so badly that Ozzie Guillen had to bench him. He’s struggled to stay above .200 all season.

Uggla has fought the burden of the big contract, but after spending most of the year below .200, he entered yesterday hitting .206 and in the midst of a 20-game hitting streak, in which he’s produced seven homers and 15 RBIs.

Ramirez had problems hitting fastballs earlier this year, and has picked it up since he stopped brooding when Jack McKeon got a little tough with him. He’s hitting .301 in July with five homers and 21 RBIs, closer to what is expected, but the disappearing act in the first half was startling.

Marlins special assistant Jeff Conine was asked recently on Miami’s 790 The Ticket if he’d deal Ramirez. “If it were up to me, probably,’’ he said. Conine also was asked whether Ramirez frustrated him, and he responded, “On a nightly basis.’’ Conine went on to say how talented Ramirez is, but he questioned Ramirez’s effort. “I would say if you define [disrespecting the game] as not going out there and putting out 100 percent on the field every day, I would say no, he doesn’t [respect it],’’ Conine said. Strong words.

Huff earned a two-year, $22 million deal after his excellent performance with the Giants last season. He was the rock of that lineup. Not so much this season. Huff, a lefthanded batter, has weird splits - .217 vs. righthanders and .303 vs. lefthanders. His .891 OPS last season has fallen to .661 this season.

Figgins, 33, has gone from a catalyst with the Angels to a huge part of the Mariners’ disastrous season. In the second year of a four-year, $36 million deal, the Mariners intended for Figgins to be the igniter of the lineup. Instead, he’s been benched. Figgins didn’t have a very good season in 2010, hitting .259, but at least he stole 42 bases. This year, he’s hitting .182 with a .woeful .238 OBP.

Scouts say that Hunter’s bat speed has really slowed. Whether that’s age catching up or just a bad season is anyone’s guess. But Hunter, a clutch hitter throughout his career, is at .220 in July. His .235 average with 13 homers and 50 RBIs marks his lowest production in years.

Bay is nowhere near the player he was in Boston, but the concussion he suffered last season really has sent his career in a downward spiral. Once one of the steadiest players in the game, Bay is hitting .234 with six homers and 36 RBIs, including .217 in July. Bay is one of the best people in the game, but the four years at $66 million the Mets invested in him was money poorly spent.

One scout described Werth as “a guy who will give high effort, but he can never be the guy in the lineup because he doesn’t like that kind of pressure.’’ But such a price tag (seven years, $126 million) is reserved for a centerpiece player. It’s one reason the Red Sox stayed away, though their choice of Crawford hasn’t panned out, either.

Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million extension with the Twins, and we’re calling the contract a bust more than the player. Mauer gets cut some slack because of injury. He’s batted .294/.366/.353 with 1 homer and 18 RBIs. He missed two months with bilateral leg weakness, adding to the list of injuries that have people wondering how much longer he’ll catch. The Twins will need to find ways to keep him productive, since he’s pulling down a cool $23 million per year.

What happened to Hill is anyone’s guess. He came back from a concussion to hit 36 homers and knock in 108 runs for the Blue Jays two years ago, but the last two seasons have been awful. At least he hit 26 homers while batting .205 last season, but this season the power is gone (five homers) and he’s hitting .232.

Happ was the pitcher the Astros obtained in the Roy Oswalt deal with the Phillies, and although he’s on a poor team, the performance hasn’t been good. He has allowed five or more runs in each of his last six starts.

Arroyo has been the most dependable guy on the Reds’ staff. Not this year. His ballooning ERA and inability to pitch deep in games have been uncharacteristic.

Teams have wasted a lot of money on underperforming players. Will it make them think twice about handing out huge deals? Probably not.

FEELING THE PINCH
Stairs may be at end of line Matt Stairs said that if this is the end, “I can walk away with my head held high and know I had a very good major league career that I’ll always be grateful for.’’ Stairs was designated for assignment last week by the Nationals. If he’s not claimed by tomorrow, he expects his career will be over.

“I’m prepared for it,’’ said the 43-year-old Stairs, who has returned home to Bangor. “I just didn’t produce when I had the chance and this game is all about numbers, and for a pinch hitter, if you can’t get up there and show something, you’re not going to be around. I had a great time in Washington. There are no hard feelings and I wish those guys well.’’

Stairs doesn’t believe a team will sign him after Monday at 1 p.m. because “it would require a team to find a roster spot for a guy who pinch hits. Not sure a team is going to do that.’’

Stairs said if his playing career is over, he hopes he can begin managing or coaching.

“I feel I have a lot to offer with my experience and being around the game for as long as I have,’’ he said. “I hope I can start somewhere and show people what I can do. Would I still love to play? Of course. You never want to give up the uniform and the thrill of stepping up to the plate. You never want to give that feeling up.’’

Stairs saw manager Jim Riggleman step down after the Nationals refused to discuss the option on his contract.

“It’s a shame it happened because we were on a roll at the time. We were playing well and the whole clubhouse was into it,’’ Stairs said. “After Jim left the whole atmosphere changed. That had nothing to do with Davey [Johnson], who does a very good job. I think the team felt it had something going there, and to have it come down like it did was tough for that team.’’

DONE DEAL
Phillies hunt down Pence The Phillies did another excellent job living in the moment, and the decision may have made them the prohibitive favorites to win the National League pennant. They traded Friday night for exactly what they needed, Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, a dirtdog of a player who will bring energy to a lineup that sometimes seems lethargic. Pence more than replaces the righthanded bat of Jayson Werth.

The Phillies brass felt they needed an igniter, a righthanded bat, and a presence in their lineup. In Pence, they have a young veteran who won’t have to feel the weight of the world, as he did in the woeful Astros lineup.

A Phillies scout said this about a week ago: “I’d love to see him in a good lineup.’’

The Phillies don’t mind giving up prospects for established talent. They know first baseman/outfielder Jonathan Singleton is going to hit in the major leagues, and may be a force. They’re not as worried about Jarred Cosart going to the Astros, because there’s a feeling his delivery may cause him problems down the road. And righthander Josh Zeid, who knows?

The Red Sox were involved in the Pence talks early, but bowed out and weren’t among the number of teams that competed for his services in the end.

The Phillies weren’t happy with Domonic Brown as a replacement for Werth, but now they have Pence. The Phillies would have included Brown in the deal, but the Astros wanted Singleton, who they feel has more upside.

“Give them credit,’’ said one competing GM, “they don’t care what the minor league gurus think. Maybe they shouldn’t trade some of the players they trade, but they’re very strong in their convictions when they’re aiming for someone. They get who they want and they’re willing to pay whatever the price is.’’

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. The Patriots have Ochocinco and the Red Sox have Cinco Ocho. Jonathan Papelbon often walks around the clubhouse wearing a Cinco Ocho shirt; 2. White Sox players swear 44-year-old Omar Vizquel could still play high-level shortstop every day if called upon; 3. Before Jarrod Saltalamacchia caught Tim Wakefield Friday night, WBZ’s Jon Miller kiddingly asked Salty, “Can we talk about your two passed balls before Wake pitches?’’; 4. If the Cubs ate a lot of the money, why wouldn’t you take a shot with Carlos Zambrano?; 5. Greetings to one of my favorite people in baseball, especially when I was starting out - Sam Mele.

Updates on nine 1. Victor Martinez, C-DH, Tigers - V-Mart must have felt awfully good when he heard owner Mike Ilitch tell reporters last week, “Martinez is helping us with leadership in the locker room. That’s something we lacked. I can see the difference. I walk in the Tiger locker room and it reminds me of the Red Wing locker room now. There is a little more fire. There is a little more pride.’’

2. Bill Hall, INF-OF, free agent - Released by the Astros and Giants, Hall is hoping to hook on with a team. The Reds have some interest. The Red Sox seem to have addressed their need for a utilityman by trading for Mike Aviles.

3. Jason Kubel, OF-DH, Twins - The Twins appear ready to let Kubel and Michael Cuddyer go into free agency. The Twins are never big sellers, but they seem OK with collecting their compensation picks, then using the money saved to re-sign one or both, or buy another hitter in the offseason. The one move they are considering is trading center fielder Denard Span, and they have an eager partner in the Nationals if the price is right. The Twins would want reliever Drew Storen, whom the Nationals are not eager to part with. The Twins could then allow Joe Nathan and Matt Capps to walk.

4. Davey Johnson, manager, Nationals - Entering yesterday, the Nationals were 9-18 under Johnson, and are virtually out of the race. While it’s not Johnson’s fault, the departure of Jim Riggleman definitely had a negative effect. Johnson took over June 27, and the Nationals have since plummeted to last in the National League East. Once the season is over, Johnson may have to decide whether he wants to continue as the skipper or help name a new one. The biggest reason for the slide has been the starting rotation, which had carried the team for three months. The last time around, Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, and Tom Gorzelanny combined for a 7.82 ERA.

5. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox - Does Ellsbury have a shot at a 30/30 year? Probably ambitious on the home run side, but he could be in the mid-20s. There are some players in contention for the coveted accomplishment. Curtis Granderson is 28/19, Matt Kemp is 25/27, Ryan Braun is 21/19, and Justin Upton is 21/16. Ellsbury has stolen fewer bases and likely saved his body. He could definitely wind up a 20/40 man.

6. Juan Pierre, OF, White Sox - The 33-year-old has reached the end of the line with his contract, and while he’d like to stay with the White Sox he understands the reality. “If this is it, the end of the road for me, I’m OK with that. I’ll just go home to Florida and that will be that,’’ he said. Pierre has been one of the White Sox’ most consistent performers. While his stolen base total is down significantly (68 last year, 16 this year), Pierre said his legs feel good. “I can still play,’’ he said. “I know the game is changing with numbers meaning so much more now, but I know I can still help a team.’’

7. Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Indians - The tradeoff didn’t seem so stark when the Indians obtained Fukudome from the Cubs and designated Travis Buck for assignment. After all, Fukudome arrived hitting .272 with three homers and 13 RBIs and Buck was .228 with two homers and 18 RBIs. Fukudome, however, owned a .378 on-base percentage against righthanders, and a change of scenery to a team with a chance to win may jump-start Fukudome, who is in the final year of a four-year, $48 million deal.

8. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Dodgers - The Red Sox did their homework on Kuroda and felt he’d be an ideal fit. But the 36-year-old is invoking his no-trade clause because he’s comfortable in Los Angeles. Even though the Dodgers are out of the playoff chase, Kuroda’s content where he is. “He’s a guy you can put in your rotation and who can pitch a postseason game for you,’’ said an American League scout.

9. David Pauley, RHP, Tigers - Years in the minor leagues have finally paid off for the former Red Sox farmhand. Pauley and fellow righthander Doug Fister were traded from the Mariners yesterday for a package of players. Pauley, 28, has had a good season in middle relief (5-4, 2.15 ERA), and will assume the same role with the Tigers. “He’s learned to throw strikes and not beat himself with walks,’’ said an NL scout. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve taken a guy who we’re about to release and change one thing and the guy takes off. That happened in Pauley’s case.’’

Short hops From the Bill Chuck Files: “Through Thursday, the AL Home Run Derby team was in a power slump. Adrian Gonzalez had no homers in the 13 games following the HR Derby. David Ortiz had hit one in 10 games. Jose Bautista had none in nine games. The Derby winner, Robinson Cano, had hit one in 14 games.’’ Also, “On Wednesday, the Rays’ James Shields gave up 10 runs; in 10 of his other starts this year he has given up a total of 10 runs.’’ . . . Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be at Smoothie King on Newbury Street in Boston tomorrow from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Purchasing a smoothie gets you an autograph and a chance to meet Salty . . . Happy birthday to Gabe Kapler (36) and Scott Bankhead (48).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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