MLB: 10 Veterans Who Have Struggled This Spring

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIMarch 21, 2012

MLB: 10 Veterans Who Have Struggled This Spring

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    Spring Training. 

    It could mean "hope" for young players with something to prove. It's "another day at the office" for players in their prime who need not worry about their spot on a team. 

    For veterans, it can be any number of things. One is a period of necessary warm-up. Aging veterans can take some time to get back into game shape. 

    For other veterans, spring training can seem like an arduous experience, one they'd love to skip if they could. Perhaps that's why every year there are veterans who have had long and successful major league careers that struggle, and struggle mightily, to perform in spring training. 

    More often than not, these struggles mean nothing. There are small sample sizes of experienced players who will inevitably find their groove and return to the form that's kept them in a big league uniform for years. Every now and then, it can be a sign that the skills that they relied on for years are beginning to decline. 

    Which veteran major leaguers are struggling this season in Florida and Arizona? 

Paul Konerko

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    Paul Konerko is 36 years old and was one of the very few bright spots on a miserable Chicago White Sox offense last year. 

    This spring he's not a bright spot though. A .219 average, no home runs and only one run batted in is not what any team wants to see out of their best hitter over any period of 11 games, even the preseason.

    It's probably not worth worrying about too much. Konerko is a professional hitter and he's been in the league for 15 years. After that much time, amassing a career batting average of .282 with over 2,000 career hits, Konerko is aware of the impact spring training numbers will have on his regular season performance. Very little, that's how much.  

Andruw Jones

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    When Andruw Jones signed with the Yankees before the 2011 season, expectations were tempered. After all, Jones had not had a great season since his 2006 in Atlanta.

    Jones didn't have a great season in 2011 but it wasn't bad either. It was good enough for the Yankees to sign him to another one year $2 million contract.

    So far this spring, Jones has had a rough go at it. A .179 average and no home runs but it's not worth expending too much concern over. Jones hasn't hit for a great average since 2006 and it's such a small sample size that the numbers can only hold so much meaning.

    Jones will probably hit for a low average this season. Yet over the course of his 200 or so at-bats, his power numbers will be respectable and that's one of the primary reasons he's in a Yankee uniform in the first place.  

Alex Rios

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    The White Sox must be wondering if they'll ever wake up from the nightmare that Alex Rios has become. After having one of his best all around seasons in 2010, Rios had his worst in 2011. A .227 average with 13 home runs and 44 RBI, Rios put up those numbers as an everyday starter, making him one of the worst everyday players in the majors. Add in his $12.5 million salary and you've got a major underachiever.

    Worse still, Rios has shown no signs this spring of turning around his free fall in production. He's once again starting and once again not producing. Through 11 games, he's hitting .226 with no home runs and only three RBI.

    Is this becoming a recurring nightmare for the White Sox? It's worth worrying about.  

Robinson Cano

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    So far this spring Robinson Cano is hitting .167 with one home run and seven RBI. 

    Who cares? 

    Of all the players on the New York Yankees, Cano is the least concerning. Unless he gets injured; that would be a disaster. 

    Cano is in his prime, he's 29 and he plays second base. Cano has hit for average and power and he's shown no sign of letting up. This spring's weak numbers don't qualify as a sign of bad things to come, they're more like a sign that he's probably waiting until the regular season to catch fire. 

Raul Ibanez

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    For any Yankee fan concerned about Robinson Cano, I recommend disregarding it. In it's place you should shift your worry to Raul Ibanez. 

    That's because, unlike Cano, Ibanez is not in his prime. Unlike Andruw Jones, Ibanez is not 34 years old. 

    Ibanez is 39 and he's coming off a season in which his numbers did start to show signs of decline. If he weren't 39, it might be chalked up to a fluke. However, at his age, it could be a real sign of a player whose best days are behind him.

    It might even be a sign of a player who is near the end of being productive. Ibanez has had a very nice career but he's also had a long career. This is his 17th season and the career .280 hitter is hitting just .065 in spring. Not .165, only .065! He's had two hits in 31 at bats and has not looked comfortable at the plate. It's a disturbing slump but it could be that Ibanez is just going through a rough adjustment period.

    The Yanks will be patient to a point, but that point could come sooner rather than later in the highly competitive American League East.

Roy Halladay

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    Roy Halladay is having a bad spring, but let's not get crazy. He's not in danger of losing anything in Philadelphia. 

    It's only spring training. Plus, when you've finished second and first in the Cy Young voting over the past two seasons, you tend to build up a little credit. 

    Let's allow the team to not expend too much energy being concerned about Halladay's 6.59 ERA or his .286 batting average against. 

    If Halladay were fighting for a roster spot, he'd be gone or at least have his bags packed. Instead, Halladay will probably compete for the Cy Young award and no one will even remember the subpar spring he's experiencing. 

Tim Lincecum

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    It's amusing that Tim Lincecum looks like the character Mitch Kramer from the movie "Dazed and Confused."

    It's a little concerning when he pitches like him.

    Luckily, it's only spring training. And, with a career earned run average of 2.98 his 4.50 mark this spring coupled with the fact that hitters are knocking him around to the tune of a .327 batting average against, it won't cause too much consternation in Giants circles.

    Lincecum has only had four starts and, because it's spring and not the regular season, he's only thrown a total of 14 innings. Lincecum will be fine once real regular season baseball begins.  

Barry Zito

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    As much as Tim Lincecum has built up credit to allow Giants fans and brass to not worry about a rocky spring, Barry Zito has earned every ounce of worry and fear aimed his way. 

    Zito, owner of one of baseball worst free agent contracts, has been nothing short of a disaster since inking a seven-year $126 million contract in December of 2006. 

    As a member of the Giants, Zito has yet to finish a season with an earned run average under 4.00 and, if this spring is at all a sign of things to come, that won't change in 2012. 

    Zito has been, well, typical Zito since spring training began. His ERA is 4.50 and hitters are teeing off on him to the tune of a .307 average. Worse still, he's given up three home runs and issued seven walks in just 14 innings. 

    Basically Zito isn't over the plate and when he is, it's very hittable. That's a bad combination and it's one that's all too familiar to Giant fans. 

Mike Pelfrey

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    The New York Mets aren't expecting Mike Pelfrey to be great this season. They just need him to be solid. 

    This spring he's been solidly bad. Real bad. 

    Pelfrey won't lose his spot in the rotation. Though if his spring continues along the same track he's been on, there will be a lot of Mets fans watching his first few regular season starts with a feeling of unease. 

    Put simply, Pelfrey has been among the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball this spring. In three starts, he has an ERA of 14.90. He's given up four home runs in only 9.2 innings. Players are hitting a Rogers Hornsby-esque .426 against him. 

    Can Pelfrey pitch better? He has to. Can he pitch worse? That would actually be an accomplishment.

Joe Nathan

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    Joe Nathan is the Rangers' closer. 

    At least that's how it's supposed to work out. He's going to be given plenty of chances to hold on to the job and he's not going to lose it just because of a poor spring. 

    Of course, if his poor spring carries over to a poor April, then the spring performances may be in the back of Ron Washington's mind. 

    Through two save opportunities and three appearances, Nathan is 0-2 with an ERA of 18.00 and two blown saves. What's really discouraging is his complete lack of ability to get men out. Nathan has given up three walks and five hits in those three innings. 

    It's been rough, to say the least. If it continues into the regular season, the Rangers have plenty of other options in the bullpen to take Nathan's place.