10 Hitters Who Need to Start Second Half Hot to Avoid Being Benched or Traded

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 13, 2012

10 Hitters Who Need to Start Second Half Hot to Avoid Being Benched or Traded

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    The first few months of the 2012 MLB season were all about teams trying to figure out the reality of their seasons. Call it a long period of observation, during which teams prefer not to complicate things by making big changes.

    The time for observation is over. In the remaining weeks and months of the 2012 season, teams will start coming to grips with the reality of their seasons. That means making big changes.

    'Tis the season for trades, and we're certainly going to see plenty of those go down seeing as how there are a few extra contenders in the postseason race this season looking to deal. We're also going to see players get benched as clubs get more and more desperate to put together their best lineups.

    So, slumping hitters are officially on notice. If they don't pick it up at the plate, they could find themselves riding the pine or riding the bus out of town.

    Here's a look at 10 hitters who need to catch fire in the second half if they want to stay right where they are.

    Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals

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    Jeff Francoeur had a solid season in 2011, hitting .285 with 20 home runs and 87 RBI. He provided steady production for the Royals out of the right field spot pretty much all season long.

    He has failed to do so again in 2012. Francoeur entered the All-Star break with a line of .251/.289/.378, with seven home runs and 25 RBI. He ended the first half by collecting 12 hits in his last 71 at-bats, a .169 average.

    Meanwhile, stud outfield prospect Wil Myers has nothing left to prove down in the minors. He's hitting .328 with 27 home runs and 73 RBI, and he collected two hits and three RBI in the Futures Game, which was conveniently held at Kauffman Stadium.

    Myers' performance in the Futures Game was everything the hometown fans could have asked for, and then some. They were already pining for Myers to take Francoeur's spot in right field, and they're not about to stop now that they've seen firsthand what Myers can do.

    Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star has floated Francoeur's name as a possible trade candidate, which would be one way to clear space for Myers. The Royals can either do that, or they can simply get fed up and send Francoeur to the bench to clear the way for Myers.

    There's only one way Francoeur can silence the uproar, and that's by putting the bat on the ball more consistently. If he starts hitting again, nobody's going to be in a position to complain.

Raul Ibanez, New York Yankees

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    The Yankees signed Raul Ibanez during the offseason with the idea in mind to make him their primary DH.

    That plan had to be nixed when Brett Gardner got hurt earlier in the season, which forced Joe Girardi to use Ibanez both at DH and in left field.

    To his credit, Ibanez performed admirably through the first two months of the season, as he ended May hitting .268 with nine home runs and 28 RBI. While some key members of the Yankees struggled to get on track, Ibanez was quietly putting together a strong season.

    Since then, things haven't gone so well. Ibanez is hitting .193/.264/.313 with two home runs and eight RBI since the start of June. Also, playing time is starting to get hard to come by with Girardi mixing in Alex Rodriguez and others at DH while giving Andruw Jones more time in left field.

    Jones deserves the extra playing time. He's been hot, especially lately. He finished the first half by hitting four home runs in the Bombers' final three games at Fenway Park. His bat belongs in the lineup until further notice.

    To make matters worse for Ibanez, Gardner is on the comeback trail. Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com has reported that Gardner could be back by the end of the month.

    So in the next couple of weeks, Ibanez is going to have to get hot at the plate again. If he doesn't, Girardi won't have much incentive to use him on a regular basis once he can play Gardner in left and Jones at DH.

Brandon Inge, Oakland A's

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    Brandon Inge looked like an excellent pickup early on in his A's career, as he hit six homers and drove in 25 runs in his first 19 games (with a DL stint mixed in) after being picked up off the scrapheap by Billy Beane.

    Ever since, Inge has gone back to looking like the Detroit version of himself. Dating back to the middle of June, Inge is hitting .167/.217/.202 with no homers and 10 RBI in 23 games. The power that he showed back in May and early June has all but disappeared.

    Bob Melvin has stayed patient with Inge, but at some point he's going to have to get Inge out of the lineup if he continues to slump into the second half. He doesn't have an excess of options, but the A's can call on Josh Donaldson if they so please. He's spent some time with the big club this season, and has hit .368 in his time with Triple-A Sacramento.

    Donaldson has only hit .153 in right around 100 at-bats with the big club, hence the reason the A's haven't already made him their regular third baseman. The one thing he has on Inge is youth, and he's an above-average fielder to boot. 

    It doesn't reflect well on Inge that he needs to hold off a .153 hitter, but that just goes to show how bad he's been in recent weeks.

Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles

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    Mark Reynolds has been one of the most disappointing players in baseball thus far in 2012. He's once again doing battle with the Mendoza line, and he's only hit seven home runs and driven in 23 runs all season.

    Things aren't exactly looking up for Reynolds either. He ended the first half by hitting .111 with two home runs and five RBI in his last 19 games (17 starts).

    For the most part, Buck Showalter has been using Reynolds at first base this season, which has required him to play Chris Davis in right field to fill in for Nick Markakis while he recovered from a fractured hamate bone.

    Showalter has more flexibility now that Markakis has been activated off the DL to start the second half. He's moved Davis to left field to start things off, but at some point he could move Davis back to first base if Reynolds continues to struggle.

    And that's a possibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. The Orioles have put up with Reynolds' struggles this season because it was too soon to pull the plug early in the season, and because they didn't have any choice but to play him due to injuries.

    It is no longer early, and the Orioles no longer need to keep him in the lineup due to necessity. If he doesn't start hitting, Showalter shouldn't hesitate to move Reynolds to the bench.

Luke Scott, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The good news for Luke Scott is that he doesn't have to worry about ending an epic hitless skid anymore. He snapped his 0-for-41 drought a couple days before the All-Star break, and he ended up collecting five hits in 14 at-bats with two homers and six RBI in Tampa Bay's final three games.

    The bad news for Scott is that he still has work to do to get his numbers up to par. He ended the first half with a line of .205/.260/.409. For a designated hitter, he didn't hit all that much.

    Joe Maddon has a tendency to be patient with struggling hitters, but he's soon going to have a little flexibility when it comes to his DH spot.

    The word from the Tampa Bay Times is that Matt Joyce could be back in a couple weeks, and he'll presumably return to right field upon his return. That will give Maddon the option of platooning Scott and Hideki Matsui at DH, and he'll have every excuse to do that if Scott is struggling just as badly as he was before the break.

    Scott definitely has pop. The Rays just need him to show it off more often.

Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

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    A lot of people were expecting Drew Stubbs to have a breakout season in 2012. He showed off his enticing power-speed combination in 2010 and 2011, but he wasn't quite able to put it all together either year.

    He hasn't put it all together this year either.

    Stubbs is hitting just .215 with a .286 on-base percentage thus far in 2012. He does have nine homers and 17 stolen bases, but the Reds were hoping for more from him.

    They don't have any internal options to replace Stubbs in center field, so he's not really in danger of being benched. But this could all change if the Reds acquire a center fielder who can hit leadoff in a trade, and there's some buzz about the Reds doing exactly that at some point in the next couple of weeks.

    Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has mentioned Denard Span, Shane Victorino, Juan Pierre, David DeJesus and Coco Crisp as possible options for the Reds. Of that group, Span, Victorino and Crisp are center fielders who could hit leadoff, something that Stubbs would be doing for the Reds in a perfect world.

    Because the Reds have also had issues in left field, some may argue that they are better off acquiring a left fielder who can hit leadoff. But John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer is not so sure the Reds are going to restrict their radar to left fielders because of how Stubbs has given the team every excuse to reduce his role going forward.

    Stubbs has shown flashes this season, but he's been incapable of getting in a rhythm. The only way he's going to quell unrest is by finally finding that rhythm in the second half.

Ryan Sweeney, Boston Red Sox

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    The Red Sox's outfield is about to become a survival-of-the-fittest affair. Jacoby Ellsbury has been activated off the disabled list, and Carl Crawford will soon follow. When they're set in left and center field, there will be one outfield spot up for grabs and four or five different players jockeying for position.

    Ryan Sweeney is one of them, but he may not be for long.

    As Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald pointed out, Sweeney's name is mentioned in trade speculation more than that of any other Red Sox outfielder.

    Silverman reported that the Red Sox are not actively looking to move Sweeney, and that's understandable given his flexibility. He can play both center and right field, and has played left field in the past. He's a player the Sox are going to need if Crawford and/or Ellsbury can't stay healthy.

    But Sweeney's value is on its way down because of his recent lack of production at the plate. Dating back to the start of May, Sweeney is hitting just .230 with seven extra-base hits. His cause has not been helped by a series of injuries.

    There's no guarantee that Sweeney is going to get his bat going again, so it's in Boston's interest to get something for him as long as teams are interested. Just because he's not hitting doesn't mean he's not trade bait.

    If Sweeney wants to stay in Boston, he needs to start hitting again. The Red Sox aren't going to trade a versatile outfielder who's hot at the plate. They'll trade one of their other outfielders instead. Goodness knows they have enough of them.

Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Justin Upton was one of the most dynamic players in baseball last season, hitting .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He ultimately finished fourth in the NL MVP voting.

    Just as he did in 2010, Upton has followed a promising year with a disappointing year. He entered the break hitting just .273 with seven home runs and 10 stolen bases. Those aren't bad numbers, but they're hardly numbers befitting of a superstar, and Upton is most definitely supposed to be a superstar.

    Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic has reported that Arizona GM Kevin Towers is willing to listen to offers for Upton, and the rumors have been coming fast and furious ever since.

    The notion that the Diamondbacks would trade Upton while they're technically still alive in the NL playoff picture borders on being nonsensical, but that's a sign of the lack of faith the Diamondbacks have in their young right fielder. Like everyone, they feel he should be better, and they know they can get something for him despite his disappointing season thus far in 2012.

    The only thing Upton can do to quiet the trade buzz is go out on the field and convince his superiors that parting with him would be a foolish mistake. He can do this by getting his bat going, preferably with a lot more power than he showed in the first half.

    Basically, Upton needs to put the D-Backs on his back. He needs to be the superstar he's supposed to be.

Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Dodgers figured they were picking up a discount slugger when they signed Juan Uribe to a three-year deal before the start of the 2011 season.

    They were wrong.

    Uribe has been a complete bust for the Dodgers. He hit .204 with four home runs in 2011, and he entered the break hitting .194 with a single home run this season. To make matters worse, he hasn't been able to stay healthy.

    Uribe was Don Mattingly's Opening Day third baseman, and he'd no doubt like to keep playing Uribe at third base down the stretch. But due to Uribe's horrid hitting and uncertain health, Mattingly has been forced to install a revolving door at the hot corner.

    And it sounds like Uribe could be pushed even further out of favor in Los Angeles, as there have been rumors linking the Dodgers to trade candidates like Chase Headley and Aramis Ramirez.

    Ned Colletti has a couple of weeks to swing a deal for a new third baseman. Uribe is healthy now, so he needs to use this time to his advantage. 

    Given what they've gotten from him thus far in his contract, the Dodgers don't need Uribe to start knocking the cover off the ball. They just need him to show signs of life.

Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Shane Victorino hasn't been himself this season. He entered the break hitting just .245 with a .311 on-base percentage, numbers well below his career averages.

    And things aren't getting any better as the season moves along. Victorino is hitting .236/.301/.301 since the beginning of June, with just four extra-base hits. The Phillies are used to Victorino being their sparkplug, and he hasn't lived up to that billing this season.

    Like Cole Hamels, Victorino is due to become a free agent at the end of the season. Their impending free agency is a key reason why both of them have been mentioned in trade rumors in recent weeks.

    Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote recently that Victorino looks to be a "short-timer" in Philly. His name has popped up in trade talks, and he's likely leaving as a free agent even if he isn't traded. If the Phillies don't creep back into the race over the next couple of weeks, Victorino is as good as gone.

    Victorino looks like he could benefit from a change of scenery, so a trade wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him. But if he wants to stay in Philly, he needs to get his bat going.

    If he does, he can convince the Phillies to keep him around and possibly re-sign him, and he could also help the Phillies score some much-needed wins.

    It's time for him to be their sparkplug again.

     

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