Five MLB Players in Need of a “Crank”-Style Rejuvenation

Elliott SmithCorrespondent IApril 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16: Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants fields a foul ground ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at Dodger Stadium on April 16, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In honor of the amazingly over-the-top film Crank: High Voltage, which stars the kick-ass Jason Statham as Chev Chelios, a man who must keep his electric heart beating by subjecting himself to all sorts of insane adrenaline rushes (even though he was clearly dead at the end of the first film), we take a look at five baseball players who could use a similar jumpstart to help revive their flatlining careers.

Now, a word about the selections. You could probably list 20 or 30 players who need a shock to the system, but I tried to focus on guys who are still relatively young and can still produce for several more years, which rules out aging veterans on the downhill slope of their careers (I'm looking at you, Edgar Renteria).

Player: Travis Hafner

Crank treatment: Repeated punches to the face
The man they call Pronk has the brute strength to become one of the game's most-feared power hitters, and for a while, it seemed as if that was going to be the case (103 HR and 324 RBI from 2004-06).

And so, Cleveland lavished a four-year, $57 million deal on Hafner, who responded by having a lackluster 2007 by his standards (.266, 24 HR) and a brutal 2008 campaign (.197, 5 HR), which saw him limited to 57 games due to a shoulder injury.

Much of the Indians' hopes this year rests on Hafner, and so far he seems to be responding, hitting .286 with 4 homers in the early part of the campaign. If Hafner can get up to 30-40 HRs, the Tribe will have one of the AL's most-potent offenses.

Player: Barry Zito

Crank treatment: Public copulation
The mercurial left-hander has been absolutely awful since signing his seven-year, $126 million mega-contract with the San Francisco Giants three years ago, and the guy looks like a totally different pitcher than he did during his Oakland days.

In 67 starts with the Giants, Zito is 21-32 with a 4.95 ERA, including 0-2 this season. The league teed off him last year, hitting .270, mainly because his fastball seemed to be losing velocity at an alarming rate, making his wicked curve less effective.

The Giants sent Zito to the bullpen last year, and if Zito continues to struggle, don't be surprised if he ends up there again.

Player:Lastings Milledge

Crank treatment: Car battery jump to tongue
You have to be sucking if the Nationals send you to Triple-A one week into the season. And that's the sad story of a once-hot prospect who is drifting perilously close to bust territory.

Everyone raves that Milledge is a five-tool player, and he showed flashes of potential during his stint with the Mets and early in his Nationals career. But a combination of injuries, immaturity and an inability to not swing are derailing his career.

Milledge went .167 with 10 Ks as the Nats' leadoff hitter and wasn't much better out in the field. Milledge is too talented not to get another shot, but with a glut of outfielders on the Nats, he'll have to make some strides to avoid another trip back to Triple-A.

Player: Dontrelle Willis

Crank treatment: Defibrillator shock
A former Rookie of the Year and 20-game winner, Willis started struggling in 2006, but still was a respectable 12-12 with a 3.87 ERA. However, he led the majors with 19 hit batsmen, a sign of things to come.

Traded to Detroit and signed to a big extension in 2007, Willis began falling apart, going 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA that year and getting sent down to Single-A in 2008 after several disastrous starts.

After a shaky spring, the Tigers placed Willis on the DL this year for treatment of an anxiety disorder, which sounds strange considering that one of Willis' most-endearing qualities was his upbeat, friendly nature.

Even Willis has said he's unsure about what's going on, stating, "I'm not crazy." Still, it seems hard to imagine that Willis will pitch this year for the Tigers, but with $22 million left on his deal, Detroit's going to want something out of the lefty.

Player: Andruw Jones

Crank treatment: Jump out of plane with no parachute

There are bad seasons, and then there's Andruw Jones' 2008 season—arguably the worst season of all time by a reputable player. Fat, listless and lost, Jones hit an embarrassing .158 with three HR before the Dodgers essentially told him to go away for the rest of the year.

How could one of the league's top players (if not slightly overrated) completely fall off the face of the Earth? Things got so bad for Jones that he signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Rangers for this season that paid him $500,000—a far cry from the $36 million deal he got from the Dodgers a year prior.

Jones has actually been a productive player in spot duty with Texas, hitting .500 in 14 at-bats. He's been doing and saying the right things to repair his reputation, but it's going to take a lot more to prove that the Jones who essentially stole money from the Dodgers last year isn't going to go splat when given an everyday job.