Wells has resurrected his career since arriving in New York last month.
A majority of early-season slumps are in the past with only a few lingering more than the normal three-to-five weeks it takes for some veterans to get going.
For others, we’re getting to the point where we have to stop calling it a slump and just accept that the player they were projected to be or the player they used to be isn’t showing up in the clubhouse anytime soon or maybe ever.
When moving a player around in the lineup or moving a pitcher from the rotation to the bullpen or vice versa hasn’t done the trick, nor has a trip or two to the minors, it’s probably time to go in another direction.
At some point, an organization will give up on a player and hope another team sees some value and takes on some salary and/or gives up a player or two in return. The acquiring team is usually banking on a “change of scenery” as a reason to take on a player who hasn’t been productive elsewhere.
Only a small percentage of these cases are successful—Vernon Wells and James Loney are the best examples from this season—but enough players have resurrected their career on another team or just finally figured things out after moving on from their original organization to go this route when everything else has failed.
Here are seven players who could benefit the most from a change of scenery.
When you’re the second overall pick in the amateur draft, expectations tend to be pretty high. Dustin Ackley was actually on pace to live up to those expectations when he reached the majors two years after the Mariners drafted him in 2009. He posted a .766 OPS in 90 games as a 23-year-old rookie.
Instead of progressing in year two of his big league career, though, Ackley had a mediocre season (.622 OPS in 153 games). Hoping to rebound from a sophomore slump, the 25-year-old has been even worse (.584 OPS) through 32 games in 2013, and prospect Nick Franklin (.991 OPS in Triple-A) could be in line to take his job soon.
A move to the bottom third of the order didn’t help. Maybe a demotion to Triple-A will help. Or they can send him packing to a team who still believes he can at least be the player he was as a rookie.
One of the better non-closers in baseball from 2010 to 2011 (2.62 ERA, 5.5 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 9.1 K/9, 66 holds), Daniel Bard opened the 2012 season in the Red Sox rotation in hopes that he could also become a force as a starter. The experiment was over after 10 shaky starts (5.30 ERA, 36 BB, 34 K in 54.1 innings), and he was back in the minors to transition back into the dominant reliever he had been.
Only it never happened. Bard has yet to regain his prior form. Since his stint as a starter ended, he’s walked 37 in 43 minor league innings. The 27-year-old has allowed six earned runs with eight walks and six strikeouts in 11 Double-A innings in 2013.
A first-place Red Sox team, despite injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, isn’t likely to have a spot for such an inconsistent pitcher. But I can name at least a half-dozen teams that aren’t likely to remain in the playoff race very long and would be happy to let Bard try and figure out his issues in the big league ‘pen.
Despite a stellar 2012 season (2.21 ERA, 34 holds) as the Cardinals’ primary setup man, Mitchell Boggs was sent to the minors after just 14 appearances in 2013. It was probably necessary, though. He was bad in half of those appearances and lost the closer’s gig that he began the year with after an elbow injury knocked Jason Motte out of action.
The 29-year-old has rebounded with a pair of scoreless outings in Triple-A, but with Edward Mujica perfect in nine save opportunities and the dynamic duo of Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez capable of shutting down teams in the seventh and eighth innings, Boggs might not get another shot in a high-leverage role with the Cardinals.
He could get that chance elsewhere, though, with more than a few contending teams in need of some bullpen help. A few solid weeks in the minors and several of them wouldn't mind taking a flier on Boggs.
White Sox fans are already familiar with the Adam Dunn that showed up in 2013. It’s the same guy who posted a .569 OPS in 2011, the first year of his four-year, $56 million contract he signed as a free agent. Year two was much better (.800 OPS, 41 HR), but he’s hitting just .145 through 30 games this season, including six homers, 11 walks and 41 strikeouts.
Just because he’s on pace for 30 homers doesn’t mean he should stay in the lineup when he’s getting on base at only a .242 clip. For whatever reason, the consistency he showed over his first 10 big league seasons when he had a .902 OPS and averaged 35 homers per year is gone since he arrived in the American League and started getting most of his at-bats as the designated hitter.
The Sox have even gone as far as giving the 33-year-old two starts in left field, his regular position during some of his best big league seasons. Since that’s not an option they can go with more than a handful of times per season, they’ll have to either ride it out or find a team that believes he can still become a force again with a change of scenery.
Unfortunately for the Giants, hopes of Tim Lincecum bouncing back from a poor 2012 aren’t looking very promising. He’s not been very good in four of his seven starts, and he walked seven batters in another despite managing to hold his opponent to two unearned runs in five innings.
A free agent at season’s end, teams aren’t going to offer much for a few months of a pitcher who hasn’t been good since 2011. Plus, the Giants won it all in 2012 without the dominant version of Lincecum, so maybe they’re not all that worried about this and are willing to ride it out.
Before they defend their title, though, they’ll need to make it back to the playoffs. Replacing the 28-year-old with a more dependable starter, even if much less talented, could give them a better chance. How about a trade with the White Sox, a team in desperate need of a spark and possibly willing to bank on Lincecum giving it to them, in exchange for Dylan Axelrod (four straight quality starts) and one of their top prospects?
Crazy idea, right? But for which side? Axelrod is pitching better than Lincecum, by far. But what if the change of scenery does the trick and Lincecum can become the pitcher he was a couple years ago. Along with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, the White Sox would have quite a top three in their rotation if Lincecum could turn things around.
It’s definitely a risk, especially if the Sox take on salary and give up a prospect, but it’s one that a last-place team currently sitting at 14 wins and 18 losses can make. And while it’s a risk for the Giants, as well, they might just be better off not wondering what they’re going to get every fifth day from Lincecum.
Unlike 2012 when Carlos Marmol’s return to the closer’s role was inevitable because there were simply no other good options after he was demoted, he’ll now have to wait in line as veteran Kevin Gregg (8.1 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 4 BB, 10 K) has a hold on the job now, and Kyuji Fujikawa, expected back from the disabled list on Friday, would probably be next in line.
For now, all the Cubs can do is hope the 30-year-old Marmol, who will be a free agent after the season, can avoid having too many meltdowns like the one he had on Saturday (0 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB) before trying to unload him on a team that thinks he can repeat his second-half performance from last season (1.52 ERA, 12-in-13 save opportunities).
If Justin Smoak was a center fielder who played great defense and was capable of stealing 30-plus bases from the leadoff spot, then we could point at his .344 on-base percentage and find a silver lining despite his other deficiencies. Since he’s a first baseman who is supposed to be providing power and knocking in runs from the middle of the lineup, the focus cannot move away from his one homer and five runs batted in (3-for-24 with runners in scoring position) through 32 games.
A former prized prospect of the Texas Rangers, Smoak was acquired in the deal for Cliff Lee in 2010 and was instantly viewed as the Mariners’ answer at first base for the next several years.
Three years later and his career OPS is at .681 in 387 career games. Time is beginning to run out on the 26-year-old, who could very well be headed back to the minors soon and possibly out of the organization if they can find a taker.