20 MLB Players on the Hot Seat One Month from the All-Star Break

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IJune 12, 2013

20 MLB Players on the Hot Seat One Month from the All-Star Break

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    The drawn-out structure of the MLB season allows struggling players ample time to prove themselves. With one month to go until the All-Star break, however, the hot seat is finally making many of them perspire.

    They want desperately to avoid suffering the same fate as veterans Rick Ankiel (New York Mets), Chris Nelson (Los Angeles Angels) and John Baker (San Diego Padres), who all were recently designated for assignment.

    Less experienced players on this list could be directly demoted to the minor leagues as a hot-shot prospect progresses or an injured regular returns to full strength. For impending free agents like John Buck, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, the risk is being traded to another team.

    The following individuals have officially been warned to improve their performance immediately to preserve their current major league jobs.

Deunte Heath (Chicago White Sox)

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    Jake Peavy busted a rib, which led to the promotion of yet another no-name pitcher to the Chicago White Sox.

    Relief pitcher Deunte Heath, 27, isn't going to be utilized often. The last time Robin Ventura handed him a ball on May 13, the right-hander allowed six baserunners in a single inning to put a close contest out of reach. He has an 11.12 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched so far this season. 

    To make his stay in the big leagues more than temporary, Heath must take advantage of very limited appearances.

Clete Thomas (Minnesota Twins)

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    The Minnesota Twins evidently didn't put much stock in the .961 OPS Clete Thomas posted at Triple-A this year. Otherwise, he would have been called up much sooner.

    In reality, the 29-year-old is a mediocre hitter with lots of outfield experience—it should be enough to keep him on the roster for several weeks.

    His offensive abilities—or lack thereof—will come under closer scrutiny when Aaron Hicks nears a return to full strength. So far, not so good. Thomas managed to get on base only once in his first 13 plate appearances (.077 OBP).

Jimmy Paredes (Houston Astros)

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    Houston Astros manager Bo Porter wants to be absolutely clear about the team's center field position, writes MLB.com's William Boor:

    Brandon Barnes, Jimmy Paredes and J.D. Martinez have played well in Maxwell's absence, but Porter insists Maxwell has not lost his spot.

    "Justin Maxwell is our starting center fielder," Porter said. "He's only not here because he had an injury, so the sooner we can get him back, the better."

    The skipper understandably thinks highly of Maxwell, who led the Astros in home runs (18) last season despite only 352 plate appearances. J.D. Martinez also has a vote of confidence from Porter, according to Boor.

    Barnes' stellar fielding leaves Paredes vulnerable to a demotion in the coming days. He has the lowest OPS and wOBA of any position player on the active roster, not to mention a propensity for striking out. The switch-hitter looks particularly over-matched against southpaws with an alarming .318 OPS.

Leury Garcia (Texas Rangers)

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    Shortstop Jurickson Profar has shown flaws since being recalled from the minors, but the Texas Rangers would be doing themselves a disservice by sending him down once Ian Kinsler returns. The top prospect is markedly better than Leury Garcia, particularly from an offensive standpoint.

    The latter has contributed just one extra-base hit this season: a triple on April 14 (51 at-bats). 

    It's possible that Profar abruptly falls into a rookie slump and strains to put balls in play, and more costly defensive errors would merit a demotion.

    That said, Garcia is currently under much more pressure to perform.

Chien-Ming Wang (Toronto Blue Jays)

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    The night before Chien-Ming Wang made his 2013 debut, R.A. Dickey coughed up seven runs to the Chicago White Sox in foggy conditions that included a 70-minute delay.

    The anemic White Sox lineup hadn't mustered five-plus runs against any of the previous 18 opposing starters it faced.

    Wang gets bonus points for surviving into the eighth inning. He also lucked out when MLB.com reported that Brandon Morrow's comeback would be delayed several weeks due to forearm tightness.

    There's no doubt that the right-hander will get other opportunities with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he'll be optioned down to the minors by the All-Star break if this mediocrity persists.

Ryan Flaherty (Baltimore Orioles)

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    Second baseman Brian Roberts has entered the "homestretch" of his rehab from a hamstring injury, according to Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore. The two-time All-Star is "not planning on spending a lot of time" in the minors, so barring any setbacks, be could return to the Baltimore Orioles lineup in late June.

    Ryan Flaherty has occupied Roberts' position for most of 2013, but continuing his offensive ineptitude would not merit a roster spot. A rare multi-hit game recently boosted his batting line...to .176/.243/.264. Still pretty awful.

    Roberts tends to disappoint the team with prolonged stays on the disabled list. Even if his body betrays him again, there's only so much tolerance the O's can have for Flaherty, who's essentially an automatic out.

Cory Gearrin (Atlanta Braves)

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    The Atlanta Braves will presumably demote a member of their bullpen to the minors to clear space for Brandon Beachy. The right-hander stretched his arm out with 94 pitches on June 8, writes David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which keeps him on track to make his season debut on June 18.

    Cory Gearrin appears to be the weakest link.

    The 27-year-old has seen his strikeout rate slip dramatically in the past month (8.2 K/9 through May 10, 3.8 K/9 since), which has caused his earned run average to triple. Plus, there were those embarrassing implosions against the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, two of baseball's most anemic offenses.

    If banished to Gwinnett, however, he would surely be back in the big leagues later this summer.

Luis Cruz (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    Luis Cruz became a great story for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

    After several forgettable cups of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, he earned semi-regular starts in L.A. by batting .297/.322/.431. Smooth glove work on the left side of the infield made him all the more valuable.

    Now, defense is the only thing keeping Cruz in the majors. With an OPS that's literally half of what it was in 2012, the 29-year-old should be thankful for Hanley Ramirez's injuries and Dee Gordon's futility.

    However, Gordon has shown blazing speed and an improving approach at Triple-A that could soon merit a call up.

Wily Peralta (Milwaukee Brewers)

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    Wily Peralta technically turned in a quality start against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night. Considering the pathetic opponent and Peralta's lone strikeout over six innings, perhaps we ought to redefine the phrase altogether.

    No one disputes that he has a high ceiling, but the Dominican right-hander clearly isn't close to reaching it. None of Peralta's 2013 outings have lasted past seven innings, and overall, the opposition bats .304 against him.

    Though none of the other young arms in the Milwaukee Brewers system provide quite as much promise, several might be more effective in the short term.

Yuniesky Betancourt (Milwaukee Brewers)

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    The Milwaukee Brewers already gave up on one veteran infielder this month (Alex Gonzalez), so why should Yuniesky Betancourt have immunity?

    In his second tour of duty with the Brew Crew, he got off to a fiery start but abruptly fizzled out. Betancourt hasn't homered since May 7, and during the drought, he has totaled just four extra-base hits. His strikeout rate is atypically high, which has caused his average to tumble to .218.

    Manager Ron Roenicke tells Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he's intrigued by newly acquired Juan Francisco and his ability at first base:

    He could become a fixture there while the Brewers wait on the return of Corey Hart, who has shown little progress lately in fully recovering from the knee injury that has kept him out all season.

    "From what I had heard he is a plus-defender and he's done very well so far," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Yuniesky (Betancourt) has played great for us, too. Hopefully we can get that from Francisco, too. We know what kind of power and potential he has."

    Hart's activation from the disabled list should spell the end for Betancourt's stint in Milwaukee.

Ty Wigginton (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    The St. Louis Cardinals have absolutely no use for Ty Wigginton. He only started six of their 64 games through June 11 (51 plate appearances), as the team feels more confident in homegrown infielders like Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter and David Freese.

    Wigginton doesn't provide speed, contact hitting or any of the skills desired of a National League bench player. Thriving prospect Kolten Wong is a far better fit.

    Unloading the veteran infielder would be much simpler if he wasn't owed more than $4 million between now and the end of 2014. The Cards won't obsess over getting much back in a trade if Wong continues to produce for their Memphis affiliate.

John Buck (New York Mets)

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    John Buck has tumbled back to ordinariness after a season-opening power surge. All in all, it's still shaping up to be his best campaign since 2010.

    Whatever remains of Buck's $6 million salary won't be difficult to move considering his defensive adequacy and selfless character traits.

    There's finally some urgency to make a deal now that catcher-of-the-future Travis d'Arnaud is making progress in his recovery from a fractured foot. He tweeted on Monday: "I can start buying left shoes again!!"

    Unless Buck miraculously leads the New York Mets back to relevancy, there's little to gain from keeping him around.

Ian Stewart (Chicago Cubs)

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    There was clearly some frustration brewing under Ian Stewart's skin in May when he spoke with Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. The third baseman "would've liked to have been given a chance" to contribute for the Chicago Cubs, even for a brief period.

    Instead, he's been shifted to first base to accommodate Josh Vitters. On Monday night, he vented on Twitter about earning big money for Chicago's Triple-A affiliate, but those tweets (and his account) have since been taken down.

    The original text was: "why would I quit? I'm making 2 mill in AAA like u would give that up by quitting."

    Team president Theo Epstein wasn't amused. ESPN Chicago reports that he'll be suspended without pay for an indefinite length of time.

    As much as the Cubs don't want to be left on the hook for Stewart's $2 million contract, his .168/.286/.372 batting line suggests he would flop in the majors anyway.

Brendan Ryan (Seattle Mariners)

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    Compared to the past few summers, Brendan Ryan has dropped off a bit in advanced defensive metrics. It's unclear if the Seattle Mariners realize that, but you can't blame them for seeking a shortstop with more all-around ability.

    Change is no longer imminent. Since Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported that Ryan was being benched, his offensive stats have soared from humiliating depths to match last season's output.

    Still, if Dustin Ackley continues to rake at Triple-A, the M's may try pairing him with Nick Franklin in the middle infield on a daily basis instead.

    Ryan is in his walk year, which makes him especially susceptible to departure if Seattle doesn't improve soon.

Carlos Marmol (Chicago Cubs)

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    Chicago Cubs middle relief has question marks beyond Carlos Marmol, but you would think that there's a readily available replacement for him with slightly better command. The 30-year-old is pitching to a 7.4 BB/9, a far cry from the 4.2 BB/9 he posted as an All-Star in 2008.

    They put up with Marmol—even gave him a fat contract extension—when he had a dominant strikeout rate. Youth was also on his side, as the Cubs had confidence that with major league experience, he'd develop a repeatable delivery.

    It's no secret that Chicago nearly completed a swap for Dan Haren following the 2012 season. Now, with a bloated earned run average and sub-replacement-level value, the only means of getting rid of him might be outright release.

    On the bright side, he enters June 12 with some momentum: consecutive perfect innings versus the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jeff Francis (Colorado Rockies)

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    Thanks to a dramatically improved pitching staff, the Colorado Rockies haven't faded since their hot start.

    Of course, every club has its weak link. Jeff Francis surrendered seven home runs in his first 40 innings of the season with his lousiest strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2008. 

    Considering his previous success with the organization, guaranteed contract and Drew Pomeranz's recent shakiness at Triple-A, Francis won't exactly be pitching for his job on Thursday. That said, the Rockies cannot tolerate four-and-a-half innings per start from a full-time rotation member.

Clayton Richard (San Diego Padres)

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    Previously a durable workhorse with strike-throwing skills, Clayton Richard has been everything but in 2013.

    His 8.06 ERA is easily the worst in baseball among all pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, according to FanGraphs. Richard's only victory came during an emergency relief appearance where he logged two scoreless frames.

    To his credit, the southpaw has trimmed his walk rate since returning from the disabled list in late May, using fewer bullets to escape jams. For his sake, that trend must continue.

Stephen Drew (Boston Red Sox)

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    Stephen Drew is definitely enjoying the best season of anyone on this list. His plain .228/.324/.394 batting line actually trumps those of many other shortstops. Coupled with smooth defense, Baseball-Reference.com values Drew at 1.7 WAR through his first 52 games.

    Of course, the Boston Red Sox have a capable—and cheap—combination for the left side of their infield: Jose Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks.

    If Drew reverts to his 2008-2010 form, when he contributed ample extra-base hits and struck out less than once every six plate appearances, the Red Sox wouldn't dare shop him.

    Regression is more likely. He has recorded only four hits in his past 22 at-bats entering June 12, whiffing more often than ever.

Joba Chamberlain (New York Yankees)

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    The New York Yankees have an elite bullpen in spite of Joba Chamberlain. The chubby free-agent-to-be doesn't look competent (4.73 ERA, 1.65 WHIP), which is why they gave him a full week off between his most recent appearances.

    With Boone Logan amid a career year, Shawn Kelley striking out everything that moves, Preston Claiborne dominating as a rookie, and David Robertson and Mariano Rivera being themselves, Chamberlain is a misfit. He has allowed far too many baserunners, and the biggest story of the season concerning him was embarrassing, to say the least.

    Rivera was giving an interview, and Chamberlain was nearby talking with family. According to ESPN, Rivera asked Joba to quiet down. After the interview and in front of reporters, Chamberlain told Rivera: "Don't ever shush me."

    Though a non-issue in the clubhouse, this story was later blown out of proportion across the sports world. As expected, everyone sympathized with the all-time great closer, not Chamberlain.

    Between this, drunk driving, celebratory antics and insistence that he can be a starter, he's constantly a distraction. Considering their aforementioned depth (plus Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova refining themselves in the minors), the Yankees don't need to put up with him anymore.

Andre Ethier (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    Rumors of an Andre Ethier trade were born just months after he inked a five-year, $85 million contract extension. Initially, the problem was his ongoing struggles against left-handed pitching late in 2012. Then, Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles wrote that Ethier and manager Don Mattingly aren't exactly buddy-buddy.

    Now, obviously, "Puig-mania" is threatening to swallow him whole. Granted, it's a tiny sample, but the Cuban phenom's 1.382 OPS dwarfs Ethier's .687 mark. Both profile as right fielders, and Yasiel Puig has the superior defensive tools.

    Beyond his usual left-on-left uselessness, Ethier has been disappointing against right-handed pitching as well (.235/.346/.375).

    Both players are safe so long as the Los Angeles Dodgers remain devoid of outfield depth. Scott Van Slyke just joined Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp on the disabled list, reports the Los Angeles Times.

    There's no doubt, however, that ownership has the resources to eat the necessary majority of Ethier's remaining contract and facilitate a move.