Struggling MLB Players Who Most Desperately Need a Change of Scenery
Four players who qualify as "change of scenery" candidates changed teams yesterday in two separate trades. These players had run out of chances with their teams because of poor performance but have enough talent where they could still turn things around with a fresh start.
In a deal that sent starting pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles, the Cubs received two former prospects—Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop—with big-time arms and major league experience that are too inconsistent to trust on a contending team like the Orioles.
Arrieta, who began the season in the O's rotation after a strong spring, was back in the minors after four shaky starts. The 27-year-old earned another start in mid-June, but he failed to impress in what ended up being his last shot to stick in Baltimore.
Despite having the ability to dominate on occasion, Arrieta has never been able to string together more than one or two good consecutive starts. He'll begin his Cubs career in the minors before joining the big league rotation later this season, when he won't have to worry about losing his job if he doesn't pitch well.
Heading straight to the major league club is Strop, who was the O's top setup man during their 93-win season in 2012. The 28-year-old benefited from a change of scenery when the Rangers gave up on him late in 2011, sending him to Baltimore for veteran reliever Mike Gonzalez.
Strop flourished immediately, allowing just one earned run in 12.1 innings to finish out the year before his breakout last season (2.44 ERA, three saves, 24 holds). The magic ran out in 2013, however, as Strop posted a 7.25 ERA with 15 walks and 24 strikeouts in 22.1 innings before being sent to the Cubs, where he'll have a good chance to work his way into the late-inning mix.
In another move involving the Cubs, former closer Carlos Marmol was traded to the Dodgers for veteran Matt Guerrier, who had been designated for assignment on June 30 after posting a 4.80 ERA in 34 appearances.
Both teams are in need of late-inning bullpen help and neither Marmol, designated for assignment on June 25, nor Guerrier, who is in the last year of a three-year, $12 million contract, were going to be part of the solution. It's worth a shot to see if either veteran can turn things around on a new team.
The 30-year-old Marmol still has the ability to dominate—this stat line is from a recent four-appearance span last month: 4 IP, 0 R, H, 0 BB, 8 K, 2 holds—but his implosions were becoming far too common, and the Cubs felt he was becoming a distraction.
If he can regain his form from the second half of 2012 (1.52 ERA, 29.2 IP, 17 BB, 39 K, 12-for-13 in save opportunities), the Dodgers could have a formidable late-inning duo in Marmol and Kenley Jansen. If not, which is more likely, than they can cut ties on what was a low-risk acquisition.
Here are six other players who could benefit from a change of scenery and could get that opportunity this month.
Joba Chamberlain, RP, New York Yankees
In 2007, a then 21-year-old Joba Chamberlain broke into the majors and quickly showed why the Yankees had chosen him in the first round of the previous year's draft. Working out of the bullpen, the right-hander debuted in August and allowed just one earned run while walking six and striking out 34 in 24 regular-season innings.
His first full big league season was just as impressive, despite moving from the bullpen to the rotation in June and then going back to the bullpen late in the season. The results were terrific from both roles, as he finished with a 2.31 ERA, 14 walks and 44 strikeouts in 35 innings of relief and a 2.76 ERA, 25 walks and 74 strikeouts in 65.1 innings over 12 starts.
Perhaps his arm wasn't prepared for the bouncing back and forth, because he wasn't the same pitcher in 2009, posting a 4.75 ERA with only 133 strikeouts in 157.1 innings (31 starts, one relief appearance). The Yankees hoped he'd regain his dominant form as a reliever by moving back to the bullpen the following season. He was pretty good in 2010 (4.40 ERA, 71.2 IP, 22 BB, 77 K) and off to a strong start in 2011 (2.83 ERA, 28.2 IP, 7 BB, 24 K), but Tommy John surgery ended his season prematurely.
Since returning to the mound last August, results have been mixed. He finished the 2012 season with 10.1 consecutive scoreless innings while walking just one batter and striking out 13. After allowing four earned runs in his first two games of this season, he didn't allow a run over his next 10 innings. His last 8.2 innings, however, have resulted in nine earned runs and 14 hits.
A free agent after the season, Chamberlain's best shot to boost his value might be out of the spotlight of New York and with a team that can possibly ease him back into a high-leverage role, which the Yankees currently cannot trust him with anymore.
Phil Coke, LHP, Detroit Tigers
One of the unsung heroes of the Tigers' playoff run of 2012, Coke stepped up with closer Jose Valverde struggling and ended up saving two postseason games while allowing just one earned run and striking out 13 hitters over 10.2 innings.
Coke's impressive October hasn't carried over to 2013, unfortunately. The 30-year-old has a 6.29 ERA, allowing at least one run in 10 of 25 appearances. Drew Smyly (2.16 ERA, nine holds) has done an exceptional job taking over as the primary lefty out of the bullpen, so Coke isn't likely to get his high-leverage role back in Detroit.
The Tigers could use Coke solely against left-handed hitters—he's held them to a .211 batting average (8-for-38). But he could also be the odd man out if they can acquire a more reliable reliever by the trade deadline.
Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
An obvious "change of scenery" candidate, Ethier might not get that chance because of a contract that guarantees him about $80 million through 2017. He's not so bad where the Dodgers would just cut him and eat the entire contract or even trade him for a fringe prospect and eat most of his contract.
Once Carl Crawford returns from the disabled list, the 31-year-old Ethier will be a pretty good fourth outfielder that just makes way too much money. He's very unlikely to get a fresh start with another team in 2013 considering the contract and his declining production (.710 OPS in 79 games), but the Dodgers could try again in the offseason. And the next offseason. And so on.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants
Just because the Giants are in last place and have a less-than-impressive 25-man roster doesn't mean their season is over. They're only three games out in a very winnable NL West. But maybe it's about time to shake things up a bit. Trading the 2012 World Series MVP might be a good move for the team and for Pablo Sandoval, who has seen his OPS dip to .700 during his current 1-for-24 slump.
The Giants had reportedly asked the 26-year-old third baseman to shed some weight during his most recent disabled list stint, which has been something of a recurring theme in San Francisco during the "Kung Fu Panda" era. But then he continues to hit and all is forgotten until his next injury, and the question of his weight comes up again.
At this point, I'm guessing that Sandoval's success in the city of San Francisco makes it difficult to stay motivated enough to keep the weight off. Trading him to another team where he isn't a World Series hero might be what he needs to save his career.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox
Before Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes burst onto the MLB scene, another powerfully built Cuban named Dayan Viciedo was sort of a big deal.
Signed to a four-year, $10 million major league contract by the White Sox prior to the 2009 season, Viciedo was a 19-year-old third baseman with huge power potential and deemed close to being major league-ready. He made his MLB debut as a 21-year-old during the 2010 season and didn't disappoint (.308 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBI in 38 games). Still, he was destined to be moved off the hot corner and spent the next season adapting to a corner outfield spot and recovering from a fractured thumb.
His first full big league season came in 2012, when he played left field regularly and finished the season with a .255 batting average and 25 homers in 147 games. His plate discipline (28 walks and 120 strikeouts) was a major concern, however, and it's being magnified in 2013 now that his power numbers are also down (five home runs in 58 games).
As the struggling White Sox look to trade off a few veterans prior to the deadline, they could also consider sending Viciedo elsewhere as the pressure continues to build in Chicago with every strikeout and with every great game from fellow countrymen Cespedes and Puig.
Brett Wallace, 1B, Houston Astros
With top prospect Jonathan Singleton likely to take over as Houston's regular first baseman by early 2014, the Astros appear to be giving Brett Wallace one last chance to prove he can hit enough to be a big league first baseman or even a designated hitter.
The 26-year-old Wallace has nothing left to prove in the minors—he's been putting up big numbers in Triple-A since 2009—but he hasn't done enough at the big league level to earn a regular spot in the starting lineup during the Astros' rebuilding process.
His 1-for-24 start to the season didn't help. He's 4-for-20 with a homer and triple since his return from Triple-A on June 25, which is a step in the right direction. But Wallace will have to do a lot more to become part of the team's plans for 2014 and beyond. And if not, the Astros would probably be happy to send him to a team that thinks a change of scenery could help.