I have to think one of the most difficult decisions a manager has to make is when to tell a veteran star he is moving down in the lineup ... or is being relegated to part-time duty ... or is not playing at all.
Sometimes the player makes the decision himself. Mike Schmidt and Ken Griffey Jr. walked away in the middle of seasons. Sometimes the manager might be tied down by the status of the player, reminding me of an old Earl Weaver quote, “No promises. None. If you don’t make any promises, then you won’t break any. Don’t back yourself into a corner.”
How much longer before the managers of these struggling veterans will feel backed into a corner?
Magglio Ordonez, Tigers: After going 0-for-4 on Monday, Maggs is hitting .151 with one extra-base hit and one RBI in 73 at-bats. His one RBI came on a grounder to shortstop. This isn’t a slump; this is a career crisis. He is 37 and has battled injuries, but the career .310 hitter hasn’t hit less than .290 since his rookie season and hit .303 in 2010. Jim Leyland has kept Ordonez in the No. 3 spot all season. He’s also kept Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot all season. I don’t want to say Leyland is asleep at the helm, so I’ll just say he apparently has more confidence in these guys than I do. As one Tigers blog penned after Ordonez got the day off Sunday, “Don Kelly hits third, Jim Leyland declared genius.” Can you tell the Tigers are in a long losing streak? As for Ordonez, his line-drive percentage on balls in play is 20 percent, right at his career norm of 20.3, so it appears he’s hitting into a lot of bad luck, as indicated by a .172 average on balls in play. He’ll break out of it almost any day. I’m almost sure of it.
Aubrey Huff, Giants: Huff went 0-for-3 Monday, dropping his season line to .190/.257/.290 (BA/OBP/SLG), as the Giants were shut out by Tom Gorzelanny and Drew Storen. It was the third shutout in less than a week for the Giants, after 2-0 and 3-0 losses to James McDonald and Jason Marquis. Not exactly like getting blanked by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Huff’s numbers are down across the board from his big 2010: walk rate down slightly, strikeout rate up slightly, line-drive percentage down, ground ball percentage up. All the trends are negative and, at 34 years old, cause for major concern. Brandon Belt has been playing the outfield in Triple-A, but he might want to keep his first-base glove close by.
Vernon Wells, Angels: The Angels’ left fielder hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Dan Wheeler in a 9-5 loss to the Red Sox, raising his season totals to .172/.218/.267 with two home runs. Wells isn’t too concerned with his slow start, tweeting, “I love how people panic after two weeks of the season. Never panic, always persevere! Too blessed to be stressed.” Of course, he tweeted that April 17. Wells has some major red flags brewing: His line-drive percentage before Monday’s game was 7.7 percent -- well below his career norm of 18.3 percent, indicating his sub-.200 average on balls in play isn’t all bad luck. It’s also worth noting that while Wells hit 31 home runs last season, he was one of many Blue Jays to benefit from the friendly air conditioning at Rogers Centre; he hit just .227/.301/.407 on the road. At 32, he’s the youngest guy on this list, but he looks like a much older athlete to me, with declining speed and a few extra pounds. Call-me-crazy prediction: Wells will not exercise his right to opt out of his contract after this season. (Only three more seasons, Angels fans.)
Raul Ibanez, Phillies: ESPN Insider looked at Ibanez the other day, and I tend to agree that a “big chunk of his struggles are attributable to making very poor contact when he does connect.” Like Ordonez, Ibanez doesn’t offer much in the field, and when Domonic Brown returns from his rehab stint in the minors, Ibanez might see much reduced playing time. I hope he rebounds but he’s turning 38 in a month. I won’t completely write him off -- hey, this is a guy who had just 112 career RBIs in his 20s but now is approaching 1,000 for his career -- but the end could sadly be near.
Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, Orioles: The two vets showed signs of life in Monday’s 6-2 loss to the White Sox, combining for five hits, including Lee’s second home run. Vlad the (former) Impaler has long been one of my favorite players, but it’s painful to see him hacking away these days. He’s hitting .274 -- which also happens to be his on-base percentage, as he’s yet to draw a walk. He’s connected for four home runs, but with three GIDP, Vlad might join that elusive more-double-plays-than-walks club, entered in recent seasons by the likes of Miguel Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez and A.J. Pierzynski. At 35, Lee is a year younger than Guerrero, and his home run lifted his line to .248/.325/.333. His BABIP is actually more than .300, so his main problem has been a high strikeout rate and lack of power when he does connect. Maybe he’ll warm up with the weather.
"Maybe." I’m sure countless managers have thought that through the years, waiting for the vets to heat up with the summer. Sometimes they do.
And sometimes the bat remains a millisecond too slow.
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