When a team just misses the postseason, fans and analysts alike can often point to certain players and ask, "Why didn't we bench him before?"
Most of the time, these players are former stars or big names with lots of money owed to them, so teams are hesitant to pull the plug. And in other cases, the player is often a former top prospect, with the team holding out hope that he'll eventually tap into the potential that got him that label in the first place. But when's the line crossed, when you can no longer keep waiting for a former star or prospect to perform like one had expected or hoped for? I thought we would look at a few cases today, situations where a player's positive contributions and the motivations for playing them can be put into question, and beg the question, "Should we bench this guy?"
Vladimir Guerrero, designated hitter - Texas
I know the numbers still look decent, with 23 homers and a .300 batting average. But since going 4-for-4 with a double and two home runs on the final day of June, Guerrero has essentially done nothing to help Texas' cause. In 193 plate appearances covering 46 games since the beginning of July, the 35-year-old has batted .239/.290/.367.
A recent hot streak offers some hope, as he's gone 7-for-21 with a double and two home runs in his past five games, and injuries to key contributors have left Guerrero with numerous opportunities. It's tough to see them benching the former star in favor of Jorge Cantu, but I wouldn't be surprised if his playing time was somewhat diminished if and when Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler come off the disabled list.
A.J. Pierzynski, catcher, Mark Kotsay, designated hitter - Chicago (AL)
If the White Sox actually want to contend, maybe they shouldn't focus on adding big names like Adam Dunn and Manny Ramirez so much, and actually recognize that the holes in their lineup go way further than merely missing a big bopper. Obviously adding a big bat like that would've gotten Kotsay out of the lineup, which would be an absolutely huge upgrade.
But they didn't do that, and they're committing another lineup travesty by sending Pierzynski out there with such regularity. Not only has the once-beloved catcher played quite poorly this season, but his back-up, Ramon Castro, has been absolutely killing the ball when he's gotten a chance to play. In 95 PA, Castro has been worth slightly more than 7 runs above average. Pierzynski, on the other hand, has easily offset Castro's positive contributions, as he's been 13 runs below average offensively in 400 PA on the year.
The White Sox have done a lot of weird things this year. They refused to use a real DH and totally screwed the middle of their lineup. They insisted upon batting Juan Pierre leadoff every single day. They've had Omar Vizquel as their primary third baseman for most of the season. They traded Dan Hudson for Edwin Jackson. Everyone knew about all of these things already, though. What people haven't really talked about, though, is how many at-bats the Sox have wasted on playing Pierzynski instead of Castro.
Carlos Gomez, center field - Milwaukee
I know he's just coming off the disabled list, but I'm basically just saying that they can't give this guy back his center field job right now. Not with the way that Lorenzo Cain's been playing.
The 24-year-old Cain became a bit of an afterthought in the organization after an ugly 2009 season, but he came on really strong this year in the minors and has played exceptionally in his first 18 games with Milwaukee. He's been the team's primary center field since they traded Jim Edmonds to the Reds, and at this point I have a tough time believing that the Brewers would be better off with Gomez.
His .315/.367/.426 line isn't totally sustainable given his BABIP, but this is a continuation of his strong performance from both Double-A and Triple-A this season - not to mention that it wouldn't take much to top Gomez's .228/.285/.348 line. Cain might not be the defender that Gomez is in center, but he's still pretty good, and he's looking far more like the team's center fielder of the future right now than Gomez. The nearly 25-year-old former Mets farmhand is really running out of time to prove that he's capable of being good enough offensively to stick in the majors.
Orlando Cabrera, shortstop - Cincinnati
Like with Gomez, he's been on the disabled list in recent weeks. But his return is expected to happen after their current road stand, and presumably the Reds expect him to take over as the team's primary shortstop upon returning.
That's going to make this team worse, though. I know that Cabrera was a very good everyday shortstop as recently as 2008, but right now the Reds have a younger shortstop with an equally strong defensive reputation that's actually hitting the ball pretty well. The 27-year-old Paul Janish has never really hit like this before, but his overall numbers seem to indicate some legitimate, sustainable improvement offensively from the defensive-minded shortstop.
While Cabrera's UZR numbers have once again been strong this season, they were awfully ugly last season, and it's much easier to buy into a shortstop being an asset defensively when he's about to turn 28 like Janish rather than 36 like O-Cab. ZiPS projects similar offensive performance from both of them from here on out, but given Janish's advantages in youth, health and the fact he's regarded as a very strong defender at shortstop, I have a tough time believing that Cabrera's return means an upgrade to the Reds' lineup.
Jose Guillen, right fielder - San Francisco
Cody Ross is a much better all-around player than Guillen, Andres Torres has been the best player on the team so far this year, and Pat Burrell seems far more likely to maintain his strong NL resurgence. The former Royal simply isn't one of the team's best three outfielders, and I haven't even mentioned Aaron Rowand or Nate Schierholtz yet.
Sure, the Giants can mix and match their outfielders given the versatility of Torres, Ross and Rowand, and they presumably will take that route. But their best outfield is going to have Burrell in left, Torres in center and Ross in right. I suppose a platoon in right field is one possibility though. Despite both Ross and Guillen being right-handed hitters, Guillen's actually hit RHP much better in the past two seasons. With all of that said, keeping Ross in the outfield compared to Guillen would also provide the team with a nice boost defensively.
And before anyone mentions that Guillen's gone 13-for-35 (.371) since joining the Giants, I'd like to mention that he's walking in less than 3% of his PA's while hitting for pretty much no power. So no, I don't think he's going through a NL rebirth like Burrell.
Josh Bell, third base - Baltimore
This one is obviously more about the future than the present, but Bell simply doesn't look like he's ready to handle MLB pitching at this point. His .225/.242/.326 batting line is pretty ugly, and it gets a lot worse if you take out his recent 3-for-4 with 2 HR game on August 24.
His numbers in Triple-A were good-not-great, but the holes in his offensive game were pretty quickly exposed by the best pitchers in the world. His contact and whiff rates are simply awful, and this is in spite of a very aggressive approach. I get that the Orioles are trying to get Bell some MLB experience in games that don't really matter, but I just have a hard time seeing how this kid is learning when he's so clearly overmatched.
The minor league season is running out and Norfolk is not making the playoffs, so the O's want to find at-bats for Bell somewhere. I'm just skeptical that struggling mightily for an awful team is really going to teach Bell that much.
Jason Kendall, catcher, Yuniesky Betancourt, shortstop, Chris Getz, second base - Kansas City
I won't spend too much time on these three, as they've all been clearly sub-par players this season. Unfortunately, the former two are under contract in 2011 and the latter is under team control until after the 2014 season, so the team will probably make benching them harder than it should be.
Even if the alternatives, such as Brayan Pena and Mike Aviles, aren't particularly exciting, at the very least they're somewhat young, cost-controlled, and offer some upside. Of the three guys above, the same thing can really only be said for Getz, and that's while acknowledging that his best-case scenario is probably a solid offensive-minded second baseman that hits at the top of the order.
The Royals already moved some dead weight from their lineup by dealing Scott Podsednik, Jose Guillen and Rick Ankiel. Maybe it's time that they fully commit and rid themselves of Yuni and Kendall, too.