Monday, April 1, 2013
It's now or never for these 10 guys
By Jim Bowden
Can Tim Lincecum ever regain his Cy Young Award-winning form? He had better do it soon.
Potential and upside, even track record, can carry a career only so far. At some point, a player has to put up or shut up. Baseball is a results-oriented industry and if the production isn't there, neither are you.
With it being Opening Day in many ballparks around the major leagues, the following are 10 guys for whom it's now or never. The 2013 season must amount to some form of success and some relative progress after two or three seasons of failure and disappointment.
Tim Lincecum | RHP | San Francisco Giants By now the narrative on Lincecum is well-documented: the Giants’ first-round selection and 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft burst on the major league scene in 2008 and achieved rock star status in San Francisco, when he went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA, led the league with 265 strikeouts and won the first of his two Cy Young awards. That began a run of four consecutive All-Star appearances and culminated in a World Series championship in 2010.
However, the 2012 season was a wasted one for Lincecum: He lost velocity on his fastball, then a league-high 15 games, and finally his rotation spot in the postseason. This offseason he cut his hair short and worked hard in the conditioning room hoping to rebound to his dominant 2008 to 2011 form. But he did not have a good spring camp, is due $22 million this year, and is an impending free agent. The Giants never offered him a Matt Cain-type extension because they were always quietly concerned with Lincecum’s size and delivery. The brutal reality is his next contract will be based solely on his 2013 season rather than his career work.
Carl Crawford | LF | Los Angeles Dodgers After serving as one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ best players from 2002 to 2010, Crawford left the Rays for the Boston Red Sox on a seven-year, $142 million deal, and that’s when the nightmare began. He seemingly forgot how to hit or play defense; then came the wrist and elbow injuries. Boston had seen enough and shipped him off to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the biggest trades in baseball history. The wrist has healed; he’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and should be the every-day left fielder and leadoff hitter. However, that sizable shadow at Double-A is with uber-prospect Yasiel Puig, and Crawford must prove this season he still can be the All-Star player he was in Tampa.
Ubaldo Jimenez | RHP | Cleveland Indians When Jimenez signed with the Colorado Rockies in 2001, scouting reports projected him to become a top-of-the-rotation ace. With a fastball touching 99 mph, a nasty slider, effective curve and occasional splitter, it was obvious that his ceiling was as a Cy Young Award winner. Overcoming delivery and release-point issues, Jimenez looked like he had arrived in the first half of 2010, when he went 15-1 by early July. However, Jimenez fell apart in the second half, and has never been the same. Traded to Cleveland, with a club option of $8 million for 2014 or a $1 million buyout, Jimenez needs to get it together quickly or find himself unemployed.
Hal Steinbrenner | Owner | New York Yankees The Yankees had one of the worst offseasons in recent team history. In order to get below the luxury tax threshold, they are intent on keeping payroll below $189 million for 2014. The front office believes a healthy rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, with Mariano Rivera returning to the closer’s role, will be enough for the Yankees to be contenders all season.
They could be right, but when the Yankees get to July and they need to make some moves to win, will they stick to their under-$189-million plan, or deviate to win now? How Hal runs the team when things get tough will be the legacy of his leadership.
Ervin Santana | RHP | Kansas City Royals Santana has been frustratingly brilliant and terrible in his career, ever since he won 16 games in 2006. The Los Angeles Angels traded him to the Royals this offseason, dumping $13 million he’s owed for 2013. Can he regain his velocity and the command of his slider? That will be key for Santana with free agency just six months away: His five-year, $42 million deal expires at the end of this season.
It's now or never for the 35-year-old Roberts to make his comeback from injury.
Roberts once was one of the game’s best leadoff hitters from 2004 through 2009, twice leading the league in doubles and stolen bases as well as appearing in two All-Star Games. He never once appeared on the disabled list. Between 2010 and 2012, however, he became the human disabled list, never able to play more than 60 games in a season because of various injuries. Now trying to make one final comeback at age 35, he knows this might be his last chance to save his career. He’s starting the year batting ninth for the Orioles, with the hopes of eventually regaining the leadoff slot by season’s end.
Neal Huntington | GM | Pittsburgh Pirates Huntington replaced David Littlefield on Sept. 25, 2007, and promptly fired manager Jim Tracy. Huntington has been wheeling and dealing ever since, but the Pirates still haven't had a winning season in his tenure. Rumors are owner Bob Nutting will make a change if the team doesn’t finish with a winning record this season. Huntington's best move to prevent losing his job could be to promote top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon before the season ends. The development of Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte also will play a major role.
Jose Iglesias | SS | Boston Red Sox Iglesias has always been known as a top defensive shortstop but his bat has always been in question. With Stephen Drew trying to come back from a concussion and with Xander Bogaerts developing quickly in the minor leagues, Iglesias is under pressure to prove he’s still a viable prospect and capable of winning the shortstop job in Boston.
Nick Hundley | C | San Diego Padres It was only a year ago Hundley signed a three-year, $9 million deal. However, it wasn’t long before Yasmani Grandal beat him out as the Padres’ No. 1 catcher. Grandal’s positive test for performance-enhancing drugs and subsequent 50-game suspension leaves Hundley with a second chance to produce. With Grandal and top prospect Austin Hedges on the way, Hundley’s fate is likely sealed as either a backup or trade bait. If he can play well in the first 50 games of the season, he could improve his trade value enough to land in Tampa Bay or Houston, teams for which he could be an upgrade behind the plate.
Jonathan Sanchez | LHP | Pittsburgh Pirates Blessed with a lightning left arm, Sanchez’s potential has always outstretched his actual performances. His best season was in 2010, when he went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA with the Giants, striking out 205 hitters in 193 1/3 innings. But very little of today's Sanchez resembles 2010's version. The Pirates have put him in their starting rotation to give him one last chance to save his career. He’s high-risk, high-reward, but Sanchez hasn’t shown anything to warrant more than a short-term audition.