Week Ahead: Can big offseason signings get back on track?

Perhaps Jason Bay will find his power facing AL teams. Maybe the interleague interruption will help Matt Holliday recover his home run swing.

They need some sort of lift. So do Chone Figgins and John Lackey. So far the free agents who signed the largest contracts last offseason are not performing up to their multi-year deals.

How they’re faring as the interleague schedule moves into Day 4 of a 17-day run:

Matt Holliday isn't putting up the kinds of numbers the Cardinals would like.
Matt Holliday isn’t putting up the kinds of numbers the Cardinals would like.

Matt Holliday, Cardinals

The seven-year, $120 million deal handed out by the Cardinals was questioned around baseball, but don’t mention buyer’s remorse to GM John Mozeliak.

The Cardinals keep saying Holliday is close to breaking out, and his .293 average and .370 OBP are not far below his career numbers of .317 and .386. His run-producing numbers, however, are lacking. Holliday is hitting just .206 with runners in scoring position and ranks 10th in RBIs among NL cleanup hitters. He is on pace for 16 homers and 65 RBIs.

More than once, Holliday has reminded the media in St. Louis that he started slowly last season and still managed 24 homers and 109 RBIs.

Facing the team that traded him to St. Louis could help. The A’s, who visit Busch Stadium this weekend, have an AL-worst 5.25 road ERA.

Chone Figgins, Mariners

If nothing else, the Mariners’ season gone wrong has provided another reason why the media should avoid predictions. Picked to contend, the Mariners have spent most of the season in last place. Figgins has played a big part in the disappointment.

One of the game’s top leadoff hitters in 2009, Figgins was signed to a four-year, $36 million deal to hit behind Ichiro Suzuki and give the Mariners a potent 1-2 punch. But Figgins, with as many strikeouts as hits, is hitting .227/.336 — and those numbers are on the upswing. Figgins hasn’t had his average over .230 in two months, and was dropped to ninth in the order last week.

"We’re not just pointing a finger at him," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said last week. "We’re not getting enough run production, and we’re just looking at any way we can. Figgie’s a good player who went through some struggles."

Scouts say Figgins’ failings are easily explainable: Moving him to second base from third just before spring training threw him off, and he hasn’t adjusted. His stats suggest another reason: Figgins, a switch-hitter, is hitting .185 from the left side, more than 100 points below his career .296. His numbers hitting righthanded — .311/.383 — are well above his career averages.

After a rough weekend against the Padres, the majors’ ERA leaders, Figgins and the Mariners finish a long road trip against the Cardinals, who sport the second-best ERA.

John Lackey, Red Sox

With seven wins and three losses, Lackey hasn’t been totally lacking, and he has turned in strong performances in his past two outings. Still, his 4.54 ERA is well above his career 3.85.

What’s the problem? Pitching in the AL East with Fenway Park as your home park is not easy. Lackey’s 5.10 home ERA is more than a run higher than his road ERA. Overall, he is allowing more hits (10.0 per nine innings) and walks (3.9) while striking out fewer (4.9) hitters than he has during any season in his career. And this is just Year 1 of a five-year, $82.5 million contract.

Lackey next starts Thursday against Arizona, which totaled six runs in losing a three-game series at Fenway in 2008.

Jason Bay, Mets

After landing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets, few figured Bay would hit 36 homers like he did for the Red Sox last season. His new home, Citi Field, is not kind to power hitters. But nobody would have guessed Bay would have the same number of homers (four) and fewer RBIs (25 to 26) than teammate Angel Pagan.

Like the others here, Bay hasn’t been a total disappointment. His defense has been better than advertised, and he leads the Mets in runs scored, partly because he has missed only one game. His calm, professional approach also has played well with his new team, which has moved into second place behind strong pitching and improved chemistry.

His next series is at Cleveland, where he has hit three homers in six games.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Perhaps Jason Bay will find his power facing AL teams. Maybe the interleague interruption will help Matt Holliday recover his home run swing.

They need some sort of lift. So do Chone Figgins and John Lackey. So far the free agents who signed the largest contracts last offseason are not performing up to their multi-year deals.

How they’re faring as the interleague schedule moves into Day 4 of a 17-day run:

Matt Holliday isn't putting up the kinds of numbers the Cardinals would like.
Matt Holliday isn’t putting up the kinds of numbers the Cardinals would like.

Matt Holliday, Cardinals

The seven-year, $120 million deal handed out by the Cardinals was questioned around baseball, but don’t mention buyer’s remorse to GM John Mozeliak.

The Cardinals keep saying Holliday is close to breaking out, and his .293 average and .370 OBP are not far below his career numbers of .317 and .386. His run-producing numbers, however, are lacking. Holliday is hitting just .206 with runners in scoring position and ranks 10th in RBIs among NL cleanup hitters. He is on pace for 16 homers and 65 RBIs.

More than once, Holliday has reminded the media in St. Louis that he started slowly last season and still managed 24 homers and 109 RBIs.

Facing the team that traded him to St. Louis could help. The A’s, who visit Busch Stadium this weekend, have an AL-worst 5.25 road ERA.

Chone Figgins, Mariners

If nothing else, the Mariners’ season gone wrong has provided another reason why the media should avoid predictions. Picked to contend, the Mariners have spent most of the season in last place. Figgins has played a big part in the disappointment.

One of the game’s top leadoff hitters in 2009, Figgins was signed to a four-year, $36 million deal to hit behind Ichiro Suzuki and give the Mariners a potent 1-2 punch. But Figgins, with as many strikeouts as hits, is hitting .227/.336 — and those numbers are on the upswing. Figgins hasn’t had his average over .230 in two months, and was dropped to ninth in the order last week.

"We’re not just pointing a finger at him," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said last week. "We’re not getting enough run production, and we’re just looking at any way we can. Figgie’s a good player who went through some struggles."

Scouts say Figgins’ failings are easily explainable: Moving him to second base from third just before spring training threw him off, and he hasn’t adjusted. His stats suggest another reason: Figgins, a switch-hitter, is hitting .185 from the left side, more than 100 points below his career .296. His numbers hitting righthanded — .311/.383 — are well above his career averages.

After a rough weekend against the Padres, the majors’ ERA leaders, Figgins and the Mariners finish a long road trip against the Cardinals, who sport the second-best ERA.

John Lackey, Red Sox

With seven wins and three losses, Lackey hasn’t been totally lacking, and he has turned in strong performances in his past two outings. Still, his 4.54 ERA is well above his career 3.85.

What’s the problem? Pitching in the AL East with Fenway Park as your home park is not easy. Lackey’s 5.10 home ERA is more than a run higher than his road ERA. Overall, he is allowing more hits (10.0 per nine innings) and walks (3.9) while striking out fewer (4.9) hitters than he has during any season in his career. And this is just Year 1 of a five-year, $82.5 million contract.

Lackey next starts Thursday against Arizona, which totaled six runs in losing a three-game series at Fenway in 2008.

Jason Bay, Mets

After landing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets, few figured Bay would hit 36 homers like he did for the Red Sox last season. His new home, Citi Field, is not kind to power hitters. But nobody would have guessed Bay would have the same number of homers (four) and fewer RBIs (25 to 26) than teammate Angel Pagan.

Like the others here, Bay hasn’t been a total disappointment. His defense has been better than advertised, and he leads the Mets in runs scored, partly because he has missed only one game. His calm, professional approach also has played well with his new team, which has moved into second place behind strong pitching and improved chemistry.

His next series is at Cleveland, where he has hit three homers in six games.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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