One of the most difficult things for a manager and organization to decide is when to cut bait with a veteran player. What's a slump, what's a slow start, and what's career crisis?
The Houston Astros kept waiting for Carlos Gomez to do something: to adjust, to get healthy, to fix whatever was causing his struggles. He's only 30, and they gave up a lot to get him from the Milwaukee Brewers last July, when they thought they had added the final piece of a playoff-bound team, so it made sense to give him time to start producing.
Maybe they gave him too much time. They gave Gomez more than 300 plate appearances this season, but after he hit .210/.272/.322, he was finally designated for assignment on Wednesday, which means he has been removed from the 40-man roster and the Astros have 10 days to trade him, have a team claim him on waivers or release him.
Among 196 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, Gomez ranked 191st in wOBA. His Defensive Runs Saved total, once outstanding -- he won a Gold Glove in 2013 -- sits at minus-6 this year. He simply wasn't contributing, and he has been a key reason that the Astros are 8 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the NL West.
Of course, it was a risk to trade for Gomez in the first place. The Mets had agreed to a deal with the Brewers before seeing Gomez's medicals, which showed issues with his hip; they backed out and instead acquired Yoenis Cespedes. We don't know if the Astros didn't see the issues or simply ignored what they saw. Either way, the trade backfired.
After the Mets backed out, Scott Boras, Gomez's agent, said, "He's in first-class physical condition without issue. We monitor our players closely. If there was ever an issue with him, we would have him seen by experts in a particular area. He has not been seen by any outside physicians this year. Other than a hamstring issue, he's been in great physical health. He plans on playing in the big leagues for the next 15 years."
Typical Boras bluster? Probably. If not, Gomez's decline is even more inexplicable. Gomez has always been an aggressive hitter, and the numbers don't show any big change in his approach. He is simply swinging-and-missing like never before, from 27 percent of the time in 2013 to more than 35 percent this year. His miss rate on pitches outside the strike zone is even worse, from a career rate of around 42 percent to more than 52 percent. When he does make contact? He isn't hitting the ball as hard as normal.
The Astros' outfield has been a problem all season, even with George Springer having a solid season (though he has slumped of late). Colby Rasmus is currently on the DL with an inner ear cyst that has affected his play -- he went 3-for-66 after July 2 when he tried to play through it. Jake Marisnick has been terrible, with a .265 in nearly 200 PAs, and Preston Tucker is hitting .169. Last year, Houston's outfield ranked 19th in the majors in wOBA. This season, it's 28th, ahead of only the Braves and Phillies.
Back to the drawing board.