It is always the most anticipated time of year in sports. The day when the pitchers and catchers blow off the dust and head to Spring Training. Yes Major League Baseball’s 2010 season is right around the corner, and with many of the players ready to report, I can’t help but take a look at some of the names still without employment. I know you will look at some of these guys and think, “Why doesn’t our team get this guy?” It all boils down to dollars, cents, and age. So here is a look at some guys still sleeping in late, waiting for the phone to ring:
RF Jermaine Dye: 2009, White Sox, .251 average, 27 home runs, 81 R.B.I. 36 years old
Dye showed he still has some pop left in his bat, and can prove to be a good bat off the bench or play in a platoon situation. However, he still is seeking big money and a chance to play every day. At 36 his fielding skills are diminished, and he lacks speed. Still the best of the available free agents as far as power. A team in need of a DH could tap Dye by the end of spring.
1B Russell Branyan: 2009, Mariners, .251 average, 31 home runs, 76 R.B.I. 34 years old
It truly feels like Branyan has been around for 20 years. Possibly because he has made the rounds. At 34 years old he is far from ancient, but its his strikeouts (149 in 2009) that always make him a big question mark. When Branyan makes contact he is one of the most powerful hitters in the league. It just remains to be seen how often he can play, and what kind of money he would want after a big season. He will wait it out until some team gets him to settle for very little.
Something funny happened on the way to decent money via free agency. Washburn looked washed-out when arriving in Detroit after being traded by Seattle. In 8 games his ERA looked like a phone number and lost all control. Is it possible he was just unhappy with the move, or did the pressure of a playoff contention get the best of him? Whatever the case, it has turned a big plus like being a lefty starter into a big fear of a guy who has lost it. Some team will lose a starter in an exhibition game, and will offer an incentive-laiden deal to Washburn, maybe?
2B Felipe Lopez: 2009, Brewers, .301 average, 6 home runs, 25 R.B.I. 30 years old
Huh? If this was the NFL and Lopez was a running back I would understand. Yes his +300 average came in limited duty, but how can it be that no team will take a chance on this guy as a utility infielder and bench bat? Some fear that his numbers will never be the same, and that he benefited from a powerful Brewers line-up. Say what you like, I am amazed that this guy is still free. Lopez can’t possibly be unemployed forever, can he?
SP Pedro Martinez: 2009, Phillies, 5-1, 3.63 ERA, 37 K’s 38 years old
If anything the crafty vet showed he still had some stuff left. He was big for the Phillies late last season, and pitched decent in the playoffs before some rough outings in the World Series. I don’t quite understand how the Phillies feel they are in better shape with Moyer, Kendrick, or Contreras as the number 5 starter and refuse to lay a 1 year deal on Pedro? Maybe there was more than what we saw last year, or maybe his demands are higher than his worth? Pedro will get a job somewhere in the big leagues, it will most likely be the same way he did last year.
1B Hank Blalock: 2009, Rangers, .234 average, 25 home runs, 66 R.B.I. 29 years old
At 29 a guy like Blalock would seem valuable, am I right? However this guy seems to get hurt looking at a baseball. His 25 homers last year were a big jump from the 2 years before, but mostly because he could not stay healthy. He sure does have a good bat, but may not be a good enough every day fielder for any National League team. However if he keeps his demands low enough, he’s easily a good pick up as a DH and part time player. If he chooses to go such a root is anybodies guess. No one is knocking down is door, but some teams are showing interest.
1B Carlos Delgado: 2009, Mets, .298 average, 4 home runs, 23 R.B.I. 37 years old
It would not be a baseball season without talks of Delgado being at the end of the line. Injury took most of his 2009 season as it did for many Mets. Delgado did manage to hit .271, hit 38 homers and drive in 115 runs however in 2008. Yes he is slower than slow now, and his ability to play the field is all but over, but I still think there is just enough left in that bat if he can stay healthy to DH for a contending AL team. Delgado’s future at this moment is totally up in the air.
SP John Smoltz: 2009, Red Sox 2-5, 8.32 ERA, 33K’s St. Louis 1-3, 4.26 ERA, 40 K’s,
42 years old ( 43 as of May 15).
Starter? Reliever? Pitcher? The post-season king of clutch and future hall of fame guy has us all guessing. Is he the guy that pitched for Boston, or is he the guy that ended the season in St. Louis? Smoltz is certainly at the end of the line, but many feel he can contribute somewhere. No one seems to have interest in the mind game that goes with bringing him in however. He has always been a great strikeout pitcher and always had great stuff, but it looks as if he is hanging it up. Smoltz at best can serve as a set-up guy for most teams, but the money he would command and his lack of desire to take on that role will leave him on the outside looking in.
RP Kiko Calero: 2009, Marlins, 2-2, 1.95 ERA, 69K’s 67 innings 35 years old
It was pretty much a career year for Calero, but a very good one nonetheless. Opponents hit just .180 off of him and he struck out better than a hitter per inning. He did manage to blow 5 saves, and some feel he’s not a clutch reliever. In the days of desperate measures for quality bullpen help I’m surprised that he has not gotten more looks. Will land somewhere, and most likely soon, as most journey-men relievers do.
SP Braden Looper: 2009, Cardinals, 14-7, 5.22 ERA, 100 K’s 35 years old
Don’t let the record fool you. Yes Looper led the league is starts (34) but also led the league in home runs allowed (39) and his opponents .289 batting average was one of the highest amongst starting pitchers. He is an arm, which means something these days, but it is far from the shut down arm Looper once had. Perhaps a return to a bull pen somewhere is what he is looking at in this point of his career. Looper can serve as a decent relief pitcher, just remains to be seen if anyone finds him fit.
Something went terribly wrong on the way to the Hall of Fame for Nomar. Injuries, trades and constant free-agency now make him a classic, “oh yeah I remember that guy” type of player. He can play some positions, swing an occasional, “okay” bat and is a contact hitter. He does not really strike me as a name you would hear on a World Series club however, and at 36 he is not worth more than a one year filler. I don’t know if his name alone is enough to land him a job anymore. To catch on with someone he will have to show a tremendous desire to play.
SP Mike Hampton: 2009, Astros, 7-10, 5.30 ERA, 74K’s 37 years old
It may be risky to put Hampton’s name here, because there is a good chance he can get injured clicking the mouse to read it. The oft-injured Hampton was serviceable for the Astros last year, but that is a stretch. A guy with all kinds of promise never lived up to the billing and now he is just looking for a chance to pitch. Maybe a year off could help him heal, but at 37 a year off also spells F-O-R-G-O-T-T-E-N. It will be tough for Hampton to get any serious offers, but a minor league deal is not out of the question.
So here are some of the names. No I did not get into Gary Sheffield, nor do I have a good explanation for the fate of Chan Ho Park. I can say this though, grab up that money while you can big-leaguers, because some day it will quickly be gone.
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Read Bases Loaded: The Inside Story of the Steroid Era in Baseball by the Central Figure in the Mitchell Report by clicking here.