July 11, 2012
The Lineup Card
10 Washed-Up Vets We Want to See Again
1. Jason Standridge
2. Matt Murton
Murton appeared to be almost aggressively average in his first (and, as it turned out, only) full season in the majors. Of course, average players have value, and most players Murton’s age have at least a little room to grow. Despite that, Murton couldn’t hold on to his job. The next season, he made about half as many trips to the plate, and in the two seasons thereafter, he made a total of 122. By then, Murton had moved on to the A’s and the Rockies, but even Billy Beane wouldn’t give the bloggers’ baseball darling an extended shot. Cue the impassioned posts! The internet was not okay with Matt Murton in the minors, even if he wasn’t making the greatest case for a callup.
In retrospect, Murton couldn’t keep his job for one of three reasons: A) Baseball teams were stupid, B) His managers didn’t like looking at gingers, or C) He really wasn’t all that good to begin with. I know which one I’m picking. Murton’s defensive scouting reports didn’t jibe with what his advanced fielding stats said, and his low-power bat never went beyond barely acceptable in a corner. He may have been better than some big-leaguers, but not by enough to be upset about it.
In December 2009, the Rockies sold Murton’s rights to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League, who signed him as an outfielder/missionary. (I made up the missionary part, but only a little.) In his first season for Hanshin, Murton hit .349/.395/.499. He broke Ichiro’s single-season hits record (albeit in an extended schedule). Bloggers said “I told you so.” Big-league teams still didn’t bite. Lo and behold, in his second season for Hanshin, Murton hit a much more modest .311/.339/.423. And 72 games into his third, he’s hitting .235/.256/.314.
I don’t wish Murton—who’s still only 30—would make a comeback because I think he’d succeed. I wish he’d make a comeback because it would take me back to a time when teams were supposedly stupid and projection systems were all clearly much smarter than scouts. And then I’d feel a bit better about where we are now. –Ben Lindbergh
3. Wily Mo Pena
Ultimately, a series of events conspired to end Peña's big-league career: a poor approach at the plate, which may have been exacerbated by some questionable developmental decisions early in his career, as well as injuries—notably a broken hamate bone that shortened his single best season, 2006, as well as oblique and shoulder injuries that kept him out for nearly half of the '08 season.
Wily Mo decimated Triple-A pitching in 2010 and, on the strength of that performance, signed a two-year deal with the SoftBank Hawks of the NPB. Peña isn't exactly tearing it up over there, posting a triple-slash line of .247/.309/.456 (although his SLG is good enough for 10th among qualified hitters in the Japan Pacific League; better than Terrmel Sledge, but not nearly as good as Micah Hoffpauir).
I still wonder what Wily Mo would have done in '06 if he hadn't broken that pesky hamate bone. No, his .400 BABIP wasn't remotely sustainable, but watching a right-handed hitter with that kind of power at Fenway is always fun. Maybe he gets it going at Fukuoka, learns how to be more selective, and ends up posting a decent OBP. He'd be 32 for the 2014 season, and PECOTA still projects him to be performing at better than replacement level. It's not likely we see him playing in the majors again, but crazier things have happened. Plus, we need more guys whose first names are adjectives. —Ian Miller
4. Alex Ramirez
Before I go any further, please indulge me for getting off subject for a moment to remember Wilson for providing the best Yogi Berra-like quote of my 25 years of covering baseball when he said, "The more you're in the lineup, the more chances you get to play."
Anyhow, back to Ramirez. He came to the Pirates with the reputation of being a fledgling power hitter, something they definitely needed, as they were in the midst of their eighth consecutive losing season. However, Ramirez wound up hitting just four home runs in 123 at-bats, and the Pirates granted his release at season's end so he could go to Japan. Twelve years later, the Pirates still haven't had a winning season—though it looks like that will change this season—and Ramirez is still playing in NPB with Yokohoma. Ramirez is 37 now, but maybe he's ready to hit big-league pitching this time around. —John Perrotto
5. Lastings Milledge
Milledge is, overall, not doing all that well in Japan. He's hitting .285/.353/.442, in a league where his teammate, Wladimir Balentien, is slugging .648 with a home run every nine at-bats. This is his age-27 season, and he's not quite ending any hope of a successful career, but he's basically ending any hope of a successful career. What gets me is that ejection, though. The first time you ever heard of Lastings Milledge, he was an awesome prospect, and the second time you heard of him he was getting thrown under the bus by his own teammates for excitedly giving high fives to fans on his way to his position. Man, excitedly giving high fives to fans sounds awesome, like the sort of thing that could just as easily get a guy praised for being friendly and enthusiastic. But with Milledge it just turned everybody against him. I always thought that sounded really unfair. This ejection a couple days ago sounds really unfair.
Then I remember that the people who seem to be treating him unfairly also knew the guy pretty well. They knew him, and they chose not to give him the benefit of the doubt. That's probably telling. It's probably telling that Lastings Milledge never seems to get a fair shake. He's getting at least one more shake, fair or otherwise, this year. And, once again, he's not doing a whole lot with it. —Sam Miller
6. Tony Phillips
Phillips is the odd nexus where old and new school agree on a player being vastly underrated. He was never an All-Star and only once received MVP votes, but he invented an entire genre of player, and to this day is probably still its best exemplar. He was always good for a sprinkling of homers and double digits in stolen bases (he did get caught stealing a lot), and he was willing (and able) to play anywhere. There are plenty of guys who are willing to stand in several places on the diamond, but FRAA has Phillips, during his peak, as routinely saving his teams 8-10 runs per year with his defense. From 1991 to 1996, he put up six straight seasons with a WARP around 4 or 5. And while he ended his career with a pedestrian .266 career batting average, his on-base mark was .374.
Phillips said that he got back into independent league baseball after coaching with the A's, and a young player questioned whether Phillips could still play competitively. So he did. That's awesome. At 53, he's past the Moyer line, but maybe someone could bring Tony back to the majors for a small festschrift for the prototype jack-of-all-trades player. —Russell Carleton
7. Bobby Kielty
Stewart was two-and-a-half years older than Kielty and played essentially the same position. He was hitting near .300 (as always), but with little power, had a walk rate roughly half of Kielty's, and commanded a 20-times higher salary. It was the classic old-school move, acquiring the veteran who hits for average and steals bases over the affordable, unproven kid who gets on base. It was just perfectly clear, to me and to anyone who thought like me, that Ryan had been completely fleeced by whiz-kid Beane disciple J. P. Ricciardi.
That's not how it came about at all, of course. The Twins immediately went on a tear, climbing back into contention and winning the division. Stewart hit .322/.384/.470 and was perceived as the team leader and the instigator of the whole comeback. He even (indefensibly) finished fourth in the MVP race, and was similarly effective (when healthy) in 2004. Kielty put up just an 87 OPS+ with Toronto and then spent parts of the next four seasons banging around among the other saber-friendly clubs, Oakland and Boston, as an extra outfielder. In fact, Stewart put up almost twice as many WARP with the Twins in those last two-plus months of 2003 alone (3.2) than Kielty had left in his entire major-league career (1.7). I'll never fully understand what Ryan saw in Stewart and/or Kielty that led to the trade, but he was very right, and we were very wrong.
Kielty is not coming back. He made it official a little less than a month ago, announcing his retirement. Now pushing 35, Kielty had played just 19 games with the 2012 York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, hitting just .229/.321/.382 in 79 PA. I'd have loved to see him make a comeback, though, because I used to love the guy, because he always seemed like a good dude, because his hair looked like this, and because he was a nice reminder of a time when we thought we knew everything. —Bill Parker
8. Scott Proctor
What I didn't realize was that Proctor would probably wind up shedding more tears than I would; he quickly became Torre's favorite fireman and posted back-to-back 83-appearance seasons in 2006 and 2007, hurling a combined 188 2/3 innings—about a starter's full-season workload. Proctor had been a starter in the minors, but it was clear that the overuse was hurting his effectiveness. His walks skyrocketed (2.9 BB/9 in '06 to 4.6 BB/9 in '07), and his strikeouts decreased (7.8 K/9 in '06 to 6.7 K/9 in '07). The Yankees wound up prying the equipment-burning Proctor (perhaps he was hoping no glove meant no usage?) from Torre's clutches in an '07 deadline deal to get Wilson Betemit, whom they had been pining for since his Braves days.
After 2007, Proctor lost the ability to get outs, and he also battled alcoholism off the field. He bounced around with the Marlins and Braves, getting a few major-league looks, before getting a final hurrah in the Bronx last year. Each chance has proven that Proctor is more or less a one-season wonder and had his arm pitched off, leaving us to imagine what might have been.
I'd love to see Proctor get one more go-around in the bigs. I love second chances—particularly for those who prove they can battle their demons—and I've always had sympathy for the pitchers whose careers Torre grounded. Proctor is pitching with the Doosan Bears in Korea, so maybe he'll get another chance... and if not, can someone at least complement Scott Proctor's Arm with IsScottProctor'sArmStillAttached.com? —Stephani Bee
9. John Halama
Halama reached the majors as a 26-year-old member of the Houston Astros organization. He was a 26th-round pick in the 1994 amateur draft and spent six-plus seasons in the minors before getting his first crack at major-league batters. He made just six starts for the Astros before being included with Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen in a package to acquire Randy Johnson. He would go on to play his most productive seasons with the Mariners, using a low-80s fastball to help him tally 4.5 WARP over four years in Seattle, including a 2.4 WARP season in 1999. In all, he'd total just over 900 innings in the majors, and 4.8 WARP. It's possible his most notable professional baseball accomplishment was throwing a perfect game in 2001 as a member of the Tacoma Rainiers. Suffice to say, his major-league career during which he played with 10 organizations—seven clubs in the majors—was ho-hum. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006, though.
He is currently pitching as a 40-year-old in the independent Atlantic League. He's pitching surprisingly well, too. Halama has made 14 starts that have spanned 96 1/3 innings, winning five games with better than a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.62 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP. After having thoroughly dissected Halama's playing career, I must confess that my interest in Halama is largely unrelated to his ability and his career performance. Instead, it’s because of my sports video gaming history.
As a 15-year-old, I excitedly purchased my first PC baseball game, Hardball 6 2000 Edition. The game was one of the first I remember offering multiple seasons of game play. One of my favorite activities as “team owner” was shaping my roster through trades. I likely spent more hours on roster construction than actual game play. I'd start seasons, become bored with my roster, and restart from scratch so that I could make trades with my initial roster. One constant was acquiring cheap southpaw John Halama. Beyond being cheap, and essentially an average player, there was no special reason for owning Halama. He was basically back-of-the-rotation filler. By the time I'd purchase next year's baseball video game of choice, Halama was a distant memory, but he'd reappear in my gaming life at a later date.
As a college freshman, I spent a great deal of time drinking beers in the dorms while playing EA's MVP Baseball 2005 against my good friend, Chris. We had epic single-game battles, as well as winner-take-all three-game series that often saw the loser paying for delivery food or beers for the winner. We had quirky, self-imposed rules that included not being able to use a starting pitcher in relief before the 11th inning, so the Halama saga resumed. Instead of being a player I would use to defeat my opponent, he became my arch nemesis, along with Doug Mirabelli, who Chris would affectionately refer to simply as “The Doug,” and I'd call “fucking Mirabelli,” after he launched countless moonshots over the Monster. As a gamer, I was susceptible to changeups, and off-speed offerings in general. Halama was used as a long man, and his two-seam fastball, which sat in the low 80s, was used perfectly on the inner half of the plate against righties. The pitch would start out of the strike zone, and tail across the black on the inside of the plate. Far too often I'd freeze up, helplessly taking strike three. Facing left-handed batters, the pitch was buried in on the hands, resulting in many weak groundouts. I've rarely played video games since that year, but Halama returning to the majors may be the impetus that drives me back into playing baseball video games. Since I don't expect to see Halama in the bigs anytime soon, my baseball video gaming career may effectively be over, much like Halama's major-league career. —Josh Shepardson
10. Ruben Rivera
Three future Hall of Famers and Mariano Rivera's cousin.
Although Rivera struggled to make consistent contact in the minors, he displayed an exciting blend of power, speed, and center field defense. At age 20, he hit .281/.357/.541 with 33 home runs and 48 stolen bases for two Class-A teams. He posted even better numbers at Double- and Triple-A the following year.
This skill set made Rivera the centerpiece of an April 1997 trade that sent Hideki Irabu to the Yankees from San Diego. Although Rivera showed flashes of brilliance with the Padres and throughout his big-league career, there were too many unfixable holes in his game. After 31 games with the San Francisco Giants in 2003 at age 29, Rivera was done with The Show and vice versa.
In 2005, he found himself playing for Campeche of the Mexican League. After a huge season there, Rivera returned to affiliated ball the following year but fizzled in the White Sox organization. He has been back at Campeche ever since, compiling obscene numbers. In 6 ½ seasons there, Rivera has hit .341/.442/.618 with 163 homers and 105 stolen bases.
Sure, he's 38 years old. Who cares? Julio Franco played 637 games in his 40s. Rivera deserves the chance to do the same. And we all deserve the chance to watch him run the bases just one more time. —Geoff Young