Since the 1998 realignment—and by the way, it's always nice when your arbitrary endpoint stat starts being interesting in 1947, 1961, 1969, 1973, 1995 or 1998 so you can disguise its arbitrariness—only one National League team has had three position players compile 40-plus wins above replacement (full list here). And now Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and yes, Bobby Abreu are together again in Philadelphia, making this one of the more notable reunions for nostalgia's sake, if not any 2014 on-field impact.
Abreu signed a minor league deal with the Phillies this week and managed to avoid most of the snark that usually accompanies such signings of old players. For one thing, even though we're sometimes bad at this (see Young, Delmon) it was just a minor league deal. Also, the Phillies' standard in the public eye for their old signings is low enough that this one looks okay by comparison, and their outfield had a hole to fill. Mostly, I think, it's that unlike Young and some of the other aged relics, Abreu is somebody we actually like.
He's always been a saber-fave, easy to pump up for underappreciated skills (like his .396 career on-base percentage) and a sympathetic case when he's criticized for things that don't matter (like his reputation for not wanting to run into walls in Philadelphia, unfortunately juxtaposed against Aaron Rowand).
Mostly, he was just supremely consistent. His eight full years in Philadelphia sorted by WARP: 6.8, 5.5, 5.4, 5.3, 5.2, 5.2, 5.1, 3.9.
Phillies fans had an odd relationship with Abreu, mostly underappreciating him, but this feels like a perfect time for a reunion. The team is going nowhere, expectations are the lowest they’ve been in a decade, and players of his type are becoming more appreciated. Who knows, maybe it will work out terribly and just serve to distract from the real problems with the team. Reunions aren’t always wonderful things. Ken Griffey Jr.’s was a snooze in Seattle. Babe Ruth was bad back in Boston, albeit the NL side of town, in his twilight.
But there have been a few already this offseason. Abreu’s teammate from 2002 to 2005, Marlon Byrd, is also back in the Phillies’ outfield. And what the Phillies have been doing to the outfield, the Astros have been doing to their bullpen, getting the band back together from their mid-aughts glory-ish years with Chad Qualls and Matt Albers returning. Jason Kubel went home to the Twins, and LaTroy Hawkins went back to the Rockies, though he would have been reuniting with pretty much anybody at this point.
In the spirit of Abreu and Byrd and just wanting people to be back together again, here are a few more reunions that might make some sense.
Ryan Madson back to the Phillies
Despite having a very good closer, the Phillies had the second-worst bullpen ERA in the National League last year, with only the Rockies a shade worse. They were bad in the seventh, bad in the eighth, and awful in the ninth except for save situations, which were the only time Jonathan Papelbon would pitch. Plenty of games got needlessly out of hand.
They’ve done little to address the bullpen this year, and the status of Madson, a Phillie from the 1998 draft through 2011, is anybody’s guess after Tommy John surgery and a rough recovery. But there have been reports of mutual interest this offseason, and if nothing else, Madson is someone to try out for next to nothing and either use, trade, use to trade somebody else, or just boot with not much lost.
Also, same team, similar circumstances: former Phillies starter and closer Brett Myers. He should probably never be a starter again given his injury history and starter/reliever velocity disparity, but he was reasonably successful as a reliever in Houston and Chicago South and should probably get another shot at that role if he’s healthy.
Note: Not recommending this for Ricky Ledee or Marlon Anderson.
Ervin Santana (or maybe Joe Saunders) back to the Angels
Amazingly, the Angels have been one of the quieter teams in the AL West this offseason, making big moves but not really adding anything with their two big trades. Last year, it was the pitching that failed them, and if the big spend is coming, that’s probably where it would be.
The consensus was that the market wouldn’t really get going for the non-Tanaka starters until the Japanese pitcher signed, so expect a flood of pitching moves in the coming days. An upgrade over a back of the rotation of Garrett Richards?/Mark Mulder?/Hector Santiago?/Please please please not Joe Blanton? would be welcomed in a brutal division.
2. Pinch-hitter, which he can still very much do. As little defense as possible. He was a .279/.335/.395 hitter last year—it was his awful defense that made him a -1 win player.
3. He will be traded in July. Somebody will want him.
Ideally the Rangers’ utility infielder would be a lefty to complement Adam Rosales, who is a bad hitter but a competent fielder. For a team with very little infield depth left after the Kinsler trade, though, this isn’t the least sensible reunion and probably wouldn’t deserve the scorn it would get.
A few others that might make sense if you squint
They’re not all even upgrades, but they might be useful for one reason or another:
- Chris Capuano back to the Brewers, who could use some insurance against having to stretch out their young arms all year.
- Aaron Harang back to the Reds, who probably don’t need to spend on a Bronson Arroyo rerun but are lacking much of anything beyond their starting five.
- Juan Pierre to the Rockies. Even with his still-strong base-stealing, it’s unclear that there’s anything left that Brandon Barnes can’t duplicate, but the Rockies are short on outfield depth, and Pierre shouldn’t take much more than an NRI at this point.
Barry Bonds back to the Giants
The official position of Baseball Prospectus on seemingly all platforms is pro-Bonds comeback. Why not? He can’t play left field at age 49, but the Giants hate Brandon Belt anyway, so when he inevitably has a 2-for-12 stretch over three games, it will be time for him to go.
Give Bonds some time to get back in shape and play some minor league games, then start him in mid-June at the White Sox or early July against the A’s as a DH. See what he’s got seven years after leading the league in OBP and then retiring, voluntarily you can be sure.
Besides, right now, he has until 2027 to get in on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. Take one at-bat this year, and he’s back on the ballot in 2020 and lasting all the way to 2034—even more time to neutralize the antis.