I salute those players that continue to ply their trade wherever they can, for whatever pay they can, whether it be in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, or the indy circuit. A job in baseball beats most other nine-to-fives. However, most of the entries in this line-up card can't claim to have thrown meaningful innings for the defending National League Champs. Bartolo is a meme now. At best he is an easy lede. He was out of baseball at 37. He hadn't thrown meaningful innings in the majors since age 32. He wasn't even a Hall of Very Good candidate. SABR types sneered at the Cy Young he stole from Johan Santana. Now, he poses for photos with the best young staff in baseball and doesn't look out of place. He may be a below-average starter, but he will give you 200 innings, and he has another 3.70 ERA season in his bones between now and age 50. He may pitch until 50. If we are lucky he will pitch until 50. If we are truly lucky he will stay in the NL until he is 50.
Bartolo Colon just took out a tree branch with a batting practice… home run.
Bartolo is barely credible as a Márquez protagonist, but here he is for us the disbelieving audience. He is easy to take for granted, a Buddha-like figure, stone-faced, tossing a ball on the mound. He could be rubbing up a new one after the previous one went 400 feet, or he may have just ran an 89-mph fastball back over the outside corner for strike three. His face gives away nothing. He is eternally Bartolo. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Prospect flameouts aren’t supposed to smolder for this long.
After hitting .373/.389/.755 with 10 home runs through his first 30 big-league games, Jeff Francoeur had reached the height of sports fame by age 21, garnering a Sports Illustrated cover with accompanying text: “The Natural.” He OPSed .682 from that point through the end of his rookie season, a level of performance more indicative of what was to follow than his scorching start. By the end of 2008, at just 24, Francoeur’s weaknesses—a long swing combined with a complete lack of plate discipline and pitch recognition—made it apparent that he wasn’t going to live up to the early hype.
In another simulation, Francoeur’s big-league playing days could have been over by the end of the aughts. He kept on chugging, however, hooking on in New York, then Texas, then Kansas City, then San Francisco, then Cleveland, then San Diego, then Philadelphia, and then Atlanta, rounding out his journeyman tour this offseason with a stop back home. Francoeur’s major-league staying power reminds us that even smart organizations may harbor evaluative blind spots, but credit the player for turning into something teams find valuable—though what they find valuable is somewhat of a mystery. Maybe it’s his still hacktastic (but occasionally powerful) bat or his good-natured clubhouse presence or his willingness to try new things or that darned hot start, nearly 11 years ago, but it’s something.
Francoeur never turned into the kind of player some imagined, but it’s not his fault people got carried away with a months’ worth of plate appearances. Plus, he’s kicked around the major leagues for the past decade-plus, and if we do this again in five years, he might still be going. That’s not so bad. –Dustin Palmateer
Once upon a time, Oliver Perez was a key member of some good Mets teams. He was a deadline acquisition of the 2006 team that made the NLCS, and he was a consistent rotation member for the 2007 and 2008 teams that blew division leads late in the season. That, however, was eight years ago, and many other important players from those clubs—including Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, and Johan Santana—are now out of baseball. This is the natural progression of a professional athlete. As players age and their skills decline, they find it harder to get jobs.
Perez also seemed destined to this fate, as his walk rate climbed all the way to 8.2 BB/9 in 2010. A talented pitcher who loses control as he ages and loses ticks off his fastball is unceremoniously forced out of baseball. It is a tale as old as the game itself, except that Perez was somehow just 28 years old despite already having a full career arc.
His Baseball Prospectus player card claims he spent last year with Arizona and Houston. This is probably true, simply because this would be a weird story to make up, but you could have picked a team out of a hat (or, for that matter, any foreign league) and I would have believed you. He is now apparently in the Nationals organization, hoping to make the big-league squad as a middle reliever. The once-young, once-promising lefty with the sky-high strikeout rates and the stratospheric walk rates has been reduced to praying for an anonymous bullpen role. Time marches on for all of us. —Seth Victor
Chris Young is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, stretched to be impossibly tall. The incredulity of “I can’t believe that guy is still playing professional baseball” could have just as easily been expressed in 2014, when he started a tidy 30 games for the Mariners after undergoing a decompression procedure to alleviate nerve damage and pain in his right shoulder, or at the start of 2015, when his abysmal September from the year before felt much closer than his August. In his age 36 (!!) season, he started 18 games for the Royals. His extreme fly ball tendencies found a faithful friend in the Royals strong outfield defense, and he moseyed along, soft tossing his way to a ho-hum 6.1 K/9, 4.49 FIP, and a 3.06 ERA on his way to a 2.0 WARP season. His BABIP remained bizarrely low. He was very Chris Young-y, tall and slow, but somehow still effective. And then in the post-season, Extreme Fly Ball Pitcher Chris Young became Extreme Strikeout Pitcher Chris Young. His post-season K/9 was 10.34, a number that, small size be damned, was a career best. He added a layer of mystery. Why not? At his age, he’s earned it. Chris Young is no longer young, and his velocity has slowed, and he’s battled back from injury, but none of that is why I’m surprised he’s still playing baseball. He shouldn’t work, and his game shouldn’t play, and yet somehow it does. I can’t believe Chris Young is still playing professional baseball. Then again, with a mystery this odd, this tall, and this fly ball dependent, it’s almost hard to believe he ever did. And yet. —Meg Rowley
The 34-year-old Rodriguez has seemingly been on the tail end of his career for nearly a decade, but that's the result of his peak Angels years coming from ages 22-26. When K-Rod got to the Mets, his effectiveness took a hit, but he was able to cobble together a few good seasons in Milwaukee (and a forgettable stretch run in 2013 for Baltimore). Last season, his fastball dipped below 90 miles per hour, and any success for the Tigers this season will be the product of a good groundball rate and low BABIP.
But all performance concerns that have threatened to derail Rodriguez's career take a back seat to his troubled off-field life, which has been punctuated by a litany of legal charges stemming from abusive behavior. In 2010, Rodriguez assaulted his girlfriend's father and ended up with not only an assault charge, but one of contempt of court as well, due to efforts to contact the man after orders otherwise. In 2012, in a somehow more contemptible incident, Rodriguez assaulted the woman with whom he was having a child, reportedly throwing her down and kicking her.
“Bad man gets second third fourth chance because he's good at sports” has been one of the major themes of recent sporting history, and Rodriguez is a prime example of that trend. Perhaps it's not terribly surprising that he's still in the league, then, but it's certainly worth asking why. —Zachary Moser
When we last saw Carlos, he was washing out of the Marlins’ bullpen, which is not exactly the world’s toughest nut to crack. Over the past year and a half he’s been toiling away for Louisville and Columbus, doing what he does best: striking a bunch of guys out, and walking the rest. In 31 innings as a back-of-the-‘pen option for the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate last season, Marmol whiffed an aggressive 13.9 batters per nine innings and walked 7.8 per nine as well. Believe it or not, those numbers aren’t that far off from his career major league marks of 11.6 K/9 and 6.2 BB/9.
The difference, perhaps, is that Marmol actually managed to keep his ERA nice and low (2.03) in 2015, which is a trick he hadn’t been able to pull off since 2012. He earned it on the strength of a great strand rate—87.4 percent, something he may not be able to pull off again–and it won him a trip to Red Sox camp this spring to try and get back to the bigs. After all the seasons of inconsistency and far, far too many errant pitches,, not only is Marmol still playing professionally, but he could actually matter as part of a bullpen on a team looking to contend this year. Now, all he has to do is harness his control and avoid the big blowups. You never know, maybe the 11th time is the charm? —Bryan Grosnick
“He still plays” works well for this man because it’s possible to confuse him with Cal Eldred (no relation) or Scott Aldred (they spell and pronounce their names differently), both of whom were pitchers.
There are two things about Brad Eldred I shan’t soon forget: one is when the flawed but tall slugger mashed 13 Triple-A home runs in April 2012, forcing the club’s hand. The Tigers didn’t need another big slow player, but they did need an excuse to finally release Brandon Inge and use him for a few weeks. But like most MLB stints for Eldred, it was temporary.
His otherworldly power in a world that didn’t otherwise need him sparked an opportunity from an otherworld baseball team: the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. The NPB team inked a deal with him later that year, so the Tigers granted his release. As Japan has been reviving careers dating back to Cheap Trick, Eldred clobbered 80 Japanese home runs in the last four years, including being the league leader in 2014. The 35-year-old is expected to see time this year for the Carp at both first base and left field.
If North America doesn’t want Wily Mo back, they certainly don’t have any interest in DH depth with a man like Eldred, because the international freight fees alone would put them in the red. So he is most certainly going to finish his baseball career in Japan. Which brings me to the second thing about Brad Eldred I may never forget: in 2012 he had a now-defunct Twitter account and rarely posted to it, except he linked up his iPad to the account and had a flurry of gaming achievements appear on it. Which really speaks to the dao of Brad Eldred: He’s just out there playing games well in his own regard, even if you don’t care that much. —Matt Sussman
Of the 65 players taken in the first two rounds of the 1996 amateur draft, three remain active in MLB: former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, former MVP Jimmy Rollins, and… Buddy Carlyle.
Carlyle was picked third in the second round, behind Jacque Jones (currently serving as assistant hitting coach for the Nationals) and ahead of Milton Bradley (currently serving time). The Reds popped him out of a Nebraska high school as compensation for the loss of free agent Ron Gant.
Traded to the Padres in 1998, Carlyle made his big-league debut the following year. After seven forgettable starts for San Diego in '99 and four even more forgettable relief appearances in 2000 he spent two years in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers. He returned to North America in 2003 and bounced around the Royals and Yankees organizations before resurfacing with the Dodgers in 2005 and then disappearing again with his 8.36 ERA.
The Braves gave him a chance next. He was a lousy starter for them in 2007, a decent reliever in 2008, and a lousy reliever in 2009. So in 2010 he returned to Japan and pitched poorly for the Nippon Ham Fighters in limited duty.
But wait, there's more! Carlyle made eight appearances for the Yankees in 2011, then spent the following two seasons back at Triple-A, this time in the Braves and Blue Jays organizations. He started 2014 at that level before being recalled by the Mets at the end of May and posting a 1.45 ERA in 27 appearances. He was less effective last year before undergoing hip surgery in July.
And now he's back. From outer space. To bother you. In Mets camp again. He will survive. —Geoff Young
You know Humber. He’s the former no. 3 pick who, back in 2014, emerged from the rubble of a busted career to throw a perfect game. His star has since plummeted in a way that is both logical (given his past) and absurd—to the extent that you wonder if those jokes about him trading his soul for that one shining moment carry some validity. (That moment being, obviously enough, a Sam Miller profile.) Humber was awful during his run with the Astros in 2013, and he spent last year in Korea, where he walked nearly as many batters as he struck out. He’s now a 33-year-old non-roster invitee in Padres camp with almost no chance of reaching the majors, let alone enjoying success. But wouldn’t it be swell if he throws five innings of two-run ball in an August spot-start before retiring? Yeah, that would be nice. —R.J. Anderson
Carlos Quentin is not my kind of player, whatever that may be. There was nothing about his game that ever piqued my interest. That said, I have spent more time briefly thinking about Carlos Quentin than any other player in whom I have no particular interest.
My last name is similar to the last name of Carlos Quentin. In college and thereafter, clever nickname givers called me Carlos on the intramural and business-league softball fields. Those were good times.
While we note the past tense, we have not noted just how far in the past this was. It feels like it has been years since I've been called Carlos. It feels like it has been years since Quentin's offseason—the one we have with all declining sluggers, where we wonder if the dead-cat bounce comes only to forget that it never did, happened. I figured maybe he played in Japan in 2014. Maybe he played for the Braves. Maybe something obscure like that.
So when Ryan Romano emailed the Lineup Card email chain saying, "Also, someone should write up Carlos Quentin, who I just realized still exists," you can imagine the way my eyebrows slightly lifted and the way the corners of my mouth tilted downward as if to say, "hm." Not a long, thinking about it, am I going to order a poppy-seed or sesame-seed bagel "hmmmm," but a short, haven't thought about it that way, well, when you put it like that "hm." —Jeff Quinton
Let’s start with an anecdote: Sometimes, it just disappears. Now, I’ve never pitched at a professional level—the most I do is throw a heavy rubber ball for my parents’ overeager retriever. I did, however, graduate with a degree in music performance. I understand practice, repetition, stress, more practice, rehearsals, performances, and that sometimes, it just disappears.
That “it” disappeared for me somewhere in the two weeks between a music festival in Italy and pre-semester auditions my first senior year. My ability to play flute, to form an embouchure, to sound like myself, to be myself, left. Unlike pitching, where you get results instantaneously, I only found out from audition results, and my professor’s dismay at what she’d heard. At this point, I’d played flute for 10 years, with all the attendant hours of work—work on small things, work on big things, work on what is easily described as the “mechanics” of it all. In the span of two weeks, the results of all that work disappeared, leaving me sitting with freshmen, wondering where it all went wrong.
Daniel Bard had this happen. From 2009 to 2012, Bard was an effective to good pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He’d reached the pinnacle of the sport, through undoubtedly hours and hours of work. Then, somewhere in the time around 2012 to 2013, he lost it, walking 27 batters in 15 1/3 innings of work, throwing 11 wild pitches, seemingly unable to find the strike zone. He tried to come back in 2014, but only managed to get two outs in 18 batters faced with the class A Hickory Crawdads, walking nine and hitting seven.
Now, I don’t have some kind of magical connection inside Daniel Bard’s head. I don’t know what he’s thinking, or how exactly he responded to this turn of events. I only have how I felt, when my ability to do the one thing I thought I could always count on suddenly disappeared. It’s a distinct re-ordering of the world, a loss I met with anger and bargaining and all the various stages of grief. It’s like there’s something that’s always been there gone, and the loss is one you can’t quite describe.
Daniel Bard is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, still pitching, still trying to get that invisible, impossible something back. He could end up with a low-A team. He could completely recover and be back in the majors. He could never recover what’s disappeared, fading quietly into the sunset and into the twilight of a post-baseball life.
That’s the thing about spring training. Everything’s still a possibility. –Kate Morrison
If you are an illiterate sociopath with a drinking problem, it's not a good idea to open a medical practice. Similarly, if all you look at is ERA, no one should be taking your opinion on pitchers very seriously. However, it doesn't take book learning, empathy, or sobriety to identify a corpse; and if a pitching career is over, sometimes nuance is just a luxury.
Hideki Okajima was signed by the Red Sox for $2.5 million over two years, after 12 years in Japan, and the move was met with little fanfare. Unfortunately for him, the move coincided with the massive signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and many looked at it as a move to give Boston’s new high-priced arm some companionship in the bullpen. When asked about this, Okajima said, “I’m willing to be a hero in the dark.”
We all know how that turned out. He was a stud in the back of the Red Sox bullpen, serving as the primary setup man behind Jonathan Papelbon for four years. He made the All-Star team in his first season, posted two sub-3.00 DRAs in his first two seasons, and was a major part of the 2007 World Series championship roster.
That was nine years ago, when T-Pain was featured on every song on every radio station. He started falling off in 2010 and was eventually designated for assignment in 2011. After a brief comeback attempt with Oakland in 2013, it was assumed (at least by me) that his professional baseball career was done. Little did I know he made his way back to Japan for the 2014 season and put together a very solid campaign. Despite much worse production in 2015, the Orioles signed him to a minor-league deal over the winter.
But wait, it gets weirder. Not only is the now-40-year-old Okajima coming back to give it another shot in the majors, he’s doing so in minor-league camp. Most veterans at least get a chance to play with the major-leaguers early in spring, but he is working on his comeback with the young guys. This is all very jarring for someone who used to count him as one of his favorite players and had no idea he was still playing baseball. If there was a baseball yearbook, Okajima would be justified using the cliché “what a long, strange trip it’s been” quote under his senior picture. —Matt Collins
If I'm making a statement about a guy I can't believe is still playing professional baseball, the first one that comes to mind is the extremely well traveled, and often forgotten, Jamey Wright. In fact, looking back at Wright's stats over the last decade or so makes me wonder how he's had a career in the major leagues at all—or at least one that doesn't involve selling hotdogs to fans. Wright was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Rockies in 1993, which was also Greg Maddux's first season with the Atlanta Braves, and was actually ranked the number 66 overall prospect by Baseball America—shows what they know, right?—all the way back in 1996.
Wright came up to Colorado in the middle of that '96 season and pitched as a starter for roughly 74 different major league teams over the course of the next 10 seasons. During that time, he posted a 5.14 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 1.595 WHIP, 4.8 K/9, and 4.8 BB/9. I know what you're thinking; why did such a stud continually get passed around from team to team?
Wright committed to pitching in relief in 2007 at the age of 32 and it proved to be somewhat of a career revelation, lowering his ERA to a combined 3.98 in 575 innings from '07 to 2014, with 6.4 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. That's pretty good for Jamey Wright, even if it's not really that good overall. After pitching 70 1/3 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a middle reliever in 2014 at the tender age of 39, Wright didn't pitch in any professional league in 2015. But the Dodgers just couldn't help themselves this season, inviting the 41-year-old Wright to spring training for a shot to latch onto another decent ballclub that apparently has no interesting young potential relievers with the ability to get hitters out. —Ryan Davis
I always remember Sosa first and foremost as the quintessential punching bag for a couple of those really, really bad Devil Rays bullpens. The Red Sox in particular laid absolute waste to him whenever they crossed paths. Boston hitters batted a collective .343/.405/.583 against him across 122 plate appearances, driving a ghastly 8.54 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in 26 1/3 innings. Kevin Millar owned him like few hitters have ever owned a pitcher, and Papi hit a titanic shot off him one time.
But beyond that unpleasant carnage, Sosa has had a pretty awesome little career. He logged nine years as a warm body of a major-league reliever, and overlapping that run has been a decade-long international effort spanning the Dominican, Mexico, and Japan, with serviceable-if-underwhelming stats at every stop (save for a two-year run of dominance in Japan). His entire professional career now spans fifteen seasons, with nearly 1,500 innings logged and 19 uniforms donned. That's not a bad way to roll through your 20s and 30s, kids. —Wilson Karaman
The problem with having now been a baseball nerd for more than a generation is how easily things you once mattered deeply become inconsequential. Recently, I watched the Caribbean Series Championship game to practice my Spanish, send off Freddy Garcia, and hear Ozzie Guillen speak once again. In the game, which was tied at the time, the Tigres de Aragua sent in Luis Ugueto as a pinch-runner, and I had to confront the fact that I had once cared about Luis Ugueto. For those of you who are young, or maybe not 100 percent conversant with turn-of-the-century utility infielders, Ugueto was a 2001 Rule 5 pick conveyed to the Mariners just as their dynasty began to crumble. He was most notable for being the unwitting victim of a roster war between manager Lou Piniella, who had no use for the kid, and GM Pat Gillick, who saw something in Ugueto to that to this day eludes the rest of us. And this mattered! The best team in a generation was throwing away a roster spot due to a personality conflict, and you, me, and Christina Kahrl knew it. In the 14 years since, Ugueto had washed out of organized baseball, been popped for PED use, and has spent the entirety of this decade as a peripatetic veteran going from one Venezuelan winter team to another, never playing all that much or hitting all that well. Seeing him now brought these memories back, but almost in a shameful way—one Rule 5 pick’s playing time was never going to affect the Mariners, or really alter anything in the universe at all. But here he was, still playing more than a decade after his heyday, standing on first, trying to win a series for his country. Unfortunately, just like Dr. Sam Beckett, after spending so many years wandering, Ugueto never made it home. —Ian Lefkowitz
Yuniesky Betancourt inspired a lot of writing here at Baseball Prospectus since his 2005 debut at shortstop for the Mariners. The vast majority of those words were not praise. He managed to hit exactly .289 in both of his first two full major-league seasons, seemingly to provide a living example of what an empty batting average was for anyone who didn’t already know. Read through the BP Annual comments on Betancourt at the bottom of his BP player card—they read like a competition to see who can say, “this guy sucks,” with the most flair.
Despite a solid defensive reputation, fielding stats never warmed to Yuni. From his rookie year, his defense reminded me of the older version of Omar Vizquel, albeit with a stronger arm. He made the plays on all the balls he could reach and looked good doing it thanks to slick hands and nimble footwork, but he just didn’t get to enough balls. Still, that reputation and those good-if-empty early batting averages kept him in the majors a lot longer than someone with a career-high of 1.5 WARP had any reason to expect.
Yuni hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2013 when he played all over the infield for an injury-decimated Brewers time. He played more games at first base than anywhere else, his ability to credibly play shortstop in the major leagues now long gone. Not finding work in MLB after 2013 might have been a blessing for him, since another year of regular ABs probably would have dropped his career WARP below zero. He finished with 0.8 career WARP after negative WARPs of -1.1 and -1.4 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Still, it’s hard not to like a guy who keeps playing baseball anywhere he can after MLB decides he’s not good enough to play there any more. I love that Rickey Henderson kept playing in independent leagues for two years after his MLB career ended, and I love than Yuni is still out there playing. He started for the Mazatlan team that won the Caribbean Series last month. This season, he’ll be playing for the Quintana Roo Tigers, last year’s Mexican Baseball League champions.
I know we’ve had a lot of fun at your expense over the years, Yuni, but we’re all rooting for you now. —Scooter Hotz
"One thing about Wily Mo Pena I can tell you is if you give him 500 at-bats, he's going to hit 40 home runs and strike out more than Adam Dunn.” –—Nationals GM Jim Bowden (2007)
The Wily Mo Pena saga ranks among the more confounding tales in recent baseball history. How will I explain the legend of Wily Mo to my future kids, clad in their respective Betts and Bogaerts shirseys, on their way to Fenway for the first time? I’m not quite sure just yet Goose, but let’s give it some thought. Kids, this is how I met your Mo(ther).
Despite appearing in parts of eight major-league seasons, and possessing more raw power than Paul Bunyan himself, Pena never got those 500 at bats like Bowden envisioned when he gave that quote to the Associated Press after acquiring him from the Red Sox for straight cash and a PTBNL back in 2007. Somehow, he never accrued more than 336 plate appearances in a single campaign. If it’s any consolation to Bowden, he did strike out at a higher rate (30 percent) than Dunn (28 percent) for his career.
After making his major-league debut in September 2002 at just 20 years old, Pena played the next three years in Cincinnati before being traded to Boston for right-handed singer/songwriter Bronson Arroyo, who had just two years earlier, played a prominent role in one of the most iconic Red Sox/Yankees rivalry moments of all-time. In an era in Red Sox history dedicated to “feeding the monster,” as then-GM Theo Epstein described it, a young, massive slugger with the potential to end every at bat with a tape measure home run and complement David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez fit the bill perfectly. Pena was the definition of compelling television. Yet, he was shipped to Washington within two years. Two months after the deal, the Red Sox won their second World Series.
Now 34 years old, he’s still playing professional baseball. Unfortunately, Tohuku Rakuten Golden Eagles neglected to pick up his 2016 option, which could spell the end of the road for Pena after four seasons in Japan dating back to 2012. In 450 games, he slashed .264/.355/.460 with 71 home runs. He also struck out 417 times.
Pena was a Boston legend in the making that seemingly vanished into thin air, leaving us stateside with fleeting memories of batting practice sessions for the ages, and a Triple-A home run in Reno, Nevada that may never be equaled.
You know what I’ll tell my kids? Wily Mo Pena is on the Mount Rushmore of “most fascinating player ever” to don a Red Sox uniform. It was an experience unlike any other and it’s unbelievable that he’s still putting on a uniform nearly a decade later. —George Bissell
People love stories about a long-lost soul returning home. Diddy made a song about it, and Jesus told a story about it (I'll let you decide which of those examples takes priority). Even in an era of rampant Hallmarkification, someone deciding that their winding life should conclude in the place where everything began brings us all some sincere, treacle-free joy.
Back in January, Chris Capuano signed with the Brewers, who employed him (nonconsecutively) from 2004 to 2010. He enjoyed the best years of his career in Milwaukee, tallying a 4.34 ERA over the 744 2/3 innings he compiled. Racking up strikeouts, keeping fly balls in the infield, and regularly catching runners leaning off first, Capuano made himself into a one-time All-Star, and a generally solid mid-rotation arm.
Those days have come and gone. This iteration of Capuano isn't a dependable starter, but a washed-up 37-year-old who deducted 0.8 WARP from the Yankees in 40.2 frames last season. While he brings a fair amount of optimism into camp, as many veterans of his ilk do, he realistically has a very small shot at even making the team. PECOTA gives him a median projection of just 0.2 WARP across 52.2 innings as a swingman; Milwaukee could get that production from Jorge Lopez (0.2 projected WARP in 25.0 innings) or Zach Davies (0.5 projected WARP in 65.0 innings), and those pitchers offer the present upside and future potential that Capuano lacks.
Nevertheless, Capuano's case still fascinates me. Here, you have someone who easily could have called it quits, yet wanted to continue his struggle with the game he's played for more than a decade. Here, you have someone who seems to earnestly think he's in the Best Shape Of His Life: He told Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he "couldn't ask [his] body to feel any better than it does." Here, you have someone who, in the unlikely event that he pitches for the Brewers in 2016, could definitely impart some wisdom on Lopez and Davies, each of whom just turned 23.
So let's all hope that Capuano's return to Milwaukee amounts to something. After five long years in Queens, Los Angeles, Boston, and the Bronx, the prodigal son has come back home. He has two Tommy John scars on his left arm (although given his educational background, he probably lacks the fights, bottles, and cars), and he doesn't want to give up yet. Will the team grant him a chance? Probably not, and maybe it shouldn't. But for the fans who care more about the storyline than the statline—and devotees to the 2016 Brewers, who PECOTA thinks will win 78 games, probably fall into that group—Capuano's tale does entice. —Ryan Romano
Minor-league baseball is fun for a number of reasons. Most of the joy comes from getting a glimpse of baseball’s future best-and-brightest in the here and now, while some of it comes from the local flavor provided through a combination of cheesy promotions and local delicacies that almost always delight your taste buds while clogging your arteries.
A lesser-mentioned thrill is getting to see players who we once saw in the majors: often on our televisions, sometimes in person. There is an intimacy to this that we don’t get in the majors. Nearly every seat in the house is a good one. Pay close enough attention, and you can almost see what the players are thinking.
I certainly knew that Dustin McGowan was still kicking around in professional baseball last year. I had no idea he was with the Phillies, despite the fact that I live in a Philadelphia suburb and he was with the big league club until June. He certainly wasn’t someone I thought I would see at a minor league game at Lehigh Valley in late June. Even more of a surprise to me was the fact that on this day, McGowan had absolutely nothing.
Batter after batter in the Louisville lineup teed off on McGowan. The scouting reports had painted a different picture, telling us that he was rearing back and firing in the mid-90s, albeit with very little command. On this day, the gun didn’t have McGowan any higher than 91-92 mph and the ball wasn’t moving all that much. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but McGowan had a look on his face you often see at the end of someone’s career, the disbelief that what was once possible no longer is. I remember when McGowan was a solid pitcher for the Blue Jays in 2007, the way he battled back against years of injuries in the minors, and the way he had bucked the odds that a high school pitcher with arm trouble could ever make anything of himself beyond organizational filler. Now, here he was again, back in the same position, but with a lot more wear-and-tear on an arm that had given him that one great year but for the most part had betrayed him throughout his career.
There are always players you root for despite the fact that they don’t play for your favorite team. Some of these players are obvious, the superstars who can make the highlight reel every night. Then there are guys like McGowan. These are my favorite types of players to root for in any given season. He’s in camp with the Miami Marlins and will probably never make it, but the fact that he’s still out there, pushing hard for one more summer, hoping he harnesses enough control and maintains enough velocity to get another sustained shot in the majors makes me happy. The hope of spring is alive, not only in the form of youth getting its first opportunity, but in the form of possible rebirth. —Mike Gianella
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