Carlos Silva is the best-known of this group.
The Red Sox started off the New Year by announcing that they had signed 12 players to minor-league contracts, including $48 million man Carlos Silva. None of the 12 have been added to the 40-man roster, but all have been invited to major league spring training camp.
Although the press release was issued on Jan. 2, some of the signings had actually taken place weeks before—which shows how low-profile some of these transactions were.
Since that release, another four hopefuls were brought into the fold.
This group is a diverse lot: All had had at least a cup of coffee at the major league level, and 14 of the 16 are pitchers (no big surprise there).
Aaron Cooke, Justin Germano, Vicente Padilla and John Maine are all seasoned major-league pitchers.
Lefty Rich Hill had impressed at both Triple-A and in Boston last season before he went down with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery.
Nate Spears, Brandon Duckworth and Charlie Haeger were all with the Pawtucket Red Sox last year; Spears earned a brief call-up to Boston in September.
I'm thinking the other seven may be as unknown to most of you as they were to me, so here's some background on them all.
Let's start with Silva, the highest-profile member of this group. He has pitched in 316 major-league games. He is also the most controversial; many (me included) question whether or not he can change his reputation of being an out-of-condition malcontent. The bad Carlos Silva has a reputation for a poor attitude and work ethic and is a shadow of the good Carlos Silva performance-wise.
One of the reasons the Red Sox are giving him a chance is because he throws strikes. His rate of walks per nine innings (1.725) is the lowest among all active pitchers who have thrown at least 750 innings in their career. In fact, in the last 30 years (thanks, FanGraphs), only five pitchers have hurled as many innings as Silva with a better BB/9 rate: Bob Tewksbury, Dennis Eckersley, Brad Radke, Bret Saberhagen and Rick Reed.
The right-handed Silva signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1996. He made his Major League debut in 2002 as a reliever and pitched two seasons in that capacity. After the 2003 season, the Phillies traded him to Minnesota, who made one of the best decisions of the 2004 season by converting him to a starter (Daniel Bard, anyone?)
He had no problems at all getting stretched out; he threw 203 innings while posting a 14–8 mark and ended up as the No. 2 starter behind Cy Young winner Johan Santana. In a four-year stretch from 2003 to 2007, Silva won 47 games for the Twins while making 31 or more starts in three seasons and 27 in the fourth. He averaged more than 193 innings per year. He also went fairly deep into games for an offensively-challenged team, averaging almost seven innings per start. He went 23-16 for 2004 and '05.
In 2005, while pitching for the Twins, he walked only nine batters in 188.1 innings, setting the modern era MLB record for fewest walks allowed per nine innings (0.43). That same year, he led the majors in double-play balls induced with 34. On May 20, 2005, Silva threw only 74 pitches in a nine-inning complete game, which was the lowest number since 1957.
After the 2007 season (13-14 with a 4.19 ERA in 33 starts), the star-crossed Bill Bavasi made on of the biggest mistakes of his tenure as Seattle GM when he signed Silva to a four-year, $48 million contract.
There had been warning signs. In 2006, he gave up a major-league-worst 1.90 home runs per nine innings, allowing 38. He also posted a major-league-worst batting average against of .326.
To be fair, those numbers improved in 2007; but his career in Seattle was a total bust. He went 3-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008 and 1-3 with an 8.60 ERA before being shut down for most of 2009 with a shoulder injury.
Seattle Times writer Larry Stone wrote, "I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround."
Things were looking up for Silva and the Cubs when he started the 2010 season with an 8-0 record, the first Cubs starter to do so since 1967. However, he fell off a cliff in the second half, finishing the season at 10-6, missing much of the final two months after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.
Silva's evil twin emerged during 2011 spring training.
As reported by Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez made an error while Silva was pitching. Channeling his inner John Lackey, Silva showed up Ramirez. He went one step further, actually getting into a fight with Ramirez in the dugout.
"Most of the blame was assigned to Silva," wrote Levine. "If only because Ramirez had never been known as a problem player."
Silva made things worse by complaining that his rotation spot was not guaranteed, and the Cubs had seen enough. They released him.
He made matters worse by criticizing pitching coach Mark Riggins and the Cubs organization on his way out the door.
"Obviously we're dealing with a man at this stage of his career who's not willing to face the facts," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told Levine.
"What he's done for the last few years in his career, except for a two-month period, is way below major league standards. And he seems to have the continual problem [of] blaming everybody but himself."
Understandably, no team picked Silva up on waivers, so the Cubs ($6 million) and the Mariners ($5.5 million) ate the $11.5 million due him on the last year of his contract. Seattle also paid him a $2 million buyout of a 2012 team option.
Silva then signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He pitched reasonably well to start the year, posting a 2-1 record in 36 innings at High Single-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was working on a 2.75 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks when shoulder problems cropped up. The Yankees released him on July 2.
Signing Silva is a risky move for the Red Sox, not just because of the injury issues (he's also a heavy 280 pounds), but because of his reputation of being a clubhouse problem. Just what the Bosox need…
Silva will earn up to $1 million if he makes the big league club. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, Silva has an opt-out in his contract that would allow him to walk away if he is not on the big league roster by mid-April.
I would be shocked if he is.
Born on New Year's Eve in 1980, the 30-year-old Connecticut native is a left-handed pitcher who spent parts of three years in the big leagues with Toronto. To give you an idea of how low-profile this signing is, the contract was reported by his brother, Cory, to Robert Mayer of their hometown online newspaper, the Berlin (CT) Patch.
Born in nearby New Britain, Carlson starred in basketball as well as baseball at Berlin High School, graduating in 1999 after winning the state baseball championship that year. He pitched three years at the University of Connecticut before being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in June 2002.
Mayer added that Carlson signed a split major-league/minor-league contract, giving him a shot to make the Red Sox roster out of spring training. If not, he would go to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox.
This signing is very much in line with GM Ben Cherington's desire to add some pitching "through some good, creative, perhaps buy-low acquisitions."
Carlson fits that description perfectly. He has shown he can pitch at the major-league level when healthy; after parts of seven seasons in the minors with four different organizations, he made his major league debut with Toronto as a reliever on April 10, 2008.
Six days later, he entered another extra inning game with the bases loaded—this time with no outs. He proceeded to strike out the next three Texas batters on 12 pitches, the first time in 48 years that had been done. That was also the earliest in a pitching career in MLB history that anyone had accomplished that feat.
He earned the Blue Jays Rookie of the Year Award that season, posting a 7–2 record with a 2.25 ERA in 69 appearances.
Unfortunately, Carlson was unable to replicate that success in 2009. He lost six of his seven decisions with a 4.66 ERA. The 2010 season was even worse; he pitched only 13 major-league innings with a similar ERA.
It is possible that those declining numbers were a result of arm trouble; he was shut down and underwent rotator cuff surgery that cost him the entire 2011 season. He was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and was one of the Toronto's top candidates to be non-tendered, especially due to his rehab situation.
Granted, he doesn't have overpowering stuff. In a 2010 interview with ESPN Radio 1100's Seat Williams in Las Vegas, he admitted that his fast ball topped out at 92 mph and that his most effective pitch is a breaking ball.
In that interview, he also described one of his more memorable big-league moments, which could endear him to Red Sox fans. He acknowledges starting a brawl with the Yankees, throwing at Jorge Posada and then tangling with the Yankee catcher near home plate.
"He gave me a forearm shiver," said Carlson, and then it was on.
When the smoke cleared and the teams were separated, Carlson emerged "with a lump on my head the size of a softball," along with a bloody lip…and increased respect from his teammates.
"I'm from hard-hittin' New Britain, and you don't want to mess with me," he concluded.
The Red Sox have very little to lose here. If he does make the team, he will be a bargain basement steal, somewhere in the $1 million range. He is a left-hander with big-league stuff who is equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters, which makes him far more valuable than your average LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy).
If he can stay healthy, he would be an asset in middle relief and could even spot start.
Just before the Red Sox announced Ciriaco's signing, Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette blogged, "Hey, this guy hasn't been signed yet?"
Known for a good glove and speed in the minors, he surprisingly has a .333 batting average with a .350 on-base percentage in 40 plate appearances at the big-league level.
Ciriaco has a great baseball pedigree, hailing from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. Its population is about 217,000—about the same as Garland, TX, or Winston-Salem, NC—but it has produced the astonishing total of 73 MLB players to include Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Sammy Sosa, Jose Valverde and a dozen others on current rosters.
Ciriaco was signed by the Diamondbacks as an amateur free agent in 2003 and was traded to the Pirates at the 2010 deadline. He has a career .270 batting average in 3,009 plate appearances to show for his seven years in the minors, and that average would have been better had he not inexplicably posted a career-low .231 at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011.
He has played mostly shortstop in his career, but did play a number of games at second base over the past few years. At Indianapolis last season, he also played one game at third and six games in left field.
Paul Ladewski of PiratesReport.com said, "Ciriaco was one of the more impressive players in training camp, not to mention probably the fastest guy on the roster."
However, he did not make the major league team, "to the consternation of a certain segment of the Pittsburgh media," according to his scouting report on piratesprospects.com.
When he was sent down, Ladewski wrote, manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington both spoke enthusiastically about Ciriaco as a potential valuable utility guy who "might be able to play as many as six positions eventually."
Unfortunately, Ciriaco took his demotion hard, and he played poorly. He struggled badly at the plate, with a terrible 10 to one strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Ladewski reported that his confidence was shattered.
The way the Pirates used him in 2011 could not have helped, either. They called him up seven separate times, once just for one day. Three times he stayed in Pittsburgh for three days or less. In August, Ciriaco was in the airport heading for a seventh trip back to Triple-A before a last-minute injury summoned him back to the ballpark.
He was in the majors for five weeks and made only six plate appearances.
In September, Ciriaco finally got some playing time, possibly to give the Pirates a chance to evaluate him prior to the off-season roster decisions.
"Surprisingly, he went 10-for-33 with two doubles and a triple. He even had a game-winning hit", added piratesprospects.com.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of Ciriaco, who had been optioned to the minors and back six times this season. “I think there was a point of time when he had more flights (to Triple-A) than at-bats and we were trying to equal that out."
After all that, Ciriaco was non-tendered by the Pirates in mid-December.
I think this is a good, low-profile pickup.
The Red Sox actually signed Inman in November, but the transaction flew beneath most radars. Most of the eventual media accounts relating to the signing of this former top pitching prospect also left out or glossed over the elbow injury that cost him most of his 2010 season and limited him in 2011.
While pitching for the Triple-A Tucson Padres in June 2010, he injured the arm throwing to first on a bunt. According to Sarah Trotto of the Arizona Daily Star, he underwent ulnar-nerve transposition shortly thereafter.
The good news is that it is a far simpler procedure than Tommy John surgery, and he was back pitching at the start of the 2011 season. The bad news is that post-injury, he never quite regained the form that had earned him the milb.com nod as the top pitcher in all of Single-A in 2006. That year, he struck out 134 batters and walked only 34 in 110.2 innings, scorching the opposition with a 1.71 ERA en route to a 10-2 record. He was still shy of his 20th birthday.
The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Inman out of high school in the third round of the 2005 draft. In his first profesional season, he held Pioneer League batters to a .182 average while he went 6-0 with a 2.00 ERA.
According to Lisa Winston of MLB.com, "San Diego Padres pitching prospect Will Inman jumped onto pretty much everyone's radar screen back in 2006 when he tore it up in his first full season at Class A West Virginia."
The next summer, Winston recounted that he moved up to Advanced A Brevard County where a 1.72 ERA in 13 games earned him a midseason promotion to Double-A Huntsville.
Despite running into a bit of a wall as he began to face better hitters (1-5 record, 5.45 ERA in eight starts), he was still the player the Padres wanted in the trading deadline deal for veteran reliever Scott Linebrink.
At Double-A San Antonio, he had a 4.17 ERA in seven games, but he still continued to strike out hitters at a pretty good rate. His 180 total strikeouts ranked third in the minors that season.
In 2008, he started 28 games for San Antonio and led the Texas League with 140 strikeouts in 135.1 innings. His 3.52 ERA ranked fourth in the San Diego system, and he was also the Padres' only representative in the All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium—an experience that he described to Winston as the "best of his life" to that point.
Things started going south for Inman in 2009 after he was promoted midseason to Triple-A Tucson. His ERA almost doubled (from 3.40 to 6.71). Ben Davey, writing on Friar Forecast, a Padres blog, attributed that problem to better hitters not being fooled as easily by his plus curve and deceptive delivery.
"In AAA an average fastball can still be belted a long way with or without deception," he noted. "Combine that with non-fluid mechanics and the walks have soared…"
His Triple-A struggles continued in 2011, when Inman posted a 6.15 ERA while going 5-11 in 17 starts and 25 relief appearances. Yes, the Pacific Coast League is hitter-friendly, but not THAT friendly.
A year ago Davey wrote prophetically, "Poor Will Inman… This might be [his] last year with the Padres. If he can’t put up the numbers he will be wearing another uniform by the end of 2011."
That uniform is a Red Sox uniform, and it represents another attempt by Ben Cherington to catch lightning in a bottle. Inman is another highly-touted arm who has underformed, at least partly due to injury. Can he find his stuff again? There were positive signs buried in his disastrous 2011 to include the fact that he still averaged more than a strikeout an inning.
Once again, this is a low-risk move.
Right-handed pitcher Doug Mathis is another player whom the Red Sox signed well before their Jan. 3 press release. Baseball America broke the news on Dec. 9, the same day the Red Sox signed LHP Jesse Carlson.
Mathis, 28, spent six years in the Rangers organization after being drafted by them in 2005. He made 45 appearances with Texas between 2008 and 2010, during which he posted a 4.84 ERA with one save.
After a good year at Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2009 (2.84 ERA in 11 games), he was called up to Texas. He had a 3.16 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 42.2 innings with the Rangers.
Mathis offers some interesting options for the Red Sox. In the minors, 121 of his 128 appearances over seven years were starts in which he posted a cumulative ERA of 4.18. However, 39 of his 45 career appearances in the majors have been as a reliever, and his numbers are better coming out of the bullpen.
After making the big league team to start the 2010 season, he began to struggle, posting an ERA of 6.03 in 16 games. He was sent back to Oklahoma City, where his problems continued. He went 5-7 with a 5.66 ERA, and the Rangers released him at the end of the season.
Last year was an odyssey for Mathis. He went to spring training with Cleveland and was released at the end of March. The Giants signed him to a minor league contract a week later and released him on June 15. Two days later, Oakland picked him up, only to release him on July 14.
During that period, he made 17 starts at Triple-A, going 0-5 with a 4.27 ERA.
Overseas, he went 5-2 with a 2.52 earned run average during the 2011 regular season and helped Samsung win its fourth championship in 10 years, according to soxprospects.com.
Again, this is a low-risk, shot-in-the-dark signing by GM Ben Cherington. He has added to his organizational depth with another versatile arm.
In case anyone is wondering why the Red Sox signed this guy, look no further than the one common quality GM Ben Cherington seems to be seeking in his pitcher reclamation projects: ground-ball rate.
According to Alex Eisenberg of HardballTimes.com, Spoone had a 60 percent ground ball rate in 2005; the MLB average is 44 percent. (Aaron Cook's career rate is 57.4 percent.)
In 2006, Spoone's percentage improved to 65, which was the highest rate in the entire minor leagues among hurlers who pitched 90 or more innings. In 2007, he was a highly-rated Single-A starter, posting a 3.26 ERA and a very respectable 1.151 WHIP in 25 starts comprising 152 innings.
Eisenberg adds, "In terms of make-up, Spoone is a smart pitcher with a bulldog mentality. He works hard and has shown the ability to make adjustments. Spoone is a workhorse."
Unfortunately, the horse went lame in 2008. He was on the DL early in the year, then ended up having shoulder surgery in September.
In between, he pitched only 41 innings with a 4.57 ERA. In July 2008, Michael Jaffe wrote on oriolescout.com. "When Spoone’s heavy 91-93 M.P.H. fastball is in the zone, all opponents can do is pound it into the ground, but when he lacks command he, like any other pitcher, will struggle."
Struggle he did. In 2009, he only pitched 29.2 innings in Rookie and Single-A leagues, posting an ERA of 6.37. He improved somewhat at Double-A Bowie, starting 24 games and pitching 132 innings. However, he walked 79 batters and only struck out 88.
Tim Dierkes reported on MLBTradeRumors.com that Baseball America ranked Spoone 24th among Orioles prospects prior to the 2011 season, saying that he once had electric stuff, but now may be better off as a reliever.
In 2011, he spent time in both Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, but the Orioles ran out of patience (or roster spots) and designated him for assignment on July 19. According to Steve Melewski of MASN Sports, he cleared waivers and stayed in the Orioles organization. He went back to Bowie, and they converted him to a reliever. He made 12 relief appearances, posting a 3.60 ERA, and "there were several good reports on how he was throwing out of the 'pen," wrote Melewski.
After 141 games and 631 career innings as an Oriole prospect, Spoone will try to make his bones in a Red Sox uniform.
Justin Thomas is another one of those pitchers who can start or work out of the bullpen, like Chorye Spoone and others on GM Ben Cherington's shopping list.
The 27-year-old left-hander was drafted by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. According to Jason Churchill of ProspectInsider, one scout suggested as late as 2007 that Thomas had “the makings of a pretty valuable pitcher backing up a solid front three. He’s the ideal type of talent that can effectively support a good rotation.”
He spent five years in the Mariners minor-league system as a starter before he began working out of the bullpen in 2008. He also made his major-league debut out of the bullpen that year, but he struggled in eight appearances with a 6.75 ERA.
He worked exclusively in relief in 2009, making 53 appearances for Triple-A Tacoma, striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings, However, he also gave up an average of 10 hits and six walks per nine innings enroute to a 4.48 ERA, which led to his being placed on waivers after the 2009 season.
Pittsburgh claimed him, and he put together a sparkling year at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2010, to include a spiffy 5.1:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. He went 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA and a remarkable 0.791 WHIP. That performance earned him another call-up to the big leagues, where he was hit pretty hard (6.23 ERA) in 12 appearances.
Back in the minors for the entire 2011 season, he was unable to duplicate his 2010 Indianapolis performance; however, he did go 8-2 with a 3.89 ERA in 69.1 innings.
Thomas was granted free agency on Nov. 2, 2011, and the Red Sox signed him three weeks later. Given the competition for the big-league bullpen, I think the odds are stacked against him. However, he could add organizational pitching depth at Triple-A Pawtucket.
"Quack!" is how one Boston media outlet announced the signing of Duckworth to a minor-league contract in December of 2010.
While with the Phillies from 2001 to 2003, Duckworth was a sort of a cult hero. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 1997, he tore up the minor-league system, culminating with a 13-2, 2.63 ERA, 1.017 WHIP season at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2001. He also posted more than one strikeout per inning and a 4.17 ratio of strikeouts to walks.That performance earned him a late season call-up, and he went a promising 3-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts.
The underdog coming out of nowhere storyline caught the fans' fancy, and they formed a special cheering section for him in the right-field bleachers called the Duck Pond.
The lovefest continued in 2002, when Duckworth started 29 games and pitched 163 innings with a strikeout rate of better than one per inning. However, he was somewhat wild, posting a WHIP of 1.44, and went 8-9 with an unremarkable ERA of 5.41.
Performance was evidently not a requirement for Phillie fan adulation, because the Duck Pond became one of the most famous fan groups in the history of Veterans Stadium. The group wore duck masks and swim trunks and used duck calls to cheer Duckworth's strikeouts.
Duckworth himself had a reputation for being funny as well as accessible and friendly to fans. One fan told of a bullpen exchange in which Duckworth promised to plunk the hated Cardinals right fielder J.D. Drew. (Red Sox fans can identify, I'm sure.)
Despite the fan base, he scuffled to stay in the rotation in 2003, and after the season, was dealt to Houston in the Billy Wagner trade.
The magic was gone. He got hammered in eight starts and did little better in relief for the Astros, giving up 50 runs in only 55.2 innings in 2004 and 2005, resulting in an ERA of 8.16.
The Royals took a chance on him next, He spent the next three years going back and forth between Kansas City and Omaha. He last pitched in the big leagues at the end of the 2008 season.
In 2009, he made 19 starts at Omaha, going 3-6 with a 5.31 ERA until elbow problems shut him down, as he pitched with hampering his right elbow. He had surgery to remove bone chips in August of 2009 and was a free agent after the season.
This looked like the end of the road, but a chance meeting with Phillies minor-league pitching coordinator Gorman Heimueller resulted in an invitation for Duckworth to work with minor-league pitching coach Carlos Arroyo in the Dominican Republic.
“I just ran into him close to Thanksgiving,” Heimueller told Ryan Lawrence of the (Philadelphia) Mainline News.
“He was looking for a place to play and I knew Carlos was in the Dominican. I got them in touch with each other. At that time, I didn’t know what he could do. When he went down there with Carlos, he threw the ball well. He’s going to get a chance here, an opportunity to pitch. We’ll see what he can do.”
Not much, as it turned out. Despite some initial hoopla about the potential return of the Duck Pond, he never escaped the Lehigh Valley, making 25 appearances (16 starts) and posting an ERA of 3.32. Not good enough, apparently, since the Phillies did not re-sign him for 2011.
Duckworth turns 36 next week (January 23), making him the greybeard of this group. He has also appeared in 134 major league games over eight seasons, compiling a 23-34 record in 84 starts with a 5.28 ERA.
Duckworth has not pitched in the majors since 2008, so it's a little puzzling that he's still laboring in the minors at his age. However, after being signed to a minor-league deal by the Red Sox in December of 2010, he started 21 games for Triple-A Pawtucket last season, pitching 118 innings with a 3.97 ERA.
His scouting report describes him as a "Journeyman with the versatility to start or relieve." and credits him with a decent curveball. However, he is also described as having subpar command.
"Gives up a lot of home runs," the report continues, and "Struggles against lefties."
It doesn't look as if there's any real upside here.
Is Charlie Haeger the second coming of Tim Wakefield?
“His good knuckleball is plenty good,” former big-league knuckleballer Charlie Hough told Mason Kelly of the Seattle Times. “We’ve seen it. We’ve seen him win big-league games and it’s a matter of being able to repeat it.”
Ah, yes—the curse of the knuckleballer: throwing one good one followed by one that doesn't flutter isn't enough. Major-league hitters will feast on those cripples.
Despite his struggles (a career 2-7 record with an ERA of 6.40, a WHIP of 1.75 and a BB/9 of 6.4 in 83 Major League innings over five seasons), Haeger does have one major advantage: his relative youth. At 27, he committed to the knuckleball earlier in his career than most.
And consider the longevity at the major league level of those who mastered the knuckleball. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched until he was almost 50, Phil Niekro used the pitch until he was 48, Hough pitched until he was 46 and Tim Wakefield is still pitching at 44. Also, Wakefield has pitched on consecutive days, when most starting pitchers these days throw after five days of rest.
The lower velocity of the knuckleball puts less strain on the shoulder and elbow, which gives those who throw it the ability to pitch more often and to have pitching careers far longer than those who rely on their fastball or curveball to get outs.
“My thought is [as a knuckleball pitcher] you’re already five years younger than your actual age,” Hough said. “If he’s 27, I think of him as a 22-year-old, 21-year-old, because if he gets it, he’ll pitch as long as the 22-year-old will.”
The Chicago White Sox drafted Haeger straight out of Detroit Catholic Central High School in the 25th round of the 2001 draft.The transition to minor-league baseball wasn’t a smooth one. It was so rough that he gave up baseball following the 2002 season and went to college at Madonna University in his home town of Livonia, Mich., where he played golf instead of baseball.
According to Kelly, Haeger never threw a knuckleball in a high-school game. He was drafted because he was getting batters out with a low 90s fastball. On days he didn’t pitch, he played third base. The only knuckleballs he threw were to teammates during infield practice, “just messing around.”
During his early struggles in the Arizona League, he threw a few uncatchable knuckleballs to his pitching coach, who told Haeger to hang onto that pitch.
"Still a teenager at the time, he largely disregarded the advice," wrote Kelly. He left baseball.
Then, before the start of the 2004 season, the White Sox called and invited him back. Haeger decided to give it another shot. As his velocity had dropped inexplicably, he decided his baseball future hinged on the knuckleball.
Since then he has been a minor-league all-star three times and has pitched in the majors for the White Sox, Padres and Dodgers. During his first start in 2010, he struck out 12 in six innings against the Marlins.
“You don’t do that without a good knuckleball,” Hough told Kelly. (Hough himself didn't get to start as a knuckleballer until the age of 34 when he was with the Rangers.)
In 2010, Haeger made six starts for the Dodgers while dealing with arthritis in his back. He finally had surgery in the spring of 2011 after signing with Seattle.
He was released by the Mariners in July after struggling at Triple-A Tacoma, posting a 7.74 ERA in nine starts. On July 24, the Red Sox signed him, perhaps because of their familiarity with the quirks of the knuckleball after so many years with Tim Wakefield.
At the time of the signing, Kevin Pereira, the Pawtucket Red Sox Examiner, wrote, "Some said he was the best knuckleball prospect since Red Sox' own Tim Wakefield."
The Red Sox hope Hough is right and that Haeger can fully master the pitch. He has shown real promise in the past; for example, in 2006 at Triple-A Charlotte, he had a 14-6 record with an ERA of 3.07 and 130 strikeouts,
For you trivia buffs: On July 22, 2007, Haeger relieved White Sox starter Jon Garland in the fifth inning of a game against the Red Sox, who had Tim Wakefield on the mound. This was the first time in recent years that two knuckleballers had faced each other in the same game.
Breaking news: On Feb. 5, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Haeger tore up his elbow long-tossing during the winter. He will undergo surgery and will unfortunately miss the season.
Who ever heard of a knuckleballer with Tommy John surgery?
I'm a big fan of Rich Hill.
Hill, who had a 1.12 ERA in 16 innings with the PawSox, likely would have stuck in the Red Sox bullpen all season had he not required Tommy John surgery.
Faced with a glut of southpaws who are out of options (Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront), it is understandable from a numbers perspective that Hill was the odd man out. After all, he did undergo Tommy John surgery last spring, and it is doubtful that he would have been ready for the start of the season anyway.
However, Hill showed signs of great promise after having been signed as a free agent and converted to relief work at AAA Pawtucket in 2010. He came up to the Red Sox at the end of that season and was not scored upon in six appearances.
Even though he was a little older than most of his PawSox teammates and had had some success in the big leagues, he approached the offseason with the right attitude. The Pawtucket Times described his appearance at McCoy Stadium for the team's annual Christmas party for local kids.
In 2011 spring training, he developed a new sidearm delivery, and as Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reported, he worked on his arsenal to make sure he was not viewed as "just another LOOGY" (lefty one-out guy). He concentrated on throwing his fastball inside to right-handers and also worked to improve his change-up.
Hill started the 2011 season with a bang, giving up only two runs in 16 innings at AAA Pawtucket. He was then called up to Boston, where he racked up nine more scoreless appearances before injuring his elbow in late May. Just as encouragingly, right-handers hit only .167 off him (one hit in 12 AB).
Just think about it: Fifteen Red Sox appearances, no runs allowed and a WHIP of less than 1.00.
As Abraham wrote, "Hill could be an interesting weapon. Imagine the trouble a hitter would have after facing Jon Lester for seven innings and then have to deal with Hill coming in from a sidearm angle."
Rich Hill gained AL East experience during his year with Baltimore in 2009.
Hill is a local boy who was born in Boston and starred at Milton High School. He was drafted by the Cubs out of Michigan as a starter in 2002 and helped them win the NL Central in 2007.
Of his 78 major league games, 70 have been as a starter.
His 2008 season was an almost total write-off: back and shoulder problems limited him to only five appearances. The Cubs sold him to the Orioles early in 2009, and after a struggling year, he signed with the Cardinals just prior to spring training of 2010. He pitched at AAA Memphis before the Red Sox picked him up and converted him to reliever.
Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that Hill "is progressing well in his rehab from surgery that took place a week after he suffered his injury." He is now throwing at 120 feet and is guardedly optimistic that he will be ready by Opening Day.
“Health-wise, I couldn’t feel any better,” Hill told Speier. “I’m trying to get as strong as I can for the start of the season."
Hill was obviously disappointed that the Red Sox did not tender him a new contract and will now wait to see if another team will gamble on him for a major league deal. I would imagine that if no other team bites, he would be willing to come back to Boston on another minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. His split contract last season called for a prorated $580,000 salary while in the majors, so he would certainly fit GM Ben Cherington's mold of low-cost, low-risk signings.
Best-case scenario for Hill would be for the Red Sox to move one of the other lefty relievers in a trade for starting pitching or outfield help. That could open a roster spot him, and I hope the Red Sox bring him back.
Let's hope that Tony Peña Jr.'s prospects as a baseball pitcher are better than those of his namesake, Anthony Pena, who impersonated Muammar Gaddafi on the Conan O'Brien TV show (and is now out of a job permanently).
Peña, a non-drafted free agent shortstop, is the son of former Major League player and former Royals manager Tony Peña, who is now the bench coach for the Yankees. The younger Peña was signed by the Atlanta Braves in 1999, and he made his big-league debut with Atlanta seven years later.
Peña played shortstop until the 2009 season, but he struggled at the plate, hitting .228 with a horrendous .247 on-base percentage. The numbers got even worse when he tried to come back from a broken hamate bone in his wrist.
By July of 2009, he was batting .098 with a slugging percentage of .118 in 51 at-bats when the Royals waived him. Adding insult to injury, he was not even in the lineup on his bobblehead day.
The previous July, Peña had made his major league pitching debut, performing mop-up duty in a 19-4 blowout loss to the Detroit Tigers. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout of Iván Rodríguez.
According to Jorge Ortiz of USA Today, Kansas City manager Trey Hillman suggested Peña try pitching, based partly on that one scoreless inning of mop-up relief.
Pena had been scouted as a pitcher and position player before signing with the Braves as an infielder in 1999.
"He had not pitched since then," wrote Ortiz, "But, after some initial reluctance, swallowed his ego and went down to the minors to begin a new career at 28."
"I knew I could do the job defensively," Peña told Ortiz, "but I was struggling with the bat, and when you want to do what you enjoy for a living, you have to be willing to make every effort to make it work."
Upon hearing this announcement that he would try to pitch, AP reported, "Tony Peña Jr.has hit like a pitcher for the past two years, so the Kansas City Royals plan to convert him to one."
Ben Nicholson-Smith added, "[His batting stats] are the sorts of numbers that set a league-worst level every year, so it's no wonder he tried to switch."
The transition is not altogether hopeless, however; both Joe Nathan and Trevor Hoffman began their careers as shortstops, and they ended up doing pretty well on the mound.
In 2009, Pena posted a 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings at three minor-league levels, then went 2-0 with a 4.00 ERA in 21 outings for the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. He showed enough promise to cause the San Francisco Giants to sign him.
He started the 2010 season with the Richmond Flying Squirrels in Double-A and surprised a lot of people by posting a 2.53 ERA in 46.1 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A Fresno, where his lack of pitches other than a fastball became evident. He struggled to a 6.60 ERA in 30 innings and was released after the season, and he went back to Aguilas.
PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur was the pitching coach for Aguilas during the winter He told Mike Scandura of Fire Brand of the American League, “I recommended Boston sign him and I said I’d like to have him in Pawtucket and be able to work with him because he hasn’t had that much time pitching."
On Jan. 5, 2011, he signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. Last season, the 30-year-old Peña finished 9-6 with a 3.56 ERA (combined starting and relieving) for Pawtucket. In his first six starts he was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA.
“He’s got a well-disguised fastball,” said Sauveur. “He doesn’t look like he throws hard but his fastball, from that sidearm slot, is anywhere from 90 to 93 at times. I think that’s going to be his number one weapon."
According to Jayson Stark, ESPNBoston.com the Red Sox re-signed pitcher Tony Peña, Jr. to a minor-league contract with an invitation to 2012 spring training. He would earn $625,000 if he makes the big-league team.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only six players since 1970 have reached the majors as position players, then later on as pitchers. The most recent ones were Ron Mahay, as an outfielder with the Red Sox in 1995 and with them as a pitcher two years later, and Brooks Kieschnick, as an outfielder with the Cubs in 1996 and as a pitcher with the Brewers in 2003.
Often described as a "scrappy, Dave Eckstein type player," Spears has an upside because he provides roster flexibility. He plays second, short and third and is above-average with the glove. One of those unique animals who bats left handed and throws right handed, he makes decent contact at the plate, hits to all fields and has shown some pop with the bat. Has some speed, with 85 stolen bases. He has also played a few games at first base in the minors.
He was drafted by Baltimore in the fifth round of the 2003 draft straight out of Port Charlotte High School. His best year in the Oriole organization was 2005 with High-A Frederick, where he hit .294 in 112 games and was both a Midseason and Postseason Carolina League All-Star. On Jan. 9, 2006, Spears was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the Corey Patterson deal.
After struggling for much of the season at Triple-A iowa, the Cubs released him after the 2009 season. However, the Red Sox noted that he hit .324 over the last six weeks and signed him to a minor-league deal. He played 2010 at Double-A Portland, where he was an Eastern League All-Star, hitting .272 in 136 games with a .380 on-base percentage and an OPS of .838. He hit 30 doubles, four triples and 20 home runs, and he even stole 13 bases in 14 tries.
In 2011 spring training, he hit .290 in 28 games. He started 2011 with Triple-A Pawtucket. He was unable to match his Portland production, hitting .248 with an OPS of .751, but he still earned a big league call-up last September.
Should he make the big-league roster, Cook stands to earn a prorated $1.5 million, according to WEEI.com. Cook will be given the chance to join a gaggle of other low-risk signees in competing for the fourth or fifth starter role.
According to Rosenthal, new Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure knows Cook. McClure was a minor-league pitching coach for Colorado for six years (1999 to 2005). Cook was the Rockies’ second-round draft pick in 1997 and made the major league team in 2002. He spent parts of 10 seasons with the Rockies, and he is the only Colorado hurler to have pitched more than 1,000 innings. Cook also holds the team record for victories with 72.
During that span, he posted an ERA of 4.53 in some 1,300 innings. From 2006 through 2009, he averaged 187 innings per season and recorded a 4.11 ERA.
Boston fans may recall that Cook was the losing pitcher in the decisive Game 4 of the 2007 World Series. Cook allowed just one run through the first six innings, but World Series MVP Mike Lowell hit a two-run home run off him in the seventh, and Boston went on to win, 4-3.
Cook signed a $30 million deal covering the 2009-2011 seasons, but injuries plagued him for the duration of that contract. He lost a month in 2009 with a strained right shoulder, and the following year, he suffered a broken leg when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of the Reds' Joey Votto.
In 2011, he battled shoulder issues again early in the season and later broke a bone in his fingertip when he slammed it in a door. His 97 innings in 2011 were his fewest since 2005, and it was no surprise when the Rockies chose not to pick up an $11 million team option for 2012, making him a free agent.
Cook was the losing pitcher in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series. He pitched well until Mike Lowell tagged him for a seventh-inning HR.
Cook had comparatively brutal numbers in 2010 and 2011, which undoubtedly made many teams leery of signing him. He posted a 5.08 ERA and a 1.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2010, walking 52 batters in 127.2 innings. He followed that up with a 6.03 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 2011, walking 37 and only striking out 48 batters in 97 innings.
So, why should Red Sox fans be optimistic about Cook's chances?
That would certainly be useful at Fenway Park.
More importantly, his deteriorating stats may not be a good prediction of his future performance.
There is pretty good evidence showing that pitching in Colorado produces more wear and tear on hurlers due to the altitude. Marc Normandin wrote an excellent analysis of that phenomenon for SBNation.com when he covered the Ubaldo Jiminez trade last year.
Normandin quoted former Baseball Prospectus writer Rany Jazayerli: "…one thing the Rockies have figured out--a finding backed up by medical science--in their decade in the mountains: as a result of the thin air, the body recovers from physical exertion slower than it does at sea level."
In 2004, when the Rockies briefly moved to a four-man rotation, Jazayerli wrote:
Mike Hampton threw eight shutout innings in his first start at Coors Field after signing with the Rockies, throwing only 98 pitches. The next day, he said, "I felt like I had been hit by a truck when I got up." The difficulty in recovering from each start was so debilitating that, before he was traded to the Braves, Hampton was planning to outfit his bedroom in Colorado with a pressure chamber so that his muscles might heal faster between starts.
Although Cook pitched more than 200 innings in 2006 and 2008, no Rockies pitcher has thrown three 200-plus inning seasons in a row in the history of the franchise.
The point is, getting Cook out of Colorado could be the best thing for his health. If he stays healthy, he could be a pleasant surprise to the Red Sox—at very little financial risk.
That is in spite of the fact that a ball he pitched is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And believe it or not, Germano also broke one of Mark McGwire's home run records.
Only the biggest of trivia buffs would know that the ball is in Cooperstown because it was the first pitch ever thrown in an MLB game in China. Germano was the exhibition game starter for the San Diego Padres against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 15, 2008.
The home run record that Germano broke was McGwire's Claremont, California Little League record for most home runs in a season.
More recently, Germano was the property of the Korean League’s Samsung Lions. According to CBSsports.com's Jon Heyman on Twitter, Germano turned down a $1 million offer to re-sign with the Lions—opting for the far more risky opportunity to make the Red Sox roster.
This signing is another example of GM Ben Cherington sticking to his guns about seeking pitching diamonds in the rough. If there is any pattern to these recent low-cost acquisitions, it is their ground ball rate. Like Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva, Germano is a sinkerball specialist who doesn't strike out very many batters, but he can keep the ball on the ground.
There is no question Germano can be a good pitcher when he is focused: On July 26 of last year, he pitched a perfect game for the Columbus Clippers, Cleveland's Triple-A farm team. He struck out seven Syracuse Chiefs in facing the minimum of 27 batters.
It was the first perfect game in Clippers history and the fifth of all-time in the 127-year history of the International League. It was the first since Bronson Arroyo's 2003 gem for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Lindsay Kramer described Germano's outing on syracuse.com as:
…a powerhouse effort that Germano, who has pitched in 79 career Major League games, made look so light and breezy. The right-hander pounded the outside corner of the plate against righty batters with an arching, rainbow curve that twisted Chiefs hitters into pretzels. He went to a three-ball count just once, two balls seven times and tossed 69 of his 95 offerings over the plate.
The other nugget to take away from that description is "79 career Major League games."
For whatever reason, Germano has been maddeningly inconsistent in those games, amassed over parts of six seasons with the Padres, Reds and Indians. He owns a 5.02 ERA in 253 career big-league innings. His best season was 2007 with the Padres; he finished that year 7-10 with a 4.46 ERA and 78 strikeouts.
The only reason he was even in Columbus last July was because he had been demoted from the Indians after allowing eight runs in 12.2 innings bullpen innings, struggling to a 5.68 ERA to start the season.
Playing on a contract that paid him $415,000 in 2011, he was sold to the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization on Aug. 5, 2011.
His willingness to give up better money overseas in exchange for the chance to prove he can be an MLB pitcher should not be surprising.
He spent the 2009 season with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. The Hawks offered Germano a contract for 2010, but he turned it down, saying he wanted to come back and pitch in the U.S.
One reason for his past inconsistency is the fact that he has been shuffled back and forth between starting and relieving.
Columbus Clippers broadcaster Scott Leo wrote, "Germano has always seen himself as a starter, it fits him better because of the routine involved between outings."
Perhaps the chance to compete for the fifth starter slot for the Red Sox will settle him down enough to produce.
On Jan. 16, the Red Sox signed Padilla to a minor-league contract. The deal includes an invitation to spring training, and if he make it to the major leagues, he will earn $1.5 million, according to John Tomase of the Boston Herald.
Padilla, 34, is another injury waiting to happen, but he can get people out. He had several reasonably successful seasons with the Phillies and Rangers, but has pitched only 251 innings over the last three years. Last year, he only made nine appearances for the Dodgers with a 4.15 ERA before he was shut down due to injury. He has undergone two surgeries recently, one to fix a nerve problem in his elbow and the second to repair a disc problem in his neck.
Mike Axisa wrote a very interesting blurb about Padilla on the Yankees Yes Network:
"Anyway, there’s not point in exploring Padilla as option because he and Mark Teixeira hate each other. It dates back to even before their days as teammates with the Rangers, and back in 2009, we saw that mini-blowup after Padilla hit Tex twice in a game."
The signing of John Maine came out of left field.
In the summer of 2010, Maine, frustrated by his inability to recover from shoulder surgery, was contemplating retirement from baseball at the age of 29. He had signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies, attempting to recapture some of the success he had enjoyed in New York from 2006 through 2008.
According to Jack Etikin of Inside the Rockies, Maine left Colorado Springs, the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate, after allowing 10 hits and eight runs in four-plus innings in a June outing. Only 52 of his 95 pitches were strikes. By that point, Maine had posted a 7.43 ERA with 37 walks in 46 innings.
Less than four years earlier, Maine had started Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS for the New York Mets.
He had been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. The following year he struck out 185 batters to lead all minor-league pitchers. Considered a top prospect, Maine made his debut with the Orioles on July 23, 2004.
He and reliever Jorge Julio were traded to the Mets on Jan. 21, 2006 for starting pitcher Kris Benson. Called up as an emergency starter, he pitched a complete-game shutout. He then pitched a scoreless inning in relief, and then 22 scoreless innings over three more starts. Mets manager Willie Randolph promptly added Maine to the rotation. His scoreless-inning streak reached 26 before he allowed a run.
After injuries sidelined both Pedro Martínez and Orlando Hernández, Maine found himself starting Game 1 of the National League Division Series for the Mets. In that game, he pitched four-and-a-third innings and got a no-decision.
Maine was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for April 2007 after starting the year 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA. At the All-Star break, Maine led Mets starters with a 2.71 ERA, 93 strikeouts and was tied for the most wins in the NL at 10. He tailed off in the second half, but still entered the 2008 season as the Mets' No. 3 starter.
On Aug. 4, Maine was put on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff. He returned to make three more starts, but was then put back on the DL. At season's end, doctors shaved down a bone spur in his shoulder. According to Maine, they said it was the biggest spur they had ever seen.
Maine was not able to come back with any effectiveness in 2010, returning to the DL in May for arm fatigue.
According to an AP report, "Maine was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right rotator cuff on May 24, four days after throwing only five pitches in a start at Washington and getting into a dugout spat with manager Jerry Manuel after being pulled for his own protection."
He then had a setback while making a rehab start for Triple-A Buffalo. On July 23, Maine had arthroscopic surgery to to clean out scar tissue from his shoulder, and he missed the remainder of the 2010 season.
Maine became a free agent and signed with the Colorado Rockies, starting the 2011 season in Triple-A Colorado Springs. He did not pitch again after leaving the team to contemplate his future.
On Jan. 27, Steve DeShazo reported in the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star that the Red Sox agreed to terms with pitcher John Maine on a minor league deal. The pitcher's agent, Rex Gary, told the newspaper that the Red Sox might use the 30-year-old as a reliever, even though Maine made 105 of his 108 major league appearances as a starter.
"There were other teams that were interested, but the Red Sox were out front," Gary told the Freelance-Star. "They flew down to meet him and flew him up to Boston to work out. There was a real level of interest."
Unlike all the other pitchers in this slideshow, however, the contract does not include an invitation to big league camp.
According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, the Red Sox view Maine as another low-risk, high reward signing.
This is consistent with the gaggle of other reclamation projects GM Ben Cherington has assembled in the MASH unit known as the Red Sox pitching candidates for 2012.