Barry Zito, David Ortiz Among Those Hoping To Silence Their Critics

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 04: Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants follows through on a pitch as he warms up before the start of a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 4, 2009, in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Forgiveness and forgetfulness are interwoven into the fabric of baseball.

Organized baseball has yet to forgive Pete Rose's gambling transgressions.

No baseball fan worth his salt can forgive and forget select members of the Chicago White Sox who threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

Alex Rodriguez has asked the public to forgive his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

We forgave Mickey Mantle for his abuse of alcohol and his talent.

Several Major League players will be laboring in 2009 to smooth over a much less severe transgression. Their output last year fell far short of expectations, no matter how unreasonable.

For them, the upcoming baseball season represents a shot at redemption.

10. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

Very (un)Papi-like numbers for the head Red Sox honcho in 2008. Bothered by a wrist injury, he slumped to .277/.385/.529 in 2008 with only 23 HR and 89 RBI in 416 at-bats.

For any other slugger, Ortiz's stats last season would have been exemplary. He struggled to hit home runs as frequently but he was still an RBI machine (0.836 per game).

At age 33, Ortiz seemingly still has time to revert to his form of 2003-'07 in which he belted 208 HR and 642 RBI.

Are reports of his demise greatly exaggerated?

9. Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins

In his first two full seasons in the Major League, Young has proved himself to be a professional hitter. In his rookie season in 2007, Young batted .288 and drove in 93 runs for Tampa Bay. With Minnesota in 2008, he batted .290 and drove in 69 runs.

For a kid of 22, these would stats would auger well for a bright future.

But Young is a former No. 1 pick in the amateur selection. He's subject to great expectations, and his lack of power (23 homers in 1,346 at-bats) is scrutinized and picked apart by baseball observers, the media and fans alike.

The only way Young can silence his critics is staging a power surge in 2009, but that may be difficult, given the Twins' depth in the outfield and at designated hitter.

8. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

With the Tigers' pitching staff seemingly in tatters, Verlander is the only remnant standing between Detroit and another season of mediocrity.

A mechanical change in his delivery has Verlander looking like the ace who fashioned a 35-15 mark in 2006-7 with a 3.64 ERA, instead of the pitcher who was 11-17 a year ago with a 4.84 ERA. He's been dominant this spring in his last four outings.

It's all about pitching for the Tigers. They scored the fourth-most runs last season but finished with the third-worst record in the American League.

7. Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

Has success spoiled Clay Buchholz?

Buchholz fired a no-hitter against the Orioles in only the second start of his Major League career on Sept. 1, 2007. He finished the season at 3-1 with an ERA of 1.59 in four starts.

Buchholz fell back to earth in 2008. Battling injury and great expectations, Buchholz finished 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 76 innings.

Buchholz, who won't turn 25 until Aug. 14, has already experienced his share of ups and downs. He'll have to wait for redemption for a bit. He's been optioned to Triple A Pawtucket despite a stellar Spring Training.

6. Billy Wagner, New York Mets

The New York media and fans attacked Wagner and his propensity for blown saves last season, despite an ERA (2.30) and WHIP (0.89) that were both under his career profile.

Was Wagner's seven blown saves, a career high, blown (pardon the pun) way out of proportion, a sign of fans' frustrations with a team of underachievers?

Wagner, who underwent Tommy John surgery, is hoping to rejoin the Mets for the final month of the season. This will be too soon for some fans but maybe not soon enough for the Mets.

5. Gary Sheffield, Detroit Tigers

Sheffield, at this stage of his career, doesn't have much too prove, except to himself.

Sheffield sank to career lows of .225/.326/.400 in 2008, although his 19 HR and 57 RBI in 114 games suggests he's still got zip left in his bat. At age 40, he said his shoulder problems are behind him. How long, though, can he resist Father Time?

4. Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds

As he entered the 2008 season, Harang had "ace" written all over him. In the previous two seasons, he fashioned a 32-17 mark with a 3.74 ERA.

Problems with his weight and a sore arm conspired to transform 2008 into a lost season. Harang finished the year at 6-17 and a 4.78 ERA. While his strikeout and walk totals remained fairly steady, he surrendered an alarming 35 home runs in 184.3 innings.

A return to form could hoist the Reds into the playoff picture.

3. Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians

Persistent shoulder problems short-circuited Hafner's offensive production last season. He opted for shoulder surgery in October and he reports he's healthy and ready to go.

Hafner posted 127 homers and 424 RBI in the four years from 2004 to 2007. During this time, the Indians amassed a record of 46 games above the .500 mark.

Last season, he slumped to .197 with five home runs and 24 RBI, and the Indians needed to win nine of their final 13 games to finish at 2008.

With the jury still out on their pitching staff, the Indians may need all the runs they can get to stay competitive.


2. Andruw Jones, Texas Rangers

Jones averaged 34 homers and 103 RBI in the decade prior to his signing a two-year, $36.2 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007. What's more, he patrolled center field like Curt Flood and Willie Mays in their heydays, capturing 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.

But, say hey, Jones reported overweight to the Dodgers and never regained his form, hitting just .158 with three HR and 14 RBI. He was hobbled by knee injuries and he spent most of the season on the disabled list. The Dodgers released him in January.

The Rangers signed him to a minor league contract. He's hoping to make the club as a backup outfielder and part-time outfielder.

If he doesn't and declares free agency again, there will be no shortage of clubs which would be willing to pick up Jones at a deep discount.

At age 32, Jones once possessed showcase skills. He's now nothing more than inventory. The upcoming season may be his final chance to recapture his brilliance.

1. Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants

One can't help but ponder the future of 2008 National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

Will he turn into one of the best pitchers of his generation? Or will he be struggling at the midpoint of his career to get people out?

The twin poles of stardom and mediocrity are reflected in the careers of teammates Randy Johnson and Barry Zito who, like Lincecum, are also past Cy Young Award winners. At age 45, Johnson is still an effective pitcher. Witness his 11-10 mark and 3.91 ERA with the Arizona Diamondbacks a year ago.

Dependability and durability. That's what Johnson brings to the table, qualities which the Giants associated with Zito when they signed him in December 2006 to a seven-year $126 million deal, the richest and the longest contact ever at the time. But something funny happened to Zito on the way to the bank.

Zito has lost his velocity and misplaced his control. He's 21-30 over the past two years, and his ERA and WHIP, like his bank account, are bloated beyond all recognition. In 2008, he nearly walked as many batters as he fanned (102 walks, 120 strikeouts) and his WHIP rose to 1.60.

In the six seasons before joining the Giants, Zito pitched 1,337.6 innings, third behind Livan Hernandez and Mark Buehrle, and ranked ninth in strikeouts. A return to some semblance of this form is mandatory unless Zito is content to be the butt of jokes and the recipient of one of the most one-sided contracts in baseball history.


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