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San Francisco Giants Sign Dontrelle Willis

PHOENIX - JUNE 23:  Starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis #35 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the New York Yankees during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on June 23, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Yankees defeated the Diamondbacks 6-5 in ten innings.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2010

It was just announced that the Giants signed lefty Dontrelle Willis to play for their AAA team, the Fresno Grizzlies.  While the adult in me thinks Dontrelle’s arm is shot, the kid in me loves this move.

I’ve always been a big fan of Dontrelle.  He’s from Oakland, just across the Bay from San Fran, and I just liked everything about him as a player.

Aside from being a great pitcher at a tender age, Dontrelle was also a terrific hitter.  He also really seemed to enjoy playing the game and showed a great deal of enthusiasm.  For a while there, he became one of MLB’s poster boys, with his infectious smile, his talent and performance, and the fact that he is African American at a time when MLB is trying to win back the black audience it once had.

The problem for Dontrelle is age-old.  He was too good, too young.  He was so good the Marlins couldn’t resist working him hard for five years between age 21 and 25 (he averaged 212 innings pitched those five seasons, peaking at 236.1 IP in his best season 2005 when he won 22 ball games).  Doc Gooden, Larry Dierker, Harry Krause: it’s an old, old story.

It’s been two and a half seasons since Dontrelle’s arm fell off, and at this point it seems doubtful he’ll ever recover the arm strength he had in 2005 or 2006.

Still, I’m glad the Giants are going to give him a chance, because he’s only 28 years old, and—who knows?—he might surprise me and a lot of other people by becoming a useful major league pitcher again one day.  It’s not like the Giants are so loaded with arms at AAA Fresno, they can’t afford to give Dontrelle a good, long look.

Here’s hoping the Giants get lucky.

In other news, the Marlins have given up on former Giants’ closer Armando Benitez and cut him loose.  Armando didn’t pitch terribly for the Marlins’ AAA team in New Orleans; in six appearances he had a 2.70 ERA, although his ratios weren’t as good.

Sorry, Armando: I hope the Giants don’t offer you a minor league deal like Dontrelle’s.  At age 37, probably weighing close to 300 lbs now, and not having pitched in the majors since 2008, he’s just not worth the Giants’ effort.

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