MLB Free Agents: 5 Players Who Can Save Their Careers in Spring Training
Spring training is just a few days away, and some of the more talented players are still without a team. Of course, when I say more talented, I mean players who appear to be on the decline and thus teams are hesitant to spend millions on them.
Take Vladimir Guerrero (pictured), for example, who had a great season for the Texas Rangers in 2010 but regressed horribly last year playing DH for the Baltimore Orioles. Another notable case is Roy Oswalt, whose durability issues have kept him from signing a contract thus far.
Yet, I am an optimist and I just can't say that some of the players still looking for work are done yet. Just looking at their overall talent and toughness; they easily have some gas left in the tank.
Here are five players who could easily resurrect or save their careers if they got just one invitation to spring training.
No. 5: Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt is going to turn 35 late next season, and in all fairness, he didn't have an awful 2011—it was just a year uncharacteristic of him. He was doing well up until June, when he started to struggle and was put on the DL with a back injury. He missed about a month and a half.
On the year, the veteran right-hander went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in just 23 starts. Most recently, it appeared that the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds were in on him. It's kind of shocking how he has yet to receive even a one-year deal this close to the start of spring training.
I can understand why teams would be unwilling to spend a lot of money on an injury-prone pitcher who's nearing 35, but take a look at Oswalt's career stats. On paper, last season is really the only one of his career that can be considered bad.
The fact remains that when he's healthy, he's one of the most reliable arms in the game. With some teams still in need of pitching, Oswalt should be given a chance to come to spring training and show that he still has some gas left in the tank.
No. 4: Magglio Ordonez
Like Oswalt, Magglio Ordonez doesn't yet have a new contract for two reasons: age and injury problems. He recently turned 38, and last season was the worst of his career since becoming a full-time player. In 92 games, he hit a career-low .255 with five homers and 32 RBI.
The Oakland Athletics were considered contenders for Ordonez, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, but they care more about Manny Ramirez now. That being said, it appears that Ordonez now has two options: continue searching for a new contract or retire and go home to Venezuela to remain in baseball as an owner.
Still, this is Magglio Ordonez we're talking about. In 15 seasons, he has a .309 lifetime batting average with 294 homers and 1,236 RBI. Throw in the 2006 AL batting title and six All-Star selections, and those are borderline Hall of Fame numbers.
If Ordonez can somehow find a team willing to give him a minor-league deal, perhaps he can have one more impressive spring training to earn some at-bats as a DH or a pinch hitter. If he can show some prowess in the field, all the better. All he needs is one more acceptable season, and maybe he can go out with a bang and the Cooperstown people will come a-calling.
No. 3: Derrek Lee
Lee had a rough time with the Baltimore Orioles last year, but had a good second half once he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 28 games with the Bucs, he hit .337 with seven homers and 18 RBI, compared to posting a .246 mark with 12 home runs and 41 RBI in 82 games with the O's.
Thus, it seems pretty clear that Lee has another good season or two left in him. Yet, he's 36 years old and still hasn't signed a contract. According to a tweet by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman back in December, Lee said he would retire if he didn't find a "perfect situation."
Seeing as he has seemingly yet to find that, I think we know what Lee is leaning towards. However, why hasn't he announced it yet? The way I see it, Lee knows his capabilities and is looking for one NL team in need of a powerful right-handed bat.
Should he get that chance and have a good spring, he could easily have another good season as he works his way up from 331 career homers.
No. 2: Vladimir Guerrero
It's been an interesting past three years for Big Bad Vlad. Injuries limited him to 100 games in 2009, his last year with the Los Angeles Angels, and he hit .295 with 15 homers and 50 RBI.
He then proceeded to sign a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers and took full advantage of their hitter-friendly stadium, batting .300 with 29 longballs and 100 RBI. Sure enough, that was enough to get the Baltimore Orioles to sign him. Yet, 2010 proved to be a fluke, as the future Hall of Famer hit .290 with just 13 homers and 63 RBI.
Recently, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, Guerrero has stated that he wants the open DH spot on the New York Yankees. The odds of that happening are very slim, but I think it's clear that Guerrero can still play. His career doesn't necessarily need saving, but definitely needs to be saved from ending on a mediocre note.
I think that last year was more a product of the team he was on than his actual remaining skills, so it's definitely a possibility that Big Bad Vlad could have one more great season should a team give him a chance this spring.
No. 1: Manny Ramirez
At this point, Manny Ramirez's career may not be able to be saved. Putting aside the two positive tests for PEDs, there have been just way too many instances of "Manny Being Manny" for him to have a real shot at making the Hall of Fame.
Yet, baseball is an honorable game, and if Ramirez is ready to buckle down and be a team player in the twilight of his career, I'm ready to give him that chance as a fan. So are the Oakland Athletics, apparently, as Susan Slusser reported yesterday that the team was expected to sign him shortly before or right after the start of spring training.
That being said, if he wants a shot at making the major-league roster, Ramirez needs to treat spring training as though it's the regular season. The A's are already taking a big risk in signing him, seeing as how he needs to sit out the first 50 games of the season because of his second positive test, and to show up lazy and out of shape would just be a slap in the face to them.
However, if during spring training he can showcase some of the power from the prime of his career, he could be a great DH for the team and have one final season before riding off into the sunset for good.