2012 MLB Spring Training: Each Team's On-Field Enforcer
Carlos Zambrano might well be off his rocker, but the newest Miami Marlins pitcher also can be a tremendous teammate. He has never been afraid to protect and speak up for his teammates, even sometimes throwing at opponents to ensure his batters are protected. He's passionate, determined and loyal.
That counts for something in MLB clubhouses. As teams choose the lesser players who will make their Opening Day rosters and line up their clubs, they take into account not only talent and skill, but what intangible roles a player might fill for them.
These players should carry extra favor with their teams, then, because each is the best on-field enforcer on his roster, be it dropping sidearm when turning double plays; railroading catchers at home plate; or springing off the bench when a brouhaha breaks out.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ryan Roberts
Third baseman Ryan Roberts brings intensity and swagger to everything. To that, in 2011, he added the ability to hit.
He makes this list, though, for those less directly applicable attributes. He is not afraid to show up the other team; will gladly go in high and hard to break up a double play against a smaller second baseman; and cuts an imposing figure with his strong physique and thorough tattoo collection.
Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson
Often it is incumbent upon a respected veteran to act as team enforcer, even if that player's personality does not match the role well. So it is with Atlanta's Tim Hudson. He is a mild-mannered, humble guy off the field, but the team follows his lead.
Therefore, Hudson has maintained his shaved head and fierce game face.
Baltimore Oriole: Kevin Gregg
Kevin Gregg picked a fight with David Ortiz in 2011, proving himself as a fearless fighter. He's willing to work inside, punishes opponents for perceived slights and throws from a strange delivery but a hulking frame.
He's not the sort of person with which one would want to tangle, so he's perfect for the role of enforcer.
Boston Red Sox: Josh Beckett
Don't ask Beckett to enforce team rules in the clubhouse, but on the diamond, he is intense and easily drawn to anger. Beckett has plunked an average of eight batters per season since 2004.
He's been in his share of skirmishes during that time, too.
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano
Soriano gets too much flak for the things he is not, and too little credit for the things he is. One of the latter is a very good teammate. He has come to the defense of all the right people during his Cubs tenure and has not hesitated to make clear how the team felt about players (like Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano) whose welcome was worn out at Wrigley Field.
On the field, he's a gleeful show-off, perfectly content to admire his home runs and talk trash. He does not back down when opponents challenge him on that point, and leads the charge when the Cubs decide to mix it up.
Chicago White Sox: A.J. Pierzynski
Pierzynski is notorious for getting under opponents' skin. Once he's in, it spells trouble for the other team. He calls for his pitchers to throw at batters, always slides spikes-first and has become master of pushing the right buttons to knock those players off their games.
Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto
Unfortunately, the lasting memory of Cueto's aggression might be the incident in 2010 during which he kicked several Cardinals players while pinned against the net amid a bench-clearing brawl.
On the other hand, he has carved out a niche as the small but ferocious hurler who stands ready to fire back if one of his batters get plunked. In that way, he evokes Pedro Martinez a bit.
Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez
The Indians are a young team that lacks a certain feeling of identity or cohesion. They don't have a grizzled veteran in-house to address conflicts head-on, save Derek Lowe, but the life is gone from Lowe's fastball.
There's no shortage of life in Jimenez's heat. When he puts one between a batter's numbers, they remember it. Jimenez adds an intangible element the Tribe really needs.
Colorado Rockies: Jason Giambi
Giambi is past his prime offensively and isn't the wild man he once was, but he still has the hulk and the spark of intensity that once made him feared as much for his demeanor as for his power.
He provides an edge that the rest of the team simply lacks. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and the rest are good players, but don't have the same ferocity Giambi uses as fuel.
Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
Comparisons between Nolan Ryan and Verlander will not go away, and though you shouldn't expect to see Verlander pummeling the top of White Sox manager Robin Ventura's head anytime soon, the parallels do exist.
He throws hard, pushes opponents off the plate as needed and is generally regarded as a hard-nosed guy while on the mound.
Houston Astros: Brett Myers
Like Hudson, Myers owns this role whether he wants it or not. In his case, though, the shoe fits considerably better. Myers has a history of hotheadedness and throws inside all the time.
It's hard to be fierce when your team is headed for 110 losses, but Myers is one who understands that you also can't simply allow yourself to be trod upon.
Kansas City Royals: Kevin Kouzmanoff
With Mike Moustakas lined up to play third base 90 percent of the time, Kouzmanoff's role will largely consist of good cheerleading.
He's one of the most seasoned Royals who figures to make the roster, so he needs to take on a larger role within the clubhouse than he ever has before. He has to be part of the contingent that steps up and declares the Royals' tenure at the bottom of the AL Central to be over.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Ervin Santana
Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson are great pitchers. They are not, however, remotely useful as enforcers. Each is laid back; each has better control than stuff. Their approaches only augment the team's fairly passive mentality.
Santana has an edge. He also has a more crackling fastball. He's the personality the team needs most in the starting rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Ted Lilly
It would be hard to look the part less than Lilly does. He has the baby face, the soft eyes and bushy eyebrows of a much weaker man.
In truth, though, Lilly has never backed down. He throws inside, and retaliated in 2007 when the Atlanta Braves only appeared to throw at then-teammate Alfonso Soriano. He's much more bulldog than beagle.
Miami Marlins: Carlos Zambrano
Zambrano often appears selfish, throwing tantrums and arguing with umpires. He generally struggles to stay composed whenever he pitches.
In truth, though, he plays hard, he cares deeply and he is willing to go to the mat for his teammates on a moment's notice.
Milwaukee Brewers: Nyjer Morgan
Baseball etiquette does matter, and players take it seriously. Sometimes, to draw a bit of extra motivation, players even imagine slights. Nyjer Morgan has raised that to an art form.
The Brewers have been hit by pitches at an alarming rate the past two seasons, but they've stood their ground. Morgan leads that charge enthusiastically.
Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau
Or someone. Who knows?
The Twins utterly lack an edge, a tenacity. Joe Mauer, their nominal leader, is aloof but not intense. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker's apathy have the front office all but ready to give up on them. The collection of nice guys has left Minnesota with plenty of veterans, but none with much of an attitude.
New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey
Physically imposing and growing into a leadership role, Pelfrey has passed the point at which he stopped having high-ceiling potential.
His job now is to be a sound mid-rotation helper. Part of those duties are getting into the kitchens of opponents who seem too comfortable.
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia
Huge and intimidating, Sabathia dominates opponents physically as well as with his stuff. He's the front man for the Yankee rotation and really for the entire team. He's a huge man, and if he doesn't establish primacy on the diamond, the Yankees will not have it.
They will, though.
Oakland Athletics: Coco Crisp
Coco Crisp has fought before. He has been a primary player in at least two brawls in recent seasons and has a general reputation for playing so hard that it borders on dirty.
He has no patience for being thrown at or pushed around; that's the attitude the young A's will need to adopt in order to avoid a miserable season.
Philadelphia Phillies: Carlos Ruiz
If the heart of the Phillies roster is their rotation; Ruiz is the team's aorta.
He manages the emotions of every player who takes the field for Philadelphia, while making sure the opponents know they're beat prior to the first pitch. He's a ferocious competitor and one of the underrated players in the game.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett
The Pirates' big winter acquisition was a player they wanted to do better than. Still, Burnett brings something to the Pittsburgh starting rotation they had definitely lacked. He will dominate batters through any means necessary and has a straightforward approach to his craft that will positively influence the much younger core of the Pirates.
San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez
Domination and enforcement need not come via willful, malicious domination. Sometimes, it's as easy as being a bit crazy and out of control.
Volquez fits the latter description. He's got great heat, electric movement and absolutely no idea where it's going. He'll help the Padres keep opponents very uncomfortable at the plate and in the dugout.
San Francisco Giants: Brian Wilson
Lest the beard and the fastball don't do it, Wilson has carefully crafted an unhinged public persona in recent years designed to make opposing hitters fear him on a professional and personal level. He's just crazy enough to keep the team in line with the threat of seeing Wilson charge out of the bullpen in the wrong context.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
Michael Pineda was arguably more imposing than Hernandez, but the Mariners dealt him over the winter. They have no position players with a mean streak, nor many veterans who know the ropes well enough to take on an adversarial role.
Hernandez's tenure as the team's leader begins now.
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter
It was Carpenter with whom Nyjer Morgan last picked a fight. Along with Tony La Russa, Carpenter helped make the Cardinals the etiquette police in baseball for the past several years.
Players who ran afoul of the unwritten rules as Carpenter and La Russa envisioned them could expect verbal harangue, if not a fastball in the ribs.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Farnsworth
Texas Rangers: Neftali Feliz
Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison add up to four-fifths of a very strong rotation, but not a man among them puts opposing hitters ill at ease. They also don't promise retribution if a Rangers slugger gets plunked.
Feliz makes the jump from closing to the rotation this season, and needs to take his closer's mentality with him.
Toronto Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie
Lawrie's will to win doesn't always match his drive to prove himself. He is intense on that point, though, and his ferocity after being called to the parent club last summer belie any notion that he isn't hungry.
He plays with a certain violence. Opponents will find him grating at times, but Lawrie never backs down.
Washington Nationals: Edwin Jackson
Pitching on a one-year contract he earned five times over, Jackson should be on the lookout for any chance to prove himself a worthy free-agent investment next winter.
He's been accused in the past of lacking drive or intensity, and one great way to show he is engaged and dedicated is to prove he will protect his teammates by throwing hard inside when he needs to do so.
That kind of spirit will also help the upstart Nationals get the blood flowing early as the NL East race ramps up.