MLB Spring Training 2017: 6 Big Names Who Might Be Cut This Spring
Spring training is all about hope. Every team is a contender. Every player is in the best shape of his life. Baseball! Hooray!
Eventually, however, reality sets in, and tough decisions must be made. Rosters get trimmed, which means, inevitably, demotions and cuts.
In some cases, it's young players who head to the minors for more seasoning. In others, it's veterans on the downslope who can't hack it anymore.
Let's focus on the latter category, gloomy as it is, and look at six (relatively) big-name players who will have to fight their way onto a 25-man roster with strong showings in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.
Obviously, none of these guys are current MLB stars, but two are former MVPs, and one is among the best closers of his era. All have name recognition and impressive resumes.
Unfortunately, that alone won't be enough.
Ryan Vogelsong, RHP
If anyone understands comebacks, it's Ryan Vogelsong.
A former top prospect for the San Francisco Giants, Vogelsong battled injuries and a detour to Japan before returning to the Giants, becoming an improbable All-Star in 2011 and winning a pair of rings in San Francisco.
Last season, while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Vogelsong was hit in the head by a line drive in May and suffered facial fractures.
He returned to action in the second half and posted a 3.44 ERA in August before fading in September.
Now the 39-year-old is headed to Minnesota Twins camp on a minor league contract and hoping to win a rotation gig.
It'll be an uphill battle. Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Hector Santiago, Phil Hughes and touted 22-year-old Jose Berrios are penciled into the top five spots, with Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia also in the mix.
Then again, this is Vogelsong. Uphill is the only path he knows.
Austin Jackson, CF
A knee injury limited Austin Jackson to 54 games last season with the Chicago White Sox, and he posted a ho-hum .254/.318/.343 slash line.
The 30-year-old signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians and will be given a chance to compete for playing time in center, according to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman.
The Indians outfield is crowded, with Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte filling out the depth chart.
Jackson could force the issue for the defending American League champs, but he'll need to arrive healthy and ready to produce.
Mark Reynolds, 1B
Mark Reynolds got 441 plate appearances with the Rockies last season and hit .282 with an .806 OPS.
Colorado, however, signed Ian Desmond this winter and plans to install him at first base, which makes the 33-year-old Reynolds expendable.
Colorado brought Reynolds back on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. The team could keep him around as a bench bat and an option at first if and when Desmond plays the outfield.
Reynolds has hit 251 homers in his 10-year big league career and posted plus-four defensive runs saved at first in 2016.
Still, with the glut of limited, big-swinging sluggers on the market this winter, he finds himself battling for his MLB life.
Joe Nathan, RHP
Between 2004 and 2014, Joe Nathan saved 375 games, made six All-Star teams and had two top-five AL Cy Young Award finishes.
Now the 42-year-old is looking for a twilight renaissance with the Washington Nationals.
After whiffing on all the winter's top free-agent and trade-target closers, the Nats signed Nathan to a minor league pact. He's a long shot to challenge Shawn Kelley and hard-throwing Blake Treinen for ninth-inning duties, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.
Nathan has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, including one in April 2015, but he made 10 appearances last season with the Giants and Chicago Cubs, striking out nine in 6.1 innings without allowing an earned run.
The safe money is on Washington cutting him loose or at best slotting him in middle relief, but how can you root against the old guy?
Jimmy Rollins, SS
After a superlative 17-year career that has included three All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and a National League MVP award in 2007, Jimmy Rollins is hoping for one more run where it all began.
Rollins made his big league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, but he grew up in the Bay Area and is headed to spring training with the Giants on a minor league deal.
Rollins won't win the starting shortstop job, which belongs to defensive whiz Brandon Crawford. He can compete for a backup infield spot, however, and could see time at third base and second as well as short.
"That's great veteran depth for us," general manager Bobby Evans said of Rollins on the Giants' flagship station, KNBR, per Daniel Mano of the Mercury News. "His presence in the clubhouse and if he's coming off the bench it just gives us strength and [manager Bruce] Bochy options on days to give guys rest."
He'll have to fend off challengers for the utility role, including Kelby Tomlinson and Orlando Calixte.
San Francisco's decision to release middle infielder Ehire Adrianza clears some space for Rollins. But the 38-year-old will need to show more in spring than the .221/.295/.329 line he posted last season with the White Sox.
Josh Hamilton, OF/DH
Josh Hamilton is probably done. Let's get that out of the way.
It's been three seasons since he resembled a quality big leaguer, and he didn't play an inning last year after undergoing his third knee surgery in the span of nine months.
Still, he'll be in camp with the Texas Rangers as a non-roster invitee and could stick as a bench bat and occasional designated hitter behind Mike Napoli, whom the Rangers signed to a one-year deal Tuesday, per T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
Hamilton was a beast for Texas between 2008 and 2012, making five straight All-Star teams and winning AL MVP honors in 2010. Now the 35-year-old faces a stark, simple choice: crush the ball in spring or, most likely, hang 'em up.
"He's been working out hard and really looks good," manager Jeff Banister said of Hamilton, per SportsDay's Gerry Fraley. "When we get to games, we'll know better where he's at."