As mentioned earlier, there are over 600 minor league free-agents available. That sounds like a whopping number, but in reality there are few players of quality. The list is made up mostly of has-beens, never-wases, and career minor leaguers such as Gookie Dawkins, Sandy Martinez, and our beloved Joe Hietpas. Finding a gem among the heap of trash is akin to locating a needle in a haystack — next to impossible. However, there are a few interesting names that may be worth inviting to spring training, and/or signing to a minor-league deal.
Re-read that last sentence, lest you think this post is about guys who can step in and take a spot on the Mets’ 25-man roster. The following suggestions are players I think would be long, long, longshots to make the club, but might be nice to have as depth in AAA.
Today we look at the free-agent pitchers, and since the Mets’ biggest issue is in the bullpen, I’d consider nearly all of these men as relievers (except R.A. Dickey, as knuckleballers don’t make sense out of the ‘pen IMHO).
The Astros nearly chose this guy as their number one draft pick back in 1997, but took Lance Berkman instead. As it turned out, Harville was once the “closer of the future” for the Oakland A’s, throwing a fastball with good control in the mid-90s. However, his career has been wrought with nagging shoulder and elbow injuries — nothing serious, mostly tendinitis — and he has a career ERA of over 5 in MLB. However, he had a decent, healthy year in AAA last year, striking out almost 8 batters per 9 innings, and still throws a nice sinking fastball in the low 90s. He’s 30 years old and only 5’9″, so you have to like a guy who has gone this far as a pro pitcher at that height — he must have some serious tenacity.
Hodges is one of the few Atlanta Braves pitching prospects who never panned out. Not an overpowering guy, he has always relied on guile and control — once walking only 18 batters in over 170 innings. He spent one full year in the Braves’ bullpen — 2003 — and appeared in over 50 games, striking out one batter per inning for the first time in his pro career. He never did it again, and never pitched in MLB again. He spent most of last season at AAA Richmond as a starter, and went 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA. Like Harville, he’s 30 and running out of time. However, a return to the ‘pen could be just what he needs.
A local boy, from Edison, NJ and a Rutgers alum, Brownlie was the #1 pick of the Cubs in 2002 and signed to a $2.5M contract. He was a complete disappointment, and was released in 2006 — one year after Baseball America rated him as having the “best control” in the Cubs’ organization. After pitching for the Newark Bears for most of last year, he was picked up by the Indians and pitched in nine games (8 starts) for their AA club and posted a 3.17 ERA, striking out 37 and walking 14 in 48 innings. His velocity, which was once around 95, is now down in the 88-91 range but has good sink, and he mixes in an excellent curve and decent changeup. It would be a nice story to see him hook on with the Mets, and at age 27 he might still have a shot.
From 2002-2005, Politte was an above-average middle reliever for the Blue Jays and White Sox, highlighted by a fantastic 7-1 record and 2.00 ERA in 68 games in 2005. However, he had shoulder issues in 2006 and was released by the ChiSox, and spent all of 2007 in the minors. At 34, he’s not getting any younger, but if he’s healthy he could be valuable as AAA depth.
This guy was the Diamondbacks’ version of Heath Bell, riding the shuttle between AAA Tuscon and the big club for much of his career — pitching adequately but never quite good enough to stick. His career minor league ERA is 3.01 and in MLB it is 3.82. He can’t be any worse than Jon Adkins.
At one time, Tankersley was on the fast track to the Padres’ starting rotation — often mentioned in the same breath as … gasp … Jake Peavy (in fact, Baseball America rated him the #16 prospect in all of MLB in 2002, ahead of Peavy, Brett Myers, Eric Bedard, Carl Crawford, and Jose Reyes, among others). Something happened, though — he leveled off and never consistently retired MLB hitters. He’s presumably healthy, having started 24 AAA games last year. Maybe someone needs to tell him to focus on his two best pitches and become a middle reliever.
This is one of those lefthanded late bloomers. Pettyjohn has been a career minor leaguer, but finally broke out last season, going a combined 16-6 last season between AA and AAA in the Brewers organization. He’s always had a great K:BB ratio, and it was 137:34 last season. Maybe he’s finally figured it out.
What happened to this guy? He was drafted ahead of Mark Teixeira, and was supposed to be the next Dwight Gooden. He’s been a complete bust. But, no one’s ever tried him out of the bullpen. Hmmm ….
Once a gem in the Mets’ organization, he was part of the deal that brought Kris and Anna Benson to New York. He still throws around 90-91 and has a hard curveball.
An athletic 6’6″ stringbean, Foppert was once THE TOP pitching prospect in baseball. Then he blew out his elbow, had Tommy John surgery (in 2003) and has never been the same. He does, however, still get the ball in the 92-93 range and throws a good split. He’s only 27, so why not take a flyer?
This guy throws gas — a few years ago fellow Detroit farmhand Joel Zumaya was being compared to him, not the other way around. However, control has always been an issue for German, and didn’t get better last year. In AAA, he struck out 72 in 59 innings — but walked 46. He did give up only 28 hits. Calling Rick Peterson: remember what you did with Jorge Julio? Do it again.
Another one of the “best pitching prospects in all of baseball” gone bad. And to think, the Red Sox felt uneasy about giving him up for Curt Schilling.
Once a bright young lefty, now a quickly aging journeyman. Injuries have hurt Claussen’s career, but he did post a 4.21 ERA in 29 starts in 2005 for the Reds. He throws in the low 90s, and might rejuvenate his career in the bullpen.
Billy Beane once coveted him highly, however he spent all of last year in the minors. He’ll be 38 next year, but might be a good LOOGY to have hanging around in AAA.
Was once thought to be a future starter for the Rangers, has since been earmarked as a AAAA pitcher — good in the minors, not quite good enough to pitch in the majors. Like Harville, he’s 5’9″, but unlike Harville, he’s a lefty. Do we need another Willie Collazo?
He’s still in baseball, believe it or not. If he can pitch for the Mets like he did in 1999, I say sign him on!
This one is an emotional choice. He’s another local boy, from my alma mater St. Peter’s College. A tough lefthander who throws hard, he’s been a career AAA pitcher. But then, so was Joe Borowski, a.k.a., the Bayonne Bullet.
Gotta love the knuckleballers. Every team should have one.
He’s actually a first baseman, but it looks like his career is over. His dad and uncle taught him how to throw the knuckler a long time ago, and he supposedly still dickers around with it during pregame warmups. Might be time to consider throwing it full time, off the mound.
I think you know my stance on submariners by now. Bring in da funk!