We did a half-month report on player movement just a few days ago, but with spring training commencement so close, teams are in a mad rush to sign free-agents and send out ST invites.
A few slightly interesting pickups in the past couple days …
Astros invite Runelvys Hernandez to spring training
Runelvys was beginning to resemble Elvis — meaning, the “fat” Elvis we saw in the mid-1970s just before The King’s death. Hernandez was once mildly promising, while serving as the Royals “ace” and Opening Day pitcher in 2003. However, he demolished his elbow that year and underwent Tommy John surgery, and hasn’t been the same since. After ballooning to Bartolo Colon proportions, the Royals cut him loose and the Red Sox kept him around AAA until the end last May — at which point an opt-out clause kicked in because he wasn’t on the MLB roster. He did fairly well, albeit as a 5-inning starter, posting a 3.06 ERA in 7 starts. The Yankees picked him up for 6 AAA starts, and he continued to perform well with a 3.56 ERA. However, the Yankees released him and he caught on with the Pirates and did poorly — 8.47 ERA in four starts. For the Astros, Hernandez is a fair risk as he has an outside chance to win the 5th starter spot. Although I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Mets take a flyer on him, my guess is the NY spotlight is not the ideal place for him to continue his comeback.
Mariners invite Arthur Rhodes and Chris Reitsma to spring training.
Two veteran relievers with similar issues — Reitsma coming back from an ulnar nerve injury and Rhodes returning from TJ surgery. Both have some experience as closers, and have shown success as setup men. On minor league deals, these are no-brainer risks for the M’s, especially considering that both are expected to begin the season in AAA. If the Mariners didn’t already have strong ties to these individuals, they might have been considered by the Mets for AAA / mid-season depth.
Cubs sign Jon Lieber
Damn. On the bright side, the Mets may have the chance to overpay in a trade for Jason Marquis.
Rangers sign Jason Jennings
This makes a lot of sense for both parties, though I was hoping the Mets would have held interest in the righthander. A one-year, $4M contract is all it took, and perhaps Jennings gave the Rangers something of a hometown discount (he grew up in Mesquite, TX and attended Baylor U.). I feel strongly that Jennings will return healthy, but again, NYC was not the right place for him to recover. Let him have a good comeback season and the Mets will get a chance to sign him to a bloated 4-year deal during the winter of 2008-2009 — to pitch once every five days and play first base the other four.
Marlins sign Mark Hendrickson
Damn again. Hendrickson could have slid right in to the Aaron Sele role — except, he would have been more valuable as a LOOGY and spot starter. He received an MLB contract from the Fish, and perhaps wasn’t worth such a guarantee from the Mets.
Cubs invite J.D. Closser to spring training
It wasn’t long ago that Closser was considered a future All-Star. The switch-hitting catcher was a “can’t miss” hitter when anointed as the starting backstop for the Rockies in 2005, but struggled with the bat and found himself back in the minors. He had a terrible year at both levels in 2007, after being a solid .290 hitter with power throughout his minor league career. There’s either a confidence problem or a PED issue here, and if it’s the former and it can be overcome, then the Cubs might have a decent bench guy. In addition to catching, he can play the infield corner positions and some outfield. If he can ever hit again, he’s an ideal 25th man and late-inning pinch hitter.
Meantime, the Mets continue their course of surreptitious, covert operation. In an effort to keep the rest of MLB guessing, they are not revealing any of their ST invites, other than those sent to Jose Valentin, Fernando Tatis, and a handful of guys no one has ever heard of.