What are their options?
As Major League Baseball’s 2008 Spring Training begins to (mercifully) wind down, we are faced with six interesting stories related to players who are out of options.
To dumb down a complicated process: Clubs who have used up the three (and sometimes four) option years on players must pass said players through waivers in order to assign them to the minor leagues.
The First Basemen
With the emergence of Jack Cust at DH and Daric Barton at first base – as well as the signing of veteran Mike Sweeney to a minor league deal – Dan Johnson, who has the longest tenure with the A’s of the foursome, is on the bubble. Johnson has shown snippets of offensive outbursts, but consistency has eluded him. A reoccurring hand injury with Barton, though, may save Johnson’s roster spot in Oakland – at least temporarily.
You could perhaps draw some comparisons from Jason Botts to former Ranger Travis Hafner. They are both hulking sluggers who were drafted by Texas and have shown flashes of potential in the minors. In fact, they were both low round picks (Hafner 31st round and Botts 46th round) who signed as draft-and-follows out of community colleges.
They also both faced roadblocks for playing time at the Major League level and were allowed to languish in the minors: Hafner was 27 before he played his first full season in the majors and Botts will turn 28 in July. In his last two full minor league seasons, Hafner posted lines of .282/.396/.545 and .342/.463/.559 while Botts posted lines of .309/.398/.582 and .320/.436/.545. With news that Texas will no longer play Jarrod Saltalamacchia at first base (he’ll either catch full-time in the majors or at Triple-A), Botts biggest obstacles to a 2008 roster spot are Ben Broussard and non-roster spring invitee Chris Shelton.
The Rangers also have a glut of outfielders that could cause a trickle down effect on the designated hitter spot. As well, power prospect Chris Davis isn’t far away, likely meaning it’s now or never for Botts to secure himself in Texas.
Justin Huber is another in a long line of talented Australian players who just haven’t been able to put it all together at the major league level (see Chris Snelling, Glenn Williams, Luke Prokopec, Damian Moss). Moving from catcher to first base has not helped Huber, as he now faces roster competition from former No. 1 draft pick Billy Butler, former Rockies’ prospect Ryan Shealy and Ross Gload, an excellent bench player whom the Royals committed to with a two-year contract.
The Detroit Bullpen
The 2008 Detroit Tigers appear to have an offensive juggernaut. The starting rotation is solid… and possibly the deepest one-through-five in the American League Central. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a mess. Closer Todd Jones will turn 40 in April and is nowhere near overpowering or a sure thing. Set-up options Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are dealing with injuries. Matt Mantei aborted a brief comeback attempt after an injury. Zach Miner probably has a spot in the bullpen. So too does Jason Grilli, although both are also out of options.
Beyond that, it is a crapshoot. Five players who are out of options are battling with a group of others who have minor league options remaining, including Jordan Tata (who broke a knuckle on his pitching hand last week after punching a wall) and Virgil Vasquez, who was just optioned out. But with Detroit gunning for the World Series this year, the club will no doubt take the seven best relievers north to begin the season.
Hard-throwing Denny Bautista has always had promise but he also has a growing list of teams that have given up on him due to his lack of control. Yorman Bazardo has looked good – both in spring training and winter ball. Francisco Cruceta falls into the Bautista category but he was also very impressive in winter ball. However, he has been delayed this spring with visa issues in the Dominican Republic and should get left behind in extended spring training to begin the season.
Non-roster Aquilino Lopez has continued his annual trend of looking amazing in spring training. Unfortunately he always follows that up with being pedestrian during the season. Lefties Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak have an obvious advantage because southpaws are always in demand.
The Fallen Prospects
It is becoming harder and harder to remember when Cleveland’s Andy Marte was oozing with potential. He is very close to garnering the “bust” label. Teammate Shin-Soo Choo has been able to do nothing but watch as the Indians have brought in average veteran outfielder after average veteran outfielder (David Dellucci, Trot Nixon, non-roster Jason Tyner), trapping the former Mariner prospect in Triple-A. Choo also hasn’t been able to stay healthy and doesn’t have enough power to player everyday in right field.
Athletic, speedy outfielder Reggie Abercrombie was unable to secure regular playing time in Florida so his chances this year in Houston are not great. He needs to make more contact, strikeout less and play to his strengths. His biggest competitions for a fourth or fifth outfielder role are Jose Cruz, Darin Erstad and maybe David Newhan.
After Atlanta acquired slugger Mark Teixeira from Texas last year, former top prospect Scott Thorman was probably contemplating packing his bags. Consistency has eluded Thorman at the major league level and there may not be a roster spot for him this season. At least he no longer faces the threat of losing at-bats to a 48-year-old.
The Dodgers’ Delwyn Young has done nothing but hit in the minor leagues… But he has also shown his ineptitude in the field time and time again. A fresh start in the DH-friendly American League may do wonders for his career.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Merkin Valdez was a hard-throwing, top starting pitching prospect with the Atlanta Braves, but fast forward past a name change, Tommy John surgery and a trade to San Francisco and Valdez is hanging onto his 40-man roster spot for dear life. He still has better stuff than most of the pitchers he’s battling for a spot in the bullpen so he should break camp with the big club, if all goes well.
The Mets’ Ruben Gotay can’t catch a break – which is good and bad news. He severely sprained his ankle and could miss a significant chunk of spring training – but at least early rumors that he had broken it were dispelled. Even after hitting .295/.351/.421 in 98 games in 2007, the Mets refused to guarantee Gotay a 2008 roster spot and the organization re-signed Jose Valentin to a minor league deal and re-signed three aging veterans to major league deals: former speedster Luis Castillo, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson.
St. Louis’ Outfield
One thing is for sure: The St. Louis outfield will not strike fear in many opponents. Yes, Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan have power, but they have yet to show much else (aside from Ankiel’s cannon of an arm).
Brian Barton is a Rule 5 pick out of Cleveland with no major league experience and Colby Rasmus is the Cardinals’ top offensive prospect, but he may not be ready for the majors before mid-season. That leaves a collection of minor league veterans battling for roles.
Three players are out of options: Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick has some power but, during his previous MLB stints, he has never shown the ability to post a decent average or on-base percentage. Schumaker hits for a nice average but it’s an empty average with little power or patience at the plate. He also doesn’t steal bases very often anymore.
San Francisco’s Outfield
With the exit of Barry Bonds in San Francisco, there are some enormous holes in the outfield - even with the team (snicker) relying on Randy Winn and Dave Roberts to make an impact. Of the remaining MASH unit, Rajai Davis and Fred Lewis are players who are out of options.
Davis and Lewis can play all three outfield spots and have speed. Both were also very raw when they were drafted, which is how they ran out of options but remain promising and unproven. Ideally, the Giants should purge Winn and Roberts because Davis and Lewis can likely at least match the offensive and defensive output from the veterans at a much smaller cost.
Four players battling for roster spots – and playing time at second base – in Colorado are out of options. Second baseman Jayson Nix has had one OK offensive season in four years. Clint Barmes lost his starting shortstop gig last season to Troy Tulowitzki and hasn’t done much to show that he deserves another shot at a starting role.
Second baseman Marcus Giles is a non-roster player trying to prove he still has something to offer. Jeff Baker’s best role is probably as an outfielder, although he has experience at both first base and third base.