All stats as of Sunday, May 9. I say this to acknowledge that this post could look pretty stupid two weeks from now.
Andruw Jones will make $500,000 for his services flanking centerfield for the Chicago White Sox this year. You’re thinking one of three things.
A) Do Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen know about this?
B) I thought Andruw Jones was kidnapped by pirates.
C) If he discovers Gino’s Pizza, might as well light that money on fire.
Yes, it’s true. The skinny 19-year-old who went deep in his first two World Series plate appearances – some 14 years later – is a former superstar journeyman with a plantain-filled gut, a maimed legacy and a countless number of unfulfilled expectations. In fact, the only residuals of the 10 straight Gold Gloves and 51-homer season are that goofy grin and his 1.017 OPS.
Not a typo. Turns out Andruw Jones might still be kind of good… which granted, isn’t a particularly flattering statement for the guy I once referred to straight-faced as the greatest center fielder of my lifetime. But just for a second consider what Jones has done in the four seasons since leading the league in home runs and RBI and finishing MVP runner-up.
2006, ATL: 565 AB, 41 HR, 129 RBI, .262 BA, .363 OBP, .531 SLG
2007, ATL: 572 AB, 26 HR, 94 RBI, .222 BA, .311 OBP, .413 SLG
2008, LAD: 209 AB, 3 HR, 14 RBI, .158 BA, .256 OBP, .249 SLG
2009, TEX: 281 AB, 17 HR, 43 RBI, .214 BA, .323 OBP, .459 SLG
As Tony Kornheiser might say, that’s precipitation, holmes.
It’s a small miracle Jones is even in the league in 2010, let alone padding his resume with three more multi-homer games. Hell, the guy was actually cut outright by the Dodgers despite a $10 million salary. No team the following year would even offer him a Major League contract.
And now, in 25 games and 87 at-bats, my favorite Gold Club patron has already eclipsed his entire ’08 L.A. debacle with 9 homers, 17 RBI, a .264 average, and that aforementioned Ruthian OPS.
He still can’t lay off the breaking pitch away (the cause of many a broken remote control in the Hilson household) and will probably be hovering around the Mendoza Line by the time I finish this post, but so far at least, the 33-year-old is a legitimate comeback player of the year candidate who’s both outplaying his paltry wages and briefly resuscitating faint hopes for that Hall-worthy 500 number.
With any luck, the 13-19 ChiSox will write off their season by trade deadline and my one-time hero will be terrorizing AL East opponents from that new bandbox in the Bronx. And by “terrorizing AL East opponents,” I of course mean, “will make a nice insurance policy for Curtis Granderson.”
Future Prospects: Jones’ downfall strikes one as unprecedented at first glance, especially considering what he’d been in the past. But you need only look to Chicago’s last center fielder, one Ken Griffey Jr., to find a remarkably similar case. Both entered the league at 19, both played 13 seasons before it all came crashing down in a wave of injuries and startlingly sudden old age. Beyond that, Jr. and AJ both had racked up 10 Gold Gloves and shown signs of decline in year 12 (homer drop-offs of 16 and 15, respectively). My prediction: Jones stays in shape, plays 145 games, hits 30 home runs and joins the Yanks at the deadline. He’ll then sign a 5-year, $50 million contract with Atlanta, who will release him within two seasons when he reconstitutes into Curacao’s version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Die, Frank Wren.
And for your reading pleasure, here are a couple more guys doing whatever they can to turn your fantasy league on its head. Unfortunately for tortured Braves fans, you will not see references to Atlanta’s stars Troy Glaus or Billy Wagner, although I did consider including former Braves great Kelly Johnson on account of him leading the NL in home runs. Going through with said act would’ve entailed several obscenities in conjunction with “Frank” and “Wren.” So I left him off.
Barry Zito, SP, San Francisco Giants
The former Cy Young winner is quick to point out the pressures that come with signing a 7-year, $126 million contract, changing teams, moving three blocks from Oakland to San Francisco, and having less time to explore his inner self and play folk guitar. The words “emotional fallout” come up a lot, and in his surfer-dude drawl, Zito described his first three years with the Giants to USA Today as “just a real test of your soul.” Whatever. Bottom line is this: the guy added 5 mph to his fastball and remembered how to throw that 12-to-6 yacker that won him 23 games in ’02. The 32-year-old is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA in 6 starts, this after posting a 31-43 record and a 4.56 ERA in his previous Giants campaigns. “I feel like I’ve been through death and back,” Zito said last week. Cowabunga, dude.
Future Prospects: He’s got his stuff back, plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and appears to be settling nicely into his preferred role as THE guy behind two other THE guys. He’s still young and it’s not like his success depends on finger-crippling velocity. I see no reason he can’t keep this up provided he keeps his head straight, but that’s a pretty big if. He recently told USA Today about his 36-month swoon, “There was no hiding. I was healthy. ‘Damn, I’m going to pitch again. I’m probably going to suck.'” Scouting Report: rock-solid curveball, fragile confidence. Big Z’s going to get shelled at some point. How he rebounds is key.
Vladimir Guerrero, DH/OF, Texas Rangers
“Vlad The Impaler.” Great nickname that became even greater when Bryan Holt recently used it in reference to Reaper of Death and Sorrow/UF Journalism Chair William McKeen. So appropriate. With this foolishness out of the way, let’s talk about brainfarts – namely, those of Angels’ GM Tony Reagins, who had to know that Vlad would end up pounding baseballs for division rival Texas. After all, the guy is the greatest hitter in the Ballpark in Arlington’s history. Period. Ever. End of story. So yeah, he’s coming off a subpar ’08 (27 HR, 91 RBI, .303 in 143 G) and a disastrous ’09 (15, 50, .295, 100 G), but a flyer $5.5 million contract would’ve been money well spent on a hitter that was not too long ago heralded as the best in the league. In Texas, he’s playing the kind of all-star baseball that reminds you, “Hey, that’s the guy with 1344 RBI and a .322 career average.” His 2010 stats – 6 HR, 26 RBI, .339 BA, .914 OPS – pail only in comparison to those gawdy Arlington numbers: 249 AB, .410 BA and… wait for it… a 1.202 OPS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Texas is leading the AL West while L.A. is 14-19 and 11th in the league in runs scored.
Future Prospects: The Impaler launched three homers in a four-pitch stretch on Thursday and Friday in Texas. Vlad’s still only 35 and, when healthy, one of the premier hitters in baseball. That he still reaches balls at his ankles and a foot off the plate is an indicator of near-term success. That he’s starting to look like a hulking Bob Marley, maybe not so much. Still, the Rangers have live bodies galore, so his cameos in right field will be limited. DHs like Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines could rake into their late 30s. I think Guerrero’s got that in him, but I’d worry about his violent swing catching up to his back sooner rather than later.