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If healthy, Nixon could still help a team
Posted Feb 12, 2008
The symbolic start of spring occurs this week, when pitchers and catchers begin reporting to camps throughout Florida and Arizona, but there’s still some pretty good players looking for work. Here’s a list of six position players who could still help teams in at least a semi-regular role.
(This list does not include players whose reputations and/or asking price—we’re looking at you.
—have contributed to their unemployment.)
What happened to the guy who once had a 35-35 season and delivered 40 homers three times in a four-year span from 1999-2002? His power stroke is completely gone—his homer and RBI totals have each dropped in the last four years—and last year marked the first time since 2001 he swiped more than 10 bases in a season. And having earned more than $100 million as a big leaguer, he’s got no need to go to spring training and fight for a job. But he’s only two seasons removed from an error-less season in right field and he can play first base as well.
Journeyman—he’s played for nine teams since 2002—continued to stare down Father Time by hitting .296 with 23 stolen bases in 490 at-bats last year at age 40. So why is he still on the market? Well, he’s too pricy for a non-contender and he gets grumpy when he’s not playing everyday, which makes him a risky bet for a contender. Plus, who wants the most hexed player of this generation on their team come playoff time? Look at his track record: He played for the 2002 Giants (blew a 3-2 lead in the World Series), 2003 Cubs (blew a 3-1 lead in the NLCS), 2004 Yankees (blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS) and the 2007 Indians (blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS). The first team to blow a 4-0 lead in a best-of-seven series will have Lofton, you can take that to the bank.
Still oozing with intangibles, but the tank appeared empty last season, when he hit a career-low .251 with 20 extra-base hits, including three homers, in 306 at-bats. For comparison’s sake, he had 16 extra-base hits and six homers in just 149 at-bats in 2004. Told
The Boston Globe
recently he’s healthier than he’s been in years—he had back surgery after the 2006 season—and that he’s willing to play first base as well as right field, but between his health issues and reduced power, it’d be difficult for anyone to rely on him as a regular.
By far the youngest player (he turns 29 this year) on the list. His presence here is likely a matter of his agent, Scott Boras, misreading the market for a speedy outfielder (82 steals in 100 attempts the last two years for the Orioles) with minimal plate judgment (his career strikeout-to-walk ratio is more than 4 ½-to-1. Still not a bad bet on a one-year deal.
His famously weak throwing arm got even more mangled in a collision at third base last year with
, but Piazza has always been happiest—and therefore most productive—behind the plate. Though he posted career-low power and strikeout-to-walk numbers last season at 38, he could still be an asset if part of a catching committee as he was two years ago with the Padres. Reportedly wanted to sign with the Marlins, who turned him down because he presumably wanted more than $4.50 an hour to sign. With no nibbles, expect Piazza—a proud sort and the giddy father of a one-year-old—to quietly enter retirement.
Enjoyed a nice comeback season last year after a foot injury threatened his career in 2007. So why has he gone deeper into this winter without a job than he did last year? He leveled off after an impressive three-season run from 1998 through 2000 in which he hit 44 homers and swiped 108 bases, but even at 34 and with a subpar throwing arm, he can be a solid cost-effective regular in left field.
Jerry Beach covers the
Boston Red Sox
for Scout.com’s Diehard Magazine and www.diehardmagazine.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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