Left field closing arguments: Rocco Baldelli

Yanks donate $500K to Haiti relief efforts
1990: A year in purgatory

Again, we thought we were at the end yesterday with Xavier Nady. But Mike mentioned Baldelli to me today. At first I wrote it off, but then I realized the advantage Baldelli has over other candidates. I promise, unless a strong rumor arises, this is the LAST of this series.

As we’ve browsed through the available free agent left fielders in search of a suitable candidate to caddy for Brett Gardner, we’ve mostly touched on complementary, platoon-type players. So why not touch on a high-risk, high-reward one? Chances are the Yanks won’t sign him — probably won’t go near him. But that won’t stop us from discussing the case for Rocco Baldelli.

Baldelli makes a simple case. He’s the most talented of the second- and third-tier outfielders. The sixth overall pick in 2000, Baldelli struggled through his first year and a half in the minors before breaking out in 2002 when he moved from A+ ball all the way through AAA. His first major league season went well, as he hit .289/.326/.416 and finished third, behind Angel Berroa and Hideki Matsui, for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

He repeated his performance in 2004, though he and the Rays got the first sign of things to come. He battled thigh problems late in the season, eventually causing him to hit the 15-day DL in mid-August. He came back with some pop, hitting six home runs in September and giving the Devil Rays hope for 2005. Those were soon dashed, however, as Baldelli tore his ACL playing baseball with his brother over the winter. Then, during rehab, he tore his UCL, resulting in Tommy John surgery.

Finally, 19 months after he last played in a major league game, Baldelli returned to the Devil Rays on June 7, 2006. The rest of the season went very well, as Baldelli posted a .302/.339/.533 line, finally developing his power tool. He did miss eight days in August with hamstring issues, but nothing that required a DL stint. Again, the D-Rays had hope that their former No. 1 pick would fulfill his potential.

While Baldelli didn’t dash those hopes during the off-season, he didn’t last long into the 2007 season. Those hamstring issues returned, but this time it was serious, requiring a 60-day DL stint that ended up keeping him out for the rest of the season. It was during that off-season that doctors discovered “metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities,” which explained why Baldelli couldn’t stay healthy, though it was not a specific diagnosis. He changed his eating and supplement habits, hoping to adapt to the limitations the disease placed on him.

Unfortunately, Baldelli couldn’t make it through Spring Training 2008, and again opened the season on the DL. Finally, in August the Rays activated him, playing him sparsely and selectively. The plan worked. He avoided further injury that season while posting good numbers in limited playing time. In the playoffs for the first time in his career, Baldelli became a hero during the ALCS, hitting a three-run homer off Paul Byrd to give the Rays the lead in the game and, six Red Sox outs later, the series.

During the off-season Baldelli got good news. He underwent further tests which showed that he had a form of channelopathy, a more treatable condition than a mitochondrial disorder. Seeing an opportunity, the Red Sox signed the native New Englander for the 2009 season. They planned to play him part time, but even that couldn’t keep him off the DL. In total he missed 33 games due to injury in 2009, including two DL stints. He appeared in just 62 games, amassing 164 plate appearances and a batting line of .253/.311/.433. The power was there, but that’s about all.

So, after this breakdown of Baldelli’s injury history, it’s clear why no teams have approached him about playing in 2010. His lower body has been a wreck for the past five years, and though his medical condition isn’t as bad as it could be, it’s still an enormous concern. Maybe the off-season of rest will do him good, but a good team can’t take that gamble. Baldelli would have to fill a part-time role, and any acquiring team would have to build a solid backup plan. That’s the high-risk part.

Again, Baldelli has tremendous upside. That’s the high-reward part. He plays good defense, hits for power, and, at least at one point, had incredible speed, especially out of the box. He also hits lefties very well, posting a .831 OPS against them over 610 career plate appearances — including his early, leaner years. So is that upside, weighed against the risk of a couple DL stints, worth the gamble?

The only way I can see the Yankees even consider Baldelli is if he’s willing to sign for a very small base salary. He did that last year, actually. The Red Sox guaranteed him only $500K, with $5.25 million in plate appearance bonuses — of which he reached none — and $1.75 million in roster days bonuses — which amounted to between $1.25 and $1.5 million. Still, the low base salary is the key here. Since all we’ve heard is that the Yankees have just $2 million to spend, Baldelli might be the best value for the dollar.

Hey, maybe we’ll get two players from this list. Given the supposed $2 million, maybe the Yanks could bring aboard Baldelli and Jerry Hairston. That would finish off the bench and give the Yanks enough flexibility to make a mid-season move. At a $500K base salary, I don’t think they’d hesitate to DFA Baldelli if anything went wrong.

Photo credit: AP Photo/LM Otero

Yanks donate $500K to Haiti relief efforts
1990: A year in purgatory
  • A.D.

    Eh, so much downside, its doubtful to get much from him.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Yep. It’s high risk, high reward, but the chances of a worst case scenario are many times greater than the size of a best case.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        I don’t even know if you can really classify it as high reward. It’s physically impossible for him to actually play enough for it to be high reward. More like moderate reward.

        Rocco Baldelli makes Nick Johnson look like Cal Ripken, Jr.

        • kunaldo

          this made me think of:

          Wayne Brady makes Brian Gumbel look like Malcolm X

      • Bo

        High reward? In 2004 maybe.

  • Salty Buggah

    How likely would it be for him to sign a minor league deal (or if need be, a split-contract)? Not too many teams will offer him a ML deal (maybe some NL team might).

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      I was thinking MiL deal, but I think at that point some team could give him a roster spot and $500K, like last year.

      • Salty Buggah

        Thanks. I was thinking a similar thing. Also, even if he only got MiL deals, who says he chooses the Yanks out of all the other teams that will offer him the same thing.

  • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

    I promise, unless a strong rumor arises, this is the LAST of this series.

    Your promises aren’t enough for me anymore, Joseph.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Have I ever promised something and not followed through? Because I don’t use the word promise very often.

      • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

        I have no idea – I have been enjoying this Brooklyn Lager a bit too much.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          Among my favorites.

          • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

            Ah, now I recall: It was a joke about you continuing this series after you closed it about three posts ago.

  • PaulF

    Does Brett Gardner get his own piece in this series, as in “acquire no one and use Gardner and Hoffmann?” Or is that repetitive since you already write lots of stuff about Gardner?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Nah, because the idea is to find a complement to Gardner. That’s why we’re going through mostly part-time players.

  • Brooklyn Ed

    does Hoffman deserve his own left field closing thread?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      No, but Hoffmann does.

  • Crazy Eyes Killa

    Baldelli and Hairston would be such an ideal situation if you ask me, that leaves you with a lot of LF options, and a lot of flexibility

    • Rose

      You would have too many OF’s. Granderson, Swisher, Gardner, Hoffmann, Baldelli, Hairston? I don’t think that’s necessary… Yes, Hairston can play any position…but if you have a guy like Hairston, all you really need is a 4th OF…and a guy like Hairston…and you’re fine. 5 OF and Hairston defeats the purpose of Hairston’s OF versatility.

    • Bo

      Baldelli/Hairston would be ideal?

      In what world? Esp after Damons offensive season last yr

  • Sean

    They gotta at least get J-hair, he’s very varatile and can spell Jeter, A Rod and Cano instead of Ramiro “all glove” Pena. He did well last year and was another good character on the team. He is the best bet for the price, and I’m on team “Gardner for LF”

    • jsbrendog

      sss alertL:

      ramiro pena ops+ 86
      jerry hairston, jr ops+ 86 last yr career 85

      sooooo jerry “all glove” hairston says hi

  • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

    He does hit lefties quite well, and he wouldn’t be an embarrassment out there in LF, either.

    • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

      Except he’s the only baseball player playing with the Bubonic Plague. Other than that, yeah, good fit.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      I agree.

      He’d be pretty awesome in the 45 games he can actually play in each year.


      • radnom

        Considering we are talking about the last guy off the bench, would 60 “pretty awesome” games be so bad?

        I was a pretty big advocate for him on the bench last offseason, but given his production in Boston I think that his injury risk makes him not the best fit for the Yankees this year. Although, if a couple people slip away, I would prefer signing him to doing nothing and filling the spot with another backup IF (assuming JHJ is as good as signed).

  • LarryM, FL.

    I like Badelli as a player. But my concerns have always been about playing time to stay sharp. With Baldelli is has to play to keep his swing and than again can’t play too much for fear of injury. Its not about the money but the high risk. The reward is tough to see. If Baldelli was found to be the fix. How could you depend on him for fear of the breakdown.

    Sign Hairston and give Hoffmann the playing time. He’s talented, healthy and could surprise with the playing time.

  • mike G.

    i think somebody needs to go to left fielders anonymous. . . .

  • TarHeelYankee

    Ok. I’m tired of talking about LF. Lets just go w/ a platoon of Gardener/Hoffman and see what happens. We do not know, maybe one of them plays above their heads and take the job full time. If not, there will be planty of teams out of the race by the time the trading deadline comes around and we can just trade for someone if this is not working out. Lets just sign Hairston and a bullpen arm and call it DONE…………

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada


      • TarHeelYankee

        Thanks for the correct spelling.

    • MattG

      bullpen arm?


      • TarHeelYankee

        Logan and Mitre ???? Really ? I guess that is a debate for another day. But, your right Bullpen is pretty set.

  • Rose

    Seeing an opportunity, the Red Sox signed the native New Englander for the 2009 season. They planned to play him part time, but even that couldn’t keep him off the DL. In total he missed 33 games due to injury in 2009, including two DL stints. He appeared in just 62 games, amassing 164 plate appearances and a batting line of .253/.311/.433. The power was there, but that’s about all.

    No thanks.

  • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

    I’m not sure I’d call Rocco Baldelli “high upside”—he has an average-to-good ceiling with a really low floor. He hasn’t produced much of anything since 2006, and he’s had a fair amount of injuries since, and this isn’t even addressing a chronic, incurable illness that physically limits his playing time to sporadic at best. Don’t get me wrong, in theory, I like the guy. Good all around player on an absurdly low deal. But if someone is injured for any length of time (in other words, not just a day-to-day), you haven’t really addressed the issue of depth. You have another guy who can play for a few games, but due to his illness, will not be able to give you sustained performance you can count on every day.

    At the very least, if someone goes down, you want to be assured you can get some measure of performance every day. There’s a good shot that if Granderson or Swish go down, your outfield looks like Gardner, Hoffmann, Swisher/Granderson (depending on who is injured), since Baldelli can’t go for more than light spurts.


    • Rose

      Agreed 100%. Nice guy…once had very good upside…but that ship has sailed. I feel bad for the guy because he probably could have been something special…but you don’t sign a guy just based on that. He has so many red flags that I don’t even know I would waste a roster spot on the guy for the league minimum…

  • paul

    Stick with gardner/hoffman for now…BUT resign J Hair-flexible, veteran, great off bench, etc. An OF of c grand, swish, gard, hoff, and hair works for me.
    Be patient B Cash…

  • Bo

    Baldelli now?? Maybe 6 yrs ago.

    After all these lame choices it is easily apparent that there is a runaway contender for best choice. And that is Damon. it’s not even close. The lineup would be a murderers row. You can replace his defense late in games.

    • pete

      two things:
      1. on the road (81 games are in fact played away from YSIII each year), damon was a VERY pedestrian hitter. He is also 36 years old, will cost a few million more than we have to spend, and is coming off a career year that only a fool would expect him to repeat.

      2. since when is defense only important late in games?

  • jsbrendog

    sign fernando tatis.

    • jsbrendog

      u can probably get hairston and tatis for 2 mil and that would give you prob the deepest bench in the league

  • MattG

    Reasons to sign Baldelli:

    Hits left handers
    Fields well
    Can come very cheap

    Reasons to sign Reed Johnson:

    Hits left handers
    Fields well
    Can come cheap

    Not that Johnson is a picture of health, but he also isn’t medically diagnosed to be injury prone. Baldelli probably supplies a little more upside if pressed into a full-time role, but the likelihood of him realizing that upside is so small, I have to just disregard that. If the money is anywhere close, I prefer the relatively greater certainty offered by Reed Johnson.

    • pete

      all of this.

  • bottom line

    “That would finish off the bench..”

    The bench? Did someone say bench? What a novel concept.

  • Steve B.

    Enough with Baldelli and anyone else not named Reed Johnson and Jerry Hairston !!!…Sign Johnson AND Hairston. Six million tops total for both guys…That’s it. Bring on spring training.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    I promise, unless a strong rumor arises, this is the LAST of this series.

    I have it on very good authority that Barry Bonds is ready to make a comeback. He’s in peak physical shape, has been working with Andy Van Slyke to improve his outfield defense, still swings a mean stick, and is willing to play for the league minimum.


    • MattG

      Is Rickey officially retired yet?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Maybe we can have Tim Raines come out of retirement for a year, put up a decent line as a reserve, and then restart his HoF clock. 5 years from now, we’ll have weeded out more of the aging and dumb members of the BBWAA, it might give his candidacy a shot in the arm.

  • nick blasioli

    you all can chop me up all you want to..but i think the yankee outfield situation sucks…gardner cant hit…granderson cant hit lefties..and swisher is a streaky hitter…they absolutely need damons bat in the lineup…to much chemistry has been lost already…only time will tell if what iam saying makes sense…but i think it does…

  • Trent

    What is this Reed Johnson talk? Are you kidding? How is he much of an upgrade over what Gardner would be like if he played everyday. Not enough for any Yankee brass to lose sleep over I’m sure. Hairston is valuable for his ability to play multiple positions. Pretty plain and simple to me. Johnson? C’mon man! FUNK DAT!

  • JA

    Rumor has it, the Dbacks are going to release Eric Byrnes. What about seeing if you can get him on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Maybe we catch lightning in a bottle. We got nothing to lose.

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