Owing to a particularly treatment-resistant fractured tooth, I have spent much of the past two weeks alternately sobbing in the bathtub and bonked out of my head on painkillers. Unable to do much else, I set up shop on the couch. Armed with a remote control and the Extra Innings package that Major League Baseball so graciously allows me to purchase, I watched a whole lotta games.
The baseball immersion therapy was the cure for what ailed me, except for the tooth part, and I learned a whole lot during my convalescence. Namely, the Indians are deeper than any team in recent memory, and that's with David Dellucci doing a passable Bubba Crosby impression; the Orioles and Nationals are capable of waging a wildly entertaining three-game series; and English is a foreign tongue to most baseball announcers.
|Angel Berroa is bad, yes, but his 2007 body of work isn't extensive enough for this list. (Getty Images)|
Never mind the pitching, which has fluctuated between middling and godless since the beginning of the "weight training" era. No, it's the everyday guys, any number of whom can't possibly be more skilled than the Triple-A prospects nipping at their heels, who filled me with an odd mixture of contempt and pity.
So I started compiling a list of the game's worst players. My rules: Only everyday players with more than 100 at-bats in 2007 qualify (fare thee well, execrable-player-list mainstay Angel Berroa). Salary and contract status don't count. And all Nationals players have been removed from consideration, because I'm not a monster.
Without further ado, then, your 2007 candidates for hardball extinction.
10. Joe Borchard, Florida Marlins: If pitchers were outlawed from throwing anything that breaks, sinks or otherwise follows a non-linear path from their hand to the catcher's mitt, Borchard might be one of the game's great sluggers. As it is, he has settled in as a fastball-or-bust flailer. Benching him would be an act of mercy; at his current pace, he'll strike out more than 200 times this season. A passable spare part, a horrendous regular.
9. Corey Patterson, Baltimore Orioles: Patterson can steal a base, accepts a few more free passes than he used to, and still has some of the physical tools that once set scouts' tongues a-wagging. At the same time, "better" doesn't necessarily equal "good." On a team that is forever scrapping to score runs, owing to poor personnel decisions (Kevin Millar/Aubrey Huff) and half-assed effort (Miguel Tejada), Patterson needs to do a bit more to justify his existence than run down fly balls in the gap.
8. Adam Everett, Houston Astros: A borderline inclusion here, given that he remains the game's best defensive shortstop. On the other hand, it has become impossible to rationalize his toothpick of a bat, which rivals those wielded by average-hitting pitchers like Braden Looper and Dave Bush. All together now: Everett loses more runs with his offense than he saves with his defense. He's Rey Ordonez minus the big-media-market hype.
7. Craig Biggio, Houston Astros: Here's the argument against Biggio's presence on this list: He's a great guy! He gets his uniform dirty! He was really, really, really good for a really, really, really long time! Now, here's the argument for it: He doesn't get on base. He's no longer fleet of foot. He fields his position with the grace of a handcuffed panda.
Were it not for his power-inflating home park, which plays nicely to his right-handed swing, Biggio would be even more of an offensive anvil than he already is. There's no bigger indictment of Phil Garner's fitness to manage a major league team than his insistence on inking Biggio's name onto the lineup card –- in the leadoff slot, no less -– eight days out of ten.
6. Sean Casey, Detroit Tigers: If you're trapped in an elevator for a few hours, you couldn't hope for better company than the glib, friendly Casey. If you're trying to secure a playoff spot in baseball's most competitive division, however, you want more than a sunny disposition from one of a cornerstone offensive position. At this point in his career, Casey is no more likely to drive a ball into the gap than he is to levitate. Either way, I'm still rooting for him.
5. Shea Hillenbrand, Los Angeles Angels in America: He lacks power. He lacks patience. He's clumsy in the field and a manager-baiting pain in the ass in the clubhouse. He's the roster equivalent of a cold sore.
4. Chris Duffy, Pittsburgh Pirates: Here's the thing about slappy leadoff hitters: Once they stop slappin' and start whiffin', as Duffy has done 29 times in 168 plate appearances this season, they quickly lose their charm. Has any team in recent baseball history misidentified more backup types as starters than the Pirates?
3. Jason Kendall, Oakland A's: Think Billy Beane could make slightly better use of the $8 or so million of Kendall's salary that the Pirates aren't underwriting? The backstop boasts a .425 OPS through Tuesday -– that's not a typo -– and ain't exactly Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate. A brief list of the people and inanimate objects that the A's would be better off using than Kendall: Mike Piazza, Adam Melhuse, Triple-A catcher Kurt Suzuki, anyone surnamed Molina, the corpse of Ramon Hernandez, contact-allergic Yankees backup Wil Nieves, Carlton Fisk and Yogi Berra. He makes me sad.
2. Doug Mientkiewicz, New York Yankees: I don't care how good his glove might be; he would have to cover the entirety of the infield to atone for his other grievous sins against competence, which include a profound inability to perform even the most basic offensive tasks. Less enlightened folks say "the Yankees have enough offense at other positions to carry a glove-first guy at first base." Yeah, but why should they settle? Why nullify the offensive boost they get at catcher and shortstop by throwing up a white flag at first base?
Separately, there's lots of talk this week about how the Red Sox shouldn't feel too comfortable with their 10-game AL East lead, since the Yankees surmounted an even more severe deficit back in August/September 1978. I don't know how to respond to this, other than to say that such a comeback has happened exactly once in the 100-plus-year history of big league baseball. Maybe it's me, but fans probably shouldn't be hanging their hope on a repeat. As for the Yankees, Huey Lewis, one of the great poets of this or any other era, said it best: "Sometimes, bad is bad."
1. Brad Ausmus, Houston Astros: Compared with his performances in recent years, Ausmus is off to a torrid start in 2007. His OPS currently sits at .672, which represents a gargantuan upward spike from his .593 mark in 2006. At the same time, he has outlived whatever scintilla of usefulness he once possessed defensively. This season, he has thrown out only 22 percent of base stealers (yes, this might have something to do with the inexperience of the Astros pitching staff) and strained to get his 38-year-old frame in front of errant pitches. Ausmus must be one hell of a great guy to have around (can he cook? can he beatbox?), as there's no other statistical or common-sensical justification for his presence on a major league roster.