Over the past few weeks, we've been treated to innumerable stories headlined "Players to Watch." The takeaway? That each of baseball's 30 teams has a player to watch, and that careful observance of this player will deliver upon the beholder some grand truth about the 2011 season, if not the fundamental nature of humanity. Example: if Jose Tabata establishes himself as a legit leadoff man, the Pirates might not lose 122 games and their hardest-core fans might reconsider their atheism.
|In 2010, Jack Wilson played in 61 games and finished the season with a .249 batting average. (US Presswire)|
You know the ones. When they approach the plate, you venture into the kitchen for a sandwich or the bathroom for urgent personal business. When they're slated to take their turn in the rotation, you embark upon a groceries run. When a ball is hit in their general direction, you turn to your cherished ones and tell them that you love them. These are those players, the ones who you most certainly should not watch, neither on a bet nor under threat of detention.
By the way, this list deliberately excludes baseball's holy trinity of unwatchability -- Yuniesky Betancourt, Jeff Francoeur and Jeff Mathis -- because it depresses me to think or write about them any more than absolutely necessary. If the team for which you root avails itself of their services, pray for an injury debilitating enough to keep them off the field but not so severe as to impact their overall quality of life. We're not misanthropes here.
12. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies: Helton does one thing well as a ballplayer: He gets on base. Unfortunately, back problems have sapped his defense and power; it's hard to stab liners or drive the ball when you can't bend, pivot or limbo. Quadruple-unfortunately, he's signed through 2013. This will be like watching a family pet die a protracted death.
11. A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees: On good-A.J. days, he's a terminator with a serious hook. On the more frequent bad-A.J. days, he's an ex-girlfriend armed with a taser and incriminating photos. Air-raid sirens should sound before his starts.
10. Ryan Theriot, St. Louis Cardinals : He's quick but needs GPS guidance for the journey from first base to third; he's agile but is troubled by grounders to his left and right. He no longer draws many walks or connects with anything approximating power. Between Theriot at short and Lance Berkman -- he of the extra-butterscotch physique and traffic-pylon approach to outfield coverage -- in the outfield, the Cardinals' pitching staff is in for quite the long season.
8. Orlando Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: He can't defend anymore. His semi-dormant blood beef with Edgar Renteria suggests he might not be the most calming clubhouse influence. So what can he possibly offer a rebuilding franchise, beyond the marketing possibilities inherent in a so-many-Cabreras! double-play combo? Bobbleheads aren't fetching anywhere near as much on the secondary market as they once did.
7. Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers: Who do you want on your team: the model citizen and decent human being who generates outs with metronomic regularity? Or the drooly, inbred wackjob who gets on base at a 38 percent clip? Me, I'll take the dope, then hire Inge to run my charitable foundation. I suspect he'll excel at sponge bathing the destitute leper-orphans.
6. Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles Angels: He sure looks like a shut-down reliever, with the torso heft and the steam-snorting nostrils and the creatively landscaped facial hair. But the sky always seems to darken when he strides in, too confidently, from the bullpen. This would be less of a metaphorical concern if he pitched half his games somewhere other than in sunny Anaheim.
5. Tim Wakefield, Boston Red Sox: Good ol' Wake! Remember that one time when he rescued the Sox bullpen by absorbing 28 innings of bullpen-preserving mop-up work over four consecutive nights? That time where his knuckler defied the laws of physics by doing a full 360 around Chad Curtis before alighting for a called strike three? Yeah, that all happened in 1999. His knuckleball barely knuckles anymore and he can't drag himself off the mound to cover first base; opposing hitters are advised to bunt early and often. It is hard to comprehend how any of the members of Boston's C-grade A-team -- Albers, Atchison and Aceves -- wouldn't prove a more prudent use of a roster spot. I've thoroughly enjoyed Wakefield's journey over the past 19 years. I'm going to slip out before its joyless final act.
4. Carlos Silva, in limbo: Ain't it amazing how the 12 or so undeniably competent starts he made during the first half of 2010 has blinded us to his professional abnormalities? Arrhythmias, arm apocalypses, dugout tangos with Aramis Ramirez (the punchy-slappy kind, not the semi-forbidden-dance one) -- he's as melodramatic as he is hittable. If Silva is still on the active roster when the season commences, Cubs fans should consider class-action litigation.
3. Carlos Lee, Houston Astros: I'm using Lee as a proxy for the entire Houston offense, which quite possibly won't feature a single starter with an OBP over .330. Why single out Lee? Because he's the fattest. Contempt for conditioning is contempt for the game itself.
2. Bruce Chen, Kansas City Royals: He doesn't throw strikes and he's a fly-ball pitcher in the big-fly league. In terms of stuff, handedness, approach and work ethic, Chen is simply the polar opposite of Roy Halladay. Hell, Halladay throwing batting practice underhanded in early February. Chen at the pinnacle of his powers.
1. Jack Wilson, Seattle Mariners: So now the Mariners are going to play him at second base, alongside fellow happy-glove-sad-bat avatar Brendan Ryan. Playing positional musical chairs only a week or two before the start of the regular season -- what a novel concept! Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it, etc.