SweetSpot: Felix Pie
The weird thing is the translator came out on the field. But the pitcher was American Caleb Clay. Presumably, Pie knows at least enough English to say "throw more strikes," but maybe not. And does the translator know Spanish and English? Anyway, be sure to watch the video at the 2:15 mark to see a priceless reaction from Pie in the outfield.
These are the veterans not on teams’ 40-man rosters who have used up all six of their contract renewals with their original organization or whose one-year contracts have run out. As Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reported on Friday, there are more than 530 minor-league free agents, but now there's over 600 available.
Admittedly, most of these guys are going to wind up still beating the bushes after getting no more than a spring-training invite. Their value is usually in the depth they can provide a team -- a well-run organization makes sure it has big league-ready depth available at Triple-A, because everyone will have to deal with injuries at one point or another.
But a handful of these guys will get big-league deals, and more will be pursued every bit as aggressively as major league free agents. Even if they’re signed to non-roster deals, more than a few can anticipate winning jobs in spring training and getting added to the 40-man roster before Opening Day.
Starting with the outfielders available, more than a few guys with serious big-league experience are available: Scott Podsednik, Fred Lewis, Jay Gibbons, Ryan Langerhans and Reggie Willits, for example. Lewis could still prove a useful fourth outfielder in a platoon role; he clearly struggled getting fewer at-bats as a player on Dusty Baker’s bench with the Reds.
There are also some former highly-touted prospects in the mix, notably Felix Pie and Lastings Milledge. Like Lewis, Pie flopped in a part-time role, but come the opening of camps next spring, he makes for a nifty stealth alternative for teams looking for a regular center fielder, especially considering he’ll be just 27 years old. Milledge failed to go nuts at the plate in a full season with Triple-A Charlotte (.295/.364/.441), but he’s also heading into his age-27 season -- as a bargain pickup, he might surprise, but if he doesn’t the very small expense is easy enough for most teams to absorb.
Beyond the outfielders, other names worth noting at a few positions:
Catcher: From among the more catch-and-throw types, Rob Johnson, Dusty Brown and Dusty Ryan, and Cole Armstrong (guys who bat lefty are always a little interesting); for bat-first/only types, Max Ramirez and Jake Fox are out there. The guy who might be especially interesting to check out is Mark Wagner, back from a hamate bone injury and perhaps finally ready to live up to the hype he once got in the Red Sox system.
Infield corners: Jorge Cantu and Kevin Kouzmanoff are the veterans with some success on their track records, while Andy LaRoche, Brandon Wood and Jeff Clement might represent the best of the former blue chippers who’ve faded like an old pair of Levi’s. I’m interested in seeing where the always-fragile Nick Johnson lands.
Middle infield: If you’re wondering if this pool of talent holds lots of alternatives for teams unwilling to chase the big-names shortstops on the market, the answer’s no. Chin-lung Hu might be worth a look if you think all of the weirdness of the last two years is behind him -- between injuries, an attempt to convert to switch-hitting, and a case of the yips on throwing, clearly there’s a lot that has gone wrong. At the keystone, veterans such as Felipe Lopez, Bill Hall and Kevin Frandsen are available.
Starting pitchers: Armando Galarraga might be a nice guy for a team with a big outfield and distant fences to take a chance on; going to Phoenix from Detroit wasn’t going to be a good fit. Laugh if you like, but somebody’s going to take a look at Oliver Perez now that his contract’s a thing of the past. Extreme strike-throwers like Matt Torra and Will Inman are available; while they’re not great bets for extended success, but at the back end of big-league rotations all sorts of people can get a look.
Relievers: Jason Bulger and Shane Lindsay both cook with gas, while for ex-famous veteran types you’ve got names like Robinson Tejeda, Vinnie Chulk and Lance Cormier to choose from. I’m curious to see where Sam Deduno winds up, given a career minor-league strikeout rate of 9.6 K/9. For lefties, you’re no doubt already familiar with Hideki Okajima and Dennys Reyes, but I’d be more interested in seeing where the Giants’ Alex Hinshaw and his swing-and-miss stuff winds up; also a healed-up Donald Veal.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
As a Cubs fan, I have never been so happy to see prospects, promising ones at that, get traded in such a flurry. As a matter of fact, this is the first time in recent memory that I can remember my beloved Cubs trading away the future for the present.
Chris Archer … gone. Hak-Ju Whatever-Your-Name-Is … gone. Traded away for Matt Garza, a former Tampa Bay Rays starter with some youth left to boot! Did I mention he was good?
Before this move, the Cubs seemed determined to stick with their homegrown talent at any cost. Names like Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Corey Patterson were once prospects of gold! It appeared that championships were waiting to be picked off like a snoozing runner with a big lead at first. It was as if the Cubs’ brass hoped one of those prospects could be the next Ernie Banks or Greg Maddux so it could end this century-long streak and do it with their own talent, discovered in-house, by their own people. For a period of time this seemed to be the game plan on Chicago’s north side. Nobody wanted to give up the next Ernie Banks for, well, the next Ernie Broglio.
Insert the Matt Garza trade. He will get one of the top three spots in the Cubs’ rotation for the coming season. Don’t get me wrong, Wrigleyville. I’m not trying to predict greatness, but the move does give the Cubs a certain validity in the NL Central. The real question won’t be what he does on the mound, but what he does for the rotation as a whole. Even a pedestrian effort could bear fruit in year one!
With Garza’s acquisition, a certain amount of strain is removed from Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. Two above-average pitchers (on their good days) carrying a rotation is a stretch, and before the Garza trade, your Cubs rotation looked like a head case; an injury waiting to happen (the reason we have Dempster is because of his an injury-riddled past); and a guy (Carlos Silva) that another team couldn’t wait to get rid of for Milton Bradley, followed by two doses of young, unproven talent. One word: Yuck!
With Garza, the clouds seemed to part. If he gives the Cubs 200 innings this year, which many believe he is capable of, then the gray skies become blue … Cubbie blue! Zambrano continues his form from his 8-0 effort in the second half last year, Dempster proves the injuries are in the distant past and keeps forging his path of consistent, not dominant, but consistent stuff, and Silva becomes a nice back-of-the-rotation starter.
If Garza can win 10 or more against the AL East, what can he do against the NL Central? Does anybody remember what Ted Lilly did when he came over to the division?
This leaves one spot for a new guy. A young gun in need of some nurturing, but one who has the stuff to be good. A “get your feet wet at the back of the rotation” guy. Who could it be? This is where it gets fun!
Now, if only Carlos Pena can hit above .250 …Chet West contributes to View from the Bleachers, a blog about the Chicago Cubs.
Chet West contributes to View from the Bleachers, a blog about the Chicago Cubs.
- The Felix Pie experiment hasn't officially ended, but his grip on the starting left-field job has loosened significantly. Pie was held out of Saturday's starting lineup for the fourth time in the past five games, and Orioles manager Dave Trembley acknowledged that he wants to take a longer look at Lou Montanez.
"I don't think you grade Pie after 54 or 55 at-bats or whatever he's had, but competition is a healthy thing," said Trembley, the first time this season he has acknowledged that the left-field job isn't set in stone. "Right now, I'm just trying to find the right combination to see if we can get on track and win some games. Pie will get his opportunities. I just don't know what I'm going to do about that as far as a long-term plan. I'm going to try to find somebody that gets hot and takes [the job]."
Pie, whom the Orioles acquired this offseason from the Chicago Cubs, is hitting .157 with one homer and seven RBIs in 20 games. He has also struggled defensively, and in Wednesday's series finale against the Los Angeles Angels, his failure to charge Torii Hunter's first-inning single allowed Bobby Abreu to get to third base.
The plan was originally for Pie, a left-handed hitter, to be in the lineup against right-handed pitchers and get days off against tough left-handers. However, the Orioles have faced back-to-back right-handers - Roy Halladay and Robert Ray - and Pie hasn't been in the lineup either time. Montanez made his fifth start in left field Saturday.
That's pretty awful, of course. But really, it's much worse because this isn't Pie's first shot. Add in his two seasons with the Cubs, and Pie's history in the majors now includes 348 plate appearances and a startling .213/.278/.315 line. He's no longer some fresh-faced rookie; not with all that playing time and a 24th birthday a few months ago. After 348 plate appearances, you want to see something from a guy who's been profiled as an every-day player and, just maybe, a future star.
The "problem" is that Pie, in three Triple-A stints, posted a .300/.353/.478 line, and most of the time he was one of the younger players in the league. You can't give up on a guy like that. Not after 54 at-bats, nor after 348 plate appearances.
How many more chances do you give him? I don't know, exactly. What I do know is that in Brady Anderson's first three seasons, his line was .216/.305/.301 in nearly a thousand plate appearances. He was awful in his fourth season, too. And he was significantly older than Pie, without the Triple-A credentials.
I don't mean to suggest that Pie is going to someday hit 50 homers in one season, or play in the majors until he's 38. But the Orioles didn't give up on Brady Anderson when he was 27, and they shouldn't give up on Felix Pie when he's 24. Especially not in a vain pursuit of fourth place.