MIAMI -- Five, six, seven years ago, an outfield with Brian Jordan in left and Raul Mondesi in right would have looked solid, even imposing, certainly legitimate. But putting the aging, questioned, physically battered and largely forgotten pair in anyone's starting nine this season, let alone that of the Atlanta Braves as they seek a 14th straight division title, is a move that many would say reeks of an absurd optimism.
Either that, or Braves General Manager John Schuerholz has simply outwitted everyone in baseball yet again.
Raul Mondesi has hit 30 homers and stolen 30 bases in a season twice in his career.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack -- AP)
On paper, Jordan, 38, and Mondesi, 34, look more ready for retirement than rebirth, but the latter is precisely what the Braves are seeking from the bargain-basement veterans, both of whom signed one-year deals in January as Atlanta saved its more widely lauded moves for its starting rotation.
The two appeared in a total of only 95 games last season, hitting a combined .229 with eight home runs and 38 runs batted in. Jordan battled a surgically repaired knee and spent much of the summer rehabilitating it. Mondesi dealt with personal problems that caused him to go AWOL from two teams, both of which voided his contract.
They are, in a sense, together attempting to replace the mighty bat of right fielder J.D. Drew (.305, 31 home runs, 93 RBI), who departed via free agency after the Braves declined to offer him arbitration, not to mention right fielder Gary Sheffield, who signed with the New York Yankees before last season after hitting 39 home runs and collecting 132 RBI in Atlanta in 2003.
And they know full well few expect them to hold up their end of the offense, which, for the record, is the bottom of it: the sixth and seventh spots in the order.
"That's the great thing about it," Jordan said from Dolphins Stadium, where the Braves opened their season winning two of their first three games against the Florida Marlins. "I'm the wild card -- myself and Raul Mondesi. We want to go out, challenge ourselves and come back and have good years."
Both have long and, in places, enviable résumés. In more than 12 major league seasons, Jordan, a 1999 all-star who played three seasons for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, hit 23 or more home runs three times, drove in more than 90 runs four times, and hit .300 or better four times. All of those numbers, however, came in 2001 or before.
Mondesi, a 1995 all-star with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit 24 or more home runs for seven straight seasons (1995-2001). He twice achieved the offensive mark that confirms a player's versatility, hitting 30 or more home runs and stealing at least 30 bases. Like Jordan, though, it's been awhile.
Even so, Mondesi was optimistic as he sat on a stool in front of his locker during the Braves' opening series.
"I want to hit like 30 home runs and hit .300," he said. "We'll play them one by one and see what happens."
Neither seems quite on pace for such lofty totals after slow starts in the season's first week. Mondesi went hitless in his first seven at-bats of the year and got two hits in his next 12. Jordan was 0 for 8 but had four hits over his next 10 at-bats -- including his first home run of the season, a grand slam, Saturday. Braves Manager Bobby Cox, however, said he trusts the pair will be productive as the season grinds on.
"I think they've got baseball left in them," Cox said. "That's what we're expecting. Both are playing young right now."
Neither was playing young last season -- in fact, neither did much playing at all. Mondesi left the Pittsburgh Pirates after just 26 games to be with his family in the Dominican Republic, saying he feared they faced possible threats and danger related to a lawsuit filed against him there. (Former major leaguer Mario Guerrero alleged that Mondesi owed him 1 percent of his career earnings for helping him early in his career.)