Extreme Makeover, Baseball Edition
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Any team in baseball could have had Dmitri Young this winter for little more than half a million dollars and a guaranteed contract. Nobody gave it to him, so he took a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals.
Any team could have picked up Justin Germano when the San Diego Padres put him on waivers for the purpose of sending him to the minors in March -- less than two weeks after they acquired him in the same fashion. Nobody did.
Any team could have had Jeremy Guthrie for a bag of balls in January, when the Cleveland Indians were ready to dump him. But no one did, so the Indians put him on waivers, where the Baltimore Orioles claimed him after Kansas City and Tampa Bay passed.
And now, those three players are all-stars. Well, technically, only Young is an all-star, having been named to the National League squad for Tuesday night's All-Star Game in San Francisco.
But Germano and Guthrie, along with 15 other castoffs, retreads and left-for-deads are members of MLB Sunday's inaugural Scrap-Heap All-Star Team, a squad made up of those who were tossed aside like this here page of newsprint (after you have read the entire page, of course) by at least one organization in the past year and a half.
It's a very good team, if we do say so ourselves, despite the humble origins of its members. Every player on this 17-man team -- eight starters, six pitchers and three reserves -- could have been had for next to nothing, and in many cases are earning precisely that (relatively speaking, of course).
Taken together, our all-star team has a combined salary of $10 million. To put that in perspective, the AL all-star team's starting lineup alone is earning $117.9 million this season, and all but one member of that lineup (Detroit's Placido Polanco, at $4.6 million) out-earns our entire all-star team. (The NL's starting lineup, incidentally, makes $47.3 million.) Baseball has built-in mechanisms, such as the Rule 5 draft and the option system, to ensure that players who seem like perennial afterthoughts in one organization eventually get a chance to blossom somewhere else, and every season sees a handful of scrap-heapers turn into usable players, or even stars.
But this season, it seems like they are everywhere.
"There's an unusual number of what I call reclamation projects this year," said Jim Duquette, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "I think that's one reason you see such a stalemate on the trade market. Teams keep seeing their spare parts turn into good players, and they're scared to make deals because they have a fear of getting burned."
The Orioles' acquisition of Guthrie is a perfect example of how a scrap-heap all-star is born. Guthrie fell victim to a numbers crunch in Cleveland but was out of minor league options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent down.
When Guthrie hit the waiver wire, two members of the Orioles' staff -- Dave Hollins, a scout based in Buffalo, where the Indians' Class AAA team plays, and Dave Trembley, at the time the manager for the Orioles' Class AAA team -- made strong recommendations that the team should claim him.
"I don't think anyone could have predicted he'd pitch the way he has," Duquette said. "But both [Hollins and Trembley] said he has three above-average pitches. So in a worst-case scenario you'll have him sitting in the organization as inventory."
Don't give the Orioles too much credit, however. No fewer than five members of our Scrap-Heap All-Star Team -- Willie Harris, Mike Fontenot, Jack Cust, Al Reyes and John Maine -- were scrap-heaped by the Orioles themselves in recent years. Not a very good scrap-heap winning percentage.