SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Why Are So Many (Good) Lefty Relievers Unsigned?

A few years ago Joe Beimel and Will Ohman were worthy of multi-year deals for some good money because they ranked among the best situational lefty relievers. Today, they're unsigned, as are much-more-toward-the-end-of-their-careers-than-the-beginning Alan Embree, Ron Mahay and Ron Villone.

So much for my theory that you want your kids to grow up to be left-handed pitchers (I chanted that mantra to my wife's midsection when she was pregnant with both our kids), emphasizing the part about becoming a lefthanded relief pitcher. My inspiration -- the ageless Jesse Orosco, who made his name pitching for the Mets but who pitched until he was 46 and who, from 1991 through 1993 (his last season) never threw more than 57 innings in a season. The way I figured it, a kid could make great money, work outdoors (but without heavy lifting), stay in shape, work in the national pastime and then retire in his mid-40's, presumably to a life of volunteer coaching, commentating, celebrity appearances and perhaps discovering the latest biotechnology drug that can reduce aging without any side effects (okay, the latter part's a stretch, but teaching English at a prep school while coaching baseball might be a good second career).

Alas, the mystery remains. Are teams tapped out? Are they more willing to try an up-and-comer for the second or third lefty reliever position in their 'pen at baseball's (very healthy) minimum wage than pay for some grizzled veterans with tread on the tires, sure, but with track records that demonstrate that they're not too fearful of entering Wrigley in the middle of the seventh on dollar dog day the day after they lost the 2016 Olympics and ending a no-out, bases loaded jam (I'm not sure that anyone had this opportunity, but that's the type of situation that these situational guys find themselves in; entering the game at the beginning of an inning -- like the top of the ninth for a closer -- is a luxury for these fellows).

I happen to appreciate very much the role of the situational reliever -- all teams need them, and those who advance far into the playoffs have solid bullpens. These guys can come in handy, and I'm sure that each of them will surface somewhere during the season.

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