It’s always fun to peruse those “where are they now?” lists in big league sports.
Ascertaining just where a former big name is and what he is doing requires a bit of spade, but in a lot of ways is an interesting exercise.
Every year, major league baseball teams sign players who might be a few years removed from glory, in hopes they catch lightning in a bottle.
These would be the guys signed to minor league contracts and attending spring training as non-roster invitees. On a lot of teams, they don’t have a hope in heck of making it — think defending champion Houston, or Cleveland, the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees to name a few.
However, “Money Ball” clubs like Oakland and now Miami and Milwaukee scour the waiver lists looking for that one name player who could fill a need.
We’ve combed the transaction lists of all 30 major league teams and found 15 very familiar names who are on minor league deals with new teams.
15. Texas Rangers – SP Edinson Volquez
It wasn’t that long ago that Volquez, 34, had one of his best seasons in the majors, helping the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series. After going 13-9 that year with a 3.55 ERA and over 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career, Volquez started five games in the playoffs and sported a 2-1 record and 3.77 ERA. He struck out 23 batters in 28.2 innings s well. He slipped considerably in 2016 and after he declined his option, caught on with the Miami Marlins on a two-year, $22 million contract. However, after a 4-8 record — including a no-hitter against Arizona in June — and a 4.19 ERA in 17 starts, Volquez blew is UCL and had to have Tommy John surgery in early August, leading to a release in December. The Rangers, who also signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal, might still have a fifth spot open in the rotation for a guy like Volquez, that is, if his arm is healed.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks – SP Kris Medlen
Before his second Tommy John surgery in 2014, Kris Medlen was cause celebre in Atlanta for a couple of seasons. The former 10th round pick of the Atlanta Braves put together a fine season in 2012, going 10-1 in 50 games, including 12 starts. He also posted a 1.57 ERA, 0.913 WHIP and 120 strikeouts on the season. Among his more impressive feats that season was a scoreless streak of 40 and one third innings and back-to-back NL Pitcher of the Month awards in August and September. Some pundits even compared him to Hall of Famer and former Brave Greg Maddux, he was so dominant that year. After another pretty good campaign in 2013, Medlen underwent his second UCL procedure and wasn’t quite the same after, even though he pitched very well for Kansas City in the 2015 championship run. The D-Backs rotation this year is pretty much set, so Medlen may be looking for a long relief role with the team.
13. Baltimore Orioles – OF Colby Rasmus
Colby Rasmus was nearly done with baseball in 2017. He played in 37 games with the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .281 with nine homers and 23 RBI, when he just up and quit with little explanation. The team put him on the restricted list and his explanation was that he needed to focus on home and family but in the off-season realized he missed the camaraderie and the big league game. So, the owner of a career .242 average, 165 home runs and 490 RBI is giving it another go on a minor league pact with the Orioles. His last really good year came with Toronto in 2013, when he batted .276 with 22 HR and and 66 RBI. Rasmus also distinguished himself in the 2015 playoffs with Houston when he went 6-for-14 with three dingers and five RBI in a five-game loss to Kansas City in the ALDS.
12. Toronto Blue Jays – RP John Axford
After nine big league seasons, former NL saves leader John Axford finally gets a chance to come “home.” The lanky reliever from Simcoe, Ontario signed a minor league contract with the team he grew up following as a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays. Axford saved 46 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, tying Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel for the senior circuit lead. In four seasons there, he logged 106 saves, before being dealt to St. Louis in 2013. He’s bounced around considerably since then, with Toronto representing his seventh big league club. Stating that he is 100 percent healthy and can still reach the mid-90s with his fastball, Axford hopes to put a forgettable season with Oakland in 2017 behind him. He appeared in 22 games for the A’s, registering a 6.43 ERA and gaudy 2.095 WHIP.
11. Los Angeles Angels – 1B/DH Chris Carter
Let’s just say that big first baseman Chris Carter is all — or nothing — at the plate. In 2016, with Milwaukee, Carter smashed 41 homers, most in the National League and drove in 94 runs. However, he also led the senior circuit in another category, strikeouts, with 206. It was the second such time the slugger topped a loop in whiffs, as he also went down swinging 212 times with Houston in 2013. In his career, the 31-year-old Californian has ripped 158 round trippers in 750 games. He started the 2017 season with the New York Yankees, but was released after 62 games (.201 batting average, 8 HR, 26 RBI) and later signed with his hometown Oakland A’s, who sent him to AAA. The Angels represent his fifth big league team and currently he is listed as third on the depth chart at first base.
10. Tampa Bay Rays – SP Dustin McGowan
In 2005, Baseball America listed Dustin McGowan as the Toronto Blue Jays no. 1 prospect and a future cornerstone of the franchise. But, he was dogged by control issues and quickly fell out of favor, bouncing between the bullpen and the starting rotation. He put things together to have a decent year in 2007, logging a 12-10 record with a complete game shutout, 4.08 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 169.2 innings pitched. Between 2008 and 2013 the hard-throwing righthander had several injuries and didn’t pitch much at all and after a so-so year in 2014 (mostly in the bullpen) he wasn’t tendered and became a free agent. Since then, McGowan has worked exclusively out of the bullpen and in 2017 he appeared in a career high 63 games with Miami, registering a 8-2 record, 4.75 ERA and 64 Ks in 77.2 innings. The cross-state Rays inked him to a minor league deal and he’ll battle it out for work in a relatively inexperienced bullpen.
9. Cincinnati Reds – OF Ben Revere
Ben Revere is still just 29, but it seems like he’s been in the big leagues forever. The well-traveled outfielder suits up this spring with his sixth different club since breaking in with Minnesota in 2010. By 2013 he topped .300 (.305) with the Philadelphia Phillies and in 2014 he led the National League in hits with 184 and had a .306 batting average. Blessed with speed to burn, Revere swiped a career high 49 bases that season and has 211 thefts in 857 total big league games. In 2015 he helped Toronto reach the post-season — his first experience there — and in 11 playoff games he hit .314, scored seven runs and had two stolen bases. After a stop in Washington, Revere played with the LA Angels in 2017, hitting .275 with 21 stolen bases in 109 games. The Reds are looking at Revere as a bench depth/spot starter who can pinch hit and steal bases.
8. San Francisco Giants – SP Derek Holland
At one time not long ago, Derek Holland was as renowned for his haircut ode to “Major League” fictional pitcher Ricky Vaughn as he was for being a reliable everyday starter with Texas. In his best years, 2011-2013, the now 31-year-old Holland won 38 games and lost 21 and threw six complete game shutouts, including a major league leading four in 2011. But, in 2014 a knee injury kept him to just five starts and in 2015 he suffered a shoulder injury and made just 10 starts. He did come back somewhat in 2016 (7-9 in 20 starts, 4.95 ERA) but his option wasn’t picked up by the Rangers and for the first time in his career he was a free agent. The southpaw signed with the White Sox in 2017 and had a great start to the campaign — 4-4 record in 10 starts with a 2.37 ERA — but got walloped the rest of the way and was released in early September (7-14 record, 6.20 ERA). The Giants are hoping he can recapture early 2017 form and push guys like Ty Blach and Chris Stratton for back of the rotation work.
7. New York Yankees – INF/OF Jace Peterson
Not quite a household name in the Bronx, yet, jack-of-all-trades Jace Peterson is looking to make himself a fan favorite if given the chance. Just 27, the former first round pick of the San Diego Padres has 383 games of big league experience, mostly with the Atlanta Braves. While he’s not the greatest hitter (.234 lifetime batting average), Peterson has drawn enough walks to post a respectable .319 on base percentage. He’s also got some wheels and has 22 stolen bases and a little bit of pop in his bat with 71 extra base hits. He was used sparingly by the Braves in 2017 and hit .215 in 89 games, but did walk 27 times and steal three bases in three attempts. The Yankees have him inked in on the depth chart behind Ronald Torreyes at second base.
6. Milwaukee Brewers – SP Wade Miley
Miley was so good as a freshman pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012, he was second to Bryce Harper in NL Rookie of the Year voting and earned his only All-Star nod. The crafty lefthander was 16-11 in 29 starts, striking out 144 in 194.2 innings of work with a 3.33 ERA and career low 1.182 WHIP. He would be a fixture in the D-Backs rotation for two more seasons, throwing for over 200 innings in each of 2013 and 2014. He started 33 games both years and had a combined 18-22 record. Boston traded for him in 2015 and signed Miley to a big contract and he pitched admirably in 32 starts, compiling a 11-11 record with a 4.46 ERA. A trade to Seattle in 2016 though coincided with a regression in his pitching, which didn’t get much better in Baltimore, where won 10 and lost 20 in 43 starts over a year and a half. He struggled with control in 2017, tossing an AL high 93 walks. So far with the Brewers in spring training Miley has been impressive as he competes for one of two available jobs in the rotation.
5. Seattle Mariners – INF Gordon Beckham
If his early spring training numbers are any indication, veteran infielder Gordon Beckham is in for a heck of a campaign. So far this spring he has seven hits in just 11 at bats for a .636 average, including a double and a homer. The former first round (8th overall) pick of the Chicago White Sox is attempting to erase about three lost seasons with his invite to M’s spring training. Beckham took the AL by storm as a 22-year-old in 2009, hitting .270 for the Chisox with 14 homers and 63 RBI. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, too. He was the team’s everyday second baseman for a few years before being traded to the Angels (and then returning to the Sox) in 2015. Since then, hamstring injuries hampered his effectiveness, to the point he appeared in just 99 games over the last two years, as well as duty at AAA. He is currently third in the depth chart at second behind Robinson Cano and Andrew Romine.
4. Philadelphia Phillies – 3B Will Middlebrooks
For a brief period early this decade, Will Middlebrooks almost made diehard Red Sox fans forget about popular three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ Kevin Youkilis. Youk was in his last season with the Bosox when a 23-year-old Middlebrooks arrived on the scene to play at the hot corner. In 75 games that season, Middlebrooks hit .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBI — a pretty good debut by anyone’s standards. In the 2013 championship year, Middlebrooks got in 94 games, but hit only .227, while increasing his homers to a career high 17 along with 49 RBI. A disastrous campaign in 2014 saw Middlebrooks fall out of favor, as he hit just .191 in 63 contests. He fared little better in stints with San Diego, Milwaukee and Texas last year, spending a good chunk of three seasons in the minors. He is competing for the back-up third base job in Philly with Adam Rosales and Pedro Florimon. On a side note, Middlebrooks broke his fibula early this spring but hopes to play later this year.
3. Minnesota Twins – INF Erick Aybar
With little wiggle room in a pretty good infield that helped propel the Twins to the playoffs in 2017, veteran infielder Erick Aybar is looking to provide manager Paul Molitor some flexibility as a back-up. The Dominican, who has an All-Star nomination and a Gold Glove to his credit, is coming off a so-so season with San Diego, where he hit .234 with 11 stolen bases, seven homers and 22 RBI in 108 games. After breaking into the big leagues with the Los Angeles Angels in 2006, Aybar went on to play 1,220 games with the Halos, hitting .276 with 313 extra base hits and 141 stolen bases. A solid fielder still, Aybar made 93 starts at shortstop for the Padres last year, finishing with a .977 fielding percentage.
2. San Diego Padres – OF/1B Allen Craig
It wasn’t long ago that Allen Craig was an All-Star in St. Louis and a MVP candidate. But, the man who smashed 101 extra base hits and drove in 189 runs between 2012 and 2013 with the Cardinals fell from grace fast, and hard. A hero in the Cards’ 2011 World Series drive (he hit three homers and drove in five runs against Texas), Craig was dealt to Boston in 2014 (to play with Will Middlebrooks, above) where he struggled mightily. He was option to Pawtucket after hitting just .128 in 29 games that season and has played just 36 more games (with the Red Sox) since then. He spent the entirety of the 2016 and 2017 seasons in the minor leagues, and was even released by AAA Pawtucket in 2017. However, at 33 he is working on a fresh start with a young Padres squad in need of veteran leadership.
1. Cleveland Indians – 1B/DH Mike Napoli
It’s kind of funny, and sad at the same time, that a player like Napoli, who had a career year with the Indians in 2016, is trying to make the team in spring training as a non-roster invitee. Napoli, a popular guy who helped the Tribe make the World Series in 2016, played in Texas last year, hitting just .193 with 29 homers and 66 RBI in 124 games. The free-swinger was coming off a 2016 campaign that saw him hit .239 with a career high 34 home runs and 101 RBI. He also struck out an un-Godly 194 times, too. Napoli, who played with the Rangers on three separate occasions, is now on his second go around with Cleveland and hoping to stick on a team that features mashers like Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion. The odds aren’t in his favor but it will be fun to watch Indians’ spring training.