It's like baseball's version of The Price Is Right. Imagine veteran free agents sitting in the audience, dressed to get attention in their workout swag, perhaps donning the jersey of their most recent successful stop. Russell Branyan and Scott Podsednik heard their names called on Wednesday for minor league contracts from the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays, respectively -- the game show for mid-30s players is increasingly lower stakes.
As spring training camps get underway, a few more well-known veterans are still waiting to be told to come on down for a chance to compete.
The 14-year starter had a terrific 2009 with the Rangers, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA before Texas shipped him to Baltimore primarily in a salary dump. The Orioles wanted a veteran and immediately placed Millwood's spring training locker in between high-potential rookies Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. Millwood's 2010 numbers weren't pretty -- a record of 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA -- but it certainly didn't help that he received an average of 3.3 runs of support per nine innings, second-lowest in the American League behind only Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.
Since signing that five-year, $60 million contract with Texas prior to the 2006 season, Millwood has logged an ERA of 4.67 but has averaged 189 innings per season and could be a reasonable No. 5 starter on the right club. If the Yankees' experiment with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia fails, Millwood could be a fit there, or maybe he returns to Cleveland, where he pitched in 2005, to fill a similar tutoring role with the Indians' young starters.
There's been little news about the middle infielder, who turned 36 in January. Relegated to second base full-time the past two seasons, he had a good defensive season with the Padres last year, not committing an error on 475 chances and showing enough range for an Ultimate Zone Rating of 6.2, meaning he saved about six runs defensively in his 113 games in the field. Unfortunately, Eckstein may have cost San Diego about as many runs with his bat as he hit .267/.321/.326 -- a nearly identical line to his 2009 performance. His .647 OPS last year was fifth-worst among National League players with at least 450 plate appearances.
Eckstein's best hope might be the Nationals, where starting middle infielders Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are 23 and 25, respectively, and where Eckstein's brother, Rick, is the hitting coach. His agent did not respond to an email seeking comment, but an MLB.com report in January suggested that the sides were not actively talking.
Aybar played exactly 300 games in the last three seasons with the Rays and is one of only two contestants in this baseball game show to be under the age of 30. He had been a steady, adequate utility player in 2008 and '09 -- putting up near identical lines that averaged out to .253/.329/.413 with 11 home runs -- but fell to .230/.309/.344 with six homers last year, only making Tampa Bay's playoff roster when Rocco Baldelli was removed due to injury. That Baldelli, who had only 24 regular-season at bats last year, was picked ahead of Aybar in the first place is telling of how little confidence the Rays had in Aybar.
His advanced fielding numbers all show that he's an average fielder, but at the plate, Aybar looked good this offseason while playing for Licey in a short stint in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .408/.463/.551 with 20 hits in 49 at bats over 14 games. His best bets may all be in the AL West. If the Angels' cornucopia of offensively-challenged infielders -- led by Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis, Brandon Wood and Erick Aybar (Willy's younger brother) -- falters, perhaps a reunion with his brother can help both of them. Otherwise, if the Rangers do end up trading Michael Young, Texas could do worse than to replace Young's infield versatility with Willy Aybar. And the A's could use some depth as well.
"Injury prone" hardly begins to describe Johnson. Since missing the entire 2007 season after having surgery to repair a broken femur, he has played only 195 games the past three seasons, including just 24 with the Yankees in 2010 before he broke his right wrist. But he remains tantalizingly productive in the batter's box when he's able to grip a bat and walk to the plate, hitting for a .265/.419/.398 line. That's not much pop for a DH/1B but it's hard to argue with his ability to reach base. He's relegated to AL suitors at this point in his career.
The Rays seemed like a good fit until they signed Manny Ramirez. Now no team has a glaring need at DH. The Angels and Tigers are teams who could contend that might want a little more depth, but most likely Johnson will have to wait by his phone for a midseason call after a team suffers an injury.
At the end of January, Glaus' agent, Mike Nicotera, told FoxSports.com that his client would sit out at least the beginning of the 2011 season, noting that Glaus had opportunities but none so compelling that would draw him away from his family. Glaus played 128 games for the Braves last year, batting .240/.344/.400 with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs in 483 plate appearances. Much of that production came during a torrid seven-week stretch covering May and much of June in which he hit .316/.409/.579 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 47 games. He then hit .183/.291/.266 with two homers over his final 58 games and played only sparingly in the playoffs.
His postseason adventure at third base in an extra-inning NLDS game suggests those days are mostly over, except in an emergency role, though he could play some first or DH -- but, like Johnson, he'll have to wait for an injury to create a vacancy.
After pitching only 81 2/3 innings in 2008 and '09 because of a blood clot and recurring pain in his right shoulder, Bonderman threw 171 innings for the Tigers in 2010, an encouraging quantity, though the quality (5.53 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) was a bit lacking. The former first-round pick is only 28 years old despite having pitched all or parts of eight seasons -- he made his debut at age 20 in 2003 -- so there ought to be some life left in the arm.
The Indians have reportedly been interested in offering him a minor league deal with a camp invite. That fit could work, as could a return to the Tigers, who plan to use converted reliever Phil Coke in their rotation. If Bonderman can finagle a minor league deal from Detroit, he'd make valuable insurance in case Coke's transition fizzles.
The two-time Gold Glove-winning catcher who had a unique 2010 in which he began the year with the eventual World Series champion Giants only to be traded to the eventual World Series runner-up Rangers is still looking for work. The notorious free-swinger is now 36 and batted just .249/.297/.326 with five homers in 118 games last year. Molina told Newsday recently that he has spoken with a few teams but has not received any desirable offers -- he's apparently looking for starter money and playing time -- which could lead him into retirement. There are often in-season needs for a catcher if he's willing to go in standby mode.
The erstwhile slugging rightfielder for the Braves, Royals, A's and White Sox hasn't played since the end of 2009, a season in which he hit 27 home runs with a .250/.340/.453 batting line. Those numbers would seem to warrant another chance in the majors -- though he fell to .179/.300/.279 with five homers in his last 51 games -- but he was 35 then and 37 now and unlikely to get another call. Also of concern was his declining range in the outfield, as he had a UZR of negative-85.1 over his last four seasons, meaning he cost Chicago about 21 runs per season defensively.
Dye reportedly turned down at least one offer to play in 2010, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "'I'm not going to a bad team, and I'm not playing for $1.5 million." Earlier this offseason, the Dodgers apparently offered him a minor league deal, which he declined, and at this juncture he won't realistically receive a major-league contract. That's why Dye conceded to FoxSports.com last month that, while he'd like to play again, he may retire if nothing is worked out this spring. And nothing seems like it will.