The Nats should hook these guys up with minor league deals

Posted on February 18, 2014 by Andrew Bailey

Last Thursday, while most of us were getting blanketed by snow, a bunch of new details were released about this year's MLB The Show 14 video game for Playstation. The only games I can seem to get into are sports titles, so color me excited for this year's version of The Show (out in May!). 

As I was reading through the release details, I was thinking of why it is that I like sports games so much. Most of the reasons were obvious. Even aside from the actual game play, most every sports fan wants to run an organization. We'd all love to swing a deal for a superstar player, sign the biggest name on the free agent market, and build a team in our image. Video and computer games make it possible.

Video games also allow us to make decisions that we wouldn't advocate for in real life. Whether it's Madden or The Show, one of my trademark moves is to fill the fringes of my team's roster with personal favorites, whether they're any good or not. Often these players are old, beaten down veterans struggling to make a roster in real life. A few years back, when he was barely a replacement level player, Ken Griffey Jr. was that guy. In Madden, I like to give 100 or so carries to Ronnie Brown. 

In The Show, you can often acquire these veteran players for dirt cheap. I typically only buy the game every other year, but the last time I played it, Roy Halladay was one of the players I inked to a minor league deal. His rating in the game was so decimated by age that I left him mostly to wallow in the minors, but every now and then I'd give him a spot start just for fun and nostalgia. He's always been a personal favorite and I couldn't stand seeing him linger in the pool of free agents.

This offseason, the Nats have handed out a bunch of minor league deals. They brought back utility man Jamey Carroll and reliever Luis Ayala, both former Nats, among others. These aren't sentimental signings though. These are useful players.

So what if they handed out a few more deals, but instead of targeting players based on fit or how they might actually contribute to the team, they targeted guys sentimentally, just like I do in The Show? I'm talking players who are shells of their former selves, players whose skills have been eaten away at by injury and age. Here are a few ideas...

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Johan Santana, SP

If I remember correctly, Santana was still rated in the mid-80's and was a guy who could command a multi-year contract the last time I played The Show. In real life, he's a 35-year-old with injury issues who hasn't posted a good season since 2010. He's only been healthy enough to pitch in one of the last three seasons. In December, rumor had it that a minor league deal was imminent, but also two months later, Santana's still unsigned.

Even if the Nationals tossed a minor league deal his way, he still probably wouldn't win the fifth rotation spot (is he even healthy enough to try?) and you can pretty much guarantee if he did somehow earn starts, he wouldn't be the same guy who dominated for almost a decade. But that's not really the point here.

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Barry Zito, SP

The 2002 American League Cy Young winner was an absolute disaster in San Francisco, making the Giants live to regret the seven-year, $126 million deal they gave him (though they did win two World Series titles with him on the roster; proven winner!). But now that the contract is behind him, he makes for an interesting reclamation project. And few things are more fun in video game world than turning a catastrophe of a player into a productive part. Doing so pretty much proves that you are a genius.

For Zito, the situation is very similar to Santana: he'd be unlikely to earn a roster spot out of spring and you probably don't want to steal starts away from younger talent to squeeze Zito in, but hey, why not a spot start or two when you're just trying to outlast the summer heat? 

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Jason Bay, OF

Be honest: when he was in Pittsburgh and hardly anyone knew who he was, you liked him. We all like unheralded, budding stars. When he was traded to the Red Sox and then given $66 million by the Mets, you hated him. We all like turning on those stars once they get the acclaim (and money) that they deserve. And then in 2012, when he banked $18 million in exchange for a -1.2 WAR season, you made jokes at his expense. We all love when players collapse in on themselves like the Dallas Cowboys in November and December.

Here's the reality: Bay is a horrible defensive player whose offensive skills have eroded with age. There's a good chance he'll never play again. But don't you sort of want to bring the love-hate thing full circle? It was way more fun rooting for him while he was an anonymous talent on terrible Pirates teams. It'd be kind of cool to see the poor guy get a few last at-bats in a uniform don't detest on principle.

Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Vladimir Guerrero, OF

If there was a cheat code in The Show that allowed me to keep just one player on my team for eternity, I would use that code on Vlad. I would give Vlad 600 plate appearances until his 60th birthday if the game would allow it. Vlad is the man.

In reality, Vlad is retired and no minor league offer is likely to change that. It's possible that an American League team with a need at DH could convince him to play in exchange for a guaranteed major league deal, but who knows? And anyway, it doesn't matter. Realism isn't the point of this exercise.

While Vlad is an atrocious defender -- thanks in no small part to what that nasty turf he played on in Montreal did to his knees -- you could at least argue that his bat could provide value off the bench, should he get promoted after signing his hypothetical MiLB contract. In 2011, his last season in the majors, he did bat .290/.317/.416. 

The Nats gave 290 at-bats to Steve Lombardozzi (.259/.278/.338), 102 to Chad Tracy (.202/.243/.326), and 75 to Roger Bernadina (.187/.256/.347) last year, for crying out loud. I'd legitimately take Vlad hobbling around gingerly in the outfield, slow rollers gently rolling past his outstretched glove, and barely beating out throws to first on hits into the gap than another 467 at-bats from that trifecta.

next up:

Vote #BryceHarper for Face of MLB: Round 2

February 17, 2014

Bryce's competition gets tougher in the second round of MLB Network's contest.

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