Rocco Baldelli was barely acclimated to the professional baseball scene when the name Joe DiMaggio began popping up as a comparison. The relationship had to do more with the etymology of Rocco’s surname than the physical and positional similarities. Seven seasons in the Majors later, Baldelli is anything but a replica of the Yankee Clipper. Cursed with a cellular disorder, Baldelli’s lack of playing and production of late is blameless except for the cruel randomness that subjected an athlete to the one scenario in which he feels the most helpless. His body won’t comply with the grind and lacks the stamina necessary to partake in the role he was destined to play.
Over the last three seasons, Baldelli has recorded 150, 90, and 164 plate appearances. Plate appearances are always a tricky thing to project, so don’t take this as a shot at CHONE or Marcel when I write that their 364 and 291 PA projections can be labeled as “optimistic.” When he does play, Baldelli is an average-to-slightly-above hitter (CHONE and Marcel average out to a .330 wOBA) and fielder. A healthy Baldelli is as nearing the point of paradox. There is a slim possibility that a team can sign and milk Baldelli out of 250-300 productive trips to the plate, but the same can be said of Mark Prior.
Pittsburgh signed Ryan Church, who is somewhat comparable in the sense that he gets injured a lot and plays the corner outfield. Church’s deal was worth $1.5M guaranteed, with incentives that would push the value close to $3M. Church is considered a risk because he’s averaged 339 at-bats the past two seasons; by comparison, Baldelli has367 at-bats since the 2007 season.
Some team is going to take a shot on Baldelli for a similar deal – probably one with a decent insurance policy waiting a level away (much like the Rays and Red Sox of the last two years). The rumor de jour involves Baldelli heading to the Yankees. He is being paid to play baseball and through his profession gets access to some fantastic medical care. Still, you have to admire the guy’s perseverance, and one has to hope, for his sake, that one day he does collect a full season’s worth of plate appearances.