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Rhodes’ Run

For whatever reason, John Sickels’ final sentence of his prospect retro for Brooks Kieschnick has stuck with me since I first read it: “In an alternate universe somewhere, the Cubs let [Kieschnick] play in ’96 and ’97 and he ended up having a decent career.”

I suppose you could make a similar statement about a number of players. One of them is Tuffy Rhodes, who got a longer look from the Cubs than Kieschnick did, but wound up spending most of his career in the alternate universe of the Rising Sun.

Rhodes is in the Japanese news a bit as he doesn’t have an employer for 2010. His team for the last three years, Orix, offered him a substantial pay cut for 2010, and has reportedly been waiting two months to hear back from him. I don’t blame Rhodes for having a bad taste in his mouth; despite missing about 60 games in 2009 he still hit 22 home runs with a .308/.402/.583 slash line. I don’t buy it, but there is some speculation that he could call it a career.

If this is the end of the line for Rhodes, has he done enough to get into the NPB Hall of Fame? Conventional wisdom says yes. It’s tempting to compare Rhodes to other foreign-born NPB hitters, but his numbers hold up against the top Japanese sluggers. Forgive the lack of advanced metrics here, but Rhodes is 12th all time in home runs (464), 23rd in runs (1100), 54th in hits (1792), 16th in RBI (1269), 16th in walks (958), 22nd in total bases (3509), and 4th in slg pct (.559). Most of the players that are ahead of Rhodes in the power categories have put up their numbers in 20+ seasons; Rhodes has played 13 so far in Japan, and another productive season would move him a couple of notches up the chart in each category.

But the rub is that the Japanese universe Hall of Fame is tougher to get into than its American counterpart. Players who would be considered first-ballot material in the US often wait years in Japan, and three-time Triple Crown winner Hiromitsu Ochiai’s demeanor with the media still overshadows his on-field credentials. It’s possible that when the time comes, voters will look at Rhodes’ acrimonious departure from the Yomiuri Giants in 2005 and his sub-par glove work, and decide to leave him off their ballots.

Regardless of what happens next, it’s been quite a run in the alternate universe for Rhodes.