The Dead Who Walk Among Us

Zombies.

Yup, Zombies in baseball. It happens. Guys who are clearly shells of their former selves hanging on for no reason. Well, I guess there is the money, but most of these guys already made tons of money. A zombie, you see, isn’t just any bad player who just keeps getting jobs for no reason. To be Undead, one must once have had life — one must once have been good. Paul Bako, for example, has somehow managed to be in and around the majors for more than 10 seasons (left-handed hitting catcher!) while always being around replacement level, but since his FanGraphs-WAR Era (2002-present) “peak” was 0.3 wins in his glorious 2003 season, we can be pretty sure he’s just being Bako (although he’s assuredly still a money-grubbing traitor). No, a zombie can be identified by having once been very good, but now putting on performance that let us know the Life Force has long since departed.*

* We’re talking about zombies here, not arch-liches. In other words, I won’t be discussing Jamie Moyer.

Ivan Rodriguez, is a good example of a zombie. Most of his best years actually predate the FanGraphs Era, but he did have some ~five win seasons in 2003 and 2004 with the Marlins and Tigers. While Zombie Pudge clearly can still play baseball a bit, his offense, always reliant on lots of contact, has pretty much completely eroded, and his defensive skills, once widely admired, are now decidedly average-ish. He’s not useless, but from one a Hall-of-Famer to a part-timer? Zombie Pudge.

Jason Kendall has been fodder for thousands of internet jokes of a couple of years now. While it’s understandable, give his inflated defensive reputation and offensive worthlessness (grit!), Kendall was a pretty great player back in the late-90s/early00s. Heck, he was still pretty good only a few years ago. At this point, though, while his defense might be a bit above average (he had a great year defensively in 2008, although 2007 and 2009 were both poor), his offense… well. Zombie Kendall.

We know that some teams will go gaga for Zombie catchers for what “they’ll bring to the team” (perhaps Washington and Kansas City are the bsaeball equivalents the Underworld). Who are some non-catchers?

Andruw Jones springs to mind, not only for his past excellence and current zombie status, but for the rapidity with which he joined the ranks of the undead. Jones is one of the greatest defensive center fielders ever, and even in 2007, when his bat began to slip, UZR has him at about 22 runs above average. In 2008 he joined the Dodgers, and had clearly fallen under the power of a necromancer. Sure, he was better in 2009 with Texas, but when a guy who used to regularly put up 6 wins seasons has a 0.8 win “comeback,” when he says he’s coming to 2010 Spring Training ready to compete for a starting job in center field for the White Sox and we find it laughable… dude’s a zombie.

Perhaps the most obvious current zombie is Ken Griffey, Jr. Junior was awesome back in the 1990s, and is a surefire Hall of Famer if there was one (I think Jones should be in, too, but I digress). But man, he’s only been over 1.5 WAR once in the FanGraphs Era, and that was back in 2006. Kid Zombie is clearly sucking up a roster slot for feelgood reasons* in Seattle (“he’ll mentor Milton Bradley!”), but isn’t Seattle supposed to be contending in the 2010’s likely tightest division? Maybe Griffey has powers of hypnosis; perhaps he’s a vampire rather than a zombie, I dunno.

* No, I don’t have it in me to discuss Zombie Mike Sweeney.

That’s just a start to get you going. What other zombies slated to play in 2010?




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


96 Responses to “The Dead Who Walk Among Us”

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  1. maestro876 says:

    Brian Giles could rise to walk again should he make the Dodgers out of Spring Training.

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    • Joe R says:

      Yes, how does a SABRmetric writer forget Brian Giles?
      You know, the guy w/ a career .400 OBP despite playing in many run-suppressing environments who stands no shot at the Hall of Fame because everyone knows the Hall of Fame is more predicated on jersey sales than talent?

      That being said, I’d love it if Giles were thrust into action and went .290/.405/.520 for LA and made the fine analysts who probably forgot about his existance after 1999 gasp.

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  2. bobo says:

    Not sure I understand the traitor comment about Bako, I guess I’m slow or it is an inside joke.

    I’d list a guy like Smoltz and Jim Thome in this group too.

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    • Bronnt says:

      Smoltz posted some awesome peripherals last year-there have already been extensive debates about his real usefulness on this site. It’s tough to call him a zombie at this point.

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    • geo says:

      Thome isn’t a zombie yet; he still clearly has value.

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      • Ummm says:

        Not sure Thome doesn’t fit this description thougth “He’s not useless, but from one a Hall-of-Famer to a part-timer? Zombie Pudge.” Except remove Pudge and type in Thome. I guess some folks read this such that a zombie was a very good player that is now a shell of their former selves, and others didn’t read it at all and just want to nitpick other posters…

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    • Oops… put the wrong link in there. That might help with the Bako thing. Watch your Bako1

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  3. radiohix says:

    Jason Varitek: 13% CS that goes with .703 OPS. Definitely a Zombie!

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  4. Jonathan says:

    Jason Varitek

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  5. Greg says:

    Just some players from last year that came to mind, many of them probably won’t get signed this year. Some are though.

    Some may not qualify yet, but are on their way.

    Eric Gagne
    LaTroy Hawkins
    David Eckstein
    Eric Hinske
    Ben Sheets
    Jim Thome
    Aubrey Huff

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    • Sam says:

      Ben Sheets was hurt, but last time he pitched, he pitched pretty well. I don’t see how he qualifies.

      Hinske is a back-up. He is pretty good in that role.

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  6. Part-Time Pariah says:

    You should get a fucking award for slipping arch-lich into a baseball blog. XD

    FOR THE WIN.

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    • TerryMc says:

      When I read “arch-lich” my first thought was “NERD” and then I realized where I was on the internet…

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      • matt w says:

        You could pretty much cross out “where I was” in that sentence. (No offense meant: this applies to me too, in a big way.)

        Also, is this the D&D arch-lich, who isn’t evil, or the NetHack arch-lich, who will RIP YOUR FACE OFF? I think if anyone would hire Barry Bonds he might qualify as the latter.

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  7. Michael says:

    I’m not sure Andruw Jones could be counted as a zombie. He didn’t have a half-bad season last year, and he probably would’ve looked a bit better if the Rangers played him in the outfield. I don’t think he’s worse than league average in the corners, and he’s probably a bit better.

    Now, is he anywhere near the defensive monster he used to be? No, I don’t think so, though we haven’t really gotten a chance to find out since no one plays him in the field. It’s a good bet he’s not 2006 Andruw Jones. But a 4th outfielder/borderline starter? Not sure if that’s a replacement-level zombie.

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    • Michael — Jones does have some value, but the point is that he’s a zombie compared to his former self. That’s why Paul Bako isn’t a zombie — that’s just him, not the undead him. When a HoF-level player like Andruw Jones is a 4th OF who has to delude himself into thinking he’s competing for a starting role — he’s a zombie.

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      • Joe R says:

        You know what sucks for Andruw Jones?
        If he breaks into the majors at like 23, has his run from 23-33, and then falls apart and retires, I bet people ask if he’s a Hall of Famer

        Instead, he falls apart, people remember him for the terrible contract Coletti gave him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t last a ballot.

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      • Michael says:

        Gotcha. OK, I can see that definition of zombie fits Andruw. Such a shame, bright career.

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  8. Kevin says:

    Brad Ausmus

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  9. Sam says:

    Jason Giambi. Although he was pretty good in 2008.

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  10. Jamie says:

    Zombie Giambi?

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  11. Matt says:

    Geoff Jenkins — although I kind of think he might fit in the undead.

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  12. suicide squeeze says:

    As an A’s fan, I’m going to say Eric Chavez. Maybe his decline has been too injury-related to qualify, but he sure seems like a zombie.

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  13. Will says:

    Dougie Mientickiewicz was vaguely around last season, and I think he still wants to play.

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    • Preston says:

      Yup, “Eye Chart” is a non-roster invitee with the Dodgers; he’ll be competing with Giles for a pinch-hitter role, if both are still healthy enough to play.

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      • matt w says:

        Was Mxyzptlk ever good enough to qualify? One season above 2 WAR since 2002 (plus a 2001 that’s probably about that good), and lots of grit and veteranosity.

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  14. mofopolice says:

    Gary Sheffield, as evidenced from a recent interview with Bob Costas:

    BC: So are you saying that your name appeared on the list simply because you were ordering legal supplements from the BALCO distribution center?

    GS: mmmm… braaiinss…

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  15. James K says:

    In 124 games last season Thome hit 23 homers and ops’d 847 with a 232 iso. While he isn’t the slugger i remember in Cleavland I really don’t think last season’s performance qualifies him as a zombie or that given the PA’s he won’t rack up 30 homers, OBP 350 and continue to display dead pull power. At 1.5mm i call that a brilliant signing

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  16. Adam D says:

    Hank Blalock (if he’s signed)?

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  17. Steven says:

    Honorable all-time nomination for Rickey Henderson.

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    • B N says:

      Haha. I donno if that’s true though. Except for his last year, he was still posting up an OBP of around 0.365 and stealing effectively. While he may have become a zombie of his former self, the guy was still kicking. He WOULD have been the ultimate zombie if they let him though, because he would have kept showing up on the field every year until his legs or arms fell off though. I still remember him trying to get a job with the Mets and having to settle for being a running coach for Reyes.

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  18. PL says:

    DAVID. ORTIZ.

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  19. Paapfly.com says:

    I can’t wait until ARod turns into the ultimate ZOMBIE by the time that contract is up. What, he will be 42?

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  20. Slurve says:

    Nick A- Wait a sec…

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  21. MFG says:

    Future Zombies (defined as surefire zombies before their current contract expires):

    Torii Hunter
    Jason Bay
    Carlos Lee

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    • B N says:

      I don’t know if those guys count as zombies since no one is signing them to new contracts at that point. Wouldn’t they just count as “dead weight” instead?

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  22. B N says:

    If he ever hit the free agent market, Vernon Wells would be the ultimate zombie. Some manner of “Zombie King” or “Zombie Lord” or perhaps even Baron Samedi.

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  23. Circlechange11 says:

    No Miguel Tejada?

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  24. Eddie says:

    Alfonso Soriano.

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  25. alskor says:

    If your first two players are such “zombies,” how did they both get two year deals?!

    Tell me that, Mr. Sabrmagician!

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  26. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Vlad? Glaus?

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  27. Will says:

    Pardon my tone, but how in the HELL is Andruw Jones a HOFer?

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    • Mitchell says:

      He was one of the best defensive CF of all time and had some ridiculous power back in the day (51 hr’s one year I think). Remember, he came up in 1996 and pretty much beasted until 2007.

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      • B N says:

        The guy was definitely good, but he would have needed a loooooong career to be a good HOF candidate in this era. While he hit for good power, the man has a career OBP of .338. His OPS+ for Atlanta was 113 over his career. By comparison, Lance Berkman had an OPS+ of 139 in a “down year” last year. Granderson has a career OPS+ of 113, with a pretty up and down batting career.

        While Jones had absurd defensive skills at one point, if you’re going to be an awesome fielder and a slightly above average hitter- you need a good long career to make the HOF. I don’t see on his credentials any way he could have made the HOF based upon his first 10 years. He ultimately only had two talents: defense and power. A rare skill set (compared to defense and speed, at least) but not a HOF lock skill set by any means.

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      • JoeR43 says:

        No one argues he’s a Hall of Fame lock. But he has a definite case.
        He’s going to finish with 400 HR’s, and I know while everyone hates FRAA-based stats, here’s the fielding rates of Jones and someone else (100 = average, 110 = +10 runs / 100 defensive games, etc)

        Jones: 109
        Other guy: 109

        Want to guess who the “other” guy is?
        Anyone, anyone?

        …Willie Mays.

        B-R lists Mays are +9.2 runs saved per 1,250 defensive innings in CF. That’s good. Jones is listed at +18.2.

        Say what you want about retroactive defensive #’s, they shine a beautiful light on Jones.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      When you’re one of the best defensive cf’s of all time and carry a good bat to boot, you become a borderline case.

      On Sean Smith’s historical WAR rankings, Jones has 58.4 WAR in 7,845 PA. Vlad Guerrero, to compare, has 57.1 in 7,826 PA.

      I’m not going to say Jones is definitely better than Guerrero, since 1.3 marginal wins over 7,800+ PA is absolutely nothing (that’s a 4.5 WAR v. 4.4 WAR per season player), but Guerrero is going to gain attention for the Hall. Based on the performance data we have, Jones should as well.

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      • ToddM says:

        If defensive metrics were as widely known and trusted as offensive metrics, Andruw would definitely get at least some consideration as a HOFer. Truly ridiculous defense and a solid bat (good peak) can get you to the promised land.

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      • JoeR43 says:

        Yeah, it’s happened before.
        Of course, guys like Ozzie Smith kept hitting, and actually had good age 36 and 37 years. People remembered Ozzie as good.
        It’s hard to remember Jones as much more than the shell he is now if you didn’t follow him closely in Atlanta.

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      • ToddM says:

        Andruw was my favorite player for nearly a decade, although I was never a Braves fan. Watching him play center was a joy.

        As recently as his back-to-back huge homer seasons, Andruw had to be a favorite for the Hall. Just goes to show that hitting a baseball is nothing to be taken lightly, and falling off the proverbial cliff can happen at any time.

        If he’d ever really learned to lay off the off-speed stuff on the outer half, he could have been unbelievable. He seemed to temporarily restrain himself from time to time, but his pull-everything-approach never really went away for long. The whole thing makes me very sad, and not just because I invested a lot of time and money into collecting Andruw cards and various stuff.

        My other favorite investment of the 1998-2002 era? Jason Kendall. I sure know how to pick ‘em.

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      • Joe R says:

        TECHNICALLY Kendall is actually one of the top 500 position players of all time according to the historical WAR database (pushing for top 300).

        But once again, what do we remember as fans? The guy who stuck around way too long who had no offensive value outside of walks and HBP, mediocre defense, and “veteran presense”.

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      • ToddM says:

        I remember the dominating Jason Kendall, certainly. I remember his horrific injury as well, and his subsequent change in approach that seemed to both sap his power and erode his core skills. Just makes me sad.

        That said, he’s caught a ton of games…

        1907 games at catcher (10th all-time, likely 5th after 2010)
        12298 putouts at catcher (3rd all-time, behind IRod and Ausmus, although this is a modern-ish stat)

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      • matt w says:

        Actually it wasn’t the horrific ankle injury that derailed Kendall’s career, it was the thumb injury. See the detailed WHYGAVS post linked in my name. His power came back after the ankle injury, but never after the thumb injury.

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      • Joe R says:

        Either way, as much of a punch line as he’s become, he used to be a heck of a player. He rocked a .306/.387/.418 while in Pittsburgh, which is pretty damn good for a catcher with respectable defense (not great, though, baseball prospectus has him as average).

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  28. BrettFan1 says:

    Matt Stairs. Guy’s got alligator blood…. he just keeps hanging around.

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  29. BrettFan1 says:

    Garret Anderson
    Omar Vizquel
    Travis Hafner
    Joe Crede
    Randy Winn
    Jose Guillen
    as long as GMs continue to overvalue “veteran presence”, the list will go on and on and on……

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    • frug says:

      Oh man, definitely Omar Vizquel.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      Winn’s just had one poor year where he was relatively unlucky. I think there’s a good chance he’s about average next year, as most of his value comes from his glove anyhow, and he should hit better in New-Yank. Even at his peak, he wasn’t consistently WAY above average, so I’m not sure he counts, really.

      Jose Guillen’s pretty much always been shit.

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  30. Bannister19 says:

    Kyle Farnsworth
    Yunieski Betancourt
    Tony Pena Jr
    Wilson Betemit
    Jose Gullien

    Wait. I’m naming the Royals roster. (With the exception of TPJ. His OBP will be a good fit in San Fran though. His ERA would be better in Baltimore, he might win a rotation spot)

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    • B N says:

      I think that assumes that Farnsworth ever lived much beyond what he is now. For a guy that has only put together about 3 good seasons in 10 years, I think it’s doubtable he ever truly lived beyond this.

      Guillen though is a great example of a zombie. Talk about Weekend at Bernie’s kind of signing.

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  31. Kevin S. says:

    How the hell has Jermaine Dye not been mentioned yet?

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  32. anon says:

    Darin Erstad.

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  33. Circlechange11 says:

    If Ankiel does not hit this year, he could make this list … Twice!

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  34. MG says:

    Ultimate zombie ever was Zombie Orosco who wandered the land for 25+ years until finally put down.

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  35. Bob R. says:

    Carlos Silva had a few solid years but at this point seems to be a zombie candidate.

    Gary Matthews Jr. had that one good year and has declined every year since. Do you get the feeling that his one catch will keep getting him a roster spot as a 5th outfielder/defensive replacement over the next few years to lure fans into being optimistic about a semi-famous name?

    It is beginning to look as if injuries are turning Kelvim Escobar into a zombie.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      I’m convinced that if you’re a guy who plays baseball in the majors, give your kid the same name as you, and he’ll end up getting way more money or time to develop than he deserves.

      John Mayberry Jr. is next

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    • Sean Schirmer says:

      I ” get the feeling that his one catch will keep getting him a roster spot as a 5th outfielder/defensive replacement over the next few years to lure fans into being optimistic about a semi-famous name” on the Mets.

      Every other GM already seems to have figured it out.

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  36. hamandcheese says:

    Nomar Garciaparra. Pretty obvious zombie, too.

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  37. Preston says:

    First of all, the arch-liches line is amazing.

    Secondly, I think it’s a bit of a cheap shot to say that the only reason these guys have to play is the money – I think it’s great to see old players hang on as long as humanly possible; it means they actually love playing the game. Do not go gentle into that good night, and all that jazz.

    Finally, other possible zombies (scraping the barrel a bit, given the good names people have already come up with) – Pedro, if he ends up signing somewhere; Dontrelle Willis (who “died” young, of course); oh, and how about Jim Edmonds, who’s a non-roster invitee for the Brewers, and Everyday Eddie Guardado, with the Nationals.

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  38. FireOmar says:

    Zombie Mets, somehow they are still competing against other major league franchises instead of the Bridgeport Bluefish

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  39. rico petrocelli says:

    You missed

    Jim Edmonds
    Nomar (or is he still an AllStar)
    Hafner (or is he unemployed)
    Pedro (say it aint so)
    Russell Branyan (or will he not get the chance to undie)
    Sheffield (or has he still got the clear)

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    • Tim In Missouri says:

      I can’t believe it took this long for someone to point out “Jimmy Ballgame”. I LOVE Jim Edmonds. He was a delight to watch play centerfield. However, there comes a time when you have to ask yourself “I was a beloved and fondly remembered Cardinal who signed with the Cubs. Most Redbird fans forgave me. Now, should I sign with the OTHER team that is universally dispised in St. Louis?”

      Far be it from me to tell a guy when to quit, but, really, the Brewers?

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  40. rico petrocelli says:

    By the way you say no Archie Leach? That means “Walk, Don’t Run” (with Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton) is off limits?

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  41. Mack says:

    Jason Varitek
    Carlos Delgado (if he signs, great example)
    Jim Edmonds
    David Ortiz
    Jose Vidro
    John Smoltz
    Bartolo Colon
    Jason Schmidt

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  42. Joe R says:

    While only pseudo-related…
    how the hell is Brandon Lyon projected for 7.17 K/9 by CHONE?

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  43. Gilbert says:

    I see someone finally said Pedro, but fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of Chipper not Andruw Jones. On one hand he has been on record of fearing to be a zombie but that might make him one. His lowest OPS+ was 108 as a rookie, I am guessing under for 2010 with less than average D making him an average player with a lot of fans wanting him to stay.

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  44. judas says:

    Manny – juice = zombie?

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  45. Adam says:

    Troy Glaus
    Gary Anderson
    Everybody on the Mets
    Travis Hafner
    Paul LoDuca
    Jason Schmidt
    Dontrelle Willis

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