Big League Stew

Comeback Kids? Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir and Jeremy Bonderman ink minor league deals

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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(Presswire Photos)

Francisco Liriano’s new two-year, $14 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates headlined Friday's flurry of starting pitcher signings, but there were three other interesting and noteworthy players who reached minor league agreements with new teams and accepted invitations to spring training.

Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir and Jeremy Bonderman have all achieved varying degrees of success in the big leagues — though none of them reached a consistent level of dominance that many believed they were capable — before injuries and ineffectiveness teamed up to put their careers in a holding pattern. Now all three of them will attempt to reclaim a spot in a major league rotation, or at least earn a prominent role, during what could have been a prime year in their careers.

Here's a quick look at where the hopeful "comeback kids" have landed, and what their chances, if any, might be to achieve their goal again.

Rich Harden signs minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins

Harden missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder, and that‘s just the latest in an injury history that would keep you reading until Christmas if listed here.

In nine seasons, he’s only topped 30 starts and 150 innings once — 31 and 189 2/3 in 2004 — and hasn’t been effective since going 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA with the Chicago Cubs in 2009. It doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, but at just 31 years old it’s a signing worth making for general manager Terry Ryan in hopes that Harden can regain even a little bit of the form he possessed in 2008 — 13-13, 2.34.

For years people have also wondered how Harden would fare — performance and health wise — in a relief role. It’s not known if the Twins will consider that — or if Harden would accept — but it may be necessary for both sides to get what they want out of the agreement.

Scott Kazmir signs minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians

Would you believe Scott Kazmir will only be 29 when the new season begins in April? If it seems like he should be much, much older, it’s because the former phenom debuted in 2005 at age 20 and peaked with an all-star appearance in 2008, before arm and mechanical issues threw him all out of whack the following year and sent his career in a downward spiral.

How bad did it get? Well, in his 55 starts since 2008, Kazmir has posted a 19-24 record with an ugly 5.54 ERA. The last of those appearances came on April 3, 2011. He then made five minor league starts before the Los Angeles Angels released him, and he didn’t resurface again until 2012 when he made 14 starts with the famous Sugar Land Skeeters in independent ball.

It just goes to show how quickly it can fall apart for anybody, but especially a young pitcher who lights up the radar gun. Still, he's young enough to rebound and rebuild if he can stay healthy going foward. Kazmir is hoping that rebuilding started with a strong winter in Puerto Rico where his fastball was reportedly hitting 90-94 on the gun. When Kazmir threw for teams last winter, he was hitting 86-89, so the increase is encouraging.

He’ll have a chance to compete for a spot in the Indians rotation, and that really isn't the worst place to try his hand.

Jeremy Bonderman signs minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners

Bonderman, now 30, is another guy who debuted at the tender age of 20, peaked at 23, and then gradually worked backwards before disappearing all together after the 2010 season. Yes, interest in his services was so minimal following the 8-10, 5.53 campaign that he actually decided to sit out 2011 completely. Health was likely a factor as well as he was then forced to miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April.

Bonderman should be ready to rock and roll by the time pitchers and catchers report to Mariners camp in February. Still, of the three players noted here, he feels like the longest of the long shots to break camp with his new team based on the red flags and Seattle's pitching depth. And that's despite them dealing Jason Vargas to the Angels on Wednesday.

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