The comeback attempt of Dontrelle Willis continues after the once dominant and always quirky left-hander signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants this weekend. Andrew Baggerly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area confirmed the agreement, noting the deal is not likely to include the spring training invitation that is customarily attached to minor-league deals for veterans and former major leaguers.
Willis, who turns only 32 on Sunday, has not pitched in the major leagues since a disastrous stint with the Cincinnati Reds in 2011. He moved on to the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2012 and abruptly left the team mid-season citing dissatisfaction with his role as a reliever. He later filed and then withdrew a grievance against the organization before retiring that July.
Perhaps retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for Willis, or maybe the competitive fire returned during his downtime, because he resurfaced last winter after signing a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. A shoulder injury in spring training ended that relationship quickly, but he would later make five unsuccessful appearances for the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A squad.
To make a long story short, it’s going to be an uphill battle for a pitcher who hasn’t been consistently effective at any level of baseball since posting a 12-12 record and a 3.87 ERA with the Miami Marlins in 2006. But he’s always going to be worth monitoring because of the impact he made at such a young age. In 2003, he took MLB by storm as a 21-year-old rookie, earning Rookie of the Years honors and helping the Marlins to a World Series Championship. He then peaked in 2005, winning 22 games with a 2.63 ERA. That was good enough for second place in the Cy Young race.
It was as good a start to a pitching career as you can imagine, but those days are long, long behind him. Still, there‘s literally no risk involved here for the Giants. According to Baggerly, the Giants don't view Willis as a candidate for the opening day roster, but rather a project that could prove useful as a starter or in relief. It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s left-handed and is still at an age where there should be plenty of gas left in the tank.
At worst, the Giants are wrong and they part ways having lost nothing. At best, he's the comeback story of the year and Brian Sabean is a genius. That's never a gamble for a general manager.
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