It seems fitting that Mark Mulder came to terms on a contract with Los Angeles Angels on New Year's Day.
While many of us were writing down — OK, Facebooking — our New Year's resolutions, Mulder was committing himself to one heck of a challenge. The former Cy Young runner-up, who hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2008, took another step in his comeback attempt. He'll be trying to crack the Angels' opening day roster, after signing an incentive-heavy minor-league contract that comes with an invite to spring training.
It's fitting that it's with the Angels too, one of the teams in baseball so obviously linked to a film. Because if Mulder can pull this off, it will a tale for the movies. Even if he doesn't, it'll still be the most intriguing comeback story of the 2014 baseball season. A guy who left the game, moved on to a new gig, but couldn't move on completely in life. The itch came back, the possibilities and what-ifs romanced him, and he couldn't say no.
Mulder begrudgingly retired in 2010 — "I guess I have retired," he said at the time — after injuries derailed his career. He was fantastic between 2001 and 2005, winning 88 games with an average ERA of 3.62 for the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.
A variety of shoulder and rotator cuff issues turned Mulder's career upside-down, and soon he was transitioning into a job with ESPN as a baseball analyst.
Analyzing baseball led to him analyzing himself and discovering that if he adjusted his delivery, he could throw pain-free again. In fact, he emulated the unusual throwing motion of Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Paco Rodriguez.
Mulder got into shape, started throwing off of a mound again and was reaching 89-90 mph when a trio of teams came to watch him throw in November, according an ESPN report announcing his comeback attempt.
Now, Mulder's found a match. The deal makes sense for the Angels. They're a team whose main focus this offseason has been acquiring pitching, since it crippled them a season ago. They acquired Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox. But there still could be room for Mulder if he's anything close to resembling the pitcher he used to be.
Mark Mulder: "If it doesn’t work, so be it. As of now, how I feel and the ball coming out of my hand I'm excited." #Angels
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) January 2, 2014
Mulder is 36, old in pro sports terms, but plenty of pitchers have done well at that age. Guys such as Bartolo Colon, Hiroki Kuroda, A.J. Burnett and former teammate Tim Hudson have shown in recent years that there is success to be had when you're 36 or older. Here's a look at pitchers 36+ in the past three MLB seasons:
Being away from the game for as long as Mulder has is a variable you can't account for. It's an unusual circumstance that makes his story even more fascinating. The Angels aren't committing a lot to Mulder, just giving him a chance. According to reports, he'd make $1 million if he's on the opening day roster. He could make $6 million if he meets a variety of incentives.
While baseball will spend the next month figuring out which MLB team wins the right to pay a star from Japan upward of $100 million, it's Mulder and his maybe $1 million contract that might just become the most interesting signing of baseball's offseason. We love an underdog, don't we?
- - - - - - -