The mark of a truly bad team, the sort that is hopelessly bad, is that it is not just made up of inexperienced no-names, but also floating journeymen who, until seen on a given day, were presumed to be out of the game. This was a conclusion I reached while watching the Tampa Bay Devil Rays today.
The Devil Rays are 20-25 after today's loss, which is a reasonable record, but this is a team that has lost at least 91 games in each of its eight seasons and 95 or more in four of the last five. This is truly a team going precisely nowhere. Although I have not seriously followed baseball for most of this decade, serious being defined as a working knowledge of the starting lineups and rotations of most of the American League, I was familiar with a good chunk of their players today, hardly a promising sign for what should be a young ballclub.
Russell Branyan, once a promising young power hitter for Cleveland (16 homers in 193 at-bats in 2000, 20 in 315 the year after), is the starting right-fielder. Now 30 and on his fourth team, he is a career .231 hitter and batting a shade over .200 this year. Travis Lee was touted as a cornerstone of expansion cousin Arizona in that first 1998 season, but never did progress far beyond being an average player. Lee will be 31 on Friday and is playing for his fourth team and on his second tour with the Devil Rays.
Digging deeper, we find that today's starting catcher was Josh Paul, a career backup who has hit 8 home runs in 499 at-bats dating back to 1999. Greg Norton is another relic from the scrap heap of baseball, a name that I could not believe I was hearing. Once a great pinch hitter, Norton played a total of 41 games in the last two years and has had more than 300 at-bats just once in a career that began in 1996.
Finally, we come to a name that all long-term Blue Jay fans should be familiar with from the ignominious days of the mid-90s, when we came to terms with mediocrity so soon after two championships, not to mention Ed Sprague at third base. I speak, of course, of Tomas Perez, one of about a dozen middle infielders who attempted to fill the void left by Roberto Alomar. Before I continue, let me remind you of his fellow Perez, Robert, who was expected to produce great things as the International League batting champion. Robert Perez hit .327 in 1996, the first full season since the World Series of 1993, but that was half his career. After that, he did play for four other teams, but managed 50 more hits.
Anyway, returning to Tomas Perez, he somehow survives in this league, as do a surprising number of the other Blue Jay middle infielders of that era: Miguel Cairo (perhaps the best-known given that the plays for the Yankees), Chris Woodward, Alex Gonzalez, Felipe Lopez and Cesar Izturis. Those who weren't as lucky include Domingo Cedeno, Tilson Brito and Felipe Crespo. Crespo holds the dubious distinction of dropping a liner on September 27, 1998, ruining a perfect game for a young Blue Jays fireballer by the name of Roy Halladay, making his second-ever start. Halladay would lose the no-hitter on a home run to Bobby Higginson with the Tigers down to their last out, but that was moot to me.
Like a lot of these players, Tomas Perez was out of baseball for a year (1999) before resurfacing in Philadelphia. He is a career .244 hitter with an OBP of .300 and 22 home runs who is now in his eleventh season. Perez is special for this reason, having come this far despite being so bad for so long with the Jays (four seasons, two homers, 123 hits, twice under .200). Every time I am reminded that Tomas Perez is still playing, I raise my eyebrows in disbelief and head on over to the nearest computer to check how poorly he is hitting and how subpar his defense is (fielding percentage of .981 as a second baseman, identical to the league average; 3.5 "plays made" per nine innings versus a league average just over 4).