The Unbelievable Bret Boone

The flip was the best

I don't quite have the heart right now to write about the idea of trading Felix Hernandez. In part because I've already done that, a few times, at considerable length, and in part because it's just not something I want to be thinking about. Maybe I'll change my mind. Maybe I won't. Who knows! I could go in any direction!

I also don't know what to write about with regard to the Mariners making moves. There's nothing new to be said about Prince Fielder. Like at all. All angles have been explored. There have been no new public developments. We're all just waiting on Fielder to make a decision, which means we're really all just waiting on Boras to make a decision. As for other moves, I don't know what's going on. There's still that talk about adding a starter, and there's still that talk about Seth Smith, but nothing's hot. There's no burning rumor, so that's also a waiting game.

As is usually the case when I don't know what to write about, I found myself browsing Baseball-Reference. My laptop is mere feet away from my bed. Sometimes I wake up and start browsing Baseball-Reference before I know what I'm doing. The other day when my brain kicked in a few minutes after the rest of me awoke, I realized I was looking at Augie Ojeda's splits page without knowing how I got there. It's a disease, a disease that is wonderful and illuminating.

Long story short, I was on Baseball-Reference, and Baseball-Reference reminded me of this:

Friday, December 22 (2000)

SEATTLE -- Second baseman Bret Boone is making a return trip to Seattle.

Pat Gillick, the Mariners' general manager, announced Friday that the team signed the free-agent second baseman. The deal was reported to be a one-year, $3.25 million contract.

It was on this date in 2000 that the Mariners brought Bret Boone over from San Diego as a free agent. Incidentally, it was on this date in 1999 that the Padres acquired Bret Boone from the Braves in a trade. Exciting consecutive Christmases for the Boone family.

Now, I probably don't need to remind you of what Boone went on to accomplish. I'm going to anyway, because that's kind of the whole point of this post, but first, what was Pat Gillick expecting? A quote. I should say "a quotation" because that is what would be correct - I remember, Mr. D'Onofrio - but writing "a quotation" would seem unnecessarily pompous and there is an art to words such that you can't always just follow the rules. Okay, moving on:

"We think Bret is a nice fit for our ballclub," Gillick said. "He's a proven run-producer who will add a little pop to our line-up while providing solid defense for our pitching staff."

Sounds about right. Boone was 31 at the time. Nearly 32. He'd just hit 19 home runs, a year after hitting 20 home runs, a year after hitting 24 home runs. That's what you say about a guy like Boone when you sign him to a one-year contract worth $3.25 million. You say that you expect him to help a little bit, because you expect him to help a little bit.

And then Boone went on to help a lot of bits. Crediting an offseason training regimen that added either 15, 20 or 30 pounds of muscle, depending on who you ask, Boone flipped out. He didn't get going immediately, but once he did, he was nearly impossible to stop. This was his final slash line:

.331/.372/.578

That was a slash line from a right-handed middle infielder in Safeco Field. A 32-year-old right-handed middle infielder in Safeco Field, whose slash line the three years previous was .256/.319/.432. The Mariners were expecting something close to the latter. What they got instead was practically Alex Rodriguez, the season after losing Alex Rodriguez.

Something else strange that goes kind of unnoticed - justifiably so, I suppose - is that Boone appeared to get better at defense out of nowhere, too. I know, I know, defensive stats, but Baseball-Reference pegs Boone at -25 runs between 1998-2000. In 2001, he vaulted up to +12. I recall that UZR liked him a lot, too. I've said a few times that I trust defensive stats an awful lot more for infielders than for outfielders, and here's evidence that Boone might have suddenly gotten way better with the glove. I do remember thinking he was good, although in fairness I was a young idiot.

Baseball-Reference put Boone's 2001 WAR at 9.3. We could quibble about that, but this isn't for science, so we're not going to. That is the fifth-best single-season WAR for a position player in Mariners history. It is higher than any WAR Edgar ever posted. It is higher than all but two of Alex Rodriguez's seasons, and higher than all but two of Ken Griffey Jr.'s seasons. It's higher than every Ichiro season, and it's just generally kind of amazing. Bret Boone's career WAR before 2001, over more than a thousand games, was 3.1. His season-high was 1.7.

Put another way, over the three years before Boone signed with the Mariners, he was about as valuable as Tony Womack and Luis Alicea. He was in his early 30s. In 2001, he found himself in the company of guys like Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. One-year contract. $3.25 million.

I know that people have their suspicions about Boone. I don't care. Even if Boone had been taking a chemical or two, tons of players were taking a chemical or two, and what Boone did at 32 is almost impossible to believe. It wasn't just a one-year fluke, either. He was good in 2002. He was awesome again in 2003. By that point he had been re-signed to a larger contract, making him less of a surprise and less of a bargain, but Boone had an incredible multi-year peak that nobody, nobody could've seen coming.

You remember that Boone was a guy who conquered Safeco Field because he was a righty who could hit homers the other way. He's one of the only righties the team has had who could hit homers the other way. He's still the player who comes to mind when I think of righties who can succeed with the Mariners. Boone figured it out. Boone stood 5'10 in stripper heels.

I don't bring this up in some attempt to rally the troops during what's been a disappointing offseason. I'm not trying to make the point that you never know who could turn out to be amazing, although, in truth, you can't. Maybe John Jaso slugs .550. Who knows? It's possible, because Bret Boone. In that way, the Bret Boone story has something in common with the Ryan Vogelsong story.

No - I bring this up because Bret Boone signed a cheap one-year contract with the Mariners on this date in 2000, and then he went on to have one of the most inconceivable seasons in baseball history. I bring this up because I wonder if Boone's one-year contract might stand as the best one-year contract ever. I doubt it - there's probably someone who signed for the minimum who turned out fantastic - but Boone's got to be up there. What a weird and terrific thing to have happen.

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