On Friday, the Seattle Mariners signed Jeremy Bonderman to a minor-league contract, with an invitation to major-league spring training. The Mariners had been known to be interested, or perhaps Bonderman had been known to be interested in the Mariners, but the Tigers were also a factor, being Bonderman's previous employer, so it wasn't clear if anything would happen. Anything happened! Bonderman committed to the Mariners on a deal that effectively carries zero risk, as Bonderman is just giving it one last shot to extend his big-league career. He is 30 years old.
Let's trace this backwards, now. According to a Geoff Baker post, Bonderman hasn't held any tryouts. Nobody has seen him throw lately, and nobody has measured his pitch velocities. This is in part because, last April, Bonderman underwent ligament-replacement surgery on his elbow, and is still in rehab. Bonderman was signed blind. Bonderman had Tommy John surgery in early 2012 after taking off the entirety of 2011. The last pitch Bonderman threw as a major-leaguer was on October 1, 2010. Felix Pie ripped it for a two-run triple.
Given that, then, you might assume that, before all the adversity, Bonderman was one hell of a pitcher. But he wasn't actually good in 2010. He barely pitched in 2009, due to shoulder surgery. He was limited and relatively ineffective in 2008, due to the same shoulder surgery. He had pretty strong peripherals in 2007, but those came with a 5.01 ERA. In 2007, Bonderman was all right. In 2006, Bonderman was legitimately terrific. In 2006, Andruw Jones was legitimately terrific.
Bonderman is still not old, but it's been a long time since he was a dependable positive contributor, and he's had a few peoples' shares of arm problems. His fastball used to sit in the mid-90s and I'm just going to go out on a limb and guess it doesn't do that so much anymore. The odds of Bonderman actually finding something are so slim giving him a contract is almost like a favor to a guy who lives in the area, but minor-league contracts are so risk-free that the Mariners might as well hand them out to anyone and everyone who's ever once demonstrated some sort of exceptional talent. Bonderman was highly thought of within the last decade. Gotta get a guy like that signed.
These things are always interesting to me. The Mariners are taking a look at Jeremy Bonderman. The Indians, it was announced today, are taking a look at Scott Kazmir. Both Bonderman and Kazmir have name value, because of what they were a long time ago. What they are now are completely different pitchers with the same first and last names. You don't sign one of them hoping that they turn back into their old selves. You sign one of them on the chance that they turn into something differently successful. The name only serves to capture attention. The arm that goes with the name -- it's usually a different arm. The benefit of Bonderman's history is that he has big-league experience, but those pitches are unlikely to be the same.
But, why the hell not? Why the hell not see? Bonderman lives nearby and wasn't promised anything other than an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot, which is a meaningless gesture. Bonderman's not getting a rotation spot. Oliver Perez worked, kind of. Ryan Vogelsong has sure as shit worked. Every single time someone gets signed to a minor-league contract I write something to the effect of "why not, because it's risk-free!" and it's always true. I can't think of a single worthwhile argument against giving Bonderman a limited chance, even if the odds he does anything are microscopic.
I guess the risk is that a veteran on a minor-league contract might wow the manager with something other than his talent and performance. Then you end up with an under-performing veteran that you didn't need to bring in in the first place. But that's a cynical perspective, and I think this really is a favor in a way. It doesn't hurt the Mariners to see what Bonderman has, but Bonderman all but fell in their lap. The Mariners will give Jeremy Bonderman a mound and a baseball. Probably a few baseballs.
There's a practical limit to how many minor-league contracts a team can give out. There's only so much space in spring training, only so much instruction to go around. The pickings get slim in a hurry, though, and it's unlikely that the deal given to Bonderman will cost the Mariners the opportunity to give such a deal to someone else, someone with better odds. They all have shit odds. If Shaggy can show up on my Twitter feed in December 2012, there's some chance Bonderman's old fastball and slider can show up in March 2013. Or a different fastball and slider, a still-effective fastball and slider.
Welcome Jeremy Bonderman, whatever you are these days. These are search results for Jeremy Bonerman. Welcome, Bonerman.