By Bob Wirz
While Oakland's signing of left-hander Rich Hill for $6 million gives the 35-year-old more financial security than he could have imagined a few months ago when he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks it also makes a major statement for many other players who are in the free agent world today or will find themselves without a contract when they get a dreaded pink slip at the end of spring training.
If you are healthy and still believe your talent is major league quality, the Atlantic League is an option. A very good option.
While Hill already had considerable major league experience as Houston lefty Scott Kazmir did when he sought a fresh start at Sugar Land three years earlier their days in The Show were slipping away. They would not get back to the game's top level--and the potential of giant paydays--unless they proved they still had IT to any one of the 30 major league organizations.
These current examples should make the Atlantic League a juicy consideration for many other players in the future.
In fact, one other case already bears watching. Minnesota just signed one more left-handed pitcher, Dan Runzler, who was described a "filthy" (an endearing baseball term for those hard to hit), during a stint at Sugar Land late last season. He was placed on the Triple-A Rochester, NY roster, but it is difficult to imagine he will not get a look from the parent Twins in the spring with improving the bullpen one of the needs they have confirmed.
Hill's deal, one of the major leagues' few actual free agent signings so far this fall, came on the heels of an exceptional late season run that started at Long Island and continued for the International League's Pawtucket (RI) Red Sox and their parent team at fabled Fenway Park.
Media reports indicate he was coveted by San Diego, Tampa Bay and "numerous other teams" and may have turned down more money elsewhere but liked his chances of starting for the Athletics. While the $6 million, one-year contract has to feel very good for Hill since it is nearly twice his career earnings, he seems to have a solid chance of being in Oakland's starting rotation which includes ace Sonny Gray plus young candidates Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, touted prospect Sean Manaea and veteran Jesse Chavez, who may now become trade bait.
Hill was exceptional in his two starts for the Ducks (two hits, 21 strikeouts in 11 scoreless innings), then posted a 2-1 record with a 1.59 ERA in four strong September starts for Boston. He struck out 36--a rare 10 in three consecutive appearances--allowing only 14 hits and five walks in 29 innings to build his career record to 26-23 in 201 appearances.
Runzler has been almost exclusively a relief pitcher since he started an eight-year run in the San Francisco Giants organization and pitched 89 times for the parent club, but only six of those have been since 2011. He was exceptional in 19 outings for Sugar Land, posting a 0.52 earned run average and striking out 20 (three walks) in 17.1 innings, and will not turn 31 until March 30 when he could be wearing a Minnesota uniform if he displays the same form during spring training he had for the Skeeters.
David Espinosa to Scout for Marlins
Longtime minor league outfielder David Espinosa, whose 15-year career included time at Southern Maryland, York and Camden, has taken a job of scouting the Independent leagues for the Miami Marlins.
Irvine, Broderick Solid in Mexico
Recent Arizona signee Lucas Irvine (Somerset, Camden) and free agent Brian Broderick (Sugar Land) are among those enjoying productive seasons in the Mexican League. Irvine is 3-0, 3.09 after seven starts while Broderick is 1-1 with 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA after 17 outings.
Previously the chief spokesman for Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about the Atlantic League and Independent Baseball since 2003
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