The New York Times reports that the Mets' owner Fred Wilpon approached David Cone at John Franco's charity bowling tournament about coming out of retirement to pitch for the team. Cone is 40 years old and missed all of last year after he bypassed other deals in hopes of re-signing with the Yankees.
"You bring him in to minor league camp and you let the guys who get paid to do that see if he has anything left. If he does, he could help some teams. Obviously, he doesn't fit on the Yankees because they have so many pitchers. But he might fit on other teams."
Hmm, which team is talking about I wonder? Al Leiter also approached Cone at the event:
"If the guy has anything left and is even remotely close to the pitcher he was before, you take a chance on him," Leiter said in a telephone interview. "What's the downside for the Mets? Let him come to spring training and pitch for a spot. What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Apparently, Cone has signed to work on the YES network and is concerned about ticking of The Boss:
"If he wasn't worried about the Yankee stuff blowing up in his face, I think he'd do it in a second," Leiter said. "He's got an allegiance to George. He's worried about that."
Leiter also called Cone "one of the best pitchers in baseball for the last 10 years." Cone was 4-14 with a 6.91 ERA in 2000. His 2001 performance was good (9-7, 4.31 ERA, 5% better than the adjusted average), but it seemed to be held together with tape and glue (148 hits and 17 home runs in 135.2 innings). Given his performance since the end of 1999, it's hard to consider him the same pitcher.
But Leiter is persistent:
"What's the downside? You invite him to spring training, you give him an orange B.P. top and you pay him some meal money," Leiter said. "In four or five weeks, you might have another pitcher. I'd love to see him in spring training. I think it's a no-brainer."
Well, the downside is that a young pitcher like Mike Bacsik, Pat Strange, or Jason Middlebrook doesn't get a chance to develop. They didn't set the league ablaze last year, but they deserve a shot to move to the next level, especially given the advanced age of the pitchers in the first four spots in the rotation. That apparently is not a concern given that promising young lefty Jamie Cerda is getting bypassed in favor of retread Graeme Lloyd.
Besides how well could Cone possibly pitch given his age and the time off. Here is the list of pitchers who missed a season at age 39 and pitched thereafter with the age-40+ stats:
Of those only a handful started more than 10 games: Paige, Caldwell, Wilhelm, Ruffing, and Green. Paige's career got a late start because of the color line. Caldwell was a replacement during World War II, who pitched better after 40 than before and became a reliever after one season. Wilhelm returned to the majors in the Federal League and had one fairly productive season before falling apart completely. Ruffing returned to the majors at age 41 after serving three years in the army. He spent three injury-plagued seasons in the majors and then retired. Ed Green was a 40-year-old rookie for the 1890 American Association Philly A's. It was his only season in the majors and it was a poor one at that. This was the year that the Players League pilfered major-league rosters.
So, of the men who came back after spending their 39th year out of the majors, there are only 5 that started a significant number of games. Of those five, all had extenuating circumstances (a war, a new league, or segregation) that caused their situation. Cone has no such extenuating circumstances. His comeback would be, therefore, unprecedented.
I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds are really not in his favor. Wouldn't the Mets be better off trying to develop some young talent that could help them for more than one season anyway? As a Phils fan, it warms my heart to hear these silly rumors-the Mets are started to self-destruct before the season even starts. And when are they getting a real third baseman anyway?