The Detroit Tigers signed Steve Avery to a minor-league contract yesterday and invited him to spring training. Yes, the same Steve Avery that hasn't been good since the first Bush administration.
I feel bad for Avery, I do. For all the press that Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox get for resurrecting careers, his is the one that they scuttled. In his three full major-league seasons before turning 24, Avery threw 667.1 innings in 105 games. He never threw more than 173.1 innings in a year after that. People seem to forget that when the Braves were a young-and-coming team in the early '90s, Avery got as much, if not more, press as Glavine or Smoltz. He looked like he would be better than both of them with his playoff heroics. Fans seem to forget it but not GMs--this is the third organization since he left the Braves that has tried to resurrect his career.
Remember we are not talking about a player who left the game at his prime like a Koufax. Yes, the papers are right that Avery hasn't pitched since 1999, and you think, there are a plethora (Jose, what is a plethora?) of pitchers who have been able to make it back to the majors after similar layoffs. But you cannot ignore the fact that not only has he not pitched in the majors since 1999, he hasn't pitched as well as an average major-leaguer since 1996 and he has not been a truly good pitcher since 1994.
I remember when Jim Palmer tried to come back in 1991 after being retired for seven years and after having already been elected to the Hall of Fame. I thought that Palmer's comeback was ridiculous and not just because of the long layoff. I thought the fact that he hadn't pitch well when he left indicated that he had lost the ability to pitch at the major league level 7-8 years before the so-called comeback. Avery has had a similar if not lnger layoff where productivity is concerned and has had injuries over the years that supposedly limited the velocity on his fastball to under 80 MPH and required him to alter his delivery.
Even if he can come back, how can he help a bunch of lollygaggers like the Tigers? If they ever do get good again, he'll be too old to help. I think it basically is another instance this offseason of teams trying to get by on the cheap. If the Tigers can make a serviceable major-leaguer out of him, they can pay him just over league minimum and cut a $600-$800K salary in the bullpen. That's what teams are all about this winter, robbing Peter to pay Paul or Steve.