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They are forgotten men this time of year -- especially with the surprisingly entertaining World Baseball Classic and the daily drama surrounding Alex Rodriguez to distract us. But while most of us yawn indifferently at Spring Training games and count down toward Opening Day, they have something to prove. They are the veterans coming off of a lost season in 2008 (because of injury or otherwise).
And for them, spring games are about re-establishing confidence in their own abilities and instilling renewed faith in those abilities in the decision-makers on their teams.
There is Jason Schmidt in Dodgers camp in Surprise, Ariz. trying to bounce back from two mostly painful seasons with Los Angeles. Schmidt signed a three-year, $47 million deal in the winter of 2006 and has since made Carl Pavano look downright durable. He's started six games in Dodger blue -- all of them in 2007 -- and has had two shoulder surgeries, all at the cost of a whopping $7.8 million per turn.
But the beauty of baseball is that it offers plenty of chances at redemption. Schmidt made his first appearance of the spring Monday, tossing two innings and allowing three runs. And while his velocity often dipped into the high-80s -- a more troubling sign than the poor results -- manager Joe Torre still seems to prefer him as the team's fifth starter.
"His experience certainly adds a lot to the rotation," Torre told MLB.com. "I think the velocity will get better. If he stays healthy, what we saw today is not as good as it will get."
Sure, there a lot of qualifiers in there, but with Derek Lowe off to Atlanta, the Dodgers could use a revitalized veteran presence like Schmidt, even if he isn't the true ace he was in his five-and-change seasons with the Giants.
Digging in against him Monday was Andruw Jones, another outrageously expensive mistake made by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. Oh, Jones was injured for part of last season, but mostly he was just horridly out of shape, so much so that Los Angeles swallowed hard and ate -- pardon the pun -- the remaining $22.1 million on his contract.
Jones caught on with the Rangers on a minor-league deal this winter. He cranked a two-run home run against the Dodgers (though not against Schmidt), is supposedly much slimmer, if Bill Plaschke's twittering is to be believed, and could very easily become a regular in a Texas outfield where only Josh Hamilton has sealed up a starting spot. With 10 Gold Gloves and 371 career homers, Jones seemed well on his way to Cooperstown before last year's disaster in Chavez Ravine. At 31, there is still time to get that train back on the tracks.
And then there is Chris Carpenter. The 2005 NL Cy Young winner has been down this road before. He had major shoulder surgery in 2002 and was cast off by the Blue Jays. He missed the entire 2003 season, but won 51 games over the next three with the Cardinals, twice pitching more than 220 innings, posting a 3.10 ERA and helping St. Louis to two World Series appearances. Then the injuries came back.
Carpenter has pitched 21 1/3 innings the last two years, this time because of balky elbow that has resulted in two more surgeries, including a Tommy John procedure. He has made two appearances this spring and has yet to allow a run, and while the vagaries of reading too much into the actual results of spring exhibitions are well known, the early returns are outstanding for a Cardinals club that could be a dangerous sleeper in the NL Central, particularly with him at the top of the rotation.
There are many players like Schmidt, Jones and Carpenter all over Arizona and Florida. Dontrelle Willis, Tom Glavine, Mike Lowell and Jorge Posada are the four that instantly jump to mind. All are in the same boat, looking to prove they've still got it and serving as a reminder that while Grapefruit and Cactus League games can be awfully dull from a competitive standpoint, there are still some intensely fascinating storylines that bear watching.
After all, we could be witnessing a once-great star's return to prominence or his very last hurrah.
Daily Jolt: In Spring, It's Do or Die for Some Veterans originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Tue, 10 Mar 2009 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.