Keith Foulke

A dozen dismissed: the best players left off the Hall of Fame ballot

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While the BBWAA screening committee was keeping up with the Joneses — Jacque and Todd, to be precised — it left a bunch of superior players off Tuesday’s Hall of Fame ballot reveal.

In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters who makes the ballot to be cast off after one year and who is left off altogether. But let’s give some recognition to those who won’t even get a token vote when the results are announced in January. Here are the best dozen players eligible but left off the Hall of Fame ballot.

Keith Foulke: Foulke was a more valuable pitcher than any of the three closers who made the ballot (Armando Benitez, Eric Gagne and Todd Jones), but he spent his first five years as a setup man and managed only 191 career saves. It seemed like he pretty much gave up his arm for the Red Sox’s run in 2004, when he pitched 83 innings in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason (allowing just one run). He pitched just three more seasons afterwards, none of them healthy, and stumbled to a 4.84 ERA. From 1999-2004, he was about as valuable as any reliever in the game, amassing a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves in 522 innings (Mariano Rivera, by comparison, had a 2.20 ERA those years, but threw 100 fewer innings).

Shannon Stewart: A dynamic player when he first arrived, Stewart swiped 51 bases in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost his speed and eventually had his career cut short because of leg injuries, but not until after he was an above average regular for seven seasons, which is six more than Jacque Jones managed. He even finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting in 2003, though that was a misguided narrative driven vote based on him playing well for the Twins after a summer trade. From 2000-2004, he had an OPS+ between 112-118 every years.

Trot Nixon: The original Dirt Dog, Nixon was a bit of a late bloomer. He was the seventh overall selection in the 1993 draft, but he didn’t establish himself in Boston until he 1999, when he was 25. He went on to have his best year in 2003, hitting .306/.396/.578 to finish fourth in the AL with a .975 OPS. He also hit four homers in 11 postseason games that year. Nixon missed most of 2004 with back troubles, though he was back for the stretch run and the Red Sox’s postseason run. He managed just two decent seasons as a platoon player in his 30’s, but he did enough before then to justify a spot on the ballot.

Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and mixed in several other above average seasons to finish his career 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA (103 ERA+). The Pirates wasted some of his early seasons shuffling him between the pen and the rotation and he missed a year and a half in his 30s following Tommy John surgery, so his overall numbers aren’t overly impressive. Still, he was a rock solid pitcher.

Geoff Jenkins: The NL’s answer to Nixon, Jenkins had seven seasons of 20 homers for the Brewers and three times topped a .900 OPS. He always struggled against lefties, which is probably the biggest reason that he never drove in 100 runs, and he was done at age 33, but he was just as valuable as a player as his more famous teammate, Richie Sexson, who did make the ballot.

Jose Vidro: While not quite a Hall of Fame path, Vidro looked like a future Hall of Very Good guy through age 29, hitting .304/.367/.470 and making three All-Star teams in his career up to that point. And that was pretty much it. After six straight seasons of OPSs from .820-.920, he failed to top .780 again. In 2008, he hit .234/274/.338 in 85 games with the Mariners, got released and was never heard from again, even though he was just 33.

Steve Trachsel: Famed for being an incredibly slow worker on the mound, Trachsel is a punchline now, and he was never much recognized as a quality pitcher over the course of his career. Still, he lasted 16 years with an ERA+ of 99, which rates as a pretty good career from here.

Esteban Loaiza: As a 31-year-old journeyman, Loaiza suddenly came through with one of the most surprising seasons in memory in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and an AL-leading 207 strikeouts for the White Sox to finish second in the Cy Young balloting. He had a 5.71 ERA the season prior and a 5.70 ERA the season afterwards, though he did have one more nice year with the Nationals in 2005. He ended a 14-year career 126-114 with a 4.65 ERA (98 ERA+).

Matt Morris: Morris went 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting as a 22-year-old with the Cardinals in 1997, but then blew out his elbow in 1998 and missed two years. Back at full strength in 2001, he went 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA to finish third in the NL Cy Young race. Morris, though, declined quickly from there, turning into a pretty average starter at 28 and failing to even stay at that level from age 31 onwards. He was done at 33 after going 121-91 with a 3.98 ERA (107 ERA+) in 11 seasons.

Jose Cruz Jr.: Since he spent most of his career hitting in the .240s, Cruz struggled to earn respect and bounced around a lot. Still, from the day he entered the league in 1997 until 2005, he was never worse than an average regular. In 2001, he had a 30 HR-30 SB season for the Blue  Jays. He scored 90 runs three times and walked 102 times in 2003. Like many of these guys, he was pretty much done by 32-33.

Damion Easley: Easley is an exception: he played 17 years before retiring at age 38. However, he was a role player from age 32 on, never batting more than 350 times in a season. From 1997-2001, he was the Tigers’ starting second baseman, topping 20 homers three times and driving in 100 runs in 1998, when he went to his lone All-Star Game.

Dmitri Young: OK, so at this point, I’ve run out of players clearly better than Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow to list here. Young is in their neighborhood, though. He hit .300 with 830+ OPSs for four straight seasons with the Reds and then later went to All-Star Games with the Tigers and Nationals. He didn’t add anything defensively at first base or in the outfield, but he was quite a hitter. He finished his career at .292/.351/.475.

Orioles re-sign Michael Bourn to a minor league deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04:  Michael Bourn #1 of the Baltimore Orioles hits a single in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Orioles have re-signed outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Bourn, 34, joined the Orioles last year in a trade from the Diamondbacks on August 31. Though he compiled a meager .669 OPS with the Diamondbacks, Bourn hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with the O’s through the end of the season.

Bourn, a non-roster invitee to camp, will try to play his way onto the Orioles’ 25-man roster. If he does make the roster, Bourn will receive a $2 million salary, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports points out.

Shelby Miller is in the best mental shape of his life

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 24:  Shelby Miller #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller had about as bad a season as one can have. He was the headliner in the trade that sent 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, All-Star outfielder Ender Inciarte, and highly-regarded pitching prospect Aaron Blair to the Braves. It was a trade that was pilloried at the time and continues to be pilloried to this day.

Miller didn’t do then-GM Dave Stewart any favors with his 2016 performance. He went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA and a 70/42 K/BB ratio over 101 innings. That included a bout with mechanical failure, as he kept hitting the mound with his follow-through. He went on the disabled list. And after that, he was demoted to Triple-A. After getting fired, Stewart expressed remorse over acquiring Miller — or, more accurately, giving up Swanson to do so.

So, the 26-year-old Miller heads into 2017 without any momentum. To his credit, though, he’s going into the new season with a very positive perspective. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

I’m just in a really happy place, away from the field, on the field. […]

Maybe it’s just the way I go about everything, trying to be positive in every single aspect of life. Baseball’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. I know bumps in the road are going to happen. Last year was obviously not just a bump, but a huge mountain. Right now, that’s completely behind me. I’m not worried about any of that.

I’m really ready for this year, ready to redeem myself so much.

Even pitching coach Mike Butcher sees the change in Miller’s mentality. “He’s not a different guy. But you can see there’s a presence in him. That’s what we need. Just be Shelby Miller. You don’t have to live up to anything. Just be yourself.”

Manager Torey Lovullo, too, praised Miller. “I saw a guy who had spent a lot of time taking care of his business in the weight room — he looks fantastic, in fantastic shape,” he said.

It sounds like Miller is not only in great mental shape, but great physical shape, too. Is it the “best shape of his life”? Only time can tell.