Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of one of the more unusual endings to a major league career. And easily one of the greatest spring training moments of all time. On March 18, 2002, Pirates outfielder Derek Bell announced the commencement of Operation Shutdown.
What was Operation Shutdown? It was Bell’s declaration that, despite playing only 46 games the previous season and despite hitting only .173/.287/.288, he was not expecting to compete for the Pirates’ right field job:
“Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”
Bell left spring training and was released by the Pirates less than two weeks later. The Pirates ended up paying him $4.5 million for the 2002 season, in which he lived on his 58-foot yacht. Which prompted a Pittsburgh columnist to quip that Bell had become “the ultimate Pirate” in that he “lives on a boat and steals money.”
The 2002 Pirates featured Craig Wilson in right field. Wilson hit a respectable .265/.355/.443 with 16 homers and the Pirates, while still mostly in the wilderness, won ten more games without Bell than they did with him the previous year. As for Bell? He never played baseball again. The last couple of times Bell made news it was for drug-related arrests. Which suggests some serious time in the wilderness for him too.
But if he does nothing else with his life from here on out, he at least gave us Operation Shutdown.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.
Comments from an anonymous team official suggest that Rangers right-hander Tyson Ross will not be expected to join the rotation until May or June, per a report from Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Both Ross and GM Jon Daniels favor a conservative approach for the 29-year-old as he works his way back up to full health after undergoing surgery last October to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome.
The delay is reportedly being implemented so that Ross will be have the strength and stamina to contribute during the stretch run. Per Daniels:
We would rather err on a little extra time up front with the goal being to finish strong, pitching in big spots, meaningful games down the stretch and hopefully past 162.
Ross signed a one-year deal with the team on Thursday after pitching through an injury-riddled season with the Padres in 2016. If all goes according to plan, he’ll slot into a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez. The Rangers are expected to narrow down their fifth starter alternatives in spring training.