You find the best stories at the bottom of the roster, or in each team's list of Spring Training invitees. From these names come the improbable, long-shot contributors.This isn't usually about money, it's something more pure. It's when teams are rewarded for insight and hustle, and for seeing something in
You find the best stories at the bottom of the roster, or in each team's list of Spring Training invitees. From these names come the improbable, long-shot contributors.
This isn't usually about money, it's something more pure. It's when teams are rewarded for insight and hustle, and for seeing something in a player other organizations might not. It's also about believing in an organization.
Maybe it's a scout thinking his team's coaches can jump-start a guy's career by fixing this or emphasizing that. Or perhaps it's a team's analytics department picking up a skill that may have been underutilized.
Two offseasons ago when the Astros signed Charlie Morton to a two-year, $14 million deal, some clubs wondered what they could possibly see in an often-injured pitcher with a career 4.54 ERA. The Astros thought they'd added a potential ace.
In two seasons, Morton is 27-10 with a 3.34 ERA. He was magnificent in the postseason, getting the win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and Game 7 of the World Series by allowing one earned run in nine innings.
"I'd had so many injuries that I wasn't sure what the market would be for me," Morton said. "I didn't think I'd be out of baseball or anything like that, but I did wonder. The Astros were so aggressive that I told my agent not to negotiate with any other team."
This season has more stories like Morton's, and they're having an impact on playoff races in both leagues.
Here are seven:
1. Clay Buchholz, D-backs RHP
7-2, 2.25 ERA, 13 starts
The Diamondbacks signed him in May after he opted out of a Minor League deal with the Royals. Arizona GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo knew him from their time together with the Red Sox, and believed that at 34, Buchholz was still capable of pitching at high level if healthy. For the first time in years, he is healthy and has been a tremendous addition to a rotation decimated by injuries.
- Anibal Sanchez, Braves RHP
6-4, 3.13 ERA, 17 starts
Dozens of baseball people have stories about this guy's commitment and toughness. What they've been less sure about is his ability to stay healthy and pitch at a high level. The Braves may not have known what they were getting when they signed Sanchez for $1 million after the Twins released him, but he finally has polished a work-in-progress cutter that has allowed him to pitch as well as he ever has.
- Jonny Venters, Braves LHP
33 appearances, 2.28 ERA
He missed five full seasons and underwent four elbow surgeries, including three Tommy John procedures. He returned at 33, in part, so his kids could see what their old man once did for a living. He spent the first four months with the Rays, then in the perfect closing of the circle, was traded back to his original organization that appears on a magical ride to the postseason.
4. Player Page for Max Muncy, Dodgers 1B/3B/2B/OF
28 HR, .948 OPS
After being released by the A's in the spring of 2017, Muncy spent 2017 in the Dodgers' Minor League system and then devoted the offseason to reworking his swing mechanics. To call this a comeback story would not be precisely accurate since he got just 245 plate appearances in two seasons with the A's. He's a reminder that young players don't come with timetables or guarantees, and that it's also important to measure a player's heart.
- Blake Treinen, Athletics closer
32 saves, 1.00 ERA
Treinen began to resurrect his career after a 2017 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal sent him from the Nationals to the Athletics. This season, he has completed that comeback with his first All-Star appearance thanks to Oakland's tweaking of his mechanics to give his 97-mph sinker more consistency, as well as the addition of a cutter.
- Ryan Brasier, Red Sox RHP
18 appearances, 0.95 ERA
Brasier's Major League career seemed to have begun and ended with seven appearances for the Angels in 2013. His road to Fenway Park included Tommy John surgery, a season in Japan and 348 Minor League appearances. Credit Red Sox scout Steve Peck for what has turned out to be a significant offseason Minor League signing, as Brasier's 97-mph fastball has been a nice addition to the Boston bullpen.
7. Bud Norris, Cardinals closer
26 saves, 2.96 ERA
In the previous nine seasons, he'd been with six franchises and compiled a 4.49 ERA. He has found a home in the back of the Cardinals bullpen with a 94-mph fastball and a 80-mph cutter that has been a solid secondary pitch.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.