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The All-Non-Roster-Invitee team for 2018

February 18, 2018

There were a few times in my 20s when friends of friends put me on their "invited to crash" wedding list. In other words, there was mutual agreement that I was not close enough with these particular people to be on their $75-a-plate list for the reception, but I was

There were a few times in my 20s when friends of friends put me on their "invited to crash" wedding list. In other words, there was mutual agreement that I was not close enough with these particular people to be on their $75-a-plate list for the reception, but I was sort of a hired gun aimed at the open bar after, say, 8 p.m., when the formalities were over with and the fun was beginning.
This was not an uncommon practice among my circle of friends, with people on the periphery -- loose acquaintances from college, people you had just met only weeks earlier but hit it off with, etc. -- crashing parties with permission.
I'm sure reception-hall managers aren't in love with the concept, but the happy couple got to save a few bucks at a time when they were already forced to invite every aunt, uncle, cousin and neighbor under the sun, and the crasher wasn't on the hook for a gift. Mazel tov!
Throughout Spring Training camps in Florida and Arizona, there are similar arrangements every year. Non-roster invitees crash clubhouses with non-guaranteed contracts and the opportunity to win a job. So we thought it would be fun to build a roster of non-rosters.
Note that with so many free agents still lingering in the open market, this could be a year with unprecedented NRI activity in the coming weeks, so this roster is definitely subject to change. Note, too, that this roster targets guys with past big league experience who are looking to land a job, not promising youngsters who have not yet been added to their club's 40-man roster, but will be in Spring Training camp (sorry, Shohei Ohtani).
Here are 2018's most interesting party-crashers:
Catchers (3): Miguel Montero, Nationals; Chris Gimenez, Cubs; Christian Bethancourt, Brewers
Montero, the former two-time All-Star who was ousted from the Cubs after publicly complaining about Jacob Arrieta being slow to the plate, gets a chance to push young Pedro Severino for the backup job with the Nats. Gimenez will quite likely make the Cubs' Opening Day roster and be Yu Darvish's preferred backstop (despite Darvish's jokes to the contrary this week). Gimenez discussed their relationship after Darvish signed.

Why are we carrying three catchers? On the off chance Bethancourt hits the mound again after that failed experiment in San Diego aimed at turning him into the game's first catching-pitching hybrid. If the Brewers give him and his mid-90s fastball another crack at it, he can deepen our bullpen.
Infielders (6): Allen Craig, Padres; Danny Espinosa, Yankees; Darwin Barney, Rangers; Ryan Goins, Royals; Will Middlebrooks, Phillies; Trevor Plouffe, Rangers
Back in 2012, Craig and Middlebrooks looked like rising stars, but that feels like ages ago. Craig, affectionately known here as "The Wrench," injured his foot late in a strong 2013 season, and he's never been the same since. The '17 season was the last of a five-year, $31 million extension signed with the Cardinals, and it ended with him released from the Red Sox's Triple-A club. He'll be reporting to the Padres, for whom Middlebrooks never panned out after a 2014 trade from Boston.

None of Espinosa, Barney or Goins provided much, if any, value to their clubs in 2017, but all three of them are not far removed from seasons in which they were worth multiple Wins Above Replacement. They can divvy up the time at second base and short.
Plouffe, who was one of the Twins' more consistent offensive contributors from 2012-15 and will be vying for a bench role with the Rangers, is our backup on the infield corners. And though he didn't make this team, Christian Colon, a former No. 4 overall Draft pick trying to make it with the Marlins, can be a non-roster invitee to our camp of non-roster invitees, if only because he delivered the game-winning RBI in the 2015 Royals' World Series clincher.
Outfielders (4): Tim Tebow, Mets; Melvin Upton Jr., Indians; Peter Bourjos, Cubs; Eric Young, Angels
Well, of course, we've got to include Tebow here. If nothing else, he can DH for us and get some butts in the stands.
But as far as guys who might actually make an impact in the big leagues this year, Upton is an interesting add for the Indians, who feel he's in a good place physically, and mentally, to perhaps fill their need for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Young will fight for a return to the Halos after a terrific turn filling in for the injured Michael Trout last year. He had one of the most emotional moments of the 2017 season. And it will be interesting to see if Bourjos, our fourth outfielder, can nail down a job with the Cubs, because his speed and defense profile is attractive.

Though he didn't make this roster focused on vets, Rusney Castillo, who has logged just 99 games in the big leagues, is an interesting invitee to Red Sox camp. He's owed $35.5 million over the next three years whether he makes the team or not, but Boston is likely hoping he performs well enough this spring to attract trade interest.
Starting pitchers (5): Bartolo Colon, Rangers; Derek Holland, Giants; Tyson Ross, Padres; Christopher Young, Padres; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
If this column serves no other purpose, making Colon the ace of a ballclub -- even a fake one -- was worthwhile. He's 44 and three wins shy of Juan Marichal's mark for the most career wins (243) by a Dominican Republic-born pitcher.

A former World Series star with the Rangers, Holland is a depth add to a Giants club with some uncertainty in its rotation. He pitched to a 2.37 ERA in his first 60 2/3 innings with the White Sox in 2017 before his year imploded.
I don't know if it's good or bad that the Padres provide two-fifths of our starting rotation; I just know it was funny to see them bring back both their '07 All-Star Young and their '14 All-Star Ross. Maybe this is the year Ross, a year-plus removed from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, puts it back together.
And we'll round out the rotation with Iwakuma, who is trying to pitch his way back onto the Mariners after last year's shoulder woes.
Because the starting-pitching market has moved at a glacial pace this offseason -- and only recently got some traction with the Darvish signing -- I would not be surprised if we start to see a lot more non-roster activity here in the coming days, or weeks. For now, Jonathon Niese (Rangers), Kris Medlen (D-backs) and Hector Santiago and TJ House (White Sox) are some other interesting names here.
Relievers (7): Francisco Rodriguez, Phillies; Jonny Venters, Rays; Ernesto Frieri, Brewers; Pat Venditte, Dodgers; Tom Wilhelmsen, Padres; Jeanmar Gomez, White Sox; Neftali Feliz, D-backs
This is always the most loaded/interesting section of the non-roster invitee realm, because it's the area where clubs basically load up on bodies and see what sticks. I'm giving my closer job to K-Rod, a guy who has consistently made the tweaks and reinventions necessary to prolong his career and has an opportunity to do so again with the Phillies.
On the "great stories" front, Venters, last seen in the big leagues in 2012, is one of the more interesting guys in any camp this year, trying to do the seemingly impossible in working his way back from a third Tommy John surgery. And wherever the switch-pitching Venditte lands, you've got to give him a hand (either one).
Frieri is five years removed from his 37-save season with the Angels, but he struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings in Triple-A last year. Gomez is just two years removed from his 37-save season with the Phillies.
I picked prospect-turned-bartender-turned-closer-turned-bounceback-candidate Wilhelmsen and former-Rookie-of-the-Year-turned-World-Series-goat Feliz to round out my 'pen, but there are plenty of other NRI names that jump off the page here, including Jacob Turner (Marlins), Vance Worley (Reds), Dustin McGowan (Rays), John Axford and Craig Breslow (Blue Jays), Bruce Rondon (White Sox), Travis Wood (Tigers) and Alexi Ogando (Indians), to name a few.