Tuesday, March 15, 2011


No Suppan For the Soul

In the latest edition of "Baffling Washed Up Veteran Spring Invites", we have Jeff Suppan, who was brought into camp to fight for...what exactly? A spot in the starting rotation? Never in hell. A role in the bullpen? Yes, because every team needs a slop-throwing longman to come in during a blowout and throw burning logs into the fire. Is he supposed to act as insurance in case one of the starters gets hurt? Let's just say that if Suppan is making starts for the Giants for any extended length of time, they ain't going back to the World Series.

Suppan got lit up in his start this afternoon against his former team, the Brewers. Not that Spring stats mean anything, but I don't know what the Giants expect to see here. Suppan hasn't been even an acceptable innings-eater since 2007, and he doesn't even merit the title of savvy, soft-tossing control pitcher, since his walk rates have escalated steadily since his days with the Cardinals. If he's around to dispense wisdom to the young pitchers, it's only to tell them how to observe their deadly slow offerings on a flight path to the moon.

Suppan's career is an interesting study in a player who probably got way more out of limited stuff than anyone could have imagined. He started out as a failed prospect with the Red Sox, then was taken by the Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft (his first start as a Dback was against the Giants; it didn't go well). Arizona quickly gave up on him, figuring his homer-tastic tendencies wouldn't serve him well in their bandbox ballpark.

He was scooped up by the Royals, where his career started to gain some traction. Though his ERAs with Kansas City don't look impressive at first glance, when taken in the context of the run-crazy American League of the late-90's/early-aughts, he was actually pretty danged good, putting up an ERA+ over 100 in his each of his first three seasons with the team. How he did that despite a lowly 4.9 K/9 rate is the stuff for Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries.

After a solid half-season with Pittsburgh, and then a disastrous second stint with Boston, Suppan landed in St. Louis, where he was swept under the wing of pitching coach/miracle worker Dave Duncan. Utilizing whatever pixie dust that Duncan sprinkles on mediocre veteran reclamation projects, Suppan put up three terrific season with the Cards, and pitched spectacularly in the 2006 postseason, helping the Redbirds to a World Championship. Despite unspectacular peripheral numbers and middling stuff, the halo of a World Series team was now safely fastened over his head, and a big payday loomed. Surely no team could be fooled into shelling out big time cash for his junk ball stylings, right?

Wrong. With the postseason shine still gleaming as he hit free agency in the 2006 offseason, Suppan was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million contract from Milwaukee. Yeah, you don't need me to tell you how that went. Suppan was okay in his first Brewer season but quickly turned into a complete disaster in 2008, becoming a prime example of how not to spend your free agent money, and eventually found himself roaming the NRI wire. Despite the sour end, all in all, a career to be proud of, no doubt.

Now, of course, he's done, and I'm still baffled by why the Giants even felt the need to give him an extended workout in the Cactus League. He doesn't fit anywhere, and I thought we were past the days of the Jamey Wrights and the Russ Ortizes, and the Giants trying to pry long-dead magic from their veteran shells. I guess he can serve some purpose as organizational depth, or as a last-ditch emergency replacement in case of injury. Even so, it seems like if this were the case, the Giants could do better than trust a 40-man roster spot to past-his-prime vet acting as little more than a harbinger of the second coming of Wellemeyer.

No matter how bad he is, at least the Brewers didn't pay him $126 million for seven years.
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