Change of scenery could bring better fortunes
Zambrano, Volquez among those who could benefit from new digs
With about five weeks remaining until the first ball is picked up at Spring Training camps in Arizona and Florida, many questions remain. One thing is certain, however: Almost every team will look different from the last time they took the field in September or October.
Numerous big-money free agents, role players and large personalities switched teams during the offseason, and all of them hope to have a successful year in their new uniforms.
What the Angels can expect of Albert Pujols isn't that big a question mark. The same can be said of Jose Reyes in Miami, C.J. Wilson in Anaheim and other top-tier free agents in their respective cities. But there's another class of players -- some former All-Stars, some role players -- who are hoping a change of scenery will help invigorate their careers.
The player who could benefit the most is Carlos Zambrano, who will be with the Marlins after 11 years in Chicago. At his best, Zambrano is one of the top pitchers in the game -- a three-time All-Star with three top-five National League Cy Young Award finishes. At his worst, he's a bit of a distraction, to put it lightly.
Whether he's getting under the skin of opposing batters, sharing his opinions with umpires, screaming at teammates or cleaning out his locker out in the middle of a game, Big Z certainly can't be called boring. But the Marlins, armed with another big personality in new skipper Ozzie Guillen, are banking that the solid relationship between Zambrano and Guillen can keep the right-hander in check and focused on baseball.
While Edinson Volquez isn't looking to harness his behavior like Zambrano, the right-hander is certainly someone to keep an eye on as he heads West. Traded with a host of prospects to San Diego from Cincinnati for Mat Latos in December, Volquez has to be thrilled with the chance to make half of his starts in spacious PETCO Park after pitching in cozier Great American Ball Park the past four seasons.
Volquez goes to San Diego looking to prove that his brilliant 2008 season -- in which he went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts -- wasn't a flash in the pan. The right-hander has had a rough go of things since his first season in Cincinnati, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009 and then being demoted to the Minors in both 2010 and 2011, the latter of which came after he was the Reds' Opening Day starter.
At 28, Volquez is still young enough to live up to the promise he showed in 2008, and the vast PETCO outfield could help him do so in 2012.
Like Volquez, Dontrelle Willis knows all about trying to live up to expectations. Willis, now 30, has been attempting to recapture the magic and mechanics that made him one of baseball's most electric personalities and dominant pitchers from 2003-06.
Willis went 58-39 with a 3.44 ERA in that four-year period, but has gone 14-30 with a 5.65 ERA since while spending time with five different organizations. Now he's with another, this time the Phillies, but won't be counted on to be a starter. Instead, Willis will pitch out of the bullpen -- with a few spot starts thrown in, if needed -- and do whatever is asked of him.
Aaron Rowand is another former All-Star looking to carve out a niche with a new team. Rowand, 34, signed a Minor League deal with the Marlins in December and the club hopes he can provide veteran depth behind its young outfield core of Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio and Mike Stanton. Although Rowand isn't guaranteed to make the roster, he could rebound playing out of the shadow of the five-year, $60 million contract he signed with the Giants prior to the 2008 season.
Casey McGehee had a successful two-year run in Milwaukee from 2009-10, hitting .301 in 2009 and driving in 104 runs in 2010. McGehee foundered last season, however, batting .223 and not starting during the postseason. He was shipped to Pittsburgh in December, where he could provide corner-infield depth and power off the bench or step in as the starting third baseman should youngster Pedro Alvarez once again scuffle.
Once one of the brightest prospects to don a Mets uniform, outfielder Fernando Martinez is looking for a fresh start with Houston after being waived by New York last week. Signed as a 16-year-old in 2005, Martinez never lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him by many throughout baseball because of injuries. But at only 23 years old and now with a club in full rebuilding mode, Martinez still could meet his potential.