WINNIPEG — A fair number of Jewish ballplayers were caught up in baseball’s swap market prior to the launch of the 2010 Major League season.
The most notable of the wandering Jews is 31-year-old Jason Marquis, a right-handed hurler who this past winter was inked to a two-year pact by the National League’s lowly Washington Nationals. Last season he had a respectable campaign with the Colorado Rockies, compiling a 15-13 record and, by today’s standards, a decent ERA of 4.04.
He’ll be handsomely reimbursed for his travails at $15 million (US) guaranteed, but in his 10th year in the bigs, he’s already played for the Braves, Cardinals and Cubs.
Known as one of the top innings-eaters in the majors, Marquis, with his solid two-seam fastball, made the All-Star team in 2009 while pitching 216 innings in 33 games as a starter, thus bringing relief to a team’s sometimes overworked bullpen.
At the July 31 deadline last season, pitcher John Grabow was acquired by the Cubs from Pittsburgh, where he had spent most of his big-league career. The 31-year-old left-handed reliever, who has a career total of 324 saves, appeared in 75 games with the two aforementioned teams and had a 3.36 ERA in 72 innings, plus a 3-0 record.
Every team could use a Grabow, who works especially well out of the bullpen with runners on base. The intimidating six-foot-two, 250-pound veteran can still bring heat in the 90s and has a strong change-up and curve. After so many seasons on the mound, the underpaid pitcher is finally being rewarded with the salary he deserves in the Windy City, where keeping the ball in the park is an adventure. He signed a two-year deal for $7.5 million (US).
Craig Breslow, who also earns his money in relief, is a well-travelled 29-year-old who has taken his act to San Diego, Boston, Cleveland, twice to Minnesota and finally last June was dealt to Oakland.
With the Twins and A’s last season, the Yale grad boasted a combined ERA of 3.36 in 77 appearances where he worked 70 innings and had a won-lost record of 8-6. Being a left-hander, he’s always in demand, since southpaws are always in short supply.
Another lefty, Aaron Poreda, was brought up briefly last year by the White Sox, then traded to the Padres. The 23-year-old reliever is considered a top prospect, and between Chicago and San Diego, he made 14 trips to the mound. In 13 innings, he had an ERA of 2.70.
Texas Rangers’ right-hander Scott Feldman thrust himself into the limelight last season by improving on a 2008 mark of 6-8 and an ERA of 5.29 to 17-8 and 4.08 in 2009. Voted team pitcher of the year, the Hawaii-born six-foot-seven giant, who weighs 230 pounds, was a road killer, winning a league-leading 12 games away from home.
The Rangers’ Ian Kinsler hit only .253 in 2009, but still managed 31 home runs and drove in 86, which is more than decent production for a second baseman. His most memorable highlight last season occurred on April 16, when Texas upended Baltimore 19-6. Kinsler recorded a feat not accomplished since 1900 when he hit for the cycle (single, double, triple and home run) plus registering an additional two hits to go six for six. He made history on Jackie Robinson Day, named for a fellow second baseman who broke the colour barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Ryan Braun, 26, the first-ever Jewish rookie of the year (2007), had another banner season for the Brewers in 2009. He was the top vote-getter among outfielders for the all-star team, hitting .320 along with 32 homers and 114 RBI. Players of his ilk rarely run the base paths with abandon, but the Hebrew Hammer, as he’s been called, pilfered 20 while banging out 203 hits.
Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis, 31, voted the best Jewish player of the last decade (2000-2009), has become one of the most versatile corner infielders in the game. He usually hangs out at first base, but can play third equally well. In 136 games last year, he batted .305 with 27 taters and 94 RBI. A very difficult out for opposing pitchers, he had 77 walks, which helped inflate his total of runs scored to 99.
Also watch for the Dodgers’ Brad Ausmus, 40, who is both a backup catcher and mentor. A fine handler of pitchers and strong on defence, he’s had more than 6,000 at-bats in his career. Last season, in 39 games, he hit .295.
The Cubs have a speedster in centrefielder Sam Fuld, 28, who may see some action in 2010. In 97 at-bats last year, he hit .299. The Stanford grad played mostly in AAA last season, hitting .284 with Iowa while managing to steal 23 bases and bang out 10 triples.
Also watch for Josh Whitesell, a first baseman in the Washington system, and pitcher Ryan Sadowski with San Francisco. Veteran reliever Mike Koplove is presently in spring training with Seattle, and starting pitcher Jason Hirsh is with the Yankees.