Caveat Emptor: Mondesi A Risk

Raul Mondesi brings two bags to the table. One of a stellar player and teammate. The other, more questionable, of a player succeptible to injury and clubhouse woes. Which Modesi have the Braves signed to be their outfielder in 2005?

You have to commend John Schuerholz for once again thinking outside of the box with the signing of Raul Mondesi. At first glance he's the perfect prototype in the low risk, high reward category; he's a cheap addition (costing Atlanta no more than approximately $1.7 million dollars in 2005), a player with All-Star potential, a player looking to reestablish himself, and a player with hustle and passion for the game – even at thirty-three years of age.

However, that is not to say that Raul Mondesi brings no baggage. That's quite the contrary. There is a reason that this former All-Star was only offered a contract by one other team aside from the Braves this off-season, a reason why his contract was voided by two major league teams last season, a reason why he was under continually intense scrutiny by the New York media during his tenure with the Yankees two years ago.

Mondesi has the reputation of a ticking time bomb. The ability to be a solid player and team member in one instant, but the same ability to be a clubhouse cancer and object of fan hatred in another. The latter was witnessed in 2003 when as a Yankee he left the team in the middle of a crucial early-August game with the Boston Red Sox – upset over being pinch hit for. Joe Torre croaked, and Mondesi days later found himself a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"I think this is best for me; Arizona is a good team and I'm going back to the National League, where I've had success," Mondesi happily relayed through a Yankees PR official. "This is good for me."

And it was good for Raul, as he proved that he still could be an offensive force in Arizona: hitting .302 with 8 homers and 22 RBI in 45 games with the Diamondbacks, salvaging what was left of a disappointing yet productive season for the outfielder (.272/24 HR/71 RBI).

A free-agent after the 2003 season, fresh off of a six-year, sixty million dollar contract he signed with the Dodgers in 1996, Mondesi found himself in a fickle market for outfielders and was forced to accept a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates worth $1.15 million dollars – a $12 million dollar slash from his previous salary.

And so Raul Mondesi began the 2004 season, one which he would soon proclaim to be the worst in his entire career. After a sluggish start with Pittsburgh, Mondesi found himself immersed in a personal situation in the Dominican Republic involving a former coach and his demands for what the coach claimed as "promised monetary compensation" for his services. Feeling that his family in the Dominican was endangered, Mondesi skipped town and headed home – prompting an eventual contract termination by Pittsburgh.

Several weeks later, Mondesi returned to the States and Major League Baseball – this time agreeing to a deal with the Anaheim Angels and arousing some suspicions regarding Mondesi's true intentions in leaving the last place Pirates and signing with the very much in contention Angels. Mondesi went 4-for-34 (.118) with Anaheim before going on the disabled list with what apparently was a pre-existing injury, a day after playing a 17-inning game against Milwaukee. After refusing to report on a rehab assignment, Mondesi's contract was also voided by Anaheim.

At the end of his 2004 season, Raul Mondesi found himself with a bum leg, two terminated contracts, and in the very real predicament of finding himself a job in the Big Leagues for the 2005 season.

Then the Atlanta Braves called – in dire need of an outfielder, on the cheap. Before you know it, Mondesi found himself on a plane to Atlanta ready to take a physical en route to the finalization of a one-year deal with the team.

What can we expect of Raul Mondesi?

To see what the Braves hope for? A rejuvenated player who is ready to prove himself, that is more than capable defensively, with the potential to put up a very strong performance offensively– an ideal player to serve a segway to Jeff Francouer in 2006. A player that can play all three outfield positions, has one of the best arms in baseball, and can still steal bases with proficiency.

Or will we see the uncontrollable, unstable Mondesi that made enemies in five cities and that has reined supreme the last two seasons?

"I'm just very excited to come back to the National League and play for the Braves. I don't want to say much; I just want to play hard, play to win. ... I've had a few problems the last few years, but all my ability is still there."

Both John Schuerholz and Braves fans are surely hoping it is.

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