Each signed minor league free agent contracts and six also received invitations to their new club's Spring Training camp. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals are prime landing locations, picking up two ex-Cards each, with one joining the Milwaukee Brewers.
As a point of reference as to the uphill battle these players face, generally-speaking clubs have over two dozen of these "non-roster invitees" in camp. Best case, one or two might make the 25-man roster, with the rest either cut loose or dispatched to Triple-A as Spring Training comes to a close.
The seven ex-Cards:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Fernando Tatis, third base. The talented enigma known as Fernando Tatis joined the Cardinals from Texas at the 1998 July trade deadline. The next season, Tatis set a major league record with two grand slams in the same inning off the Dodgers' Chan Ho Park. During the 2000-2001 off-season, he went to the Montreal Expos in the Dustin Hermanson/Steve Kline trade. At the time, Tatis had three years remaining on a four-year, $14 million deal he had signed with the Cards.
Troubled by emotional and slowed by physical problems, Tatis eventually disappeared from major league baseball for the 2004 and 2005 seasons before surfacing with the Baltimore Orioles last season. After a successful Triple-A stint, Tatis appeared in 28 games for the Orioles, batting .250.
Larry Bigbie, outfield. Another former Oriole, a first-rounder back in 1999. After starting for Baltimore in left field in 2004 and 2005, Bigbie was traded to Colorado, and then again to the Cardinals last winter. That deal also brought infielder Aaron Miles to St. Louis in return for Ray King.
Due to hernia and foot injuries, Bigbie spent most of 2006 on the disabled list, accumulating just 25 major league at-bats. He was released by the Cardinals in November.
Luther Hackman, pitcher. Hackman joined the Cardinals following the 1999 season in a trade with Colorado that also fetched Darryl Kile and Dave Veres. The right-handed reliever was with the organization three seasons before being traded to San Diego for Brett Tomko.
Since 2003, Hackman has not returned to the majors, pitching in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland systems and in independent ball. He is returning to the Brewers organization, with whom he signed late in the 2006 season.
Chicago White Sox
Junior Spivey, second base. The Spivey story is likely still fresh enough in everyone's minds to remember, so I will be brief. The former Washington starter was signed to a $1.2 million deal with the expectation he would seize the second base job for the 2006 Cardinals. Instead, he suffered in Triple-A, hitting just .200 on the season.
Eduardo Perez, first base/designated hitter. Tony Perez' son was a valuable reserve for the Cardinals in two stints, in 1999-2000 and 2002-2003, with a year in Japan in between. The lefty masher then moved to Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Seattle in the American League before signing with the White Sox for 2007.
Dmitri Young, outfield. (no Spring Training invite) Another player troubled by off-field problems. Coming off a four-year, $28.5 million contract, Young was released by Detroit last fall. The former Cardinals' first-rounder in 1991 was traded to the Reds for closer Jeff Brantley following the 1997 season. He played four years in Cincinnati and five more with Detroit, hitting 29 home runs and driving in 85 in his 2003 All-Star season.
Ron Belliard, second base. How the mighty have fallen! Even before his off-field troubles due to an extortion case this off-season, it looked as if Belliard would leave the Cardinals after just a few months. He had been traded to St. Louis after a successful 2 ½ year run in Cleveland, but was considered by many to be a disappointment as a Cardinal.
Belliard had to settle for a $750,000 minor league deal for 2007 after making $7 million in total over the last two seasons. His replacement in St. Louis, Adam Kennedy, signed for three years, $10 million. One report we shared at the time said that Belliard had been offered a comparable deal to remain a Cardinal.
Overall, the second base position was very weak in the free agent market his year. Like Belliard, former All-Stars Marcus Giles (San Diego, $3.2 million) and Mark Loretta (Houston, $2.5 million) are other prime examples of depressed demand at the position.
It will remain to be seen whether these players will be 2007 bargains, busts or just fade away.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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