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Tim Wakefield‘s declaration at the end of September that he wanted to return to the Red Sox made perfect sense: if the team wanted him back, why not? The fans have always loved him; he needs just seven wins to break the team’s career wins record; and figuring out what to do next – every professional athlete’s most-hated task – gets put off one more year.
But when the Red Sox didn’t come calling, Wakefield’s actions spun off into the nonsensical. ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick tweeted Wednesday that, at least according to Barry Meister, Wakefield’s agent, Wakefield is considering signing with a National League team.
If the tweet is accurate and not just a hypothetical, it makes no sense. Why in God’s name would Wakefield want to play for another team? And what other team would actually sign him?
Wakefield’s surface numbers alone make it unlikely another team would sign him. He finished with a sub-.500 record, sported an over-5.00 ERA for the second consecutive year, and gave up 25 home runs – a number that has more than doubled since 2008.
However, Wakefield’s problems don’t stop there. In previous years, Wakefield had no problem pitching as strongly late in games as early on. But in 2011, Wakefield could never finish. From the fifth inning on, Wakefield had an ERA of 6.57. That’s 1.8 runs over his career average during those innings.
Wakefield became too hittable too early on in his outings, and that put tremendous strain on a both over-used and under-manned Red Sox bullpen. Even if other free-agent pitchers wouldn’t bring a greater skill set, they’d probably still bring more durability. Most teams wouldn’t want a starter who’d tax the rest of the pitching staff as badly as Wakefield would.
Wakefield hasn’t had a 200-inning season since 2005. He hasn’t even had a 180-inning season since 2008. The idea that other teams would pay much of anything for that little production is just silly.
Even if a team wanted a 46-year-old knuckleballer, integrating Wakefield into a new team would be incredibly tough. There is only one other knuckleballer in the NL: R.A. Dickey of the Mets. No other team – specifically, no other team’s catchers – has any experience with the knuckleball.
Wakefield has worked with very few pitchers throughout his career. Victor Martinez is the only catcher not currently on the Red Sox to have any experience with the specific peculiarities of Wakefield’s pitching, and he’s not leaving Detroit any time soon.
The knuckleball puts a unique strain on the catcher and to a lesser extent the infield defense. No team could justify spending money on a player that would force them to re-train their catchers the way Wakefield could.
Wakefield’s agent might try to sell him to the NL, but it would be a tough sell. Wakefield hit a home run way back in 1993 with the Pirates, but he’s still a career-sub-.150 hitter. Wakefield wouldn’t even earn $1 million on the free-agent market, and it would be sad if he thought that little would be worth sacrificing the goodwill he’d earn by retiring as a Red Sox.
Had the Red Sox wanted Wakefield back for 2012, they probably would have already offered him a contract. But they didn’t. And though it might hurt Wakefield to retire so close to Clemens’ and Young’s record, it’s the right move. Wakefield’s career isn’t going to rebound; it’s just going to get worse and worse.
Still, Wakefield shouldn’t fear giving up the mound. Given who they’ve had in the past, it’s unthinkable that NESN wouldn’t at least give Wakefield a shot as a guest-analyst on the pre- or post-game shows. And if NESN doesn’t want him, ESPN probably will.
Given Wakefield’s accomplishments, both on the field and in the community, he should be able to stay connected to baseball for as long as he wants.
But it’s time to trade the spikes and mitt for loafers and a tie.