Remember Carlos Delgado? He sure hopes you do. Delgado, the former Mets, Marlins, and Blue Jays slugger who has 473 home runs to his name, signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox in August of 2010, but quickly injured his left hip after only five games and had to have surgery. After rehabbing, Delgado feels he can play in 2011 and joins a crowded field of first base/DH free agents this winter.
Unlike last Sunday’s free agent profilee, Carlos Delgado is the anti-Nick Johnson. At 38 on Opening Day, Delgado’s only upside is the power in his bat. After arthroscopic surgery on his right hip that ended a promising 2009 season with the Mets, Delgado rehabbed in his native Puerto Rico and played winter ball to try and show teams he was able to play. Although scouting reports weren’t kind to his defense, he showed enough offense that the Red Sox took a chance on him when Kevin Youkilis went down with designs on making him a platoon with the right-handed Mike Lowell. It wasn’t to be.
Now Delgado wants to play again in 2011 to make a run at what would be a first World Series appearance, and also to try and reach the 500 homer plateau. There’s reason to be optimistic. Delgado’s 2008 was a bounceback year after a subpar (for him) 2007, posting a .271/.353/.518 line (.364 wOBA) with 38 home runs, 14 more than the 24 he hit in 2007. In 2009, Delgado played only 26 games, hitting a promising-but-largely-meaningless-in-a-small-sample .293/.393/.521 (.390 wOBA) with 4 home runs. At least for 26 games, Delgado still had the power he showed in 2008, which is better than not having it (I guess). With elite power becoming a rarer and rarer commodity, Delgado has shown the ability to keep smashing longballs even in his late 30s.
Unfortunately for Delgado, his three hip surgeries, two on his right hip and one on his left, aren’t helping things. Of course, he’s already had surgery on both hips, so it’s not like he’s got a third one to hurt. It is doubtful Delgado would have been able to keep the power he flashed two years ago in 2011 even without the surgeries, but with them, it seems even less likely. And after the recent hip surgeries on Mike Lowell and Alex Rodriguez that noticeably sapped both of their power, it’s not a welcoming environment for aging sluggers with bad hips. The one thing Delgado has going for him in that department, though, is his willingness to prove himself and play for much less than A-Rod or Lowell.
Delgado’s deal with the Red Sox was for a prorated portion of a $3 million contract, something that, after injuring yet another hip, he probably won’t be able to duplicate in 2011. Really, Delgado is in a similar boat as Nick Johnson. The return on Delgado is even more unsure and the price for getting that return will likely be in the form of a guaranteed contract rather than a simple spring-training invite as it might be with Johnson, though. It only takes one GM to think Delgado can still hit home runs, and I’m willing to bet (less than $3 million) that there’s more than one that wouldn’t mind taking a cheap chance on Delgado next season with an incentive-laden contract beginning in the $1-2 million range. And that may be all Delgado can hope for.
At best, Delgado should probably be used mostly at DH, but the Red Sox’s willingness to use him at first base with Lowell and his experience in the NL shows that there’s at least a chance he can handle the field. He can’t be worse than Adam Dunn, right? In fact, the losers of the Big Donkey Sweepstakes might do well to take a look at what Delgado has to offer. Terry Francona thought there was nothing wrong with Delgado’s bat, and the Sox were ready to bring him up by September 1st, until his injury. Like Dunn, though of course to a lesser degree, Delgado represents the kind of coveted power bat that could put some pop in the middle of the lineup, even at age 38. While Delgado surely won’t put up the same numbers as Dunn, he will come at a much, much lower price. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Delgado could still park 20 to 25 balls in the seats in 2011 and manage something in the range of a .340-360 wOBA, more than a team is likely to get out of Johnson, Lance Berkman, or most of the free agent first basemen in the second tier like Jorge Cantu, Troy Glaus, and Adam LaRoche. Add that to his patience at the plate and veteran demeanor and he could be a valuable bat for a team on a tight budget.
The same cautionary methods that applied to Nick Johnson apply to Delgado as well: he’ll probably need the DH, but could log some innings at 1B if necessary. That lends itself to an AL team, although if a budget-conscious team in the NL, like the Diamondbacks, wanted to take a chance on Delgado’s health, they could hand him a first base job and have themselves a bargain. Or a fourth hip surgery. In the AL, a team like the Rangers could be a good fit for Delgado, providing a safety net for Mitch Moreland and giving Texas the chance to catch Vladimir Guerrero’s lightning in a bottle for the second year in a row, but at an even lower price. Like Guerrero last year, Delgado’s drive to succeed and veteran pride should not be underestimated here. A 38-year-old doesn’t have two hip surgeries in a year and rehab twice just to play mediocre baseball. If the White Sox strike out on Dunn and Paul Konerko late in the game, Delgado could be a possibility. In their eternal search for bargains, the Rays could be a landing spot for Delgado to replace Carlos Peña’s bat in the middle of that order as well.
Come February, teams looking for 1B/DH types could have a few bargains on their hands to choose from. Delgado, if healthy, will likely provide more power than all the others without a job late in the game and could prove to be a more effective option than players who will get substantially more money than he will. Once the bigger dominoes begin to fall, Carlos Delgado will be a legitimate option for any team looking for power in the middle of their lineup. His desire to play next season and the positive reviews on his swing from his short time with the Red Sox bode well for his chances, but he’s 38 and coming off yet another hip surgery. Delgado’s upside and price tag go together so well, though, that he’ll have a job come April.