If there was any justice in the world, right now, Baldelli would be enjoying the fruits of playing in his first World Series, and entering free agency as a legitimate five-tool player.
But unfortunately, this is the real world. So instead, Baldelli is coming off a season where he contracted a devastating rare disease which saps his strength—a disease which limited to 28 games the entire 2008 season and makes him a question mark when he should be in the prime of his playing career. These are Baldelli's own words in an interview given in August about his disease and about playing full-time again.
"....I don’t know if (playing full-time) that’s completely realistic....I don’t know if that’s 100-percent the case, but I think it’s the case....I think its something I’ve learned to live with....I don’t think the treatments are reversing the problem. I just think its getting my body just a little more ammunition to work with as far as supplements and things I need....A lot of times I’ve been told to take it easy out there, get out there and get comfortable. Then I get out there, I run as hard as I can and I’ll end up doing something to myself.....It’s taken me awhile to learn how to dial it back and learn my new problem.Once again, Rocco Baldelli is 27.
So who would take a chance on Baldelli, a disease-plagued former phenom, now?
If the Boston Red Sox are smart, they would. They would sign the Rhode Island native, Baldelli, as soon as free agency begins.
Truthfully, Baldelli will never play 156 games, or hit for 45 HRs as was the dream when he began playing. But he can still be an asset. In 80 ABs this year, Baldelli had a slugging percentage of .475 (league average was.426) and an OPS of .819 league average was .727). In 12 at bats against the Red Sox and Phillies this postseason, Baldelli had 3 hits, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, 2 runs and 2 BBs.
What these numbers suggest, is that if used judiciously, Baldelli can be a powerful weapon as a spot starter in a fourth outfielder role, an occasional DH, or as a late inning substitution.
Which would fit the Red Sox to a tee. The Red Sox have their outfield in order; Jacoby Ellsbury in center, flanked by J.D. Drew and Jason Bay, with David Ortiz at DH.
But Baldelli could fit in with Boston. Firstly, he could serve as a right-handed DH to counter the lefty Ortiz. Let's face it, Big Papi looked like Old Papi this year. Further, he batted .221 against lefty pitching this year. In limited time, Baldelli batted .292 against lefties this year—which almost matches his .296 career average against lefties perfectly. Baldelli could DH against lefties and spell the aging Ortiz.
Also, as we all know, J.D. Drew is a second away from the DL list. Baldelli, who's played all three outfield spots, could step in for an injury to Drew (or Bay or Ellsbury) and serve as a very good insurance policy.
Look at it this way. Baldelli doesn't have to play every day and wouldn't complain if he didn't. He understands that he would be a spot starter, a late inning pitch hitter and a sometime DH. That said, he is a talented outfielder with a great arm (he had 26 assists in 278 games in 2003 and 2004), and coming in late in a close game, would worry opposing pitchers a lot more than say, Mark Kotsay or Sean Casey.
Rocco Baldelli needs a new start. He needs to leave Tampa, despite the fact that he says he wants to stay there. The Rays have moved on without him and have young players, eager for playing time, to fill each of the positions he plays. The Red Sox on the other hand, are a more veteran team, who could use the occasional jolt that Baldelli's speed, power and natural athletic ability could provide. he'd give the team a spark and Sox fans would love him, possibly for a long time.
After all, he's only 27.