If the Detroit Tigers end up deciding that Dontrelle Willis just doesn't belong in their future plans (or the D-Train prefers not to do the minor league thing again, and forfeits that $22 million left on his contract), there's at least one guy who wouldn't mind taking a shot with him. Mike Berardino of the Sun-Sentinel would love to see Willis back in Florida.
Haven't been told this yet, but I could definitely see the Tigers trying to move him and get out from under the remaining $19 million or so that sits on his contract once stud prospect Rick Porcello is deemed ready.
The Marlins being the Marlins, they would probably need to cut that obligation as close to the minimum as possible to take him back to an already stacked rotation, but why not bring him back for close to nothing and let him pitch out of the bullpen?
I mean, who would you rather have as your situational lefty: Dan Meyer, John Koronka or the D-Train? Willis handled just that role, remember, in the 2003 World Series win over the Yankees.
Berardino also thinks the chances for a turnaround might be better with the Marlins, as Mark Wiley returned as the team's pitching coach last season, and he tutored Willis during his 22-win season in 2005. Hey, if he says so.
Perhaps Berardino hasn't read Kevin Goldstein's latest Spring Training notebook for Baseball Prospectus, however. (Thanks to ThaWalrus9 for mentioning this in the comments yesterday.) Goldstein talked with a scout about what he'd seen from Willis, and it wasn't very pretty:
"There are three things that stuck out for me when I saw him this spring," he began. "First, he's a lot heavier—his thighs are enormous, and I think that impedes his athleticism on the mound, as he can't contort his body the way he used to. Second, his mechanics are different. They've 'cleaned up' his delivery, but that actually makes him less effective, because it's taken away his deception. He was a freak before, and would never throw the same pitch from the same slot, but now he's just an ordinary three-quarters [delivery] guy." Using his final point to explain how these physical issues may be effecting him mentally, he continued, "Third, his mound presence and demeanor are different. He looks content to survive and does not display any confidence out there. He worked behind most hitters and would shake off his catcher—almost as if to say 'it's OK, I got it'—whenever he would fall into trouble."
Yowza. The scout added that Willis would have "no shot" against a regular major-league lineup with the stuff he was showing, and doesn't look anywhere close to suitable for a spot in a starting rotation.
So with just over a week left in Spring Training, does Willis still have enough time to turn himself around and make a winning impression? Or, with the Tigers perhaps needing to fill not one, but two spots in that rotation, might they have no other choice but to send him out there every fifth day with fingers crossed? (Unless, of course, Nate Robertson's thumb is okay, and the Tigers decide Rick Porcello can help them more in the majors.)