The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed veteran right-hander Juan Rincon to a minor league contract, but in a nod to how far the once-dominating reliever's career has fallen, the deal doesn't include an invitation to major league spring training, nor does it include any guarantee of anything.
"He does have some pedigree, and that's not a bad thing,'' said DeJon Watson, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for player development who negotiated the deal with Rincon. "This is a one-month look. We have seen his numbers, but we had good reports on him, so we'll bring him into camp and see where he is.''
Rincon, 32, spent the first 7 1/2 seasons of his major league career with the Minnesota Twins and became a key setup man in their bullpen, making at least 75 appearances each year from 2004-06. His best season came in 2004, when he allowed just 52 hits and struck out 106 batters over 82 innings and posted a career-best ERA of 2.63 in a career-high 77 games.
But Rincon's career began to nosedive in 2007, when his ERA ballooned to 5.13. The Twins released him midway through the 2008 season, and since then, he has logged time with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies.
Rincon made just two big league appearances for the Rockies last season, and those were two months apart. He spent the rest of the year posting a gaudy 7.88 ERA for the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs, which might have the most hitter-friendly ballpark in all of professional baseball. But that hardly mitigated Rincon's numbers because he walked 37 batters in 45 2/3 innings, a clear sign he was struggling with his mechanics.
He then posted a 5.22 ERA in seven games -- albeit with only 14 walks in 29 1/3 innings -- for Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League.
"The people who had him last year say he is a good guy who worked his [tail] off,'' Watson said. "He didn't have any makeup issues at all. He has had some pretty good years at the big league level, so we'll assess where he is when he gets here. He is another veteran guy who is looking to see if he can get back to where he was.''
There is, of course, recent precedent for such a thing. Last year, veteran outfielder Jay Gibbons, who hadn't played in the majors since 2007, went to minor league spring training with the Dodgers and, as minor league campers tend to do, went virtually unnoticed. By August, Gibbons was in the majors, where he hit .280 with five homers and 17 RBI in 37 games for the Dodgers. This year, Gibbons is going to camp on a major league contract.
If Rincon survives beyond spring training, he will receive $12,500 per month during the five-month minor league season.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.