The Philadelphia Phillies invited Scott Elarton to spring training. This is almost amusing news. Consider the state of the Phillies' pitching staff. Consider the fact that Elarton hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008, and other than 16 games in Triple-A for the Charlotte Knights in 2010, hasn't pitched professionally at all for over three years. It's almost amusing.
But it's impossible to get too cheeky now. Where before it would be appropriate to make all sorts of Scott Elarton quips, it's not applicable now. And there's one player who has ruined "Whoa, remember that guy?" quips forever and ever and ever. It's a shame in a way. So if you're asking why we can't make fun of a Scott Elarton spring-training invite, there's a very simple answer.
Because Ryan Vogelsong.
The renaissance of Vogelsong was stunning. When he left the majors in 2006, he was one of the worst pitchers to ever pitch 300 innings. He was barely mediocre for three seasons in Japan. He returned to Triple-A in 2010, walking almost six batters for every nine innings he pitched, and he was released twice. So, of course, he finished fourth in the National League in ERA last year, picking up a stray point in the Cy Young balloting in the process.
It wasn't the career path you had him marked down for. It's like a guy getting arrested for stabbing his mail carrier, bottoming out after a Percocet addiction, accidentally setting a KFC on fire while on the job, and recounting all of these anecdotes in a humorous acceptance speech at his inauguration. And it will give you a sliver of false hope for every pitcher from now until the end of baseball.
Scott Elarton on the Phillies? Doesn't have a chance to make the roster, and he'll probably be released before April. But Ryan Vogelsong.
Kris Benson, former first-overall pick, coming back on the Yankees to cross-promote his wife's new television show? Well, it hasn't happened yet, but it could be a fantastic signing. Because Ryan Vogelsong.
Hey, if a team out there is looking for a starter, Hayden Penn might be available. Sure, he has the highest career ERA of any pitcher with more than 50 career innings, but he's done okay in Japan. I'd give him two years with an option. You know, because Ryan Vogelsong.
No player in memory has made such a mockery of people who thought they knew how to evaluate players based on things like "history" and "past performance" and "the powers of critical thinking." The acquisition of every pitcher until the end of time can be justified by Ryan Vogelsong. Or, to put it in South Park terms:
Who knows what the next season will bring for Vogelsong? He was a little FIP-lucky, for sure. But for one year, he came back from oblivion to be an All-Star in his mid-30s. Vogelsong gives hope to guys like Scott Elarton, even while we're too busy giggling that his name is still associated with a major-league team.
And that really screws up my favorite pastime of looking through spring-training roster invites and marveling at the random names that would pop up. Ryan Vogelsong was an All-Star last year; your argument is invalid. And now that we've accepted it, we can wonder openly if maybe, just maybe, Elarton will finally be that front-line starter that the Phillies have been looking for all these years.