Sammy Sosa. The name alone conjures up images of 1998, of home run chases, and records broken. It also conjures up images of steroids and Congressional hearings, of disgruntled players, and aging sluggers.
Now, it could also be a name we associate with baseball past. After a winter of waiting by the phone, the contract-less Sosa is contemplating retiring.
According to an ESPNdeportes report, a source close to Sosa says the former All Star may throw in the towel. “Sammy wants to get to 600 home runs, but he’s not willing to humiliate himself to keep playing. He feels that the lack of interest in his services this winter constitutes a humiliation,” the nameless source said.
Currently, Sosa has received just one offer this season: A non-guaranteed, one-year deal from the Washington Nationals for $500,000. Sosa, who, according to the source, “doesn’t think of himself as someone who has to beg for a spot on a big league roster,” wants more. But does he deserve it?
The 2005 campaign was arguably Sosa’s most disappointing season. Following a brutal breakup with the Cubs, Sosa landed in the cozy confines of Baltimore where many expecting him to at least match his 2004 total of 35 home runs. However, after those disastrous Congressional hearings on steroids in March, Sosa never really made an impact last season.
In 424 plate appearances, Sosa hit a measly .221/.295/.376 with just 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. It was his worst season since 1992, and it seemed that age has finally caught up to 37-year-old as he missed 60 games with various injuries and maladies.
Already associated with the Steroid Era in baseball, Sosa now must contend with the demons of age. Gone are the days when Sosa would come charging out of the Cubs dugout, leading the team on the field with a sprint into right. Now, Sosa is a liability in the field, and he has not won over any suitors with his bad attitude the past few seasons.
With age firmly against him, Sosa’s 2006 campaign would not be one for the ages. In fact, PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ great projection system, has Sosa putting up less-than-stellar numbers. In fact, they have him putting up Replacement Level numbers. PECOTA tags Sosa for a .240/.310/.413 season with 13 HR and 47 RBI in 358 plate appearances. This leads to a VORP of 1.0 and an MLVr (or Marginal Lineup Value, an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers) of -0.071. While this leads to a price tag of around $1.2 million under today’s salary structure, it is important to remember that these numbers would be for Sosa in Baltimore.
Playing in Washington’s RFK Stadium is an entirely different matter. Compared to Camden Yards, RFK Stadium kills offense. Sosa would probably project to around 8 or 9 home runs with fewer RBIs and a lower BA/OBP/SLG line. Furthermore, playing in an NL park, Sosa would be forced to play the field, and the Nationals defense would suffer because of this. It’s fair to say that Sosa would be a below-replacement-level player for the Washington Nationals, deserving of a contract worth around $500,000, if that.
So now Sosa is left with a tough choice for him. Should he retire and be satisfied with his 588 home runs or should he try to latch on to a team for those last 12 dingers? As the Devil Rays are firmly in a growth mode no longer taking on old sluggers like Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs and the Royals seem to have a plan as well, the Nationals may be his best hope.
Sosa might not like it, but if he wants to keep playing, a non-guaranteed contract with the Nationals may be his best bet. If not, well, then we’ll see him in Cooperstown in a few years.