July 10, 2011; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Cincinnati Reds pitcherDontrelle Willis
(50) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The Brewers defeated the Reds 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Dontrelle Willis didn’t pitch in the big leagues at all last season, and hasn’t pitched effectively since probably 2006 (two years before he was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers), but he’s continued to get opportunities.
After the Tigers designated him for assignment in the middle of the 2010 season, he was claimed by the Arizona Diamonbacks, then waived, then spent the remainder of the season in the San Francisco Giant’s organization. He spent the entire 2011 season as a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ organization — posting a 2.63 ERA 13 AAA starts — but he (again) flamed out in the majors with a 5.00 ERA in 13 starts with the big club. He tossed six innings for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate, but a dispute over his role (starter vs. reliever) caused him to leave the club then ultimately retire.
But he’s apparently not done trying to return to the big leagues. Jon Heyman had this Tweet yesterday:
An invite to minor league camp doesn’t sound promising for Willis. It’s a low risk move for the Chicago Cubs, that’s for sure, but no one has been able to recapture the magic that his arm produced early in his career. It’s sad to see a guy like Dontrelle — an instant star in his early-twenties — suddenly lose the ability to perform at even a reasonable level. I’d love to see him return to his former self — if even only for a year — but seven full seasons have come and gone since he was the runner up for the NL Cy Young award in 2005. It’s just not going to happen though.
Dontrelle Willis will likely keep getting these minor league opportunities for as long as he wants to pitch — because from the team’s perspective, why not — but I doubt there’s anyone left in the game that believes he can again be an effective big league pitcher. We’re well past that point.