by Mike DePilla
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Two months ago at this time Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre were about as valuable as a Darrin Jackson comment to Hawk Harrelson.
Pierre, a fourth outfielder earning $10 million for the Dodgers, was in the team photo for Most Overpaid Major League Player. Podsednik, only a few years removed from an All-Star selection, couldn't even stick in the bigs as a reserve and, without the benefit of a huge contract, was essentially out of baseball after the Rockies released him this spring.
And now look at 'em. The two rejuvenated speedsters will meet at US Cellular Field as the Dodgers come to Chicago to take on the White Sox for three games starting Tuesday night.
The Sox had their chance to acquire Pierre last winter, when their leadoff situation was so dire it looked like they were going to slot Jerry Owens into the Opening Day line up. The Dodgers were desperate to unload at least one of their jaw-droppingly overpaid outfielders in Pierre and Andruw "Higher Annual Salary Than You Torii" Jones, but the Sox passed. Finding no real takers for either, the Dodgers swallowed their pride and released Jones and were forced to hold on to Pierre as a back up.
Then out of the blue Manny Ramirez was caught cycling, and it had nothing to do with Lance Armstrong. Pierre and his cap-under-his-helmet batting style were thrust back in to the everyday line up and they responded by batting .337 with a .392 OBP and 17 stolen bases so far in Ramirez's absence. He's even thrown in a surprising .433 SLG, which is 60 points above his career line. Very impressive.
The Sox avoided the embarrassing situation of having Owens lead off on Opening Day by... well, giving the job to Dewayne Wise. Not the best finish to that sentence. After Wise and a few others failed and/or got injured, the Sox brought in Podsednik, who was initially happy just to get a shot at Triple-A Charlotte.
To everyone's surprise, Podsednik has answered the call in the majors in a big way. Through 45 games, Pods's's line of .319/.372/.412 is by far the biggest and most pleasant surprise on a Sox team struggling with mediocrity. Though he is not the base stealing threat he was four years ago, the guy could not have become a better solution to Ozzie Guillen's top of the order woes.
(In case anybody is wondering, Jerry Owens is currently hitting .287 in 38 games with the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A affiliate.)
With big sluggers coming back to take their spots both in L.A. and Chicago, will the resurgent duo keep their playing time? Podsednik has performed so well that he is probably going to keep his starting job, or more accurately Brian Anderson's, when Carlos Quentin comes off the disabled list and resumes roundhouse kicking 95 mph fastballs for 500 foot homeruns.
As long as the White Sox are in the race, the fact is Podsednik gives them the best chance to win everyday. How ironic is that considering he was pushed aside in 2007, not even two full years ago, to allow someone else... anyone else... to audition for the leftfield job in a rebuilding effort.
Pierre? He'll have to wrestle time from talented youngsters Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier once Manny comes back to bring his soap opera to left field for the Dodgers. No matter what happens, he still has $18.5 million coming to him over the next two years.
Yes, both players are likely to regress a little as the season goes on. No one expects Pierre to post a mid-.400 SLG. Injuries might become a factor for Pods as well. If the Sox fall out of the race a name like Jordan Danks might be the next young kid to be called up to audition for Pods's's's job. And Pierre could become prime trade bait.
But still, you have to love what a difference two short months have made for each of those guys.
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