If I told you, people of Arizona, that the Phoenix Suns had signed Rasheed Wallace, would you be excited? He used to be really good, has a few talents, but also has some mental baggage that is less than appealing for a team to take on, and has not been a solid contributor in a while. You signed him for cheap, but you now face the prospect of seeing Sheed’s psychosis sabotaging the team every few games, and while you hope that he will stop being neurotic, he has a pretty solid history of it at this point.
Now, people of Arizona, imagine that you just got Dontrelle Willis. You did. He was once very good (NL Rookie of the Year, 2nd in Cy Young voting), but has since had some emotional problems, and hasn’t been a productive member of a baseball team since 2006 (when he posted a 3.87 ERA in a pitchers’ park). Every 5 days, you, as a fan, face the prospect of hoping that for just one day Dontrelle returns to his old near-Cy Young form, but the most likely result is another implosion filled with erratic pitching, three times more runs than Dontrelle has solid seasons (he only had 2), and more inconsistency than you already have.
At this point, you are probably saying it is a little unfair to compare Sheed, a guy who has emotional problems that are a negative influence on all, to Dontrelle, who is still a good guy, but is so firmly inside his own head that he cannot fix himself and even spent a stint on the DL for mental illness. Even if he will not have the same negative overall influence as Sheed, the results on his own numbers are similar. The overall comparison does not stand and I do not mean for it to, but the comparison of their current status as it pertains to their personal numbers remains.
I am all for rolling the dice on a guy for cheap. Sometimes all he needs is a change in scenery, or a new pitching coach to get the message through, and all of a sudden he is back to his devastating form. Look at Fausto Carmona. In his first season in the bigs he was 1-10 in 38 appearances (7 starts) with an ERA over 5. He went down to low A ball and got things fixed by a pitching coach who really got through to him. He followed it up with a season in which he finished 4th in Cy Young voting in the AL with an ERA of 3.06. All of a sudden, he lost it. He sucked again, and was forced back down to that same pitching coach, who appears to have fixed him again as he is currently sitting on a very respectable 3.69 ERA on a horrible team. The point of that little story is that sometimes it just takes a new approach for a guy to regain their old form. Dontrelle could certainly be a guy who finds his old form in Arizona. He could join a healthy Brandon Webb, a better Dan Haren, a resurgent Edwin Jackson, and suddenly-not-a-flop Ian Kennedy to lead the Diamondbacks to the playoffs. However, far more likely is the reality. Dontrelle could get one good start out of every 7, Brandon Webb could be out for most of the year, Edwin Jackson could continue to be overrated, and Ian Kennedy could return to the bust-status he has earned in his year with the Yankees.
I get it Diamondbacks fans. You are disappointed in your pitching. The bullpen couldn’t get Little Leaguers out, your starters are under the impression that giving up home runs helps the team, and nothing is going right. As an Indians fan, I get that. However, all of Arizona needs to seriously temper their expectations for Dontrelle. Could he turn into Cliff Lee and be great all of a sudden? Sure, but you are far better off expecting nothing from him. This is not only for you, but for him as well. He has had stress issues for a while, and expectations are the last thing someone with stress problems needs.
So enjoy having a past rookie of the year on your roster. Enjoy the possibility that he could return to form. But whatever you do, do not EXPECT him to do anything of the sort. My colleague, and Arizona resident Ross Geiger said it best about Arizona: You do best when no one expects anything of you. Keep that in mind with Dontrelle. Expect nothing from him, but if he gives you anything at all, rejoice. There is nothing wrong with giving him a second chance, but there is plenty wrong with expecting the world of a guy who has not given anyone anything in 4 years.