For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the New York Yankees when they fell to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series.
Kerry Wood had an up-and-down postseason, but the former Cubs phenom was a major reason why the New York Yankees made it within two wins of a World Series berth.
Wood was acquired by the Yankees from Cleveland in a July 31 deadline trade and was installed into the team's setup role.
The 33-year-old right-hander - in the second year of a two-year, $20 million contract - was having a miserable season as the Indians closer. He was just 1-4 with eight saves, three blown saves, and a 6.30 ERA in 23 appearances. He was twice placed on the disabled list - his 13th and 14th career trips to the DL.
But thanks to some adjustments in his delivery made by former Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland, Wood turned things around in New York. Eiland was fired following the season.
"Our scouts told us that there was a lot left in his tank," Eiland said.
One outing after Wood's arrival, Eiland convinced him to stand taller on the mound and raise his arm slot to improve the downhill angle on his pitches.
"Which is how he pitched earlier in his career," Eiland said.
He allowed just two earned runs and 14 hits while striking out 31 and walking 18 in 26 innings with the Yanks, providing manager Joe Girardi with a sturdy bridge between his starters and closer Mariano Rivera.
"I never would have thought he could help us this much," Girardi said. "I had caught him, so I remember when he had outstanding stuff. But I don't think anyone ever (expects) you're going to get a reliever that for two months has an ERA under 1.00. Some of the best relievers of all time don't do that."
How much would winning the World Series have meant to Wood?
"It would be huge," Wood said. "That's why I play the game. That's why I've gone through all of the rehab and the surgeries; all of the stuff I've been through in the past. ... Because you want that ring; that's what it's all about.
"This is my best shot, and I don't know if I'll get another chance."
Mike Fontenot, San Francisco Giants: Fontenot was primarily used as a second baseman after the Giants acquired him from the Cubs on Aug. 11, but started Games 3 and 4 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves at third base in place of a slumping Pablo Sandoval.
Fontenot was a key contributor in San Francisco's 3-2 Game 3 victory Oct. 17, stroking a leadoff triple (his only hit in 6 postseason at-bats) in the second inning and scoring the game's first run. Fontenot also contributed defensively, with a pair of nifty plays at the hot corner.
Fontenot cut in front of shortstop Juan Uribe to snag a grounder and made a perfect throw to peg Braves leadoff hitter Omar Infante for the third out of the third inning. He also made a nice grab on a Brooks Conrad popped bunt in the eighth.
He appeared in four games during San Francisco's six-game triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies and went 2-for-8. He appeared in one World Series game as a defensive replacement.
Fontenot hit .284 in 75 games with the Cubs this season and .282 in 28 games with San Francisco.
Derrek Lee, Atlanta Braves: It's my father's theory that Lee very well could now be considered as a sure-thing Hall-of-Fame player if not for the broken wrist he suffered at Dodger Stadium on April 19, 2006. The injury caused Lee to miss two months and Dad swears that the first baseman has never quite been the same since.
"It's too hard to rebuild the strength in the wrists after an injury like that and the wrists are everything to a baseball player," Dad says.
Exhibit A: Ernie Banks
Exhibit B: Henry Aaron
Neither Banks nor Aaron were big men, but both exhibited tremendous power. And they did so long before the age of steroids and human growth hormone.
Lee, while with the Cubs, never made excuses after failing to duplicate his spectacular 2005 season. That's the kind of guy Lee is.
So it was no surprise to learn that Lee did his best hitting in 2010 while playing with a torn thumb ligament he suffered on Opening Day. And D-Lee, who also struggled through back issues while with the Cubs this year, not once acknowledged the injury.
Atlanta Braves general manager, after his team was eliminated from the National League playoffs by San Francisco, described Lee's injury as "serious."
He had surgery on the thumb Friday.
Acquired from the Cubs on Aug. 18 for three minor leaguers, Lee hit .304 with a .915 OPS in September/October - easily his most productive month of the season. He suffered the injury early in September, Wren said.
In 39 games with the Braces, Lee hit .287 with a .384 on-base percentage and .465 slugging percentage.
The 35-year-old Lee, who waived his "five-and-10" rights with the Cubs for a shot at a World Series ring, was just 2-for-16 in the Braves' division series loss to the San Francisco Giants.
Lee, who turned 35 on Sept. 6, just wrapped up a five-year, $65-million contract and will be a free agent this offseason.
Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers: Lilly signed a three-year, $33-million dollar contract to remain with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he was traded to by the Cubs before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. By signing ahead of the free-agent period, Lilly lost his chance to test the waters of free agency
"I knew that I would prefer to stay here," Lilly told ESPN.com. "I thought this was a really good opportunity for me to be with this club and that the future looks really good. Fortunately, the Dodgers had interest in bringing me back, and I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be able to play here. Now we have this out of the way, which is nice because those aren't the things I want to be thinking about. I want to be preparing for the upcoming season."
After he was acquired by the Dodgers, Lilly paid immediate dividends, winning each of his first five starts. But as the Dodgers swooned down the stretch, so did Lilly. The veteran lefty was 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA after the trade and finished the season 10-12 overall despite a 3.62 ERA, largely because of a lack of run support.
Ryan Theriot, Los Angeles Dodgers: He is what he is and that's all that he is.
In his two months with Los Angeles, Theriot gave the Dodgers exactly what he gave the Cubs during the first four months of the 2010 season.
The scrappy Theriot provided the Dodgers with a solid defensive second baseman (1 error in 229 chances), but his low on-base percentage (it was .323 with the Dodgers and .320 with the Cubs) and lack of power were detrimental to L.A.'s offense down the stretch. Theriot's slugging percentage with his new team was an anemic .283 and he did not collect an extra-base hit in his final 92 at-bats. Theriot, who turns 31 on Dec. 7, had just one homer and eight RBI to hit a very feeble .242 with the Dodgers.
Theriot, who made $2.6 million last season, is arbitration eligible. It's likely he will be non-tendered. Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times believes that 23-year-old Dodgers prospect Ivan De Jesus Jr. could put up as good or better numbers than Theriot for a great deal less money.
Matt Murton, Hanshin Tigers: Murton broke Ichiro Suzuki's 16-year-old Japanese professional baseball single-season hits record (210) when he singled in the second inning of Hanshin's 17-4 season-ending victory over the Yakult Swallows in Tokyo on Oct. 5. Murton, who turned 29 on Oct. 3, collected two more hits in the game to finish his first Japanese campaign with a .349 batting average, 17 home runs, and 91 RBI.
Suzuki's record was accomplished when the Japanese season consisted of 130 games. Japanese teams now play a 144-game schedule.
"1994 and 2010 are two different seasons," Murton told the Associated Press. "(Suzuki) did it in 130 games. It is what it is, it's a great honor. In terms of Ichiro, this doesn't change anything. He's one of the best players in baseball."
Murton, who played with the Cubs from 2005-08, was released by the Colorado Rockies after the 2009 season. He appeared in just 29 games and hit just .250 for the Rockies that year.
Murton signed a two-year deal with Hanshin prior to the 2010 season with a club option.
Kyle Farnsworth, Atlanta Braves: After a solid two-thirds of the season with the Kansas City Royals (3-0, 2.42 ERA), Farnsworth was disappointing with Atlanta (0-2, 5.40) after being acquired in a July 31 deadline trade.
Farnsworth earned his first victory in 15 career postseason appearances in Atlanta's 5-4 victory over San Francisco in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. It was the Braves' lone playoff win and the final victory of Bobby Cox's managerial career.
Rich Harden, Texas Rangers: Harden, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Texas last offseason, did not have the chance to enjoy Texas' World Series run after being released by the Rangers on Oct. 8. Harden, who will turn 29 on Nov. 30, was 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 20 appearances with the Rangers, including 18 starts.
Harden continued to struggle with his control and high pitch counts. The right-hander was out more than two months because of a strained muscle in his lower back and an inflamed left shoulder. He has been on the disabled list nine times in six seasons.
Mark Prior, Oklahoma City Redhawks (Triple A): Prior signed what amounted to a one-game minor league contract with the Texas Rangers on Sept. 3 and pitched a scoreless inning of relief for Triple A Oklahoma City on Sept. 5. The 30-year-old Prior allowed two hits, walked one, and struck out two.
Earlier in the season, Prior allowed one unearned run in nine relief appearances (11 IP) with the Orange County (Calif.) Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League while striking out 22 and walking five. Opponents hit only .135 against him. Prior is now a free agent, but is expected to be invited by the Rangers to spring training as a non-roster player and compete for a bullpen spot.
Mark DeRosa, San Francisco Giants: DeRosa hit just .194 with one homer (it came on Opening Day) and 10 RBI in 93 at-bats before having season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured tendon sheath in his left wrist. He played 21 games in left field and seven at second base for the world champions. DeRosa, 35, signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Giants last offseason.
He began swinging a bat last month and likely will be a candidate - along with Uribe and Sandoval - for the Giants' starting third base job.
"You know what? We're a better team for me going down," said DeRosa, citing the additions of Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. "Pat came over and put up great numbers. Cody put up great numbers. (General manager) Brian Sabean has done an amazing job blending a lot of different characters together.
"For me, this has been very humbling, but I've learned a lot about the game. I've never gotten a chance to look at it from so many different perspectives: the coaches, the pitchers, everybody.
"I've always worried about myself and trusted my teammates were going to be all right. But now you see it from a bigger scale, and I hope to have a better season next year because of it."
Milton Bradley, Seattle Mariners: Bradley battled depression and a sore right knee en route to the worst season of his 11-year major league career. The 32-year-old switch-hitting outfielder hit .205 with eight homers and 29 RBI in 73 games with Seattle.
Bradley has one year remaining on the three-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Cubs and the Mariners may choose to eat it after naming Eric Wedge as their manager.
Bradley hit .321 in 101 games with the Wedge-managed Cleveland Indians in 2003 but the relationship between the volatile outfielder and his manager soured during spring training in 2004. Wedge pulled Bradley from an exhibition game for failing to run out a pop up that dropped for a hit. Later that spring, Bradley was barred from the Indians' spring training complex in Winter Haven, Fla., after reportedly wearing a T-shirt in the clubhouse that read "!@#$ Eric Wedge" and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers a short time later.
Jamie Moyer, free agent: The left-hander, who will turn 48 on Nov. 18, was placed on waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies on Oct. 28. But Moyer, who has 24 years of major league experience, isn't ready to hang 'em up and is expected to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic in an effort to drum up some interest for 2011.
Moyer, who was 9-9 with a 4.88 ERA in 19 starts, missed the final two-and-half months of the season because of an elbow injury.
Moyer, who has 267 career victories, has won 239 major league games since the Cubs traded him to the Texas Rangers on Dec. 5, 1988. He became the oldest player to pitch a complete-game shutout when he two-hit the Atlanta Braves on May 7.
Cesar Izturis, Baltimore Orioles: The 30-year-old veteran hit just .230 in 150 games as Baltimore's starting shortstop, and was identified by Rob Schotterbeck of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star as the worst hitter among major league regulars.
Among hitters who qualified for a league batting championship (a minimum of 3.1 plate appearances per team game). Izturis had the worst OPS (.543) and slugging percentage (.268), the third-worst OBP (.277) and the fourth-lowest total of hits (109) among qualifying hitters. He also had the fewest extra-base hits (15).
Izturis, now a free agent, did post a .985 fielding percentage that was second only to Derek Jeter's .989 among qualifying shortstops, despite handling 50 more chances than the Yankees star.
Jim Edmonds, Cincinnati Reds: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the 40-year-old veteran is hoping to return in 2011 as a part-time first baseman. It was another injury-plagued season for Edmonds who was limited to just 86 games because of a strained oblique he suffered with Milwaukee in May and a strained Achilles tendon he suffered with Cincinnati in September.
Edmonds, who conceded that he no longer possesses the durability to play the outfield, hit .276 with 11 homers and 23 RBI in 2010. He hit .207 in 13 games after being acquired by the NL Central champion Reds on Aug. 9 and did not appear in the postseason.
Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers: McGehee, Milwaukee's starting third baseman, was named the Brewers' MVP by the Baseball Writers Association of America after hitting .285 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 104 RBI in his second full major-league season.
McGehee was among the NL leaders in RBI (6th), hits (9th, 174) and doubles (10th, 38). He drove in 102 runs while playing third base, setting a Brewers record for the position and matching David Wright of the New York Mets for the league lead at the hot corner.
Kevin Gregg, Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays last week exercised a $750,000 buyout, making the 32-year-old closer a free agent. The right-hander, who would have been due $3.75 million next season, posted a 3.51 ERA, 58/30 K/BB ratio and 37 saves in 43 chances over 59 innings this past season.
Gregg, however, was awful whenever he pitched without a day of rest, posting a 7.90 ERA with 16 walks in 13 2/3 in such scenarios.
Juan Pierre, Chicago White Sox: Pierre, the White Sox's starting left fielder, bounced back from a slow start (he hit .193 in April) to hit .275. His AL-leading 68 stolen bases were the most by a White Sox player since Luis Aparacio in 1961.
Angel Pagan, New York Mets: The switch-hitting Pagan had his best major league season, hitting .290 with 11 homers, 69 RBI, and 37 steals in 151 games. The 29-year-old Pagan saw action at all three outfield spots.
Chad Tracy, Florida Marlins: Tracy, now a free agent, finished the season by playing in 41 games with the Florida Marlins. He hit .245 and was just 1-for-24 (.042) with 11 strikeouts as a pinch hitter for Florida.
Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Dodgers: The 33-year-old Johnson, now a free agent, hit .262 with two homers and 15 RBI in 102 games. He saw action at all three outfield positions.
Scott Downs, Toronto Blue Jays: The 34-year-old left-handed reliever is now a free agent and will have many suitors in the coming days after going 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 appearances in 2010.
David Aardsma, Seattle Mariners: The hard-throwing 28-year-old right-hander was 0-6 with 31 saves and an ERA of 3.44 in 53 appearances this year and is now arbitration eligible. Aardsma converted 15-of-16 save opportunities after the All-Star break.
Felix Pie, Baltimore Orioles: The 25-year-old Pie will possibly be Baltimore's 2011 Opening Day starting left fielder after hitting .274 with five homers and 31 RBI in 82 games this year.
Jason Marquis, Washington Nationals: The 32-year-old right-hander was identified as one of last offseason's six worst free-agent signings (Harden was another) by Business Insider. Marquis - who signed a two-year, $15 million deal - spent much of the season on the disabled list after undergoing surgery in May to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. He made only 13 starts and went 2-9 with a 6.60 ERA. It was the first time in Marquis' 11-year career that his team failed to reach the postseason.
Aaron Heilman, Arizona Diamondbacks: The right-hander, now a free agent, was 5-8 with a 4.50 ERA in 70 appearances, making him the most reliable member of Arizona's awful bullpen.
LaTroy Hawkins, Milwaukee Brewers: The 37-year-old right-hander's career is on its last legs after he struggled in a setup role (8.44 ERA in 18 appearances). Hawkins spent most of the season on the disabled list because of weakness in his pitching shoulder.
Jason Kendall, Kansas City Royals: Kendall underwent shoulder surgery and is currently on the 60-day disabled list. The 36-year-old veteran hit .256 with no homers and 37 RBI in 118 games.
Corey Patterson, Baltimore Orioles: The 31-year-old Patterson, now a free agent, hit .269 with eight homers and 32 RBI in 90 games this year.
Ronny Cedeno, Pittsburgh Pirates: Cedeno, Pittsburgh's starting shortstop, hit .256 with eight homers and 38 RBI, in 139 games.
Henry Blanco, New York Mets: Hank White, in his customary backup role, hit .215 in 50 games. The 39-year-old Blanco is now a free agent.
Rich Hill, Boston Red Sox: The 30-year-old left-hander split most of the season between St. Louis Triple-A affiliate Memphis and Boston Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket before getting a September call-up by the Red Sox. Hill was 1-0 and worked four scoreless innings with Boston.
Will Ohman, Florida Marlins: The 33-year-old left-handed reliever went 0-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 68 games split between Baltimore and Florida. He is now a free agent.
Jerry Hairston Jr., San Diego Padres: The 34-year-old Hairston played five positions and hit .244 with 10 homers and 50 RBI in 119 games, but finished the season on the disabled list, missing San Diego's final 14 games, with a fractured right tibia. He is now a free agent.
Sean Gallagher, Pittsburgh Pirates: The 24-year-old right-hander went 2-1 with a 5.77 ERA in 46 appearances with San Diego and Pittsburgh in 2010. He was removed from the Pirates' 40-man roster following the season.
Matt Stairs, San Diego Padres: The 42-year-old veteran, playing in his 18th big-league season, on Aug. 21 hit his 21st career pinch-hit homer to break Cliff Johnson's career mark. He was 23-for-99 (.232) with six homers and 16 RBI this year. He hit .265 with four homers after the All-Star break.