As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea, the San Francisco Giants signed left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis to a minor-league contract on Friday. In retrospect, this move shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the Giants acknowledged that they had tried to get another lefty even further removed from his last big-league success, Mark Mulder, to sign a minor-league deal with them.
While it’s not very likely that Willis will contribute to the Giants’ major league team, and even less likely that he’ll make the opening day big-league roster, there’s no shame in the Giants taking a chance on the pitcher who was at one point an All-Star and World Series contributor. Willis, whose had the prime of his career ruined by psychological issues and problems with his unorthodox mechanics, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and hasn’t been effective since 2006. He retired briefly in 2012 before returning to the mound later that year, and he had a good run with the independent Long Island Ducks last season before joining the Los Angeles Angels system and struggling to end the year.
While the lack of success that Willis had had recently would seem to be a detractor for the Giants, his former track record gives them reason to believe that maybe he can be successful again. While Willis has started for most of his career, it’s distinctly possible that the Giants view him as a reliever, seeing as that was the plan they had for him when they first signed him at the tail end of the 2010 season.
It’s not like Willis is taking up any valuable spots; the Giants let go left-handers Jose Mijares and Dan Runzler this offseason, and they haven’t really done anything to replace them. Their top left-handed relief prospects, Josh Osich and Bryce Bandilla, have ever pitched above Double-A an Single-A, respectively. 25-year-old Michael Kickham would seem to be the next man up when big-league lefty Jeremy Affeldt inevitably goes down, but as of now the plan seems to be for Kickham to stay as a starter in Triple-A for the immediate future. If Willis ends up working out, he would give the Giants some much-needed security when they need another lefty.
While Willis has become a bit of a polarizing figure among baseball fans with his struggles over the past eight years, it can’t hurt the Giants to take a flyer on him. The likelihood is that he’ll continue to struggle, but if somehow he recovers, he’ll be another prized addition to the Giants’ vast history of dumpster dive success stories.