The minor leagues are the proving ground for future major league stars.
Or so they say.
Something strange is happening in the Pacific Coast League this year: former superstars are in the league, trying to get back to the majors.
First, it was Manny Ramirez. After serving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, Manny reported to Sacramento for a 10-day rehabilitation assignment.
When the 10 days were up, the Oakland A’s decided that Manny wasn’t ready yet – so they assigned him to the Triple-A roster, and now one of the greatest hitters in baseball history is an ordinary PCL player.
On Friday, Vladimir Guerrero became a PCL player.
Guerrero, 37, went unsigned after playing the 2011 season with Baltimore. Eventually the Toronto Blue Jays decided to give him a look – but first, Guerrero needed to get back into playing shape.
Guerrero signed a minor league contract with Toronto. After working out at the Blue Jays’ spring training facility, Guerrero played in four games for Dunedin in the Florida State League, going 9-for-20.
Toronto wanted to see him hit against top-quality pitching, so they moved Guerrero to Triple-A – and that’s why the man who is tied for 36th on the all-time home run list is now playing for the Las Vegas 51s.
The Rainiers lost a high-quality reliever Friday when left-hander Sean Henn left the team to sign with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization.
The KBO is an attractive option for veteran Triple-A players such as Henn, who see little opportunity to reach the majors with their current organization.
Henn, 31, has played parts of six major league seasons with four teams. However, he has not pitched in the majors since 2009 – even though he has put up good numbers in the PCL.
KBO business is booming, with four of the league’s nine teams drawing more than 1 million fans in 2011. Interest in baseball is increasing in Korea, and Korean major league stars such as Shin-Soo Choo have a following at home.
Henn, born and raised in Texas, will be the only American on his team. KBO allows only two foreign-born players per team – and Hanwha’s other foreigner is former major leaguer Denny Bautista, from the Dominican Republic.
Henn will be well-compensated for his troubles: the KBO pays roughly the major league minimum for first-year foreign players, so financially for a Triple-A player a deal in Korea can be the same as a major league call-up.
Henn said the team also will provide a translator.Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.