Feb 23, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Dontrelle Willis signs autographs before a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Having traded Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers are left with a hole in their rotation with just a month out from Spring Training. While they have a handful of in-house candidates to take Gallardo’s spot, the Brewers on Wednesday added an unlikely name to the list of rotation possibilities when they signed former Cincinnati Reds left-hander Dontrelle Willis to a minor league contract.
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Willis was originally selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 8th round of the 2000 draft but was traded to the Miami Marlins in the March 2002 deal that brought Matt Clement to the Cubs. Just over a year later, Willis made his Big League debut and went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year award and helping the Marlins upset the New York Yankees in the World Series. Willis was a flamboyant character who baffled hitters with his deceptive delivery and lots of motion on his pitches.
Two years later, Willis posted a 22-10 record with a 2.63 ERA and 152 ERA+ to finish second (behind Chris Carpenter) in the NL Cy Young ballot.
From there, though, it was all downhill for Willis.
He fell to 12-12 in 2006, and then to 10-15 in 2007. By the next spring, he was in Detroit, but only made it into eight games with the Tigers, finishing 0-2, 9.38 ERA. He tried again the next season, but an anxiety disorder kept him off the field for much of the 2009 season, and 2010 was split between Detroit and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
One last chance came with the Reds, who signed him as a free agent that off-season and brought him to camp in 2011. He didn’t stick with the big club but got the call from Louisville in July. Through the end of the season, Willis made 13 starts and posted a 1-6 record with a 5.00 ERA.
Control has been a particular issue since his final days in Miami, and especially starting that first year in Detroit. Willis is prone to allowing lots of hits and lots of walks, a deadly combination for a Major League pitcher.
Still, at just 33 years of age, and with the tantalizing success he showed early in his career, Willis is an intriguing character. His minor league record over the past three seasons does little to erase the memory of his Big League fall from grace, but it’s not surprising another team has taken a chance on him.
After all, the only thing we love more than a redemption story is getting a bargain in the process. The Brewers are hoping Willis can give them a little of both.