Dontrelle Willis attended spring training with the Phillies in 2012. (Getty)Perhaps retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for Dontrelle Willis, or maybe the competitive fire of a 30-year-old hurler who should still have a few decent years left in his once dominant arm has been lit again.
Whatever the case is, the quirky left-hander, who first stepped away just six months ago, is ready to give baseball one more shot after signing a minor-league deal with the organization who drafted him in 2000, the Chicago Cubs.
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, who first reported the signing on Friday evening, the deal does not come with the customary spring training invitation that is attached to minor-league deals for veterans and former major leaguers. However, the Cubs have said Willis will get his chance to workout in the big league camp and pitch in 'A' games if his stuff looks good.
Of course it's anything but a certainty that will be the case after Willis posted an ugly 8.53 in four minor league appearances for the Baltimore Orioles organization last season. He was also placed on the restricted list for two months and subsequently filed a grievance against the ballclub after openly disputing their decision to make him a reliever, proving that his behavior and mindset in and around the game were becoming as erratic as his mechanics and fastball command.
We won't know for sure if Willis' short time away from the game has allowed him to clear his mind or figure out how to get his curveball over the plate until he ultimately takes the field again this spring, but there's literally no risk involved here for the Cubs, and there's at least a far outside chance something could be salvaged, so you can't really fault them for investing in the lottery ticket.
At best, they get a usable arm and play host to the most improbable comeback story in 2013. At worst, the first instrasquad game gets lopsided early, they cut their losses before March, and Willis' professional career officially comes full circle.
For more on Dontrelle Willis' tumultuous career leading up to his retirement in July, checkout Kevin Kaduk's fantastic piece from 2009.