Halos giving Mulder shot at comeback
Veteran lefty, two-time All-Star, hasn't pitched in big leagues since 2008
ANAHEIM -- The Angels have agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with veteran starter Mark Mulder, the two-time All-Star who hasn't pitched competitively since 2008 and hadn't really considered a comeback until this past fall.
The contract -- first reported by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick on Wednesday -- includes an invitation to Spring Training and will pay Mulder more than $6 million if he reaches all incentives, an industry source confirmed. The Angels have not confirmed the signing.
Asked if Mulder would be willing to go to the Minor Leagues if he doesn't crack the Angels' rotation out of Spring Training, his agent, Brian Charles of Big League Management Company, said: "When the time comes, we'll evaluate the situation. Right now, though, he's looking forward to the opportunity to start in the Angels' starting rotation."
The Angels, who are still expected to make a run at Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza, currently have a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. But the latter three have options, with Santiago also able to work out of the bullpen, and Skaggs, 22, needing to win a spot in Spring Training to avoid starting the season in Triple-A.
Joe Blanton also is still on the roster, though it's unlikely he'll actually open the season with the team, and Wade LeBlanc was signed earlier this offseason to a Minor League contract. Chris Volstad will be released from his Minor League deal so he can pitch in Korea.
Mulder, 36, has been working as an ESPN analyst for the last three seasons and got the itch to come back while emulating Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez, who flings his throwing hand up in the air upon delivering a pitch.
The Angels' Spring Training site of Tempe, Ariz., neighbors Mulder's Phoenix-area home.
There, he'll continue his trek back to the Majors.
"He's giving this 100 percent," Charles said, "and the way he's throwing, he feels that he can be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues."
Mulder was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft and one of the game's top left-handers from 2001-05, averaging 18 wins and posting a 3.65 ERA for the A's and Cardinals. He finished second in voting for the American League Cy Young Award as a 21-game winner in 2001, joined Tim Hudson and Barry Zito to form Oakland's "Big Three" in the early 2000s and pitched in the playoffs three separate years.
But shoulder woes plagued him shortly after going to St. Louis in the deal that sent Dan Haren to Oakland in December 2004.
From 2007-08, Mulder pitched only 12 2/3 innings. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair fraying in his left rotator cuff in September 2006, went almost an entire year without pitching in the big leagues, gave up 17 runs (15 earned) in 11 innings over a three-start stretch in September 2007, and underwent another procedure to repair damaged tissue in his rotator cuff shortly thereafter.
When Mulder returned again late in June 2008, he had a new release point and initially was working as a reliever. On July 9, he made what ended up being his last professional start -- a 16-pitch outing that saw Mulder throw eight straight balls and exit with one out in the first inning at Citizens Bank Park, his shoulder preventing him from making an effective pitch without pain.
By June 2010, Mulder proclaimed he was retired from the game and was focused more on competitive golf. The following April, he was hired by ESPN to serve as an analyst.
Then, during this past fall, Mulder realized Rodriguez's delivery may work for his beleaguered shoulder and confirmed it while playing catch with former Cardinals teammate Kyle Lohse at their daughters' birthday party.
"The best way to describe it is, the ball is coming out of my hand better now than at any point when I was in St. Louis," Mulder said of his comeback attempts in a recent ESPN.com story. "I wouldn't be trying this if I didn't think the stuff I was throwing was good enough [to pitch in the big leagues]."
Mulder spent the month of November working himself back into shape in Arizona, before throwing off the mound just before the Winter Meetings and reportedly sitting between 89-90 mph with his fastball.
The Angels were one of several teams that saw Mulder throw that day, and again at least one other time later in December. Now -- like they did with Chad Cordero last spring -- they'll give him a chance to compete for a spot in their pitching staff.
"I think that it was a combination of both the opportunity to be in the starting rotation combined with the Angels being a championship-caliber team, being a winning organization," Charles said. "Those elements combined to make it a really good fit."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.