When Chad Tracy signed a three-year, $13.25 million contract extension in May of 2006, the deal appeared to be a steal for the Diamondbacks. Less than two years later, Tracy's $7 million option for 2010 now looks exorbitant.
Tracy enjoyed what was thought to be a breakout season in 2005 that precipitated the extension. Now it appears to have been just a career year, as Tracy hasn't approached the career highs he set in batting average, on base percentage, slugging average, or home runs since.
A recurring knee injury was the culprit of Tracy's disappointing 2007 season, but he offered no such excuse for a 2006 campaign that saw him whiff an unacceptable 129 times. If Tracy was struggling when healthy, how well will he perform after microfracture knee surgery that led to a blood clot?
Not only how will he perform, but when? Tracy reported to spring with the pitchers and catchers February 15th to continue his rehabilitation, but isn't cleared for even light jogging until Sunday the 24th and appears headed for the disabled list for most of April at least.
"He's been swinging the bat," manager Bob Melvin said. "The big thing will be when he starts running... not that speed was a big part of his game, but the key will be if he can run without pain. The odds are probably against him being ready for opening day."
"Opening day is uncertain," agreed general manager Josh Byrnes. "He still has to test out his leg and get his conditioning back and start playing,"
The emergence of Mark Reynolds and stabilizing presence of Conor Jackson might lull some into believing that Tracy is somewhat superfluous, but with pinch hitter extraordinaire Tony Clark now a Padre, the Diamondbacks could really use that left handed bat both in spot starts and as a pinch hitter.
How Tracy, who is used to regular playing time, will respond to that kind of a role is uncertain. On one hand, he is 12-for-41 in his limited pinch hitting career, and he doesn't figure to pinch hit against southpaws, who have always baffled him. On the other, Tracy is a career .244 hitter and .393 slugger with 122 strikeouts in 591 at bats against relief pitchers. His bat may not be quick enough to hit mid-to-upper-90s fastballs consistently, and he will see a lot of those pitches as a pinch hitter.
Prediction: Tracy won't make his first plate appearance until late April or early May. Robby Hammock and Jaime D'Antona are the leading candidates to make the team if Tracy is indeed forced to open the season on the disabled list, as both can man the corner infield spots that Tracy fields plus serve as backup catcher if Miguel Montero's finger continues to bother him.
When Tracy finally does return, he'll collect a few big hits here and there, but his overall numbers will not be impressive. He'll get about the same amount of playing time as he had last year with slightly worse rate statistics.
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