We all have that possession we once paid a lot for, but would now have trouble giving away. Maybe it is a suit we wore too many times that sits in a pile at the back of our closet. Perhaps it is a tiara we thought would set off our eyes, with many of the gemstones long since fallen out. It could even be a sleek sports car that had the exterior of a Porsche, but it turns out, the engineering of a Yugo.
Non-roster invitees are sometimes like that, too. Teams once demanded small ransoms just for the right to negotiate extensions with these players for 72 hours. But now? Teams essentially say, "We won't get mad if you want to hang out for a while. No guarantees, though."
So who among the 2011 NRIs has fallen the furthest? Let's take a look, shall we?
The list has to start with Bartolo Colon, one of the many plus-sized pitchers found in Yankees' camp. Twice in seven months, teams gave up significant treasure for the chance to employ Colon. The Montreal Expos famously traded Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens for Colon and Tim Drew in June 2002. That deal, made by GM Omar Minaya, had a lot to do with the contraction threat hanging over the Expos, making the 2002 season something of a last hurrah for Montreal (though the team would spend two more seasons there before moving to Washington).
Seven months later, however, Colon went with Jorge Nunez from the now-reprieved Expos to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer and cash. Contrast that with what the Yankees gave up – a chance to be right up close when George Steinbrenner was honored – and just how quickly eight years passed becomes apparent.
The same can be said of fellow Yankee NRI Freddy Garcia. Back in July 1998, Garcia was a key piece, along with Carlos Guillen and John Halama, in the deal that sent Randy Johnson to Houston. But Garcia proved to be the center of a pair of trades himself. First, in June 2004, Garcia and catcher Ben Davis went to the White Sox for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed. Remember, Reed was a huge prospect then, rather than a failed Mets first baseman (Reed is now an NRI himself, in Milwaukee). Then, in December 2006, the White Sox shipped Garcia to the Phillies for a pair of pretty solid pitching prospects, Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd.
On the hitting side, watching the diminishing return teams received for Casey Kotchman is like watching a falling meteor, except the meteor is a prospect and can't hit much for a first baseman. Back in July 2008, Kotchman and minor leaguer Steve Marek were all that it took for the Angels to pry Mark Teixeira from the Braves. A year later, Kotchman went from Atlanta to Boston, this time for Adam LaRoche. And in January 2010, the Red Sox dealt Kotchman to the Seattle Mariners, this time for Bill Hall coming off of a down year. Now, he's an NRI. But oh, how recently he was so much more.
A similar dynamic played out with Wily Mo Pena, who appears to be the most-traded NRI. In March 2001, the Yankees traded Wily Mo to the Reds for super-prospects Michael Coleman and Drew Henson. (Trust me, it was epic at the time.) As late as March 2006, a Wily Mo could get you Bronson Arroyo and cash from the Boston Red Sox. But by 2007, the bloom was off the Wily Mo – the Red Sox needed to deal Pena and cash to Washington just to bring back Chris Carter (who is a 2011 NRI with the Tampa Bay Rays).
Many of you probably would have given plenty, years ago, for a Wily Mo Pena. But now, like an outfield version of Norma Desmond, Pena is out begging for work. I don't know, maybe Pena is as big as ever – it's just the rosters that have gotten small.