Sometimes, you can't tell all the players -- even with a scorecard. That is certainly true of this offseason's free-agency playground, which is still overrun by dozens of pitchers and position dudes. But lurking beyond the regular guys -- those who routinely played through 2010 and intend to continue their careers -- is a long list of players seeking to re-start careers after falling off the map ... OK, not really, but for sure falling out of the '10 Baseball Register. With so many now trying to screw new lightbulbs into their flickering names spelled out on the marquee, a handy reference of who they are and where they've been is in order.
Consider this the Cliff's Notes of boomerang players. Incidentally, while they deserve our interest and curiosity, we draw the line at undue admiration. A couple of generations ago, scores of players -- like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio -- returned after years of World War II military service. Now that's a hiatus. Still, successful revivals are impressive. The most recent player to resume his career after a full-year sabbatical -- Pedro Martinez had lain low for four-and-a-half months of '09 prior to resurfacing in mid-August with the Phillies -- was Sammy Sosa. Sosa sat out '06, then made a re-entry in '07 with the Rangers that was quite respectable: He poked 21 homers and drove in 92 runs in 114 games, primarily as Texas' designated hitter. Who knows, if this becomes a growing trend, there could be a new entry in baseball's trophy case: the Rip Van Winkle Award? Top candidates for '11, in alphabetical order: Brandon Backe, 32: The right-hander made only one start for the Astros in '09 and is trying to rebound from rotator cuff woes. No one will ever mistake him for even a poor man's Cliff Lee, but Backe was undefeated in six postseason starts for Houston, with a 2.95 ERA in 36 2/3 innings. Larry Bigbie, 33: The outfielder who last appeared in the Majors in '06 (with the Cardinals) drew quite a crowd of American League birddogs to a recent workout who can see him returning in a DH role. The former No. 1 Draft pick (Baltimore 1999) was a Baseball America All-Independent Leagues All-Star this season for batting .403 with 16 homers and 74 RBIs in 69 games as an Edmonton CrackerCat in the Golden Baseball League. Sean Burroughs, 30: Out of pro ball since a Triple-A cameo in '07, the beefy left-handed hitter recently signed a Minor League deal with Arizona -- whose new GM, Kevin Towers, had made him the No. 9 pick in the entire country in 1998, when he was drafting for the Padres. Burroughs fizzled quickly with the Rays in '06 after a decent four-season stint in San Diego during which he hit .282. Jose Canseco, 46: Really? Well, it's not going to happen; all Canseco has done since his last Major League sighting in '01 is stir it up. But the theme is players seeking to resume careers, so he fits. Just the other day, he tweeted, "I can dh for any Major League team and lead the league in home runs, just give me the chance. I will not give up my dream of playing in the Majors again." OK. Bartolo Colon, 37: Colon has won a total of 14 big league games since earning the '05 AL Cy Young Award, but had a reaffirming Dominican Winter League season that piqued a lot of teams' interests. Colon has blamed his flameout on chronic elbow pain, which he says was finally taken care of with the surgical removal of bone spurs. A make-good contract seems to be a certainty for him, with the Pirates among those most interested. Joe Crede, 32: The Scott Boras free-agent third baseman client not named Adrian Beltre. Bypassed last winter due to concerns about back problems that had forced him to miss 252 games in 2007-09, Crede is portrayed by Boras as "healthy, ready to go and he's going to continue his career. He's ready to come back and play." He was last seen batting .225 in 90 games for the Twins in '09. Carlos Delgado, 38: Not so fast; his first re-entry effort (he was signed to a Minor League contract by the Red Sox in early August) was aborted when he quickly broke down after five games with Pawtucket and subsequently needed another operation on his hip. The lefty-hitting first baseman, who stood out with 457 homers and 1,454 RBIs in a 13-year span through '08, is trolling -- but also is conceding that he may have hit the wall. Jermaine Dye, 37: The "show me the money" holdout of '10. Dye had enough offers after his .250-27-81 card for the White Sox in '09, but none for enough, which he admitted frankly. So he dedicated the year to staying in shape should his market pick up, which it may. The most intriguing scenario has him going to the Phillies as an option to replace Jayson Werth in right field. Orlando Hernandez, 45: Forty-five?! Yes, now that the mystery always surrounding El Duque's age has evidently been solved, that's his officially-listed age. And he still wants to high-kick his way back into the Majors? Yes, and his recent Minor League trials would indicate he's up to it (2.45 ERA for Texas' Triple-A club in '09, 1.72 at two rungs for Washington this year). Neither the Rangers nor the Nationals brought him up, suggesting a likely and understandable age bias. After all, a stocky right-hander is not the same as a slight lefty (Jamie Moyer). Braden Looper, 36: Only five NL pitchers in '09 had 14-plus wins while winning two out of every three decisions, but he is the only one not offered a satisfactory contract for '10. His ears and his mind are both open. Pedro Martinez, 39: He is said to be "looking for motivation" to crank it up again, but indications are he will not find it. Martinez revealed to ESPN a few weeks ago that "retirement" has been even better than he could have expected: "You just wake up without any pressure to be on time, appointments to go to. Life as a normal human, it's fun." Wily Mo Pena, 28: Unlike most of the guys on this list, the 270-pound strongman already has enlisted for '11: Arizona inked him to a Minor League contract earlier this month, off his strong showing with San Diego's Triple-A club (.324-9-34 in 40 games). He last appeared in the Majors in '08, when he hit .205 in 64 games with the Nationals. Gary Sheffield, 42: He has had two birthdays since his last Major League game, with the Mets in '09 -- but Sheff still campaigns for a job that suits him. He again is talking about how much he wants his hometown Rays -- only this time, the transitioning Rays just may return the sentiment. Luis Vizcaino, 36: The onetime bullpen workhorse (an average of 72 games a season from 2002-07) hasn't been seen in the Majors since being released by the Indians in June '09, but re-kindled new interest with his effectiveness in the Dominican Winter League. Looming is at least a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite. Chien-Ming Wang, 30: Various injuries have limited the Taiwanese righty to one win since June '08 -- but recovered from shoulder surgery, he could be better than ever. A scout watching him in the Florida Instructional League described him as "filthy," something never before said about the control pitcher's stuff. Jarrod Washburn, 36: No one may have benefited more from an emotional timeout that the lefty who was the AL Pitcher of the Month in July '09 with the Mariners, then was dealt to Detroit and couldn't get anybody out the rest of that season. The Brewers always appealed to the Wisconsin native -- and that was even before they hired his former Angels coach, Ron Roenicke, as manager.