A week after trading away their longest-tenured player, Jim Edmonds, the St. Louis Cardinals again reached back to the 1990’s in a free agent signing. They added right-hander reliever Cliff Politte for the 2008 season via a split contract that would pay him $600,000 as a major leaguer.
The 33-year-old St. Louis native originally signed with the Cardinals after being selected in the 54th round of the 1995 draft. He reached the majors in 1998, starting eight games before being included as part of the swap with the Phillies for Garrett Stephenson and Ricky Botallico following that season.
Politte was traded to Toronto in 2002 and joined the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2004. He earned a ring as a key member of their world championship bullpen in 2005, posting a career-best 7-1 record with a sparkling 2.00 ERA and an opposing batting average of just .188 in 68 games. He tacked on three scoreless post-season appearances for the Sox.
The success quickly turned sour, however. After struggling with shoulder problems during the first half of the 2006 season, the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder was released by the Sox that July. He subsequently required rotator cuff surgery on his right, pitching shoulder.
This past spring, the Cleveland Indians signed Politte to a minor league deal for the 2007 season. Still rehabbing, the righty did not make the Tribe out of spring training. After finally making his first mound appearance in Double-A in early June, Politte pitched just eight innings over eight games for Akron of the Eastern League before being shut down due to soreness. His final appearance of the season was on July 8.
Overall, Politte has a 22-23 record with a 4.40 ERA in 330 major league games. He has struck out 342, but walked 171 in 411 1/3 career innings with the Cardinals, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox. His reputation is that of a solid sixth and-seventh inning man, but unable to handle the pressure of closing.
Before the injury, Politte could hit the mid-90s on the radar gun, offering a two-seamer with sink along with a hard slider and an occasional changeup. As the numbers above might suggest, inconsistent mechanics led to control becoming an issue at times. Like many, Politte was tough on right-handed batters (.235 career mark), but has struggled at times against lefties (.277).
Politte joins 1990’s-era Cardinals Braden Looper and Adam Kennedy as part of the returning Cardinals nostalgia club. Like Politte, Looper came up in 1998 while Kennedy made the major leagues in 1999 after having been drafted by the organization. All three were then traded away.
With the signing of Politte, the number of non-roster invitees for St. Louis’ Spring Training 2008 has grown to eight. The other four pitchers are Dewon Brazelton, John Wasdin, Hugo Castellanos and Ron Flores. Catcher Mark Johnson plus infielders Rico Washington and D’Angelo Jimenez round out the group. Of the eight, only Castellanos and Washington lack big-league experience.
For the Cardinals, this is another low-risk signing to add bullpen depth in Memphis and to potentially have a veteran ready to be called up when needed. It remains to be seen if the 2005-era Cliff Politte can return to past form, however.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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