Bobby Crosby was the American League rookie of the year on a contending Oakland team and now will battle Ronny Cedeno for work with the last-place Pirates, a career .239 career hitter being asked to push a career .240 hitter.
Probably not how he envisioned it while adorning all those magazine covers in 2004, but he hardly is complaining.
"I'm excited," Crosby said yesterday from his California home. "I know they've got a lot of young talent, but I know I'm going to get a chance to play there. That's all I really wanted going into the offseason. And this was the best fit for me by far."
And how might it feel, not so far removed from everyday duty in 2007, to enter spring in a one-on-one duel?
"I'm excited about it. I think it's great. And I really, truly mean that. I think that brings out the best in everybody. If someone is handed a spot, he might not put everything into it. If you know you've got to be ready ... hey, I'll be ready from the first day of spring training."
Crosby and the Pirates this week signed a one-year contract for $1 million, plus as much as $500,000 in bonuses based on plate appearances. Early in the process, he and his agent identified the Pirates as one of fewer than a handful of teams where he might realistically eye a starting job.
To achieve that, though, two things likely must happen:
1. Cedeno will have to falter. Manager John Russell had little use for his frequent lapses, at the plate and in the field, and a repeat of his .208 cumulative average this past season would be woefully below the National League norm at the position. But there also are those in management who like Cedeno's range, athleticism and occasional power. Thus, he is the default choice.
2. Crosby will have to do far better. He batted .223 with the Athletics this past season, with six home runs over 238 at-bats, and fell into a utility role in playing at least five games at all four infield positions. Not many bounce back from that to start.
"I just need to get consistent, get my timing back," Crosby said. "Seems like I would get on a little roll, then go cold again. That's one of the things I'm going to work on this offseason, to find the approach that keeps me at more of an even keel, not with all the highs and lows. But I know it's there. I just need to do it."
Crosby must stay healthy, too. Back problems hurt his performance immediately after that rookie season, and he would miss several more months in subsequent years to a home-plate collision that broke an ankle, a fastball that broke his ribs and another that fractured his hand.
He was on the disabled list once this year, that a 15-day stint for a strained calf that he said "could have been just six or seven days, but they needed the roster spot."
"I don't consider myself injury-prone," Crosby said. "Until the tweak of my hamstring and calf in the past two years, it's been a lot of freak things. I'll work hard to stay healthy."
NOTES -- Cedeno, one of the Pirates' three arbitration-eligible players, last night settled with the team on a one-year, $1.125 million contract. He made $822,500 this past season. ... The other two, starter Zach Duke and closer Matt Capps, must be tendered contracts by midnight tonight. General manager Neal Huntington has said he plans to do so. ... The 40-man roster is full, but the Pirates are believed to be working on clearing a spot.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .