Coghlan and Bailey took unique paths to honors (cont.)
Bailey's ascension may have been even more surprising. He had pitched just one game in Triple-A (back in 2007) and was a starter until midway through the 2008 season. In fact, he had never saved even one game in three minor league seasons, and he entered spring training unlikely to make the team. Yet not only was he still with the club as the season began, he didn't spend a single day in the minor leagues. He took over as closer in May and was so effective that by July he had been tapped for the All-Star team. He finished the year with 26 saves, a 1.84 ERA and better than one strikeout per inning. He allowed opponents just a .167 average with runners in scoring position, including .081 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Not bad for a guy from Wagner College who spent five consecutive summers interning in the finance industry.
Speaking of finances, both Coghlan and Bailey have added value to their cash-strapped franchises by being so good at so little cost (obviously, neither is anywhere close to being eligible for either arbitration or free agency). The Marlins and A's have the lowest payrolls in their respective leagues, and Coghlan and Bailey can do much to boost the team's chances at winning without compromising their bottom line. At the same time, their talents and intriguing personal narratives can only help increase their popularity among fan bases that ranked last (Oakland) and next-to-last (Florida) in the majors in attendance.
Most importantly, they are good enough to help the Marlins and A's build winning teams. In Coghlan, the Marlins have a dangerous hitter who gets on base and can be expected to improve defensively as he continues his on-the-job training. The Marlins have already parted ways with Jeremy Hermida, and may have seen the last of Dan Uggla as well, meaning they need to increased offensive production to complement their talented stable of young pitchers. In Bailey, the A's have a gifted and reliable closer, which, despite GM Billy Beane's famous protests to the contrary, is not a job for just about anyone (witness the carnage of this postseason, in which the only team left standing was the only one whose closer did not blow at least one playoff or World Series game). He can anchor a bullpen behind a similarly young and talented starting rotation.
Part of the intrigue that accompanies the Rookie of the Year winners is less about knowing who they are as players right now and more about the speculating about what type of player they will become. Sometimes the talent reaches full bloom in its first season and then withers. Indeed, for every future Hall of Famer like Ichiro and Pujols, the ROY roster is littered with numerous forgettables like Bob Hamelin (AL, 1994), Joe Charboneau (AL, 1981) and Bake McBride (NL, 1974). Which path will Coghlan and Bailey follow? That answer can only be revealed in the years ahead. They have already answered the only questions that matter so far:
Do they belong in the major leagues?
And can they become cornerstone pieces for their teams to build around?
In winning Rookie of the Year, the answer to both is a resounding yes.
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