Any time a player returns to the game after he spends an entire season on the disabled list, he faces the daunting task of proving he can still perform well. That is especially the case when the injury occurs at the worst possible time: the player’s final year before free agency. When the Rays signed Joaquin Benoit to a minor league deal in 2010, they found a player desperate to reestablish himself as a quality major league player and willing to take next-to-nothing to have that opportunity. In doing so, they hit the jackpot.
Benoit made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers on August 8, 2001, and the next year he established himself on the team in earnest. From 2001 utnil 2004, Benoit was a starting pitcher, but 2005 saw Benoit transitioned to a a relief pitcher, starting in only nine of his 32 appearances. It was a role in which he was able to find much more success. In 2007, Benoit cemented his status as one of the best relievers in the American League, finishing the season with a 2.85 ERA and 87 strikeouts against just 28 walks in 82 total innings pitched. After such an incredible season, the Rangers signed Benoit to a two-year deal worth $6 million. Benoit had been up-and-down the first six years of his career, but he was 29 years old and his career had never looked better. Unfortunately for both him and the Rangers, though, it was all downhill from there.
In July of 2008, Benoit spent one month on the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation. He didn’t pitch well even when he was healthy, finishing the season with a 5.00 ERA in 45 innings pitched. As it turned out, though, his rough year was the least of Texas’ concerns. The righty’s career took a turn for the worst when the Rangers announced in January of 2009 that Benoit needed surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff. Benoit spent the entire 2009 season on the DL and entered free agency in the following offseason. And just when Benoit had something to prove, the Rays signed him to a minor league deal worth $750K with an invitation to spring training to show that he could return to his former glory.
Although the Rays felt confident about what they saw in Benoit at spring training, they sent him to start the season at Triple-A Durham. On April 28, Benoit was called up to join the Rays. By late May, the Rays were impressed with Benoit’s changeup and fastball, which had reached 97 mph. The righty was healthy enough again to pitch multiple days in a row. Benoit became a vital member of the Rays’ bullpen in 2010, especially since lefty J.P. Howell missed the whole season due to having shoulder surgery.
Benoit finished the 2010 season with a 1.34 ERA while giving up only 30 hits and delivering 87 strikeouts in 60.3 innings.
In August of 2013, when Benoit spoke with Zack Meisel of MLB.com, the reliever shared his thoughts about his 2010 season.
“If you told me at the beginning of that season that I was going to do that,” Benoit said, “I would’ve told you, ‘No.'”
Benoit went on to say, “Somehow, there was this miracle…I guess God touched my arm.”
It was a miraculous season for the reliever, and the Rays were lucky enough to see something in Benoit that other teams did not. As the Rays continue to prove, they have a unique ability to sign reclamation projects to affordable deals and see those players succeed. Despite his injuries, the Rays gave Joaquin Benoit a place to succeed again, and in return, Benoit gave the Rays what some argue to be the best season of his career. This offseason, the Rays will look for the next player looking to reestablish himself hoping for similar results to what they received from Benoit.