By Gabriel Fidler, @extrainnings_bb
With a minimum of fanfare, the Italian Baseball League (IBL) just added its biggest signing of all-time. In a recent move only reported by Italian-language media, IBL club Tommasin Padova has talked longtime big leaguer Mark Teahen out of retirement and inked him to a free agent contract for 2017. (Hat tip to Eric Bynum.)
Teahen retired after the 2014 season, as first reported by SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo and detailed by MLB Trade Rumors. The left-handed hitter played for seven years in the majors, most notably with the Royals, which recently tabbed the utility player for the club’s Hall of Fame ballot. Teahen was only the seventh player since 1956 to start four consecutive openers at a different position each year: third base, right field, left field, and second base between 2006-2009. In his career, the California native batted .264/.327/.409 with 759 career hits, including 67 home runs.
In an email sent to and translated by the author, Padova Vice President Marco Flores d’Arcais commented, “Mark spent a holiday in Italy two years ago, and while performing some workouts in Bologna expressed the possibility of wanting the experience of playing in Italian baseball.”
Since that trip, Teahen had poured his focus into another of his loves, opening Sorso, a well-reviewed wine bar in Scottsdale, Ariz. After his release by the Giants during 2014 spring training, Mark and his wife Lauren took a trip to Italy and, after a memorable wine-tasting experience detailed on Sorso’s website, put the wheels in motion. A year later, their wine bar opened, and it appeared Teahen’s career was over. Padova had other ideas, though.
“Our manager [Francesco Aluffi] was reminded of the desire expressed by Mark two years ago and we made contact,” explained Flores d’Arcais. “We did not think it feasible given Mark’s calibre and player experience, but Mark quickly proved interested and willing to go on an Italian adventure. We contacted him by e-mail and then with some video we established the details of the contract. The agreement was then concluded and finalized.”
Padova is known in English as Padua, and is in north-eastern Italy near Venezia (Venice). It has the second oldest university in Italy, founded in 1222, which once boasted Galileo as a lecturer. Padova is most well-known in English as the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Tomassin Padova is a member of the Italian Baseball League, which was founded in 1948. There are eight teams currently in the top league, and several divisions below. At the national level, Italy is currently ranked No. 10 in the world, though it has only recently started producing major league talent, most notably Alex Liddi, the first major leaguer born and raised in Italy.
Signing Teahen will be a major boon to Padova, which finished second-to-last in the IBL. Padova had a 14-22 record in 2016 and lost in the first round of the Italian Cup (Coppa Italia). The IBL and other European leagues share a similar format to football (soccer) leagues with a regular season and knockout cup tournament.
This year, the club has 13 Italian-born players and 10 foreign-born players. Of those, seven are Venezuelan, though three have Italian passports, as does Laidel Jiménez Chapelli, a veteran of the Cuban National Series, and the only other American on the squad, Nick Nosti, a former NCAA II player. All but Nosti have professional experience, but mostly in the low minors.
“This season Padova has a young team and we were looking for a strong player with experience that could act as a ‘beacon’ to the youngest,” remarked Flores d’Arcais. “How and where to play Mark is for the Manager, together with the technical staff [to decide], but presumably we will use him at first base or alternatively at third base. He will almost certainly hit third or fourth in the line-up.”
Teahen is not the first MLB player to sign with an Italian club, but he is the most notable. There are a handful of major leaguers in the IBL every year, including Ronny Cedeño and Justin Germano this year. Several others used the IBL to jumpstart their big league careers after fizzling out at the minor league level, including 2016 surprise rookie Junior Guerra.
After stints in the Mexican League and independent American Association (as well as in Spain), Guerra turned to Italy like many of his Venezuelan countrymen. The righthander found success in 2014 for T&A San Marino, earning a win in his Italian debut with 11 strikeouts in 6 innings against Padova. He finished 9-4 with a 1.71 ERA and 144 whiffs in 100 innings as batters hit only .174 against him.
It is more common, though, to follow Teahen’s path to the IBL and play for one more season while enjoying life in Italy. This is the route taken by Cedeño, Josh Phelps, Teahen, and others. Cedeño and Phelps offer glimpses of what we might expect from Teahen, who will play the season at 35 years of age.
Now 33, the slick-fielding Cedeño was a .245/.289/.353 hitter with a 71 OPS+ in 10 MLB seasons,* most recently in a seven-game appearance for the Phillies in 2014. For Bologna, Cedeño raked at a .365/.417/.530 clip in 2016, missing a batting title by five points.
Phelps, meanwhile, was a slugging catcher who moved to first base and hit .273/.343./.472 (110 OPS+) in parts of eight seasons in the Bigs, mostly for the Blue Jays. Phelps joined Rimini for his age-33 season (2011) and finished with a strong .338/.445/.489 mark.
Teahen’s career OPS+ is almost in the middle of the two at 94, and he had a two-year run early in his career where he hit .287 with a .455 slugging percentage. The most notable difference is the three-year layoff. Padova, however, is no doubt hoping for some fireworks.
“Clearly, we are hoping for a big contribution on offense,” clarified Padova’s VP, “but above all that he will pass on to his teammates and to all team members of Tommasin Padua, from youth up, the experience and expertise he has acquired over many years in MLB. We hope that this year he will be a coach on the field, and for years to come.”
While the addition of a major league veteran is a boon for Padova and the IBL, the signing is another indication that baseball is becoming an even more global game. Recently, Jeremy Guthrie signed with the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, Eric Thames initialled a three-year contract with the Brewers after a successful stint in the Korean Baseball Organization, and news feeds are full of player updates for the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Stay tuned to @extrainnings_bb for more on Teahen’s season in Italy and the WBC in March. If you’re interested in international baseball, check out Extra Innings’ highest-rated articles:
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*For a link to understanding advanced statistics, FanGraphs sabermetric library is of inestimable use. The link for OPS+ is here. In short, it is a way of gauging how productive a player is compared to the rest of the league, with 100 being average.
It is also worth noting that IBL stats are missing for some years on http://www.baseball-reference.com