Robertson, Bonderman, and Willis still chasing baseball dreams

After a bitterly disappointing stint with the Tigers, former Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis is trying another comeback with the Chicago Cubs this spring.

When the Detroit Tigers made their surprising run to the World Series in 2006, pitcher Nate Robertson was a member of the rotation and an integral part of the team spirit. When he stuffed his mouth with chewing gum late in a game to spur a comeback, “gum time” was born and Robertson earned a quirky footnote place in team history.

Robertson was traded to the Marlins in 2010 and hasn’t had much success since leaving the Tigers, but the left-hander is still pursuing his career in big league baseball. Since laving Detroit, Robertson has been with several teams, most recently the Blue Jays in 2012. But the Jays let him loose and just a few days ago Robertson latched on with the Texas Rangers, inking a minor league deal with a guarantee of an invite to big league camp this spring.

Robertson is one of several former Tigers who are on the fringe of Major League Baseball, but still eyeing hopes to continue or resurrect their careers.

It may seem like a lifetime ago that Jeremy Bonderman pitched for the Tigs, but it was as recent as 2010 that he was in the Detroit rotation, going 8-10 for Jim Leyland. Bonderman was released and out of baseball completely for two full seasons before announcing to MLB’s Jason Beck that he would attempt a comeback in 2013. The Seattle Mariners have signed “Bondo” to a minor league deal and he’ll be in spring training with the M’s in a few weeks. though he started his big league career way back in 2003, the husky righty is still just 30 years old. If he still has something in his right arm, he could have several years left to ply his trade in the big leagues.

Tigers fans have some fond memories of Robertson and Bonderman, each of whom won a game in the post-season in 2006, but Dontrelle Willis is not as fondly remembered in Motown. Willis came to the Bengals in a blockbuster trade after the 2007 season. In that deal the Tigers received Miguel Cabrera, which has worked out pretty damned good, hasn’t it? But Willis, a tall lefty with a flair that had him drawing comparisons to Mark Fidrych in some circles, never panned out while wearing the Old English D. Over the course of three seasons with Detroit, “D-Train” made just 22 starts, won two games, and was treated for an injured knee, sore arm, and anxiety.

A one-time Rookie of the Year and World Series champion with Florida, Willis has been trying to regain his form since the Tigers designated him for assignment in May of 2010.  This spring the southpaw will be in camp with the Chicago Cubs, his sixth team since Detroit. His record since being dealt in that big trade with Miggy? 4-15 with a 6.15 ERA and 156 walks in 199 innings. His chance this spring with the Cubs may be last chance for the 31-year old.

Lastly, Ryan Raburn, who was released outright by the Tigers in November, has signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. The former outfielder/second baseman, who had a reputation as a hitter who could get hot in the second-half of a season before failing miserably in 2012, will have a long shot chance to make the Tribe roster.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.