For those of you that do not follow me on Twitter you may have missed a long-winded debate between myself and Ed Carroll vs. a large portion of Tribe faithful over the fate of 42-year-old “slugger” Jason Giambi.
There is no question that a large part of the success that the 2013 Cleveland Indians have found is derived from the new energy in the clubhouse. This culture has started with Manager Terry Francona, and continued with the likes of the eccentric Nick Swisher and wise Giambi.
But the heart of this debate is one question that is an argument against both sides–how much value does veteran leadership really hold?
It’s a stat that is not quantifiable. Does that mean that those who undervalue a veteran presence in the clubhouse just don’t understand it, or that those who are in favor of Giambi staying are overvaluing it? There’s no definitive way of saying. While Giambi’s leadership has paid dividends, how much is it worth his overlooking his shortcomings?
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In short, if you cannot measure the value of a savvy veteran in the clubhouse, how do you know it makes a difference?
A roster spot is extremely valuable in baseball. With 25 men playing up to six days a week, having versatility on the bench isn’t just a commodity, it’s a necessity. So what value does a DH-only player hitting .198/.314/.426 bring to the bench?
To be fair, Giambi hasn’t been as terrible as some of his opponents have stated, as he has managed a 108 OPS+ and 106 wRC+ thanks to his ability to draw walks and the pop still in his aging bat. But the lack of versatility is what truly worries me.
There’s no need for a team to have three catchers. Having an everyday catcher and backup is more than enough. If the Indians get veteran leadership from World Series Champions in Francona and Swisher, why is more needed from Giambi? The occasional batting practice tip from Giambi can’t truly be valued over a player that can hit just as well as Giambi has while also playing the field. That’s why baseball players are paid millions, while only the best coaches receive such a paycheck. Players are more valuable than coaches, and Giambi is nothing more than a coach at this point.
If this were the 2012 Indians that had no real leadership under Manny Acta then Giambi may be more of a necessity. But Giambi is not the only member of the clubhouse that has seen a pennant race, or dealt with long rigors of a 162 game season.
This team has learned from Giambi. He was integral in setting the clubhouse culture early in spring training, and continued that early on in the season. But now the Indians are truly in contention and they need as much talent as they can fit onto the roster.
There may not be an immediate upgrade available at Triple-A, but that doesn’t mean that the front office should not explore the waiver wire or trades for a bench player capable of outperforming Giambi on the field.
Veteran leadership may be important to the success of a baseball team in the eyes of many, though it is impossible to gauge to what extent. But just because Giambi is the oldest member of the clubhouse does not automatically make him the quintessential leader. There are plenty of other players capable of stepping up and the team can move on from having Giambi on the roster.