Cleveland Indians: Why Do These Guys Still Have Jobs?

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Indians Aren’t the Only Team to Sign Seemingly Useless Players

Here’s a fun fact:  there are 164 minor league teams.  So if each team has 20-25 players, that means that there are three to four thousand guys plugging away, waiting for their chance to be a big leaguer.  Beyond that, there are independent leagues, college players, guys who recently retired, guys playing in beer leagues, and millions of guys like me who thought it looked easy until the first time they actually tried to hit an 80 MPH pitch.

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Which means that for each of the 750 major league players there are at least four or five guys waiting in the wings.  Now most of the guys in the minors have issues.  Either they’re not ready yet, or they’ve been up a few times and been found lacking, or perhaps they just like riding buses.  In any case, you would think that such a massive feeder system would lead to a sort of Darwinian thinning of the herd, where major league players who fail to perform are ruthlessly cast aside in favor of someone who hasn’t yet failed so ingloriously.

Except that, it doesn’t work that way.  Every year there are dozens of players who keep getting jobs despite having not contributed anything to the success of a major league team for years.  While there is no guarantee that anyone in the minors is better than these guys, it seems self-evident that somebody is better, so it seems like a team that is trying to maximize its chances of winning would try somebody new, rather than keep going to the same guys who suck.

This has consequences, especially for the guys who can’t get a shot.  Every single day that a player spends on a major league roster means more than three thousand dollars in income that he is getting while someone else sits in the minors, probably making a tenth as much.  If a player can find a way to stick on a major league roster for a few years, he stands a good chance of having financial security for the rest of his life.  The other guys…don’t.

So who are these guys?  Well, let me present the first annual My Agent Has Naked Pictures of Someone All-Star Team.  This is how I set up my criteria:

  • Guys who are still considered prospects are given a little more slack so that they get plenty of time to figure things out. That makes it understandable if they struggle, so I exempted everyone under the age of 28.
  • Guys who are living off their reputation, like Ichiro Suzuki, are exempt. Not that they shouldn’t be mocked, but that’s a different list.
  • We’ll call an OPS of .700 the new Mendoza line. Anyone who can’t reach that figure should be expendable.  Just to make sure we’re not slamming guys for a bad year, we’ll only include guys who have been below .700 for three consecutive years, because at some point being that bad stops being a slump and becomes simply who you are.  Since catchers and shortstops are judged more on their defense, we’ll lower the standard to an OPS of .600.

Sam Fuld:  Oakland actually gave him two million dollars, after a year with an OPS of .569.  That wasn’t a fluke, either; the year before it was .568.  Fuld was cute for a couple of years as a little guy who overachieved, but he isn’t overachieving anymore.  Even if he plays good defense, there’s no way for an outfielder to make enough plays to make up for being that bad offensively.

Emilio Bonifacio:  Signed as a free agent with the Braves.  See the note above.  Had an OPS of .390 last year.  Can still steal bases, but apparently not first base.

Eric Young, Jr.:  Signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.   Was a platoon starter for the New York Mets as recently as 2014, but probably shouldn’t have been.  Put up good numbers for the Colorado Rockies in 2012, but that’s Colorado.  Another guy who gets chances because he can run.

Tony Cruz:  Backed up Yadier Molina for five years, but now that Molina is getting hurt all the time the St. Louis Cardinals probably feel the need for something better than a .533 OPS.  He’s with the Kansas City Royals now, who probably feel Salvador Perez won’t need a backup much.  Cruz is fighting for the backup spot with Drew Butera, who also belongs on this list.

Tuffy Gosewisch:  Could have picked ten other catchers, but he gets in because of that name. Backup catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2013, with a career OPS of .525.  The Diamondbacks have five catchers on their forty man roster; now that they appear to be serious about winning games, guys like Gosewisch tend to stand out more.

Reed Johnson:  Signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals at age 38.  Has had a reputation for years as a guy who could hit left-handers, but didn’t hit anyone last year.  The problem with keeping guys around just to hit lefties is that almost all of them still end up getting two-thirds of their at-bats against right-handers, and the damage they do there more than offsets any benefit they provide against left-handers.  A perfect example of a situation where a team will choose between and an old guy who hasn’t performed lately and a young guy with no big league track record, and the old guy gets the job almost every time.

Shane Robinson:  Four years with St. Louis, one with Minnesota, never had an OPS above .665.  Signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians, but so did every outfielder with a pulse.  Probably won’t be in Cleveland in April but will be somewhere.  Just starting to notice how many of these guys are white.

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Skip Schumaker:  Was surprised at how good he was for a few years with theSt. Louis Cardinals, who of course got rid of him before he started to suck.  Is there a stat for that?  Now with the San Diego Padres on a minor league deal.

Chris Heisey:  Signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals.  Has a .960 career OPS as a pinch hitter, but is under .700 doing anything else.  I suppose somebody figured that out, which is why he keeps getting signed, but picking out 140 good at bats from a career of 1600 at bats and saying this is why we should sign this guy seems like small sample size run amuck.

Ryan Flaherty:  In four years with the Baltimore Orioles, his total WAR is 1.5.  At that pace, he should be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate if he plays until he’s 130.  Plays a lot of positions, and maybe not a bad guy to have on the bench, but has been above 270 plate appearances in each of the past three years, which is a lot for a guy who really doesn’t help his team.  If a guy puts up replacement level numbers for four straight years, then aren’t you better off replacing him?

There were more that could have made the list but think this just goes to show how many teams sign seemingly useless players that don’t deserve big league jobs.