February 6, 2013
Why Some Fringy Minor Leaguers Make It
My next two columns are going to identify minor-league free agent signees, one from each major-league organization, who stand a good chance of helping their big-league clubs this season. (See today’s Lineup Card for others’ NRI picks.) Most of these players have been in the majors before, and you’ll probably recognize many if not all of the names.
Who are they? Fringe relievers who are often just as good as guys on the 25-man. Utilitymen whose utility isn’t quite useful enough, or the wrong kind of utility for the parent club’s needs. Damaged goods that have been Bondoed or duct-taped and repackaged in new uniforms. NRIs: Not Really Interesting.
In other words, Replacement Level: that nebulous, even slightly dangerous place—a demimonde, a purgatory; an Outer Party, a Tenderloin—whose diverse, often aggrieved habitués contend with an elemental yet mysterious force, some tide or temperature or ténèbres which capriciously favors some while vanquishing others. It preys on relievers, utility infielders, outfield speedsters—and on you and me, too.
The line that separates the striving from the established is frequently crossed, in both directions and by the same players. It is often unclear why some manage to stick on the high side of the line and others don’t (or can’t cross it at all). On the one side there is the life we aim for, and on the other—the one where most of us toil—the one we muddle through, managing bills and injuries, terrified of slumps, paranoid about the boss. Most of us, in our milieus, are basically replacement players: we can do the job up there if called on, but without a chance to settle into it, master the contours and the grain, can we keep it? From our imperfect tense, we see, to borrow from the last lines of that old high school chestnut, The Great Gatsby, “the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----“
Last year, a (very) limited edition t-shirt and poster circulated around the Durham Bulls’ clubhouse. On it was printed, in large type, the words “BEATS WILL RHYMES AND LIFE,” along with an image of Rhymes’ head and its excellent flow (see esp. def. 4 ). For a while, Rhymes lockered next to Jeff Salazar, making for a dynamic duo of ‘do.