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February 19, 2013

Out of Left Field

The 10,786 Miles Not Technically Traveled By Sandy Rosario

by Matthew Kory

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This will shock you: a while back I made an entirely unoriginal joke. Edwin Jackson had signed a four-year contract with the Cubs and I said I was disappointed because that made him much less likely to change teams again. Not funny, I know, but fortunately it’s the topic of the joke I’m more concerned with now. At the age of 29, Jackson will play for his eighth team this season. That, as realtors say, is a lot. So, if you’re one of those people who would love to see Jackson play for every major-league team just for the novelty of it, then a four-year restriction on his changing teams isn’t what you want to see.

Now that Jackson appears to be staying put for a while, maybe he’ll pass the scepter to Sandy Rosario. And maybe Rosario will refuse it because he has done almost as much this offseason as Jackson has in his career. When I say “done as much” I’m not referring to actual pitching. Rosario has thrown 7 2/3 innings over parts of three seasons for the Marlins while putting up a 15.26 ERA, so we’re not talking on-field exploits here. No, it’s his whiplash-inducing offseason. You see, in the span of two months, the end of October through December, Rosario changed organizations five times. He was traded once and selected off waivers four separate times. In a two-week span he was:

1. Cut by the Marlins and selected by the Red Sox

2. Cut by the Red Sox and traded to the A’s

3. Cut by the A’s and selected by the Red Sox

By any standard that’s a lot. I’ve never been traded but I imagine it’s a stressful thing for a player to go through. The closest I can come is moving to a new city for a new job. I’ve done that and it was stressful, but it wasn’t against my own will. In fact, it was very much my decision. None of these changes was Rosario’s choice, which makes it more difficult, I’d imagine.

So for Rosario to switch teams five times while being a member of four different organizations in one two-month period has to be disorienting. I’d think he would have to spend a whole lot of time on the phone, talking to his agent, talking to new teams, calling his family to explain the whole increasingly crazy ordeal. On the plus side he’s probably accumulated quite the collection of fitted caps.

Changing teams once could mean any number of things about Rosario as a player, but why did he change teams so often? As you might imagine there is more than one reason. Let’s start at the beginning.

October 17th: Selected off waivers by the Boston Red Sox from the Miami Marlins

It can be a bit difficult to figure out the roster shenanigans major-league teams engage in. Waivers are one of those opaque things that teams don’t publicize. Sometimes information gets leaked to the media, but teams don’t typically send out press releases indicating they’ve put a player on waivers. They just do it and then if the player hasn’t been selected or traded in 10 days he gets released. We hear about the end result, but not the process.

Rosario finished the season with the New Orleans Zephyrs, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. He was on the 40-man roster at the time, but then the season ended, as seasons are wont to do. After the season, the Marlins had to take all their players off the 60-day DL (who don't count against the 40-man roster) and place them on the 40-man roster (where they’d count against the 40-man roster). At that point, faced with more players than spots, the Marlins had to decide who to put on the 40-man and who to take off. They took off Rosario.

At roughly the same time 1,488 miles northeast, the Boston Red Sox were doing similar work. Boston decided they’d rather have Rosario than one of their players, Che-Hsuan Lin. Lin is an outfielder with exceptional plate patience and defensive ability and nothing else. No power whatsoever and little ability to square up the ball. Players like Lin have value, but so do live arms like Rosario. As far as prospects go, Lin represents a known quantity. He’s unlikely to get better, to turn into anything but a defensive replacement and break-glass-in-emergency outfielder. Rosario is different. He throws hard and that can’t be taught. His track record indicates other things can’t be taught either, but when you throw 95 mph there is always someone who hopes you can make the leap. Teams were faced with a choice. Which player do they want to keep? The Marlins picked 40 other guys. The Red Sox picked Rosario.

November 20th*: Designated For Assignment by Boston

The Red Sox infatuation, if I can use poetic license and call it that, with Rosario lasted shorter than a summer romance. In fairness, that could have been because it was November, but more likely it had to do with the Rule 5 draft. Like the Marlins, the Red Sox were faced with a sudden, though not unexpected, group of additional players that needed the protection of the 40-man roster. The rules are somewhat complex (you can read more about it here) but players who have been in the system either four or five seasons must be placed on the 40-man roster or be subject to other teams' grabby little fingers. The Red Sox had to protect a number of minor-league prospects and, though they had just selected him less than a month earlier, Rosario was not one of them.

*After saying teams don’t often publicize when a player is placed on waivers, I listed a date that Rosario was placed on waivers. I did it because the Red Sox, in a release about the trade, specifically stated that they designated Rosario for assignment on November 20th.

November 28th: Traded from Boston to Oakland for a Player to be Named Later

The A’s claimed Rosario but instead of just handing him over, Boston worked out a trade. The Red Sox received a player to be named later who ended up being pitcher Graham Godfrey. Godfrey is still with Boston but not on the 40-man roster. Godfrey is a starter, different than Rosario who is a reliever, but in terms of value they’re equivalent, or nearly so, even though they’re about as different as two pitchers can be. But the biggest difference between the two was that Rosario required a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster, but Godfrey didn’t. Boston chose Godfrey and a roster spot over Rosario.

December 10: Selected off waivers by the Boston Red Sox from the Oakland Athletics

And then they changed their minds. Just days later, the A’s designated Rosario for assignment and the Red Sox grabbed him back. The next day the A’s signed free agent pitcher Yeiper Castillo, who according to MLB.com, looks like this:

That may be the reason for Rosario’s quick departure from the Oakland organization, but Jason Wojciechowski claims it was because the A’s had recently dealt for pitcher Chris Resop from the Pirates. The timeline for that move works out as well and since Jason has more letters in his last name than Castillo, let's go with his version of the story.

Yet again Rosario finds himself a Boston Red Sox. (Sock? I’ve been following this team for three decades and I don’t know the answer to this question.)

December 12: Selected off waivers by the Chicago Cubs from the Boston Red Sox

Once again Rosario found himself the 41st man on a 40-man roster. He should have t-shirts made. The Red Sox were in the midst of their semi-annual roster remake and had just signed Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and Ryan Dempster, and were working on the medical language in Mike Napoli’s contract. They needed roster space and again Rosario felt that now familiar brusque sensation on his backside indicating the time to move on was here. In the end, the Red Sox really wanted him. But not that much.

December 21: Selected off waivers by the San Francisco Giants from the Chicago Cubs

If there is any team that needs a live arm it’s the Cubs. If it’s only for 10 days, well, better than nothing, right? Rosario, while a pitcher by trade, had turned into more of a professional placeholder. He could occupy a spot while the team waited for someone more interesting to come along. Sometimes that can take years. In Rosario’s case, it took considerably shorter than that.

On that day the Cubs made a series of moves, the ultimate result of which was adding three players to the 40-man roster and subtracting three others. One of the players subtracted was Rosario. One of the players added was this guy:

Finally, we come to Rosario’s current home, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants snagged Rosario from Chicago at the cost of, as it turns out, nothing. They exposed Gerardo Concepcion to waivers, but he wasn’t selected, so the Giants shipped him to Triple-A.

Rosario’s long ride proves a few things. A fair number of teams valued him at roughly the same level. When the last few spots on the 40-man roster aren’t set, teams are perfectly happy to stash a live arm there and see if anything comes of it. When a player with some potential like Rosario is there, they grab him, but as soon as something mildly more interesting comes along, they drop him like he was making everyone sick.

I started this piece because I was intrigued by the strange and unique nature of Sandy Rosario’s offseason. How could another player possibly go through so many organizations in such a short period of time? Surely nobody did. Then I found Russ Canzler. Canzler spent the offseason bouncing between Cleveland, Baltimore, New York (the Yankees), Toronto, and Tampa Bay. Life as the 40th man can be tough.

Thanks to R.J. Anderson, Jason Wojciechowski, and Ben Lindbergh in researching this article.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Sandy Rosario

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