June 30, 2017
Let It Eat
The "If We Could, We Would" All-Stars
Do you remember “Operation Shutdown”?
In 2001, Derek Bell hit .173 and battled injuries as an outfielder for the Pirates. Despite this, Bell believed he was entitled to regular playing time for a bad, bad Pittsburgh team heading into 2002. General manager Dave Littlefield didn’t agree, oddly enough, noting that the Pirates had some promising (lol) guys like Armando Rios, Craig Wilson, and Rob Mackowiak in camp competing for the two outfield spots not occupied by Brian Giles.
How’d Bell respond to needing to battle that trio for playing time?
"If it ain't settled with me out there, then they can trade me," Bell said. "I ain't going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [an open competition], then I'm going into Operation Shutdown."
No one wanted to trade for Bell, of course. Or maybe the Pirates simply didn’t try. Either way, Bell was released about two weeks after giving the quote above. He never played in the majors again.
Asdrubal Cabrera is not Derek Bell. He is not obviously washed up, not being quite so obstinate, and not entirely out of touch with reality. Still, he made the baseball world at large chuckle by demanding a trade earlier this week, because 31-year-old middle infielders with bad gloves—role players—don’t demand trades.
Except they do. What follows is a complete lineup of trade requests that fringy dudes from around the majors have demanded over the past decade. You’re not alone, Asdrubal. You’re not alone.
Catcher — Dioner Navarro
Legit Gripe?: One of the most legit on this list, actually. Navarro had never been a good player by our metrics thanks to his bad defense and mercurial offense, but 2014 was the second-best season of his career at the plate, per BWARP. He’d just turned 31, he’d strung together about 800 good plate appearances since his 2009-2011 malaise, and playing in Toronto clearly agreed with him.
The problem, of course, is that Navarro is a terrible, terrible defensive catcher. FRAA has him as better than +1.0 in any season just twice in his career, and at a whopping -19.0 in 2014. He’s been trash defensively and offensively since, and while Russell Martin has enjoyed an up-and-down tenure as a Jay, Toronto clearly made the right choice.
How’d It End?: It’s a long story. Navarro wasn’t traded when he asked to be traded—instead, he was relegated to backup duties in 2015. He then signed with the White Sox before the 2016 season, but the Blue Jays traded for him to get him back last August. So this one actually has a happy-ish ending! Though not that happy, I suppose, because Navarro is currently out of baseball.
First Base — Mike Carp
Legit Gripe?: The Red Sox were destined for last place and Carp wasn’t playing much, so, I mean, sure? But Carp had really tanked in 2012, and he partially had the Sox to thank for reviving his career in the first place. The lefty platoon bat hit .296/.362/.523 in 2013 as a meaningful contributor to a World Series-winning team. But, in typical Ben Cherington acquisition fashion, his lows were too low to be outweighed by the highs. He was abysmal in 2014.
How’d It End?: The Red Sox DFA'd Carp on August 1. The Rangers claimed him off waivers, and he hit .125 for them in 46 games down the stretch. Carp couldn’t secure a major-league deal in 2015, and is now out of baseball. Out out, brief candle ...
Second Base — Asdrubal Cabrera
When: June 2017
Legit Gripe?: It’s complicated. On the one hand, Cabrera is hitting OK for a middle infielder, was decent last season, and is being moved for the remains of Jose Reyes. Plus, the Mets apparently didn’t warn him a shift to second base was coming (so Mets), per the link above, so you can get why he wouldn’t be thrilled.
On the other hand, Cabrera wanting “compensation” for moving to a different position is fairly absurd, and his defense at shortstop is bad enough that this move is certainly warranted. Would it make more sense if the Mets were shifting him for, say, top prospect Amed Rosario and not Reyes? Yes. Is any of this likely to matter in like 30 days anyway? No. Let’s call it a semi-legit gripe, but also a masterclass in overplaying your hand.
How’d It End?: It hasn’t yet. Is it likely to when Rosario gets called up or Neil Walker comes off the disabled list or another team needs a passable middle infielder? Yes. But only because it makes sense for the Mets to do so, not because the Almighty Asdrubal, producer of six WARP over the past three seasons, demands that it is so.
Third Base — Jose Castillo
When: May 2007
Legit Gripe?: Extremely no. Castillo hit just .253/.299/.382 in 562 PA the season before, albeit with 14 homers. He wasn’t a particularly good defender. He wasn’t a long-time established major leaguer. He was the platonic ideal of a role-40 guy, and he was blocked by Freddy Sanchez, a better player, and Jose Bautista, who would become a better player.
How’d It End?: Meekly. Castillo was released by the Pirates in December. He was claimed by the Marlins, then placed on waivers and claimed by the Giants, for whom he was slated to replace Pedro Feliz. After hitting .244 with no homers, he was DFA'd on August 13 and claimed by the Astros. He’s been in the Mexican League since 2009, though to be fair to Castillo, he’s actually put together a pretty nice career there. I understand if you stopped reading at Pedro Feliz.
Shortstop — Bobby Crosby
When: March 2009
Legit Gripe?: Let’s be fair to Mr. Crosby here: it can’t be easy to go from winning Rookie of the Year to getting prepped for a utility role in just four years, especially when those seasons were supposed to represent the peak of your powers. But Crosby had cost his team -0.4 WARP in 2007 and had generated just 0.7 WARP in 2006. His FRAA was declining faster than the Transformers franchise. He had Mark Ellis, Orlando Cabrera, and Adam Kennedy in front of him. OK, maybe he had a point with that last part, but still. It’s tough to argue he deserved playing time.
How’d It End?: The A’s let him walk at the end of the year. Crosby signed a $1 million contract with the Pirates for 2010, with the chance to earn another $500,000 in incentives if he played well. He did not play well. Nonetheless, he was shipped to the Diamondbacks as part of what no one refers to as The Ryan Church Deal of 2010. He played in nine games in Arizona and was then released. An attempt at a comeback with the Brewers in 2013 flamed out in spring training. Eat at Arby’s.
Left Field — Gary Matthews Jr.
When: October 2009
Legit Gripe?: Hard, hard no. Matthews Jr., you’ll recall, signed a backloaded five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels before the 2007 season. He earned this contract, you’ll recall, by breaking out in 2006 with the Rangers. But that breakout was still just a 2.8-WARP season, and Matthews was already 31 when he signed his deal. In essence, this was doomed from the start.
Ppl 4get this, but Matthews’ first season with the Angels was actually decent, at least by WARP. But after that it got ugly in a hurry. When Los Angeles signed Torii Hunter before 2008, you could almost see the Gob Bluth “I’ve made a huge mistake” look on their faces as they stared at Matthews Jr, who started losing playing time pretty precipitously.
How’d It End: With the Angels sending Matthews and $21.5 million to the Mets before the 2010 season in a “what the hell, at least this will save us $2 million” trade. Omar Minaya said at the time that he thought a change of scenery would help Matthews Jr. *Ron Howard voice* It didn’t. Matthews hit .190 in 36 games with the Mets, tried to hang around at Triple-A with the Reds, and couldn’t. We haven’t heard from him since.
Center Field — Kolten Wong
Legit Gripe?: Buckle up for this soap opera. In March of 2016—one year before this gripe—the Cardinals gave Wong a five-year contract extension worth $25.5 million. A franchise-altering deal? No. But certainly a vote of confidence for a young player who still appeared to be on the rise. But 2016 was a season fraught with perils for Wong, you see, and not just of the Greyjoy variety. After a rough start, the Cardinals demoted him to Memphis and had him work on his defense in ... center field, which is bizarre since Wong’s glove was never the issue. Then the talks of a platoon came this spring, and the youngish second baseman was not shy in voicing his displeasure.
“I don't want to be here wasting my time. I know what kind of player I am. If I don't have the belief here, then I'll go somewhere else," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
How’d It End: It appears as though we have our happiest story since Dioner Navarro. Wong is doing just fine, hitting .301/.393/.444 in 47 games for the Cardinals, with all of his appearances coming at second base. The Cardinals are largely platooning him—he’s received just 35 PA against southpaws this season—but Wong appears to have accepted his fate, and he’s still receiving a solid majority of the playing time. Now if he could just stop buying Avocado Toast ...
Right Field — Jeff Francoeur
When: August 2010
Legit Gripe?: I couldn’t find a video of this, so ...
How’d It End: The Mets traded him to the Rangers on September 1, because why the hell not? Francoeur hit OK for them in 15 games. Then he had the best season of his career for the Royals in 2011, because Jeff Francoeur. Then he was terrible forever, because Jeff Francoeur.
Pitcher — Kevin Correia
Legit Gripe?: Correia had strikeout rate of 12.2 percent when he requested the trade. The season before, he had strikeout rate of 11.7 percent. His ERA was south of 5.00 the whole time, so I don’t want to overstate his ineffectiveness, and we all know that pitching is always in short supply. But Correia was such an utterly boring option it’s shocking he wasn’t a Twin.
And yes, the competition for this position was tough. Tommy Milone wanted a trade. John Lannan wanted a trade. Every closer who’s ever lost his job wanted a trade, including Drew Storen. But Corriea takes the cake for one reason:
How’d It End: Oddly enough, no one met that asking price. The Pirates did not trade Correia. Instead, he appeared in both a starting and relieving capacity for them for the remainder of the season before walking away as a free agent. Who signed him, you ask? The Twins, of course. Corriea held on in the majors until 2015, pitching for the Dodgers and Phillies before hanging up the cleats. The entire time, he was pretty bad.
Thanks to everyone on Twitter who pitched in with ideas for this piece, even if most of you struggled to comprehend “non-star” or “recent.” <3