Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Cleveland Indians Signed Nate Spears

Nate Spears has a grand total of seven career games in the major leagues—all with the Boston Red Sox, including three games in 2011 while Terry Francona was managing the Red Sox. So don’t be surprised if somewhere along the line in 2013 we see him done an Indians uniform.

In the newly released book Francona: The Red Sox Years (co-written with Dan Shaughnessy), Francona talks about the day in 2012 that he returned to Boston for the 100th Anniversary Celebration at Fenway Park. After entering the field through the outfield fence Francona gazed over the current Red Sox players waiting in the infield staging area and when he saw Nate Spears there he got emotional. Tim Bogar (one of Francona’s former coaches) pointed to Spears and said “Are you all misty-eyed because of him?” Francona, shaking his head and wiping his eyes said, “Yeah…all this f***ing s*** and I’m crying because of him.”

Who is Nate Spears? He is a 27-year-old super-utility minor league player originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth round of the 2003 draft and traded along with Carlos Perez to the Chicago Cubs for Corey Patterson in January of 2006. He signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in November 2009.  After spending the 2010 through 2012 seasons in the Red Sox’ minor league system (with brief MLB callups in 2011 and 2012), he elected free agency following the 2012 season. Finally, on November 16, 2012, he signed a minor league contract with the Indians.

In 337 Triple-A games (1,205 plate appearances) the left-handed-hitting Spears posted a slash line of .247/.335/.377, but his true value comes in his willingness and ability to play all over the diamond.  In his minor-league career he has been primarily a second baseman (736 games), but he also has played third base (140 games), shortstop (95 games), right field (24 games), and left field (15 games).

Is he a top prospect who is going to threaten any one of the infielders for a starting job? No. Is he someone who due to a series of injuries, poor performance, or eventual trades in mid-season that we may eventually see added to the 40-man roster and get some playing time? Yes. In a nutshell, Spears fits the description that drives many stat-driven analysts crazy: he is the gritty, grinding player chock full of intangibles that a manager somehow finds a way to fit on a major league roster.

Earlier this week, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote about minor league signings: “The risk is that a bad player on a minor-league contract can end up on the major-league roster.” Lewie calls it the Jose Lopez effect: “There’s a failure somewhere else along the line: a roster spot opens up unexpectedly, the team calls him up, and the manager becomes enamored with him.” Of course, Lewie points out that when this happens it doesn’t mean the actual signing was a bad move.

When the Indians position players arrive in spring training and you begin to see more and more of the 27-year-old journeyman playing at multiple positions on the diamond and logging plate appearances in Cactus League games, you’ll know who he is and why he’s getting such a long look.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Nate Spears Terry Francona

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