Jason Giambi is one of the biggest names in the game, with 429 career home runs and just under 2000 hits. The veteran slugger is also 42 years old and beginning his 19th MLB season.
Admittedly, when the Tribe first announced they had signed Jason Giambi to a minor-league deal, I assumed he had no shot at making the team and laughed it off. Every team has a few non-roster invitees who show up to camp with little chance of earning a job, and he seemed destined to be one of them. I recently wrote about why signing Jim Thome would not have been a good move for the team, and since they’re very similar in terms of age and playing style, it seemed like adding Giambi to the roster would be just as bad of an idea.
However, the Michael Bourn signing changed everything about the makeup of the Indians’ roster. Because Nick Swisher was moved to first base—making Mark Reynolds the primary designated hitter—the Indians don’t need to rely on someone like Giambi for a lot of offensive production. Francona has said that the Tribe has room for a part-time DH now, which is a luxury that they didn’t have before Bourn agreed to come to Cleveland.
During the last three seasons, Giambi played in only 211 games. Although his age limits him and he spent some time on the disabled list, the main reason he got so few at-bats was simply because he played in the National League and appeared mostly as a pinch-hitter. Giambi still has a high on-base percentage, despite the decline in his batting average over the years. Over the past three seasons with Colorado, he hit .245/.370/.444 and launched 20 home runs in under 400 at-bats. He walks almost as frequently as he strikes out, with a 1.61 K/BB ratio. Combined with his power, his on-base ability makes him a worthwhile candidate for the team to take a chance on.
But it isn’t his batting prowess that makes Giambi desirable to the Indians’ front office. At this point in his career, most of his contributions to the team are intangibles. He is able to provide veteran leadership, and that’s what Francona is most interested in. His experience and knowledge of the game are invaluable to young players like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall. One of the biggest complaints about last year’s team was that it lacked leaders in the clubhouse. Giambi is the perfect person to fill that role, and according to reports from spring training, he’s already begun to help his teammates and give advice whenever it’s needed. Francona believes that he can have a positive influence on the Tribe’s less-experienced players and improve the way they play the game.
This winter, Giambi interviewed for a managerial position with his former team, the Colorado Rockies, because they felt he interacted with younger players extremely well and did a great job of mentoring them throughout the season. Most managers move up through the ranks, managing in the minors or coaching at the major-league level before they are even considered for that position, which speaks to just how well-respected of a veteran he really is. His résumé is certainly impressive enough—he was the AL MVP in 2000 and Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, in addition to being a five-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger. He’s also made eight separate trips to the postseason, which is something that no other player in the Tribe’s spring training camp has accomplished.
If Giambi makes the roster, he will earn less than $1 million. For the type of leadership that he brings to the team, in addition to his contributions on the field, that’s an extremely good value. Terry Francona thinks very highly of him and has told reporters that he has a decent chance to make the team. The Indians’ new manager seems to get any player he wants, so if he performs well in spring training, it’s likely that Giambi will find himself in a Tribe uniform on Opening Day. If Francona’s wishes come true, it might actually be a good move for the team.