After the Indians signed 42-year old Jason Giambi to a minor league contract, there were some who thought that he had to perform well in spring training to earn a spot on the team and that he was a long shot to make the team. But while there is always a risk of complete deterioration of skills with a 42-year old player, the reality is that Giambi would have to voluntarily retire not to make the team. His signing a minor-league contract simply helped the Indians from having to sacrifice a 40-man roster spot late in the off-season. Manager Terry Francona has called him the “veteran of veterans” and that “it is truly an honor that he is in our camp.”
Although he would have walked away from the playing field had he been named manager of the Colorado Rockies, a job he interviewed for, he told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman: “I’m going to keep playing until they tear the uniform off or my body tells me it’s time to go.” If his body doesn’t send him the message he will have a role on the 2013 Indians Opening Day roster.
The first things to look at are the left-handed options competing for a spot on the Indians’ bench. The list includes Cord Phelps Mike McDade, Ezequiel Carrera, Tim Fedroff, and Chris McGuiness. Carrera is out of options but his skill set adds nothing to a roster that already features Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn. McGuiness is a Rule 5 draftee who must be offered back to the Texas Rangers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster but he has never played a game above the Double-A level.
Both Cord Phelps and Mike McDade have options left and should play everyday rather than sit on the bench waiting for an opportunity to get in to a game. For practical purposes, with the Indians trailing late in a game against a high leverage back end reliever Giambi’s bat will come off the bench and try to deliver a blast. Additionally, he will be a part-time designated hitter, but not in a full-time platoon role. At age 42 expecting him to be a full-time DH is asking is too much and assigning him a full-time platoon DH vs right-handed pitchers would most likely wear him out.
The decision of when to start Giambi at DH will depend on how often Francona decides to start Stubbs against right-handed pitching. Stubbs has struggled against same-handed pitchers in his career, posting a career slash line of .228/.301/.355 an OPS of .656 but his speed and defense bring a lot of value to the Indians that will prohibit them from sitting him versus every right handed starting pitcher.
More than likely Stubbs will sit against tough right-handed pitchers like Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, but only when playing in Cleveland. When playing in parks with tougher outfield dimensions the value of Stubbs’ defense will trump his struggles at the plate. Giambi would then get most of his starts in Cleveland and against right-handed pitchers.
Finally, even with Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Santana all capable of playing first base, look for Jason Giambi to garner a few starts there to keep him familiar with the position, especially in National League parks. Lucky for the Indians the games versus the NL don’t fall over nine consecutive days like seasons past. They are spread out over the season beginning in Philadelphia May 14th and 15th, Cincinnati on May 27th and 28th, Miami on August 2nd through 4th, and in Atlanta on August 27th through 29th.
For Giambi to remain with the Indians for the duration of the season he will have to do more than be a mentor. He will have to be able to come off the bench cold and deliver a key hit or two, he’ll have to be able to get on-base and generate some power when given the plate appearances as designated hitter, and he’ll have to occasionally wear the leather over at first base.