For some reason or another, the Cleveland Indians’ sometime DH Jason Giambi has become a lightning rod of attention for Tribe fans, particularly people who don’t want him on the team. The way I see it, there’s two factions – those who are alright with him around, and those that vehemently decry his very existence on the team and indeed, seemingly planet Earth. It’s a strangely weighted argument and quite partially hard-fought.
The way I’ve heard it, people don’t want him on the 25 man roster because he’s taking up space for another player who could do more for the team. A valid reason, but I have been trying to figure out just who that player is.
None of the Indians top hitting prospects are anywhere near major league ready. Francisco Lindor is 18, Dorssys Paulino is 19 and raw, and I don’t want to see Matt LaPorta again. I’d forgotten he was still even in the system. Tim Fedroff looked really good this spring, but he’s not even slugging .400 in Columbus while playing in one of the best hitter’s parks in all of baseball. Cord Phelps has an .838 OPS in 363 games with Columbus, so that’s an almost viable choice, but there’s a reason he’s 26 and still in the minors and they stuck with Giambi instead.
Giambi, meanwhile, at least has some power, and though his numbers this season are in the toilet he’s been good the last month with a .406 OBP and a couple home runs. He’s slow as hell, but he can keep a rally going by getting on base, and isn’t asked to do it all the time.
He is rather one dimensional, and on a team like the Indians with limited assets it’s tough to work with a short hand like that. They have to squeeze every bit of value out of every roster spot. But at the same time, it’s not like Drew Stubbs is bringing the lightning to the plate every night (thanks for the huge day on July 4th by the way Drew), his value is tied almost solely to his defense and some pinch running work with the occasional start. He’s not a complete player, but neither is Giambi.
It’s not like Giambi’s numbers are so bad, anyway. If you were to extrapolate them out to a whole season he’d have over 30 home runs and a 113 OPS+, fourth best on the team and one of those in front of him is Ryan Rayburn. A year ago we’d have crowed for production like that, Lost Boys style. I fail to see being able to bring in another guy that can put that kind of work in without giving up a piece the team will regret later. He was cheap and gives above average offense, that’s just nice.
The main problem arguing the merits of Jason Giambi is that he’s become almost the embodiment of the wrong things people appreciate in a hitter. In conversations with people who know anything about the advanced level of the game, your’e constantly derided for this. He’s something like fourth or fifth in the league in RBI’s per at-bat, a statistic I thought was a joke until I saw it used without irony in pretty legit publications. He’s a pinch hitter – of course he’s going to get a lot of RBI chances so like RBI’s in general you can’t just state that out of context.
Giambi’s also on the Cleveland Indians, a team that despite all its struggles offensively the last couple years has done a good job at getting on base. Even in their worst days the last couple years they finished no lower than eighth in the league – not bad considering a 94 loss season just happened and until this year nobody had any power. Pitchers weren’t afraid to walk guys because there was no power threat except on the disabled list. Plus the whole clutch thing – we all know it’s purely a luck thing, and if he were so clutch he wouldn’t have popped out to left in the ninth on Wednesday night against the Royals. He would have at least got on base. Sounds like faulty logic on that last part, but if they get to use it, so do I.
Often it’s mentioned that Giambi is a great clubhouse guy, which is important for a team with youth like the Indians and coming off an extended stretch of Acta-isms. Of course, with Terry Francona and Nick Swisher, you don’t need the ebullient, ball of energy type guy, but with Giambi I don’t think you’re getting that. He mentioned he’d been in Carlos Carrasco’s ear when the pitcher has been with the big club trying to get him to realize his potential, and considering he seems to be near death but still contributing, there’s gotta be some kind of “going about his business” that can rub off on the younger players. He was a superstar when half the guys on the team were kids – that has to count for something. It’s intangible, hard to place and ultimately it probably doesn’t mean much, but that extra 2% got the Rays to where they are. People don’t like the intangible argument, but these guys are still human and it’s a long season.
I like having Giambi around. He’s a little odd looking especially when he shaves and I caught a glimpse of a picture of him with a horrid moustache for just an instant before I fell off my chair in horror, but he’s got character as his mother might put it. Remember when he wore a leopard print thong to get out of a slump when he was in New York? That was a little uncomfortable for all involved. I’ve always enjoyed watching him, so it’s nice, even if it’s a shadow of his former self.
He brings a keen eye at the plate and a bat with some power. Could Cleveland have done better? Sure, they probably could have signed Jim Thome and have similar production and everyone would be hunky dory over it with a new homecoming and all that. Instead we got a decrepit, animated corpse with a chest a mile wide and he’s generally seen on the field hitting home runs for the Indians or shambling to first. I’d love to have it some other way, but if Giambi is going to be around, we might as well enjoy it.