Normally I wouldn’t even write about a bad-defense marginal outfielder being cut in late March, but with Jack Cust — who the Astros just cut — I feel differently.
That’s partially because of the deal he got. Rather than a minor league deal with a spring invite, Cust actually got a one-year deal with an option (it was initially reported as a two-year deal, which caused everyone to freak out). For a guy as ineffective as he had been, and with his negative defensive value,
it was odd for an NL team to guarantee him anything, even if was only around $350,000. UPDATE: I was wrong. He wasn’t guaranteed anything. My bad. Still reflecting the confusion about it from the time he signed. The point still stands that it was odd for an NL team to sign him. Anyway:
But the bigger reason I note what is likely the end of the major league road for Mr. Cust is because he represented something more than just what kind of player he is in 2012. He was … an old flame.
I wrote about this once, many years ago, when he went on a mini-rampage after being called up by the Athletics in 2007. It was a nice little moment for statheads, because Cust had been something of a poster boy for them/us.
Circa 2001-02, there was no doubt in our minds that he was an All-Star in the making. His triple-A numbers in the Diamondbacks’ systerm were pretty astounding, and he was the epitome of take-and-rake baseball that was then so in vogue. This was before “Moneyball” was published, mind you, so we all thought we were really onto something new that no one knew anything about. Hipster sabermetrics, if you will.
But then he cratered. He got three whole plate appearances with Arizona. Then he went to Colorado, where folks figured he’d flourish, but he was awful. In 2003 he got a chance with Baltimore. He had a superficially good season in 2003 — he walked a lot and had power as he always did — but he usually looked awful in a major league uniform, with his vaunted patience at the plate being accompanied by a seeming timidity. A high-profile baserunning mishap that year — Cust fell down twice between third and home in the 12th inning, costing the Orioles the game — sealed his public fate as a one-dimensional DH in a game that would soon change to not favor that dimension as much as it once had. He spent 2004-2006 almost exclusively in the minors, his prospect status transforming into “organizational soldier” mode.
Then 2007 happened. The A’s signed him up and he went crazy, hitting six homers and fourteen RBI in his first seven games. As I wrote at the time, it was like seeing that train wreck of a girl you messed around with a few years ago, only this time she seemed to have it together. Probably still bad news, but man, it was nice to see her. And to see her looking so good.
Cust spent the next few years being Jack Cust. Walking a lot. Mashing a lot. Posting low averages and striking out a lot while providing no defensive value. Even as sabermetrics became more sophisticated, with speed and defense becoming more obviously valuable, there was part of me that felt like Cust was carrying some sort of torch, honoring the Roberto Petagenies, Hee Seop Chois and Erubiel Durazos of the world who didn’t get the shot at redemption Cust got.
It had to end eventually, though. Cust’s power has declined. He can still take a walk, but there usually isn’t any room on a roster for a guy whose only skill is plate patience. Cust is 33 now. He’s not going to suddenly learn how to play left field. He probably has a few triple-A years left in the tank, but it’d be shocking if he showed up on a major league roster again.
But for a stathead of a certain age, Jack Cust’s name will always resonate a little more than your average minor league veteran’s will. He meant something at one time. Maybe not as much as we thought he did — and maybe in some ways our fixation on him and his ilk kept us from understanding certain things earlier — but we’ll always have feelings for him and will always wish him well.