Jason Giambi

Jason Giambi: “he’s not a veteran, he’s the veteran”

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Those are the words Terry Francona used to describe Jason Giambi this morning, responding to a question about the “veteran presence” Giambi brings to the Indians clubhouse. Francona is strongly of the view that Giambi is not just veteran presence. He’s almost like an additional coach. And not just for the young kids. He’s an influence on everyone, from the rookies to the old guys and everyone in between.

It’s been a weird six months for Giambi. As the season ended I think most people would have bet the farm that his career was over. He interviewed for the Rockies manager job, backed out when it was clear that they were only offering candidates one-year deals (like the one Walt Weiss eventually took). He also passed on the Rockies’ hitting coach job.  I asked him about that this morning and he said that it just would have been weird, having been on the team the past few years and having a new manager in the dugout.  He worried that it could create problems for Weiss trying to establish himself if anyone — as often happened when he was a player — came to him for advice due to their comfort with him in situations when they should be talking to the manager.

With his power gone and his coaching ambitions on hold at least for a while, one would have assumed that he’d fade away for a time. He did too, actually, and was as surprised as anyone when Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona called him. But he still feels like he has some gas in the tank and is happy to contribute however he can, even if it’s only once or twice a week. He’s happy to be a coach in the dugout. He said it’s probably no accident that his locker is next to Jason Kipnis’, and that he views it as part of his job to help guys who will be the Indians’ team leaders in the coming years to grow into the role.

About all that: one of the things that has amazed me about Giambi’s path is that he is one of the few MVP-level superstars who successfully transitioned into a role player late in his career. Some just quit when they’re no longer a starter. Some do it against their will, but don’t really take to it. Giambi, though, has been filling small roles for four years now, going into a fifth. And he doesn’t seem to mind. I asked him why and he said “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.”

And that’s the question: will his name be on the back of an Indians jersey when the Tribe breaks camp at the end of the month?  Over the weekend it was reported that Giambi looks destined for the 25-man roster. When asked about it this morning, Francona says that he’s not yet thinking about the roster decisions, and even if he were, he didn’t want to signal those decisions yet because the guys in the clubhouse can do the math too, and he doesn’t want anyone thinking the deck is stacked against them.

But you listen to Giambi talk and — more importantly — you listen to Francona talk, and it seems like the old gray slugger is going to have one more season in the bigs.

The Marlins have made a “monster offer” for Kenley Jansen

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — The morning after Aroldis Chapman signed for a record $86 million, the Miami Marlins are reported to have made similarly lucrative offer to the other top free agent closer, Kenley Jansen.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo says that the Marlins have made “a monster offer” of five years and more than $80 million to Jansen. This despite the fact that the club is coming off of a 79-win season and, tragically, lost their top pitcher Jose Fernandez in a fatal boating accident, which will substantially harm their competitive prospects. While it seems like a stretch to say that the Yankees will compete for a playoff spot, thereby making such an historically large investment in a closer a bit suspect, the Marlins doing so is even more questionable.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are said to be interested in Jansen as well, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post says the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment signing him would require.

Jansen most recently pitched for the Dodgers and there have been no reports that they’re totally out on him, but there has been nothing to suggest that they are pushing hard for him either.

Jansen, 29, finished this past season with 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA, and a 104/11 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman good, but he seems poised to collect something close to Aroldis Chapman money.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.