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.