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.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.