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What the offseason is like for fringe major leaguers

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For fringe major leaguers Richie Shaffer and David Rollins, their offseason has been anything but time off. After ending the season with the Rays, Shaffer ended up being traded to the Mariners on November 18 as part of a five-player trade involving mostly minor leaguers. Just a few weeks later, on December 7, the Mariners designated him for assignment. The Phillies claimed him off waivers on the 14th, then DFA’d him on the 20th. The Reds claimed him on the 23rd. On January 26, the Indians claimed him off waivers. On the 30th — you guessed it — he was DFA’d again.

For Rollins, it’s a similar story. He finished the year with the Mariners, but the Cubs claimed him off waivers on November 18. The Rangers then claimed him off waivers on the 22nd, the Phillies claimed him on December 2, and DFA’d him on the 14th. The Rangers claimed him on the 21st, then the Cubs claimed him on the 23rd.

At Sports Illustrated, Jon Tayler provides a glimpse into what it’s like to be one of those fringe major league players. Of his whirlwind winter, Rollins said, “I just laugh at it now. It’s happened so many times that it feels like a bad joke.”

Shaffer said, “Every call I get from a number I don’t know, I’m always like, ‘What is this.’ My wife panics every time I’m talking on the phone.”

Shaffer also described what it was like attending an office Christmas party with his wife Danielle. As Tayler tells it, Shaffer had been claimed by the Phillies off waivers from the Mariners on that day. Danielle told Richie to just pretend that he was still with the Mariners. The two had bought $600 worth in Mariners merchandise as holiday gifts, all of which needed to be returned (except for a personalized jersey). When Danielle asked if she should buy Phillies stuff, Richie told her not to, and he ended up being DFA’d shortly thereafter.

Ryan Lavarnway, who spent last season in the Blue Jays’ and Braves’ minor league systems, shared what his offseason was like three years ago. He put a despoit down on a home for spring training in Arizona after the Dodgers claimed him off waivers from the Red Sox. However, he ended up being claimed by the Cubs, then the Orioles, so his actual spring training home ended up being in Florida. “I didn’t get my money back,” Lavarnway says of the deposit he put down on that Arizona home.

We tend not to think much about what life is like for these fringe minor leaguers, but it can certainly be stressful. Remember, these are the guys that survived the unholy conditions of the minor leagues, which for many of them included being paid below minimum wage.

Tayler’s whole article is worth a read. Go check it out at Sports Illustrated.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.