Problem Child: Andy Marte Putting Heat on Tribe Brass with Hot Play
Metaphorically speaking, he was left for dead on the side of the road with his owner having little to no hope left in what was possible.
But Andy Marte had some life left, at least enough to get up and find his way home, and now he's making the Indians relatively happy that no one else found him.
In spring training earlier this year, needing a roster spot for the newly claimed Juan Salas, Mark Shapiro attempted to end the Andy Marte once and for all by designating him for assignment.
Many, including Marte himself, believed that he'd be claimed by some other team in need of a third baseman. It was still spring training after all; surely there was a 40-man roster spot available for a once highly-regarded, but still young, prospect.
Twenty-nine other teams passed on taking a chance with Marte even in spring training.
That's quite the kick to the gut if you are 25-year-old that had so much promise not even two years ago. Marte was even thinking big picture, perhaps a new team, a fresh start, somewhere with no pressure. He was thinking he'd be gone, at least from what he told reporters, including MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince.
"I want to be with the Indians, but I've got to think about what's best for me in my career."
A week after clearing waivers, Marte returned to big-league camp as a non-roster invitee. Not much was being said, but it was evident that Marte was a little miffed, not at the Indians, but perhaps at himself.
Maybe the fact that he wasn't on the big league team wasn't Cleveland's fault. Maybe the fact that no one else had claimed him or believed in him had something to do with the guy swinging the bat.
Who knows if any of that went through his mind? But it was evident that maybe he was turning the corner. Marte was someone who kind of kept quite. He was in the Jhonny Peralta school of thought.
Year after year he'd come into camp, sort of rebellious, not losing weight at the request of manager Eric Wedge, and sort of going at his own rate. He was the top prospect in the Braves organization, could you blame him?
But of course, if you don't get humbled at some point in your life, you are going to learn the hard way. Perhaps going unclaimed was the start of that.
"I can't control that. I was waiting to see what happened. I thought somebody might pick me up, but it didn't happen."
To his credit, when Marte was originally placed on waivers, he said he'd come back to Cleveland if no one took a chance on him and work hard.
And to his credit even more, he followed through on that statement.
Not only that, but you have to take a look at what he had to do to follow through to understand how hard he actually worked.
For one, he had all the odds against him at the outset. Sure he was in Columbus, a level below Cleveland. But he had hot-hitting prospect Wes Hodges ahead of him on the depth chart at third and a massive platoon of promising players at first.
Michael Aubrey, Jordan Brown, Stephen Head and Matt LaPorta were all in line to get starts at designated hitter and first base before Marte.
Looking at his situation, could anyone really say they expected to see Andy Marte hit a go-ahead two-run home run for the Indians in late August, in the top of the ninth inning against Baltimore?
He had a fan-base against him for being a waste in a trade that sent fan-favorite Coco Crisp to Boston, an organization that pretty much didn't believe in him anymore, and all he had was a backup spot in minor league baseball.
Those are some hefty odds, with not a lot of support.
He had just 22 at-bats in the month of April and everyone's thoughts became confirmed, he was an afterthought.
Michael Aubrey and Jordan Brown both got off to hot-starts with the bat but an injury to Stephen Head might have given him a little hope, still odds were against him.
Then Wes Hodges started battling injury issues of his own and Marte got his shot.
In the month of May he played in 28 games and hit five home runs. By June he had the first base job to himself with Hodges sidelined and even when Hodges began his comeback, Marte was the starting third baseman.
Hodges back wasn't good enough to play third full-time, but even if it was, Marte was hitting to well and his glove was far better for manager Torey Lovullo to make the switch.
His July was scorching hot, hitting with the likes of LaPorta, Marte belted nine home runs and knocked in 24 runs in just 78 at-bats.
It was cut short because Marte had received a call, and for once, it was the Indians with some good news. Ryan Garko had been traded to San Francisco and the Indians needed a first baseman.
His July proved that the months of May and June were no flukes and that the shortened swing he's been using is working. Not to mention, as Lovullo would tell the Columbus Dispatch, all the hard work has paid off.
"He's come a long way since being taken off the roster this spring. A lot has happened since he was the No. 1 prospect for the (Atlanta) Braves (in 2004). He could have shut it down this spring. He never did. He attacked the 2009 season to prove that he belonged in the big leagues."
Credit to the Clippers hitting coach John Nunnally for getting Marte to hold his hands higher and straighten up his stance. It resulted in a shorter stroke that produced the most RBI for the Clippers at the time of Marte's promotion.
Armed with that new swing and a new found confidence, Marte was ready to prove he belonged in the big leagues once and for all. His attitude had changed, things were a lot more serious and dare I say he looked a little more trim than usual.
As he told Castrovince and the media, he wasn't ready to give up just yet.
"My mind was going crazy at that time. I thought I was done. But I've got a family to take care of. The only thing I know how to do is play baseball. That's why I didn't stop."
If his mind was going crazy then, what's it doing now?
Down to his last strike, and the Indians final out, Marte stared down Orioles' closer Jim Johnson and he knew what was coming.
Fastball pitcher, Grady Sizemore on deck, 3-2 count, let's let it rip.
He said he didn't know if it would go out, but he definitely hit it to where the tyring run was going to score. As the ball sailed over the fence and the glove of left fielder Nolan Reimhold, Marte reached second base and smacked his hands together.
Could you blame him if he was a little excited?
If you think this was just one sudden outburst, you aren't looking at the numbers.
Marte's carrying an eight game hit-streak with eight RB and surely as his confidence grows, so does his vision at the plate.
And now he's got Matt LaPorta hitting right next to him, freshly called up from Triple-A himself, the Clipper bash-brothers are back in business and with one month left in the season, it's going to be hard to take playing time away from Andy.
This now presents a delightful problem for Mark Shapiro and the front office.
What to do with Marte at the end of this season?
There are no options or anything left for him to be sent down. He's either on the major league roster or with another club, because he won't clear waivers yet again, not after what he's done this season.
And had he remained on the Columbus roster to end the season, he’d be a minor league free agent and he’d gain the ability to sign with any club he desired.
With Jhonny Peralta entrenched at third base, perhaps unwillingly, and numerous options in the outfield, does Marte fit the bill at first? Matt LaPorta surely has a spot on the 2010 roster, but is it at first or in left-field?
With Jamey Carroll's contract up and the lack of promise Chris Gimenez has shown with the stick, someone will be needed to back Peralta up at third, does a bench role suit Marte?
All these questions reserved for the people who make the decisions. But I'm sure the people making those decisions didn't think they'd be acting on an Andy Marte outburst when the 2009 season started.
Then again, they didn't think they'd be acting on many the decisions they've already made when the 2009 season started.
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